Taking the Plunge!
The year was 1993 or 1994. I thought I was a pool player on the verge of making it big! That, all by itself, shows how green I actually was! One thing I knew, though, I loved the action! I had gotten a taste of it myself and I had seen enough good action to know I loved it!
I had a friend who, though he was younger than I, had been around the game and the action much more than I and had some seasoning. He took me “under his wing” and tried to help me get the seasoning I desperately needed if I was going to survive in this culture. From him I learned a lot of things about the game, about money, about hustling, and about myself! My biggest problem, according to him, was I had a player’s mindset! I was eager, too eager in fact, to play! Potential opponents could sense that eagerness and use it to their advantage whenever it came time to match up.
“You don’t have to play…” my friend would tell me over and over.
“You have a job, right?” he would ask rhetorically since he knew where I worked.
“Yeah…” I would say.
“You’ve paid your bills, right?”
“There’s gas in your car?”
“You have some cash in your pocket? I mean, you can eat until payday, right?”
Knowing where this line of questioning was going I would reluctantly nod my head and answer, “Yeah…”
To which I would get the same response he gave me every time this came up, and it came up a lot!
“You don’t NEED to play! You just WANT to play! You want to play so bad that you’re willing to jump in and lose all your money just to be in action! You gotta learn to say, NO!”
Then he would shake his head in frustration, crack open a cold beer, light up a smoke, look at me and finish with, “Relax man! The pool tables aren’t going anywhere and neither is the action, because you ARE the action! They’re all waiting on you! Let ‘em wait! Maybe they’ll be the ones too eager to play by the time we get there!”
Eventually we would go. We ALWAYS got in action because I was the eager one. During the time we ran around together, we probably ended up close to even on the money, but the lessons I learned from him were priceless! Granted, it might have taken awhile for those lessons to sink in and for some I needed experience to put his words into perspective. As long as we were together I was not going to get trapped! At the time I don’t think I fully understood that. I thought I was ready! Again, with the eagerness, I went to the bank, withdrew every dollar from my account, called in sick to work and took off on my own!
A few weeks prior my friend and I had made the long 35 minute journey from Chattanooga to Dalton, Georgia. There was a 24 hour game room which was notorious for action during the late night hours. The son of a large carpet manufacturing company would often play there and lose amounts in the six figure range. That was our goal, to get me to the table with him. Anyway, while we had been at this game room, there was a young man playing who just never missed! He ran out and ran out and ran out! He was (I thought) the best player I had ever seen! We hung around for a few hours, but I never played. We were just showing up to get acquainted, something we would do several times so as not to be strangers when we had the opportunity to get in the box with the degenerate son of the carpet mogul!
Back to heading out on my own: Remembering this kid from Dalton, I made a beeline straight to the game room with my humble bank roll. You see, there was some major action happening at the Chattanooga Billiard Club! Gene Cooper was there. Wade Crane, Jeremy Jones (a very young and fat Jeremy Jones!), and a bunch of money men in Lincolns and Cadillacs whom I had never seen before! Money was flowing like water! Steak dinners, high dollar cigars, drinks and women! Yes, pool groupies! Who woulda thunk! Every short stop player for miles around was there looking to get a piece of the action! That’s where we were headed! No longer was I the player, I was the money man! The one in charge! The shot caller! I was sure no one knew of this young kid, barely old enough to get in the door at the Chattanooga Billiard Club! We were going to get them all! We would start small and build our bank roll! I was excited! I was…… EAGER! After all, we had the nuts! We couldn’t lose!
When I arrived at the game room and told this young boy what was going on and what my plan was, he was happy to ride with me back to Chattanooga! What player doesn’t appreciate someone who is willing to put up all the cash for them to play? Since I was fairly new to the game and had not been very far from Chattanooga to play, I did not know many of the players lying in wait like sharks in a feeding frenzy at the pool room. My “horse” began to point out different players, telling me who we needed to stay away from, who he thought he could beat, who wouldn’t have any money, and so forth. There was an older man there who had been coming in for a week or so before all the action started. I had seen him play and in my “professional” opinion, he was not that impressive. As we sat on the outskirts of the action surveying it all, the older man walked over to our table.
“You boys interested in playing some 9-ball?” he asked.
Way too quickly I piped up, “He’ll play you some!” and nodded toward my young friend from Dalton.
“Oh yeah?” he smiled while holding a cigarette in his teeth. “What do you wanna do?”
“How about a race to 5!” I stated it more than I asked it, trying to show assertiveness and confidence.
“A race to 5, huh… for how much?” the man asked.
“Two hundred,” I said, “we’ll freeze up 2 sets. You wanna freeze up 2 sets? If not we can find someone else to play!” I was proud of myself for acting like I knew what I was doing!
The older guy chuckled, still holding the cigarette in his teeth. “That will be fine,” he said. “We’ll freeze up $400.”
Eagerly, I reached into my wallet and counted out the twenty $20 bills and stuffed them into a corner pocket of the table on which the game was going to take place, on top of the man’s four $100 bills. I was about to turn $400 in to $800! Maybe he would play some more and we could double up again! I hoped he wouldn’t ask for a “spot” and it would be easy pickin’s! I loved being the player but this new role was in some ways even more exhilarating! I ordered a beer, lit a smoke, and sat back to watch my new “friend” do work. I couldn’t help but think about how lucky this was to get in action this quickly! I was about to hit the “big time!”
The first game was a little slow. My friend, who never missed a shot in Dalton, missed a couple balls. He just needed to get warmed up and find his groove. When he catches his gear we’ll be fine, I thought. We were down 1-0 when the older guy broke and ran the second game. I still wasn’t worried. The third game my friend got to the table, and missed!
“I’m used to bar tables. These 8-footers play different,” he said. But he reassured me he could make the adjustment and get in stroke.
Three to nothing, four to nothing, and five to nothing! We lost the first set! I couldn’t believe it! My buddy from Dalton was a champion! We had another set to play and I was still confident he would get in stroke and get the cash!
The second set went much the same way. Looking back, I think I could have played better than my “champion” friend! He would look like he was getting in stroke, and then miss on the 8 ball or even the 9 ball! Five games straight, again, we lost the second set!
Before it begun, my quest was over! I was broke! I put everything I had into that match! I couldn’t figure out how in the world that had happened! My guy was a GREAT player! How could he have lost?
“Sorry, man. I tried. I guess I just can’t play on these tables.” The words offered no consolation.
“That’s ok, we’ll try again sometime,” was my halfhearted response.
The next day I was back at the pool room. I was broke, but I was there. So was the old guy that had won my money. My friend, who I had ditched because I thought I was ready, came to the pool room to sit with me.
“So, what happened?” he asked, already knowing I had done something stupid.
“Well, I went to Dalton…” I told him the whole story from the beginning to the end. He sat quietly sipping his bourbon and smoking his cigarettes while I talked. I even pointed to the old guy who played so my friend could get a better visual. Finally, after I was finished reliving my nightmare, he spoke.
“Do you know who that is?” referring to the old guy.
“I know his name and he’s been coming in here for a couple weeks and playing in the midnight tournaments. He doesn’t play that good, really!”
“He doesn’t play that good?” he about spit out a mouthful of bourbon.
At this point I am not going to divulge the man’s name, nor the name of my “friend” from Dalton. As it turns out, the old guy was also from Dalton and he and my “friend” had known each other for several years. Basically, I forced myself into a “two brothers and a stranger” type of hustle! I was “thrown into the river.” I was “creeked.” All terms of which I had heard but thought I was too smart to ever fall for. My friend had tried to warn me. He told me I wasn’t ready. He told me my biggest problem was being too eager. I didn’t listen, because I was too eager.
I paid for my mistake. In the grand scheme of things that $400 was nothing, though at the time, it was everything! In this culture there are dues which must be paid by all. No one gets a free ride! Many have tried, and many are yet to try, but in the end all will pay their dues or quit! That is how lessons are learned. Believe me, I learned a lesson that day which I will not forget, ever! That has never happened to me since and probably never will again. That is a lesson I may never have learned had I not taken the plunge!
This is the lag…
Hit ‘em good, my friends!
Sponsored by Jacoby Custom Cues
Author: Kelvin Greenleaf
Editor: Shaylyn Troop