Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PoolSynergy 14: The Holiday Gift Guide

Put Danny McGoorty in your stocking
There’s a reason why Robert Byrne is the best-selling author in pool. His books are really, really good. My favorites are his New Standard Book on Pool and Billiards, his Advanced Technique in Pool & Billiards, and his biography of Danny McGoorty.

Our PoolSynergy mission this month was to recommend a single book or video. But this was a task that was beyond me. I simply could not decide. So consider this part of first annual holiday gift-buying guide courtesy PoolSynergy, and the blog. I recommend several of Bryne books, plus two others from different authors. All pool players should have these on their shelves.

McGoorty, A Pool Room Hustler.
This book is hilarious. Danny McGoorty was a poolroom hustler, ladies’ man, and drunk. Bryne recorded McGoorty’s life's story, and then used it to craft one of the most delightful biographies ever written about an American cueist. This book also includes fun anecdotes about some of the most important players of the last century, including Mosconi, Fats, Cochran and even Alfredo De Oro.

Byrne’s New Standard Book on Pool & Billiards
This is the first instructional book that I ever purchased. Who knew that a collection of table drawings and shot descriptions could be so funny?  A friend of mine had lent me a copy many many years ago. After reading only about 10 pages of it, I marched out and bought my own. You should too. (And while you’re at it, pick up Bryne’s second instructional book Advanced Technique  in Pool & Billiards.)

The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards.
Ever wonder how many possible ball arrangements there are in a straight-pool rack? Wonder no more. Mike Shamos, in this wonderful collection of the trivial and the historic, tells us. Here, you can learn about Kelly Pool, the Lambert Trophy, and the origin of the slang "weight." There’s plenty of pictures. As a hardback, it makes a perfect addition to any coffee table.

The Hustler
There is no more important novel related to American pool as The Hustler, by Walter  Tevis. Although not based on the life of Rudolf Wanderone, it nonetheless made success of his career. (Wanderone was the hustler who appropriated the Minnesota Fats name). The book also led to the 20th Century Fox movie, which led to a great renaissance for our sport during the 1960s. You also can read all about The Hustler, Minnesota Fats, the 1960s renaissance -- and the interrelation between the the three -- in my own book Hustler Days.

If you don’t feel like reading, here are a couple of video recommendations:

Anything from Accu-Stats. Call Pat Flemming over at Accu-Stats HQ and he'll recommend a good one. He's never steered me wrong once. Here's his number:  1-800-828-0397. You can also check out the website at

The Hustler (DVD release)
This film is awesome, one of my all-time favorites. The scenes between Paul Newman, as Fast Eddy, and Jackie Gleason, as Fats, are inspirational. The two-disk collector's edition also includes several extra documentaries, including one entitled “Swimming with Sharks” with commentary from Max Eberle and myself. So there’s that.

About PoolSynergy
Pool Synergy is an online collaborative effort by pool and billiard bloggers, in which each agrees to write about a single theme. PoolSynergy submissions are published simultaneously by each of the participating blogs on the 15th of every month. To read a list of the other fine contributions this month, check out the Pool Is A Journey blog, which you can find here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

1918: De Oro versus Otis in Havana

Otis and De Oro step off the steamer, docked at Havana.
Alfredo De Oro, perhaps the greatest cue sports player of all time, met Brooklyn native Charles Otis during a world championship match in Havana in 1918. I've reproduced just above a front page news article that chronicles his arrival in Havana. It appeared in El Mundo, then the principal newspaper in Cuba.  I love the old bowler hats.

It was said that the old lion was ecstatic about his return. Living then in New York City, De Oro had not set foot in Havana for 25 years. A local newspaper man accompaning De Oro on a quick tour of Havana reported that he was  struck speechless by the startling transformations then underway in the Capitol city.

The venue for his match with Otis was the Payret Theater, a regal stone structure built in 1877. That's a picture of it just below. Raised seats were set in the orchestra pit, and more were placed on the stage. Audience members also took seats in the front sections of the theater, as well as in the balconies. The president himself, Mario Garcia Menocal, was among the 2,000 in attendance. It was Menocal who would pin the championship medal, pictured above at right, on the the chest of the eventual victor.

Look for upcoming Untold Stories column about the dramatic contest in Billiards Digest.

The Payret Theater, the venue for the championship match, was built in 1877.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The History of High Rolling

Lassiter & Fats: Big Bets in Today's Dollars

9-ball genius Luther Lassiter
This is what Luther Lassiter said about Norfolk, Virginia, back in the 1940s: "Greatest pool town that's ever been. You had five or six people there who were really gambling. People had lots of cash, and players from all over the country -- anybody that played for money at all -- came to Norfolk."

Lassiter was a prince among the Norfolk hustlers during his World War II Coast Guard years. During one particularly memorable  straight pool match-up Wimpy took $5,000 from a club owner. You can read all about it in Hustler Days.

The size of that $5,000 wager -- and the heart Lassiter needed to win it -- got me to thinking. That amount of money is a lot, even today.  After all, many of the regional tournaments even now pay less for first place. Shane Van Boening  also recently won $10,000 from Mika Immonen, but it took him three days to do it. But Lassiter won his money during a single game in the 1940s. During those years $5,000 was a king's ransom.

You can find various inflation calculators on the Internet. Here's a link to one. It's from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics. So how much is $5,000, wagered in 1946, valued in today's dollars? According to the inflation calculator: $56,000! During a 100-point game of straight pool Lassiter's opponent was within just two balls of taking the cash. That's when Lassiter ran 92 and out. Talk about heart.

There are other references to historic wagers. For instance, Minnesota Fats won about $20,000 from Richie Florence and two others in Johnston City, back in 1971. You can read about that encounter in The Hustler & the Champ. How much would $20,000 be valued today? More than $107,000, according to the  inflation calculator. However, unlike Lassiter's score, it took Fats a couple of weeks to win all that money.

I've also came across a reference to a $250 wager between Alfredo De Oro and Charles Otis back in 1916. It was a private bet between the two players before their championship billiards match held in Havana, Cuba. In today's dollars, the wager would have amounted to $5,000. De Oro, then considered the greatest player ever, was said to have put up his own money. Otis was staked.

Have a story about a particularly memorable wager from yesteryear? Send me the details, and we'll plug it into the inflation calculator.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2010 U.S. Open: Final Video Report sets new viewership records

Video from

That's Samm Diep's final AZbilliards report (above) from the 2010 U.S. Open, which concluded on Saturday in Virginia. reports more than 3 million page views and more than 1 million unique visitors during the tournament, a new record for the website. Such viewership should come as heartening news for those who fret about the future of our sport. Obviously, there's worldwide interest. Through social media, we can get the word out to our friends.

Besides the excellent video reports from my friend Samm (founder of, AZbilliards also delivered both real-time scoring and updated brackets during the U.S. Open. The website was essential viewing for pool fans. AZbilliards counted with the support of Simonis Cloth, the TAP leagues and Lucasi Hybrid Cues to finance its coverage.

Accu-Stats, Billy Incardona and Danny DiLiberto

Also be sure to support Accu-Stats Video Productions, founded by Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer Pat FlemingIf you didn't catch the tournament live through Accu-Stats' pay-per-view service, you can order the DVDs from their website.  I particularly love it when professional pool curmudgeons Bill Incardona and Danny DiLiberto commentate the matches. They consistently deliver some of the most knowledgeable and funny play-by-play reports that you're likely to hear in pool -- or really in any sport.

-- R.A. Dyer

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Appleton wins 2010 U.S. Open

Dreams of 3-peat dashed for Immonen

Video from

England's Darren "Dynamite" Appleton became the newest U.S. Open 9-Ball champion Saturday after sending pool titan Mika Immonen to the one-loss side and then prevailing during a see-saw tactical battle with American Corey Deuel in the finals.

The 32-year-old native of Pontefract, West Yorkshire, England was the only competitor to go undefeated during the week-long tournament, arguably the most prestigious in pool. The U.S. Open this year drew the biggest names in the sport from more than 30 countries. For the first time ever, women also competed along with the men.

Much of the suspense during the late stages centered on Immonen, ranked by many as the world's best. The Finish player had won the previous two Opens in 2009 and 2008 and appeared poised for a three-peat this year. On the final day of competition Immonen and Appleton were the only two undefeated players in the event. Immonen also was favored to win his hot-seat match against the Englishman.

But it was not to be. Immonen trailed by a small margin for much of the contest, but had a chance to tie it up at 10-10 in the 20th rack.  But then Immonen jawed a steep cut shot along the short rail, leaving a quick three-ball run out for Appleton.  Final score: Appleton 11, Immonen 9.

Immonen then joined the two other remaining players on the loser's side,  the Philippines' Warren Kiamco and 2001 U.S. Open champ Deuel. First Kiamco and Deuel would play, and then the winner of that game would meet Immonen for a chance to meet Appleton in the finals. Deuel beat Kiamco in the first match, but only barely. In fact, if not for a new rule this year requiring competitors in the semi-finals and finals to win by a two-game margin, Kiamco would have won. The Filipino was leading Deuel 11-10, but ended up falling to the Ohio player 14-12.

Deuel then met Immonen in the one-loss finals. The inventor of the soft-break had blanked Immonen during the U.S. Open finals nine years ago, and looked to runover the Iceman again this year. Immonen kept it close during the early going, but then Deuel began to pile on games. Deuel punished the Iceman for every mistake and then broke and ran the final three. The final score Saturday: 11-3

With his dreams dashed of becoming the only man to win three consecutive U.S. Opens, a clearly dejected Immonen pledged now to seek another record:  Earl Strickland's five U.S. Open victories.  Deuel, for his part, said he felt fortunate to have come so far. "I just think I played my best match at the right time," he told Nick Leider of Billiards Digest, moments after the victory Saturday. 

With the Iceman's third-place finish, what would be remembered as an epic U.S. Open showdown was set up between Deuel and Appleton. The Englishman pulled out to a quick lead, but then Deuel fought his way back from an 11-9 deficit to get to the hill, 12-11.  If Deuel would have taken the next game, the U.S. Open would have been his. But a dry break allowed Appleton to tie it up at 12-12.

Appleton then broke and ran the next game, bringing the score to 13-12. Deuel fought back, tying the match yet again. But the American handed the next game to Appleton after a scratch. Appleton then broke and ran the next game, winning the championship 15-13.

The final run out was a relatively simple affair,  if such a thing is possible during the final game of America's most prestigious pool tournament. I've posted a video (above) of the run-out, from  "At that point, the only way I was going to miss was if my hand fell off," said Appleton, quoted in Billiards Digest.

Appleton is the first English player to win the U.S. Open. Besides winning the World 10-Ball Championship in 2008, Appleton also won the World Pool Masters title in 2009.  Asked how this title compared to the others, and Appleton responded: "I think I'll enjoy this one more."

Video highlights
Check out the coverage of the Friday's action, in the video report from Samm Diep and AZbilliards, just below. You can also review the video highlights of the previous day's actions in my earlier blog posts.

-- R.A. Dyer

Video from

Saturday, October 23, 2010

U.S. Open Grand Finale Today

Three-peat for the Iceman?

      Video from
Three-peat for Mika Immonen? That's the question for pool fans as the U.S. Open draws to its grand finale today in Chesapeake, Virginia. The Iceman from Finland, winner of both the 2008 and 2009 events, remains one of only two undefeated players. The other is former World 10-Ball champ Darren Appleton of England, who Immonen will play today in the hot seat match. The two remaining players on the one-loss side are Corey Deuel of the USA and Warren Kiamco of the Philippines.

"Of course, I'm thinking about it," Immonen told Nick Leider of Billiards Digest when asked about the possibility of winning the U.S. Open an unprecented three years in a row.

Immonen on BD Cover
The U.S. Open is one of the most prestigious pool tournaments in the world and the closet thing in the United States to a national pool championship. Promoter Barry Behrman began the 2010 extravaganza with a full field of 256 giant killers. The best players from the Philippines, Canada, Germany, the Czech Republic, Peru, Taiwan, Austria and many other countries all made the pilgrimage. Women also competed for the first time this year.

Immonen last year became only the second person in its 35-year-history to have won the tournament twice in a row. The first was Hall of Fame player Nick Varner, who accomplished the startling feat two decades earlier. If Immonen cements his third consecutive victory today, his record likely will stand for decades.

And at this late stage, Immonen certainly is considered the favorite. He's the most highly ranked player of the four left standing, and over the last two years has won just about every tournament there is to win. During his last game Friday he unceremoniously stomped Jason Klatt of Toronto by a score of 11-4. At one point, Immonen broke and ran six racks. Nonetheless, Corey Deuel, Warren Kiamco and Darren Appleton are all extremely dangerous. For instance Deuel, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, also stomped Klatt (11-1) during the last loser's side match Friday and earlier in the day eliminated Shane Van Boening. Deuel is now the last American in the field.

The only person to have beaten Deuel so far is Darren Appleton, who plays Immonen today for a spot in the final. Appleton also scored victories Friday over Efren Reyes, 11-5, and David Alcaide, 11-8, to inch within one game of the championship.

Warren Kiamco is the wild card. The only loss so far for the extremely dangerous player from Cebu, Philippines was his 11-10 heart-breaker to Corey Deuel. The two meet again at 1 p.m. (EST) where Kiamco will have his chance at revenge.

Django on BD Cover
The final is at 7 p.m..  Many fans appeared to be rooting Friday for Immonen, if for nothing else because he might make history. Said Cathy Jo Sawyer Almanza: "it's tough to pick a winner, but since three in row has never been done in this event, I'm hoping that Mika does it."

Newest HOF Inductees at U.S. Open 
Francisco Bustamante became the newest player inducted into the Billiard Congress Hall of Fame.  He received the honor Thursday during a banquet at the event. Also,Terry Bell and Larry Hubbart, founders of the American Poolplayers Association league system in 1979, were inducted in the Meritorious Service category.

Here's a quick bio of Bustamante, from the BCA website:

"Bustamante, nicknamed “Django” because of a resemblance to the lead character in a Western film of the same name, was born in the Philippine province of Tarlac. He began playing pocket billiards at 10-years-old, and began competing in the United States in the early 1990s. He hit his stride in the United States in 1997, winning two Camel Pro Billiard Tour events. He was named Billiards Digest’s and Pool & Billiard Magazine’s Player of the Year in 1998 after notching four major tournament wins, and he earned Billiards Digest’s and Inside Pool’s Player of the Year titles again in 2002, winning five major events in the U.S. and abroad, and finishing second at the World Pool Championship.

Bustamante finally garnered his first recognized world title in 2010, winning the WPA World 9-Ball Championship in Doha, Qatar. His strongest game is 9-ball, where his blockbuster break is legendary; although he is more than proficient at all the major games, as witnessed by his All-Around title at the 2008 Derby City Classic."

You can read Ted Lerne's great profile of Django online this month, at

Follow the action
Also check out Samm Diep's great coverage of Bustamante's induction ceremony, and highlights from Thursday, in her azbilliards report, above. You can find the tournament brackets at and watch the action live through the Accu-Stats pay-per-view webcast.  Here's the link. I'll also be occasionally updating the Pool History Facebook page with news from Chesapeake. You can check out the page here.

-- R.A. Dyer

Friday, October 22, 2010

U.S. Open: Immonen looks for 3-peat

Van Boening remains in hunt
Video from
Mika Immonen made it Thursday to the final 8 of undefeated players in this year's U.S. Open, having grinded out a late 11-10 victory over former champ Gabe Owen.  The dwindling group of undefeated players after the fifth day in Chesapeake looked like a United Nations contingent: they included American Corey Deuel, England's Darren Appleton, young Canadian Jason Klatt , Spaniard David Alcaide, Lo Li-Wen of Taiwan and Germany's Ralf Souquet (the second place finisher in last year's open) and Germany's Thorsten Hohmann.

U.S. favorite Shane Van Boening also remained in the hunt, but from the one-loss side. On Thursday he ran over two very capable opponents, including road player Chris Bartram. Bartram was the only person to have beaten Mika Immonen during the U.S. Open in 2009. Unimpressed, the "Dakota Kid" eliminated Bartram in an 11-0 shut-out. Peruvian Manny Chau didn't fare much better. Chau fell to SVB by a lopsided 11-1. 

A Van Boening victory against Gabe Owen today could set up an interesting matchup with player of the decade Johnny Archer. Archer was sent Thursday to the one-loss side by Lo Li-Wen of China. But he remains very much in contention.  Other players still alive on the one-loss side include former U.S. Open champs  Owen,  Rodney "The Rocket" Morris and Nick Varner. Also alive on the one-loss side are "Korean Dragon" Charlie Williams, newest Hall of Fame inductee Francisco Bustamante,  Filipino Ronnie Alcano, crowd favorite Efren "Bata" Reyes, and Jesse Engel, a relative unknown from Minneapolis.

In fact, it was this last player that helped legends Mike Sigel and Earl Strickland to the exit door. Engel is just 18 years old. According to a short article on the NYC Grind website, the Minneapolis teen-ager now plays on the Seminole Pro Tour and was runner-up in the 19-and-under division at the  BEF Junior National Championships in 2009 and 2010. You can read the article here. 

Besides Sigel, Strickland and Bartram, other notable eliminations Thursday included Mike Dechaine, Stevie Moore and Filipino Lee Van Corteza. The last woman standing was Gerda Hofstatter, who ended up with 65 game wins to 96 losses. She was eventually eliminated by Adam Smith in a close match. "I got the $1,000 bonus for highest woman (finisher), and I also got into the money in the main field," said Hofstatter. "I (also) earned a few hundred bucks and a priceless experience."

Meanwhile, two of the more interesting television matches Thursday included Reyes 11-7 defeat of Spaniard Marc Vidal and Sigel's last stand against a player from the Czech Republic.

Reyes versus Vidal
Crowd favorite Reyes started out slow in his match, fell behind early, and for the first five games or so appeared extremely uncomfortable. After grinding out a particularly tough victory in the 10th game, the Magician asked for a time out. He returned girded for battle, and eventually pulled away from Vidal in about the 15th game. Vidal had proven adept at escaping from many of Reyes' traps, often by spinning the cue ball around obstructing balls. But victory nonetheless slipped away. Reyes beat Vidal by a four-game margin.

Sigel versus Hybler
The legendary Captain Hook met Roman Hybler of the Czech Republic during a late game on the one-loss side. Sigel trailed for much of the match, but key errors by the Czech player allowed Sigel to stay in it. Sigel won the fourth game with a spectacular combination on the two. After that it was a dog fight. Late in the set Hybler stepped away to take a break. Sigel, citing the rules, continued to play and sank the nine-ball in Hybler's absence. "The guy left and I just shot," Sigel said to a tournament director. The game was counted in Sigel's favor, but he nonetheless fell to Hybler after both got to the hill.

Follow the action
I've posted AZbilliard's excellent video round-up of Wednesday's action above. (Still waiting on the Thursday's update.) You also can keep up with the tournament at Accu-Stats, which is webcasting several matches each day. You can find the link here. I'll also be occasionally updating the Pool History Facebook page with news from Chesapeake. You can check out the page here

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

U.S. Open: Immonen remains undefeated

Hohmann wins nine in a row to beat Corteza

Video from
Mika Immonen continues to roll on undefeated during the 35th annual U.S. Open this week in Chesapeake, Virginia. The winner of the last two U.S. Opens easily swept past Max Eberle, 11-5, in one of the featured matches Wednesday night.

But while playing with confidence, Immonen's game was not without errors. And on occasion those errors cost him. For instance, Eberle responded to a missed ball in the 13th game with a spectacular table-length kick. The kick then opened the door to a deliberate and plodding run-out by Eberle. But Immonen responded with several victories. Eventually Immonen's relentless ball pocketing sent Eberle to the one-loss side.

In other action from the winner's side, Thorsten Hohmann beat Lee Van Corteza 7-11. Hohmann dramatically fought back from a 7-2 deficit to win the set. Corteza played almost error free for the first half of the match and Hohmann played without mistakes during the second half. For much of the last 20 minutes, Corteza's only defense was to scowl at Hohmann from his chair. Hohmann took the last nine games in a row, several through break and runs.

Nick Varner also beat Ernesto Dominguez, 11-10, on the winner's side and Efren Reyes beat Japanese player Tomoo Takano 11-2. Mike Sigel beat Ivaylo Petrov 11-5, but he won't be meeting Earl Strickland in a winner's side match. That's because the five-time U.S. Open winner lost Wednesday night 11-10 to Jesse Engel. Engel's victory sent Strickland to the loser's bracket.

Hofstatter the Last Woman Standing

Meanwhile, in action from the one-loss side on Wednesday, Mike Dechaine eliminated Scott Higgins 11-8; Alex Pagulayan eliminated Tony Crosby 11-3; Shawn Putnam eliminated Robert Pole 11- 4 and Dennis Orcullo eliminated Chris Szuter 11-6.  Other eliminations included Chris Bartram's 11-9 victory over Roberto Gomez, Shane Van Boening's 11-3 victory over Steve Sones, John Schmidt's 11-6 victory over Steven Page 11-6,  and Gerda Hofstatter's squeak-by 11-10 victory over John Timmermans. 

Hofstatter is the last woman standing, making her a shoe-in for the $1,000 prize that promoter Barry Behrman is offering for the woman who finishes the highest in the event.

A few of the more interesting sets to watch out for include Johnny Archer's upcoming winner's side match with Stevie Moore, Nick Varner's upcoming match with Rodney "The Rocket" Morris and Ralf Souquet's upcoming match with Raj Hundal. Still waiting to hear whether they'll be played on the TV table.

I've posted AZbilliard's excellent video round-up of Tuesday action above. (Still waiting on the Wednesday update.) You also can keep up with the tournament at Accu-Stats, which is webcasting several matches each day. You can find the link here. I'll also be occasionally updating the Pool History Facebook page with news from Chesapeake. You can check out the page here

-- R.A. Dyer

2010 U.S. Open: Bartram Eliminates Rousey

 Immonen, other top players to appear today
Video from
Samm Diep and AZbilliards provide more great coverage of the U.S. Open 9-ball championship currently underway in Chesapeake, Virginia.  Johnny Archer's dramatic battle with Dennis Orcollo is highlighted in the video above. Archer is a former U.S. Open winner, player of the year and player of the decade. Orcollo was this year's champion at the World Pool Masters tournament.

Sarah Rousey, Dave Bollman and several other top players were eliminated on Tuesday, the third day of action. Road player Chris Bartram, the only person to have beaten 2009 U.S. Open champion Mika Immonen during last year's tournament, eliminated Rousey 11-5 during an evening match. That's a picture of Rousey on the right, courtesy of  Billiards Digest. In other action, Gerda Hofstatter eliminated Joanne Mason Parker 11-4 during a late match.

Some of the top players  expected to make appearances in matches today include George San Souci,  Scott Frost, Mika Immonen, Max Eberle, Nick Varner,  Ernesto Dominguez, Lee Van Cortezza, Thorsten Hohmann, Jose Parica, Daryl Peach, Francisco Bustamante, Oscar Dominguez, Darren Appleton and Ronnie Alcano.

Accu-Stats will be streaming many of those matches online, including Santos Sambajon's match with Tony Crosby at 11 a.m. and Jennifer Barretta's match with Scott Higgins at 1 p.m. For more information, check out Accu-Stats pay-per-view site, which you can find here.

I'll also be occasionally updating the Pool History Facebook page with news from Chesapeake. You can check out the page here.

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

U.S. Open Underway in Chesapeake, VA

First upset: Van Boening loses to Dechaine

Video from
My friend Samm Diep, founder of,  provides the first day highlights for the 2010 U.S. Open in Chesapeake, Virginia. Check out her video report from, above. The story of the day was Shane Van Boening's 11-3 upset loss to Mike "Fireball" Dechaine of Maine. Van Boening, a former U.S. Open winner,  never got close. The Dakota Kid now has an uphill battle to win the tournament through the one-loss bracket.

By contrast, Mika "Iceman" Immonen easily swept past opponent Joey Arbuckle 11-4. Immonen has won the U.S. Open the last two years in a row and is in the hunt to win it again this year.

WPBA pro Jennifer Barretta also made news. Women are competiting in the prestigious event for the first time in history, and Barretta, by beating David Ross 11-5 in her opener on Sunday, joined in that history by becoming the first woman ever to win a U.S. Open match.

Promoter Barry Behrman is offering an added $1,000 prize to the woman who finishes highest in the event.  The overall champion will take home $40,000. The second place finisher wins $15,000.

In defiance to the shoddy economy, the Open this year has a full 256-player field for the first time in a decade. You can check out the progress of your favorite player here, at Accu-Stats is also webcasting on a pay-per-view basis. Here's the link.

-- R.A. Dyer

Friday, October 15, 2010

We Lose Again?

Pool Synergy 12: Pool & Television

Eddy & Charlie: "We lose again?"
Remember this scene? Fast Eddy is shooting pool. He’s been at it for hours, days even. At first Eddy wins big. But the Fatman keeps coming at him, keeps stroking balls, confidently, quickly, one by one. And eventually it all goes south for Eddy. Charlie the stakehorse sits dejectedly to one side. At Charlie’s feet are enough cigarette butts to fill a small pot hole.

The end comes miserably for Fast Eddy.

“We lose again, Charlie?” he asks, already knowing the answer.
“We lose again,” says Charlie.

We all face defeats. Some are trivial. Others sting. The worst are those that come when victory seems so tantalizingly close. These are the soul crushing defeats of come-from-behind candidates, of foreclosed homes and failed marriages. These are the overtime losses that keep the hometown team out of the Super Bowl, of finishing second best.

To me, that scene in The Hustler has always been a metaphor for just this sort of loss. This month's edition of Pool Synergy is devoted to what could be another: the very real possibility that pool will vanish from television.  Our Pool Synergy host predicts that soon, very soon, most American TV coverage for pool will be a memory. “It’s fairly safe to say that sometime within the next couple of years, the only billiards events we'll see here in the states will be trick shots and speed pool,” he writes.

His question: what impact will this have on our sport?

Quick review. Pool Synergy is a monthly collaborative effort in which online pool writers take on a single theme. This month our host, the anonymous founder of the Pool Cue News and Review blog, poses a question that I believe can be answered with but a single word. No essay required. The loss of TV coverage for pool would be disastrous.

But there is hope. Our anonymous host takes it as an article of faith that coverage will fade away. The eternal optimist in me rails against this proposition. I agree our industry has entered into some dark days. But I also believe the changing nature of television should open up new opportunities.

In 1978 Minnesota Fats faced Willie Mosconi in The Great Shoot-Out. It was the most watched pool competition in U.S. history, its rankings commensurate to some World Series games. (Read all about it in The Hustler & The Champ.) But that was the age before cable, TiVo and youtube. Those days are history. Today, television is granular, a medium in which giant ratings are almost unheard of, but where there’s space for relatively low-rated events like hot dog-eating contests, hot rod shows and poker. There’s never been a time with so much bad TV. Or so much good.

It’s been said that reality TV may presage the fall of Western Civilization. But what about reality TV devoted to professional pool? I opened the question recently to folks on my Facebook page. The response was enthusiastic. Said one reader: “It is incredibly frustrating to hear that the country's most popular sport (yes, pool is played by more Americans than football, baseball, soccer, basketball, or midget horseback racing) is lacking so heavily in TV coverage, yet there are shows about 'ice road truckers'? Ridiculous.”

I’m also heartened to see what The Action Report is doing. The recent challenge match between Shane Van Boening and Mika Immonen provides an excellent road map for what could sell on cable. Same rules: $10,000 entry fee. Winner takes all. I imagine hand-held camera shots of serious looking men counting cash stacked in piles. As an added touch the TV producers could have the cash prominently displayed throughout the entire contest. The camera could pan back to it before each commercial break. A little bit of pre-match trash talk also would help.

Why wouldn’t that work? Am I dreaming? It would have the same feel as the Fast Eddy versus Minnesota Fats challenge match in The Hustler, but made for reality TV. It seems to me that such events would be relatively inexpensive to produce, and that venues would jump at the chance to host them because of the potential TV exposure. You could even pit a top woman pro against a top man. Bill it as the battle of the sexes. Imagine the drama. Imagine the pathos. And because of the granular nature of today’s TV audiences, the producers no longer need out-of-the-park ratings to declare success.

The down side would be that two-person events would limit exposure for other players. But such events could become a first step, something to help our sport rebuild in the new media age. In my dream world, broader coverage would follow. I agree with one reader, who wrote me recently that he wanted more “real” pool on TV – games like some straight pool, one pocket or some bank pool. “When I watch pool I want to see the skill, the heart, and the look of determination on the players faces,” he said.

The challenge match format could fit the bill.  The alternative is that our sport will continue its fall into irrelevance. The result, in a word, would be disastrous.

We lose again Charlie?

Van Boening beats Immonen in Shoot-Out

Sledgehammer break makes the difference

Van Boening
The break. That was the story of this week's three-day shoot-out between Shane Van Boening and Mika Immonen. As predicted, Shane's powerhouse 10-ball break shot served him well during the 100-game challenge match. The $10,000 buy-in event concluded last night at New York's Amsterdam Billiard Club with Shane on top, 100-79.

The lanky Van Boening rarely failed to make a ball off his ear-splitting opening shot, and typically would sink two or three. This was too much of an advantage to overcome, especially considering that Immonen's break appeared to have completely abandoned him for long stretches.

Van Boening had a 10-game advantage after the first day, kept that advantage for the second, and then went up by as much as 25 on the last day. The final margin was 21 games.  Both players appeared to be playing somewhat more loosely by the end, especially after the outcome was no longer in doubt. On several occasions Van Boening passed up obvious safeties in favor of difficult but makeable shots.

But there was no trophy for his troubles. Instead, The Action Report founder Justin Collett quietly handed the Dakota Kid an envelope stuffed with cash, his reward for the grueling winner-take-all event.

Both players arrived Tuesday after placing well in separate events. Van Boening had flown in from Central America, where he had won the Nicaraguan Open 10-ball event. Immonen, meanwhile, finished second to Oliver Ortmann in the World straight-pool event held a few days earlier in New Jersey. Both now head to Chesapeake, Virginia for the U.S. Open 9-ball event, which begins Sunday.

For pool fans, the much anticipated competition between Van Boening and Immonen had the feel of a major prize fight.   The two are considered among the best in the world, both having been named players of the year by Billiards Digest. Between them, Van Boening and Immonen have won the last three U.S. Opens in a row.

Fans polled on this site gave a slight advantage to Immonen and some predicted a blow-out for The Iceman.   "Mika is coming back after a long race," said one, after watching the Finnish player go down by double digits on the first day.

The winner of a contest to name the final score was New Jersey resident Thomas Kozloski, who predicted a 100-86 margin in Van Boening's favor. Nobody predicted a wider margin in the American's favor, although he had plenty of fans.

"Hell yeah, go Shane," one said late Thursday. Another was even more succinct. Upon learning that the Dakota Kid had pulled ahead by 18 games and was only 12 from victory, Helene Zhu commented on the Pool History Facebook Page with just one word: "Wow."

You can read more about the fan predictions in earlier posts on the Pool History blog, which you can find here and here.

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Immonen Favored by Slim Margin

But Nearly Half Predict Van Boening to Win in NYC

Fans are almost equally divided as to who will win the big shoot-out that begins tonight between champions Mika Immonen and Shane Van Boening. According to an informal survey conducted by the Pool History Blog, fewer than 52 percent called it for Immonen and slightly more than 48 percent called it for Van Boening. 

The 10-ball event, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, will continue over three days at New York City's Amsterdam Billiards. Victory goes to the first player to win 100 games. Both players have put up $10,000. The event is being webcast as a pay-per-view event by The Action Report.

"Both are consistent and awesome pool players, but I'll have to go with Shane for sure," said one reader, who predicted Van Boening would come out on top 100-91. "I know Mika is an awesome player and anything can happen, but I'll still pick Shane in a close one."
"I give Mika the edge only because he has more experience and in a long race like this, I think a few situations will come up where experience will make the difference," said another, who predicted Immonen would win 100-94. 

Readers were also asked to predict the final game tally for each player. Those predictions were then averaged. Again, Immonen held a slight lead in this category. (See the graph at the top of this post.) Fans predicted that Van Boening would win 90.79 games and Immonen would win 95.93 games. Although the challenge match is to 100 games, neither player is predicted to win 100 because of the effect of averaging. 

Both Van Boening and Immonen have been named Billiards Digest players of the year. Between them, they've also won the last three U.S. Opens in a row.

The Pool History blog will send a free book to the fan who most closely predicts the final outcome.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

1918: Alfredo De Oro Returns to Cuba

Billiard champ greeted as conquering hero 

After a decades-long absence, Alfredo de Oro, the great Cuban pool and billiards champion, returned in 1918 to his homeland. The Cuban government had just granted De Oro a lifelong pension in recognition of the acclaim he had brought his native land. De Oro, then living in New York City, returned the goodwill by agreeing to play a world championship in Havana. The challenger was Charles Otis, then one of the top U.S. players.

I recently found a reference to De Oro's return to Cuba in a news article that appeared in  The New York Times. Through a little more sleuthing (at the Latin American Studies Library at the University of Texas) I turned up plenty more about De Oro's return, including extensive coverage from Cuba's El Mundo and Havana Post newspapers.

I'll write about my findings in an upcoming Untold Stories column for Billiards Digest. In the meantime, check out this Jan. 18, 1918 copy of  El Mundo. Coverage of De Oro's match against Charles Otis is stripped across the front page. (You'll have to click on it to view it better.)

Some quick background: According to his short bio in the BCA's Official Rules and Record Book, De Oro first gained the pocket billiards crown in 1887 and then went on to win it 31 more times. De Oro also held the three-cushion title ten times between 1908 and 1919. He was born in Manzanilla, Cuba on April 28, 1863. He died in 1948.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fans Give Very Slight Edge to Immonen

But predictions split for big shoot-out with Van Boening
So far, slightly more fans pick Mika in Oct. 12-14 shoot-out.
So far, fans are almost evenly divided as to who they predict will win the big shoot-out Oct. 12-14 between Mika Immonen and Shane Van Boening. I threw the question out yesterday, with the promise of a free book to the person who most closely predicted the final outcome. The contest is 10-ball, race to 100. Both players have put up $10,000. Winner takes all.

Of the 23 people who immediately made predictions, 12 picked Mika and 11 picked Shane. Interestingly, however, a few said Mika would win in a blow out. One fan predicted Mika at 100 and Shane at 61 -- a 39 game difference. Averaging out the predictions of games won, I find that fans predicted that Mika would win 96.0 games and Shane would win 90.2. The larger spread in this category is attributable to those who picked Mika in a blow-out.

There's still time to enter the contest for the free book. Here's the rules: I'll send a copy of the Hustler & The Champ or Hustler Days to the person who most accurately predicts the final score. Only one prediction per person. I'll give away more than one book -- up to five, at random -- if more than one person predicts the right outcome.  To vote, simply comment at the bottom of this post with your prediction. It's easier for me if you list Mika first, his score, and then Shane, with his score. That way I won't go blind looking at all the numbers.

You can also slide over to the linked Facebook page and make your predictions there. The contest closes at 4 p.m. central time on Oct. 12, before the opening day break.  I've also created a separate online poll, at the right. The poll has nothing to do with the book contest. It's just an easy way to keep up with all the fan predictions.

A bit of background about both players: Between them Van Boening and Immonen have won the last three U.S. Opens in a row.  Many consider Van Boening America's finest player. Many consider Immonen (a native of Finland now living in New York) the greatest from Europe. Maybe the world. Both have been named Billiards Digest players of the year.

The three-day pay-per-view event is sponsored by The Action Report, AZ Billiards, CueSports International and others. I have nothing to do with this event, am not sponsoring it, nor have I been paid a dime to endorse it. However, I hope this event is successful. With the dearth of quality pool of TV, it's heartening to see creative events like this one live streamed on the web.

For more information, check out The Action Report website at

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mika or Shane?

The Conversation from Justin Collett on Vimeo.

Just one week until the high-stakes action match between Mika Immonen and Shane Van Boening, two of the greatest players alive today. The game: 10-ball. The venue: New York City's Amsterdam Billiards. Each puts up ten grand. Winner takes all.

Between them Van Boening and Immonen have won the last three U.S. Opens in a row.  Many consider Van Boening America's finest player. Many consider Immonen (a native of Finland now living in New York) the greatest from Europe. Maybe the world. Both have been named Billiards Digest players of the year.

The three-day pay-per-view event begins Oct. 12. It's sponsored by The Action Report, AZ Billiards, CueSports International and others. I have nothing to do with this event, am not sponsoring it, nor have I been paid a dime to endorse it. I'm just geeked. So much so that I'll send a free book to the fan who most closely predicts the final tally.

I hope this event is successful. With the dearth of quality pool of TV, it's heartening to see creative events like this one live streamed on the web.

For more information, check out The Action Report website at

-- R.A. Dyer

Saturday, October 2, 2010

History of Sharking 2.1

The Alfredo De Oro Bladder Technique

De Oro
I wrote an essay sometime back in which I listed some of the most popular sharking techniques in history. Somehow I neglected to mention one of my favorites. During the 1936 World Billiards Tournament, when Alfredo De Oro was 71 years old, the Cuban master found himself matched up against the legendary Welker Cochran. Cochran was then at the top of his game.

This is was what Cochran had to say about the encounter:
 "I knew the old man would have to take six piss breaks during the game. I couldn't complain about it because of his age, and I wasn't going to let it bother me if he took a lot of time. Halfway through the game he hadn't asked for permission to leave the table and I started worrying about him. Started worrying about his bladder. After all, he still hadn't gone to the can. Was he alright? Was he going to go in his pants? Was he in pain trying to hold it back? I got so worried about his bladder I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing. That old man did not take one piss the entire game, and that's what beat me."
That anecdote was included in Robert Byrne's hilarious book, McGoorty: A Poolroom Hustler. If you haven't read the book, you should do so immediately.  It was also from Bob Byrne that I learned about another great book, The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship, by Stephen Potter. I took many of the sharking techniques listed in my earlier post from that book.

Sharking, technically, is different from hustling. A person who sharks uses psychological warfare to distract an opponent. For instance, he might intentionally blow his nose as his opponent is shooting. A hustler employs outright deceit. The most obvious example is the player who intentionally shoots poorly in order to lure the guileless into a bigger bet.

I have never come across any evidence that Alfredo De Oro hustled pool. But it's not surprising that a man now remembered as one of the greatest in history would resort to sharking (or any other legal tactic) to win.  De Oro (1863-1948)  won more than 30 pocket billiard titles.  That's more titles than both Willie Mosconi and Ralph Greenleaf. De Oro also held the three-cushion title ten times between 1908 and 1919.

-- R.A. Dyer

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wimpy Lassiter's World War II records

[You can also read this post and more at the website]
Wimpy Lassiter spent most of World War II on one of three Coast Guard cutters, all of which operated just off Norfolk. The Navy subsumed the Coast Guard during the war, and the cutters were tasked with picking men from the burning wreckage of German u-boat attacks. By all accounts, Lassiter made for a terrible sailor. Eyewitnesses tell us that he was sick most of the time. Lassiter himself told a friend that he wanted to crawl off and die because of the motion sickness.

While researching Hustler Days I reviewed Lassiter's military records and put together a timeline. I've reproduced it below. You might come across a few of my typos here and there because this is pretty much how the timeline appeared in my raw, unedited notes. I find the entry for May 8, 1943 particularly instructive. The military records for that day indicate that Wimpy neither desired a job, nor had requested to attend a service school. This shouldn't come as a surprise, as Wimpy already was making himself rich in Norfolk. He was said to have amassed several hundred thousand dollars in pool winnings in the  pool halls during these years -- and remember, this was the 1940s. Under such circumstances, why would he want to attend a service school?

Lassiter would go on to win eight major 14.1 titles during the 1960s -- and that's not counting his four straight pool victories at Johnston City. He also picked up five nine ball championships in Johnston City, a Johnston City one-pocket victory, and he won the Johnston City all-around championship five times.

I've also posted this time line of his early years in my separate Wimpy Lassiter blog. You can find it here.

Total time in Service: Three years, 10 months, and 7 days.
Spent time aboard vessels: CG 83511, CG 74307, CG 74306

September 1934 - Dec. 14, 1937
Attended high school. In letter by Edgar E. Bundy, Superintendent of Schools to recruiting board, Wimpy was said to have left school for work.

Employed by J.C. Connery, Burgess Street, Grocer man (according to Coast Guard application), drinks intoxicating liquors on ``rare occasion,’’ never convicted of crime.

April 2, 1941
Walks into recruiting station, Norfolk, to sign up. Signs special temporary enlistment contract. Employment was shown as clerk; enlisted or three years; described as 22 years old, 5’10’’, weighing 136.5, with blue eyes, black hair, fair complexion,

April 22, 1941
Receives physical examination that reports: 20-20 vision, not color blind, hearing normal, height 70 inches, weight 136.5 pounds, chest (exhale) 34; (inhale) 31 pulse before exercise 84, after exercise 100, after three minutes 84. Tonsillectomy, 1931. Age 22 years, 6 months.

April 25, 1941
A form he fills out shows no experience in any trade.

May 1, 1941
Accepted for service in Norfolk, VA. Receives clothing bounty pay of $112.75 Immediately transferred (at 2:30 p.m. that day) to Curtis Bay, Maryland for training.

May 1, 1941
In designation of Beneficiaries for Death Gratuity, names mom, Florence L. Lassiter as beneficiary. No mention of dad. Signed by recruiting officer.

Aug. 12, 1941
Requests transfer to Elizabeth City, where Wimpy understands vacancies exist in Seaman branch.

Aug. 27, 1941
Transfer denied.

Sept. 1, 1941
Advance from rating from Seaman to Seaman second class.

Dec. 2, 1941 (1730)
Depart for temporary duty, course of instruction at the Internal Combustion Engine School, Norfolk, upon completion report to the senior Coast Guard officer, Fifth Naval District, for assignment.

Dec. 3, 1941-Feb. 14, 1942
Class assembles. Names of classmates listed in records. Special qualifications record shows:
"Norfolk training station, 2-14-42, completed operators’ course in Internal Combustion Engines, with a final mark of 76.3 or 3.1, 43rd in a class of 45 men."

Dec. 6, 1941
World War II begins.

Feb. 21, 1942
Transfer to CG-140 (There is some uncertainty on this entry).

Nov. 17, 1942
Also shows him aboard CG 73406.

March 21, 1942-Nov. 20, 1944
Transfer to CG 74306.

June 8, 1942
Raises in rank to Ffc (something first class -- uncertainty on this entry).

March 15, 1942
Landing party boat training, New River, N.C..

Nov. 17, 1942
Promoted to machinist mate second class.

May 31, 1943
Becomes machinist mate first class.

July 31 1943
Trains on Camp Glen Rifle Range, receives expert rifleman’s medal on 14 Aug. 1943.

April 30, 1944
Enlistment involuntarily extended for the duration of war, plus six months.
Vessel Designation: CG 74307, at CG base: 05-013.

May 1, 1944
Enlistment involuntarily extended for duration of war, plus six months.

May 8, 1943
Coast Guard Enlisted Qualification Card Shows: 7 years grammar school, ending in 1931; three years High School, ending in 1934 (which means six years of playing pool before the service), And Grades of 80 in social studies, 66 in Arithmetic, and 79 in Mechanical aptitude. Shows no service schools qualified for, and no service schools desired. Weight then: 158 pounds. Main occupation: no jobs.
Says: "No jobs, no service schools desired."

Nov. 7, 1944 (1145) -Nov. 24, 1944
Received inpatient treatment for Pyelonephritis. Vessel designation CG-74306.

Nov. 20, 1944-Nov. 29, 44
Aboard CG 74306.

Nov. 29, 1944 through Sept. 12, 1945
Stationed aboard CG 74307.

Sept. 12, 1945
On leave, from vessel CG 74307.

Sept 16, 1945
Transferred to CG 83511 for duty, CG Patrol Base, Municipal Pier, Norfolk, VA; apparently from CG 74307.

Oct. 1, 1945
Letter from J.I. Crews states: "Lassiter ... has completed a continuous period of three years’ active service on 4 April, 1944, with no mark in conduct of less than 4.0. Accordingly, appropriate entry has been made of the service record and above named man has been authorized to wear appropriate (ribbon) in lieu of issue of actual award at this time."

Oct. 10, 1945
1300 hours, letter addressed to Wimpy in Norfolk, Virginia says, "Proceed to: Portsmouth, Virginia, CO.CG Personnel Separation Center, No. 5, Crawford Street. Discharge from the Coast Guard on Draft No. Nornor-56."

October 11, 1945
Discharge papers show that he weighs 161 pounds. Apparently gained 25 pounds in the service (up from 136.5 pounds).

October 12, 1945
Discharged in service

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Accu-Stats webcast: Captain Hook's Return

Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, a three-time world 14.1 champion, began playing pool at age 13 and then turned professional at 20. He won his first  U.S. Open 9-ball championship in 1975, and then went on to spectacularly amass nearly 40 additional 14.1 and nine-ball titles. He was inducted into the Billiard Congress Hall of Fame in 1989, at the age of 35. Sigel was the youngest male ever to be inducted by the BCA.

And now, after a long hiatus, Captain Hook is back! He recently won the Bob Stock Memorial 9-ball Tournament, and placed fifth in the Seminole Tribe of Florida Empire State Championships.  Also expect to see Sigel at this year's U.S. Open 9-ball Championship, Oct. 17-23. He's a three time winner of the event.

The very cool Accu-Stats video company this week has webcast a live 14.1 match between Sigel and founder Jerry Tarantola. You can start watching the video by clicking on the screen, above. Sigel and Tarantola are playing to 125. The entire match can be viewed here.

-- R.A. Dyer

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Mail Bag: Ames, Allingers & Mosconi

For my recent Pool Synergy contribution, I wrote about Willie Mosconi, The Hustler (for which Mosconi served as a technical advisor) and the contents of the billiard legend's pool case. One of the items that I described was a neatly folded piece of paper that contained a list of shots, apparently from Willie's trick shot routine. But reader Erling Hammarstrom, in a letter from Sept. 26,  said he had watched Mosconi in a number of exhibitions, and that the shots described in the note do not match those that he remembers.

Hammarstrom also has an interesting memory of the Ames' pool hall, in New York City. Here's what Hammarstrom has to say:

"I had the opportunity to see Onofrio Lauri and Mosconi play in a number of exhibition matches. In reviewing the list of trick shots it appears that they are not all the shots that Mosconi would use after an  exhibition. Shot number 15 with the three cues was Lauri's signature shot. Mosconi always completed his trick shots with the long masse. Mosconi would stroke down on the cue ball sending it three quarters of the length of the table before the english took and it spun back making a ball in the corner pocket. 

My favorite Mosconi shot was when he would roll a ball down the table and hit it with the cue ball making the object ball in the corner pocket. He would do this a couple of times and then said, lets make it a little more difficult. He would put two balls,one on either side of the corner pocket so that you could barely pass a ball in between them. He then rolled a ball down the table, hit it with the cue ball and knocked it cleanly in between the two balls guarding the pocket. He was incredibly accurate. 

Speaking of Mosconi I bumped into him at the entrance to Ames Billiard Academy. He told me that the place was closed because they were making a movie. I mentioned to him that I had seen him play Jackie Gleason on television recently and did he hold back so he wouldn't beat him too badly. He said no. Gleason was a real good pool player capable of running a hundred balls. The movie they were filming was the Hustler. Needless to say I tried to get in the movie as an extra to no avail."

And speaking of famous pool halls that begin with the letter "A,"  reader Michael McCafferty, author of the Diary of a Pool Shooter blog, sends in his recollections of the famous Allingers in Philadelphia. I had written about the pool hall in a Sept. 12 blog post, after a reader had sent me copies of some photos that had hung from its walls. Here's McCafferty's note:

"I remember Allingers! I played there a few time in the late '50s, early '60s, when I was still in school.

It was on the second floor, but since whatever was on the first floor had really high ceilings, the climb up the stairs to Allingers was long and narrow, and it wasn't unusual to pass a few bums hiding out from the weather.

Inside, right in front of the counter, was the main action table, with a prominent sign proclaiming 'NO GAMBLING', but of course that was just for show.

The floors were all bare wood planks, and I remember that the place wasn't a high example of cleanliness, but there seemed to be a high degree of orderliness.

The strongest memory I have of Allingers was the rack girls. You could rack your own, of course, but if you could also get help. Bang your stick on the floor a couple of times, yell 'RACK!' and a little black girl would scurry over and rack 'em for you, for tips. I remember the going rate was a dime a rack, pretty good money in those days.

Allingers was a Philly landmark, the high holy place of pool south of New York City.

When I graduated from college and started working for a living, pool left my life for 40 years, during which time Allingers quietly closed up forever."