'em up with
years one of the South's best kept secrets at One Pocket,
Sonny Springer was known for betting high back when ten dollars
was equal to more like fifty today. To paraphrase Professor
RH Gilmer, a lot of people would say they were looking for
Sonny, but they didn't really want to find him, because they
knew that if they did, the talk would stop and it was time
to step to the table. OnePocket.org spoke with Sonny at Grady
Mathews' Gulf Coast Classic event in December, 2004.
2005 Steve Booth, OnePocket.org
Sonny, I'd like to start by asking how you got introduced to One
Well, when I first got into One Pocket, there's
a little story in front of that. I didn't know anything about One
Pocket; I'd never played the game, but I was a heck of a 9-ball
player. I was young and I didn't think anybody in the world could
got around that I played, and UJ Puckett came to my Daddy's
poolroom here in Mississippi. He missed me the first time he
came, but then he came back a second time. So they got a hold
of me and I came down to the room and said, 'Well, this is the
second time you've come in to play me; you must play pretty
good. Let's try some 9-Ball for a hundred a game. 'That was
a lot of money back then, about 1960. He said, 'No, but I'll
play you some for twenty.' So I said, 'Well come on, I'll see
how you play.' I won the first six games, and then we played
about six more hours and I was still six games winner, and I
quit. Well it made him mad and he said, 'Let's go to Memphis
and play on the big tables; I'll play you for a hundred up there.
'I said, 'No; hell no, you can play for a hundred here; I'm
not going to go to Memphis to play.'
photo of Sonny practicing at the little country
-- on the very table he played UJ Puckett
knew the people in Memphis up there at Rex Billiards, down in the
basement; it was a real nice room with 30 or 40 tables. The next
time I was up there I was telling the owner or manager -- or whoever
was there at the cash register -- about this guy. So he pulled a
magazine out from under the cash register and said, 'It sounds like
this is the guy you played.' And there was his picture, right there
on the cover of the magazine, where he just won the national tournament
down there in Atlanta! I said, 'That's the son-of-a-gun! So he said,
'Sonny, you ought to go to Johnston City; that's where all the action
is.' I didn't even know anything about Johnston City. So a little
later I boogied on up to Johnston City.
I got up there, I'd match up playing 9-ball and I'd win every time
I matched up, just about; I made out good at 9-ball. Then we'd match
up playing One Pocket, and hell, they'd get their money back or
That's funny, that's a lot like what Danny Di Liberto said about
his first trip to Johnston City.
I don't know if
you're interested in that little deal when they strapped that
thing on my leg...
Oh yeah, that's a great story. Was that the first
year, when they just played One Pocket?
It probably was; I don't know for sure,
but this was back when there was just one pool table in the
back behind Jansco's nightclub. There was a hell of a lot
of action on that one pool table.
Well I know there's a picture that's supposed to be from that
first year and you're in that picture.
Probably, but I don't really know. I was there two or three
years or so. I know the last year I was just south of there
at the penitentiary, and Fats and Beenie came down to visit
But it took place fairly early, before you really
learned the game.
Yeah, this was when I was learning.
remember Danny Di Liberto pulled up in an old convertible
car all they way from Florida, and God damn, it didn't look
like that car could go five miles! Anyway, I busted him playing
9-ball; I didn't know him. Boy it made him so damn mad. I
don't know if you know him or not, but he had a little temper,
and he used to box, so he said, 'You wouldn't have the best
of it if we went outside,' or something like that. I was just
a little bit older than he was, and he didn't scare me, but
anyway he gets so pumped up... But he got his money back because
the next day he beat me. I didn't play with him any more.
He darned near wanted to fight if you beat him.
was trying to play a different position on somebody; trying to trap
them at something or other. They'd jockey for two days trying to
match up -- match up tight, you know. Man, if the guy thought he
had just that much the best of it, that was all he wanted.
Danny Jones was there with this other guy from Meridian. Danny was
always scuffling; trying to trap somebody. So he said, 'Here, I'll
tell you what we'll do; we'll strap this thing on your leg that
gives a little shock and we'll tell you which ball to shoot.' You
know, if it was the four, they'd go bump, bump, bump, bump. I believe
the guy from Meridian is the one that had the machine; he didn't
shoot pool but he knew every proposition in the world.
they matched me up with this older player that was a friend of Hubert
Cokes, but didn't play as well as Hubert, for two hundred a game.
That was a lot of money back then. I believe it was the first time
I had put this thing on, and I had a long shot that I had to lean
over the table to shoot, and the damn thing came out of the little
band that was around my leg and got up around my testicles, and
that's just when they bumped me. Boy it made me jump, God dang;
I nearly jumped clear across the table!
guys sitting there watching all looked at me funny... And the guy
beat me, too. Afterwards Danny Jones and the other guy said, 'Shit,
Sonny, you need to go back home to Mississippi and learn how to
play One Pocket!'
I did. I went back and I played myself for a year. In the meantime,
of course while I was still up there I watched players like Weenie
Beenie and Cornbread and Squirrel, and tried to pick up pointers
and all. I guess I did, because when I came back, people that were
giving me two balls, now I could give them two balls. But of course
I didn't do that, and I made some gooood money before they found
out that I could play.
I remember guys like Mr.
Hubert Cokes, boy, they'd just run over themselves to play me One
Pocket, because the year before I couldn't play a lick! And they knew
I would play a little high because I had my own money.
course, you're interested in One Pocket, but I fooled with dice
and cards so much... But nobody around home played One Pocket. The
closest that One Pocket was played was Squirrel [Marshall Carpenter],
over in Tuscaloosa. I did go to Tuscaloosa quite a lot to play.
Squirrel had a brother that played real good too.
Oh really, I didn't know that.
Yeah, it seems like he had two brothers that played pretty sporty.
So Squirrel was one of the players that you learned from watching.
Yeah, I would watch him.
remember one time I watched he and Cleo Vaughn. Cleo Vaughn
was a bookie from Blytheville, Arkansas, but he was up at
Johnston City, and they were playing in that block building
of Jansco's -- playing for two hundred a game, which was good
money back then. I sweated the game all night. I already knew
Squirrel, from playing up there in Tuscaloosa; we're about
the same age. So I asked Squirrel for half of his bet when
they started off, but he said, 'Well Sonny, I've already got
somebody in with me.' I said, 'Hell, I'm going to watch anyway,
Squirrel; give me a ten dollar sweat bet. He said, 'You got
they got through the next morning it was way after daylight,
and Fats pulled up. This was right after that movie The Hustler
came out and Fats of course was pushing that aspect of his
career. He was New York Fats up 'til then. So everybody walked
out to talk to Fats. I said, 'Hey, Squirrel, you gonna catch
my bet?' He said, 'Oh, Yeah, I forgot about that Sonny; how
much do I owe you?' As near as I remember it, I want to say
it was $220. What would that have been, twenty-two games?
That sounds about right. My share was ten dollars a game.
Sonny, just visible behind Boston Shorty, between
Jimmy Moore and Joey Spaeth
here to see the whole photo
So Squirrel really came out ahead...
Yeah, there wasn't no quit about Cleo once he
matched up, but he couldn't beat Squirrel at One Pocket.
So when you learned One Pocket, you were pretty
quiet about learning it.
Yeah, until word kind of got around a little bit,
but I didn't play in any tournaments or anything. In 1967 I did
play in the World's Tournament, they called it, and I believe I
came in 9th . I don't know if that was in Vegas or Johnston City.
I believe it was 15 th in Vegas and seemed like it was 9 th at Johnston
In the One Pocket or the 9-Ball?
I don't remember. I've got the scrapbook deal on it at home, but
I don't know now; I've forgotten. It was when they had the all-around
with 9-Ball, One Pocket and Straight Pool. I never did play Straight
Pool, however I did win the Mississippi State Championship, and
went on to St. Louis and came in 15 th up there.
remember one year they had a little write up in the local paper
-- the Johnston City paper -- and they said that the upset of the
night was Sonny Springer beating the 'Knoxville Bear'. Well of course
that kind of thrilled me. But I had learned how to play a little
by then. But before that -- hell, I just didn't know how to play
So you never got in all three events; in fact you
hardly ever got in any of the events; you mostly just matched
that's what I did, mostly just match up with people. I never
did get into that Straight Pool. I probably didn't get into
the One Pocket but maybe just once or maybe twice. I know Fats
-- seems like this was in Atlanta, Georgia -- it was down to
the quarterfinals and Fats and I were playing, and the Mayor
had brought his friends there to see Fats play. I was playing
Fats -- this was One Pocket -- and I had Fats beat. I had him
beat, but I missed a ball and that rascal made three fantastic
banks on me to beat me. Anyway, I'll never forget it because
the Mayor gave us a 'key to the city'.
Fats was a great player; a lot of people knocked him,
but boy, I never did knock him. He did a lot for pool, and
boy he played that One Pocket, he played it jam up. He and
Weenie Beenie -- they played a lot alike. They didn't play
too much safe, like Clem [Eugene Metz] did. Clem
always used to make the remark that he'd 'stick all those
hurricane players in the...' -- don't know if I'm supposed
to cuss on this -- but he said, he'd 'stick all them hurricane
players in the shit house.' He was at that time considered
the best in the world.
Clem was known for the traditional style, just make a couple balls
and play safe...
You just wouldn't get a shot; that's about what it amounted to.
But Fats and Beenie were more aggressive
players, especially banking?
When Beenie and Fats would match up together, if there was
a long rail bank they didn't worry about where the cue ball
would end up, they just knew they were going to make that
bank, and they just banked that bastard right on back into
their pocket and went on to the next shot. There wasn't any
safe playing just because it was a little tough bank.
How about Ronnie Allen?
Now Ronnie -- I used to take him around
for years. He'd be broke and call me and I'd have to send
him plane fare and he'd fly in to Memphis and I'd pick him
up. I'd pick him at Memphis and we'd go around to different
When did that start; when he first started to come to Johnston City?
I didn't even know Ronnie until I went to Johnston City. When I
first met Ronnie Allen he said, 'I'll play you where you give me
8-6 and I'll shoot one-handed.' I said, 'Get it up.' Well, he beat
me; I'll never forget that; he beat me.
He was a darn good one-handed player...
Yeah, he was. Damn right! That's when I met Ronnie
Allen; it was right there at Johnston City. Anyway, I've taken him
all over around here. Hell, I remember one time I took him to Mobile
to play Junior Moore, and he played Junior Moore the same way, and
he beat him, too. I was staking him. Dang, we made a lot of money,
but dad gum it, the next day Ronnie would want to -- and would --
send his end home, or tell me he had anyway. So we had to start
a new day, instead of taking our winnings and playing on our winnings,
he'd send his home to his wife and kids, which I guess he did. He
had about three kids.
Yes he did, that he put through school playing pool. So then you
had to start over.
He was a hell of a player. Matter of fact, I staked
him to play Little John [Macias] just a few weeks ago,
when they had this deal down here.
So you've been working with Ronnie over thirty years now!
Yeah, a long time. Little John beat Ronnie Allen
when Ronnie had him six balls to two. I matched the game up myself;
I told Little John I hadn't seen Ronnie play in, hell in fifteen
or twenty years, but I knew that that son-of-a-gun could play. I
got to see him play just a little bit before we came down to match
up with Little John.
So this was recently...
Yeah, I matched it up. I told John, 'We'll play
three out of five, where you give Ronnie the first break.' We rotate
the break, so that means if it came down to two-two, we're going
into the last game with the break. It was a hell of a spot in my
mind! So I thought we had the best of it -- and we did. The last
game it was two-two, and we're playing for a thousand -- I'm staking
Ronnie - and he had him six to two, and by God, Little John won
the game! He sure did; he played so damn safe that Ronnie f***ed
up. You know, it's just a matter of who makes an error first - somebody's
going to make an error. I don't give a damn how good they are, they'll
finally make an error or shoot a ball just that much too far and
leave the guy a bank or something that he wasn't supposed to, or
kiss off a ball and scratch. Numerous things can happen, and that's
what they count on.
So who where some of the other players you got Ronnie matched
Oh, they were all more or less shortstops; I don't know what the
stops were we went to. One time we went off to Virginia trying to
catch -- what's the guys name that made that Miller commercial?
Yeah, we were trying to match up with him, but he wouldn't play.
Steve did turn into a pretty good One Pocket player himself
eventually, although his health isn't very good now. When
you first started to learn One Pocket; how does I guy go about
learning to play by shooting against themselves? How do you
Well, that's a good question. But if you
watch some people, and can see kind of what you're supposed
to do... You say to yourself, 'Where can I put that cue ball
so he doesn't have a shot?' That's if you don't have a shot
yourself. And if, at the same time, I can knock a ball somewhere
over on my side where he can't see it, that's that much better.
But if not, where and how can I put that cue ball where he
don't have a shot? Or, that he's got a hell of a hard shot,
that if he attempts and misses, I'm going to hurt him. That's
about the only way I could answer that question.
So by observing the game you picked up the principles, like
putting balls near your own pocket and not letting the other
guy see them, then you went back home and practiced.
Yeah, I just played myself.
How about learning things like playing the score -- pushing the
balls out of play with the lead, and trying to keep them in play
when you're behind...
Well I was a little bit more aggressive than that. I know a lot
of people wouldn't, but say if a guy needs two balls, and I need
six, I might shoot a shot that maybe would be fifty-fifty, but if
I made it, I'd win the game from there.
If you could get position...
But there's players that won't do that; they just won't ever take
a flyer. I noticed Little John the other night -- matter of fact,
I was betting on him -- but anyway, he could of took a flyer at
this guy, which I would have done. He ended up winning anyway, but
he played so damn safe that the guy just finally f***ed up. When
the guy f***ed up, well, he got out on him.
It sounds like you've taught a little One Pocket to quite a few
players in your area...
Well, I guess you could say that. Yeah, come to
think of it, I really have. Cecil Abel, he has a poolroom in [Grenada??]
I'd be on my way to Memphis -- 'cuz I played a lot in Memphis
-- and I stopped by there and I matched up playing him One Pocket
and I beat him thirteen straight games. I thought he was going to
quit after the second or third game -- we had started off playing
ten dollars a game -- but instead he says, 'Let's play for twenty.'
way with RH [RH
Gilmore]; RH is a pretty dad gummed good player, but I think
I beat him seventeen straight. I wouldn't say that in front of him,
but he knows it.
I think RH was saying that when you were showing him a little
One Pocket, you started with just one ball on the
table, right in front of his pocket, but with you shooting
I learned that at Johnston City; I forget who showed me that
shot. You take the object ball right here and put the cue
ball right there, and that's his pocket, but it's my shot.
I'll shoot from there, and I've got the best of that game.
It's just a shot that you shoot that's not all that hard.
You hit it rail first with bottom left hand English and the
cue ball stays there and the object ball comes down here,
and he don't have a shot -- he's going to leave you something.
That's one of the few pool shots that really doesn't come
up in any other games but One Pocket -- where you
have to take a ball out of your opponent's pocket.
I remember when Squirrel and Cleo were playing and the object
ball's here and cue ball here and Squirrel had to play safe.
The ball evidently wasn't quite frozen, and so he just lagged
up to it and touched it to play safe. I didn't know that
shot at the time. It was a nice safe.
Their pockets are down on that end?
It doesn't matter, either one. You try
to hit it square; ninety degrees. If that ball ends up frozen,
he's kind of in trouble. What's he going to do? He's got
to hit a rail.
Oh yeah, it's almost a scratch either way; I've
never seen that position come up, but now that you mention
it, that's a difficult spot!
to enlarge this diagram
I showed RH another shot that he didn't know. You've got two
balls here and your pocket's here. We'll say this is RH's
pocket and he's shooting. There's two balls setting there
with one of them out just a little bit. He didn't know that
you could bank that ball. It's setting way up where ordinarily
there'd be no way in hell you'd bank at that ball because
you couldn't play safe. But what you do is hit this ball first,
and if you need to 'turn it', okay, you put a little right
on it. Anyway you can bank that ball and leave your cue ball
right there! It's a billiard bank.
So you use that other ball to get a more natural
approach into the ball you're actually banking...
Yeah, right. Now you're coming at it like this instead of
Now that's a smart way to play that shot.
Not everybody knows that shot; I know RH didn't,
and he's been playing a long time. Matter of fact I think I showed
him that shot about six months ago.
So you have quite a few tricky little shots up your sleeve!
I remember one time -- like I said, I
played a lot up in Memphis -- when players came through
there. One time Sigel [Mike Sigel] came through
there, and of course Sigel just didn't miss a ball hardly
ever playing 9-Ball, and he played a hell of a game of One
Pocket. But, I knew I had the best of it playing him One
Pocket so I matched up with him playing One Pocket. He knew
he could beat me playing 9-ball, since I'd been to a tournament
or two that he was at; in fact I knew him from Johnston
City and Alabama and other places. So the shot came up that
he didn't know, and I couldn't believe he didn't know the
shot -- with two balls frozen on the spot, and the cue ball
back up here. He didn't know he could force the head ball
and bank the second ball. Also, it didn't look like he knew
you could bank that second even if the cue ball is over
here -- you just hit it with left hand English and it will
twist that ball.
to enlarge this diagram
How did that turn out when you played Sigel?
Oh, the first game he ran eight and out on me, and we're playing
two hundred a game -- two hundred or four hundred, I can't remember
which. I had a buddy with me who didn't know nothing about pool;
we bought heavy equipment together. By then I had my car lot and
all. Anyway, this guy didn't know nothing, and his boy was with
us too. And I walked over to them and boy, they were amazed that
he ran those eight balls and got out. So I said, 'I hope that son-of-a-bitch
don't quit, because I've got him locked up!' They looked at me like
I was crazy as hell, but I beat him the next three games and Sigel
Sigel was already well known at that time?
So he was a champion at 9-Ball and Straight Pool, but you
had the best of him at One Pocket.
So who were some of the other great One Pocket players
you ran into?
Jersey Red was a hell of a player. Junior Goff, down in Florida,
was another one. That rascal, he shot left-handed; I shot left-handed,
too. And so did Jersey Red.
with Nancy Hart of Viking Cues, probably at one of the Jansco's
When you watched the other players, who would you
say you most enjoyed watching?
Oh, Lord, that's easy! I most enjoyed watching
UJ Puckett; he'd clomp around the table -- hell he was what,
6-5 or something -- it seemed like nearly seven foot tall.
He wore those size fourteen shoes that clomped when he walked,
and he was an amusing guy anyway. Yeah, I loved to watch him
play, and he was a hell of a player, too.
Wasn't he mostly a 9-Ball player?
No, I don't remember if he played Straight Pool, but he played
One Pocket and 9-Ball. He played the hell out of One Pocket.
So he was a very entertaining One Pocket player.
He was just entertaining to watch, whatever
he was playing. You said I can say what I want? Well I'll
just put it this way; he could get more girls than anybody
I ever saw for being as old and ugly as he was!
That's pretty funny! It sounds to me that when you watched players
shoot, you were very observant. Which player would you say you picked
up the most moves from watching?
I'd probably say Squirrel.
He did play real smart One Pocket -- and he still does. What do
you think of today's players?
Damn, some of them can run out from nothing. That Efren, he's a
hell of a kick artist.
He sure is! He won the One Pocket last week at Derby City,
Well you probably picked up a pointer or two over the week.
I hope so. Another thing he does real well is play position
by bumping the cue ball off a second ball. Most players would be
trying to avoid running the cue ball into another ball, but Efren
does it on purpose to play position, and often he's being productive
at the same time.
There sure is a lot to learn in One Pocket.
Sonny, it seems like even early on you were more comfortable playing
for bigger stakes on your own money, than other players; why do
you think that's so?
Yeah, I've been told that. I always liked to play on my own money;
I always did. I was in on my dad's lime and fertilizer business,
and I had a little money.
went off to the Navy, and heck I didn't play pool for several years,
but I ran a craps game, and gambled you know; I ran about eight
games a week. I wasn't scuffling any pool, but after I beat UJ Puckett
and they told me about Johnston City and I went up there, well that's
when I discovered all this gambling on pool. Like that time I first
played Ronnie Allen 8-6 where he played one-handed. I think we were
playing for two hundred a game. Of course he was probably getting
staked, but I wasn't, and I went broke.
So you were already comfortable gambling at dice and cards,
so pool was just another thing to gamble on.
You mentioned that you spent a little time in the pen. There have
been a couple of players lately that have done some time, and both
of them seemed to come out shooting better than they went in! Something
about using their idle time to practice pool in their minds. How
did you shoot when you came out?
Well, you know it's amazing, but I've noticed
lots of times when I've not played for a while, then my first two
or three games I look like I play better than I've ever played.
I've noticed that several times.
Well thank you very much for your time, Sonny.
courtesy Sonny Springer -- all rights reserved.
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