SI Vault
 
Battle of the Hottest Sticks
February 25, 1963
The hustlers sidle into Johnston City, Ill. for the World's Pocket Billiards Tournament, and the action is hot and heavy and fast
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 25, 1963

Battle Of The Hottest Sticks

The hustlers sidle into Johnston City, Ill. for the World's Pocket Billiards Tournament, and the action is hot and heavy and fast

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Shortly after midnight a couple of hustlers arrive at the Jansco Brothers' Cue Club, out in the middle of nowhere. Behind the dark door is enough action for the wildest knight of the cue. Inside are the likes of Cornbread Red, Weenie Beanie, New York Fats, Pots and Pans. There is $10,000 in prize money and more than that on the side. A spectator observes: "Money's changing hands like gin whistle billing time in Dixie." This is the World Series, the heavyweight championship, the Wimbledon tournament of pocket billiards, the event for which hustlers from Ames Billiard Academy in New York down to the merest Pastime Pool Hall in the merest Midwest corn-and-hog town have made ready.

For a while the hottest stick of all belongs to Luther Lassiter of Elizabeth City, N.C., a veteran whose nom de cue is Wimpy. All the while denying that he is a hustler, Wimpy beats the avowed hustlers at their own game and wins himself $3,700. Just to prove it was no fluke, he runs 125 balls in straight pool—which moves New York Fats, who is everywhere, to shout: "My God, he shot out the lights." Then Wimpy, the best nonhustler of all, becomes a spectator.

Nine-ball, straight pool, one-pocket: the tournament runs on and on, while onlookers, in various states of fatigue and fascination, watch from vantage points along the walls. One hustler gets hot and makes a quick $8,000. His wife gets out the maps and they head home. Handsome Danny is insulted by another hustler. "Let me tell you something, ladies' man," the hustler says. "If you submitted to a blood test they'd find it was 90% lipstick and 10% Coke."

New York Fats busts Detroit Whitey, takes a big slice out of Cornbread Red, then loses his touch and vanishes. "I've slept for three days," he announces on his return. "One more night and it's going to be like Genghis Khan going through the big Wall of China." But the contest is over.

1