Saturday, November 29, 2008

Studying up

I'm a nerd.

I am the kind of person who buys a book about everything. When I got pregnant with booger, I immediately went out and bought three or four books about being pregnant, nutrition during pregnancy, etc. I even saw a nutritionist so I could be sure I was eating/drinking what I should be and avoiding what I was supposed to avoid.

At any rate, it struck me this week (after driving poor Brogan to drink last Tuesday because I couldn't wrap my head around simple geometry) that I have not been reading any books about pool. How did THAT happen? So, this morning found me at the library, where I checked out the only two books about pool that they had (as well as a book or two by Sylvia Browne - we'll see how that goes).

I've started with Byrne's Wonderful World of Pool and Billiards, which is a cross between an instruction manual, a history of the game, and anecdotes about billiards greats. So far, I've read mainly the stories about pool players of yore and some funny essays that Mr. Byrne included. (One, by J.B. Priestley - "At Thurston's," was really really good. And I remember where I've heard of Priestley before; in college, I performed in one of the plays he wrote - Dangerous Corner. Small world, no?)

Here's what I've learned so far:
1.) Pool players are bullshitters. Half of the game, it seems, is trash-talking your opponent and trying to throw off his/her game. The other half is telling your glory tale to folks once the game is over. Pool players seem to conceive and perpetuate the myths about themselves. (An early PR trick, I suppose.)

2.) Pool players are gamblers. Most of these guys raised a significant amount of money hustling folks. Don Willis hustled on the road and hated to have his picture taken (not good for business). Until he quit hustling in the late 60s, Byrne claims, "only insiders knew what he (Willis) looked like."

3.) Pool players have awesome nicknames. Willis was also known as The Cincinnati Kid. Here are a few other colorful names I've run across: George "The Ripper" Rippe, "No Neck" Nolan, "The Seldom Seen" Kid, "Fast Larry" Grindinger, "Machine Gun" Lou Butera, Ernie Morgan (A.K.A. "The One-Armed Bandit"), Leon "Behind the Back" Yonders, "Wimpy" Lassiter, Norm "Farmer" Webber, New York Fatty, the list goes on and on and on. There were also great players who didn't really seem to have nicknames, but how much cooler is it to have an awesome nickname than to just be known as Willie Hoppe?

(We have a guy on our team named Tiny. I have no idea what his real name is. When I told Brian about Tiny, Brian asked me how big he was. I had to admit to him that Tiny is rather large. Brian replied, "No one ever nicknames a little guy Tiny. It's always some huge dude.")

4.) Anybody can play pool, if they work hard enough at it. (Good news for me, right?) There was a guy named George Sutton, playing in the early 1900s, who could run hundreds and hundreds of points in straight billiards. And George had no forearms or hands. Seriously. His arms were cut off just below the elbows. His nickname? "Armless" George Sutton. And the dude still played WAY better than me. Talk about a handicap . . . Jay Bozeman (another great player) swore that ol' George could not only delicately lift a bowl of soup to his lips with his stubs, but could also write his name in beautiful penmanship when autographing materials for fans.

I can't MAKE this stuff up.

Anyway, I'm finally getting to the instructional part of the book, and I have one suggestion for Mr. Byrne. Next time, include a @#&%$! glossary in your book. I'm having to look all kinds of terms up on the Internet.

The second book, Steve Mizerack's Complete Book of Pool, seems like it's geared more towards the beginning player. There are lots of photos and diagrams, as well as some handy drills to help players improve speed control, shot selection, and thinking ahead. I have a feeling I'll be using this book to actually improve my game (such as it is) more than Byrne's, though I have found Byrne's stories to be entertaining.

Too bad I'll look like a complete idiot if I go toting any of these books into a pool hall. I guess I'll just have to use my famous memory to retain all this stuff. Luckily, I've had lots of practice at studying.


A. Boyd C. said...

I've never heard of anyone getting good at pool by hard work and studying. Usually there's romantic stories about a misspent youth involved.

It's worth a try, but if it catches on then it could really change the nature of the game.

Nicole Bradshaw said...

You're probably right, but it's worth a shot. (Bad pun, I know.)

I'm not exactly your typical pool player. Studying and working is about all I know. Misspent youth . . . not so much.

Wish me luck!

Brogan said...

Those romantic stories and hard work A.Boyd C. mentions are a by-product of the work. Given you have some hand/eye cordination you can learn the game. True, some have more natural ability, but there's nothing that works better than table time.
Pool nicknames aren't just for the big names you read in books. Here are a few that are alive an well living in the Southeast: Lil Dee, Three-Figered Bandit, Pojo, Louisiana Red, Marshall "Squirrel or the Tuscaloosa Squirrel" Carpenter, Kent "The Duke of Buryl" Davis and Keith "Coach" Morgan.
Here are few of my favorites..most are dead. Jersey Jack Breit, Cornbread Red, The Eufala Kid, Daddy Warbucks, Leonard "Bugs" Rucker, Javanley "Youngblood" Washington, Hollywood Jack, Larry "Boston Shorty" Johnson, Eddie "Knoxville Bear" Taylor and Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna.

Nicole Bradshaw said...

OH! I read about "Daddy Warbucks!"

Somehow, I don't think I want to know how "Three-Fingered Bandit" lost his fingers. Do I?