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Rack'em up with Ronnie Allen
OnePocket.org caught up with One Pocket legend Ronnie ‘Fast Eddie' Allen at the Hard Times Summer Jamboree in Sacramento, California in May 2004. Often cited as one of the greatest One Pocket players of all time, Ronnie is a natural for our One Pocket Hall of Fame, with enough all-around success to be a strong candidate for the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame as well.
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1P: I'd like to start by letting you describe Ronnie Allen:
RA: Well that's pretty easy to do. I was raised on a carnival. My daddy got killed early in life. I went to a poolroom and starting hitting balls; nobody showed me anything. I found out I had talent to play pool, so… I was from Oklahoma, and in those days, late fifties, people were making a dollar an hour. First time I played and gambled I won five hundred fifty dollars, so I decided that was a little better job. But anyway, I went on from there. I won my first tournament in '61; the first tournament I ever played in; the world championship at Cochran's in San Francisco. That's when I knew I could really play pool, so I just stuck with pool hoping it would be a major sport like it should be. I've done a lot of gambling in my life. Ronnie Allen, I've kind of led two kinds of life. I've raised three children, led a Christian life. But when I was on the road I was a predator and a hustler. I'd come home, and I was a different guy. That's about all I can tell you about me, that's a short subject.
1P: So that tournament at Cochran's was the first one you ever got in to – and you won it?
RA: It was the first. There was no pool in those days. There were not any tournaments, no tour or anything. It was just all about gambling in those days. Cochran's was a beautiful 40-table billiard room upstairs in San Francisco. I walked in there, a young guy from Oklahoma, and I thought I was at the Taj Mahal or something. It was played on 5x10 pool tables. There was Eddie Taylor, Danny Jones, Luther Lassiter and all the greats there for the tournament. I didn't want to play, but the owner, Welker Cochran's son Dick Cochran, said no, you're playing in this tournament, and whatever you win you get to keep it. I won the tournament undefeated. Like I said, I didn't really realize what kind of player I was until then. Right then I made up my mind that I was ready to go play anybody.
1P: You realized you could handle the best…
RA: I was ready to go play. I had a lot of gamble in me anyway; I've always loved it. You know, you're a young man; you're dumb and ready to do anything anyways. But I always had a lot of gamble in me – being raised in Oklahoma, where people back there, they bet on themselves.
1P: You mentioned the carnival, there's a little hustle in that, too…
RA: Not a little, it was all hustle. When my daddy got killed, when I was 11 – he owned the carnival – we moved to Oklahoma City. My mom put all the kids in school and we opened a restaurant down the street from a little poolroom. On the way home I just started playing there.
1P: Obviously you were a good pool player when you got to San Francisco, and Oklahoma was known for strong One Pocket…
RA: Right, I've heard stories that I can't testify to, but Hubert Cokes, Minnesota Fats and Marshall Carpenter, they all testified that that's where the game was invented. They started off with a 3-cushion billiard table with two pockets, and then they moved it to play the game on six pockets. But in the old days everyone played like make one and knock them down table; make one and knock them down table; make one and don't take a chance. But when I came along, I enjoyed playing pool so much and had so much fun with it, I just… I didn't listen to people anyways, if somebody told me one thing, I'd do something else… I just started shooting at my hole. I invented shots like make one, then go three rails and break up the stack and run eight and out. I was probably one of the ones that created offensive One Pocket, which is about all it is today. Everyone today is running ten and eleven and out like it's a joke, but I used to do it in the sixties.
1P: Who were some of the players that you learned from back in Oklahoma?
RA: Well I left Oklahoma when I was a young man; I finished high school when I was eighteen. There was one guy they called the ‘Eufaula Kid', he was from Eufaula, Oklahoma. In those days he was the best One Pocket player around, but I never played him. I left for San Francisco and me and my wife lived there for years. Johnston City started in '61; I didn't go to that first tournament. All the articles today are all about the old legendary Johnston City and Stardust. It was all about gambling; they called it a hustler's tournament. I don't know, when people talk about hustling, they think you sneak up on some guy and lose ten games for a dollar and then you bet him a thousand and run out. That couldn't be farther from the truth – they're ain't nobody that dumb. Hustling is -- I don't even know why they call it hustling -- it's more like two greats that can play get together, and match up just like golf, you give me two a side, or give me two balls and then you go to war. You play 24 hours and whoever breaks down first loses. Whoever keeps competing at his top level wins the money. I don't know why they ever called it hustling. If that's a hustler, then I'm one, because that's all I ever did my whole life.
1P: Who would you say was the player you learned the most from?
RA: No one ever taught me anything, I learned by playing five hundred a game.
1P: You'd have to learn if you played that way…
RA: The only reason I mention that is because even today, most people won't gamble, and if they do bet, they think five or ten dollars is gambling. I never played for that in my life. I mean, I played a guy twenty-five thousand a game one night, and it wasn't hustling. I spotted him the 6-7-8-9 and all the breaks on a bar table. He won about half his games on the break. So it's a different deal for me. Learn? I learned from missing. I learned from watching other people when they were playing. I learned when I was playing a better player. I loved the game, I'd pay attention, and like I said, I had a lot of imagination. I'd shoot three rails when somebody else would play safe.
1P: You've always done a lot of moving more than one ball on one shot…
RA: Right, rather than just play safe when I'm down table, I'll hit a ball into a ball by your pocket, and I'll play a shot, hit it hard, the other ball caroms off, hits the stack and knocks them over to my hole, and then leave the cue ball back up at the end rail. I try to do something every shot. I don't just play bunt pool. That's me; that's my style. I play a little different than most people.
1P: Grady Mathews calls some of what you do ‘power shots'…
RA: Yeah, you shoot a ball – not a ball or a bank that goes straight in your hole -- you shoot into the rail, into the stack, and knock balls toward your hole. Maybe even one of them will go in, and you put the cue ball down table. Now you've got four or five balls near your hole and you've got the guy as far away as you can get him. He misses, and that's where you run out. You play aggressive defense to get an offensive shot.
1P: Your games tend to go pretty fast…
RA: I just set a record in Louisville last year when I played a real good player. They introduced fourteen tables at the same time and I won my match – three out of five – in eleven minutes. Two people hadn't even lagged yet, they were busy fixing their tips, and I already won my match.
1P: Many people consider you the best One Pocket player ever…
RA: I don't know what to say about that. All I can tell you is this, from 1964 to 1984 – I quit pool in 1984 because my kids were thirteen or fourteen years old and I wanted their dad to be home for the t-ball and everything – from '64 to '84, every time I gambled – and you can ask any old professional – not one person on the planet would play me even. I had to handicap myself by spotting them one or two balls. One or two balls every time, and I made my living and put my kids through college doing that. And I played in tournaments; I won a couple tournaments, but there wasn't enough money in tournaments to even get mentioned. Just like now.
1P: Was there any One Pocket player that was an especially big rival for you over the years?
RA: There are a couple that would really be worth mentioning, both great players. One of them is alive and one of them has passed away. Jack Breit -- ‘Jersey Red' they called him – who was from Atlantic City, then moved to Texas and lived his whole life down there. He and I went to war a million times. I'd give him eight to seven and it was the toughest – one of the toughest – matches I ever had. Every time we'd see each other we'd play, and we'd gamble two hundred a game, a hundred a game, five hundred a game – whatever we both could afford. And it was like, after eighteen hours somebody would be two or three games a winner. And another guy who was a great, great, great One Pocket player, is Ed Kelly. He's been retired about ten years and is a pit boss at one of the hotels in Vegas. He was a great player -- an Irish boy, and left handed -- and he won as many tournaments as anybody. I used to spot him – this is interesting right here – I would give him eight to seven and he'd win; I'd give him nine to eight and I'd win. Now, most people think a ball's a ball, it doesn't mean much. But the difference between nine to eight and eight to seven is a monster difference to spot between two close players – not even top players, just close players. Every time I gave him 9-8 I'd win; 8-7 he'd win. But it's not like he'd win every game. I've got to explain, we would go to war for ten or twelve hours, and somebody would be ahead two or three or four games. Those were my two toughest opponents in those days.
1P: Both those guys where also known as very creative players…
RA: They were great players. ‘Jersey Red' was a great straight Pool player. Ed Kelley won two or three championships. I never new much about straight pool patterns, but I could run patterns in One pocket, eight and out. I want to say something about hustling. I won a couple of million dollars in my life – if that's hustling, I'm a hustler. This stuff about beating some guy in a bar and winning his paycheck is a bunch of bull. That's what most people think – you hustled me. You agree to make a bet, if you lose, you lose. I've lost about a million dollars betting on football – well they hustled me!
1P: What do you think about players of today, like Efren Reyes, who seems to be considered the best today?
RA: There's no doubt in my mind that in this era, in 2004, that Efren Reyes is the best One Pocket player, and might be the best all-around player. He plays rotation, straight pool, snooker, One Pocket and 9-ball. Efren is an all-around player, which I think shows the most skill at pool. Most people are one-dimensional players that just play 9-ball, or they just play Bank Pool, but they don't play all games. In the old days, we all played all games. In fact our big tournaments were the all-arounds; we played Straight Pool, 9-ball and One Pocket, or Straight Pool, 8-ball and One Pocket. Now we have Greg Sullivan today, who's trying to revive the all-around tournament. He makes no bones about gambling – the whole world's gambling, with casinos and everything. They're trying to revive the old days, betting on pool and having a big all-around tournament. We're playing bank Pool – a real skilful game – and One Pocket and 9-ball in three tournaments with a hundred thousand dollars added. Meanwhile the tour that they have for 9-ball? The most boring thing that ever happened to pool.
IP: You're talking about the Derby City Classic…
RA: Now they're talking about a tournament in Vegas and then one in Biloxi Mississippi, on the Gold Coast, and then right back to the Derby City Classic in January. They're going to have ring games, and betting off shore, pari-mutuel betting, like horses. What's wrong with gambling?
1P: What would you say is the most important thing to think about playing One Pocket?
RA: The most important thing that I think about playing one Pocket is, to know what the score is. You have to keep asking yourself, what is the score? Anytime I'm playing, you can walk up to me and start a conversation about anything, religion or anything you want, and then say, by the way, what's the score in the game? I will say 6-2 him or 4-3 me. The score is imbedded in my mind, because, how can you play a defensive or offensive game if you don't know what the score is? In other words, if I'm leading seven to nothing, I go strictly on defense. I want to knock the balls down to the opposite end of the table from our pockets, so that if he beats me to the shot, or lucks one in or banks one in or anything, then he won't be able to run five or six balls. If all the balls are frozen down at the far end of the table and he beats me to the shot, he can only make one. If you're leading six or seven balls to zero, then he has to beat you to the shot six or seven times. He has to out manage you or out shoot you six or seven times instead of one time. That's the most important thing there is, what is the score? I have a saying about that, when you're ahead by a large margin, you play like a lamb and when you're behind, you play like a lion. When you're behind, you look for shot maybe two rails or three rails. When you're ahead, you knock balls down table, away from his pocket, and leave the cue ball here. You bank balls down to your hole and leave the cue ball frozen to the end rail.
IP: Do you have any advice about how to keep the score in your head?
RA: I always count the balls to make sure I'm right. I might walk down to the other end of the table to look in the tray, or on drop pocket tables, look in the pockets. But while some guy is shooting, I can't take all the balls out of the pockets and count them, so I always count the balls on the table. The most important thing is the score, and where the balls are located on the table. Like I said, if they're all down on this end, and all in the open, then if you beat me to the shot you can run five or six, then my main concern is knocking those balls on my side and down table.
1P: Yeah, a guy lost yesterday in the hill-hill game, needing only a couple balls, and Amar Kang owed two, but all the balls were still in play, and Amar got a shot and nearly ran ten…
RA: It's the same thing as if you both need one ball. There's plenty of players that will run eight, nine, ten. But if the balls are down table, I don't care, you can't do it, they're down there where they won't go. It's up to you to get them out of play. Now you might think when I say that, don't worry, he's going to help me knock them down there, but he's not going to help you knock them down there if he's got a brain. You have to force him to that. You shoot a shot and get behind the balls and leave him zero. He can't leave you a shot, so he has to knock one down there. Then you knock another one down there. All of a sudden, you've got three balls down there.
1P: I call that getting under the balls to force them up table, and on top of the balls to force them back down…
RA: Now that you've got me talking about this, there are three or four real important steps, the third is when you are on offense, and you get a shot, before you get up to shoot, you walk around the table and look for a pattern, just like playing 9-ball. Top 9-Ball players don't say, ‘I'm going to make the 1-ball there' and they shoot it and then they say, ‘let me see, where am I going to make the two?' They plan the whole rack, one here, two here, three here, four there, five and six… I can tell you, playing 9-Ball, where I'm going to make the 9-ball before I start shooting the one. The same thing with One Pocket; you try to plan eight and out. That's the best move in One Pocket, eight and out.
1P: Because in One Pocket, you've got balls on this side of the stack, then over here and up there…
RA: You've got to play position. Like straight pool, you might have to break them up to get another shot. Like I said, you just can't walk up there and shoot one or pretty soon if you don't plan and play perfect position, you're going to be straight in where you can't maneuver the cue ball for another shot. The other thing is what I call getting above the balls – when all the balls are all around the two pockets and you have a couple balls near your side pocket along the long rail, I would rather go up and make those first, then come down, work myself down here to these.
1P: Yeah, from up there, you can get to balls either beside or below the stack…
RA: That's true. Like I said, if you happen to play bad shape down there on the short rail and get straight in, now you made three balls instead of making six or seven. There is another thing that I do that even top players today, they just don't do it. I have a certain procedure I go through when I come to the table, the first thing I do to decide whether I'm going to play defense or offense, I go look at the stack. I don't care if I've got a ball hanging in my hole, I go look at the stack to see if I've got a dead ball or a dead kiss shot. Then I decide where I can get balls, and what's the best way to get them. If I've got a dead one then I'm shooting that and playing shape, and winning. If I don't have that, and I don't have an offensive shot, then naturally I'm going to play defense, then I walk around the other side of the table and make sure that he doesn't have a dead ball. If you don't do that, and he's got a dead one, and you just roll the cue ball down the table and think you did something good, he's going to whack them and run out. If the guy's got a dead ball, then your main thing is to break up that dead ball on that defensive shot.
1P: I'm surprised how many of the younger players today, if they haven't played much Straight Pool, don't seem that good at reading the stack…
RA: You'd be more surprised to see them have a dead ball and they don't even know it's dead. And I'm talking top players, and they don't know it's dead. They've lost the art of pool; they're all 9-Ball bangers, there aren't kiss shots or dead ones in 9-Ball – very seldom. It's just all the 1-ball here, the two ball there and so on. They've lost the true art of pool. Believe me those Straight Pool players in those days were hard for me to beat. They could run out even if they didn't know the game, but so what, the best move in One Pocket is eight and out. How can you move any better than that?
1P: Is there anything else you want to add?
RA: Anyway, before I pass away, I'd really like to have a One Pocket tournament that's different than the way they have it today. I don't like the scoring system used today. I don't mean scoring the balls, I mean the double elimination tournament; it just doesn't create enough excitement. Say you have 64 players and you've run four rounds and the news media comes up and says, who's leading the tournament? Well you tell me, who's leading the tournament right now?
1P: Well, there are eight of them on the winner's side…
RA: Oh, eight people, folks! They need a scoring system just like golf, where if you get beat like I did by Billy Palmer yesterday, 24 balls to 2, you could go from 16 th place to here, and if you win 24-2, you jump up here. Then you have a leader board, and every ball is important. I have a format for that tournament, but no one wants to change, everybody likes it. They're so set in their ways with pool – do this; don't gamble; don't do this – it's just ridiculous.
1P: Is that what I have heard called ‘Oklahoma Straight Pool', where you go to a number of balls like 25, and if you finish one rack, you just start another until someone reaches 25?
RA: I never heard of that, but that sounds like what I had for a tournament in St. Louis. I'm sixty-five, and I never knew anyone thought about that except me. I came in second and Raphael Martinez won it. It was go to thirty balls. You just play, and whoever's behind in balls breaks them. You play the whole rack out – it makes a much more skilful game – in other words, you might get lucky and run eight and that's all you get. Well I can still get seven. Now you're only ahead eight-seven, and it's my break, because I'm behind. Yeah, I had a tournament like that, and it was very successful. Now you've got a leader board. Now you can tell people, look, he's ahead. Today you can't tell me – we're in the middle of a tournament here in Sacramento, folks – and I don't even know who's leading the tournament. That's no good for the audience and no good for the news media. I've been hollering about that for twenty years, but nobody wants to hear.
1P: Thank you very much, Ronnie, I'm going to let you go…
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