The Hustler came out in 1961, with Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson and Jackie Gleason, memorably, as Minnesota Fats. For those of us who’d been denied a misspent youth – “You’ve got trouble, right here in River City, with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for pool” – the movie was a crash course. I didn’t actually start playing pool myself until a couple of years later, in college, but I tried hard to make up for lost time.
my closest pals at
I got my comeuppance a year or so later, when I was in the service. I met guys in the Air Force who could have put themselves through college playing pool. Andy Gonzales was one of them. He had enormous concentration and grace. It was like watching a big cat. The languor, and then the sudden application of force. There was a pool table in the Day Room, so we’d play after lunch, before afternoon classes. There was also a snooker table, the first time I’d tried one. The difference is, the pockets on a snooker table are a lot tighter than they are on a pool table. They’re unforgiving. If you’re used to the sloppiness of eight-ball, and the sized-down pay tables in a bar, snooker ain’t the game for you. It requires discipline.
are a couple of places here in
embarrassed to admit that I’ve been getting my fix on YouTube. Snooker is big business in the
You should watch this guy shoot.
Snooker turns out to have arcane rules. You need to see a couple of games before you begin to figure it out. And like baseball, it takes as long as it takes. There aren’t predetermined limits, like hockey or football. Everything is about position. You don’t just make the impossible shot, you have to leave yourself with a better one. It’s about building your score, and the perfect score in snooker is 147. Fifteen reds, at a point apiece, fifteen blacks, at seven points, and then all six colors, for twenty-seven. Trust me, you just have to watch, and you’ll pick it up.
The reason they call Ronnie O’Sullivan the Rocket is that his best time for a perfect game is five minutes and eight seconds. This is jaw-dropping. It means you’ve sunk thirty-six balls. (When you sink a color, it’s re-spotted on the table.) This means Ronnie is pocketing a ball every eight-and-a-half seconds.
As far as I’m concerned, these guys are like gunfighters. “I’ll count to three, you can draw on two,” Wyatt Earp tells Andy Warshaw, but Andy says he doesn’t want such a chance. Snooker is much the same. Once you slip, and leave the table unprotected, O’Sullivan or John Higgins or Ding are going to clean your clock. Maybe it’s not as exciting as a gunfight, but it sure as hell is final. When you get beat, you lose to the faster draw.