clash royale hack
HomeAbout Billiards DigestContact UsArchiveAll About PoolEquipmentOur AdvertisersLinks
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.

• August 2020
• June 2020
• April 2020
• March 2020
• February 2020
• January 2020
• December 2019
• November 2019
• October 2019
• September 2019
• August 2019
• July 2019
• June 2019
• May 2019
• April 2019
• March 2019
• February 2019
• December 2018
• November 2018
• October 2018
• September 2018
• July 2018
• July 2018
• June 2018
• May 2018
• April 2018
• March 2018
• February 2018
• January 2018
• November 2017
• October 2017
• September 2017
• August 2017
• July 2017
• June 2017
• May 2017
• April 2017
• March 2017
• February 2017
• January 2017
• December 2016
• November 2016
• October 2016
• September 2016
• August 2016
• July 2016
• June 2016
• May 2016
• Apr 2016
• Mar 2016
• Feb 2016
• Jan 2016
• December 2015
• November 2015
• October 2015
• September 2015
• August 2015
• July 2015
• June 2015
• May 2015
• April 2015
• March 2015
• February 2015
• January 2015
• October 2014
• August 2014
• May 2014
• March 2014
• February 2014
• September 2013
• June 2013
• May 2013
• April 2013
• March 2013
• February 2013
• January 2013
• December 2012
• November 2012
• October 2012
• September 2012
• August 2012
• July 2012
• June 2012
• May 2012
• April 2012
• March 2012
• February 2012
• January 2012
• December 2011
• November 2011
• October 2011
• September 2011
• August 2011
• July 2011
• June 2011
• May 2011
• April 2011
• March 2011
• February 2011
• January 2011
• December 2010
• November 2010
• October 2010
• September 2010
• August 2010
• July 2010
• May 2010
• April 2010
• March 2010
• February 2010
• January 2010
• December 2009
• November 2009
• October 2009
• September 2009
• August 2009
• July 2009
• June 2009
• May 2009
• April 2009
• March 2009
• February 2009
• January 2009
• October 2008
• September 2008
• August 2008
• July 2008
• June 2008
• May 2008
• April 2008
• March 2008
• February 2008
• January 2008

Best of Fels
January: Glory Days
January 2019

By George Fels
[Reprinted from June 1993]

Most of us have done things in our lives that were either well ahead of or behind their times; I’ve done both. Tennis exploded in the ’60s, but I was at my best in the ’50s. In the mid-’70s, “Pumping Iron” did for weight-training what I still wish someone or something would do for pool; I had been at it for close to 20 years by then. But when it comes to the billiards realm, I was decades too late for the really good stuff.

Not that there’s anything wrong with today, of course; we’re seeing some record numbers, at least in dollar terms, and it’s a great thrill to see the industry finally get a genuine spurt of growth. But even though we’ve grown to between 5,000 and 10,000 commercial rooms in the U.S., there was a time when there were an estimated 5,000 rooms in New York alone.

Those were the glory days of the game’s being played between lush carpeting and glitzy chandeliers, when porters and table maids brought fine two-piece cues to your table as a courtesy of the house. As the wonderful character actor Jack Albertson said in an episode of “Gunsmoke” that dealt quite well with pool playing, “Pocket billiards was a gentleman’s game then.” Naturally it still is, but Albertson was speaking of a different species of gentleman, one who may have played expertly, yet without giving his life to the game, a droll decision by any standards.

A few years ago I did a cover story on pool hustling in the ’30s and ’40s for a short-lived magazine called Sports Heritage. The glory days, of course, were even before then, and it was hard enough rounding up witnesses to the ’30s and ’40s who had good stories to tell. First-hand witnesses to the ’20s, after the charismatic Ralph Greenleaf had burst upon the scene and pool tournaments rated the front page of the sports section and the game was everywhere, are mostly dead. The rest are incoherent.

As the number of rooms declined during the Depression, then, those that could hack it actually saw increasing crowds, as the nation’s unemployed scrambled frantically to escape the machinations of a cruel world, their woes and their wives. It was the game’s version of “Musical Chairs.” A gag line of that glum era was, “Poolrooms Burn Down; 5,000 Men Homeless.” You can almost hear the rim shot from the orchestra pit.

Quite naturally, with the proliferation of players — even those who played 200 points for a bowl of soup — some rooms assembled hellacious lineups of killers. The legendary Philadelphia room Allinger’s only packed the one-two punch of Ponzi and Mosconi, and there were many more rooms boasting murderers’ rows of considerably lower profile players. That mesmerizing aspect of the game went forward through the late ’60s; today it’s probably only New Jersey that can claim multiple rooms with multiple national-class players in attendance.

Most players and hangers-on have not only favorite stories, but favorite periods from which to draw them. John Ervolino, for instance, is fond of the aforementioned late ’60s, when, as he puts it, “The room where I spent time then [The Golden Cue in Queens] had a lineup that could rob any tournament field today, guaranteed! We had Onofrio Lauri, Mike Eufemia, Al Gassner, Joe Balsis, me…”

Just a few years before that, the Times Square room known as 711 could toss a paralyzing parlay at you too: Jersey Red, Boston Shorty, Ervolino, Brooklyn Jimmy, New York Blackie and others, and a pirahna pond of shortstops just beneath them.

Short and Red played Ames, of course; Red was even manager there for a while. And many of the same players put in appearances at McGirr’s as well; the three rooms were not much more than a mile apart.

I’d estimate that my own rendezvous with the game, in 1953, coincided with the very tail end of pool in that richly talented mode. At least, that was true in Chicago, where I had only the downtown Bensinger’s from which to judge. Knowledgeable people there were still declaring even then that both New York and San Francisco were way too tough for smart hustlers, but Bensinger’s was no cupcake either. There was seedy little Joe Sebastian, accomplished enough to challenge Mosconi at 9-ball, with a pasted-back pompadour parted just off-center that was an authentic throwback to the ’20s. Ed Laube was there, a city straight pool champion with a lone run of 165 on a 5’x 10’ who merely sent Harold Worst to the rack at billiards. Pony Rosen, reduced to $2 status, had once paddled Greenleaf. Javanley (Youngblood) Washington, the first top black player I ever saw, not only hustled short games but defeated Mosconi in a 14.1 exhibition. I was 15 then, not even old enough to be in my neighborhood room legally, and Bensinger’s was little short of awesome. Floor-to-ceiling drapes shut off the rest of the world, and you indeed felt that you had left that world for another. One of the local room players clicked off a perfect 14, and we adolescent two- and three-ball runners whispered, “Look at the position!” and giggled in joy.

As thrilling as today’s room boom is, these rooms are filled with ferns and yuppies who are even money to miss an object ball completely, miscue and/or scratch, and leave balls live in the middle of the table to go drink or dance. Sometimes the ubiquitous jukebox offers Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” certainly an ironic selection in any room where pool is being played.

With all due respect to ferns and yuppies, they will not be replacing hundred-ball runners and serious play as the factors that make a room permanently hypnotic. And it’s all too possible that we will not be seeing the likes of that particular kind of glory days ever again.