Tips & shafts
By George Fels
Consulting Editor George Fels has been writing for Billiards Digest since 1980, and his "Tips & Shafts" column is usually our readers' first stop when they crack open the magazine. For better or worse, pool has been his only mistress for 40-plus years.
Best of Fels
June: "He'd Get Scared"
IF YOU had your druthers, what would you want your legacy to be? As a kid, my own aspirations were both simple and typical: In the spring, my dreams would turn towards Cooperstown, N.Y. (where baseball's Hall of Fame is located). In the fall, they'd be aimed at Canton, Ohio (pro football's Hall), and in the winter, Springfield, Mass. (basketball's). The furthest any of those pursuits ever actually took me was my high school frosh-soph hoops team, but that doesn't mean the dreams died easily.
In Las Vegas, one Edward Robin hopes to haunt our memories as a top-shelf pool player. In fact, so keen is his focal point on this matter that sympathetic friends have even asked innocent third parties to play along with the masquerade. And Robin faces no obstacles much tougher than the ones I did: In order to be remembered for something, you're generally supposed to be proven at it first.
Here's what's known about Eddie Robin that is unassailable: (a) He's twice a former national three-cushion billiards champion ('72 and '79), and those splendid triumphs included a win over the game's immortal Raymond Ceulemans. (b) He's constructed two one-pocket instructional books that must be considered among pool's very best. (I'd know; I helped proofread and edit both.) (c) He's extremely bright. Highly likable, too.
But at pool playing, he's not even a blip on the radar screen. By his own admission, he was a complete non-entity in his native New York. In Chicago, he played the lamb-killer role up north for a while, then moved to a room outside downtown called the Golden 8-Ball. There he lovingly created a portfolio of wins that included Chicago's top three players, the nationally known Al Miller, and even hustling icon Don Willis among his conquests. All five men are dead, and there is not a single witness to any of the five encounters to be found. Still, the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of this great nation of ours does give Robin an unequivocal license to make whatever claims he deems fit.
Whomever he did beat down there, we can be certain it wasn't on any real pool table. If that equipment were anywhere within smelling distance, an appropriate metaphor, of authenticity, how would he explain my running nine racks there one day? (He's always made a big to-do over what a lousy player I am, which seems like a colossal waste of energy when I've rarely posited that I was anything else.)
One interesting analysis of Robin's play came from his old buddy, the late Jack "Jersey Red" Breit, with whom he hung out, and attempted to learn from, quite a bit. Red described a session in which he beat Robin seven straight games playing him something like 125-70. "That's quite a spot," I put in, with considerable naivete. "I'd think that straight pool would be his game way more than yours."
"Forget about it," Red cackled condescendingly. "He'd get scared."
Unable to work as a craps croupier because of bad feet (and at that game, as at pool, his way is the only right way to play it), Robin ekes out an existence by charging $300 for a book that should cost about $30, and giving lessons. His approach to credit should be adapted by the Federal Reserve Board, if they haven't already. He does not disavow his debts; he can't, as several have been outright cash loans that helped him survive (I'd know about that, too). Instead, he turns things around and feigns anger and disappointment with his creditors, precisely because they gave him money. "Brooklyn Jimmy loaned me $3,000 - then he got mad at me when I didn't pay him back!" he says, his voice almost childlike in innocence and amazement. "What's up with that? What'd he think was gonna happen?"
Somehow I survived the one lesson he deigned to give me, in which he first adamantly refused to teach me what I asked him to (14.1 sequence), then trotted out a shiny new agenda which had me remaking my entire game from Square One - at age 56, yet - under his watchful eye, with a particular emphasis on snapping my wrist. At least he didn't charge me anything, so the price was right. And later, in what was undoubtedly his single most magnanimous act, he offered to become the creative clearinghouse for this column.
In fact, he does indeed possess a remarkable knowledge of the cue-game basics, but most of it will never be disseminated publicly (he hasn't published in nearly 15 years). Here are a few nuggets he has been able to put out there:
"It's not how low you stand; it's how low do you need to stand?" There's a definite advantage in not laying your chin on the cue; you get a better view of the angles of cue-ball travel. Good one, Eddie.
"The best break shots are from the side of the rack." Mosconi and his pals certainly liked them there; more contemporarily, Mike Sigel likes to break from underneath, and John Schmidt from on top while sending the object ball into a side (Greenleaf did too, for that matter). But Robin's point is acceptable here.
"Stay down until the cue ball has completely stopped, or you're positive you know where it will." Sure. Actually improves your stroke production, and helps you maintain that critical playing rhythm too. It's just a darn swell idea, and I'm doggoned proud to legitimize it by lending my endorsement.
And the man has created a truly remarkable list of ways that he might conceivably be remembered, beyond pool wannabe: billiards champ, author, teacher, conveyor-belt maven, cue-ball bowler, hubris addict, Tony Curtis look-alike, croupier, deadbeat, charmer, wack job, ex-soldier, ex-boxer, ex-table tennis champion, Scientologist. The cue games are surely indebted to Eddie Robin for the meager concepts he did manage to share - I, in particular, for his determined focus on wrist snappage - as well as for his wit and wisdom in these trying times. Thank you, Robin.