Famous Pool Sharks (and some sexy ones too)
Who were the greatest pool sharks? Who won the most money? Who was best
in the clutch? Who was the best shotmaker, the best bank artist, the best bar
Who had the best break? Who were the best celebrity pool sharks?
Did you know that Neville Chamberlain invented the game of snooker?
Or that Abraham Lincoln was a pool enthusiast who was shot by a pool
shark, John Wilkes Booth?
Minnesota Fats Overrated?,
A Brief History of Billiards,
Pool/Billiards Record High
Runs, The Sexiest Sharks,
Johnston City Sharks,
Louie Roberts, Earl "The
was the best nine-ball player?, Famous
Hustlers, Famous Rogues,
Famous Hoaxes and Hucksters
by Michael R. Burch
"The best game on earth." — Mark Twain, who was perhaps America's best and sagest writer, and perhaps its most passionate pocket billiards enthusiast
That billiards is one of the oldest competitive sports
can easily be demonstrated. Billiards was being played outdoors in France in the 1300s,
as documented by medieval art. Court
records show that King Louis XI of France purchased a billiard table in 1470. In 1587 Mary, Queen
of Scots, complained bitterly that her captors had deprived her of her table de billiard, shortly
before her execution. Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and a favorite of Mary's nemesis, Queen
Elizabeth I, also owned a billiard table. The earliest known reference to a billiard table in a private
residence is a 1588 inventory of Howard House, the London home of the Duke of Norfolk. It contained a
"billyard bord coered with a greene cloth three billyard sticks and 11 balls of yvery." The
first literary reference to “billiards” (spelled "balliards") appears in Edmund Spensers’
poem "Mother Hubberd’s Tale" in 1591. Another early reference to the game can be found in
Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, written in 1609, when Cleopatra tells her handmaiden:
"Let's to billiards!" — Shakespeare
Sounds like good advice to me. So "let's to billiards." But please
allow me to start by
issuing you a stern warning: 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
money, regardless of what they're wearing ...
The best money players of all time: Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Jack "Jersey Red" Breit, Billy "Cornbread
"Jew" Paul Brusloff, Clyde Childress, Jack Cooney, Vernon "Burnie" Elliot,
"LA" Richie Florence, John
"Rags" Fitzpatrick, "LA" Richie Florence, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Keith "Earthquake"
McCready, Jose Parica, Efren "the Magician" Reyes, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker,
Alvin "Titanic" Thompson,
Kenny "Romberg" Remus,
"Saint Louie" Louie Roberts,
Denny Searcy, Jimmy "Flyboy" Spears, Sonny Springer, Eddie "The Knoxville Bear"
Taylor, Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone,
Don Willis, Harold Worst (or was he the best ever?)
Jack Cooney has been called the "best pure hustler of all time."
According to "Fast Larry" Guninger, who knew many of the top pros personally,
the best hustlers were "Titanic" Thompson and Minnesota Fats.
Minnesota Fats, however, never won a major tournament and borrowed his name from
the fictional character played by Jackie Gleason in the movie The Hustler.
Was he just hustling the public? Yes, according to Danny DiLiberto, who said,
"In no other sport could he possibly fool the public like that ... he couldn't
play; he wouldn't play anybody good." But if that's true, was it perhaps
the ultimate hustle?
Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who
hustle. — Abraham Lincoln, a self-described "billiard addict"
Fats all talk, or could he really play?
Beat me? ... King Kong couldn't beat me! — Minnesota Fats, playing U. J.
I'm so intelligent, I could spot Einstein the ten ball! — Minnesota Fats
But Ronnie Allen called Fats a "vaudeville act." No one, however, has accused
one of his friends and competitors of being all talk and no show: "Titanic" Thompson killed five men (all of whom would have agreed they got
what they deserved, according to him), and married five girls who were all
teenagers on their wedding nights.
Before the major pool tournaments became integrated, could black sharks like
James Evans, "Bugs" Rucker, "Cannonball" Chapman and "Marvelous" Marvin Harrison
have given the best white pros a run for their money? Was "St. Louie" Louie
Roberts the best shot maker of all time, or was it Keith "Earthquake" McCready?
Was Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor the best banker, or was it Cannonball,
Bugs, or Truman Hogue? Could Efren "The Magician" Reyes spot the world the 15
ball at rotation? These are unanswerable questions, or at best can only be
answered subjectively, via human opinion. Not pretending to possess any absolute
answers, I have ventured to offer my own opinions, along with some fascinating
(and sometimes groin-quickening) pictures of my favorite pool sharks.
"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
For whatever it's worth, here's my personal stab at ranking the top twenty pool
sharks of all time, with a few ties:
#20) David Matlock (#1 on a bar table)
#19) Walter Lindrum (Australia's #1 player, Lindrum set 57 world records and gave thousands of exhibitions, raising
millions for charity)
#18) Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone (#1 at hustling and showmanship;
he helped generate immense public interest in pool)
Louie Roberts (#1 shotmaker; also a great hustler,
showman, instructor and pool ambassador)
Keith "Earthquake" McCready (another great shotmaker, run-out artist
#16) Jose "The Giant Killer" Parica (#1 at kicking;
great money player; has won more than 100 tournaments around the globe)
#15) Steve "The Miz" Mizerak (the affable John Madden of pool;
another wonderful ambassador of the game)
#14) Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins (a great
player despite his quirky stroke; also an excellent TV analyst)
#13) Vernon "Burnie" Elliot (#1 "undercover" shark;
he would play
anyone for anything, anytime)
Don Willis (another legendary
undercover "monster" player; the #1 money nine-ball player of his era)
Dick Hunzicker (another "undercover" shark;
Willie Mosconi cautioned friends not to tackle him at
#12) Leonard "Bugs" Rucker (especially strong at bank and one-pocket)
#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 as his nickname
suggests; 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)
John "Rags" Fitzpatrick (#1 at one-pocket,
according to legends Eddie Taylor and Bill "Weenie Beenie" Staton)
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 a dozen times and has 751
#7) Earl "The Pearl"
Strickland (#1 at run-out nine-ball; a McEnroe-like talent but with similar
#6) Efren "The Magician" Reyes (#1 at rotation; great kicker; strong at all
disciplines; best modern-era player overall)
#5) Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall (#1 for long-term consistent greatness;
200 tournament wins; rarely misses or gets out of line; more consistent than Reyes;
spotted top pros)
#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 past his prime)
Willie "Mr. Pocket Billiards" Mosconi (the
of straight pool when straight pool was king, he routinely ran hundreds of
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
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!)
#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. and his father Jake "the Wizard" Schaefer
Sr., Frank "The Inexorable Snail" Taberski, Alfie Taylor,
Nick "Kentucky Colonel" Varner
In an AZbilliards poll, Harold Worst was picked by a well-informed panel as the third-best American pool
player of all time, after Willie Mosconi and Earl Strickland. But was Worst the
best all-round, since he excelled at pocket billiards, while they couldn't hope to match him
at cushion billiards? Worst excelled at three-cushion, straight rail, nine-ball,
one-pocket, straight pool and snooker. Bank seems to have been his only possible
weakness, but he was a cut shot artist who didn't need to bank in order to win,
and there were no major bank tournaments
Harold Worst was a "boy wonder" mentored by Willie "the King" Hoppe. At 21, Worst became the
youngest player ever to qualify for the world three-cushion billiard championship. He
won the world championship at 25, then held the title the rest of his life. He didn't start playing
pocket billiards seriously until his early thirties, and he died of brain cancer at 37.
But in that short period of time, he managed to not only
dominate the best pros, but to strike fear in them. In 1965, the last year of
his life, playing with terminal brain cancer and being pale and thin (70 to 80
pounds underweight), Worst managed to retain the world
three-cushion billiards title in Belguim, to win two major American all-round pocket billiards
tournaments, and even to win an English snooker tournament! Worst is one of only five players, and the last, to
hold world titles in three-cushion billiards and pocket billiards. And he is the
only player to switch from three-cushion billiards to pocket billiards and win a
world championship in the latter. He also remains the youngest player to have
won a world title in three-cushion billiards.
Minnesota Fats nominated Harold Worst as the best pool player of his generation,
saying that he was "in my opinion the best pool player in the world at the time
of his death in the summer of 1965, at age 37 ... Worst not only made a
successful switch [from three-cushion billiards to pocket billiards], but he
whacked out the top one-pocket and straight pool players all over the country
... What made Worst's accomplishments so remarkable was that he only entered two
tournaments, yet he won both of them."
This according to Jay Helfert: "In the last years of his life, he was generally
acknowledged by his peers as the best player alive. He only seemed to play
better at each succeeding event. He was the dominant force in pool, the equal of
any man at any game ... I personally think he would have kept right on winning
until he chose to retire. That's how good he was. Worst was unique; a man with
great ability, a great work ethic, no bad habits, highly motivated to win,
unsharkable, and even likable. I never saw another player quite like him. Buddy
Hall may be the closest, but even he had his weaknesses. I never saw a chink in
Johnny Ervolino said that he was in awe of only three players: Ralph
Greenleaf, James Evans (the great black player who was not allowed to
participate in segregated tournaments, but would challenge the winners) and Harold Worst.
Ervolino said that as good as Worst
was, he was still improving at one-pocket at the time of his death.
This from Freddy "the Beard" Bentivegna: "Who would I bet on against Harold,
playing every game except bank pool? Exactly nobody ... Eddie Kelly confessed to
me that Harold Worst was the only guy in the world that he knew he couldn't beat
playing nine-ball. At that time Kelly had just played Lassiter to a one week
draw at Wimpy's home room in Elizabeth, NC." And this
probably explains why Lassiter refused to play Worst, even at nine-ball. Also,
according to Ronnie Allen and Minnesota Fats, Worst had beaten Don Willis, the "undercover
monster" who was a road partner of Lassiter's
and in his opinion was the best money player. According to Fast Larry Gunninger,
Willis had beaten Lassiter regularly. In an
interview, Worst had said that he considered Willis to be the best nine-ball player. So after Worst beat Willis, he may have figured that he could beat
anyone at nine-ball. According to Ronnie Allen, Lassiter had no interest in
playing anyone who might beat him. So if Kelly played Lassiter even, and Kelly
knew that he couldn't beat Worst, and if Worst had beaten Willis, it seems quite
possible that Lassiter deducted that he couldn't beat Worst either. It was Lassiter
who famously said that if he watched a man play for an hour, and he saw him miss
more than once, he knew that he could beat him. But perhaps at the height of his
powers, Worst didn't miss. Ronnie Allen seems to have confirmed this, by saying that
the first time Worst showed up, he beat Cowboy Jimmy Moore at nine-ball, and the
decision was made to put up Lassiter because "Lassiter ain't never lost playing
nine-ball to nobody." But Worst beat Lassiter in two races to 11 and in three sessions "this guy has not missed a ball" so
at that point "we don't
know what to do." Freddy "the Beard" Bentivegna confirmed in an online post that Allen was correct
when he said that Lassiter dodged Worst at nine-ball. Freddy also said that
Eddie Taylor dodged Worst at one-pocket. So the best players were avoiding Worst
at their best games. That's quite an endorsement! It seems the only way any of
the major hustlers would play Worst was with the mortal nuts, and even then they
didn't have to like the game. I remember reading somewhere that when they played
rollout, Worst would roll out to an impossible shot, mock them for not taking
it, then make it himself. (I remember watching Keith McCready do the same thing
at Oak Valley in Nashville, playing on a snooker table.)
This also from Freddy "the Beard" Bentivegna: "As far as pool players go, we
were all earthlings and Harold was from another planet. I watched Harold give
Baby Face 130 to a 100 and win every game. I watched him shoot his way out of a
Weanie Beanie trap when Worst gave Sonny Springer 8 to 6 and the break ...
Harold had to be experienced to be believed. Harold had plenty of money and
would play anybody, anything and bet all you wanted. So in my time at Johnston
City, how many players picked on him to play even? Jacksonville's Sammy
Blumenthal was the only one; they played snooker and Harold assassinated him.
Previously, Sammy was undefeated in snooker for 20 years. U.J. Puckett had for
years dazzled the crowd with his specialty shot, a five rail draw with the cue
ball at least 5 diamonds away from the object ball ... Harold Worst watched Puck
do the shot and then asked him if he could try it. Worst got down on the shot
and got seven rails on the first try! Puckett never showed that shot at Johnston
City again. I seen that with my own eyeballs. There was no stroke shot that
Worst couldn't execute."
Freddy "the Beard" Bentivegna: "At Johnston City Harold Worst challenged
everybody to play anything -- except banks, for whatever anybody wanted to play
for. That included One-pocket and snooker. They installed a snooker table just
for Sammy Blumenthal. They removed it after Worst annihilated him."
Jay Helfert: "Harold was the Efren of his era, a notch above the rest of the
world. Like Freddie said, when Harold played you KNEW he was going to find a
way to win. And his opponents knew it too. I saw him play maybe 8-10 times in
the 60's, including at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in 1963. He won the
one-pocket title, beating Cornbread. He also won the straight pool, beating Babyface
in the finals. And he won the nine-ball. Cornbread actually beat him in the snooker
finals, with Worst claiming that this was his first time playing the game
competitively. It was a close final match by the way. I was also there when he
won the nine-ball, the straight pool and the all-around
title at Johnston City in
1965. You could see he was sick, but no matter. He dominated anyway! He never
got a chance to defend these titles. To this day I have never seen his equal on
a pool table. I hesitate to say this but he is the one American who would have
gotten Efren weak in the knees."
Jay Helfert again: "I still think the best player I have seen in my lifetime was
Harold Worst. He had it all: ability, heart, fearless, and lots of game! He
wasn't afraid to take on any man at any game, with no spot! Plus he was a man's
man, no BS came out of his lips. His words meant something."
Jay Helfert: "Worst had this winner's quality that is hard to define. You just
didn't feel like anyone could really beat him, if they played for a while.
Harold Worst was a quiet, strong man. He did not boast or brag. He had an aura
about him. And believe me when I tell you, ALL the pool players could feel it!"
Jay Helfert: "Harold Worst never went looking for anyone. He had successful
businesses in Grand Rapids. And no one really wanted to go looking for him.
After he tore up a couple of the top players in Johnson City (Jimmy Moore,
[Boston] Shorty and Detroit Whitey), no one cared to challenge him. He beat all
the great players from around the Midwest like Babyface, Joey Spaeth, Johnny
Edwards, Cornbread and Al Miller. He didn't just beat these guys either. The
story always was he annihilated them (won 20 games, won 30 games etc.). And
these were good players." [According to Ronnie Allen, after Worst beat "Cowboy"
Jimmy Moore, he beat Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter in two races to eleven, and he
never missed a shot. Worst had also beaten Don Willis, the "undercover monster,"
at nine-ball. Worst spotted Babyface 130 to 100 and still beat him. And Worst
had the money to keep other players from busting him in a few games. So it's
probably not surprising that no one went looking for him.]
Freddy again: "I seen Worst bark at Lassiter to play some $200 a game nine-ball
at Johnston City. The consensus was that Wimpy, who was the standing world
champion, didn't want to risk his title, and perhaps risk his exhibition tour
money. Weanie Beanie had offered to stake Wimpy for 5k, but said Wimpy was happy
getting his $150 a day for an exhibition. It wasn't so much that Wimpy was
scared, but more like that he knew Worst was capable of beating anyone at any
time. Especially since he knew Worst had barbequed his road partner, Don Willis.
Cornbread asked Eddie Taylor, when he was going to play Worst some one-pocket
and shut that loudmouthed Dutchman up. Taylor responded, 'I'm gonna git to him,
Red, I'm gonna git to him.' But he never did."
From The GosPool According to the Beard: "Harold Worst would look
around disdainfully, trying to make eye contact with whomever may have had
doubts that he would bring the shot. Everyone would usually look away. Then he
would get down on the table, his bald forehead a shade of beet red, give the
object ball a laser-look as if daring it to stay out of the pocket, and then
blast it home. Nobody hit the game-ball harder than Harold Worst."
Artie Bodendorfer: "Nobody was in Harold Worst's class. He is all by himself
. Greatest all around player in life; not even Efren could win. Pool, three
cushion and snooker. Harold Worst all by himself. And for his own money."
Artie Bodendorfer again: "The best and most powerful three-cushion player I
[have] seen was Harold Worst ... I believe Harold Worst would have averaged
around 3 billiards an inning with the different [i.e., modern] tables and balls.
Because he had more heart more ability and he was also very knowledgeable. And
he had a great mind for three-cushion billiards. And when Harold Worst was in
his prime nobody could beat him or wanted too play him. He annihilated
everyone. Nobody wanted too ever play him. That's why he started playing pool.
And Harold Worst had more gamble than the three-cushion billiard players.
Harold Worst in my opinion was the greatest. Willie Hoppe second and Raymond
Artie Bodendorfer again: "The two best nine-ball players would be Wimpy and
Efren. Harold Worst would be the underdog against both players playing nine-ball. But he could still win. And playing three cushion billiards or snooker it
would be all Harold Worst. And balkline and straight rail and so on. But if
Harold Worst would have keep playing, he would have been number one. And Worst
was a great shooter ... Worst was a complete monster. And he was fearless to go
with it. And Everlino had a good opinion of players. And I think Ronnie would
have taken Worst to. You can ask him if he is at the Hall of Fame dinner."
Artie Bodendorfer: "The players back then were better and Efren would not have
won 5 in a row. We have to give him credit for his great accomplishment. But
even back then a lot of the best one-pocket players did not play in the
tournaments. And I would like to ask just for myself. Did Efren win 5 one-pocket
tournaments in a row? And it's always hard to pick out the best player and
people go by their record and their performance. Did Efren bet his own money
against the top player and why not? And Harold Worst was way more talented in
all the pool games and billiard games and snooker; he played everything world
class. It sure would have been great to watch Harold Worst and Efren play all
those games against each other. And if they both had to bet their own money, I
would make Harold Worst a 2 to1 favorite."
Artie Bodendorfer: "Harold Worst was the greatest all around player in life,
playing nine-ball, one-pocket, cushion billiards and snooker."
Artie Bodendorfer: "Playing nine-ball, three cushion billiards and snooker,
Harold Worst would be stealing. Nobody in the world would have a chance at those
three games. Harold Worst would be in a class by himself. And he would have
robed Efren. And Harold Worst played good enough nine-ball to win at all three
games. He was my favorite. And he could shoot and even all those great players
like Taylor, Bugs and Ronnie, they all feared him, and for the coup de grace
he bet his own money. Harold Worst was all by himself number ONE. And he was an
intelligent classy man. And he won the all-around at the Star Dust the last two
years of his life. With Cancer. And he is the most talented player I ever seen.
World champion class player in all games. Even straight pool. And he would have
been the best in one-pocket. If you don't believe me ask that little rascal
Ronnie. No player ever got the respect that Harold Worst got from the top
players. He could make the balls talk. Nobody is close to him. And if he would
have been around in today's world, he would have been another Tiger Woods. And
he would have played 7 or 8 games world class. And there is no debating. Harold
Worst was like Joe Louis or Sugar Ray Robinson. And He had enough balls for 20
people. He is the best ever in life!"
Jay Helfert: "I have a lot of respect for Artie when he talks about Harold
Worst. I've always said when asked who the best player I ever saw was, that it
was HAROLD WORST! My stock answer all these years was Worst was Best!
Everything Artie says is true. No top player of his era wanted to even discuss
playing a money game with him. Even Lassiter drew the line playing Worst 9-Ball
for money. He was afraid that he might lose his rep as the best 9-Ball player.
Worst was unique, kind of like Efren in a way. If you showed him a game with
sticks and balls, he would master it fairly quickly. If he wanted to be the best
one-pocket player in the world, Ronnie would have been in trouble. And you know
how strong I think Ronnie was. Harold Worst was a unique man, a real man's man.
Courteous, humble but proud. And like Artie said, he wasn't afraid to bet his
own money. In fact, he wouldn't consider having a backer. That would have been
demeaning to him. Probably the closest to Worst was Rags Fitzpatrick from the
50's. ALL the players said he was unbeatable. I'll never forget the final year
(1965 I believe) that Worst won the Stardust tourney. He looked anemic to me,
having lost so much weight from his once healthy and robust frame. No one knew
how sick he was. He was not one to complain or make excuses. He won anyway. And
only a few months later he was gone."
Freddy "the Beard" Bentivegna: "I've got ninety stories about The Dutchman,
Harold Worst, but I'll keep it brief and say this, nobody wanted to play him
even -- anything! Every game he made he would bet all the money anybody wanted
to bet. Everybody who played him -- I watched -- their back hand would tremble!"
Bill "Mr. Three Cushion" Smith: "Harold Worst
was the BEST all around player ever, for cash or tournaments!
George Fels: "I believe we have to consider Harold Worst as one of the greatest
natural pool players who ever lived (it wasn't even his first game; caroms was).
Also, his winning world-class tournaments while he was literally dying on his
feet ranks as some of the most courageous play we've ever seen. I met a guy who
served with Worst in the Navy, and he said, 'His powers of focus were
unbelievable. I saw him watch some men swab the deck once, for FOUR HOURS...and
he didn't change a thing, not his posture, not his expression.' While stationed
in Korea, Worst claimed he won so much playing pool and billiards at the
servicemen's clubs that he could actually afford a triplex apartment!"
Steve Price: "All around? I gotta go with Harold Worst."
James "Salt" Duval: "He was the most versatile player that ever lived. Ronnie
Allen and I have both said the same thing. I have never paid to see a pool
tournament in my life, ever. Any place in the United States, I’ve never paid to
go in to see a tournament; I’ve always got in for free. But the only tournament
I would pay to see would be Harold Worst and Ronnie Allen at the top of both
their games playing one-pocket."
Deeman: "I only saw Harold play once in Blytheville, Arkansas but it is a great
memory, the way he shot and beat everyone ... He was hitting spot shots while
talking to a few of us. He must have hit 30 or so with one of the kids
re-spotting it each time. He didn't miss but the amazing thing was the
casualness with which he shot, like he was not paying attention and hit/slammed
every one in the heart of the pocket. He reminded me of a great guitar player
strumming away with his attention elsewhere, never missing a note."
Terry "Loop Lock" Ardeno mentioned Worst's "fierce demeanor" when engaged in
money matches, and that he was a "stone cold gambler with an extra talent for
making the most minute & difficult cut shots. To say he was a confident player
is akin to saying that water is wet."
Jay Helfert: "Worst was probably the only American ever, who could have gone to
Great Britain and challenged the Snooker stars too. If he had been alive when
Snooker got big, I suspect he would have gone over there. In six months he would
have been contending for titles. That's just my opinion. He just had a stronger
mind (and will) than anyone else. And he had better control of his body, the
best self discipline ever. He would have taken those little balls and shoved
them up all their asses. Just kidding, just kidding! One last thing, and it's
important I believe. The two men who had the most solid stance at a table that
I've ever seen were Raymond Ceuelmans and Harold Worst. Both were solid as a
rock. Buddy and Mizerak would be distant thirds to these two guys." [According
to Ronnie Allen, shortly before he died Harold Worst did play in a professional
English snooker tournament, on 6x12 tables. Allen said that Worst won the
tournament, despite never having played that brand of snooker before.]
There are rumors about Cornbread Red taking Worst on
the road and setting traps by having him give balls to top players. But Worst
shot his way out of the traps. This seems plausible because in an interview
Ronnie Allen said that he wanted to shoot Cornbread Red at one time, for setting
a trap that cost him and Ed Kelly $1,200. Ronnie calls the story "The lamb
leading the butchers to slaughter."
Weenie Beanie once had a nine-ball player (Don Willis?) and a pro golfer lay a
trap for Worst in Grand Rapids, his hometown. According to an inside source
named Leonard: "I was near Beanie when he made the call and it went like this:
"He beat you playing nine-ball? Well, how bout so and so? Did he play him golf?
You're kidding! He beat the pro playing golf! How much did that cost me?"
Such stories about Worst being hustled have been confirmed by Jack Olsen: "Years
ago I did a piece for Sports Illustrated on Harold Worst, the world's
pocket billiards champ at the time (you can guess the title: WORST IS BEST). He
told me that he was frequently hustled in his home pool hall in Grand Rapids
even after winning the championship in Argentina, and had recently been given a
bath by a guy in a Shell gas station uniform who shot out the lights when the
bet got high enough."
Ronnie Allen: "In my professional opinion, Harold Worst was the greatest pool
player who ever lived, or ever will live ... He's got my vote."
So there is a strong case for saying that Worst was actually the Best of all time!
Harold Worst Timeline/Chronology:
1929: Harold Worst is born on September 29, 1929, in
Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Harry J. Worst and Lavina Worst.
1946: According to a Chicago Tribune article dated February 13, 1950,
Worst never picks up a cue until age 17, when his father installs a junior-size
billiards table in the basement.
Around this time, Harold Worst
meets Tena Huisman, his future wife. She later recalled in an interview that
even as a teenager, he always wore a suit.
Worst begins to hang out at Chinnick's,
a famous poolroom frequented by celebrities like
heavyweight boxing champions Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney.
Worst's billiards tutors
include Walter Brundage and oilman Joe "Red" McDevitt, an amateur champ who moved
to Grand Rapids from Ohio in 1946.
Worst has a great eye, strong
wrists, a cool temperament, and tremendous powers of concentration. He soon
surpasses his mentors.
1949: Roy Deak "the Deacon" Nichols, who managed Chinnick's poolroom, contacted
Brunswick-Balke, the sponsor of Willie Hoppe, about the "boy wonder."
As a result of Nichols'
inquiry and a last-minute cancellation by another player, Brunswick-Balke
agrees to pit Hoppe against Worst in a Detroit exhibition.
Although Worst loses (albeit by
just one point), Hoppe is impressed, befriends Worst, and begins to tutor him.
At age 21, Worst becomes the
youngest player ever to qualify for the world three-cushion billiards
Worst places second in the
U.S. National Three-Cushion Billiards Tournament, then fourth in the world championship.
1950: Worst marries Tena Huisman, then gets drafted and is deployed to Korea.
According to "Champion of
Obscurity" by George Fels, Worst makes over $500 per week playing servicemen who
"lined up" to give him their money, not believing he could be so good.
Worst snags a furlough to play
in the U.S. National Three-Cushion Billiards tournament, where he places second
(with a 7-2 record) after Mexico's Joe Chamaco, the defending champion.
Worst is called "the baby of
the show" by the Chicago Daily Tribune.
Worst still has hair at this
time, as the Chicago Tribune describes him as "blond."
Willie Hoppe predicts that Worst will emerge as "the next world champion,
providing he can practice as much with a cue as he can with a rifle."
Worst then spends nine months
in Korea as a member of the Army graves registration unit (an assignment that
weighed on and depressed him).
On a brighter note, Worst is
allowed to give billiards lessons and put on exhibitions at military recreation
1951: Worst again participates in the U. S. National Three-Cushion Billiards
tournament, representing the Army.
1952: Willie Hoppe wins the last of his 51 world titles, then retires at age 64.
Many experts consider him to be the greatest three-cushion billiards player of
Hoppe presents Worst with
his personal billiards table, after retiring.
begins to die on the vine, in terms of popularity with the public, after Hoppe's
Worst is discharged in
November 1952, and returns to competitive billiards five months later.
1954: Worst's journey to Buenos Aires, Argentina results in his first
three-cushion billiards world championship. The 10-day event draws 110,000
Worst is the youngest
three-cushion billiards world champion to date, at age 25.
Worst's overall record is
8-2 record, with a 60-45 victory over reigning champion Ray Kilgore and a 60-43
victory on October 25, 1954 over Argentina's Ezequiel Navarra, the hometown
Worst had to be protected
by a cordon of 25 policemen from an angry mob of Argentines who were unhappy
about Navarra being defeated by an outsider.
Worst turned down a
$15,000 bribe from mobsters, and was advised to leave the country immediately
after winning by Juan and Evita Peron.
According to an article
by George Fels, Worst said that he never received the trophy.
The October 26, 1954,
edition of The Grand Rapids Press bears the headline: "Worst Brings City Second
World Title." (The first world title was brought by bowler Marion Ladewig.)
Accompanying the story is
a two-column photograph of Harold attempting a difficult massé shot, looking
dapper in a suit and polka-dot tie.
Worst will hold the world
three-cushion billiards title until his premature death at age 37.
1957: Worst defends his world title in Chicago, winning four blocks in a row
against Joe Chamaco of Mexico.
Illustrated: "Harold Worst, nerveless pool shark from Grand Rapids and at 28
world's youngest international billiards champion, chalked up 1,200 points to
1,021 for Mexico's Joe Chamaco, to retain his three-cushion title."
Illustrated article: "Worst is the Best" by Jack Olsen.
1958: Worst participates in an exhibition in Chicago.
1959: Worst participates in a billiards exhibition with Masako Katsura, a
diminutive Japanese female player with world-class talent.
1960: Worst defends his world title.
1961: Worst defends his world title, defeating Masako Katsura in a challenge
match. Worst wins
six out of seven matches.
But American interest in
three-cushion billiards is at an all-time low. Fortunately the movie The
Hustler, starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, stirs interest in pocket
Worst reads the
handwriting on the wall and decides to start cashing in, by changing games and
1962: Worst creates his own line of cues, and a company called Cues Inc. to
manufacture and distribute them.
Worst quips, "We could
hardly call it the Worst Cues Company, now could we?"
Worst also lends his name
to a line of inexpensive pool tables.
1963: At the Michigan State Fairgrounds, Worst wins the one-pocket
title, beating Cornbread Red, the straight pool title, beating Babyface
Whitlow, and the nine-ball title. Worst
finishes second to Cornbread Red in snooker.
1964: Worst wins the Michigan snooker and pool championships, according to a
Traverse City Record-Eagle article dated June 16, 1966.
Around this time, Worst
defeats the legendary big-money hustler Don Willis at his best game, nine-ball.
1965: From Sports Illustrated: "Harold Worst, 36, a cue manufacturer
from Grand Rapids, won the all-round title at the $30,000 Las Vegas Open, plus
$4,350 in prize money. Worst also took the one-pocket division."
In the star-studded Las
Vegas Open, Worst bests 100 players, winning the one-pocket division, then
defeating pool legends Irving "The Deacon" Crane and "Champagne" Ed Kelly in the
Worst also wins the
all-round title at the famous Johnston City hustler tournament, finishing first
in the nine-ball and straight pool categories, then defeating Larry "Boston
Shorty" Johnson in the finals.
The game's star hustlers
refuse to play Worst even. And even when they try to trap him by demanding
outrageous spots, he often manages to shoot his way out of their traps (although
According to George Fels,
Worst gave other players the "tremors."
1966: Worst plays in the Straight Pool World Championship, held in the Windsor
Ballroom of the Commodore Hotel in New York City from March 19 to March 27,
Despite being close to
death, Worst wins six matches against formidable opposition and has a high run
of 85 balls.
Harold Worst dies on June
1970: Harold Worst is inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of
The Best Celebrity Sharks
#10) Paul Newman, who starred in The Hustler, picked up enough to run a
rack from time to time.
#9) Tom Cruise made most of his own shots in The Color of Money,
including a massé that he made three times in a row.
#8) Peter Falk of Columbo fame was a top celebrity pool player in the
60s and 70s, despite having only one eye!
#7) Dustin Hoffman is reputed to be a strong snooker player on a 6x12 table.
James Garner was the best player in Norman,
Oklahoma when he was a young man, according to Jay Helfert.
#6) Leo Durocher was such a good pool player as a young man that he considered
pool as a career, over baseball.
#5) Jackie Gleason played Minnesota Fats and executed his own trick shots; he
was able to run 40-50 balls at straight pool.
#4) Jerry Orbach of Law and Order once gave Cornbread Red a three-hour
run for his money. Orbach's high run was 67. On the Tonight Show in
1973, he ran the table on Minnesota Fats.
Mark Kendall of Great White has been witnessed
running 62 balls
#3) Walter Alston, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, had a high straight
pool run of over 100 balls.
#2) Fred Astaire was known to devote up to six hours per day to straight pool,
and was able to run 100 balls.
#1) Mark Twain is rumored to have run 100 balls; in any case by his
own admission he was a pool nut.
Abraham Lincoln was also a pool nut.
Unfortunately so was John Wilkes Booth, who got loaded up in a pool hall the day
he shot Lincoln.
President Barack Obama playing pool ... and shooting behind his back!
Honorable Mention Celebrity Pool Players: Ben Affleck, Cap Anson, Milton Berle,
David Brenner, James Caan, Johnny Cash, Walter Cronkite, Matt Damon, Peter
Graves, Dorian Harewood, Buck Henry, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Johnston, Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., Jack Klugman, David Letterman, Gugliermo Marconi,
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Willie Nelson, Barack Obama, Manny Pacquiao, Lou
Diamond Phillips, Prince, Joe Rogan, Babe Ruth, Ken Shamrock, Charlie Sheen,
Paul Sorvino, Kiefer Sutherland, James Tolkan, Michael Vartan, Jack White, Flip
Best Pool Jokes
Two players are complaining that the pockets on the table they're gambling on
are too loose. Minnesota Fats interjects some sage advice: "Raise the bet ...
they'll tighten up!"
A pool player in a tuxedo is like whipped cream on a hot dog. — Minnesota Fats
If Cornbread Red ever plays me, he'll be known as "No Bread Red." — Minnesota
Danny McGoorty: "There's a hundred players who would swim a river of shit to
Fast Eddie Parker: "Fats would talk you out of a game rather than shoot you out
of a game."
Willie Mosconi once wore earplugs so that he didn't have to listen to Minnesota
Fats during exhibitions.
Best nicknames: Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Ray "Cool Cat" Martin, Keith
"Earthquake" McCready, Efren "The Magician" Reyes, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland
Rudolph Luther Wanderone Jr. has his own category: "Minnesota Fats," "New York
Fats," "Broadway Fats," "Brooklyn Fats," "Chicago Fats," "Fats," "Fatty," "The
Fat Man," "The Fat One," "Double Smart Fats," "Triple Smart Fats," "Rudy," "The
Bank Shot Bandit," "The Dean of the Green," "The Sultan of Stroke"
Johnny Cash playing pool in the movie The Baron.
"My game isn't a carnival. I am simple and consistent, but dangerous." —
Jose "The Giant Killer" Parica
Highest speed when in dead stroke: "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts, "Hippy" Jimmy
Reid, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Keith "Earthquake McCready," Dennis Hatch,
Ironic trivia question:
Was Harold Worst the best pool shark ever? Some keen observers who saw him play think
so. And he died at age 37, at the height of his powers. Who knows how good he
could have been, if he had lived? Thus, last on the alphabetical list is certainly not least.
"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
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 hustler of his era, to boot!
Here is what my friend Doug Almy, a good player and a keen student of the game,
told me about one of the great "undercover" hustlers of all time: "Mike, We are
back from our trip and will have to get together soon. When I was in Tucson, AZ,
I went to the pool hall that is the place to go now called 'Pockets.' I saw one
person I knew 40 years ago when I lived there. I also spent some time talking to
the owner who had the place since the early 1990's. We talked about road players
and various pros and hustlers and the name Alfie Taylor came up. He said Alfie
(or Alf as he called him) had a store in Tucson that sold Middle Eastern art and
furniture. He did not know the address of the store because he said the store
had recently moved. I googled Alf's name, found it, and read the 'about me'
part. It would be interesting to read his book. I saw him play once or twice in
Tucson when I lived there and there is no telling how good he played. He was
very good at looking like anything from a beginner to a mediocre player. When I
got to Nashville I found people here that knew of him, which was surprising
because I had been told he went by different names: Grover being one of them.
From what the owner said, Alfie does not play pool anymore or at least not any
serious pool. I cannot remember ever seeing a player that made shooting various
shots look so easy. I would say he was probably the most 'at ease' player I have
ever seen, but then again he knew how to match up and to my knowledge he never
played in any tournaments."
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.
Any player on the list above, at his absolute best would be hard 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"
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 probably 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, Fast Eddie, Fats, the Pearl.
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.
Pool legend Willie "Mr. Pocket Billiards" Mosconi had a cameo in the 1961 movie The Hustler,
one of the very best sports movies of all time, and one of the darkest. 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 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
table master's continual 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 once 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 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 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 once pointed out, "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.
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.
"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"
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.
"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 "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.
Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, circa 1982.
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."
Natural talents and "boy/girl wonders": Jean Balukas, Johnny Cannila, Dennis
Hatch, Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins, Bobby Logan, Harold Worst
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
The picture above is of Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, at the 1982 Dayton
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 shotmakers 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: Johnny Archer, Michael Coltrain, Buddy Hall,
Truman Hogue, Allen Hopkins, David Howard, Jeanette Lee, Mike Massey, Keith McCready,
Alex Pagulayan, Efren Reyes, Mike Sigel, Earl Strickland, Nick
Varner, et al. 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 "St. Louie" Louie Roberts. He was an incredible,
fearless shot-maker. There was something magical 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. I believe
Roberts either made the nine on the break, or broke and ran out, in 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 crowd-pleasing antics and incredible
shotmaking. I believe it had been a longtime dream of
Louie's to beat Buddy Hall, who was the world's top tournament 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 "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
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
The best ten-ball players: Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer, Shane Van Boening, Tony
Drago, Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins, Mika "The Ice
Man" Immonen, Dennis Orcullo, "Hippie" Jimmy Reid, Efren "The Magician" Reyes
Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer has won more than 60 professional tournaments and
was voted the best player of the 1990s by Billiard Digest. He has won
the world ten-ball championship a record four times.
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 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: Jonathan Swift mentioned billiards along with
nine-pins in "The History of John Bull," published in 1712. He was also quoted
as saying, "I've always believed no matter how many shots I miss, I'm going to make the next one."
At that time billiard balls were still being pushed around
with maces. But the game was about to evolve. 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 further time in prison 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, was 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
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
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 "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
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.
"The game of billiards has destroyed my naturally sweet disposition." — Mark Twain, April
“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
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
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
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 at three-cushion billiards, 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.
Double the Irony:
Mike Massey, the great trickshot artist, has a last name that sounds like the
English version of the original French trick shot, the massé.
The term now used for the magical spin invented by the French is "english."
Harold Worst may have been the best billiards/pool player of all time.
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: "Lucky Charms" aka "Sizzle"
Adams, Fat Albert, Arizona Slim, Joey Barnes, "Patcheye" Basheer,
Melvin "Strawberry" Brooks, Ace Brown, Eddie Brown, "Bus Driver"
Ronnie, Johnny "Cannonball" Chapman, Detroit Slim, James Evans, Andrew "The Gent" Gentry,
George "Rotation Slim" Hairston,
"Marvelous" Marvin Henderson, Buffalo Jerry, Cliff "Spotmaster"
Joyner, Henry "Lotsa Poppa" McCloud Jr., Willie Munson, James "Cisero"
Murphy, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, Ike Runnels, Mark "Tadd" Tademy,
T-Bone, Cecil Tugwell, Javenly "Youngblood"
Washington, Edgar "Shake and Bake" White,
Robert "Rags" Woods
According to Jay Helfert, James Evans was "one of the best pool players that
ever lived. PERIOD!" Helfert ranked "Youngblood" Washington, Cisero Murphy,
Marvin Henderson, Bugs Rucker and John "Cannonball" Chapman as "the great ones."
Helfert's honorable mentions include Cliff Joyner, Robert "Rags" Woods, Cecil
Tugwell, Mark Tadd, Black Nate, Strawberry and Gabby. Helfert also mentioned
that the only player he ever saw beat Ronnie Allen even at one-pocket was
How good was James Evans? Well, he went after the very best when they were hot:
"James grew up in an era when black players weren't invited to compete in pool
tournaments but he would often show up at pool tournaments and after the
tournament he would walk up to the WINNER of the tournament and ask him to
gamble at high stakes. He wasn't afraid to bet it all and he almost always won.
James didn't start at the bottom of the ladder and work his way up, he went
straight after the winner of the pool tournament."
Best stroke: "Marvelous" Marvin Henderson, Ed "Champagne" Kelly, Michael
Coltrain, Melvin "Strawberry" Brooks, Andrew "The Gent" Gentry,
"Cowboy" Jimmy Moore, Mark Tadd,
T-Bone, Larry Nevel
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
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 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 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,
Fitzpatrick, Richard "Little Richie" Florence, Keith McCready, "St. Louie" Louie Roberts
"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.”
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 "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor is considered by many "players in
the know" to have been the best bank shot of all time.
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,
Don Decoy, 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,
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
Eugene "Clem" Metz, Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Jack "Jersey Red" Breit, Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor,
"Connecticut" Johnny Vevis, and Johnny "Irish" Lineen.
According to R. A. Dyer, the author of Hustler Days, two of the
all-time great one-pocket players called John Joseph "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.”
According to Frank "Bananas" Rodriguez, before Rags the two best one-pocket
players were Eddie Taylor and Don Decoy. But Rags beat Decoy out of $2,000 and
after that, Rags was the best one-pocket player as long as he lived.
Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack on March 6, 1960, just before the movie
The Hustler and the glory days of the Johnston City pool hustler
tournaments. When Rags Fitzpatrick was playing his best, pool was seen as a
seedy business and one-pocket was the seediest game of all. So Rags missed out
on pool's renaissance and the elevation of one-pocket to a game of champions.
But people in the know say that Rags was the best one-pocket player, and by a
Jack "Jersey Red" Breit (1987 photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter).
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
Room 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
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."
Ronnie Allen, Jack Breit and "Champagne" Ed Kelly (circa 1983-1984; photo by Mike
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, Denny 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
"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, Toby
Sweet, Nick Varner, Harold Worst, 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 "Tennessee Tarzan" Massey (circa 1983-1984 photo by Mike Haines/Bill
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 "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
Dave Matlock (1984 photo by Mike Haines; photo editing by Bill Porter). If there
is any consensus in the pool world, it may be that Dave Matlock was the
best "bar box" player with the "big ball."
The best three cushion billiard players: Torbjörn Blomdahl, Raymond Ceulemans,
Jack "Scarface" Foreaker, 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,
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
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
Alfredo de Oro 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
The best snooker players: Joe Davis, 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,
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
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,
eying a shot intensely.
The best one-handed players: Ronnie Allen,
Artie Bodendorfer, Jesse "The One-Handed Hustler" James,
Martin "Omaha Fats" Kaiman, Ernie Morgan, Chris Raftis, Richard T. Riggie,
The best ambidextrous players: Wade "Boom Boom" Crane, Buddy "the Rifleman"
Jack "Scarface" Foreaker, Dick Leonard, Dan Louie, Keith "Earthquake" McCready,
Ronnie O'Sullivan, Jose "the Giant Killer" Parica, Efren "the Magician" Reyes,
"Little" Al Romero, Mark Strain, Cecil Tugwell, Ron Wyatt
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, 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,
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 at a professional level.
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
The worst losers: Al Taylor, Louis Fox (?)
Around the turn of the century a twelve-year-old
wunderkind played Al Taylor, then about 30 and one of
the country's best balkline players. It was agreed that little Willie
Hoppe would be allowed to climb on the table to make his shots. When the match
began, Taylor was jovial, patting Hoppe on the head and promising to buy him ice
cream if he won. However, when wee Willie won by a wide margin, 300 to 207, Taylor burst into a rage,
slamming his cue across his knee. After buying ice cream for his conqueror,
gave up billiards and went to Colorado to take up mining. His victory over Taylor made Willie nationally famous as "The
Boy Wonder," a name he always detested but which ironically persisted, not only
after his hair grew thin and gray, but even after his retirement from tournament
Louis Fox was an American professional billiards player who was briefly the U.S.
champion. He is alleged to have committed suicide as the result of losing a
match after a fly interfered with play. The confirmed facts are that Fox, who
was defending his title as American champion, was defeated by John Deery on
September 7, 1865, at Washington Hall in Fox's home town of Rochester, New York;
that Fox went missing in Rochester on or about
December 4, 1866; and that his body was found in the Genesee River near the
Rochester neighborhood of Charlotte on May 10, 1867. Washington Hall stood about
three blocks east of the Genesee. The classic version of the story is that Fox
was on his way to victory when a fly settled on the cue ball. In trying to shoo
away the fly, Fox touched the cue ball, a foul, forfeiting his shot. Deery then
rallied to win the match. The stunned Fox then left the billiard hall and
committed suicide by diving into the Genesee River. Variations of the story have
him drowning himself immediately after the match; the next day; or some time
later. Contemporary sources reported Deery's victory, but apparently nothing
about the fly.
Pool in Film: The Hustler racks up the awards
In the decades since its release, The Hustler has cemented its
reputation as a classic. Roger Ebert, echoing earlier praise for the
performances, direction, and cinematography and adding laurels for editor Dede
Allen, cites the film as "one of those films where scenes have such psychic
weight that they grow in our memories." He further cites Fast Eddie Felson as
one of "only a handful of movie characters so real that the audience refers to
them as touchstones." TV Guide called the film a "dark stunner"
offering "a grim world whose only bright spot is the top of the pool table, yet
[with] characters [who] maintain a shabby nobility and grace." The four leads
are again lavishly praised for their performances and the film is summed up as
"not to be missed."
Paul Newman reprised his role as Fast Eddie Felson in the 1986 film The
Color of Money, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a
Leading Role. A number of observers and critics have suggested that this Oscar
was in belated recognition for his performance in The Hustler. In 1997,
the Library of Congress selected The Hustler for preservation in the
United States National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or
aesthetically significant." Carroll and Rossen's screenplay was selected by the
Writers Guild of America in 2006 as the 96th best motion picture screenplay of
all time. In June 2008, AFI released its "Ten top Ten" (the best ten films in
ten "classic" American film genres) after polling over 1,500 people from the
creative community. The Hustler was rated the sixth best film in the
The Hustler is also credited with sparking a resurgence in the
popularity of pool in the United States, which had been on the decline for
decades prior to 1961. The film also brought recognition to Mosconi, who,
despite having won multiple world championships, was virtually unknown to the
general public. Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the film's popularity was a
real-life pool hustler named Rudolf Wanderone. Mosconi claimed in an interview
at the time of the film's release that the character of Minnesota Fats was based
on Wanderone, who at the time was known as "New York Fatty." Wanderone
immediately adopted the Minnesota Fats nickname and parlayed his association
with the film into book and television deals and other ventures. Author Walter
Tevis denied for the rest of his life that Wanderone had played any role in the
creation of the character. Other players would claim, with greater or lesser
degrees of credibility, to have served as models for Fast Eddie, including
Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Ed "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor, Ed Parker, and Eddie
Pelkey. (The first two were world-class players; the latter two may have just
happened to have been named Edward by their parents.)
More pool nicknames:
Not all pool nicknames are highly original. For instance, if you hail from
Cincinnati and can chalk a tip without putting your eye out, you're destined to
have someone call you the "Cincinnati Kid." If your name is James and you have
long hair, you're bound to be called Hippie Jimmy. And if you live in the sticks
and have the guts to play road players on your home table, you're likely to
become part of that mystical union called "Country." Everyone has heard of the
pool legend named "Country" who blows away road players on his own table, but is
he one person or a hodgepodge? I suspect the latter. However, there are many
colorful pool nicknames; I have bolded my favorites below.
Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen
"No Penny" Benny Allen
Doug "Preacher" Almy (he didn't look like a pool shark, hence the nickname; we
ran together for years, so I know him best of all the players on this list)
Richie "from the Bronx" Ambrose
Leonardo "Dadong" Andam
Donny "Cincinnati Kid" Anderson
Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer (I believe he had a scorpion amulet that
he carried for good luck)
Lewis "Blackie" Ardell
Richie "The Memphis Flash" Austin
Ken "Sarge" Aylesworth
Joe "The Butcher" Balsis; also "Meatman" (he got his name
from his occupation: his family owned a meat business)
William "Sailor" Barge
Paul "Tall Paul" Barros
Danny "Kid Delicious" Basavich
Jaffar "Patch Eye" Basheer; also "One-eyed Henry"
Eddie "Detroit Whitey" Beauchene
Bob "Bristol" Begey
Robin "Bankroll" Bell (when she married, I believe she went
by Robin Bell-Dodson)
"Terrible" Terry Bell
William "Dollar Bill" Bell
Robert "Lefty" Bennett
Freddie "The Beard"
Jerry "The California Kid" Bento
Emmett "Blank" Blankenship
"Snooker" Sam Blumenthal; also "Jacksonville"
"Smartie" Artie Bodendorfer (a top-notch bank and one-pocket player)
Al "New York Blackie" Bonife
Don "Sneaky Pete" Bothwell
Louis "Little Hand" Bramlett
George "Flamethrower" Breedlove
Jack "Jersey Red" Breit; also "The Ayatollah of One Hola" and "The Red Raider"
Jason "Jaybird" Breland
"Tough" Tony Brewer
Paul "Doc" Brienza
Charlie "Straight Arrow" Brinson
Tommie "Cisco" Briscoe
James "Youngblood" Brown; also "Texas Blood"
"Little Rock" Brown; also "Capitol City" Brown
"Jew" Paul Brusloff
Charles "Hillbilly" Bryant
Clarence "Bucky" Bell
Mike "The Locksmith" Burch (I seldom lost money and never lost big, hence the
Billy "Cornbread Red" Burge
Robert "Georgia Slim" Burrell
Eddie "The Hat" Burton
Francisco "Django" Bustamante
"Machine Gun" Lou Butera (he got his nickname from the rapidity
with which he took shots)
"Houn' Dog" Calhoun
Marcel "Campy" Camp
Rex "Keno King" Cannon
Vince "Pancho" Carelli
Guy "Carolina Slim" Carney
Marshall "Tuscaloosa Squirrel" Carpenter (as a boy he sold peanuts at
pool halls: hence, "squirrel")
"Port Chester" Mickey Carpinello
"Brooklyn" Jimmy Cassas
Gene "The Glove" Catrone
Marcus "Little Napolean" Chamat
Johnny "Cannonball" Chapman; also "Lefty"
Bernardo "King Kong" Chavez
Ignacio "Nacho" Chavez
Robert "Blood" Cherry
Tony "T-Rex" Chohan
Artie "Mountain Man" Clements
Ben "Kid Irish" Cohen
Hubert "Daddy Warbucks" Cokes
"Benton Harbour" Tony Banks Coleman
Michael "Bricktop" Collins
Michael "Train" Coltrain (possessor of one of the most beautiful, fluid strokes
I have ever seen)
Benny "Goose" Conway
Benny "Little Goose" Conway Jr.
Charles Richard "Bucktooth" Cook
Steve "Cookie Monster" Cook
George "Spin-the-Ball" Cook
"Frisco" Jack Cooney
Gene "The Machine" Cooper
"Sleepy" Joe Cosgrove
Al "Coz" Coslosky
Warren "Monk" Costanza
Jimmy "Catfish" Court
Tommy "The Sailor" Cramer
Irving "The Deacon" Crane
Wade "Boom Boom" Crane (he got his nickname from his powerful stroke
Arthur "Babe" Cranfield
"Diamond" Bill Cress
"Okie" Sam Crotzer; also "Nashville"
"Surfer" Rod Curry; also "Pool Playin' Jesus" (due to his long hair
and sometimes playing barefoot or in sandals)
Andrew "Ponzi" D'Alessandro
Robert "Detroit Bob" Dancer
Alphonso "Fonzi" Daniels
Mike "Mad Dog" Danner
Shannon "The Cannon" Daulton; also "Doughboy" (a double
entendre on his physique and ability to generate cash winnings)
Kim "Kimmer" Davenport
"Oakland" Don Decoy
Robert "Red Dog" Denham
"Baltimore" Buddy Dennis; also "Baltimore Bullet"
Danny "Buffalo Kid" DiLiberto; also
"Deadly Danny" and "Buffalo Dan"
"Hippie" Cole Dickson
Steve "Stevie Wonder" Dobrowolski
"Fat" Harold Dollar
Ernesto "Chihuahua" Dominguez
John "Duke" Dowell
Gary "The Driller" Drennan
Delmar Henry "Harrisburg Whitey" Dubbs; also "Delmar Stanton"
Corey "Cash Money" Duel
Bill "Chicken Man" Dunsmore
Don "Waterdog" Edwards
"Hurricane" Tony Ellin (he died at age 34 when his Cadillac was hit by
a locomotive; it seems he gambled his life on beating the train to a crossing)
Johnny "Velvet Foghorn" Ervolino; also "Brooklyn Johnny"
Roger "Road Warrior" Estelle
Jamie "Red Rifle" Farrell
Sam "One Poke" Fauver (reported to have a straight pool run of over 400 balls)
Don "Preacher" Feeney
Tony "Fargo" Ferguson
Samuel "Sparky" Ferrell
Allison "Duchess of Doom" Fisher
John Joseph "Rags" Fitzpatrick; also "Washington Rags" (ironic,
because he was a very dapper dresser)
"LA" Richie Florence
Jack "Scarface" Foreaker
Mark "Donut Man" Ford
Fritz "Scarface" Fournier
"Neptune" Joe Frady
Milborn "Gar" Frazier
Scott "Freezer" Frost
Jimmy "The Philly Flash" Fusco
Natalie "Hollywood Jack" Gabriel
Mike "Shoes" Gamboni
Danny "Young Greenleaf" Gartner
Al "Silver Fox" Gassner
Rich "The Hat" Geiler
Andrew "The Gent" Gentry (the best in Nashville at bank, one-pocket, golf and
eight-ball in my day; he had a magical slip stroke)
Michael "Geese" Gerace
Horace "Groundhog" Godwin
Lewis "Lefty" Goff; also "Junior"
Morton "Boston Shorty" Goldberg
Isaac "Miami" Gonzales
Paul "Detroit Slim" Graham
James "Atlantic Danny" Greer
Marc "Mags" Gregory
Roger "The Rocket" Griffis
Mike "Babyface" Gulyassy
Mark "The Snake" Haddad
John "Drew" Hagar
George "Rotation Slim" Hairston (according to Luther Lassiter, he was one of the
very best players of his day)
Cecil "Buddy" Hall; also "The Rifleman"
"Staten Island" Tommy; also "Doc Halliday"
Calvin "Country" Hargrove; also "Crazy Calvin"
Ralph "Go Boy" Harrelson
"Hawaiian" Brian Hashimoto
Bobby "The Locksmith" Headrick
Earl "Roadmaster" Heisler; also "Pistachio"
"Toupee" Jay Helfert
Marvin "Pittsburg Flash" Henderson
John "Cornflakes" Hennigan
"Cadillac" Ed Herrmann
Alex "Hurricane" Higgins
Norman "Hitch" Hitchcock
Thanh "Tang" Hoa
Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins
Willie "The King" Hoppe
John "The Banker" Horgan
Charles "Norfolk Whitey" Howard
"Little" David Howard; also "The Giant Killer"
Norman "The Jockey" Howard
"One-Eyed" Tony Howard
Larry "The Iceman" Hubbart
Eddie "Mountain Man" Hubble
"One Eyed" Hank Hurst
Buford "Bud" Hypes; also "The Tiger"
Bill "Nine Ball Billy" Incardona; also "Pittsburgh Billy" and "Mustache Charlie"
Bob "Ingie" Ingersol; also "Soldier"
Larry "Boston Shorty" Johnson
"Handsome" Danny Jones; also "Kennesaw"
"Jumpin'" Sammy Jones
"Chicago" Paul Jones
Jeremy "Double J" Jones
Charles "Low Down Dirty Red" Jones; also "Preacher Red"
Cliff "Spotmaster" Joyner
Martin "Omaha Fats" Kaiman (one of the best one-handed
players of all time)
"Gypsy" George Kallman
Ellis "Tres" Kane III
Bill "Tex" Kelleher; also "Calhoun"
Joe "Joker" Kerr
"Champagne" Eddie Kelly
Eddie "Cannonball" Kienowski
Joe "Boston Joey" Kiley
"Fat" Glen Knowles
Roy "Kilroy" Kosmolski
Tony "Whitey" Krzyzaniak
"Fast" Eddie La Pasota
Robert "Cotton" LeBlanc (he served as a technical adviser to the movie
Poolhall Junkies, had a cameo and performed the trick shots)
Billy "The Kid" Lanna
Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter
"Canadian" Joe Lawrence
Irving "Bill" Lawson
Chris Scarfish Lawton
Calvin "Rushout Red" Lawton
"Spanish" Mike LeBron
Jeanette "The Black Widow" Lee
Ardell "Blackie" LeSieur (or LeSeur)
Willie "the Wop" Lewis
Steve "Leapin'" Lillis, also known as "The Pastor of Pool" for his Gospel Trick
Walter "Wally" Lindrum
Johnny "Irish" Lineen
Peter "Rabbit" Linhard
Larry "The Prince of Pool" Lisciotti; also "Oil Can"
because he was so slick
Rudolfo "Boy Sampson" Luat
"Little" John Macias; also "Lil Jon"
Johnny "Get Back Jack" Madden
"Florida" Bob Maidhoff
"Hippie" Jimmy Marino
Marco "The Snake" Marquez
Bill "Willie Jopling" Marshall
Alain "The Dancing Bear" Martel
Ray "Cool Cat" Martin
"Little" Al Mason
Mike "Tennessee Tarzan" Massey
Ewa "The Striking Viking" Mataya (she got her nickname from her fair, striking
Jimmy "Pretty Boy Floyd" Mataya
Pablo "The Tarantula" Matheu
Grady "Professor" Mathews
Ronnie "The Hat" Mayes; also "Bald Eagle"
Steve "The Mechanic" McAninch
Henry "Lotsapoppa" McCloud Jr. (so-called because he was a huge man, reportedly
weighing more than 400 pounds)
Harry "The Horse" McConnell
Keith "Earthquake" McCready; also "Ether" and "Grady Seasons" (his character in
"The Color of Money")
Ryan "Genie Man" McCreash
Edward "Chris" McGeahan
Bobby "The Kid" McGrath
John "Henry" McHenry
"San Jose" Dick McMoran
"Big" Bill Meacham
Howard "The Coward" Meachum
Steve "The Whale" Melnyk
Norman "Silverlake" Menichelli; also "The Bear"
Eugene "Clem" Metz
George "Tacoma Whitey" Michaels
George "Trickshooter" Middleditch
"Racine" Al Miller
Johnny "Popcorn" Miller
Steve "The Miz" Mizerak
"Jersey" Mel Mlotok
Charles "Country" Monroe
"New York" Hank Montague
Antonio "Aguzate" Montalvo
Jimmy Moore (he was known far and wide for his flamboyant cowboy attire and his
even more arresting slip stroke)
Bill "Cash" Moore
N.M. "Junior" Moore
Ernest "Nubby" Morgan; also "One Armed Bandit"
Rodney "The Rocket" Morris
Don "Tire Man" Morrison
William "Jackie Robinson" Morton
Willie "Mr. Pocket Billiards" Mosconi
Willie "Weekend Warrior" Munson
James "Cisero" Murphy; also "The Brooklyn Kid"
Bob "The Destroyer" Myers
"California" Mike Najadin
John "Henry" Neil
Gary "Bushwacker" Nolan
James "Junior" Norris
Johnny "Sugar Shack" Novak
Sylvester "Sylver" Ochoa
"Virginia" Bob Ogburn; also "Black Bart"
Jerry "The Actor" Orbach
Elihu "Alley-Oop" O'Rear
Sandy "The Sandman" Orlikoff
Bob "Black Bart" Osbourne; also "Bud"
Charles "Good Time Charlie" Owens
Larry "Lettuce" Oyler
Alex "The Lion" Paguyalan
Ismael "The Jumping Bean" Paez; also "Morro"
George "The Polish Prince" Pawelski (according to George Fels, he was given the
nickname by the immortal Howard Worst)
Billy "Embalmer" Palmer
Mark "Gypsy" Pantovic
Jose "Amang" Parica; also "The Little Giant"
James "Meathead" Parks
Cecil "Will Pay" Peay
Randy "Pooky" Pelton; also "Pookie"
Morris "Snooks" Perlstein
Reed "The Kid" Pierce
Jonathan "Hennessee" Pinegar
"Cadillac" Dave Piona
Richard "Baby Brother" Powell
Thomas Austin Preston Jr. aka "Amarillo Slim"
Larry "The Turtle" Price
"Iron" Joe Procita
Utley Jim "U. J." Puckett
Maurice "Gabby" Puncy
Krianksak "Pookie" Rasmeloungon
"Hippie" Jimmy Reid
Jimmy The Springfield Rifle Relihan
Jim "King James" Rempe
Kenny "Romburg" Remus; also "Romboogie" (he won 200K and Bill "Weenie
Beenie" Staton's Thunderbird, but died young)
Efren "Bata (The Kid)" Reyes; also "The Magician", Cesar Morales
J. R. "Magnolia Red" Richardson
"St. Louie" Louie Roberts
Silent Assassin" Robles
Robert "Big Nose Roberts" Rodman
Tony "Flaco" Rodrigues
Frank "Bananas" Rodriguiz
Glen "Piggy Banks" Rogers
Bernard "Bunny" Rogoff; also "Pots and Pans"
"Little" Al Romero
George "The Trapper" Rood
Isadore "Pony" Rosen
Charles "Rosie" Rosenblatt
"Kokomo" Joe Ross
Tom "Dr. Cue" Rossman
John "Monster" Rouse
Bill "Memphis" Rousey
Leonard "Bugs" Rucker; also "Chicago Bugs"
Bob "Memo" Rugnao
"Mexican" Joe Salazar
Luc Machine Gun Salvas
George Edward SanSouci Jr. aka "Ginky"
John "The Oklahoma Kid" Saunders
Earl "Fagin" Schriver
Bernie "The Hawk" Schwartz
Harry "Poochie" Sexton; also "Poochy"
"Omaha" John Shuput (a bar table legend who retired early to sell insurance)
Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel
Gene "Fullerton Kid" Skinner
Richard "Rocketman" Slupik
Scott "The Shot" Smith
Steve "Lizard" Smith
"Fast" Eddie Sontag
Joey "Cincinnati Kid" Spaeth
Jimmy "Flyboy" Spears
Vernon "Brier" Spivey
Jean "Sonny" Springer; also "Tex"
Andrew "The Saint" St. Jean; also "The Lowell Kid" and "The Masked Marvel"
Louie "Magic Man" St. Pierre
Bill "High Class" Stack
Evgenij "The Russian" Stalev
"Pittsburgh" John Stapoli
Bill "Weenie Beenie" Staton (he got his nickname from the name of the hot dog stand
business he owned with his brother Carl)
Greg "Big Train" Stevens
Earl "The Pearl" Strickland
Ray "Surfer" Suden
"Biloxi" Mike Surber
Jay "Sewanee" Swanson
"Three-Fingered" Ronnie Sypher; also "Ocean City" Ronnie
Frank "The Inexorable Snail" Taberski
Mark "Tadd" Tademy
Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor
Lonnie "Lucedale" Taylor
"Titanic Thompson" (Alvin Clarence Thomas); "Titanic" because
he was always sinking his opponents
Frank "Bird" Thompson
Keith "Young Squirrel" Thompson
Rodney "Babe" Thompson
Don "Duke" Tozier
Samuel "Seattle Sam" Trivett; also "Fat Sam"
Cecil "The Left Duke" Tugwell
Jose "Cuban Joe" Valdez; also "Chico"
Felipe "Mexican Phil" Valdez
Shane "South Dakota Kid" Van de Boening
"Cigar" Tom Vanover
Nick "The Kentucky Colonel" Varner
John "Mexican Johnny" Vasquez
Joe "Philadelphia Joey" Veasey
"Poker" Paul Vecherilli
"Filipino" Gene Ventura
"Connecticut" Johnny Vevis
John "Connecticut Johnny" Vives
Nick "The Indian" Vlahos
Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone; also "New York Fats," "Chicago Fats,"
"Fatty," "Rudy," "Double Smart Fats," "Triple Smart Fats," "The Fat Man"
Sterling "Buttermilk" Ward
Javanly "Youngblood" Washington
"Portland" Don Watson; also "Tippy Toes" and "Soft Shoes"
Tony "Shrimp Boat" Watson
Gerry "The Ghost" Watson
Normand "Farmer" Webber
Jimmy "The Kid" Wetch
Maurice "Tugboat" Whaley (he sometimes dressed in slickers and claimed to be a tugboat captain: hence
Edgar "Shake and Bake" White
Alton "Babyface" Whitlow
Al "The Plumber" Wichenbaugh
Carson "BB Eyes" Wiley, Jr.; also "CJ"
Shaun "The Shirt" Wilkie
Ronnie "Bus Driver" Williams
Charlie "Korean Dragon" Williams
Don "Wingshot Willie" Willis; also "The Cincinnati Kid"
James "Fountain Inn Red" Willis
Tom "Tom-Tom" Wirth
Glenn "Eufaula Kid" Womack
Billy "Ray The Painter" Woodham
Robert "Rags" Woods; also "Black Rags" (to differentiate him from the great
white shark John "Rags" Fitzpatrick)
"Creole" Freddie Yates
Donald "Ears" Yingling
Carl "Cue Ball Kelly" Zingale
"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
A true story, found online about Clarence "Bucky" Bell, by a semi-retired
cue-maker named Sherm: "Bucky and I have been friends for many, many years. He's
been playing with a Sherm cue for at least 10 years and is one of my best 'mouth
pieces'! He's very outspoken about my cues. He was in my shop a couple of years
back and told me the story of the kid at Steppletons and his comment when he saw
his draw in the tournament brackets: 'Who the hell is Bucky Bell?' Well, Bucky
was standing right behind the kid when he said it, and as the story goes, Bucky
said: "You're about to find out who Bucky Bell is young feller, and I don't
think you're going to like it!' We laughed about that comment for a while. I was
in the process of making him a new cue (he insists on a plain sneaky pete style
cue) and I put a ring in it around the bottom and engraved "WHO THE HELL IS
BUCKY BELL" around the cue. When Bucky came to my shop to pick it up, he almost
cried, he was so happy! He really got a kick out of me putting that quote on his
cue! Sherm Custom Billiard Cues
http://www.shermcue.com (sort of retired)
Notoriously slow pool players and "stallers": Greg Fix, Gabe Owen, Jeremy Jones, Ralf Soquet, Nick Varner,
Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone
If Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone was getting the worst of a game, he might
call "time out" because of an appointment with the "mayor" or some other
celebrity. The first pool tournament shot clock was instituted because of the
stalling tactics of Frank "The Inexorable Snail" Taberski.
Best unknown "monster" players: Mike Carella, Vernon "Burnie" Elliot, Walter
Glass, Dick Hunzicker, Bud Hype, Jack Cooney, Lotsapoppa, Weldon "Jr." Rogers
(one-handed), Denny Searcy, Craig "Greg" Stevens aka "Big Train," Toby Sweet,
Cecil Tugwell, Don Willis
According to "Toupee" Jay Helfert, Keith McCready went looking for "monster" players.
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
Mark Twain, Was
Minnesota Fats Overrated?,
A Brief History of Billiards,
Pool/Billiards Record High
Runs, The Sexiest Sharks,
Johnston City Sharks,
Louie Roberts, Earl "The
was the best nine-ball player?, Famous
Hustlers, Famous Rogues,
Famous Forgers and Frauds,