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The Wise Guy

Wiseman's heroics lifted the Kozak's team to the 1985 VNEA championship.

Otherwise, Wiseman's life changed very little until his late 20s. He eked out a living with short-term stints at auto plants and, when sidelined by layoffs, in sales jobs. He found some extracurricular relief in amateur league pool - and his Windsor-based tavern team, Kozak's, won the 1985 Valley National 8-Ball Championships, with Wiseman sinking the final 8 ball. But, overall, his life remained in a slump.

"I was going nowhere," he said. "After nine years, I had nothing. No wife. No family. No money. I even lost my house because I couldn't keep up with the mortgage payments. I was tired of it."

"What kind of life is this?" Wiseman would ask himself over and over again, shaking his head and falling, at times, into such terrible funks.

Enough was enough. At the age of 29, he decided to pursue pool seriously and hit the road, starting a colorful career in action.

One story goes like this: One night, Wiseman got so frustrated at not being able to draw any action that he simply flung nine balls on a table and offered $500 to anyone in the room that could run them in rotation. Mind you, the guy's no fool. They don't call him "The Wise Guy" for nothing. Being the shrewd gambler that he is, he instantly noticed that balls landed in a pattern that was anything but a roadmap, that it included a couple of clusters. Finally, someone stepped up, but rather than accepting the difficult proposition, flipped it around on Wiseman, and bet him that he couldn't run it out himself.

It took Wiseman, known as much for his heart as his brains, no more than an eye-blink to take the bet, then a scant few minutes later, without a blip, as he's done more often than not in his life, pocket the cash.

No sooner were the bills grabbed up as Wiseman repeated the process: Once again he tossed nine balls on the table, once again he voiced his dare, once again he flashed the lure of his forever-thick bankroll.

Except this time, no one moved an inch, no one uttered a peep.

"Ronnie is only in his element when he's in action and talking to people and, of course, making money," said Wiseman's longtime friend, Bobby Rezin, a top bar-table player. "I've never seen someone who's so driven to succeed, who always needs to be on the move, and who always is looking to take things to the next level. When we walk into a poolroom together - any room - he'll turn to me, smile that charming smile of his, and say with a wink, 'Okay, Bobby, let's get the money.'"

Only in the last 15 years or so has Wiseman regularly played in major pro tournaments, for years preferring instead to do nothing but grind it out on the road, if not the dirty back roads, floating undercover while picking off action - the higher, the better, and always managing to secure the slightest of edges - wherever he could find it.

Even though he's won three major professional titles (the New Orleans Open in 1997, the Florida Open in 1998, the Reno Open in December 2005) and is still a threat even at 53, Wiseman travels to events mostly to be where all the action is, looking to smooth-talk his way into money games and ultimately pluck a wad or two from someone's wallet. And if, for some reason, he can't get into the arena himself, he'll find a way to put his cash behind someone else, as well as negotiate the terms of the match - a talent that has given him quite the respected rep within the pool world.

"Ronnie might be the best game-maker on the planet," Johnny Archer said.

Wiseman won't disagree. "What can I say? People say that about me, I don't," he said. "But I will say that I think I'm blessed that way. I just know what the right game is. Lucky, I guess. I have a way of talking to people, of making the games so close, but where I still have a fraction the best of it - which allows me to win a whole lot more money."

He's so good at handicapping that he constantly gets calls from players around the country, even late into the night, asking him what he feels about a particular match-up, and "when I'm at something like the Derby City Classic, I can't tell how many times guys come over to me and whisper, 'So, Ronnie, who do you like in that game?' I hear that, like, a thousand times."

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