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Pool Room Stories

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  • Pool Room Stories

    I grew up in a small town, Salisbury, NC which had a population of around 30K, There was one pool room during the early 1960’s when I was in high school. It was owned by Ed Rufty, a guy who had made his money during prohibition but later started up a pool room pretty much as a hobby and to have a place to hang out. There were five 4 1/2 by 9 tables and a 6th one that had been converted to a keno board game.

    The big money maker for the house was the keno board game (luck more important than skill) that was played on the pool table in the far back section of the room. It featured a wooden board full of circular holes at one end with a ramp leading up to it. Each player drew two numbered pills out of a 16 pill jug. The pill numbers corresponded to the numbered holes on the wooden board. Each time a ball went into a hole where a player had its pill number then he got paid by each of the other players. The game was played almost continuously for at least 10-12 hours every day and it attracted a broad spectrum of players, most of whom were mediocre at pool. Of course, in a four to eight handed keno game, they had a much better chance to win and most of them knew it. The better pool players disliked its popularity, as it took away a lot of the money that they might otherwise have had a chance to win playing pool, but there really wasn't much they could do about it.

    The noise level from the keno game permeated the pool room all day. Every time a ball would go up on the board and would circle around the perimeter of one of the holes without dropping in, you could always hear one or more players yelling "whip", "whip", "whip", which meant they wanted to ball to whip into one of the adjoining holes, especially when they held the pill number that corresponded to that hole. In addition, you always heard the shooter yelling "double keno", "double keno" if a ball was rolling around on the board anywhere close to the double keno "wild" hole which paid twice the game's lower stakes amount. Then there were the constant arguments about table bumping, leaning on the rail, etc. Was it inconsequential or did it really change anything? This was one argument. Was it accidental or intentional? This was another argument. Who did it cause to come out better and who did it cause to come out worse? Then still another argument concerning what to do about it.

    The losers in the game were always moaning that they hadn't “matched" a pill in 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, whatever. Then there would be a guy bitching because the player in front of him in an eight handed kept playing him safe. Every game he was demanding a redraw for order of shooting. Sometimes, the rest of the players went along and sometimes they didn't.

    It was a pretty much an accepted house rule that any player could quit at any time, even in the middle of a game, and regardless of whether he was winning or losing. Naturally, if a guy quit while he was winning he heard the derisive "hit and run, huh" comment from one or more of the other players. Once, I recall watching a game that had gone on for several hours with the same players. One guy who was losing asked the other players how they were doing re winning and losing. After all of the other players said they were net losers he asked "well then who the hell is winning?" One of the spectators pointed to the pool room cash register. Another house rule was that the game was always open and that anybody could get in at the beginning of the next game as long as he was willing to be last in the shooting order in the game in which he got in. I believe the house charged a nickel per cue per game (winner pays) so they wanted as many players as possible at all times.

    Many times I can remember sitting and listening to some of the better pool players telling me for hours on end that keno with three players or more was predominantly luck and it made absolutely no sense to play it and give all those lousy pool players a chance to beat them. Naturally, I agreed wholeheartedly because what they were saying was perfectly true. Then, almost in disbelief, I would sometimes watch one of these same guys go get in the keno game that they had just been saying was stupid to play in and then go busted. Then they would come back and sit down and tell me the same thing all over again. I heard more pool players swear off playing keno forever, only to see them playing it again in the next day or so.

    Back in the mid 60's, the average keno game would start at 10 cents / 20 cents, then fairly quickly get raised to 25 cents / 50 cents. After lunch it was usually 50 cents / one dollar and by early evening it would usually get raised to $1 / $2. By closing it was almost always at $2 / $4 and on occasion it would get to $4 / $8 or $5 / $10. One night, as I was getting ready to leave (about two hours before closing) there was a three handed $5 / $10 game going. What was of interest was the three players had earlier gone broke with their own money (the big winner had quit) and were now all trying to get even. Each of them was playing with money out of one of those wallets (that belonged to their employer) where there was a chain attached to their belt. One of them was a Budweiser truck driver, one worked at a gas station and the other was a Pepsi Cola truck driver. About a week later, I saw the two "drivers" and they were both wearing the uniform of a different employer. Apparently, they both had gotten fired for losing their employer’s money. Anyway, I would venture to say that the gas station guy was the likely winner on the night of their keno game although I didn't stay around to watch how it ended.

    Keno was nothing more than legalized casino gambling on a pool table. Fortunately, I mostly stayed away from it except as a spectator.
    Last edited by Charles Morrison; 01-02-2017, 11:37 AM.

  • #2
    This story goes back to my high school days. A buddy of mine, Tom, and I still laugh about it today. We had a mutual pool playing friend named Jerry, who was one of our high school classmates. Jerry was a pretty fair nine baller but was mostly known for being a sharp dresser and a lady's man.

    One Saturday evening, Tom and I were at the pool room when Jerry walked in about 6:00 PM. He was more sharply dressed than usual, with a striped (freshly ironed) Gant shirt, a new alpaca sweater, a pair of neatly creased Corbin pants and a newly polished pair of alligator shoes. His "Canoe" (remember that one) cologne wafted across the room to where I was playing and I also noticed out the window that he was driving his brother's new 1962 Pontiac convertible, which looked as if it had just been washed and waxed. Jerry sat down and started watching the game next to us. A few minutes later some guy got out of our partner's game and I asked Jerry if wanted to get in. He said no thanks as he just had a few minutes to kill before he went and gassed up his car and headed over to Greensboro (about 50 miles away) to pick up a really hot date. Anyway, some other guy got in our game and Jerry continued watching the three guys on the table beside us who were involved in a $2 ring nine ball game. One of the players in that game was a guy, Carl Everhart, who only had one eye, and couldn't play a lick. The other two guys weren't much better. On average they were each shooting on the nine ball about three or four times before somebody finally made it. Jerry could have easily given any of the three the seven, eight and nine and robbed them. Talk about a game that was easy pickings for a decent player. Tom and I were so sure they wouldn't let either of us in that game that we didn't even bother to ask.

    A few minutes later, one of the guys in the ring game missed about a two foot easy straight in shot on the nine. I saw Jerry kind of chuckling and he almost half jokingly asked if he could get in. To his total surprise, all three guys said sure, grab a cue and get in. The bet had now been raised to $3 and one of the guys said something to Jerry about whether he had enough money to play. Jerry showed a $20 bill (I later found out it was all he had) and the guy said fine, "you follow me". You should have seen the look in Jerry's eyes, this was going to be like picking up money off the floor. As he was rubbing down the shaft of his cue, I heard him say that he only had about 30 minutes or so as he had to go somewhere and was that OK with them. "No problem" was the answer he got from each of the other players.

    In the very next game, one of the guys made the nine on the break. Jerry smiled and tossed his $20 bill on the table. In the next game, the guy in front of Jerry slopped the nine in. When Jerry finally got a shot in game three, he was completely hooked behind another ball. After he kicked and missed, the guy immediately after him made the nine on a lucky three ball combination. Again, in the next game, Jerry (as a result of blind luck) was left again with no shot. Anyway, we have all seen these kinds of situations before. After about two more games, Jerry was down to his case (last) three dollars. In the next game, the nine was the only ball left on the table and it was Carl Everhart's shot, with Jerry shooting next. It was a long off angle shot that was almost impossible for a player of his caliber to make so I heard him say he was just going to fire away and hope for the best. Jerry was figuring that he would miss and was hoping that it would leave him with a decent shot. Well, you guessed it, the nine ball went five rails and dropped into one of the corner pockets. I heard Carl say, " I knew it would go somewhere". Jerry tossed his last $3 on the table and slowly walked over to the rack and hung up his cue. Without saying a word to any of us, he walked out to the car and drove away but (with no gas) obviously not to pick up his date, who was 50 miles away.

    The next day, I saw Jerry and I asked him where he went the night before after he left the pool room. He said he only had 50 cents left in his pocket so he stopped at a convenience store and bought a pack of Chesterfields and a quart of chocolate milk and then went home and sat in a chair and (in his exact words) "beat my head against the wall". To this very day, whenever I hear either the word, Chesterfields or the phrase, chocolate milk, I am vividly reminded of that memorable night in the pool room, over 50 years ago.


    • #3
      For very obvious reasons, Ed Rufty's pool room had a pay telephone. It was mounted on the wall, had a rotary dial, and three different sized coin slots for nickels, dimes and quarters. At that time, a local call cost ten cents, the same as a game of nine ball.

      The lengths to which some guys would go to beat the pay phone were really amazing. One guy had a pre-determined routine with his girlfriend where he would put a dime in the phone and dial her number. He would let it ring twice and then hang up and get his dime back. This was her signal to call him right away at the pool room. About 10-15 seconds later the phone would ring and it would be her calling back from home. Another guy had perfected a routine whereby he could put a penny in the nickel slot and almost simultaneously pop the coin return button and get a dial tone for one cent. His services were always in demand. Eventually he got tired of doing it for free and started charging a nickel to get someone else a dial tone that would otherwise have cost them a dime. He would usually supply the "sacrificial" penny, although on occasion he would ask the caller for it. Neither of these two routines got on Ed Rufty's radar screen. There was another one that I recall, however, that did.

      Another pool room regular had gone even even further and perfected the use of a small plastic strip as a phone beating device. It was about six inches long, maybe 3/4" wide, and was very thin and flexible. It could be inserted into one of the coin slots and if timed properly, could get a dial tone for a local call and also get the caller's dime returned, so in effect, the call was completely free, thus improving on the one cent call routine. Anyway, Ed Rufty finally caught on to the trick and it then had to be quickly done while his back was turned or he was otherwise distracted.

      Many times when the phone rang, nobody would bother to answer it. Unless some guy was expecting a call from his girlfriend, it would often just continue to ring. If it didn't stop fairly soon and was disturbing a game then usually somebody, just to stop the ringing, would take the receiver off the hook and just let it hang. What was really funny was that if some guy approached the phone like he was going to pick up the receiver and actually answer the call, there was always a loud chorus of voices yelling, "I'm not here". Once, I recall when there were at least 100 people in the pool room and the noise level was very high, a guy answered the phone and asked out loud if anybody was here. The response was a loud "NO" from everybody. Next, he put the receiver to his mouth and said "there is nobody here" and then hung up.

      Of course, with the current predominance of cell phones, this is all ancient history. What makes it still interesting today is that it illustrates the ingenuity and cleverness of the pool playing sub culture even it's directed at a device as simple as a legacy pay phone and the amount of money involved is relatively inconsequential.


      • #4
        Here are a few more stories from my high school pool room days. The first one involves a hard lesson that I vividly remember. There was a local college guy from Pennsylvania who was a pretty fair nine ball player. I still thought I could beat him so one day we ended up playing heads up after another guy dropped out of our 3 handed game. As best I recall, I started with about $15 and we were initially playing for $1 but I think we later raised it to $2. We were just paying after every game and there was nothing posted up. My game was pretty good that day and over a couple of hours I was getting way the best of him and I remember that I had gotten to where I had a little over $30 in my pocket. The next game I was sitting in the chair while he was at the table and a friend of mine came over and told me that he overheard my opponent talking to the guy who was with him and he had told him that he was broke after paying me for the game I had just won. In other words, if I won the current game then I would likely get air barreled. About that time the guy missed the seven ball and I had a relatively easy run out to win the game. My thought was to just finish it off and that would be the end of it. I easily made the seven and eight and had a medium straight in on the nine. For some reason I kept thinking about him being busted after the last game and you guessed it - I dogged the nine and hung it up where he had an easy tap in. I was really pissed off but I thought I could just win the next two games and it would all be over. Well, as you might expect, I went on tilt and absolutely couldn’t make a ball. Of course, as I got worse, he got better and about two hours later I was the one who was busted. I was so mad at myself that I walked home in the pouring down rain so that I would never forget the incident. It worked. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

        My second story also involves a turn around in the middle of a match up that ended with a better result. I was playing nine ball against a high school classmate who was every bit as good as I was. We had been going back and forth for several hours and there was a pretty decent crowd watching us and there was also a fair amount of side betting going on. All of a sudden I noticed something that really startled me. My best friend was side betting on my opponent. I had thought all along that he had been betting on me. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of it other than being really disappointed that he would do that. Then all of a sudden I had a better idea. I would make him regret that he did it. Almost immediately, my quality of play went way up and I ended up busting my opponent as well as my friend who continued to side bet against me. Anyway, it’s amazing how a mental thing can either up your game or cause it to go completely to hell. Unfortunately, I never figured out how to only be impacted by the ones that helped me play better. The ones that caused you to play worse seemed to always be lurking around as well.

        My last story involves one pocket. There were a couple of older guys in the pool room who played it and the game always intrigued me because of the strategies that were involved. I started playing one of those guys and although I could easily beat him at nine ball he out moved me at one pocket and regularly won all of our sessions. After about six months or so I narrowed the gap somewhat and after maybe a year I finally stopped having mental lapses where I left him free cross banks at the foot end of the table. We always played for $1 and I must have lost well over $200 to him over the course of a year or so. One day I finally got him stuck pretty good and I could see that he was about to go on tilt. All of sudden he missed a simple shot and left me an easy shot on my game ball. He got really pissed and started raking the balls with his cue stick. Somehow while he was doing that he accidentally hit his wrist watch with the shaft of his cue. The watch crystal popped off and then little springs, wheels and watch parts went flying all over the table. He then said I quit so I took the post off the light and sat down. The guy then calmed down and started retrieving all the dozens of watch pieces that were strewn all over the table cloth. This went on for maybe 15 minutes and then the owner came over and asked who owed for the table time for that game. Since we were playing loser pays I pointed to the old guy and the owner told him he owed 50 cents. The old guy thought he only owed a quarter and they got into a heated argument over it as he thought he should not have to pay the table time when he was only picking up his watch parts. The owner told him that since the table was tied up that he still owed for the time as there were others waiting to play. Anyway, this went on for another 10 minutes or so and finally it got so loud that one of the customers who was not involved just tossed a quarter on the table to get it over with.

        Ironically, the old guy and I never played again. I did finally beat him really good but on the other hand I never even came close to getting even for all the money I lost to him over the year or so that we regularly played one pocket.


        • #5
          During my high school and college years the best player in my small home town pool room was a guy named Marvin Ladd. He was in his late teens, early 20’s during that time frame and it was generally agreed that he had the best hand/eye coordination that any of us had ever seen. He had also been a state yoyo champion and a top notch fast pitch softball pitcher. Back to back no hitters (in a nightly double header) were not uncommon at all for him at the time. As for his pool playing ability, he had a beautiful slip stroke, wonderful cue ball control and he just made the game look easy. He only had one defect but unfortunately it was a big one and it was located in the six inch space between his ears. His regular routine was that as soon as he accumulated enough money at the pool room to buy a pint of Dixie Belle gin ($2.10) he headed for the liquor store and the rest of his day went decidedly downhill. Anyway, he was one of the “finest” examples I ever saw of a brilliant physical talent gone completely to waste. About 10-15 years ago I heard he died homeless and penniless.

          There was one story I recall about him that I thought was kind of amusing. One night a few of us decided to drive to Winston Salem, NC which was about 40 miles away and check out the pool action over there. Marvin went along with us and he was uncharacteristically sober when we left. When we got to the pool room there was a ring nine ballgame being played on the front table which was closest to the bar/sandwich area and the jukebox. I specifically recall that Marvin had exactly $2.00 when he got into that ring game which I believe was about 5-6 handed and the stakes were fifty cents. There were some decent players in the game but Marvin was definitely better than any of them. Of course, in a multi-handed game and with a player being short on money, anything can happen.

          Over the course of several hours a number of different players got in and got out but Marvin lasted the entire time. He bought two packs of cigarettes (25 cents each) and smoked at least one of them. In addition, I’m guessing that he drank about 12- 15 draft beers (25 cents each), ate two sandwiches (maybe $1.00 each) and several bags of potato chips (15 cents each) and poured $4 to $5 in the juke box at 10 cents per tune. As an aside, would it come as any surprise that the two most popular songs on the Robert E. Lee pool room juke box were “I’m Busted” by Ray Charles and “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line” by Buck Owens. All in all I’m guessing that Marvin had spent well over $20 on all those items in addition to 3-4 hours of pool at 5 cents per cue per game. As the pool room was getting ready to close, the ring game was now down to Marvin and one other guy. The other guy was a fair player and while Marvin was definitely better, the effects of all the draft beers he had been drinking were starting to take their toll. With the bet now raised to $2 and after going back and forth about a dozen games, Marvin finally ran out of money and had to quit.

          As we were leaving, the guy to whom Marvin lost his last game was talking to a friend. The friend had commented that Marvin looked like a pretty good player and the answer was to the effect that well he was pretty decent but that I “busted” him. Well, in one sense, he may have “busted” Marvin but it occurred to me that from Marvin’s standpoint that he started with $2.00 and spent well over $20.00 before he ran out of money so I doubt that he felt that he had an unsuccessful night at the pool room where he got out played and went broke. I guess it all depends on your perspective.
          Last edited by Charles Morrison; 01-06-2017, 11:33 AM.


          • #6
            Another regular at the local pool room was a guy named Milton. He was a few years older than I was and he didn’t play much pool as he knew he wasn’t much good at it. His specialty was sports betting and he started out as a player. He would bet parlay cards and individual ball games and I never was really sure how well he did but he always told me that if he could “run” the parlay card operation in the local county that he could make some serious money. Milton had a lot of friends and in another year or so he said that he had connected with all the right people and that he had somehow gotten the exclusive local “right” to handle the parlay cards for the upcoming football season. The first two weeks seemed to go very well for him but he never mentioned any specific numbers.

            On the Tuesday after the third week of football season I saw Milton in the pool room and he looked horrible. I asked him if anything were wrong and he said he had a big problem. One of his regular parlay card players had just hit a $50 ten out of ten card and he owed the guy $15,000 which he didn’t have. To make matters even worse, the winner was a a local tough guy who was built like a NFL nose tackle and he was to meet him later that day to settle up. After acknowledging that I didn’t have any bright ideas I told him I hoped he could come up with a way to somehow work things out.

            The next day I saw Milton and was relieved to see that he was in one piece and that he appeared to be OK. He told me that he decided to tell the guy upfront that he couldn’t pay him the $15,000 but that he would pay him weekly during the season and hopefully have him paid off at the end. The guy went along with him on one condition which was that he could continue to play a $50 ten team parlay every week for the remainder of football season. Milton really had no choice but to let him do it.

            The next time I saw Milton in the pool room was after the last week of regularly scheduled college and pro football for the year. He didn’t look as bad as he did earlier but it was obvious that something wasn’t quite right. Anyway, he goes on to tell me that the same guy had hit the first nine games of another ten team parlay and he had to sweat the tenth game on Sunday afternoon. A blocked field goal as the clock ran out was the only thing that had saved him from owing the guy another $15,000. As far as I know, Milton kept on making book over the next 20 years or so but I’m sure he never forgot that eventful first year.

            Andy Smith was also a pool room regular who later became a bookmaker. He was a year older than me and he would bet on anything including coin flipping, pool, cards, dice, ball games, whatever. Basically, Andy just loved gambling and he was a pretty good pool player who would bet high if he had the money. In addition, he was a really likable guy. After I went off to college I kind of lost touch with him but when I came back a few years later he was into bookmaking at a fairly heavy level and he was also involved in a local black jack game in which he and couple of other guys functioned as the “house”. The game had a rather unusual rule in that the house could hit or stand on any card count whereas in most casinos the dealer usually has to stand on 17 and hit anything below that. It was many years later when Andy finally told me about the real “reason” they had that rule. Anyway, the game did really well for the house and Andy ended up winning about $90K back in the late 60’s when that was pretty decent money. After the black jack game broke up Andy got married and bought a house with his winnings and continued with his bookmaking which had now expanded statewide in North Carolina.

            I lost touch with Andy for about ten years as I had moved away but I heard he eventually got busted for bookmaking but since it was a first offense he ended up on probation. Of course, he kept on making book with a number of other guys and he eventually got caught again and was convicted in Federal District Court in Greensboro, NC with two other men. Now convicted a second time and with his probation revoked he was looking at going to Federal prison. Andy always had a lucky aspect of sorts to his life and he appealed his conviction to the Federal 4th Circuit of Appeals in Richmond, VA where his case was heard before a three judge panel. Four months later his conviction was reversed and his probation was re-instated. His case turned on some nuances of the Federal rules of evidence and if anyone is interested you can read the full opinion here:


            A few years later I was visiting my home town (Salisbury, NC) and I ran into Andy at a local restaurant. He told me about beating the bookmaking charge and he also enlightened me about the blackjack game from years back. I’m sure most of you are familiar with those Bee playing cards that have the small checkerboard patterns on the back. What a number of people don’t know is that those cards came in two finishes. One was labeled Cambric on the box and the other was labeled Smooth. What Andy and his partners had done was to mix the finishes from a box of each so that all the ten count cards had one finish and all the other cards had the other finish then reseal the box so it looked unopened. The difference in the finishes was subtle but I tried it and after only a little practice it was very easy to tell which finish it was just by a slight rub of your finger. When Andy was dealing he always knew whether the top card on the deck was a ten count one or not. Since he could hit or stand on any count he had a significant advantage over the players in addition to the normal odds favoring the dealer. For instance, he would never hit a hard count like 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 if the top card on the deck was a ten count one.

            Andy died of a heart attack about ten years ago. He was dealing craps at a casino in Mississippi at the time.
            Last edited by Charles Morrison; 01-05-2017, 01:19 AM.