Sunday, January 23, 2011

Boston Shorty versus Harold Worst

Boston Shorty, four-time winner of the Johnston City One-Pocket competition,  is remembered as one of the greatest one-pocket players ever. Harold Worst won the 1965 Johnston City tournament outright, as well as that year's Stardust Open. Worst could have been remembered as the most dominant player of the 1960s if not for his premature death (at age 37) from cancer.

You can watch the two legendary players battling it out in the video above. I really love the groovy jazz music in the background. Very atmospheric. And if you want to learn more, there's also Hustler Days. The book includes information about the famous Johnston City  tournaments, Worst's dominant play in 1965, and a reference to Jersey Red's travels with Boston Shorty. Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna also has a link to a Jim McKay interview with Worst, which you can find here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

PoolSynergy 15: Earl, Willie and Team Pool

In the youtube video, above, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland illustrates why some believe pool should remain an individual endeavor. It was taken during the 2006 Mosconi Cup, conducted in the Netherlands.  Judging from the video, it appears that Earl's cue did not simply break, but actually exploded. I love the obnoxious air horns, the wiseacre heckler. I can't speak Dutch, but I imagine he's congratulating Strickland for a job well done.

Phoning it in
For this month's edition of PoolSynergy, we've been asked to write about pool as a team sport. I have to confess that I do not play pool as a team sport, and so have few ideas on the topic and no over-arching theme this month. In other words, I'm phoning it in. That's a picture of me doing so, at right.

I do, however, have two unrelated observations -- one from me, and one from Hall of Fame player Nick Varner.

Willie Mosconi: team player?
First Observation: Let's talk about the Mosconi Cup. It's a great event. I find it ironic, however, that what must be considered the most high-profile team event in pool is named for a man who, like Strickland, did not always play well with others. William Joseph Mosconi, one of the greatest players in the history of our sport, was famously moody, a man with little patience for fools. Mosconi would stomp about during tournaments, chastise overly loud audience members and once allegedly attacked a tournament promoter. But boy could Willie play.

Would you want him on your team? And how about Ralph Greenleaf? The legendary player was drunk more often than not. His out-of-control antics even led to an eventual ban from tournament play. Mosconi and Greenleaf played at least two exhibition tours together, but, as far as I know, were never teammates in competition.

Nick Varner
Second Observation (from Nick Varner): As you may recall, I asked Nick some time back about his ideas for fixing pool. The Hall of Famer is the first man in history to win back-to-back titles in the U.S. Open. He's been playing and promoting the sport for years. Varner said one key to future success could be team play. He imagined the possibility of a domestic tour, but with groups of players representing individual U.S. cities or states. In the Mosconi Cup, it's the U.S. versus Europe. With Varner's idea, it would be Texas versus New York, or Los Angeles versus Cleveland.

Varner calls the Mosconi Cup one of pool's most exciting events. He has participated both as a player and as the U.S. team captain. "To really make this game (successful) we need to figure out how it could be economically feasible to have teams like in the NBA or the NFL," he said. "We could have state teams. This creates a geographic fan base. Right now there isn't a whole lot of team stuff going on. But with a Georgia team versus Florida, say, that automatically hits us like a college sport. This (attracts) the sports fan."

Part of Earl's Strategy All Along?
And finally, a note about the video, above. After his assault on that poor defenseless cue,  Earl went on to win his match against Team Europe player Thomas Engert by a score of 7-4. The event that year ended in a 12-12 tie, a good enough showing for the Americans to retain possession of the Mosconi Cup.  It was the only recorded tie in the history of the event.

With Earl on the Mosconi Cup team, the Americans have amassed a record of nine wins, three losses and one tie.  Two of those three losses and the tie came after 2006, well after Earl's heyday as a player. Without Earl, the Americans have amassed a piddling record of two and two.

What does this tell me? First, that during Strickland's heyday the Americans were nearly unstoppable. Of course it's true that teammates like Johnny Archer and Corey Deuel had something to do with the team's winning ways. But it's hard to argue with the Americans' success during Earl's glory years.

Therefore I conclude that when Earl is at the top of his game, you want him on your side. Antics or not, The Pearl wins games. If I could create a dream team, I'd also want Willie Mosconi and Ralph Greenleaf. Imagine the mayhem! Imagine the chaos!

What do you think?

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 Kicks, Banks, Caroms and Combos blog, which you can find here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Is Efren Reyes Ready To Retire?

The Magician Skips This Year's Derby City Classic
Is Efren Reyes getting ready to retire? It's starting to look like that day might not be far off. A Filipino publication recently quoted Reyes as saying his showing in this year's Derby City Classic would help him decide.  “There’s a 50-50 chance (that I may retire next year),” he told the publication, The Manila Bulletin, in November.

But then, just two days ago, the same publication reported that Reyes is dropping out completely from Derby City. The famous Woodstock of Pool begins next week, on Jan. 21st. Reyes consistently has dominated it, having been declared Master of the Table in 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007 and last year -- more than any man living.

The legendary "Bata" cites chronic back pain and his failing eye sight for his decision to skip this year's DCC. He also said he's "losing his touch." When asked if the DCC decision also meant he was retiring, Reyes replied: "Hindi pa naman I think kaya pa." As near as I can figure, that enigmatic combination of Tagalog and English means "not yet, I still think so."

I'm guessing that what Bata is suggesting here is that he feels like he still has some gas left in the tank. And I would certainly agree. After all, he won last year's Derby City 8-ball division, won the Fatboy Challenge, and placed second in the banks division. He also won the Spanish Open in 2010 and the Predator International 10-ball event. According to AZbilliards, only Darren Appleton collected more in in prize money.

It's incredible to me that Reyes is even contemplating retirement. I understand that he's just a few years shy of his 60th birthday, but for my money he's still the greatest one-pocket player alive. It will be a sad day when the Magician finally hangs up his cue.

-- R.A. Dyer

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Untold Stories in Billiards Digest

Alfredo De Oro's controversial return to Cuba

Before the age of Mosconi, before even Ralph Greenleaf: there was Alfredo De Oro, the Cuban-born legend. De Oro won his first pocket billiards crown in 1887 and then went on to win it 31 more times. He was also the only person in history to simultaneously have held both the pool and billiards crowns on two separate occasions. 

During his heyday, De Oro was considered the best cue sports player in the world. Some still say he is the greatest ever.

In the January edition of Billiards Digest, I write about De Oro's glorious return to Cuba in 1918 for a world three-cushion championship. Held in one of the nation's finest theaters and attended by the president himself, that three-day competition is  remembered today as one of the most dramatic ever in three-cushion billiards. But it also ended in controversy and bitterness.

You can read all about it in my Untold Stories column this month, which you can find here. There also also links to previous Untold Stories columns at the Billiards Digest website.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mosconi and Greenleaf -- TOGETHER

Billiard Champs Entertain The Troops

Will the wonders of the Internet never cease? I just came across this very cool footage of legends Willie Mosconi and Ralph Greenleaf sharing an exhibition stage.  (Click here to see it.) Willie appears to be at the peak of his abilities.  Greenleaf looks hung over. The footage, from a website called British Pathe, was shot during a performance for injured troops at Gardner General Hospital, in Chicago. I suspect this footage was taken in January 1944, as it was in that month that Mosconi and Greenleaf went on a four-city tour together. Two months later Mosconi would be inducted into the army. Six years later, Greenleaf would be dead.

The two also reportedly joined together for a tour in 1934, shortly after Mosconi's debut in world competition.  Willie told biographer Stanley Cohen that Greenleaf was drunk for much of it. But even still, Greenleaf's staggering ability seemed undiminished. "I don't know how he did it," Willie said. "Even on long shots he seemed to be able to feel a ball right into the pocket, to shoot it just hard enough without banging away. It was like watching a virtuoso playing a violin, just beautiful."

You can read about Greenleaf and Mosconi in The Hustler & The Champ. There's also more at the separate Greenleaf and Mosconi blogs at

-- R.A. Dyer