The Game of Corners

Close cousin to One Pocket, played on special tables with only two pockets

I was reading some old posts and found one entitled, “Special One Pocket Table”, from Jan, 1997. John Walkup asked if anyone had ever made a special one pocket table, one with only 2 pockets. Ron Kilby answered with 2 posts: “I have played on a 1-pocket table with only two pockets, and am told that such tables were common in the 1920’s. The table I played on was a 1924 Brunswick Regency, and the rails were obviously original. I LIKED the game!”

I can give you a little history on this subject, since I misspent about 10,000 hours of my youth (in the 50’s) playing one pocket on two pocket tables. Actually, the game was called “Corners” and it only existed in a few Counties located where MO, KS, AK, and OK all come together. Joplin, MO was a Corners town, as was Nevada, Mo, the town I grew up in. In “Winning One-Pocket”, somebody mentions seeing a two pocket table in OK. In Nevada, MO, Corners started before 1927 (my Dad played Corners then). I saw the last pool hall Corners table leave Nevada in about 1987. The Elks Lodge in Nevada has one of the few left. I’ve asked my brother to take some pictures of it. I’ve heard of one in the Joplin Elks Lodge and one in a Joplin pool Hall. Ron Kilby saw one in a barbershop in Oregon. Maybe, it was transplanted.

Nevada, MO, is a rural town of 8,000 located about 60 mi. N of Joplin. In 1951, when I started playing Corners, at age 12, Nevada had 3 busy pool halls, all around the town square. The school was only a block from the square and the pool halls were always packed with kids. Corners was the game of choice. In all 3 pool halls, the 1st table (the one with the spectator seats) was a Corners table. One place even had Brunswick, one-piece Willie Hoppe house cues!

I played Corners every day; before and after school, lunch hour, and all weekend. One pool hall, Jake’s, always hired a House Man. He played free and his only job was to be there and stay on the 1st table. No racking. The loser paid, in those days, and the House Man was not expected to lose very often. If he did, there would be a new House Man. House Man in Jake’s was the best job in town. I became the House Man for my last 2 years of high school. It was great, especially on Saturdays, when all the old-timers came to town. All I played was Corners and a little Golf on a snooker table.

In the 60’s, pool died. Instead of 3 pool halls, Nevada had one. All of the old-timers and most high school kids stopped playing. The high school moved a mile away from the square. After a while, there were very few good players. Corners was harder, so the kids played 8-ball and 9-ball. The Corners tables were easily converted to 6 pocket tables, and the last one was lost in 1987. I’ve played a lot of pool since, but Corners is the best game that I’ve ever played. It has the most equal blend of offense/defense of any game. There was something really beautiful about those big 4 1/2 X 9 tables with those clean, billiard-looking rails. On the best ones, the aprons (I believe that’s what they’re called – the wood around the rails) were polished mahogany and were fairly narrow, which enabled one to get closer to his work. Two balls, wedged into a pocket, only had a tiny space between them. The felt was always new and green, at least on the 1st table. I’m getting goose-bumps.

Corners was always played with the pockets at the HEAD of the table and the rack at the foot. The rules are simple. The winner is the first to get 8 balls in his pocket. Once a ball is in a pocket, it stays there. There is no penalty for a scratch. On a scratch, you can’t shoot at a ball behind the line. That’s it. There was one unwritten rule: You couldn’t shoot the cue ball straight into the pocket. If a guy was cutting a ball real thin, then missed the ball and the cue went in the pocket, there could be an argument.

The standard handicap is to spot balls. The one giving the spot breaks and then chooses which balls he wants to spot. He picks them up and puts them in the other guy’s pocket. Occasionally, I used to be able to spot 7. Spotting 7 will draw a crowd. Gambling can be done straight out or with selected pay balls. It works good for partners.

The standard break is to first put the cue ball near the line, about 6″ from the rail, on the side of the table that your pocket is on. Hit the corner ball about 1/2. The ball will take a little english off the foot rail and will go towards your pocket. Shoot exactly hard enough to barely make the ball. A few balls will rattle around at the foot of the table. The cue ball should end up about mid-table. If you make it, you’ll have another bank shot. If you miss well, your opponent’s first shot will be a defensive one – getting that ball away from your pocket. By tradition, since the break is standard, when a man breaks, he automatically picks the pocket on the side that he broke from. He doesn’t have to say it.

The offensive shots in Corners are wondrous. There may be 10 or more 2,3,4,or 5-railers in a game. You try to just barely make each shot. The opponent spends all of his time knocking balls away from your hole. Maybe only 15% of all shots are purely offensive or defensive. The rest are a necessary blend. The strategy is simple. Barely make a ball with about a 1/2″ leeway, get shape, and don’t leave a shot. All at the same time, on about 85% of the shots. The tactics are vast.

Defense. If the guy has balls near his pocket, you should remove them unless you have a cinch or can tie the cue ball up. Many times, you can cross bank a ball on the side rail near the opponent’s pocket, and scratch. In Corners, scratching is a friend at certain times. If a ball is wedged against the side of the pocket, about to fall in, don’t despair. You can get it out by firing through the space and scratching. The ball takes funny english and sort of backs out. Sometimes, it flies over to the opposite pocket tit and then goes towards your pocket.

Common Banks. One of the neat things about a Corners table is those 2 billiards corners where the foot rail meets the side rails. You can make two-railers by shooting almost directly into these corners. Say a ball is sitting on the head rail, a 1/2″, or so, from the opponent’s pocket tit. The cue is mid-table, near the opponent’s side rail. You hit the ball on the pocket side, hard, and make it go, 2-rails off the foot rail to your pocket. The cue ball should scratch. Try to hit the ball so that it goes cross to almost the opposite foot corner. Going into the foot rail, it has backup english and will go almost straight off the foot rail to your pocket. On a Corners table, you can shoot a ball down the side rail to the foot rail and it will come back up the side rail to your pocket.

The future. I woke up one day and realized that I may be the foremost authority on the game of Corners. Everybody else is dead or doesn’t care. I’m writing a book about Corners and hope to see it played worldwide, during my lifetime. I truly believe that this is the world’s best pool game. The only problem is, you need a 2 pocket table. Corners on a 6 pocket table is a much lesser game. You can also switch ends and play an improved form of One-Pocket. I sure wish someone out there would build one of these things and try it out. Corners is One-Pocket for everybody.

This article used with the permission of Chris Owen — all rights reserved.