The name Grady Mathews is almost synonymous with One Pocket. For years, he has been the leading One Pocket tournament promoter and instructor, its most vocal supporter, and one of the game’s top players . All of which helped earn his election into the One Pocket Hall of Fame, on the very top of the first ballot. This interview originated at the Carolinas Open tournament in 2005.
OnePocket.org: Grady, thanks for taking the time to do this. I’d like to start with your background; I know you ended up in the San Francisco area as a young man.
Grady Mathews: My family moved from Kansas City, Missouri to San Mateo, California in 1956. My dad was in the friction materials business and he worked for a company in San Francisco. I caddied at Peninsula Golf and Country Club and I worked for guys like Ken Venturi, George Archer, Patty Berg and Carol Mann. I really enjoyed that time in my life. I played pool in San Mateo and some of the guys I caddied with commuted to San Francisco, which was only 23 miles away. I discovered the famous San Francisco Pool Room, Cochran’s and I just kind of fell in there. I could have played baseball or golf. I was pretty athletic; that’s not to say I would have been successful. But I just loved pool and that’s kind where I went with that.
OnePocket.org: If you liked pool and you went in Cochran’s, I can see that would be eye-opening.
Grady Mathews: It was fantastic! A lot of the best players in the world moved to San Francisco around that time. Public transportation was 15 cents; hotel rooms were $14/wk. There was non-stop 24-hour action and nobody had trouble. Nobody got robbed or anything like that. You had the Tenderloin District; Haight Ashbury was famous. It was a fascinating time for a young guy like me. I loved Cochran’s and San Francisco. That’s how I got started playing pool.
OnePocket.org: I’ve heard Cochran’s was loaded with players.
Grady Mathews: I can’t even remember all of them. You had guys like Ronnie Allen, Jersey Red [Jack breit=””][/Jack], ‘Bananas’ Rodriquez and Eddie Taylor that all spent time there. You had Jack Perkins and Denny Searcy and then a whole slew of players just under those guys. Guys with nicknames like ‘One Eyed Hank’, ‘Harry the Russian’, and ‘Legs’ and ‘Ears’.
OnePocket.org: It sounds like players from all over the country would congregate there.
Grady Mathews: The action was just terrific.
OnePocket.org: The action had to be more than just between each other; there must have been fresh money flowing through, too. Where was that coming from?
Grady Mathews: On the weekends they came from San Leandro, San Raphael, San Jose, Sacramento, Redwood City. They all congregated there on the weekends because everybody knew there was going to be great action. It was like a big melting pot for pool players. It was a great place to learn.
OnePocket.org: There are a lot of top players that have come out of Cochran’s; it seems like that environment was ideal for developing players.
Grady Mathews: Well the best one was probably Denny Searcy. I loved Denny and he’s still alive but barely; he had alcohol problems all of his life. Nobody could beat Denny playing nine-ball. When he was at the top of his game, nobody messed with Denny. The good players would never ask him to play any Snooker either; he played great. He played Cliff Thorburn. The Canadian guys came through and they beat everybody except Ronnie. Ronnie beat them but he made them play on a really tough table. It was so tough that if an object ball was frozen on the rail six inches from the pocket, you couldn’t make it. The only way you could beat Ronnie was to play safe but nobody was going to out-safe Ronnie. He was the greatest safety player that ever lived, even by today’s standards. Denny played Cliff Thorburn in Cochran’s on a six by twelve and they played for 40 hours and Cliff came out one game ahead. That’s how well Denny played. And he didn’t even own a Snooker cue; he didn’t know what a Snooker cue was!
OnePocket.org: Was that the same table they played a lot of Golf on?
Grady Mathews: They played Golf and Pay Ball and all of that. Pay Ball was a big game there.
OnePocket.org: I would imagine playing on equipment like that would sharpen your eyes.
Grady Mathews: I thought so. Denny gave me one point playing Snooker. That’s how we played. I haven’t played Snooker in 20 years. To the Canadian player’s credit, we played with American balls and American rules. They were better players than we were with the full rack. We didn’t know the moves and the strategies. We also played that you had to hit a rail after contact, which made a big difference in the safety aspect.
OnePocket.org: So they had to kind of learn a different style of safety play. Norm Webber told me the regular pool tables at Cochran’s were not that tight.
Grady Mathews: Cochran’s was the last of the era of clay or mud balls and 5 of 10 tables. That was the last great action place that had that kind of equipment, but then they went to the 4½ x 9’s and the plastic balls. The chalk also changed. I don’t think they had Master chalk then and whatever it was then, it seemed like you never miscued.
OnePocket.org: Wasn’t there lead in chalk? They must have taken that out at some point.
Grady Mathews: I don’t know. I loved those old 5×10 tables with the mud balls. You could draw the cue ball easier; they never skidded. They banked real true — in other words they didn’t shorten up. If you played two rails across, it was uncannily accurate. You could calculate it easily and perfectly. The drawbacks were that they’d crack; they didn’t last as long as the plastic balls, and they didn’t break up quite as easily.
OnePocket.org: And that’s why they called them mud balls?
Grady Mathews: That had to do with the way they looked, kind of like mud or clay. They didn’t have that nice sheen or clarity like the plastic.
OnePocket.org: When the 4½ x 9s came in, they had bigger pockets?
Grady Mathews: They still had the two action 5 x 10’s back in the corner of the room and those were tough. The 4½ x 9’ really didn’t have tough pockets; probably average size. That’s about the time also the bar tables started coming to be.
When the bar tables started to get popular, ‘Bakersfield Bob’ was the first really great bar table player. Boy could he play with the big ball! People thought he was lucky but I thought it was a calculated risk that was intelligent and very workman like. He’d kick at balls and he’d try to luck balls in and he was very good at it. It seemed like he did it a pretty high percentage of time.
OnePocket.org: So they still had certain tables for action that were a little tighter?
Grady Mathews: The best players always wanted to play on those two 5×10’s that were tough. One of them was called Big Bertha; I don’t remember what the other was called. But Cochran’s was the greatest place to play ever.
OnePocket.org: I assume you picked up One Pocket out there; do you remember how that came about?
Grady Mathews: You had guys there at Cochran’s like ‘Bananas’ Rodriguez. ‘Mexican Phil’ was another one. Those two guys couldn’t run a lot of balls. They didn’t play very good nine-ball but boy could they play One Pocket! They moved like a ghost. You had the upper echelon of One Pocket; players like Ronnie and Eddie Taylor and ‘Boston Shorty’ [Larry johnson=””][/Larry], and I can’t remember everybody that came after. Just about every great player of that era made appearances at Cochran’s. They didn’t have great teachers, and no instruction tapes or books. They had hardly any tournaments, but you could learn just by watching the gambling.
The young guys like me and Rich Marques and Ronnie Barber and Denny and ‘One Eyed Hank’; we’d kick shots around, trying different ways to do things. We’d bet on or against each other and we learned pretty quickly as young people are want to do. I don’t think you could find a better learning facility than Cochran’s.
I actually worked there. Richard Cochran was Welker Cochran’s son. Welker won the world Three Cushion title a few times, but Richard was an alcoholic so he wasn’t the easiest guy to deal with. A lot of time I’d pay someone $5/hour to work for me so I could gamble. I’m only getting paid $2. I did an unprecedented thing. I had a thousand dollar credit line, which nobody had. A thousand dollars at that time would be like ten thousand by today’s standards. I was busy. I’d loan a little money to the guys and help them out.
OnePocket.org: You had a credit line; did they pay you back pretty well?
Grady Mathews: Yeah everybody paid. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been an honorable pool player, because I learned that you pay your debts.
OnePocket.org: Are you saying that was part of the pool culture at that time, that people paid?
Grady Mathews: Well they always paid me and I always paid my debts.
OnePocket.org: I remember reading an article about you that mentioned that you used to write down things that you learned that did — or didn’t — work out from a match. Is that something you started early on?
Grady Mathews: When I opened my poolroom in Colorado Springs in April of 1975, I thought that I may have been pretty close to the best One Pocket player in the world at the time, but I wanted to improve certain areas of my game.
I used to keep $5k in a separate account. Guys that would come through town that I didn’t know, they’d get spotted two balls playing One Pocket or the 7 playing 9-Ball or 50 points playing Straight Pool, 150-100. Or I would play anybody in the world even Straight Pool, 9-Ball or One Pocket. I had the poolroom for 7 years and only lost 2 or 3 times. Buddy beat me once. I lost once to Cecil Tugwell. I lost a set to Dave Matlock. Outside of that I won just about every time I played. I was kind of under the radar screen as far as being thought of as one of the best players in the world at that time. The top players knew me, but some of them on the East Coast didn’t. Most of the regular guys that hustled pool knew me.
I didn’t have but one vacation the whole 7 years I had the poolroom, and that was kind of a working vacation. I went to a tournament in Rockford, Illinois and I won maybe $30k, which was a veritable fortune back then. Then I went to a tournament in Baton Rouge and won another $30k. I lost two matches in Baton Rouge; Larry Lisciotti ran 138 on me playing straight pool for $5k and Keith McCready beat me at 9-ball for $3k.
But nobody beat Keith; he was in that chemical enhanced stupor of his back then. It was the most perfect pool you ever saw. As an example, Harley Bryant was a good player, but Keith gave him the 6 and the break on a bar table and beat him out of ten thousand! Harley knew that nobody could give him the six and the break, so after Keith had left town Harley got on the phone and found out where he was and Keith came back to play him some more, and Harley lost another ten thousand!
OnePocket.org: Keith was young at that time?
Grady Mathews: Yeah, very young. He started coming into the poolroom in Bellflower pretty young. He was from Orange County; he was a terrific young player.
OnePocket.org: He was one of those young phenom’s that come along every now and then…
Grady Mathews: So was Cole Dixon. The two of them, you couldn’t beat either of them if they were on their game, playing 9-ball anyway.
OnePocket.org: Was that when you started writing?
Grady Mathews: In keeping with wanting to improve my One Pocket game, I started taking notes. I came up with some things that guys still use today. I created some things, some ways to play certain shots that are real important. A lot of the things I learned were relatively new and unknown areas. Guys had a certain way of doing things and by God, that’s the way they were going to do it. They didn’t realize the different things that you could make work, if you tried. I wish I had kept those notebooks. I haven’t had them in years.
OnePocket.org: I heard that Hayden Lingo had a notebook.
Grady Mathews: I’ve heard that too. I never saw it but I met Hayden and he was a character. He was out of Oklahoma City and he used to hang around Chester Truelove’s place. That was a different era. I lived in Oklahoma City the same time when Norman Hitchcock was there. He’s still alive. People thought he and Buddy were the best Nine Ball players in the world at the time. I lived there and I played both of them. That was a great place too.
OnePocket.org: Did the notebook thing lead to the ‘Professor’ nickname?
Grady Mathews: I don’t really know exactly when or where that started. I like to do the New York Times crossword puzzle. It starts on Monday being the easiest and then Friday and Saturday are the hardest. It really makes you think and I don’t make claims to be the best puzzle solver in the world. If I wanted to achieve something like that, I would write down every little new word that I learned, but I don’t. I can solve it about 95% of the time on Friday and Saturday and that’s enough for me. I really enjoy it.
OnePocket.org: Of course One Pocket is another game that exercises your thinking.
Grady Mathews: It sure does. As I remember back, I was real aggressive too. I learned a lot of One Pocket in Houston. I lived in Houston and married my first wife there when I was 26. I was there from `69 and part of `70. You had guys there like Greg Stevens and Jersey Red and Johnny Vives and Danny Jones. They played at Le Cue, which was a 24-hour place. Out-of-towners really had a hard time playing on that equipment because it was so damp and the rails came up so short. That four-rail bank that you’d play on some tables? That wouldn’t go. We played it five rails. That’s how short the tables were; we could play a short five-rail bank! I beat a couple good out-of-town 9-Ball players because they couldn’t run out on those tables. I didn’t have any trouble at all with them.
OnePocket.org: So you were around creative One Pocket players like Ronnie Allen in San Francisco and also around Jersey Red in Houston…
Grady Mathews: Ronnie also spent quite a bit of time in Houston, and so did Ritchie Florence. I watched some of the great matches that Ronnie would play. He played Jersey Red and Red was a real warrior. Red couldn’t beat Ronnie getting 9 to 8 but Ronnie couldn’t give him 8-7. That’s the way they played.
OnePocket.org: I heard if the stakes were a little bit lower, Red would win, but if the stakes were higher, Ronnie would win?
Grady Mathews: Right, yeah. Ronnie was phenomenal for the big money; I can’t remember anybody beating him if the game was made where he had a chance.
OnePocket.org:You say when he had a chance, but I thought he was supposed to be a real good game maker?
Grady Mathews: He wasn’t that good, no. One of Ronnie’s famous sayings was, that if you could play a guy even, then you give him 8 to 6 and break the joint. And he could do it! Ronnie ran balls like that. He was one of the first guys to give up big spots and win. He’d give guys so much weight they couldn’t believe it. He played great one-handed, too. He beat good players one-handed to their two.
OnePocket.org: I see, so sometimes he would give up too much weight trying to pull off a big score. In Cochran’s there were supposed to be some guys that came through that were real good one-handed players.
Grady Mathews: I remember watching Ronnie play guys one-handed. In fact one time when I was just a kid I beat him out of some money because I could make any shot on the table and I had begun to know the game pretty good too. He was going to play me one-handed and I knew he couldn’t beat me one-handed to my two if I took advantage of my knowledge, too. I left the cue ball in the middle of the table and everything. I left him where he couldn’t do too much.
At my big 1993 tournament in Reno, Toby Flaherty and Bucktooth played a good one-handed match. They were betting $2k a game. There were six snow storms and we got snowed in. They got to whooping at each other at first and then they played and Toby beat him.
OnePocket.org: When you were around Jersey Red in Houston, did you pick up a lot of One Pocket from him?
Grady Mathews: True. Red would teach you things. I couldn’t gamble with him. Don’t quote me on this but he was a sore loser. I beat him once and he called me a spaghetti player and he and Dottie wouldn’t talk to me for two years. I didn’t play him but once after that.
OnePocket.org: But you got to witness fantastic matches?
Grady Mathews: Red and Ronnie played a lot and Ritchie Florence came through there and he played quite a bit with Greg Stevens and that was about an even game, 9-ball or One Pocket.
OnePocket.org: In describing Ronnie Allen, you mentioned he was the greatest safety player ever…
Grady Mathews: When you got down to one ball, or even a few balls, it was awful hard to beat him to the shot. He was a great safety player.
OnePocket.org: Most people think of him as being explosive, running balls, moving them to his side in bunches, but he was also a good defensive player?
Grady Mathews: Yes he was. Also, anytime you played Ronnie, the shark was worth a full ball, and I mean an 8-7 ball, not a 9-8 ball. He would distract you to no end, and if you let him know it was bothering you, it would get worse. It wasn’t just talking either; it was other things.
OnePocket.org: You mean like moving in front of the guy shooting?
Grady Mathews: Yeah.
OnePocket.org: Freddy the Beard admits that he used to do some of that too.
Grady Mathews: Sure. Freddy was a master at that. It was said that in Chicago, if your opponent wasn’t all set to shark, you’d give him an extra ten seconds to get ready before you took your shot. That’s kind of how it was.
OnePocket.org: Bugs wasn’t like that was he?
Grady Mathews: No, no, he was a perfect gentleman player. We played one time for like 40 hours and people couldn’t believe it. One guy said, ‘What’s the matter with you guys, you never say anything!’ The closest I ever got to an argument with him would be, I said, ‘Bugs, did you foul that?’ He said, ‘No’ and I said, ‘Okay,’ and we just played. That’s the way we were. I really liked that. I could go to the bathroom and tell him to go ahead and shoot, and I knew I’m not going to get cheated even if I’m playing on his home turf. I know he wouldn’t cheat.
OnePocket.org: Some places you can’t count on the balls being in the same place when you get back!
Grady Mathews: In the 7-11 in New York, it was said that if you left your stick laying on the table while you went to the bathroom, when you got back it would be gone and don’t ask who got it. And that room was the precursor to San Francisco. But San Francisco was different because there was a certain honor among thieves, if you will. Not that all pool players were thieves but some of them were. At Cochran’s, you didn’t misbehave. You couldn’t get away with it.
OnePocket.org: Was that something from the top down?
Grady Mathews: Yeah. Everything that I saw, exhibited that kind of mentality and spirit.
OnePocket.org: During the late `60s and early `70s, you were playing down in Houston and from there where did you go?
Grady Mathews: From there I moved to Oklahoma City.
OnePocket.org: Was Hayden Lingo still alive then?
Grady Mathews: Not when I moved there in 1970, but he was there when I was in Oklahoma City before that; back when Weldon Rogers and I were there, but that was more like `63-`65.
OnePocket.org: I understand that back then although players wouldn’t normally show you things, if you got on the road with somebody then you’d end up learning a lot. Did you do that?
Grady Mathews: If I had had somebody that I had the opportunity to travel with, a guy like Jack Breit for example, or Eddie Taylor or Marshal Camp, I would have shined their shoes and drove the car and everything. That kind of opportunity didn’t come up for me. I learned by watching and kicking ideas around with other players and experimenting. It was one hard earned thing at a time. I think that’s why I wasn’t able to become a really great One Pocket player overnight like these guys seem to today. It wasn’t possible back then. I don’t know anybody else that did in my era either.
I didn’t come into my own until I got the poolroom in Colorado and then nobody beat me.
OnePocket.org: Who were some of your toughest competitors?
Grady Mathews: I always loved Ronnie even though Ronnie is an asshole. He knows it. I’ve told him that. But I love the guy anyway. I used to be in the carnival business a lot of years ago and I know Gypsies and all. I know that lifestyle and they can’t help but be a little bit abusive with their mouth, to be aggressive. But Ronnie was so talented and such an exciting guy to watch. He shot great until that alcohol just ravaged him.
Ronnie used to come to Colorado Springs; he’d fly in with this guy that was in the carnival business, that lived in Montana. I don’t remember the guy’s name, but Ronnie could tell you. They’d fly in and we’d play high One Pocket and just have an absolute ball. Nobody ever dreamed of cheating or having somebody robbed or anything like that. But then I closed the place in early `81 and I went out west. That’s where I played Squirrel. I played Squirrel 9-7 one game and 8-7 one game. We started off at $1700 a game in Vegas; we played at the Crystal Palace.
That was a nice place, the Crystal Palace. I tried to buy it but whatever it was that I offered, it wasn’t enough so they wouldn’t sell it to me.
OnePocket.org: I find it very interesting that both you and Ronnie Allen spent time in the carnival. Were you in the part of it where you were dealing with the public?
Grady Mathews: Yeah.
OnePocket.org: Would you say that might be one of the roots of your skills in talking to people and making a game and that kind of thing?
Grady Mathews: Yeah, I think it helped; no question about it.
OnePocket.org: Did they recruit you into the carnival?
Grady Mathews: No. What happened was, I had hitch-hiked from California all the way to Shreveport and a guy that was in that business gave me a ride. He just kind of gave me a job on the spot, and I liked it and learned it pretty well, in the areas I was involved in. That’s how that came about.
OnePocket.org: So pretty quickly you were put in a job where you were hustling customers, basically, right?
Grady Mathews: If you are talking about the carnival business, Steve, they have three basic kinds of joints, or concessions. They’ve got ‘hanky-panks’, which are all on the square, like throwing darts at balloons, thing like that. Then they have what they call ‘alibis’; that’s where you give the sucker or the mark a reason or excuse for how come they missed. Then you have the ‘flat joints’, or flat stores, and that’s where you can’t win. They have things like Skillo, the big circle that goes around and you might have every square covered except one, out of a couple hundred, and you have all your money involved by then, and of course it ends up in that particular one where you lose.
OnePocket.org: So you were involved in that kind of thing, like one of the guys that walk the midway to try to lure people in to the booths? Or did you run a booth?
Grady Mathews: At the time that I was in it, it was a very competitive business. They called it ‘winning money’, and if somebody could win more money than you could, you were out of a job.
OnePocket.org: So you had to bring money in to the booths.
Grady Mathews: Yeah, and the thing is, they had what they call a ‘patch’ or a ‘fix’, which was usually 10% that you had to pay to this person, and he sets it up so the law won’t bother you, as long as you aren’t ridiculous.
OnePocket.org: So it does relate quite a bit to making a game in pool.
Grady Mathews: Yeah. It is not an easy business. The reason I got out of it is because you learn to think of, and treat everybody, as a sucker, and that’s just not the way I wanted to live my life. But it was certainly good experience for me, with my people skills, matching up, and things like that.
OnePocket.org: He gave you a spot?
Grady Mathews: No I’m spotting him. I wouldn’t take a spot from anybody. Ervolino was there and Squirrel and Jack Cooney, and Ed Kelly and someone else. Those guys wouldn’t play me. I would have played any of them but they wouldn’t play, and that was on their own court! Squirrel and I played for 3 or 4 days and we had a very good time. I think we ended up breaking even. One night there, a week or so after that, Squirrel finished playing Jack Cooney for like 40 hours. At the time, I’d give Jack a ball maybe 8 to 7 or something, so I said, come on Jack. Let’s mess around. He said, ‘No I’m getting tired.’ Now I know a little bit when it comes to One Pocket so I said, ‘Come on I’ll give you 9 to 7.’ So I gave him 9 to 7 and I beat him. He beat me the first three games but after that, I started getting the balls up table and he didn’t have the patience to play that kind of game and I won every game from then on.
OnePocket.org: So you were playing an up-table strategy with Jack, based on the fact that he had been up for a long time?
Grady Mathews: Sure. I tried to use that to my advantage a lot. I’d calculate how long someone had been up.
After that, I went up to northern California where Bucktooth had a place; there was a lot of action there. I played Ronnie for 10k; I put up all my own money. He wanted to play a race to eleven and I beat him 11-2. That was kind of a coming out party for me as far as what I could do with One Pocket because it took a lot of guts on my part to do that. I was pretty sure I could beat him even, but I wasn’t positive.
But the whole point I was leading up to with Ronnie was, he said to me, ‘Well Grady, you got the title now.’ And the way he said it was like I didn’t really win anything. Now all these years later, I know what he meant. It’s an empty victory to be considered the best at anything in pool because you lose so many battles it ain’t worth winning the war. You end up scarred up. But he was right. I’m happy to have been the best player for a while but it didn’t really pay any dividends.
OnePocket.org: That was around the time you went through those big One Pocket tournaments in Houston, where you won 2 out of 3 of them?
Grady Mathews: I think I could have won the middle one except that I ran that tournament for Red Walling and it affected my play. I think there were five of them all together; three at Red Walling’s and two at Sid Mann’s place in Austin. I won 3 of them. I won 83 and 85 at Red’s place and 84 at Sid Mann’s.
I gave Ronnie the first break, playing races to three at Red’s place and I beat him there. I gave him a ball over at Sid Mann’s and I beat him there too. Now two guys that beat me, I tried to give Ed Kelly 9 to 7, at one of those tournaments and he beat me. I tried to give Black Nate 9 to 7 and he beat me; both of them played real solid on me.
OnePocket.org: Do you know what Nate’s last name is?
Grady Mathews: I don’t know. Nate has always been a smart guy and a real good game maker but he never really made any money either, but he played awful good One Pocket.
OnePocket.org: Was he a Houston area player?
Grady Mathews: No, but he was there at the time. I first met Nate out in California, but I’ve seen him in different places — Washington D.C., Houston, New Orleans.
OnePocket.org: So when you started running tournaments, it wasn’t in your own room; you were running them for Red Walling?
Grady Mathews: Yeah. What happened was they asked me to kind of MC that tournament so I did, and everything went beautifully. That was some years before Monroe Brock started his Clyde Childress Memorial. The first Clyde Childress Memorial, me and Floyd Baxter, he used to run tournaments a little. Floyd was a drunk and he killed a guy drinking and he managed to avoid the law for a lot of years but they finally caught him. I don’t know where he is now. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive. Some of the guys remembered the job that I had done at Woodward, and Monroe asked me if I would consider running his tournaments, so I did. That’s how that came to be. I’m not sure when Monroe’s tournaments started, we can find out. After that, Leonard [Bludworth][/Bludworth] and I had a tournament in Tampa, Florida at the Holiday Inn. We lost about $25k but we paid every nickel. It was a great tournament though; we had a women’s event, Straight Pool, 9-Ball and One Pocket.
OnePocket.org: So that was the first One Pocket event you promoted yourself?
Grady Mathews: Yeah. I met Pat Fleming there and shortly after that, he started his Accu-Stats scoring method. After he started doing the averages he started a magazine, which was terrific, but it cost him more than it was worth to put them out. Then he began doing the video tapes. He kind of liked the way I talked so he used me for commentary, and I ended up working for him for like 12 years.
OnePocket.org: Then you started doing the Legends of One Pocket events.
Grady Mathews: Those were my tournaments, yeah. Jimmy Fusco and I came up with the name together. We kind of liked the name Legends. They had Legends events at the time that were put on by Bill Cayton, a big fellow who was a gangster, and Charlie Ursetti.
There was an old black player, Rags Woods was his name, from the suburbs of Los Angeles. He and I had been friends for years, and we liked and respected each other. I told Rags, ‘Why don’t you put your name on an alternates list. You’d make a great Legends player.’ He was 75 or 80 years old then. I gave him Ursetti’s number and I told him to tell Charlie I said to call you. So he did. Somebody got sick or died and they put him in there. He was real popular, did a great job. I was glad to have been of help.
My friend Ritchie Florence was the guy that inspired me. You would have liked him; he was the perfect warrior gambler. Unfortunately for him, he never got a good woman in his life, never got married, had kids or anything and he had trouble with alcohol and maybe some drugs. But he could sure play pool. He promoted pool tournaments. The way he did his tournaments was terrific. He called me and would say, ‘Grady I need you to come to my tournament in Lake Tahoe.’ If I said, ‘Ritchie I’m not doing so good. I’d like to come another time.’ He’d say, ‘Tell you what, I’ll get you a sponsor and he’s willing to give you 70% and pay your airfare and your room and all.’ That’s what he’d do. He ran his things first class.
He and I did the Super One Pocket tournament in Reno in `93, when we had $60k added. He died about 3 months before the actual tournament. He was just starting to come back and play good again. About timelines on tournaments that I did, after Leonard and I did the tournament in `83, I only handled one tournament for Red. I charged him $1000 and he thought it was too much so I didn’t do it any more. Scott Smith did the next one, and then he started doing tournaments. I helped with some tournaments, but the next one I did myself was in 1990 in Columbia when I started the Legends of One Pocket. I had `90 and `91 in Columbia.
What happened to Ritchie was, along in the mid `80s, Bill Cayton had 8 guys under contract to Big Fight Promotions. I think it was Butera, Varner, Sigel, Rempe, Di Liberto, Ray Martin, Hopkins, and one other. Part of the contract precluded those 8 guys playing in somebody else’s televised event. Of course Ritchie doesn’t know this. Anyway he puts together this tournament and he raises big money. He’s got a contract to have it on ESPN. Even though none of those guys made it to the TV portion of Ritchie’s tournament, Big Fight sued him and stopped it from being on TV. It ruined Ritchie. It was a shame because Ritchie was an honest guy and worked hard; he loved the sport and the players. It broke my heart.
OnePocket.org: Your One Pocket tournaments took off well. With Pat Fleming doing the tapes you guys have introduced a lot of new players to One Pocket.
Grady Mathews: He used to give me $3k to come and film one of the tournaments. Now he wants $25k from me! He’s claiming that he’s about to go broke. I don’t know if that’s true.
OnePocket.org: There may be an opportunity for someone to do something with a little lower budget. I know I learned a lot of One Pocket from those tapes myself.
Grady Mathews: I’ve done about 20 big One Pocket events and I paid every one of them off.
OnePocket.org: So that’s how you got into promoting. How did you get in to the teaching? Did you get the name ‘Professor’ before you started teaching?
Grady Mathews: That maybe had something to do with it; I don’t know. I made 11 instructional tapes and I did them with all kinds of people. No deal was exactly the same. The first one was made about `85. The last one was three or four years ago. If you had asked me in 1984 what I did for a living — that’s the year my daughter was born — I would have told you that 90% of my income was gambling essentially, and it was.
I dealt cards at the Rack in Detroit one night a week with this guy Harvey. The game was 24 hours and we did an hour on and an hour off. I averaged $700 including my winnings because I never lost. I’m a good poker player. I never lost once. That $700 by 1980’s money, took care of most of my stuff at home. Because it was an hour on and an hour off, I’d practice at the poolroom there 12 hours. So I really got in dead stroke and I knew the equipment fairly well. A few months after my daughter was born my wife said to me one night, ‘Grady, do you realize that you go to the poolroom at midnight and you stay up all night every night?’ So I didn’t answer her right away. I waited until the middle of the week or so before I came back to her and said, ‘You know you’re right. And I want to be a good family man. How about I go to the pool room 3 nights a week and stay up all night?’ So that’s what I did.
Then I began to do lessons. I gave some millionaires lessons at $25/hour. The upside of it all was they really didn’t want lessons. All they wanted to do was to play pool with me. I made a few connections with them and I had a deal for a while with the Big Billiards Supply place, where every time they sold a table to a doctor or lawyer, I’d go out and teach them a little bit about playing, shoot some trick shots, they took care of me. So I wanted to change, get rid of the wildness so I started to change things around. Then started doing exhibitions, starting off for $150.
OnePocket.org: You’ve mentioned the 7-11 in NY, Cochran’s in San Francisco, Le Cue in Houston and The Rack in Detroit. You’ve certainly spent time in a lot of the top action rooms.
Grady Mathews: Guys like me could never stay in one place for all their life or anything. You run out of action after a while. It just benefited me to move around.
OnePocket.org: What was The Rack like?
Grady Mathews: There’s never been a place like it. I wish I could get the picture. Cornbread had this picture. What happened was, the Oak Park Police raided the place and they had everybody with their hands up against the wall and they didn’t have drugs, no weapons, no nothing. One of the guys they arrested owned the jail, if you can imagine that. Because of that, they became the laughing stock of Michigan Law Enforcement. After that, they could have come in with drugs and weapons or anything. There were untold sums of money lost there, but nobody ever got robbed. That was because they had the regular mob, the black mob and the middle east mob. You couldn’t mess with anybody! When the Rack started it was a nice poolroom in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. That happened at a time when all types of ethnicities began to blend in there and then they made it a half card room and half poolroom. The time was $10/hr or 10% whichever was greater unless you were playing ‘Rosie’ or ‘Jew Paul’; in that case it was 5%.
OnePocket.org: Those guys were the biggest gamblers?
Grady Mathews: It was an average $10k job for one night. I only got to rack them once. It was quite a thing if you got to rack the balls.
OnePocket.org: What percent did the rack guy make?
Grady Mathews: To rack the balls it was like 10%. It could be a $10k job for one night!
OnePocket.org: It was based on a percent?
Grady Mathews: No, but they always tipped pretty good. See a small loss for Rosie was half a million dollars. You would have had to been there to see it and believe it. I’m guessing he lost about $60m in the seven years or so that he was there. Rosie, Bill Rosenbaum was his name.
OnePocket.org: Is he still alive?
Grady Mathews: No, he died seven or eight years ago. I think he died in Arizona.
OnePocket.org: Cornbread was a big part of the action there too?
Grady Mathews: Yeah. Red was a smart guy. He was street smart; he was not an educated guy. Red made a lot of money in there, then he took it home to his wife Bernie and she never let him out with it anymore. Red was wild in the Stardust days, and for a few years after that. When he married Bernie, she made him quit the drinking and the smoking. He chewed tobacco the rest of his life. He’d take off those big scores, bring the money home and you’d never see it again.
OnePocket.org: Who would you say are some of your favorite match-ups, players played against over the years?
Grady Mathews: Playing Buddy was no good because Buddy was a great player but he was a sore loser. He wouldn’t stand still for a beating. I never minded playing great players but I wanted a payday when I beat them and Buddy wasn’t that. He’ll tell you, I got mad, cursed him out two or three times because I’d be beating him and he’d quit without sustaining a big loss. But when he beat me, he’d win 10k. So I don’t include Buddy in there although the match we played in Shreveport I enjoyed a lot.
OnePocket.org: One Pocket or 9-Ball?
Grady Mathews: 9-Ball. There’s a guy doing a screenplay right now. I’ve been furnishing him with a lot of material. Ronnie and Bugs always enjoyed playing. Jack Cooney I always enjoyed playing. I’ve got a good record against Jack. We didn’t play for big money by either one of our standards. I gave him 8 to 7, beat four times in a row. I tried to give him 10 to 8 and he beat me but my record is pretty good. I enjoyed playing Artie, only we played just twice.
OnePocket.org: I’ve never heard anyone describe playing Artie as enjoyable; they make it sound like it was torture.
Grady Mathews: I never minded playing guys like that. Freddie described it pretty well. He said it was a brutal match. It was 3 days and 3 nights. I finally won the money. There were guys I would have played like Carella. I heard Carella played good. Howard Barrett called me up. He’s an old time good player himself. He says, Grady, do you want to play Mike Carella? I said, ‘Yeah I’ll play him.’ He says, ‘Well, come on down here to Tallahassee and we’ll play.’ I said, ‘No, that’s not the way it’s going to be. If you want to do that, I’ll play $10k worth at your place then $10k worth at my place or I’ll play him at any neutral place.’ They didn’t want to do that. That was a cesspool of a poolroom down there. They had a floor with a dent next to the tables and Carella knew them real good. I would have had to go down there and practice for a week just to have a chance.
OnePocket.org: He died young, right?
Grady Mathews: Yeah, real young. It’s a shame because he was such a talented guy.
OnePocket.org: How about Steve Cook?
Grady Mathews: Steve and I have played like 5 times and I won 3 of them. Steve was a tough player. Nicest guy in the world; a perfect gentleman to play with but he would not take a beating. If you beat Steve, you’re going to win 3 or 4 or 5 games, that’s it. Then you might play again 8 years later. That’s just the way Steve was. I liked playing him a lot because he moved so good. There’s a guy that’s unrecognized; he did not have an easy life at all. It’s just a shame because he played as good a pool as anybody ever played. In one of my tournaments, in 1990 in Columbia, Pat Fleming was there and I were doing commentary in one of Steve’s matches and Cardone [Bill incardona=””][/Bill] was talking about this guy and that guy and I said, ‘Well, I think Steve plays as good as anybody in the world.’ So Cardone rattled off 3 or 4 guys he thought could beat him. I said, ‘Easy way to fix that, I’ll back Steve for 10k against any one of those guys.’ And he wouldn’t do it. That was right before the Filipinos started to come into prominence. I loved Steve; he had a great mind for the game.
OnePocket.org: He was a mild mannered guy, but he played great Straight Pool, 9-Ball and One Pocket.
Grady Mathews: They called him the Clark Kent of One Pocket. He won that big tournament in Alabama and didn’t get paid. He became kind of a recluse after that for quite a while.
OnePocket.org: You mentioned the Filipino players. Efren came into this country and he played in that tournament in Houston and it happened to be one of those tournaments that they had One Pocket afterwards at Red’s?
Grady Mathews: They had the One Pocket at the same time, but I don’t think Efren played in that.
OnePocket.org: You won the One Pocket and Efren won the 9-Ball, but he didn’t play in the One Pocket. Then Efren went up to Chicago and started playing One Pocket?
Grady Mathews: You’re leaving something out. He played Buddy a 9-Ball set 10 a head for 10k. Buddy beat him in about 45 minutes. People don’t like to talk about that.
OnePocket.org: Buddy was absolutely on top of his game…
Grady Mathews: Sure.
OnePocket.org: When Efren started learning One Pocket, you and he played a few times?
Grady Mathews: Yeah.
OnePocket.org: It sure seems like he’s well suited to the game!
Grady Mathews: I have to admit he is. He has every skill necessary to play the game well. He handles the cue ball real good. He’s great with inside english. His position play is flawless. He’s creative and inventive and kind of magical in some ways. He’s one of a kind right now the way he plays the game.
OnePocket.org: Do you have any particular advice you’d like to pass on to One Pocket players?
Grady Mathews: If I had to make it short I’d say play smart, protect the lead, and bet high. That’s what I’d say for a short thing.
OnePocket.org: Well that’s good advice, and a lot of good stories.
Grady Mathews: I don’t have anything bad to say about anybody. I’d rather be positive.
OnePocket.org: Thank you, Grady.