It was Fast Eddie Felson, the hustler in The Hustler and The Color of Money, who observed, "The trouble with shooting pool is that it's no good if you don't win." Delicious doesn't agree.
"Even if I had gone broke, I would have had no regrets," he says. "Every day on the road is a wild experience."
Three years ago Delicious-Bristol Inc. started to splinter. There wasn't a blowup; the partnership had just run its course. One reason was the changing climate for hustlers. The poker boom was still in its infancy, but already it had sounded the death knell for road action. Bristol was struggling with his game and wearying of the vagabond's life. "I also got tired of lying," he says. "It's fun at first, but it's exhausting always being someone you're not. After a while I didn't feel good about myself."
Delicious took on another road partner, Chris Bartram, a brilliant player and savvy gambler from Columbus known as Fifty because of his uncanny resemblance to the portrait of Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill. They headed west and made their share of money, once taking in $50,000 in a single night at Mikey's 24-7, an Oklahoma City pool hall. (Delicious and Fifty ended up spending the night at the home of the defeated player.) Another night Delicious made $10,000 on a single shot--a ridiculous double bank that would have left Euclid scratching his head.
But without Bristol, Delicious went back to his beloved cheeseburgers and quickly put the weight back on. He also went off Paxil. Ultimately, though, he was a victim of his own success. Through word of mouth and Internet message boards, news spread that the heavyset kid with the goatee was a ringer: You need a huge handicap to play him; and still you do so at your peril.
Even in the hinterlands Delicious would walk into the pool hall, and more often than not someone would recognize him. He started to go by his middle name, Martin, and he dyed his hair green, but even that didn't always work. There are only so many 300-pounders who crack jokes in that chalk-on-a-cue voice and then run off 30, 40, sometimes 50 balls in a row. "It got to the point where I'd look for action, and I'd feel like one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted walking into a bank with my name on the back of my shirt," he says. "I knew I had to come off the road and go straight."
at the highest level, pool is less about the made shots than about the missed ones. Every world-class player is so abundantly skilled, so conversant with the angles, that entire matches turn on one lapse in concentration, one unforced error that gives the other guy a sliver of opportunity. When you've come up hustling and dumping games and playing with a gambler's mentality, you have to change your ways to play straight tournaments. Delicious learned the hard way that in pro pool, if you try a spectacular shot, miss it and lose the match, there's no double-or-nothing bet.
"I'd travel somewhere to play a match, hit a stupid shot and go home without making a dime," he says. "I really had to get out of my old mind-set and retrain myself to play conservative."
He entered a few pro events as early as 2000 but played erratically. There was no question that he had the chops to make it, but the economics were discouraging. Even when he played well and won, there wasn't much money left over after expenses. (At that Glass City Open in Toledo, for instance, only 32 of the 96 entrants won prize money, and only eight made more than $1,000. A typical winner's purse on the United Pool Association [UPA] circuit is $7,500, though Delicious collected $12,000 in December for winning a tournament in Reno.)
Old joke: What do you call a professional pool player without a girlfriend?