Foreaker's and Worst's long hours of left-handed practice are characteristic of what the best players have to go through; they have to play lefty to get matches, and many become so good from the left side that they even find these games difficult to get. Almost all hustlers can shoot a good game left-handed or one-handed ("jack-up"), and they often give themselves away by offering to play "just one more game, and this time I'll shoot left-handed."
For that matter, there are many other tip-offs. The hustler won't want to shoot straight call-shot pool for 50 or 100 points because the action is too slow; he will want to play nine-ball or one-pocket or eight-ball or banks, all games which can be won literally in seconds. If you show signs of having had enough, the hustler will begin offering you handicaps, at the same time telling you what a yellowbelly you are for requiring a handicap. As a last resort, he will bet you on certain trick or "proposition" shots, all of which are old stuff to him.
Beware of the setup where two balls are placed just on the lip of each pocket and three balls are frozen together in the center of the table. It will take you, the average player, 25 or 30 shots to make all the balls; the hustler will never take more than 16, and the setup can be made in nine strokes and often is. A favorite hustler's trick shot is to make five balls in a side pocket and drop the cue ball in the opposite pocket, all on one stroke, or to make six balls in six different pockets on one stroke, or to make the one, two and three balls drop into the pockets in exact order, followed by the cue ball, on one stroke. Hustlers practice these shots for years and usually save them for a last crack at the victim—one grand final double-or-nothing, winner-take-all gimmick.
And sometimes you lose even when you win. A hustler's money is hard money, like Swiss francs, and he is extremely loth to part with it. A Kansas City hustler recalls: "Once in Salt Lake City I walked into a hustler named Jimmy Smith and we began playing nine-ball for money. 1 won about 10 games, and he said, 'I gotta catch a train from you.' All the time we were playing I had noticed that he was making hand signals to a deaf-mute sitting against the wall. Around 11 that night I left the joint. All I had won was $35 or $40, but it was a hustler's $35 or $40, and that's dangerous. I had to walk through a dark hallway, and there was that deaf mute, waiting for me with a blackjack. I grabbed his arm just as he was getting ready to let me have it, and he ran away in the darkness. But can you imagine what hustling is coming to, when they have to do things like that?"
What is hustling coming to? The subject is expertly and affectionately examined by Danny McGoorty, Pacific Coast three-cushion champion and onetime traveling hustler: "The real oldtime hustler, the guy who did absolutely nothing else for a living, is having a tough time of it these days. He has to stay on the road 365 days a year. A real good traveling hustler lights in a town like San Francisco and he's only good for 10 days at the most before the games he makes get too tough; he has to give away too many points because little by little they've gotten wise to him. And then there's a lot of hustlers who can't come into the big cities at all because the cops take the position that a professional pool player is guilty of bunco if he hustles you into a game for money. So a lot of oldtime hustlers have had to come up with new gaffs—they've had to become dice hustlers or race track touts or something like that, and it goes against their pride. The real oldtime hustler, he was a professional. He had to be able to let his hair grow down the back of his neck, and he had to know how to go without a place to sleep and how to postpone meals. He had to hold onto his taw [grubstake] at all costs, because if he came to a strange town without his taw, he had to show his stuff right off in his first game, and this gave it away. You have to work the old lemonade, lead 'em on, maybe play a little hee-haw [a game for fun], and then make your money slow and easy."
McGoorty came out of Chicago, hustled as a young man during the Depression, then became a full-time tournament player and a highly respected teacher. He remembers when "there used to be 100 full-time hustlers in the Chicago Loop alone."
Each spring the hustlers all migrate to Hot Springs, Ark. for the Oaklawn races, there to engage in a happy orgy of hustling and counterhustling for old time's sake. There's not much money in it, except that occasionally a well-heeled mark will drop in with daily-double winnings on him, and the hustlers will pounce on him like a school of piranhas defleshing a cow in the Amazon. The only other money to be made at the Hot Springs convocation is in "dump" action, where two hustlers will play each other and throw games or miss easy shots according to the signal of a confederate who is making side bets with a mark in the audience. "That," says McGoorty contemptuously, "is a disgusting thing for hustlers to engage in."
Sitting in his walk-up furnished apartment in San Francisco, McGoorty is not so sure that his years as a hustler were well spent, but his eyes light up and his voice grows louder as he recalls some of his happier experiences. He leans forward excitedly as he tells the one story which, to him, epitomizes the mental processes of these billiard buccaneers, past and present, himself included:
"One night I climbed off a side-door Pullman—that's the rods—and I had the guts of a burglar in those days. It was in El Dorado, Kansas, and it's midnight and I go right straight to the pool hall and I don't have a dime. I said, 'Does anybody care for a game for a few dollars?' They woke up the town barber. He was the country slicker there, the resident hustler; he had been robbing everybody blind on the pool table for years, only I didn't know it.
"So we started playing for $2.50, and the town clown—that's the constable—came over and started boring a hole through me with his eyes and I thought, 'Boy, if I lose I'll sure get rode outa town on a rail.' So I got buck fever; I can't make a ball, and soon he's got me 43-8 and the game is only 50 points.