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In nine-ball only the one through nine are racked up, and the players must shoot at the balls in rotation, starting with the one. Whoever pockets the nine wins the game. Martin starts off by running three straight racks with the precision of the straight pool champion he is. On the fourth rack he is snookered on the five-ball and plays Hall safe, leaving the five hidden at the bottom of the table and the cue ball frozen to the back rail nine feet away. It looks like bad trouble for Hall. Should he miss the five altogether it will be a foul and Martin will get the right to place the cue ball where he wants it and will be certain to finish off the rack. And God knows how many more racks after that one.
Hall studies the line like a surveyor, steps back, takes a long stroke with his cue and rifles the cue ball into the bottom rail and off it, into the five, and the five-ball slaps into the corner pocket. The crowd is silent. Then someone says, "Jesus!" And then the applause. Buddy runs the rack, and then another. On the third he makes a combination bank on the nine-ball to win it. He runs the fourth. On the fifth he misses, but when Martin steps up to shoot he looks shaken. He makes only three balls and then misses a difficult cut shot. Hall has him and he knows it. Hall's position and his safeties are riveting. His control of the cue ball is in itself a delight and a wonder to behold, and by midnight he has won the match 11 to 6. The crowd claps long and loud. Joe Burns takes the mike and announces, "The new Nine-Ball Champion of the World: Buddy Hall." Hall lays his cue stick on the table and grins.
The night before, James Brown, called "Youngblood," a small handsome black man, won the bank-pool championship. And Jimmy Marino, with long black hair and a Fu Manchu mustache, took the money in one-pocket. In 1971 Marino was the All-Around Champion of the Johnson City tournament. In one-pocket a player must make eight balls, in any order and by any means, in one of the bottom corner pockets.
On Sunday night the All-Around matches are to be played among division champions Brown, Marino and Hall. There has been some argument over just how this should be done, and a solution is arrived at that is by no means welcomed by all concerned: each player will shake a numbered ball out of a "pill" bottle, a sort of leather vase. The man who gets No. 2 will have a bye and will play only the winner of the first series.
Marino draws the bye, and a coin is tossed to give one of the other two players his choice of the first game to be played. Brown wins and softly says, "Bank pool, man." Hall says, "And nine-ball next."
Bank pool is a Southerner's game, especially a black man's, they say. Brown is from Texas, black indeed, and he banks the eyes right off those balls, winning 23 to 12. Hall tries to look unconcerned, but there are beads of sweat on his forehead. But he gets his own back with a vengeance in the nine-ball match, running rack after rack and getting Brown so far down that at one point he is almost staggering and miscues on the eight-ball. He mutters something about having taken too many No-Doz pills, and sits down resignedly. Hall 11, Brown 5.
So one-pocket will decide it. And Hall plays so safely, so accurately, with such control of himself and of the spinning, colored balls on the bright green table that he overwhelms Brown three games to none. Brown shakes his head wearily, and then offers his hand to Hall. Hall is happy, but he is beginning to show strain. It is 1:30 a.m.
And then Marino—who has been called "Bird Dog" because of his way of pointing his cue stick at the ball before shooting it, comes striding in, bouncing and fresh, ready to play. The coin is flipped. Marino wins the toss and astonishes everyone by calling, "Nine-ball," Hall's best game.
But who could beat Buddy Hall at nine-ball here in Dayton, Ohio in the middle of this night? Hall's game is, if possible, even better than before. Fatigue is clearly there, but the good right arm is like a lovely machine. It rifles balls in, knifes balls in, coaxes balls in, slams balls in, nudges balls in and always the cue ball rolls where he wants it to roll. Marino gets in a few very good ones, but Hall wipes him out 11 to 4.
Then the bank pool. And Buddy Hall, who had looked so weak at this a few hours before, seems to have developed a special midnight radar. It is click, thump and plop into the pocket, as though Hall had rubber bands on the balls. Marino plays a fine game, but Hall is hot and clear and high. And the bank-pool game, usually the slowest of the tournament, is over almost before the hypnotized crowd is aware of it. Hall 23, Marino 17. It is 3:30 in the morning and the spectators have been crazy to have a champion and now they have one. Joe Burns steps up to the mike and says, "The new All-Around Champion of the Tournament of Champions, the best pool player in the world, Buddy Hall."