Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The One Pocket Hall of Fame is sponsored by Onepocket.org. Unlike the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame (the two endeavors are in no way affiliated) the One Pocket Hall of Fame proudly honors players known for their heart in high-stakes action matches. As noted in the One Pocket Hall of Fame release: "Everyone knows that pool has always had two very different cultures of competition – the establishment culture of tournaments, wholesome recreation and industry endorsements on the one hand, and the after-hours culture of gambling and hustling on the other hand. It is the mission of the One Pocket Hall of Fame to honor and remember those great players and great games that represent the legacy of Pool in Action."
As such, the induction of Fats was a great choice. A dangerous one-pocket player during his prime, Fats is also remembered as a great promoter of the sporting life associated with pocket billiards. His real name was Rudolf Wanderone. He became famous after the release in 1961 of The Hustler, the film starring Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman. He was also an important participant in the early Johnston City tournaments.
Parica, a former Derby City champion, has gained a reputation as one of the nation's most formidable one-pocket players. Known as "Amang" by his friends (tagalog for "father"), Parica was among the first from pool's so-called "Philippine Invasion." His after-hour match-ups with fellow legend Efren Reyes have become the stuff of legend. That's a picture at the top of this post of Parica (courtesy Steve Booth at Onepocket.org).
The third inductee, "Piggy Banks," emerged as one of Chicago's leading bank players. And that's from a city known for great bankers.
In addition, the Hall of Fame also will present its Lifetime Pool in Action award to Seattle's Harry Plattis. According to the Hall of Fame release: "Harry’s name has been synonymous with pool action for more than forty years. Even as he built a successful law career he has maintained an impressively competitive game and a willingness to mix it up with champions for big money, both as a player and a backer."
The ceremony will take place at the Derby City tournament, during a Jan. 26 banquet hosted by one-pocket Hall of Famers Grady Mathews and Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna. The Horseshoe Casino in Elizabeth, Indiana hosts the tournament. Advanced tickets are available through the OnePocket.org web site. Any remaining tickets will be available at the Derby City Classic.
-- R.A. Dyer
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Our PoolSynergy topic this month is “Billiard Tales.” As part of my contribution I'm giving everyone an assignment. Find a poolroom in your area popular with the old timers and sidle up next to a few of them at the bar. It’s important that you find at least two or three of these guys sitting together. Four is even better. And I’m not talking about the middle-aged guys, I’m talking about the really old ones, the guys who have been around the pool halls 30 or 40 years at least.
Buy them a beer if you want, or just sit quietly. And then wait.
I guarantee you that within the first half hour you’ll start hearing stories of who took whom and for how much, or about the time some shark came to town, or about the big score by the local champ. Some stories will be verifiable, others not so much. I’ve even heard deadly serious tales of the supernatural.
To me, the form of these billiard tales is just as interesting as the content. That is, it's not what the stories are about, per se, but how they're communicated. The oral tradition is key. Most of the great old stories never get written down, never appear in newspapers -- and they grow in the telling. These stories pass from older players to younger ones, and as long as the community remains intact -- e.g., as long as the poolroom remains standing and the same men and women continue to frequent it -- the legends remain alive.
Now here's a thought. Bear with me, but I think it's true. I believe these boozy recollections have a lot in common with the colorful stories that might get told by village elders around a camp fire. Listen to the old timers and you'll hear tales of heroes and villains and especially tricksters. Oral tradition (according to my quick research on Wikipedia) refers to the "transmission of cultural material through vocal utterance.” The oral traditional also has long been associated with folklore. I would argue that many of the stories told by old-time pool players are part of the folkloric tradition, but of an urban sort.
Some of my favorite Billiard Tales involve Minnesota Fats. In them Fats might be razzing an event promoter about the dress code, or cracking wise about the straight-laced "fun players," or gleefully robbing a tournament player during a high-dollar gambling session. These stories typically pits Fats against some symbol of the conservative billiards establishment.
As is the case with many trickster stories from folklore, Fats in these stories becomes an amoral and comic figure confronting the hypocrisy of the status quo. The billiards establishment would portray our sport as a clean-cut endeavor where no one ever gambles and where the dress code is strictly enforced. Minnesota Fats would portray it for what it really is. As a classic trickster, Fats confronts established authority, lies, and can act in amoral ways. But he also becomes an ironic symbol of truth.
I used to live in San Jose, Costa Rica. I remember hearing stories there about a hustler named “Pichitas” -- about how he would send well-dressed businessmen packing, or how he created this great shot from nowhere, or how he became a master of the 5 by 10s. I even remember the Pichitas "origin myth" -- in that stories were told about how he got his name (which, by the way, translates to “Tiny Dicks.”) These stories were told with something approaching reverence and at first I thought they were specific to Latin America. But I later discovered that they could have just as easily been told about Wimpy Lassiter or Jersey Red or U.J. Puckett. In each case, the players are portrayed as heroic or trickster figures, and in each case the stories are passed along directly through word of mouth. I also recognized in each case messages about the "culture" of the pool room, in that they would communicate lessons about such matters as gambling etiquette, attach value to certain sorts of figures and heap ridicule on others, and define the language common to members of the "tribe".
And so that brings us back to this month's assignment. Go sidle up to the bar, order a drink, and spend some time listening to the old timers. If you hear something good, remember it, and pass it along. Better yet, send me your stories and I'll post them up on this blog or use them as a fodder for a future Untold Stories column.
Some of the best Billiard Tales have never been written down. This puts them at risk for being lost forever. But through the magic of the Internet, we can now share the wisdom of our village elders with the world.
You can read a bit more about these ideas in The Hustler & The Champ. If you have your own old time story, send it to me at
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Here's a video from Samm Diep, a reporter for InsidePool magazine and the woman behind The Tip Jar pool blog. She's also a contributor to the new PoolSynergy project, in which various pool writers contribute an article each month about a common theme. In Samm's most recent contribution, she discussed when to play position in the side pocket versus playing position for the corner pocket.
I know the video isn't technically about pool history, which is what I focus on here. However, it's about Efren Reyes, a Hall of Famer who's played plenty of historic matches. The video caught my attention, in that Efren is so infrequently interviewed — at least by the English-speaking press. Efren carries around arthritis cream. Who knew?
Monday, November 16, 2009
Check out the first edition of PoolSynergy, contemplated as a monthly collection of great pool writing from the web. Poolsynergy the brainchild of John Biddle, host of the www.poolstudent.com website. This month's theme is "Strategy,” and it features contributions from eight writers, including myself. Here's a brief description of these first contributions, with links to where you can find them.
Samm Diep, well known for her blog The Tip Jar, talks about how she improved her game when she took another look at using the side pockets instead of the corners in her piece Corner vs. Side.
Approaching the topic of strategy from a different perspective, Mike Fieldhammer, a BCA Certified Instructor,challenges conventional wisdom in Strategy: Should it Change Based on Your Opponent? Mike’s piece shows you how to gain an advantage at the table and win more often by taking your opponent’s abilities and style into account.
In Offensive Safeties in 8 Ball (works only in IE), Joe Waldron makes clear that safeties aren’t just defensive shots when you have nothing else, but can play a strong offensive role as well. Waldron is the host of Pocket Billiards Review, which is always filled with insightful articles about the mental game.
Also about strategy at the table, John Biddle’s article Thinking Your Way to More Pool Victories can help you raise your winning percentage. John is the man behind the PoolSynergy project.
"FastMikie” McCafferty’s wise and insightful post The Impossible Dream talks about the role pool plays in your life strategy. Mike writes at Diary of a Pool Shooter, the longest continually running blog about pool.
Gail Glazebrook’s post, The Deliberate Attack, gets you to think “How will I beat you” and then gives you an approach to follow that works for her. Gail’s blog is confessions of g squared.
Mark Finkelstein, a BCA Certified Instructor and instruction columnist at the hot new pool website NYC Grind, helps you take an objective look at your game in his piece, Assessing Ability … On the Road to Effective Strategy.
Melinda, in A Strategy to Manage the Mental Side of Your Game, helps us to keep our head in the game from the very beginning and recognize issues that need attention before it’s too late. Melinda, who calls herself a wanna-be pool player, lives and blogs in Texas at Pool is a Journey.
I round out this month’s edition with Minnesota Fats: The Quiet Thrashing. It's a story about several gambling sessions between Fats and Richie Florence, during several weeks in Johnston City back in 1970. That's an old picture of Fats at the top of this post.
Monday, November 9, 2009
This is the first of a series of posts written in coordination with other online pool writers. It's part of the Pool Synergy project at www.poolstudent.com. Our first topic relates to pool strategy. Look for more installments in the future.
Strategic thinking is often associated with men and women of great dignity. Think Kasparov wordlessly sacrificing a rook for checkmate in three moves, or Napoleon – without panic – wedging his army between two opposing forces in order to defeat both. Pool also has had its share dignified strategic thinkers -- players like the unflappable Allison Fisher, for instance, who was named in 2005 as one of the world’s 50 smartest people. Or there’s the great Efren Reyes, the reserved one-pocket genius.
But what about the loud-mouthed and the brash? Pool has plenty of those sorts too. And believe it or not some of the greatest strategic moves in pool – especially with regards to getting action — have been executed not by men of quiet deliberation, but by those oafish players who so commonly dot our history.
Take for instance Minnesota Fats, one of pool’s great gasbags, a man who never made it through high school and may even have been illiterate. (You can get a sense of Fats' ridiculous schtick in the video at the top of this post.) At least outwardly Fats exhibited none of the reserved grace typically associated with great minds. However, one of my favorite examples of strategic thinking is attributed to Fats.
Here’s the story. Back in 1970 Minnesota Fats was in Johnston City, Illinois making games with Richie Florence, a young player then considered one of America’s best. Florence was flush with cash from a recent score in Alabama. He would have been about 25 years old. Fats was pushing 60.
Witnesses recall that the two players started cheap, maybe $100 or $200 a game, with Richie giving Fats weight. They said Richie was probably beating Fats to begin with, but not by much. That's because every time Richie got hot, Fats would interrupt his shooting by insisting on a bathroom break or by getting a sandwich. Fats also whined incessantly about the spot, about the playing conditions, and about the knucklehead railbirds. Anything to interrupt Richie's concentration.
After a few hours of playing like that, Fats quit, declaring he’d had enough. But he also promised to come back the following night. This, then, was where the real hustle would begin. Because instead of showing up at the appointed hour, Fats called in the next night with some bullshit excuse. He wouldn't be making it in, said Fats -- but maybe he'd come by the following night.
Now, Fats would have known when he placed that call that Richie, then in the spring of his youth, would not simply go back to his motel room to sleep. The wise and sage Fats knew with something close to 100 percent certainty that Richie would instead continue partying, possibly for the entire night.
The next night Fats left Richie waiting again. It was only after a delay of some hours, only after letting Richie drink and gamble unchecked for a while longer, it was only then that Fats showed up again to demand a game. And even then Fats kept interrupting Richie's shotmaking with his multitude of bathroom breaks and phone calls and white bread sandwiches.
Witnesses said this went on for two weeks, with Fats coming in at unpredictable intervals, fresh as a baby. The older player may have even been calling his poolroom spies to discreetly get a handle on Richie's shape. If Richie was playing too strong, Fats would wait a bit longer. When Fats came in it was a simple matter to taunt the less experienced player back into the trap.
Every night Fats won several hundred dollars, but generally no more than a $1,000 or so. For high rollers, it didn't seem like much. But by the end of it, Fats had extracted $20,000 from Richie Florence. “Fats played him like a child, that’s what happened,” recalled Ed Kelly, an eyewitness to the quiet thrashing. “He got Richie doing what he wanted Fats to do, see? Fats was a champion of it.”
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Just got my new Billiards Digest, which includes an article I wrote about the Galveston World Classic. I was amazed that Immonen won the event, given that just a month later I went to Virginia to watch him also win at the U.S. Open. Somehow -- I don't know how -- Ralf Souquet is still above him on some of the points lists. I also see that the Mosconi Cup roster is filling out, and on the European side it includes Immonen, Souquet, Niels Feijen and Darren Appleton. The American team will include Shane Van Boening, Johnny Archer, Oscar Dominguez and Corey Deuel. The competition is set this year for Dec. 10-13 in Las Vegas, at the MGM Grand.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Nick Varner, the last man before Mika Immonen to win the U.S. Open Nine-Ball tournament in two consecutive years, congratulates Mika for repeating the stunning accomplishment shortly after the Finnish player beat German Ralf Souquet in the finals on Oct. 24. Hall of Famer Varner won the U.S. Open in 1989 and 1990. Until Immonen's victory this month, Varner had been the only man in history to have won in Virginia during two consecutive years. Immonen said he hoped to one day join Varner in the Hall of Fame.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
In other U.S. Open news: Johnny Archer and Allison Fisher were inducted into the Billiards Congress Hall of Fame during a banquet on Thursday. It was a truly charming affair, with both Archer and Fisher tearing up as they accepted their awards. Archer's friend and business partner Kim Davenport gave the introductory speech for Archer. (The two are co-owners of a pool hall in Georgia.) Ironically, it would also be Davenport who would eliminate Archer during the U.S. Open on Friday. That loser-side battle went hill-hill, with Davenport coming from behind. He beat Archer after pocketing the nine ball on the break in the 21st game. That's a picture on top of this post of Archer at the Hall of Fame banquet with his parents.
Another guest at the event, sitting right next to Allison Fisher at the grown-up table, was none other than Jean Balukas, the one woman who some say would rival Fisher as the best ever. They shared a toast before the ceremony and signed plenty of autographs afterward.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
And now, with that PSA aside, here's a bit of U.S. Open news. I see from AZ Billiards that Mika Immonen was bounced to the one-loss side in his second round match against veteran road player Chris Bartram. Immonen won the event last year, but with a loss so early he must now be considered a long shot to repeat in 2009.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Here's the rundown of the final winners (and payouts) in the Galveston pro events:
1st Ronnie Alcano $15,500 (Phillipines)
2nd Johnny Archer $8,000 (USA)
3rd Robert Gomez $4,500 (Phillipines)
1st Mika Immonen $25,000 (Finland)
2nd Warren Kiamco $12,000 (Phillipines)
3rd Mike Dechaine $6,500 (USA)
1st Efren Reyes $15,000 (Phillipines)
2nd Shannon Daulton $7,500 (USA)
3rd Cliff Joyner $4,000 (USA)
1st Yu Ram Cha $6,000 (Korea)
2nd Allison Fisher $3,000 (England)
3rd Line Kjorsvik $1,500 (Norway)
Americans placed as high as second in eight-ball (Johnny Archer) and one-pocket (Shannon Daulton). In the 10-ball division, American Mike Dechaine placed third. The Americans were shut out altogether from the top three spots in the women's professional 9-ball event, with Korean Yu Ram Cha taking first.
Even in the wheelchair event, the winner was Kurt Deklerck, hailing from Belgium. Top ranked American Shane Van Boening (pictured above, signing an autograph outside the tournament hall) was shut out from the top spots in each of the major divisions. Veteran Nick Varner, also of the USA, placed fourth in eight-ball.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Immonen, Billiard Digest's 2008 Player of the Year, went on to win the 10-ball event. Skip Maloney, of AZ Billiards, has a good description of Mika's dramatic final against Warren Kiamco posted here. And remember to look for more details about the tournament in an upcoming edition of BD.
Monday, September 21, 2009
In the 10-ball final, it was Mika Immonen over Warren Kiamco. As predicted, Kiamco did not go down easily. Because Kiamco came up through the loser's side, he had to beat Immonen in two sets in order to win the final. Kiamco managed the first set, but lost in the second.
For their victories, Alcano and Immonen take home $15,500 and $25,000 respectively. Efren Reyes on Thursday won the one-pocket event and Yu Ram Cha on Tuesday came out on top in women's nine-ball. The inaugural Galveston World Classic, held in the very attractive Moody Gardens resort in the island city, also featured an amateur competition and a wheelchair competition. It finished up on Sunday. Promoter Louis Vickio of Houston promises to put the show on again next year.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
The winner of the professional women's nine-ball event was Yu Ram Cha, who beat Allison Fisher in the final match on Tuesday. Fisher will be feted in October along with Johnny Archer as the newest inductees into the Billiard Congress Hall of Fame.
Despite the lopsided outcome, the match featured some spectacular shots and tough safeties from both sides. In Rack 4, for instance, Mika came with a tough combo-bank shot into the side pocket. That helped Mika unlock that rack, which left the men tied 2-2. Dechaine ran out most of the next rack to take a 3-2 lead. In rack 8 the two men got into a bit of trench warfare, with both playing repeated safeties. Ultimately, however, Dechaine would leave a little too much showing, and The Iceman then went on to win that game, plus the next seven.
Mika, winner of the 2008 U.S. Open Nine-Ball title, can now finish no worse than second in the Galveson 10-ball event. Dechaine meanwhile must go to the loser's side, where he faces Warren Kiamco today for a chance to meet Mika again for the 10-ball title. As a side note: Kiamco is playing tough. He has already dismantled giants Johnny Archer, Efren Reyes and Fransisco Bustamante on the loser's side. He's a man not to bed trifled with.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Archer won the lag, then ran out two racks to begin with. He broke dry on the third rack, but Varner couldn't capitalize, and Archer won that game as well. The fourth also went to Archer. Varner picked up a game about midway through the match, and did so in high form. Facing a tough layout with two of his balls locked up on the far rail, Varner played a safe while simultaneously sending the object ball down table to a spot near the troublesome cluster. Archer then fouled, giving Varner ball in hand. Varner then used the manufactured helper ball to break out the cluster and proceeded to navigate a very tricky layout.
But that would be Varner's only victory. At one point, Varner got so locked up after a tough roll that he had neither a shot nor any obvious safety. Archer now can do no worse than third in the eight-ball segment. Also left alive are Ronnie Alcano and Roberto Gomez. Archer faces Gomez Sunday at noon.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Heading out tonight for the Galveston World Classic. Looks like Efren Reyes won the 1-pocket part of the event. The eight-ball and the 10-ball finals are scheduled for Sunday. The organizers have promised generous payouts, including $50,000 for first place in the 10-ball Open. The event is new and ambitious and a welcome addition to Texas, which historically has hosted relatively few world-class tournaments.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
"They (Fats and Evelyn) were an odd couple. They had a great affection for each other, and took very good care of each other in a crazy kind of way. She was very consistent. Pool players, when they were making a lot of money, when the hustling was good, buy expensive cars and shoes. But even when times were bad, she (still) had an incredible wardrobe.
When Tom wrote the book, I spent a lot of time with Evelyn. Fats would get to the point -- you know, he was such an ego maniac -- where it was hard to fill in the glue between the gems. We had just moved to Philadelphia. I had to take a bus to Dowell, Illinois to finish up the research with Evelyn. He (Fats) would go into rages. They were funny -- he would have these ego attacks. And so Evelyn had to fill in the blanks, so Tom could get the book out.
It was a freak fluke that the book was ever sold. It happened on a street in New York. I remember how it went down: Tom got out of a taxi and just ran into somebody and they got to talking about pool. It was Roy Chanell, president of World Publishing, and he was a pool nut. And so the book was sold (from that conversation). He (Tom) had to provide and outline, and then it was a done deal."
Monday, September 14, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
What follows is a partial transcript of various interviews with Karen Fox, the first conducted in August of 2000.
"Tom was a sports writer at the time, and he was a very good newsman, as well as being a good sports writer. Somebody called at the sports desk at the Evansville Sunday Courier and Press, and told him that this great Evansville Indiana pool player, Hubert Cokes, an oilman, was going to be participating in the tournament. They said that Tom, with his love for characters, should go to Johnston city, and watch Cokes play.
And this guy, on the phone, said that Cokes was a heavy money-player.
He and I had just started dating, and we had just seen The Hustler a couple of weeks before he got that call. He could not believe that out in the middle of nowhere, in Southern Illinois, were all these incredible pool players. They had this really good tournament room, with good acoustics, and bleachers, in the back. There was a concrete block room where, after the tournament was over, there were heavy-duty gambling. And Tom knew it was a national story.
We got to see it first hand. You know, television has a way of sterilizing stuff like that. ... But what we saw was pure, and raw, and real. There was a moment in time, a freeze frame, that we had that privilege to see. Those guys were incredible characters.
Oh my god, it was awesome. When tom started going over there, he took a bunch of us the 90 miles from Evansville. It was a drive. I worked at the paper too. We had just met. And he e took a whole load of us over there. He had a station wagon. It was so far, that (eventually ) everybody else stopped going, but I loved it."
Friday, September 11, 2009
Here's another great video of Wimpy Lassiter and Boston Shorty playing one-pocket in Johnston City, Illinois. It's from ABC's Wide World of Sports. Lassiter won everything there was to win at Johnston City. You can read more about the famous tournaments an the newly renamed Johnston City Hustler Tournament blog. (It was formerly the George Jansco blog. Same content. Just more stuff.) That's a picture of Shorty, on the left, with fan Ross Parker Simons in 1965. You can read more about Shorty at Onepocket.org, which has inducted him into its Hall of Fame. Shorty also won big in Johnston City.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Wohlwend draws upon some old conversations with Taylor for his story. For instance,the story quotes Taylor describing some of his technique for road hustling:
“A guy in Lexington, Kentucky, showed me how to lose games on purpose. How to talk a big game until the money got big, then start really playing. I’d go on about how good I was, how I’d played Ralph Greenfield the week before and they’d all be laughing at me. They knew I meant Ralph Greenleaf, and thought I was too stupid to know his real name. I’d lose and then I’d say, ‘Well, I can’t really play unless we’re playing for big money.’"
Pool & Billiards Magazine editor Thomas Shaw has noted in a separate article that Taylor was born in the mountains of Anderson County, about twenty miles from Knoxville, on October 1, 1918.
"When I was about eight years old my Daddy bought me a little toy table," Taylor told Shaw. "Later on we lived near the amusement park where the fella who owned the batting cage bought a 2 1/2 x 5 foot table and I got to playing on that. Then we moved downtown near the YMCA and I played on the table there. It just seemed that everything came natural. This boy and I used to go across the street from the school and the guy would let us play one game of rotation for a nickel. Then I started laying out from school and playing. My mother finally caught me and threatened to blow up the poolroom but I just found another place until she caught me again."
Taylor died of cancer on Sept. 5, 2005, at his home in Bossier City, outside Shreveport, Louisiana. Want to read more? Billiards Digest ran an interview with the Bear back in 2005. Onepocket.org also ran a long interview in 2004.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
The diagram at left is brought to us by Mike Shamos (at right), curator of the Billiard Archive. Writing in the September 2009 edition of Billiards Digest, Mike tells us about the history of combination shots -- running all the way back to 1807. One of the shots illustrated here shows a "combination kiss-bank scratch," which would have been worth 8 points in an early cue game known as "English Billiards." The game rewarded players for caroms, pocketing balls and scratches. It required three balls and a table with six pockets. The shot pictured here was taken from a diagram in E. White's A Practical Treatise on the Game of Billiards, from 1807. As Shamos points out, the shot is "a tall order at a time when cues didn't have tips and most players still used a mace."
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
-- An excerpt from a match-up between Jack "Jersey Red" Breit and Gene "Ice Man" Nagy, as recorded word-for-word in John Grissim's 1979 book, Billiards. Chapter nine includes the complete transcript of the session. It reads like a Hollywood script. Very cool.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
For those who don't know, George Jansco was the promoter (along with his brother Paulie) behind the Johnston City hustler jamborees during the 1960s. Lassiter dominated the colorful events, which also featured Jersey Red, Boston Shorty, Ronnie Allen, Harold Worst, Handsome Dan and of course Minnesota Fats. I've attached a YouTube video at the top of this post that features an interview with Fats at one of the southern Illinois tournaments. That's a picture of George Jansco at the upper right. You can find more historic pool videos here. (Freddy "The Beard' Bentivegna also has amassed a cool collection of online videos.) You can read more about George Jansco and his jamborees in Hustler Days.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
A bit of quick biographical information: Worst was born on Sept. 29, 1929, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1949, according to The Grand Rapids Press, "Worst had followed in Hoppe's steps as a 'boy wonder,' having set a record for youth when at the age of 21 he became the youngest player in history to qualify for world championship play." He placed second in that year's national tournament and then fourth in the world meet. In 1954 he won the world three-cushion title during a tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He then went on to amass a great winning record through the first half of the 1960s and might have surpassed Luther Lassiter as that decade's dominant player had Worst not died of cancer in 1966 at the age of 37. Worst was at the top of this game when he got sick. He remained unconquered as the world's three-cushion champion.
You can read more about Worst in a column I wrote earlier for Billiards Digest. The coding is a bit messed up, but it's still available online here. On the top of this post I've inserted an image of the front page of the Grand Rapids Press that features coverage of Worst. Forgive the dark stains. I think I spilled some wine on my hard copy. You can find the home page of the great Freddy the Beard here.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Here's a copy of the full USMBA press release:
Advance tickets are now on sale online for the 2009 Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame Banquet, the United States Billiard Media Association (USBMA) announced today. The dinner banquet, at which pool greats Johnny Archer and Allison Fisher will be formally inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame, will take place Thursday, Oct. 22, at the Marriott Chesapeake Hotel, Chesapeake, Va., in conjunction with the 2009 U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships.
The banquet, honoring Archer and Fisher as the 54th and 55th inductees into the sport’s hallowed shrine, will also be attended by previous inductees and will feature testimonials celebrating the pair’s illustrious careers. Cocktails (cash bar) will be served from 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm, with dinner and the formal induction ceremony running from 6:00pm – 7:45 pm.
“I’m very excited about having the BCA Hall of Fame Banquet at the U.S. Open,” said U.S. Open founder and promoter Barry Behrman. “This promises to be one of the best banquets ever.
“I’m suspending play during the banquet to give Johnny and Allison the respect they deserve,” Berhman continued. “Matches will resume at 8:00 pm that evening.”
Advance tickets are $55 per person (or $500 for a table of 10) at http://www.usbma.com/HallofFame2009/. Advance ticket sales will end Oct. 18. Tickets purchased at the U.S. Open will be $60 per person. Seating is limited.
The 2009 BCA Hall of Fame Banquet is being produced by the USBMA, in cooperation with the Billiard Congress of America and the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Red was at the table and needed all four balls. The Red Raider looked The Professor straight in the eye, remarked "even Houdini couldn't get out from here" and then began his spectacular run. First Red shot the combination seen in the top diagram. That is, he pockets a ball in the upper right-hand corner while simultaneously sinking another back into his pocket on the lower left side. Notice he goes rail first to to make this combination-bank shot. In the next diagram Red pockets the ball into his wicket while simultaneously pocketing the hanger in the side pocket. He then pockets the final two balls after they were spotted back up. Notice here the two-rail bank.
This match-up would have occurred within months of Red's second place finish in that year's U.S. Open. Luther Lassiter won it. You can read more about Red and the U.S. Open in Hustler Days. And please go buy Robin's Winning One-Pocket. It's a great book.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
If there was any female player in history considered the possible equal to Allison Fisher, that player would be Jean Balukas. The Brooklyn-native was a child prodigy, as can be seen in this amazing footage of her pocketing balls. (You have to wait a few minutes to see it.) Balukas competed in her first U.S. Open at age 9, and at age 12 she won her first BCA title. She abruptly left competitive pool in 1988 at the height of her career. Balukas was the second woman ever to be inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame. Fisher, the sixth, was inducted this year.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Here's some footage of Frank Taberski playing "Chinese Pool," which was a popular variation of the game during the early 20th Century. Mike Shamos, in his excellent New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards, described Chinese Pool as a game "in which the cue ball is not stroked but is instead rolled down the groove formed by two cue sticks held parallel to one another."
The origin of the game's rather un-PC name remains unclear. Shamos notes that Americans at the turn of the century commonly applied the adjective "Chinese" to anything done in an unusual fashion. He also speculates that it "may relate to the chopstick-like appearance of two cues held together."
Taberski (the nation's dominant player shortly before the reign of Ralph Greenleaf) could easily run a rack or more playing this odd variety of the game.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Here are two stories about Ralph Greenleaf's marital problems. They include references to a missing tooth, a hurled ashtray, Greenleaf surrendering all his money to one his wives and "barbarous treatment." Both articles are from the Chicago Tribune. The first article identifies Greenleaf's wife as "Beatrice." It's from Dec. 24, 1924. The second is from December 20, 1933 -- almost exactly 9 years later -- and references the more well known of Greenleaf's wives, Amelia Ruth Parker, also known as the Princess Nai Tai Tai. She was a Vaudeville performer. I've referenced the hurled ashtray incident in an earlier post. You can also see a picture of Greenleaf with the Princess in that earlier post. Despite the divorce papers, Amelia Ruth Parker and Greenleaf remained together until his death in 1950.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Friday, July 31, 2009
Here's the mystery part: as far as I know, no one has ever produced any sort of independent confirmation of this long series of exhibition matches. I myself have gone through hundreds of articles in the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, but have never come across a reference. I've asked a few other guys about this -- including pool historians Charles Ursitti and Mike Shamos -- and they agree that they've never come across any any sort of advertisement or news article to provide independent confirmation of the 1934 Greenleaf and Mosconi tour.
The problem may be that without a description of when and where these exhibition matches were played, it's hard to know in which newspapers to look, and in which editions. So I put it to the blogosphere: Has anyone out there hoarded an old article or advertisement from their hometown newspaper? Or how about this: Does anyone even KNOW anybody who's still alive who knew Ralph Greenleaf or his wife, the Princess Nai Tai Tai? I recently wrote about Harold Houle. But such folks are now tough to find.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
"I allowed myself to be steered into the money game, an in-and out affair in which the starting bet was 21 pesos, about three dollars," explained Grissim. "My opponent, a good looking kid named Efren Reyes, was taking some ribbing from friends as he chalked up.... As a score of spectators crowded around Efren broke the balls, leaving an open table but only one decent shot, barely -- those old five by tens are big tables. That was all she wrote. The kid ran out. Efren had the smooth motions and subtle touch that charaterize excellent players everywhere, regardless of age."
Reyes, of course, later gained a reputation as one of the very best players in the world. Grissim's quick pool match occurred about a decade before Reyes first came to the United States under an assumed name.
One other note. In his description of his quick eight-ball match, Grissim describes a variation of the game in which he and Reyes were required to pocket the one and the 15 into the side pockets. This variation is common in Latin America. It's called "jugando con la zona." I played this way many times when I lived in Costa Rica. It raises questions as to how this variation spread to the Philippines, which also has Spanish colonial roots.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Here's a cool picture of Alfredo de Oro, the Cuban-born billiards legend. The picture is from the Library of Congress. I found it posted on flickr. Alfredo de Oro won some of the first straight pool championships, in 1912 and 1913. He also won at Continuous Pool, a precursor to straight pool, and "61 Pool." You can read more about Alfredo De Oro's records in the BCA's official Rules and Record Book.
Here's a very cool picture that someone graciously posted on my billiards history group at Flickr. The person responsible, one John Bosco, has a collection of vintage photographs. "I've been diligently gathering up all of the old images I can find, (most all of them are original glass plate and celluloid negatives), for nearly twenty years now," says Mr. Bosko. This picture is entitled "P.P. Tornich". I don't know why. It was apparently taken around 1915.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Reader Brad Bowlin from Nashville, Tennessee has put out an all points bulletin for old Willie Mosconi videos. The 29 year old says he's been playing pool for the last seven years "and from Day 1 Willie Mosconi has been my idol." Brad notes that he himself has taken a very Mosconi-like dim view of hustlers ("most are thugs or thug wanna-a-bes") and admires Mosconi for the speed in which he played.
"My Question for you is: 'Do you know if there are ANY old video footage of young Willie Mosconi shooting in his prime in an entire match of Straight?" Or even video footage of an exhibition match from the 60s? I'm just looking for something when he still shot particularly fast. I've read his Willie's Game at least three times and maybe even four, and when reading that book (and now your book) the scenes just play out in my head. I can see it all happening and I'd love to be able to have those matches on video to show some friends."
Brad says he has the Willie V Caras Dinner Match video from Accu-Stats. But that was taped around 1999, well past Mosconi's prime. He also has seen the footage of Mosconi's Great Shootout with Fats, which was the subject of my book The Hustler & The Champ. What Brad wants is something earlier, an entire straight pool match, say, where "Mosconi Would almost be running around the table while he was shooting!"
To answer Brad's question: I have come across some old newsreel footage of Mosconi, which I've added above. You can also find more material at the separate Willie Mosconi blog. But I'm always looking for more so I'll join Brad in his call. Anybody with any old footage of Mosconi or any of the other greats -- please send them in (or at least post them on Youtube so they get preserved on the Internet). More Mosconi video would be great, but I'd love to also see more footage of Jersey Red or Boston Shorty or any of the pre-70s lions. And what about an interview with Ralph Greenleaf?
Friday, June 12, 2009
Here's a cool image of Ralph Greenleaf from a 1938 print advertisement for Camel cigarettes. You can find similar images of billiards related advertising at the 3cushion.com website. This site also has plenty of information for collectors and three-cushion enthusiasts. You can also read more about Greenleaf at the separate Untold Stories: Ralph Greenleaf blog.
The newest Hall of Fame inductees have been named -- and they can't go to more deserving players. Allison Fisher and Johnny Archer, two of the most dominating players of the last decade, got the nod last week. Archer, 40, and Fisher, 41, will be honored at the BCA trade show in Las Vegas on June 23. The formal induction comes Oct. 22 during ceremonies at the U.S. Open in Chesapeake, Va.
In case you've been living under a rock during the last few years, Fisher is arguably the most dominating woman player in the history of the sport. She is the winner of over 50 Women Professional Billiard Association titles. Archer is four time world nine-ball champion and the winner of 25 pro tour titles.
The full BCA press release can be found at the Untold Stories: Pool and Pool Players blog.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
You can read more about Big Train and Le Cue at the Professor's blog, Grady's Place. You can also find more about Jersey Red at the separate Untold Stories Jersey Red blog linked to this page.