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Best of Howard Schwartz

Gaming Guru

 

Hustler Days -- Fats, Lassiter, Red and America's Great Age of Pool

4 March 2004

R.A. Dyer, a regular contributor to Billiards Digest, spent four years researching his book, Hustler Days (274 pages, hardbound, $22.95). He conducted more than 100 interviews. And i n a dozen chunky, detailed chapters, he has written one of the best, if not the best book I've ever read on the people, the history and what went on in the minds of the world's greatest pool players. This includes the impact on the gameof the classic 1961 movie The Hustler, with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason.

"With animals, men and hustlers, fear can prompt strikingly similar reactions: flee or fight. The hair stands up on the back of the neck, the pulse quickens, eyes widen. It was deadly fear that Minnesota Fats sometimes spoke about; it was deadly fear that Red‹confronting both the prospect of homelessness and the skill of the nation's top players‹lived with every day. To take the cash from those monsters, to go against Boston Shorty or James Evans, one must control one's nerves, control one's muscles."

In craps, say, or poker, it doesn't matter. Fear may prompt a bad bet on bad cards, or folding on good cards, but fear doesn't change the cards. In pool, fear changes everything. It invites disaster and self-loathing. Any micro-inch deviation in aim, any micro-foot pound deviation in force, and a shot goes horribly, embarrassingly awry..."

Dyer profiles and captures the gut-feelings of some of the world's greatest players and documents their greatest matches from the 1930s to modern times.

Indexed and illustrated, the book belongs in every serious pool player's library. Dyer has included material on Fast Ronnie Allen; Jack Breit (Jersey Red); Marshall Carpenter (Tuscaloosa Squirrel); Hubert Cokes (Daddy Warbucks); Irving Crane; John (Duke) Dowell; Ralph Greenleaf; George Jansco; Larry Johnson (Boston Shorty); Handsome Danny Jones; Luther (Wimpy) Lassiter; Minnesota Fats; Cowboy Jimmy Moore; Willie Mosconi; Cicero Murphy; Bill (Weenie Beanie) Staton; Greg (Big Train) Stephens; and the highlights of some of the greatest tournaments ever played.

What made pool popular? How did the growth of the game parallel the nation's history? What about the fights, the feuds, the rivalries; and the impact of television? What is the game all about? Money, prestige, redemption, respect? Dyer lets the players talk about truth, fantasy, fiction, hope, and dreams. The game means different things to different people; the language is peculiar to the game; the people and the game have an extraordinary mystique. The author includes a five-page glossary of terms to help you translate the slang (a "shortstop" can be beaten only by a top player and "lemoning" means a hustler clearly not playing up to his full speed or ability, "to fool a mark" into increasing a wager.)

David McCumber, author of Playing Off The Rail, calls Dyer's book a "billiards classic," while Robert Byrne, author of Byrne's New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards rightfully says the work says "the pressure of tournament play and big-money games are vividly described." I agree.

Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com