The Oklahoma Roots of One Pocket

By RabbiHippie
© 2023 Brandon King. All Rights Reserved.
Licensed for Reuse by

Who Really Invented One Pocket?

Most pool historians credit Hayden Lingo with inventing the game of One Pocket. But other sources as diverse as Minnesota Fats’ autobiography and Eddie Robin’s Winning One Pocket cite another player named Jack Hill as the game’s creator.[1] All the sources agree that One Pocket was first played in Oklahoma in the years leading up to the Great Depression, then spread across the country as road players sought to make a score wherever the locals were not yet schooled in the game’s subtleties.[2]

Corners table for One Pocket photographed at OK Bar & Billiards in Joplin, Missouri, by RabbiHippie (Brandon King) on April 7th, 2021

… I’ve heard stories that I can’t testify to, but Hubert Cokes, Minnesota Fats and Marshall Carpenter, they all testified that [Oklahoma] that’s where the game was invented. They started off with a 3-cushion billiard table with two pockets, and then they moved it to play the game on six pockets.[3]

(Ronnie Allen, May 2004)[4]

To be clear, there’s no record of Lingo or Hill ever claiming to have invented One Pocket. Others made that claim for them. 

The game of one-pocket was not invented until Hayden Lingo started it in Oklahoma City in 1931. Today the professional pool players consider one-pocket as the truest test of a player’s ability. 

(George Jansco, 1965)[5]

The high rollers in Kansas City were talking about a new game they had seen down in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. They called it One Pocket but nobody was playing it in Kansas City at the time, even though they said it was a tremendous gambling game. So now I’m bound for Oklahoma City looking for the fellow who invented One Pocket, a fellow by the name of Jack Hill. 

(Rudolf “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, 1967)[6] 

Hayden Lingo and Jack Hill are both mysterious figures whose backgrounds remain largely unknown despite having played a role in the creation of pool’s most cerebral discipline. That’s hardly surprising, though, given the inherent secrecy of hustlers who need to stay “undercover” on the road. Lingo, at least, was still active as a player in the late 1960’s, recent enough that a few people recall seeing him in action before he died in 1973.[7] So little is known about Jack Hill, on the other hand, that there’s been some doubt surrounding his very existence. With no one left to vouch for him, it’s easy to dismiss Hill as just another figment of Minnesota Fat’s imagination.

Am I the only person left alive that saw Lingo play one pocket?

I was going to OU in 1960 and went to OKC to play snooker with Norman Hitchcock. Broke even and then went downtown to another pool room.

On the first table on the left Lingo was playing one pocket with Glenn Womack (Eufaula Kid). Don’t remember if they were playing even or not but Lingo could still really play.

(Bill Stroud, 2013)[8]

Lingo was terrific. I met him at Chester Truelove’s place at 44th and May, a couple of years before he passed away. That would have been around ‘66. He played well even then, in his near dotage.

(Grady Mathews, 2006)[9]

Fat’s propensity for confabulation makes his autobiography a dubious source of solid facts regarding what actually took place. However, Fat’s account about tracking down Hill to learn One Pocket from its inventor is told in a fairly straight-forward manner without his usual embellishment or braggadocio. So great was Fat’s respect for One Pocket, he seems almost reverent when telling the story of his initiation into the game’s mysteries and does an admirable job of describing events that transpired thirty years earlier. Precise details such as Babe Emitt running a pool room on Main Street or the Huckins Hotel being nearby all turn out to have been actual people and places in Oklahoma City circa 1930.[10]

Author R. A. Dyer has speculated that Jack Hill and Hayden Lingo could have been the same person.[11] Given the propensity for aliases in the hustling world, this is a plausible explanation that would neatly settle the matter. (Consider the “Billy Johnson” and “Cesar Morales” pseudonyms used by Wade Crane and Efren Reyes early in their careers.) However, it’s a hypothesis that quickly falls apart upon closer examination, as Dyer himself points out. Dyer notes that Fats said Hill was an “old man” when they met for the first time in Oklahoma City. This encounter occurred in 1928, according to Eddie Robin.[12] Fats and Lingo were born in 1913 and 1907, respectively, making them close to the same age, and both men were at Johnston City. It’s not likely that Fats would have mistaken Lingo for “Old Man” Hill whom he’d met thirty years before.  

Who Was Jack Hill?

Jack Hill was indeed a real person although even basic facts about him are difficult to pin down. “Jack Hill” is a fairly common and indistinctive name, making it a challenge to find an exact match for him in the usual public records like birth, marriage and death certificates. Surprisingly, though, there is actually more contemporary coverage of Hill’s pool career in newspapers than exists even for Lingo. Throughout the 1930’s, Hill traveled extensively doing exhibitions–mostly in the midwest but with occasional forays as far east as Connecticut and Florida–and these exhibition tours were widely promoted in newspapers.  

We can derive some rough parameters for Jack Hill’s lifespan from the earliest and last known mentions of him in the press. The earliest articles date from December, 1910, concerning a challenge match Hill played in Tulsa against the “champion” of Fort Worth.[13] Assuming Hill was at least twenty years old when he started garnering attention for his ability at pool, we can safely assume he was born between 1870 and 1890.

The last newspaper account of Hill’s pool career is an announcement for one of his exhibition appearances that took place at the San Juan Hotel in Orlando on February 9th, 1938.[14] Hill’s absence from the media in the 1940’s, coupled with Fat’s description of him as an “old man” in 1928, further gives us an idea of when he might have died. (It’s interesting to note, however, that Hill may have only been in his forties or fifties when he appeared so ancient to a teenaged Minnesota Fats.) Hill’s exhibition tours appear to have ended with the Orlando stop in 1938, so it’s safe to say he was either deceased or retired from the game before World War II.

Besides providing Minnesota Fat’s initial instruction in One Pocket, Hill was also a mentor to Hubert “Daddy Warbucks” Cokes. Cokes held Hill in high esteem and once told reporter Tom Fox that Hill was his “college education in pool.”[15] Cokes was the oldest player at Johnston City and one of only two players to participate in every single event from 1961 until 1972 without missing a year. (Larry “Boston Shorty” Johnson was the other.)[16] 

According to his WWI draft registration, Cokes was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on December 19th, 1896, making him 65-years old when he played his first tournament at Johnston City in 1961. By that time, Cokes was a millionaire living in Evansville, Indiana, having parlayed his gambling winnings into an oil fortune.[17] Better known as a backer and no longer the elite player he once was, Cokes showed he could still play by taking third place in the inaugural event. Fats finished fourth and John Vevis defeated runner-up “Cowboy” Jimmy Moore for the title. Lending support to Fat’s story, Cokes also credited Jack Hill with inventing One Pocket and provides the earliest known date for the game’s creation: 1912.[18] 

The downtown poolroom was The Central Club. It was still there in the 60’s when I hung around OKC. I met the Eufala Kid (Glen Womack) there and he was an excellent One Pocket player. He also credited Jack Hill with teaching him how to play the game. Hayden Lingo was recognized as the best One Pocket player in the 40’s and 50’s until Clem and Rags came along. Some old timers (from the 60’s, including Fats) say Lingo was by far the best ever. And they saw Ronnie at his peak.

(Jay Helfert, 2016)[19]

Besides Fat and Cokes, Glen Womack better known as “The Eufaula Kid” was another One Pocket luminary who learned the game from Jack Hill.

Even for the years when Hill was definitely a resident of Tulsa or Oklahoma City, there’s not enough information in the federal census to positively identify which Jack (or John) Hill is the right man. A 23-year old single man who worked as a clerk in a grocery store and lived in a Muskogee boarding house is the closest match from the 1910 federal census, but the census record alone doesn’t contain enough information to conclude for certain whether this individual was our Jack Hill or someone else with the same name.[20] A handful of other matches on the name “Jack Hill” in the census for Oklahoma can be eliminated because the location or age doesn’t fit the circumstances. Jack Hill was already recognized as city champion of Tulsa in 1910, the same year the federal census was taken. Since Muskogee is only fifty miles from Tulsa, it’s conceivable that Jack Hill was living and working in a grocery store there shortly before establishing his reputation in Tulsa as a pool player. Without further evidence, though, it’s impossible to say for certain whether Jack Hill was ever an “Okie from Muskogee.” 

Hill had his share of run-ins with the law, as did Lingo and many other illustrious players of the past. On Independence Day in 1914, Hill was arrested for drunkenness and sentenced to twenty days in the Tulsa jail. Confined in jail, Hill became so agitated that he started smashing everything in sight and wound up chained to a concrete wall after being subdued by the guards.[21] In light of this incident, it’s possible that Hill ducked the census enumerator out of a general suspicion for public officials or perhaps because he wanted to keep a low profile, a trait common to all hustlers.

Another possible clue to Hill’s background lies in the classifieds section of the Oklahoma City Times from February 26, 1921. Under “Pool and Billiard Equipment,” there’s an advertisement offering to sell four “practically new” pool tables for $400 by Jack Hill of Gatesville, Texas.[22] Hill seems to have relocated temporarily three hundred miles south to Texas but still chose to advertise his tables in the newspaper back home in Oklahoma City. The fact he was living in Gatesville (a small community of only 2,499 people at the time) leads one to wonder whether Hill could have been, like Hayden Lingo, a Texas transplant to Oklahoma.[23] If so, this would dovetail with the birthplace recorded in the census for the Jack Hill in Muskogee, which shows that both he and his parents were born in Texas.

Although there is ample evidence that Jack Hill and Hayden Lingo were not the same person, it cannot be ruled out that “Jack Hill” was still a pseudonym. An exhibition appearance by “Jack Dawson” in South Bend, Indiana, on March 21st, 1927, bears a striking resemblance to Jack Hill–too much for a coincidence.[24] According to an announcement in the South Bend Tribune, “Mr. Dawson, claiming a western championship, is said to be the only man in the country who plays 15 or no count in one pocket, Chinese pool, and also one-handed pool.” Hill (or Dawson) was a strong player indeed if he consistently ran the table with a handicap of “15-or-no-count” in One Pocket. More importantly, this article is also the earliest reference in print to a game explicitly called One Pocket which suggests that the game has a longer history than previously believed.

Chinese Pool and a One Pocket Proposition

Jack Hill’s exhibition routine included a couple “gimmicks” designed to attract a paying audience to his performances. One such gimmick was dubbed “Chinese Pool.” For this trick, Hill held two cue sticks together (like chopsticks) and rolled a cue ball down the groove between them to pocket balls. Part of Hill’s “Chinese Pool” act also included picking up and balancing as many balls as possible on top of the two cues. Hill could apparently keep 23 balls poised atop the “chopsticks.”[25]

This last talent was odd enough to attract the attention of Robert L. Ripley who featured the feat in one of his Believe It Or Not! cartoons in 1932. A cultural phenomenon during the Depression, Ripley’s cartoon was syndicated in newspapers all over the world and seen by 80 million daily subscribers at its peak.[26] The resulting publicity from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! would have made Hill a minor celebrity and must have helped greatly in drawing crowds to his exhibitions. It’s safe to say Hill was neither obscure or unknown among pool players at the time. Ripley’s illustration of Jack Hill also gives us some idea of what he looked like.  

However, the part of Hill’s act with the most bearing on One Pocket history came at the conclusion of each exhibition when Hill took on challengers in a game of straight pool to 50-points. Hill limited himself to only one pocket in which to score all his points, leaving the remaining five pockets for his opponent. Anyone managing to beat Hill with the advantage of this seemingly five-to-one handicap was paid $10–a week’s pay for an unskilled laborer during the Depression.[27] Hill rarely booked a loser with this proposition.

The City Champion of Tulsa Was No Shortstop

Jack Hill was recognized as the city champion of Tulsa in 1910, a title he successfully defended for the next two years running.[28] The championship game prior to 1912 was Continuous Pool, a precursor of Straight Pool with a wide-open break, and a game to 100-points between Hill and another “champion” from Fort Worth in December, 1910, was a source of considerable excitement in Tulsa.[29] The newspaper accounts are a bit confused about the name of Hill’s opponent. The Tulsa Daily World says the Fort Worth champion was Johnnie Cherry while the Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat says Johnnie King. What is clear, though, is that considerable civic pride was at stake for the match which was held at the Mission pool hall in Tulsa. In the end, Hill eked out a win over the Fort Worth champion by a slim six-ball margin, taking home $25 in prize money for his effort and giving a boost to civic pride in the process. 

Although the reported facts don’t quite fit, the similarity in names leads one to wonder if Hill’s opponent could have been Johnny Kling, the professional baseball player who owned the Kling & Allen pool room in Kansas City. Kling was as good with a cue as he was with a catcher’s mitt and won a world championship in 1909 while sitting out an entire season holding-out for more money from the Chicago Cubs.[30] Another great player of that era, Johnny Layton of Sedalia, Missouri, was nicknamed “Red” which is curiously close to “Cherry.”[31] What is certain, though, is that on other occasions Hill faced opponents of the same high caliber as Kling and Layton, both of whom were world champions.

Any notion that Hill was just a shortstop who played below pro standard is dispelled by the many challenge matches in which he faced the best players of his day and held his own. Hill didn’t always come out on top, but neither was he outclassed by the elite pros.

In May, 1912, Jack Hill and W. Emmett Blankenship matched-up in a race to 1,000 points.[32] Blankenship was one of the best in the country and would briefly hold the world title a few years later in 1916. Blankenship won his title in a round-robin format over runner-up Johnny Layton at the world championships in Chicago in March, 1916. A 16-year old Ralph Greenleaf finished 5th. Two months later, Layton took the title away from Blankenship in a challenge match held in Blankenship’s hometown of Detroit.[33]

Although the newspapers accounts aren’t specific about the particular game played for this match, Hill and Blankenship presumably played Straight Pool (also known as 14.1 Continuous) which had recently supplanted Continuous Pool as the official game in that year’s world championships. The match was held at the Post Office pool room in Tulsa before a change of venue was required and play postponed until another location could be found. Blankenship was ahead 375-260 after three games when the series was suspended; it’s not clear whether play ever resumed.[34]

What’s significant about the match between Hill and Blankenship in 1912 is that not only does it show Hill was competitive against world class players but, according to Cokes, also took place the same year Hill conceived of One Pocket. Cokes said he learned how to play One Pocket from Hill in 1916 in Tulsa and that Hill originated the game just four years earlier in 1912.[35]


Blankenship never repeated as world champion, not for lack of ability, but because he was blacklisted–most likely for gambling–by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company.[36] The Brunswick monopoly held dominion over the billiards industry throughout the first half of the century and ruled the professional pool circuit with an iron fist. Exclusion of legitimate contenders like Blaneknship casts a shadow across the whole of pool history. We can never know for certain there wasn’t somebody better than the official champion for any particular year, someone whose name never appears in the record books.

Likewise, Hill never competed on the professional circuit that was the sole path to the world championships despite his game being on par with most professionals. Given a chance to compete, Hill might still not have won a title but it’s unlikely he would have finished last. No other Oklahomans took a run at the title either during the heyday of the Brunswick monopoly despite the level of talent in Oklahoma, then as now, being higher than most other states.


[1] Robin, Eddie, and Jack Breit. 1996. Winning One-Pocket: As Taught by the Game’s Greatest Players. 2nd ed. Las Vegas: Billiard World Publishing, xv.

[2] Mathews, Grady. 1991. “History of One Pocket.”

[3] Owen, Chris. 2005. “The Game of Corners.”

[4] Allen, Ronnie. 2004. “Rack’em up with Ronnie Allen.” Interview by Steve Booth.

[5] Southern Illinoisan. 1965. “$30,000 Pool Meet: Janscos To Run Las Vegas Tourney.” April 26, 1965, 9.

[6] Fox, Tom, and Minnesota Fats. 1966. The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies: The Uncrowned Champion of Pocket Billiards Describes His Game and How It’s Played. 1st ed. Cleveland: World Pub. Co., 39.

[7] Helfert, Jay, Freddy Bentivegna, and Bill Stroud. 2013. “Johnston City players list.” AzBilliards Forum.

[8] Stroud, Helfert, and Bentivegna 2013.

[9] Mathews, Grady. 2008. “Hayden Lingo.” Forum.

[10] Meyers Photo Shop. n.d. “Huckins Hotel.” The Gateway to Oklahoma History, Oklahoma Historical Society. Accessed January 25, 2023.; R. L. Polk & Co. 1921. Polk’s Oklahoma City Directory. Dallas: R. L. Polk & Co., 1042, img. 1038 of 1250.

[11] Dyer, R. A. 2019. “One-Pocket Mystery: Who Invented the Hustlers’ Game?” Pool History.

[12] Robin and Breit 1996, xv.

[13] Tulsa World. 1910. “Big Pool Match Tonight – Local Champion Will Meet the Fort Worth Champion.” December 1, 1910, 7.;Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat. 1910. “Jack Hill, champion pool player of Tulsa.” December 4, 1910, 8.

[14] Orlando Evening Star. 1938. “Chinese Billiard Ace Will Show at San Juan Wednesday.” February 8, 1938, 9.

[15] Trinkle, Jim. 1966. Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth), Jan 18, 1966, 19.

[16] Booth, Steve. 2011. “Jansco Johnston City Tournaments – One Pocket Pool.” href=”

[17] Walsh, Richard D. 1967. “Once They Called Him ‘The Giant’; Now ‘Daddy Warbucks’: Hubert Cokes, The Man Who Moves In Many Circles.” National Billiard News 3, no. 38 (September): 4-5, 8.

[18] Trinkle 1966, 19.

[19] Helfert, Jay. 2016. “Let’s Make Sure There’s a One Pocket Hall of Fame Dinner This Year @ DCC!!” AZBilliards Forum.

[20] United States Census, 1910, Jack Hill in household of Benson Smith, Muskogee Ward 2, Muskogee, Oklahoma, United States. 1910. FamilySearch. Database with images.

[21] Tulsa Tribune. 1914. “Pool Champ Tries To Tear Down Jail.” 6 July, 1914, 1.

[22] Oklahoma City Times. 1921. “Billiard and Pool Equipment.” February 26, 1921, 20.

[23] “Gatesville, Texas.” 2023. Wikipedia.,_Texas.

[24] South Bend Tribune. 1927. “Pool Expert to Perform.” March 27, 1927, 8.

[25] Ripley, Robert L. “Believe It or Not! By Ripley.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram [Fort Worth], 28 February 1932, p. 16. Accessed 25 May 2022.

[26] “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” 2023. Wikipedia.!

[27] Reading Times. 1935. “Jack Hill Gives Two Exhibitions Tonight.” June 4, 1935, 12.

[28] Tulsa Daily World. 1912. “State Pool Games Begin In Tulsa.” January 13, 1912, 6.

[29] Tulsa World. 1910. “Big Pool Match Tonight – Local Champion Will Meet the Fort Worth Champion.” December 1, 1910, 7.; Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat. 1910. “Jack Hill, champion pool player of Tulsa.” December 4, 1910, 8.

[30] “Johnny Kling.” 2023. Wikipedia.; Korte, Sam. 2022. “Johnny Kling: Pool’s First Two-Sport Champion.” Billiards Buzz 7, no. 67 (May): 40-42.

[31] Ursitti, Charles J., and Deno J. Andrews. 2009. “Three Cushion Billiards In America: A History of The Game Tournaments, Leagues and Challenges Matches 1878 – 1929.” Scribd.

[32] Tulsa Daily World. 1912. “Matched Pool Game Begins Here Today.” May 29, 1912, 6.

[33] Ursitti, Charles J., and Deno J. Andrews. 2006. “Pocket Billiards In America: A History of the Game The Champions The Tournament History Challenges – League Play – Tours January 1910 – December 1919.” Scribd.

[34] Tulsa Daily World. 1912. “’Blanky’ Takes Hill To Another Cleaning.” May 31, 1912, 7.

[35] Trinkle, Jim. 1966. Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth), Jan 18, 1966, 19.

[36] McDermott, Barry. 1977. “Easy Times the Hard Way.” Sports Illustrated 47, no. 6 (August): 54-64.