The HyperTexts

Famous Hustlers, Gamblers and Pool Sharks

One tricky thing about identifying the greatest pool hustlers is that the better they were at hustling, the less likely we are to know just how good they really were. But sometimes hustlers use reverse psychology, and try to make their marks believe that they overestimate their own abilities. Is this why Minnesota Fats would say boastful things like ...

Beat me? King Kong couldn't beat me! — Minnesota Fats, playing U. J. Puckett, another notorious hustler

Here's an interesting comment about how the real hustlers end up winning everything that isn't locked down:

Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle. — Abraham Lincoln, a self-described "billiard addict"

Who were the best hustlers? One can never trust anything a hustler says. But we can hazard some educated guesses because the greatest hustlers win much more than they lose, and sooner or later the word spreads that they're tough to beat. So here are some educated guesses ...

I watch a man shoot pool for an hour. If he misses more than one shot, I know I can beat him. — Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter
If I ever had to have someone else shoot pool for my life, win, lose, live or die, the man I'd want shooting for me is Don Willis. — Luther Lassiter
My game isn't a carnival. I am simple and consistent, but dangerous. — Jose "The Giant Killer" Parica

compiled by Michael R. Burch

#20) David Matlock (#1 on a bar table)
        Walter Lindrum (Australia's #1, Lindrum set 57 world records and gave thousands of exhibitions, raising millions for charity)
#19) Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone (#1 at hustling and showmanship; he helped generate immense public interest in pool)
#18) "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts (#1 shotmaker; also a great hustler, showman, instructor and pool ambassador)
        Keith "Earthquake" McCready (another great shotmaker, run-out artist and personality)
#17) Jose "The Giant Killer" Parica (#1 at kicking; great money player; has won more than 100 tournaments around the globe)
#16) Steve "The Miz" Mizerak (the affable John Madden of pool; another wonderful ambassador of the game)
        Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins (a great player despite his quirky stroke; also an excellent TV analyst)
#15) Vernon "Burnie" Elliot (#1 "undercover" shark of all time; he would play anyone for anything, anytime)
        Don Willis (another legendary undercover "monster" player)
        Dick Hunzicker (another legendary player; Willie Mosconi cautioned friends not to tackle him at straight pool)
#14) Leonard "Bugs" Rucker (especially strong at bank and one-pocket)
#13) John "Rags" Fitzpatrick (#1 at one-pocket, according to legends Eddie Taylor and Bill "Weenie Beenie" Staton)
#12) Raymond Ceulemans (#1 at three-cushion billiards in the modern era, with 24 world championships and 11 in a row)
        Ronnie "the Rocket" O'Sullivan (#1 at snooker; he ran a perfect 147 on a record 12 different ratified occasions and has 751 century breaks)
#11) Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer (#1 for making difficult shots look routine; great form; precision pool personified)
#10) Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel (#1 at safeties; seldom missed a makeable shot, even under intense pressure)
#9) Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen (#1 at power one-pocket, shooting with mop handles and other crazy spots)
#8) Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor (#1 at bank, almost as good at one-pocket)
#7) Earl "The Pearl" Strickland (#1 at run-out nine-ball, a McEnroe-like talent but with similar temper tantrums)
#6) Efren "The Magician" Reyes (#1 at rotation; great kicker; strong at all disciplines)
#5) Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall (#1 for long-term spectacular consistency; rarely misses or gets out of line; more consistent than Reyes)
#4) Alfredo de Oro (held world titles in three-cushion billiards and straight pool simultaneously several times, an impressive feat)
#3) Ralph "The Showman" Greenleaf (pool's first charismatic superstar; like Babe Ruth he stirred public interest in his sport with skill and pizzazz)
#2) Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter (he dominated the legendary Johnston City pool hustler tournaments despite being well past his prime)
      Willie "Mr. Pocket Billiards" Mosconi (the undisputed king of straight pool when straight pool was king, he routinely ran hundreds of balls)
      Willie "The King" Hoppe (#1 at three-cushion billiards; he won 51 world titles and held the high run for 50 years, set on an unheated table)
      James Evans (being black he couldn't play in pro tournaments during the dark days of segregation, but he would challenge the winners, drill them, and still take the prize money!)
      Alfred M. Frey dominated the earliest American pocket billiards pro tournaments: fifteen ball, eight ball, 61-pool and continuous pool (the forerunner of straight pool).
#1) Harold "the Best" Worst (Lassiter and Taylor dodged him, other top pros demanded mortal locks but still "everybody that played Worst shook")

There are no "losers" on the list above, just as there are no losers in Cooperstown or Canton. And good cases can be made for any of these High Honorable Mentions: Joe "The Butcher" Balsis, Jean Balukas, Jack "Jersey Red" Breit, Melvin "Strawberry" Brooks, Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge, "Machine Gun" Lou Butera, Francisco "Django" Bustamante, Jimmy "Boy Wonder" Caras, Irving "The Deacon" Crane, Arthur "Babe" Cranfield, Welker Cochran, Steve Davis, Allison "The Duchess of Doom" Fisher, Stephen Hendry, Mika "The Ice Man" Immonen, Larry "Boston Shorty" Johnson, "Champagne" Ed Kelly, Johnny Layton, Sang Chun Lee, Johnny "Irish" Lineen, Ray "Cool Cat" Martin, Mike "Tennessee Tarzan" Massey, "Cowboy" Jimmy Moore, James "Cisero" Murphy, Alex "The Lion" Pagulayan, Jim "King James" Rempe, Erwin Rudolph, Jake "the Prodigy" Schaefer Jr., Frank "The Inexorable Snail" Taberski, Alfie Taylor, Nick "Kentucky Colonel" Varner

Ironic trivia question: Was Harold Worst the best pool shark? Some keen observers who saw him play thought so, including Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Minnesota Fats, "Champagne" Ed Kelly, Jay Helfert, Freddy "the Beard" Bentivegna, Bill "Mr. Three Cushion" Smith, and Artie Bodendorfer. And one might suggest that other greats, such as Luther Lassiter and Eddie Taylor, endorsed Harold Worst as the best by refusing to play him. Thus, the last player on the alphabetical list is certainly not least.

The best pool nickname of all time? Frank "The Inexorable Snail" Taberski gets my vote. He was also called "The Sloth." His hustle was to play so slowly and deliberately that he drove his competitors insane (or at least boiling mad). The first pool tournament shot clock was instituted because of his laggardly antics. He forfeited his world title in 1919 after officials set a one-minute time limit on shots, but he came back to win four more titles in the late 1920s. Despite his slow play (or perhaps because of it), Taberski was ranked number seven in the Billiard Digest list of the fifty greatest players of the century. And if his slow play was a psychological tactic, he might have been the greatest pool hustler of his era, to boot! 

Any player on the list above, at his absolute best would be hard for us mortals to beat, so the "best player" at any time is the one with the most talent, playing his best game, who has the hottest hand. But the very best players were the ones who played at the highest levels the longest. When Louie Roberts and Keith McCready were "on" they could play with anybody, but they didn't hit their top speed and maintain it as consistently as the higher ranked players. If I had to pick one player to shoot for me with everything on the line, I would pick Buddy Hall for his remarkable consistency and composure. But if I wanted to be entertained, I would choose the charismatic go-for-broke run-out kings: Louie, Earthquake, the Pearl. And if I just wanted to win lots of cash, by hook or by crook, I would bet with Fats.

Why are there no women in my top twenty? Not because I'm sexist, but because, for whatever reason, the best female players are still not as good as the best men. For instance, Jean Balukas had a high straight pool run of 134, which is damn good, but some of the men on my list have doubled or tripled that number. Willie Mosconi nearly quadrupled it. But women are narrowing the gap. Ewa "The Striking Viking" had the high straight pool run in WPBA competition for many years, with 68 balls in 1992. More recently, Loree Jon Jones, Jennifer Chen and Jeanette Lee have had runs in the range of 140 to 150+ consecutive pocketed balls. Alfredo de Oro's high run in a tournament was only 82 balls, according the New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards, so things can become a bit hazy. But there are hundreds of men, many of them unknown to the public, who have run 150 balls at straight pool, so for now I'm going to stick to my guns and say that, while there are some great female players, the best male players are still better by a comfortable margin. The best female shark that I have seen play is Allison "The Duchess of Doom" Fisher.

Don't gamble with her ... or she'll "bust" you ...



Her name is Ewa Mataya Laurance, nee Ewa Svensson, the "Striking Viking." She's a BCA hall of fame pool player, and the wife of Jimmy "Pretty Boy Floyd" Mataya! And do you really think you can outshoot this shark, with your eyes popping out of your head? ...







Her name is Anastasia Luppova. And don't even dream about playing any of these guys for money, regardless of what they're wearing ...

The best money players of all time: Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge, Vernon "Burnie" Elliot, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, "Titanic" Thompson, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Keith "Earthquake" McCready, "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts, Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, Don Willis

While Minnesota Fats many not have been on par with run-out specialists like Ronnie Allen and Buddy Hall, when it came to money-making "propositions" he was second to none. The goal of hustling is to end up with the loot, and by that measure Fats was a world champion. Still, it's hard to imagine Fats even trying to match up with Buddy Hall, much less beating him.

"Until you've received a spanking from Mr. Buddy Hall, you don't know what perfect pool is about." — Alfie Taylor

The most intimidating pool sharks of all time: Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, "Titanic" Thompson



The photo above is of Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall taken in 1986 by Billie Billing. Hall, the picture of intensity, seldom looked happy at a pool table, even when he was winning in a cakewalk (which he usually was).

"Titanic" Thompson, aka Alvin Clarence Thomas, earned his nickname because when it came to gambling, he was always sinking his opponents, whether at billiards, golf, dice, horseshoes, cards, or various other "propositions." He allegedly killed five men (each of whom, according to him, would have admitted they got what they deserved!). Minnesota Fats called him "the greatest action man of all time." Ben Hogan said that he was the best golf shotmaker he ever saw. (When asked if he would become a golf professional, Titanic Thompson demurred, claiming that he couldn't afford the pay cut.)

Billy Burge - aka "Cornbread Red"

Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge, circa 1982. Several of the black-and-white pictures on this page were taken at the 1982 Dayton Nine Ball Open, at Forest Park Billiards in Dayton, Ohio. The billiard hall was owned by Joe Burns at that time. These striking photos were taken by Mike Haines; the photo editing was done by Bill Porter. My thanks to them for their excellent (and artistic) work.

Bugs -9

Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, circa 1982.

The best "undercover" hustlers and players (the ones the general public still hasn't heard about): Richie Ambrose, Glenn Atwell, Smokey Bartlett, Jafar Basheer aka "Patch Eye," Jerry Brock, Eugene Browning, Jack Cooney, Warren "The Monk" Costanzo, Rod "Surfer" Curry, Vernon "Burnie" Elliot, Ricky Gracyk, Peter Gunn, Horace Harper, Bingo Harrison, Dennis Hatch, Larry "Gabby" Hill, Norman "Hitch" Hitchcock, Bud Hype, Tom Jennings, Bill Lawson, Dan Louie, Dick Lane, Frank Lively, Henry "LotsaPoppa" McCloud Jr., Peter Margo, Jimmy Matz, Chuck Morgan, Johnny Morrow, Willie Munson, Gary "The Bushwhacker" Nolan, Reed Pierce, Gary Serville, Sam Soto, Gary Spaeth, Sonny Springer, Roy "The Cook" Stanzioni, "Hippie" Jimmy Reid, David Rhodes, Weldon Rogers, George Rood, Denny Searcy, Ray Schultz, Bernie Schwartz, Randy "The Exterminator" Smith, Greg Stevens, Jay Swanson, Toby Sweet, Mark Tadd, Danny "High Heels" Tator, Cheyenne Pete Trujillo, Cecil Tugwell, Howard Vickery, Nick "the Indian" Vlahos, C. J. Wiley, Don Willis, Harold Worst, Mike Zuglan

There is an account that Danny "High Heels" Tator was in danger of going to jail on a drug count unless he could explain the source of his income and impressive jewelry. Buddy Hall appeared as an expert witness and told the judge that Danny played pool at a professional level.

The best big money players: Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Jack "Jersey Red" Breit, "Jew" Paul Brusloff, Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge, Clyde Childress, Jack Cooney, Vernon "Burnie" Elliot, Minnesota Fats, Richie Florence, John "Rags" Fitpatrick, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Jose Parica, Efren "Bata" Reyes, Kenny "Romberg" Remus, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, Jimmy "Flyboy" Spears, Sonny Springer, Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor

This was posted online by Keith McCready: I am really sad to hear about Vernon Elliott. I consider him a good friend of mine. I knew he was sick. God bless him. He was one of the better guys in the pool business. There's probably a lot of people that don't know who Vernon was, but I had the privilege of knowing him as a nice person, good heart, and a bar table champion, as well as a bank pool champion, one of the best bankers I've ever seen for the money. That's one thing Vernon could do is play for the dough. I think it was in the early '80s or thereabouts when I was over there in Knoxville during the World's Fair. I was sneaking in around from bar to bar to bar, trying to stir up some action. I made a few good scores and was feeling my oats. The first time I ever met Vernon Elliott was during this time. I stepped into one bar with only about three or four people in it. They had a few bar tables in there. I said, "Where's all the action around here?" hoping I'd get a nibble. Boy, did I ever get the big kahuna. Vernon, unbeknownst to me, said, "I'll play you some," and I asked him what do you want to play for. He said, "I'll play you some, fifty or a hundred a game." I looked at this guy and thought I was stealing because Vernon didn't look like a pool player to me. Was I ever mistaken. LOL. He got up there, run a 5-pack for 50 a game. I asked him if he wanted to bet a 100, hoping that he might start missing balls. He laughed at me and said, "Bet." Well, he got up and run another 7 and broke me. So I went and got some more money and came back. All I could round up was another 500. Well, he ran 5 more racks. He put me into a complete coma. That was my introduction to Vernon Elliott. We talked some at the bar and he let me snap him back for a hundred, so I had a little walking money to go hustle some more bars, but I said to myself right then and there that I would be leaving Vernon alone and he wouldn't be on my hit list. We actually became good friends after that. I watched him over there in Detroit betting as high as you could fly, some of the best pool I've seen for the money, and I'm talking about big money, not just 5 and 10,000 a set. They were playing 15 and 20,000 a game. That was Vernon Elliott. Rest in peace, Vernon. You will be missed.

Move buffs may be interested to know that a number of players mentioned here appeared in the 1986 movie The Color of Money and/or served as technical advisers. Sharks with speaking roles included Steve "The Miz" Mizerak, Grady "The Professor" Mathews, and Keith "Earthquake" McCready. There were cameo appearances by Jimmy "Pretty Boy Floyd" Mataya, Mark Jarvis, Howard Vickery and "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts. Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel was the movie's technical director. Sigel and Ewa Mataya Laurance, aka "The Striking Viking," served as technical consultants and performed shots. Paul Newman won an Oscar for his portrayal of an aging "Fast Eddie" Felson, whose cocky protégé, Vincent "Vince" Lauria, played by Tom Cruise, seemed a lot like his younger self. From what I have read about the making of the movie, "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts kept a large audience of extras entertained between sets, with his showmanship at the table. Roberts rivals Fats as the most charismatic and entertaining pool shark of all time, except that Fats was, well fat, while Roberts looked and acted like the young, hip Elvis.

Pool legend Willie "Mr. Pocket Billiards" Mosconi had a cameo in the 1961 movie The Hustler, one of the best sports movies of all time. It starred Paul Newman as a young, reckless "Fast Eddie" Felson. Mosconi also served as a consultant and executed the movie's trick shots, except for those of the Fat Man. Indeed, Jackie Gleason was recommended for the Minnesota Fats role by Mosconi because he was an accomplished pool shooter. Thus, a "wide angle" lens could be used on his shots (please pardon the pun). The Hustler was well-received by critics and the public. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including best picture, Newman for best actor, Piper Laurie for best actress, and Gleason and George C. Scott for best supporting actor. The film won two Oscars, for art direction and cinematography. There is more information about both movies and the real-life sharks who helped create their cinematic magic, later on this page.

How good was Willie Mosconi? Pretty damn good. His best game was straight pool, but when he matched up with Minnesota Fats gambling at one pocket in the early 1950s, Fats reportedly asked his backers for more money, saying: "Willie has no idea how to play this game, he just keeps running eight and out!" I've seen top road players like Buddy Hall do the same thing. When they want to win money fast, they can shorten slower games like bank and one pocket by going on the offensive, knowing that more often than not, they can get out. And they can demoralize their opponents at the same time. Fats may have out-hustled most of the shortstops he played, but what, pray tell, is the defense against a true master's continual table runs?

James Coburn and Omar Sharif played big-stake pool hustlers in the 1980 movie The Baltimore Bullet, which featured cameos by a number of real-life sharks who played themselves: "Machine Gun" Lou Butera, Irving "The Surgeon" Crane, Richie Florence, Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins, Pete Margo, Ray "Cool Cat" Martin, Jimmy "Pretty Boy Floyd" Mataya, Steve "The Miz" Mizerak, Willie Mosconi, Jim "King James" Rempe, and Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel. (Mosconi received top billing, with the names of the other sharks appearing below his in alphabetic order.) The movie involves one of the Jansco brothers' legendary Johnston City "pool hustler" tournaments, which ran from 1961 to 1972 and really did attract players like Butera, Crane and company. And the movie's FBI bust actually happened in 1972, killing the action. But it's a bit anachronistic that the movie centers around straight pool. As Danny DiLiberto pointed out, the Janscos "were the ones to really throw out straight pool," as they preferred the more entertaining gamblers' games of nine ball and one pocket. In The Baltimore Bullet, Coburn plays an aging "Fast Eddie" character similar to Newman's in The Color of Money, Bruce Boxleitner plays his brash protégé in a role similar to Cruise's, while Sharif plays a far more suave Minnesota Fats. Since TBB came out several years before TCOM, one might suggest that TBB is the more original of the two, with both paying homage to The Hustler. And while I have seen TBB being panned here and there for not being as profound as its progenitor, it's a comedy not meant to be taken too seriously, and I found it to be both entertaining and enjoyable.

Minnesota Fats played himself in the 1971 movie The Player, which I believe had only a limited release. While Fats was probably not the absolute best pool player (despite his many verbose assertions to the contrary), he was nonetheless a top shark, not the shortstop some revisionists have tried to turn him into. As Larry Gunninger has pointed out, when the Johnston City tournaments were in full swing, attracting the cream of the pocket billiards crop, it was Fats who ended up with most of the moolah. And as Muhammad Ali suggested, "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up."

Poolhall Junkies is a somewhat obscure movie starring Christopher Walken (who made his one trick shot on the first attempt). Robert "Cotton" LeBlanc served as a technical adviser, had a cameo, and performed most of the trick shots. Ironically, Mike "Tennessee Tarzan" Massey, who played "St. Louie" Louie Roberts in the movie, didn't shoot any of the movie's trick shots, even though he's probably the world's most famous trick shot artist.

Country music legend Johnny Cash, the "Man in Black," played a pool hustler in the made-for-TV movie The Baron and the Kid.

W. C. Fields starred as a hustler in the first film he made, the 1915 silent movie Pool Sharks.

"The best game on earth." — Mark Twain, who was perhaps America's best and sagest writer (and perhaps its most passionate pocket billiards enthusiast)

Unknown "monster" players who could play with anyone on a given day: Eddie Adams, Richie Ambrose, Glen Atwell, Mike Bandy, Smokey Bartlett, Danny Barouty, Mike Blevins, Terry Boucher, Donny Branson, Larry "Gabby" Brown, Eugene Browning (bar box), George Brunt, Clyde Childress, Dan "Clarkie" Clark, Warren "The Monk" Costanzo, "Baltimore" Buddy Dennis, "Fat" Harold Dollar, Don "Water Dog" Edwards, Ed Eversole, Vadis "Meathead" Eversole, Brian Ezell, Sebastian "Chino" Franco, Roy Futternick, Leil "JR" Gay, Rich "The Hat" Geiler, Mike "Geese" Gerace, Wayne Giles, Junior Goff, Ricky Gracyk, Billy Graves, Steve "The Gump/Gumpster" Gumphries, Peter Gunn (real name Len Wesson), Horace Harper, "Bakersfield" Bobby Hernandez (bar box), Pete Horne, Dick Hunzicker, Tommy Kennedy, "Chicken" George Kieselat, Bobby Logan, Dan Louie, "Marlboro," Mike McClain aka "Little Mikey" and "The Dwarf" and "Pittsburg Mike," Kenny McCoy, Chuck Morgan, Johnny Morrow, Leo Newberry, Gary "The Bushwacker" Nolan, Curtis "The Mountain Man" Payne (also "King Curtis), Richard Peck, David "Dough Boy" Rhodes, Charlie "The Ape" Romanis, George Rood, John Rouse, Johnny Ross, Joe Salazar, Ray Schultz, Bernie Schwartz, Brad "Bullwinkle" Schwartz, "Navy" Gary Serville, "Omaha" John Shuput, Randy "The Exterminator" Smith, Sam Soto, Roy "The Cook" Stanzioni, Chris Szuter, Mark "Tadd" Tademy, Danny Tator, Brian Tidwell, Cheyenne Pete Trujillo, "Cigar" Tom Vanover, Sebastian "Vera Cruz" Villaneuva, Nick "The Indian" Vlahos, James Walden, Don Watson, Sparky Webb, Billy Weir

According to "Toupee" Jay Helfert, Keith McCready went looking for "monster" players.

The best one-handed players: Ronnie Allen, Jesse "The One-Handed Hustler" James, Martin "Omaha Fats" Kaiman, Ernie Morgan, Chris Raftis, Richard T. Riggie, "Little" Sergio

Notorious Sharks, Part I: The most notorious pool shark in history may have been John Wilkes Booth. According to Henry Hogan, after his acting performances were over, Booth would hurry down to Joe Dillon's billiard hall to play with the "best in the city." He was also said to have frequented the Miller Billiard Parlor, located on the second floor of the National Theater Building (where the Helen Hayes Gallery now resides). On April 13, 1865, Booth dropped by Grover's Theatre and asked C.D. Hess if President Lincoln was going to be invited to attend Aladdin or The Wonderful Lamp. Hess assured Booth that Lincoln would be invited. Booth then went upstairs to Deery's Billiard Saloon, located above the lobby of Grover's Theatre, where he drank whiskey until eight in the evening. Booth asked the saloon's owner, John Deery, a national pool champion, to secure him tickets for the box that adjoined the box where the Lincolns would be sitting. According to what Deery told the New York Times in an article published on October 5, 1921, Booth had been drinking all day, before he shot the president. According to another account by Ernest C. Miller, Deery said: "For a period of about ten days before the assassination, he visited my place every day, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes in the evenings. At this time he was out of an engagement and drinking quite freely, noticeably so, even for him, I thought. At times he seemed a bit crazed, apparently on account of the frequency of his potations ... During that last week at Washington he sometimes drank at my bar as much as a quart in the space of less than two hours of an evening ... I believe Booth was as much crazed by the liquor he drank as by any motive when he shot Lincoln."

The best tournament players: Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer, Ralph "The Showman" Greenleaf, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins, Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter, Willie Mosconi, Steve "The Miz" Mizerak, Jim "King James" Rempe, Efren "The Magician" Reyes, Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland

Earl Strickland

The picture above is of Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, at the 1982 Dayton Nine-ball Open. That was, I believe, the first pro tournament that he won, against a loaded field which included Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge, Steve "Cookie Monster" Cook, Danny DiLiberto, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins, Jimmy "Pretty Boy Floyd" Mataya, Grady "The Professor" Matthews, "Hippie" Jimmy Reid, "St. Louie" Louie Roberts, Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, and various other pool gods, demigods, contenders and pretenders.

The best jump shot: Fong Pang Chao, Niels "The Terminator" Feijen, Po Chen Kuo, Alain "The Dancing Bear" Martel, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Yang Ching-Shun the "Son of Pool"



I first saw Earl Strickland at the Music City Nine-Ball Open, held at the ritzy Nashville Maxwell House Hotel, circa 1982-1983. The Pearl had bobby pins holding back his long, flowing mane, and he was giving Buddy Hall serious grief with his amazing jump shots and spectacular shotmaking. When in Nashville, if I remember correctly, the Pearl spotted all comers the seven ball. If he ever lost money giving up the seven in Nashville, I never heard about it. I believe Mike Sigel won the Music City Open in 1982, and Ray "Cool Cat" Martin won in 1983, coming out of the losers' bracket to defeat Larry Hubbart. But the player I remember best is Earl the Pearl, resplendent in bobby pins, jumping balls and running out.

The best shot makers and thin cutters: "St. Louie" Louie Roberts, Keith "Earthquake" McCready

It has been my good fortune to have seen some of the best tournament pool players, sharks and hustlers in the flesh. The ones I remember best are Johnny Archer, Michael Coltrain, Buddy Hall, Truman Hogue, Allen Hopkins, David Howard, Jeanette Lee, Mike Massey, Keith McCready, Alex Pagulayan, Mike Sigel, Earl Strickland and Nick Varner. I even saw Steve Davis score a perfect 147 in snooker. (I was on vacation in England when he hit the magical number, in a match televised by the BBC.) But the most charismatic, exciting and crowd-pleasing pool player that I have ever seen personally was "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts". He was an incredible, fearless shot-maker. There was something otherworldly about his game, when he was "on." I remember watching him advance through the losers' bracket at the 1981 U.S. Open Nine-ball Championship, promoted by Mike Massey at the Downtown Sheraton Hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. As I remember things, Roberts had lost his opening round match, and then almost lost a second time to the little-known Nat Green. In that match, there was a controversy about someone breaking out of turn and the referee not catching it, so that Roberts ended up breaking the last two games despite an alternating break format. Roberts capitalized to win the "double hill" game. After that, he seemed to freewheel, drinking openly, bantering with fans, and mostly disdaining safeties. If his opponent made a ball out of turn, and two balls were lined up on the spot, Louie would hit the head ball with so much English that he banked the second ball in "long rail" ... a shot that I have never seen anyone else attempt in a major nine ball tournament. Roberts went on to defeat a perplexed Buddy Hall, who just shook his head at Louie's showman-like antics and incredible shotmaking. It had been a longtime dream of Louie's to beat Buddy Hall, who was the world's top nine-ball player at the time. What Louie accomplished that day, and how he accomplished it, was magical, and I'll never forget how he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand until he was proclaimed the victor, to wildly delighted cheers that included my own.



"St. Louie" Louie Roberts

Keith McCready

Keith "Earthquake" McCready at the 1984 River City Open Nine-ball Tournament (photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter). I used to watch McCready play golf on a snooker table at Scott Amusement Center in Nashville. He wasn't acting in The Color of Money ... as Grady Seasons, he was just playing himself, to a T. When I saw him play, he would eye a really difficult shot, say something outrageous like "God couldn't make that ball," then pocket it. He once ran nine straight racks of nine ball, to come from behind and defeat Larry "The Iceman" Hubbart 11-6 in the Sacramento Open Nine-Ball Championship, and I believe he has confirmed that he once ran 21 racks of nine ball in three consecutive races to 7, on a bar table.

The best nine-ball players: Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter, Keith "Earthquake" McCready, Efren "Bata" Reyes, Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Nick Varner

Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer has won more than 60 professional tournaments and was voted the best player of the 1990s by Billiard Digest.

The History of Pool, Part I: The game of billiards dates back at least to the 1300s, at which time it was an outdoor game similar to croquet and golf. It seems likely that wealthy people wanted to enjoy billiards when the weather was bad, and were willing to pay substantial amounts of money to have the game brought indoors. This may explain why billiard table covers were historically green, as they represented a grass playing field. The rails resembled river banks; hence the term "bank shot." The earliest versions of billiards included arches similar to croquet hoops, and maces similar to golf clubs. (In fact, the term "cue" derives from the French word "queue," which means "tail." The thinner "tail" was used when a ball was too close to the rail for the bulky mace head to engage it.) The first pool table on record, built for Louis XI by the carpenter Henry de Vigne around 1470, had a bed of stone covered with cloth and a "hole at the centre, into which the balls were driven." So the first documented billiard table sounds like a putting green! The first female billiards shark may have been Marie Antoinette. She had an exquisite cue carved out of a single piece of ivory, which was inlaid with gold. She kept the cue in a special locking cabinet and wore the key around her neck.



Notorious Sharks, Part II: One of the most famous pool sharks was a French infantry captain, Francois Mingaud. In 1807 he introduced the leather cue tip, which provided gripping power and allowed the use of spin (ironically now called "english"). Allegedly, Mingaud developed techniques of controlled spin while playing billiards in a Paris prison, and when eligible for release he requested to serve further time in order to improve his techniques! He has been credited with the application of extreme spin known as the massé (a French word related to "mace"). John Carr, who worked in a billiard hall in Bath as a marker, has also been credited with the invention of the "side stroke" which became known as "english." Carr became "England's champion billiardist" with an astonishing (for the time) run of 22 consecutive made shots. He explained his prowess as being due to a special brand of "twisting powder" which he sold to other players for considerable sums of money, due to its magical properties. Little did they know that it was ordinary chalk. In any case, leather cue tips and chalk are still standard fare in pool rooms around the world today (although modern pool chalk is no longer of the blackboard variety).

Notorious Sharks, Part III: In 1828, opponents of President John Quincy Adams charged that he kept "gaming tables and gambling furniture" in the White House. According to Edwin A. Miles, the president's billiard table "served as the keynote" for political attacks on Adams, in what quickly became one of the dirtiest presidential campaigns in American history. His owning a billiard table was used by his enemies to portray Adams as an aristocrat, so at least he was an upper crust shark, according to them!

Notorious Sharks, Part IV: The enemies of John Quincy Adams were obviously unaware that the father of their country was a pool shark! George Washington kept detailed records of his wins and losses at billiards in his diaries. So we know that his biggest score was $1.75, a tidy sum in those pre-inflation days.

Notorious Sharks, Part V: According to the Brunswick billiard table company website, "The first real American celebrity who owned a Brunswick table was an immensely important person in American history—Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a self-confessed 'billiards addict.' He described the game as a 'health inspiring, scientific game, lending recreation to the otherwise fatigued mind.'" General George Armstrong Custer also owned a Brunswick table, and Buffalo Bill Cody bought Brunswick tables for his hotel in Cheyenne.

Earl Strickland and Mike Sigel

Earl "The Pearl" Strickland and Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel looking intense at the 1982 Dayton Nine-ball Open.

The best showmen: Ralph "The Showman" Greenleaf, Jimmy "Pretty Boy Floyd" Mataya, Utley Jim "U.J." Puckett, "St. Louie" Louie Roberts, Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone

File:Jimmy Mataya.JPG

Jim Mataya, also known as "Pretty Boy Floyd," formed pool's first "power couple" when he married the "Striking Viking," Ewa Svensson, in 2004. They helped bring some much-needed glamour to the often-seedy sport of pocket billiards.



Ewa Mataya, "The Striking Viking."

The Women's Professional Billiard Alliance (WPBA) was established in 1976 and is the oldest pro player organization in the sport. The WPBA sanctions and produces the Women's Pro Billiard Tour, which features ESPN-televised events between the world's greatest women players.

The best early WPBA tour players: Jean Balukas, Robin "Bankroll" Bell, Belinda Campos, Vickie Frechen Paski, Ewa "The Striking Viking" Mataya Laurance, Loree Jon Ogonowski, Lori Shampo, Gloria Walker

Other notable female pool players: Borana "Killer B" Andoni, Mary Avina, Jennifer Barretta, Brittany Bryant, Yu Ram Cha, Jennifer Chen, Karen Corr, Christina De La Garza, Emily Duddy, Allison "The Duchess of Doom" Fisher, Kelly Fisher, Liz Ford, Olga Gashkova, Gail Glazebrook, Gerda Hofstaetter, Ina Jentschura, Ga-Young Kim "the Little Devil Girl," Line Kjorsvik, Jeanette "The Black Widow" Lee, Michelle Li, Shanelle Loraine, Jasmin "Jassy" Ouschan, Angelina "Angel" Paglia, Xiaoting Pan, Nataliya Seroshtan, Kim Shaw, Fraziska Stark, Helena Thornfeldt, Vivian "Texas Tornado" Villareal, Monica Webb



Allison Fisher, "The Duchess of Doom"



Jeanette Lee, "The Black Widow"



Vicki "Diamond Vic" Frechen (now Vicki Paski) was a top ten WPBA player during the 1980s, rising as high as number two in 1981. She was the Pool & Billiard Magazine player of the year in 1982. She is also a member of the WPBA Hall of Fame. In 1985 she was elected vice president of the WPBA. In 1987 she became ESPN's first female billiards analyst. In 1991 she was elected president of the WPBA.



Jean Balukas, the first female superstar of pool, already a shark at age six.



"The game of billiards has destroyed my naturally sweet disposition." — Mark Twain, April 24, 1906



“This is a most amusing game. When you play badly it amuses me, and when I play badly and lose my temper it certainly must amuse you.” — Mark Twain

Celebrity sharks: Jackie Gleason (as Minnesota Fats in The Hustler), Tom Cruise (as Vincent "Vince" Lauria in The Color of Money), Paul Newman (as "Fast Eddie" Felson in both movies), Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Samuel Pepys, Mozart, Shakespeare, Van Gogh, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Cornelius Vanderbilt, J. P. Morgan, Mary Queen of Scots, Louis XIV, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Lafayette, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, King George IV, Cap Anson, Babe Ruth, Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Ozzy Osbourne, Elvis Presley, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shoots the eleven ball behind his back!



“The poorer you play, the better I shall like it.” — Mark Twain, who was intensely devoted to the game of pool



Babe Ruth played pool. But another hall of fame baseball player was probably better ...

Famous Sharks, Part I: Baseball hall-of-famer "Cap" Anson (Captain Adrian Constantine Anson) was a strong billiards player. Anson was the first major league baseball player to get 3,000 hits, and over 100 years after his retirement, he still holds several Cubs franchise records, including most career hits, runs, doubles and runs batted in. He joins Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron as the only major league baseball players with more than 2,000 runs batted in. After his retirement from baseball, Anson opened an emporium in Chicago which was billed as having "the largest and best equipped billiard and pool rooms in the world." On December 9, 1910, in a tournament at the Union Billiard Academy, Anson gave George W. Moore, a world champion billiardist, all he could handle, losing 50 to 42 in a race that was neck-and-neck until Anson went scoreless after being up 42 to 41. According to the World Almanac and Encyclopaedia, just two days earlier, Moore had set a new three-cushion billiard record for consecutive shots made, at 15. That was in a tournament against world-class opponents such as Alfredo de Oro and John W. Daly. Moore won a world title in 1915 and had a number of wins over de Oro, who was fourth in the Billiards Digest rankings of the 50 Greatest Players of the Century. So Cap Anson was obviously no bush-leaguer, if he was able to take Moore to the limit. According to a New York Times article published the following day, Anson showed "remarkable form" and had two runs of five billiards before he ran out of steam at the end.

The History of Pool, Part II: By the mid-19th century, elephants were being slaughtered for their ivory at an alarming rate, primarily to keep up with the booming demand for billiard balls. Records show that in 1890 approximately 750 tons of ivory entered England via London alone. It was said that at peak demand some 12,000 elephants were slaughtered each year to supply England with billiard balls. Ivory balls became very expensive; and people began to feel a moral repulsion about such excessive slaughters. The billiard industry realized that elephants were endangered, and that ivory was dangerous to obtain (an issue of notable public concern at the time). Therefore, inventors were challenged to come up with an alternative material, with a $10,000 prize being offered by a New York supplier (around $175,000 today). John Wesley Hyatt invented such a manufacturable material in 1869, called nitrocellulose (US patent 50359, the first American patent for billiard balls). It is unclear if the cash prize was ever awarded. By 1870 nitrocellulose was commercially branded Celluloid, the first industrial plastic. Unfortunately, celluloid was volatile in production, occasionally exploding. Legend has it that celluloid billiard balls would occasionally explode during play, but no reliable sources have been found to substantiate this. Subsequently, other synthetic materials were used, such as Bakelite, Crystalite and other plastic compounds. Today most pool balls are made of phenolic resin, an extremely strong, chip-resistant plastic.

The quirkiest strokes: Willie "The King" Hoppe, Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins, Keith "Earthquake" McCready, James "Cisero" Murphy, Efren "Bata (The Kid)" Reyes

Some of the greatest players have had highly unusual strokes. Willie Hoppe's peculiar style of stroke was a result of his starting so young, as a child prodigy. He barely reached the table and had to stand on a box. In his book Billiards As It Should Be Played, Hoppe emphatically advised players not to copy the way he employed the cue stick.



James "Cisero" Murphy was the first African-American professional pool player to win national and international titles. Murphy was inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame in 1995. He is the only player in the history of pocket billiards competition to win a world title on his first attempt.

The best black players during the bad old days of racial segregation when they couldn't compete in the major billiards tournaments: "Patcheye" Basheer, Melvin "Strawberry" Brooks, Johnny "Cannonball" Chapman, James Evans, Andrew "The Gent" Gentry, "Marvelous" Marvin Henderson, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, Mark "Tadd" Tademy, Cliff "Spotmaster" Joyner, Cecil Tugwell, Willie Munson, Buffalo Jerry, Rotation Slim, James "Cisero" Murphy, "Lucky Charms" aka "Sizzle" Adams, Bus Driver, Ike Runnels, Henry "LotsaPoppa" McCloud Jr., Javenly "Youngblood" Washington,  Edgar "Shake and Bake" White, Robert "Rags" Woods

The History of Pool, Part III: The first player recognized as the English Champion was John Carr of Bath. However, in 1824 when a deciding match for the champion's title was arranged with Edwin (Jonathan) Kentfield, Carr failed to appear. Kentfield then became known as "the first player in the world." He remained so until 1849 when John Roberts challenged Kentfield. Kentfield "pulled a Carr" and failed to arrive for the proposed match, so Roberts claimed the title of "first player in the world" by default.

The History of Pool, Part IV: During the 1850s, Michael Phelan and his associates began making a significantly different American style of billiard table. The cushions were lower in height and the pocket openings became "sharply cornered" in contrast to the gradual curvature of the English cushion (as with snooker tables to this day). Phelan became recognized as "the Father of American Pocket Billiards." Pool became so popular in the United States that during the Civil War billiards sometimes received greater press coverage than the battles. 

The History of Pool, Part V: In 1870 the first official English championship was played (finally!) between John Roberts and William Cook. This match was regarded as being of such importance that it was attended by the Prince of Wales. Cook took the title from John Roberts. Some five years John Roberts Junior took the title from William Cook and was regarded as the foremost billiard player in the world until his retirement in 1909. The term "pool room" probably became associated with pocket billiards when tables were installed in the rooms used by gamblers to pass time while betting on horse races. Eight ball was invented shortly after 1900; straight pool followed in 1910; nine ball around 1920.

The best foreign/international pool players: Ronato "Ronnie" Alcano, Darren "Dynamite" Appleton, Karl Boyes, Francisco Bustamante, Jung Lin Chan, Lee Van Corteza, Steve Davis, Niels "The Terminator" Feijen, Che Wei Fu, Thorsten Hohmann, Mika "The Ice Man" Immonen, Antonio Lining, Chris Melling, Dennis Orcollo, Oliver Ortmann, Alex "The Lion" Pagulayan, Jose Parica, Efren "Bata" Reyes, John Schmidt, Huidji See, Ralf Souquet

The best straight pool players: Joe "The Meatman" Balsis, "Machine Gun" Lou Butera, Jimmy Caras, Irving "The Deacon" Crane, Ralph "The Showman" Greenleaf, Johnny "Irish" Lineen, Peter Margo, Ray "Cool Cat" Martin, Steve "The Miz" Mizerak, Willie Mosconi, Frank "The Inexorable Snail" Taberski

Willie Mosconi - think he made this shot?

Willie Mosconi shooting a massé (1987 photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter). Mosconi was second in the Billiards Digest rankings of the 50 Greatest Players of the Century, just ahead of his mentor, Ralph Greenleaf.

Ralph Greenleaf, sometimes called the "Aristocrat of Billiards," was a twenty-time World Pocket Billiards champion who who shared sports page billing with Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and Red Grange. A glamorous playboy, Greenleaf was one of the most romantic figures of the Roaring Twenties. His wife, the former Amelia Ruth Parker, was a flapper (vaudeville actress) who performed as "Princess Nai Tai" and "The Oriental Thrush." I have also seen her called "The Oriental Nightingale." In The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies, Minnesota Fats described her as "exquisite beyond belief" and said that Greenleaf was so handsome he made Rock Hudson look like Quasimodo! When Greenleaf was not competing, he toured with his wife, performing trick shots and demonstrations. Here is how a New York Times article describes their performances and lifestyle: "It was some kind of act. Greenleaf, in a form fitting tuxedo, performed trick shots under suspended mirrors that picked up the dazzling movement of the billiard balls and sent it out to the audience, a la satellite, as the princess, in a stunning, ankle length white ermine coat, narrated the action. The Greenleafs, with an income in six figures, lived in penthouses and hotel suites in those plush, carefree days ..."

Ralph Greenleaf    Clean Slate Billiards Instruction

Ralph Greenleaf lines up a shot.



Peter Margo appeared in the movie "Baltimore Bullet" and on Good Morning America and the Merv Griffin Show. He had a high run of 330 Balls in the1978 World Series of Pool, held in Arlington, Virginia.

Joe "The Butcher" Balsis, also known as "The Meatman," won the Philadelphia City Boys Championship at age 11, in 1932, then went on to win four consecutive National Junior Pocket Billiard Titles. He was so famous at the time that his picture appeared in The New York Times, alongside pool stars Ralph Greenleaf and Willie Hoppe. But Balsis retired from competitive pool for 32 years to work in his father's meat business (hence his nicknames) and raise a family. When he finally unretired to compete in professional tournaments, he took the pool world by storm. According to George Fels: “In the first 28 months of his professional pool career, Balsis competed in 10 major tournaments, wining five, second once, two fourths, two fifths. Overall, between 1965 and 1975, he may well have been the world’s best player … His peers shuddered at the thought of taking him on, just as they once had been in awe of Mosconi.” And one competitor complained that when he shook the Meatman's hand, his hand hurt for the next two days!

Steve "The Miz" Mizerak was sixth in the Billiards Digest rankings of the 50 Greatest Players of the Century. He was the John Madden of pocket billiards.

The best road players and hustlers: Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Danny "Kid Delicious" Basavich, Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, Vernon "Burnie" Elliot, Minnesota Fats, John "Rags" Fitzpatrick, Richard "Little Richie" Florence, Keith McCready, "St. Louie" Louie Roberts



John "Rags" Fitzpatrick looking wonderfully dapper above; his nickname was obviously ironic. But Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone may have pulled the ultimate hustle. He was known as "New York Fats" and "Brooklyn Fats," until shortly after the movie The Hustler came out. Then Wanderone began calling himself "Minnesota Fats" after the Jackie Gleason character, and pretty soon almost everyone assumed the movie had been made about him! Fats never won a major championship, and yet became the most famous pool shark of all time, at least with the public!

Minnesota Fats: Was he full of hot air, vastly overrated, or a Player?

The best pool commentators who were also strong players: Buddy Hall, Allen Hopkins, Billy Incardona, Grady Matthews, Vicki Paski



Allen Hopkins, circa the 1980s. I believe I ran into Hopkins around the time this picture was taken, due to the beard. When Hopkins was commentating for ESPN, he would shave, and when he was on the road he would wear a beard to make it less likely that people would recognize him. But he was easy to identify, once you had seen him play, because he had a very odd stroke. One night Doug "Preacher" Almy, a friend of mine who shoots good (but not world-class) nine-ball, made a game with a bearded stranger who called himself "John." Doug is a good judge of talent, and even though he was ahead for awhile, once "John" broke even with a spectacular shot, Doug walked away from the game. Doug explained his action later by saying "He's somebody," although he didn't know just who at the time. Not long thereafter, Doug saw "John" commentating for ESPN, and it was Allen Hopkins, sans the beard! Around the same time, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall showed up in the same pool hall, so I suspect they were on the road, headed for the next pro tournament ... probably the 1981 U.S. Open Nine-Ball championship in Chattanooga.

The best pool nicknames: Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Marshall "Tuscaloosa Squirrel" Carpenter, Steve "Cookie Monster" Cook, Larry "The Iceman" Hubbart, Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Frank "The Inexorable Snail" Taberski, "Titanic Thompson" (Alvin Clarence Thomas), Vivian "Texas Tornado" Villareal, Edgar "Shake & Bake" White

Frank Taberski was born March 15, 1889 in Amsterdam. He grew up in Schenectady, New York, and at the age of twenty-six he became the world champion, a title he would hold for seven years. He was called “The Sloth” and “The Inexorable Snail” because he played very slowly and deliberately, taking several minutes to ponder each shot, which of course annoyed his opponents. Because of his snail-like style, a three-minute "shot clock" was instituted. In 1919, he forfeited his title due to illness. He joined a vaudeville tour from 1919 to 1923, and became the Harlem Globetrotters of pool, winning all 313 games he played. In the mid-1920s, he returned to professional billiards and won four additional titles. Taberski was seventh in the Billiards Digest rankings of the 50 Greatest Players of the Century, despite the fact that few people have ever heard of “The Inexorable Snail.”

Edgar "Shake & Bake" White

Edgar "Shake & Bake" White, always smiling.

Larry Hubbart

Larry "The Iceman" Hubbart (photo by Bill Johnston).

Larry Hubbart

Larry "The Iceman" Hubbart (photo by Bill Porter).

The best bank players: Donnie "The Cincinnati Kid" Anderson, Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna, John Brumback, Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge, Johnny "Cannonball" Chapman, Clyde Childress, Tony "Banks" Coleman, Shannon "The Cannon" Daulton, Vernon "Burnie" Elliot, Tony "Fargo" Ferguson, Jimmy "The Philadelphia Flash" Fusco, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Truman Hogue, Mark Jarvis, Larry "The Turtle" Price, Kenny "Romburg" Remus, Glen "Piggy Banks" Rogers, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, Gary Spaeth, Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor, Nick Varner, "Mexican" Johnny Vasquez aka "Big Head," Javenly "Youngblood" Washington

Eddie Taylor #1

Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor is considered by many "players in the know" to have been the best bank shot of all time.

Jimmy Fusco-1

Jimmy "The Philadelphia Flash" Fusco was one of the best bankers of the modern era, along with Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall and Nick Varner. Jimmy Fusco is the cousin of another well-regarded player, Pete Fusco.

The best one pocket players: Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Arthur "Artie" Bodendorfer, Jack "Jersey Red" Breit, Melvin "Strawberry" Brooks, Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge, Marcel Camp, Marshall "Tuscaloosa Squirrel" Carpenter, Steve "Cookie Monster" Cook, Hubert "Daddy Warbucks" Cokes, Jack Cooney, Shannon "The Cannon" Daulton, Danny DiLiberto, Vernon "Burnie" Elliot, Johnny Ervolino, John "Rags" Fitzpatrick, Scott "Freezer" Frost, Jimmy "The Philadelphia Flash" Fusco, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, "Marvelous" Marvin Henderson, Allen Hopkins, Larry "Boston Shorty" Johnson, Cliff "Spotmaster" Joyner, "Champagne" Ed Kelly, Bill Incardona, Hayden Lingo, Larry Lisciotti, Grady "The Professor" Matthews, Eugene "Clem" Metz, "San Jose" Dick McMorran, Gabe "The Babe" Owen, Jose "Amang" Parica, U. J. Puckett, Efren "Bata" Reyes, Kenny "Romberg" Remus, "Big Nose" Roberts, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, Earl Schriver, Gary Spaeth, Joey Spaeth, Jimmy "Flyboy" Spears, Bill "Weenie Beenie" Staton, Eddie "Knoxville Bear" Taylor, Cecil "The Left Duke" Tugwell, Nick Varner, Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, Don Willis, Glen "Eufaula Kid" Womack, Harold Worst

According to the pool professor, Grady Matthews, one pocket had its genesis in Oklahoma in the 30's and Hayden Lingo was the first great one pocket player. He was followed by "Big Nose" Roberts, Glen "Eufaula Kid" Womack, Marshall "Squirrel" Carpenter, Eugene "Clem" Metz, Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Jack "Jersey Red" Breit, Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor, Johnny Vevis, and Johnny "Irish."

According to R. A. Dyer, the author of Hustler Days, two of the all-time great one pocket players called John "Rags" Fitzpatrick the best of the best. Eddie Taylor told Dyer that Rags was the best one-pocket player he’d ever seen. Bill “Weenie Beenie” Staton, who played Rags, said “He was the best one-pocket player during his era ... there wasn’t anybody close to him ... the closest to him was Eddie Taylor, and he was a ball under him.”

Jack Breit shooting in the dark.

Jack "Jersey Red" Breit (1987 photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter).



Arthur "Artie" Bodendorfer prepares to shoot a massé.

Grady Mathews

Grady "The Professor" Matthews was the first inductee into the One-Pocket Hall of Fame, in 2004. He was the creator of the Legends of One-Pocket tournament series and helped promote many other tournaments. (1982 photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter.)

Ronnie Allen - rescanned

Ronnie Allen during his psychedelic days, or was it a psychedelic haze? (1980 photo by Mike Haines/Bill Porter). According to "Hippie" Jimmy Reid, Walter Tevis, the author of The Hustler and The Color of Money confirmed in a tape-recorded interview (while they were playing chess in a suite at the Holiday Inn in Dayton, Ohio) that "Fast Eddie" Felson was based on Ronnie Allen. According to Reid, "At one point during this interview, I became the interviewer instead of interviewee, I flat out asked Mr. Tevis who he based Fast Eddie Felson on? His reply went something like this: I went to Corcoran’s Pool Roon in Frisco and saw a young, brash player by the name of Ronnie Allen who was a worldbeater, got the idea for the book and the rest is fiction and history."

According to an online post on the subject by Jay Helfert, "Ronnie Allen did have more title to the claim, based on several occurrences. He was running around San Francisco around 1959-60 and calling himself Eddie. He was prone to raise the bet so fast that someone (Jack Perkins maybe) started calling him Fast Eddie. Jack told me that when he saw Ronnie come in the poolroom he called out, 'Here comes that Fast Eddie again!' Word of his exploits reached all across the country. Even in the Midwest, word was out on this brash young kid, who was hustling and beating the best hustlers in San Francisco. Whether Tevis ever went out there or not I do not know. What I do know was that he was a keen observer of the pool scene, mostly hanging in the pool rooms in Louisville and Lexington. As far as Fats is concerned, Eddie Taylor probably had more influence on Tevis than anyone else. Walter definitely watched Taylor in action on more than one occasion. Eddie was a portly man who dressed immaculately and was always a gentleman at (and away from) the table. And he was a GREAT player, the best around, and certainly the best Tevis witnessed at that time. Any of this sound familiar? So if we are going to give credit, let's give it where it is due."

Per a June 2, 1987 article in the Los Angeles Times, "In those days, Minnesota Fats said of Allen: 'Anybody who plays him for money ain't go no chance at all. I'm the only guy in the whole world who can beat him.' (Allen contends that he has beaten Fats. He has lost to him, as well.) It was also in those days, as Allen tells it, that writer Walter Tevis was hanging around pool halls, collecting material for his book, The Hustler. Allen and others in the world of pool say that Tevis based his book on the Oklahoma City player."

Nick Varner

Nick Varner at the 1984 River City Open Nine-ball Tournament (photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter).

Ronnie Allen, Jack Breit, and Ed Kelly - anyone for some one-pocket? If you could beat all three of them at one-hole, you should be in the Hall of Fame.

Ronnie Allen, Jack Breit and "Champagne" Ed Kelly (circa 1983-1984; photo by Mike Haines/Bill Porter).

Bill Incardona once said while commentating on a one pocket match that nobody shoots billiards, caroms, and combos better than Steve Cook. The Cookie Monster ran out from everywhere, and had a high straight pool run of 189, but his weak break handicapped him at nine ball. Allen Hopkins said in "Shots, Moves and Strategies" that from the mid 70's through the entire 80's, Steve Cook was the best one pocket player in the world.

"I was lucky everywhere." — Bill "Weenie Beenie" Staton, who used his pool winnings to make millions from his hot dog stand business

The best pool stroke: Michael "Train" Coltrain, Andrew "The Gent" Gentry, "Marvelous" Marvin Henderson, "Champagne" Ed Kelly, Johnny "Irish" Lineen, "Cowboy" Jimmy Moore, Danny Searcy, Harold Worst, Alton "Babyface" Whitlow

Andrew "The Gent" Gentry was the best player in Nashville when I was running there; he would take on even the best pros at his specialty, bank. I saw him play Buddy Hall, Truman Hogue, "Little" David Howard, and other top-notch road players. Gentry had the most amazing slip stroke: he would pull the stick completely out of his bridge hand with a long, elegant, fluid backstroke, then bring it back through effortlessly. He could also play amazing safeties, sending the cue ball the length of the table to "feather" an object ball, then bring the cue back down to the opposite end of the table. While Gentry was not the best "money" player, he was a joy to watch and a real gentleman (and a gentle man) to boot.

"Cowboy" Jimmy Moore

"Cowboy" Jimmy Moore either shooting a trick shot or recovering from incredibly bad shape (1987 photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter).

The best cue ball control (position, or shape): Ronnie Alcano, Johnny Archer, Marshall "Tuscaloosa Squirrel" Carpenter, Allison "Always in Line" Fisher, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Willie Mosconi, Jim "King James" Rempe, Efren "Bata" Reyes, Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, Ralf Souquet, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Nick Varner, Krzysztof Wróbel

The History of Pool, Part VI: Following the First World War the popularity of pool continued to grow. The first professional snooker championship was held in England in 1927. To illustrate the prestige with which the game was held, when Walter Lindrum, the greatest champion of all, toured England during 1931, he met the English Prime Minister and was summoned for a Royal Command Performance before King George V. Over the next thirty years the popularity of snooker skyrocketed. Following the advent of colour television, snooker became England's most popular indoor game. Large tournaments with very substantial prize moneys and extensive TV coverage led to a great upsurge of interest in the game.

The History of Pool, Part VII: Did TV kill straight pool? The 1973 U.S. Open, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton-Chicago Hotel, may have spelled the end of straight pool as a spectator sport, thanks to TV. The finals that year featured Steve "the Miz" Mizerak, the affable John Madden of pool, against the notorious North Carolina hustler Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter. At that time, Mizerak and Lassiter were the cream of the straight pool crop. Mizerak had won the three previous U.S. Opens. Lassiter had won a slew of major tournaments during the 1960s. Both players appear in Billiard Digest's list of the top ten players of the century. The stage was perfectly set for an epic battle, and ABC's cameras were there to transmit it electronically to the viewing public's couch potatoes. It was like pool's Babe Ruth squaring off against its Ty Cobb, with everything on the line. But there was a major problem: time, compounded by booringness. According to the New York Times, "Mizerak, unbeaten in the double-elimination tourney, lost a marathon match that started last night and lasted more than 4 hours, 150-110, in 22 innings." Matt Racki of the Billiard Revue said that Mizerak played the first game "like his cue had been in a deep freeze for a few years." And because Lassiter won, a second game was required to determine the champion. Unfortunately, it wasn't much better for spectators. Mizerak, usually the picture of joviality and optimism, later said that the double marathon "just took too long to film." Pool historian Charles Ursitti pointed out that a long stretch of safety play made for "wretched" television. According to Ursitti, "They used to televise the U.S. Open on ABC for years ... it was straight pool and only straight pool. For the die-hard fan, that's what you want to see. But it can get boring, and in 1973, they got into about 18 minutes of safety play. And of course, 18 minutes of playing safe is extremely hard to edit. What people want to see is offense. They want to see a lot of downtown shots. And so [the TV networks] abandoned it. CBS and ABC said, 'That's that. We're done.'" Within a few years, by 1978, the BCA (Billiard Congress of America) had also abandoned straight pool for nine ball. The fledgling PPPA (Professional Pool Players Association) soon followed suit. Thus the prediction of the legendary Jansco brothers, the first great promoters of pool, that straight pool would lose out to nine ball, had come to pass. Why? Primarily because nine ball is faster and more entertaining. Another important factor, no doubt, was the booming popularity of coin-operated bar tables, which make it troublesome and expensive to spot balls. Soon millions of pool enthusiasts were playing on tables that didn't lend themselves to games like straight pool and one pocket, and of course most amateurs would much rather take wildly exciting offensive risks than play safety after mind-numbing safety. (In many bars today, playing safe is just above pedophilia and incest on the list of "thou shalt nots.") But the original "kiss" of death, if you'll pardon the pun, for straight pool was time's.

The best trick shot artists: Chef Anton, Paul Gerni, Mike "Tennessee Tarzan" Massey, Stefano Pelinga, Tom Rossman, Andy Segal

Mike Massey

Mike "Tennessee Tarzan" Massey (circa 1983-1984 photo by Mike Haines/Bill Porter).

The best all-round modern players (good at everything): Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Jim "King James" Rempe, Efren "Bata" Reyes, Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Nick Varner

Jim Rempe - Did they level this table?

Jim "King James" Rempe won more than 100 tournaments, with multiple major championships in all the major disciplines

Efren Reyes posed as "Caesar Morales" at his first American pool tournament victory in 1985. Like Julius Caesar, he came, he saw, he conquered.

The best bar table "big ball" players: "Surfer" Rod Curry, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, "Little" David Howard, "Boston" Joey Kiley, Dave Matlock, Keith "Earthquake" McCready, "St. Louie" Louie Roberts, "Omaha" John Shuput, Three-Fingered Ronnie Sypher, Shane Van Boening

David Matlock

Dave Matlock (1984 photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter). If there is any consensus in the pool world, it is probably that Dave Matlock was the best "bar box" player with the "big ball."

The best three cushion billiard players: Torbjörn Blomdahl, Raymond Ceulemans, Roland Forthomme, Willie "The King" Hoppe, Dick Jaspers, Johnny Layton, Sang Lee, Alfredo de Oro, Harold Worst, Jake "The Wizard" Schaefer Sr., Jake Schaefer Jr.



Willie "The King" Hoppe, circa 1910. Hoppe held the record for consecutive billiards made, 26, for fifty years. He won 51 world titles in three-cushion billiards, four variations of balkline billiards, and cushion caroms. Hoppe was the only pocket billiards player to ever put on an exhibition in the White House, where he performed for President William Taft in 1911. Hoppe was first in the Billiards Digest rankings of the 50 Greatest Players of the Century.

deoro#1

Alfredo de Oro, circa 1914. He won world titles in three-cushion billiards and straight pool/continuous pool, and sometimes held them simultaneously. De Oro was fourth in the Billiards Digest rankings of the 50 Greatest Players of the Century.

The best snooker players: Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Ray Reardon, Mark Selby, Krzysztof Wróbel



Alex "Hurricane" Higgins

The best eight ball players: Darren Appleton, Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer, Shane Van Boening, Rodney Morris, Alex "The Lion" Pagulayan, Efren Reyes, Ralf Souquet



Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer

The best break: Shane Van Boening, Wade "Boom Boom" Crane, "Hurricane" Tony Ellin, "Little" David Howard, Chuck Morgan, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland

A former world 8-ball and Nine-ball champion, Wade Crane was voted by his peers to have had the best Nine-ball break in history.

The best safeties: Eugene "Clem" Metz, Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, Efren "Bata" Reyes



Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel was fifth in the Billiards Digest rankings of the 50 Greatest Players of the Century, and highest among modern nine-ball players.

The best kickers (kick shot artists): Shannon "The Cannon" Daulton, Jose Parica, Efren "Bata" Reyes, Danny "High Heels" Tator, Glen "The Eufaula Kid" Womack



Efren "Bata" Reyes, aka "the Magician," eying a shot intensely.

"Oil Can" Larry" Lisciotti's nickname has been attributed to Jimmy Mataya, who called him a "handsome, high-living, high-rolling pool hustler, lidded eyes, slightly lascivious grin—a wasted sharpshooter, a well oiled gunslinger of the 70's."

Mark Twain, Was Minnesota Fats Overrated?, A Brief History of Billiards, Pool/Billiards Record High Runs, The Sexiest Sharks, Johnston City Sharks, Nashville Sharks, Dick Hunzicker, "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Who was the best nine-ball player?, Famous Rogues, Famous Frauds, Famous Americans

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