When most people think of pool they think of drunks playing in bars, or hustlers gambling in pool halls. In reality pool and billiards takes extreme concentration, hand eye coordination and critical thinking skills. Billiards has been played for many centuries but only recently has it changed from a parlor game into a sport and art form. Through the years that this game has been played, three players in particular have excelled because of their overall skill, and achievements.
The three most influential players in cue sports history are Wille Hoppe for his amazing skills and knowledge of billiards, Ralph Greenleaf for his incredible ability to win pocket billiards and knowledge of spin, and finally Willie Mosconi for his talent in straight pool and unrelenting work ethic. First, Willie Hoppe controlled the billiard scene from the early 1900’s-1950. Willie Hoppe beat the best player in France named Maurice Vignaux for the world championship when he was only 13 years old (Hoppe 73). Willie won this tournament with his amazing hand eye coordination and early knowledge of shot selection.
Willie Hoppe won his first world championship in 1906 and his last national championship in 1952 when he was 61 years old (Hoppe 83). This shows that billiards isn’t a game made for Braun but for brains. Furthermore Willie Hoppe brought new techniques and skills to billiards and pocket billiards alike. Willie Hoppe was one of the first players in the world to master and use the diamond systems (Hoppe 36). The diamond system is a mathematical system used to calculate where to hit the ball on the rail to make contact in a designated area.
Hoppe was one of the first three players to be inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame. Hoppe revolutionized billiards from a parlor game into an art form and sport where purists can compete. Another greatly influential player, Ralph Greenleaf, had one more national championships than he could count on both of his hands and feet. During his thirty years of play he was a 21 time national pocket billiard champion. During the twenties Ralph Greenleaf was a celebrity in America for his charisma and his abundant tournament wins.
Greenleaf lived in high style, partying with celebrities during the era when pool and billiards tournaments were as popular as the Yankees and Dodgers for front page headlines. “What Babe Ruth did for baseball, Dempsey did for Boxing; Tilden for Tennis, Greenleaf did for Pocket Billiards” (Thompson). Greenleaf, with his charismatic style, helped perfect Masse (the act of hitting the cue ball with an elevated cue to make the ball curve around another object ball and make contact with a ball behind the impeding ball) which has been a huge part of most players’ arsenal to this day.
This man’s knowledge of spin and charisma lead him straight to the top of Billiards and pocket Billiards alike for almost fifty years. Lastly, Willie Mosconi or “Mr. Pocket Billiards” showed the world and other players how hard work and dedication to this game will lead to success. Willie Mosconi had an intense and somewhat extreme practice regiment. He practiced six hours a day, seven days a week for almost thirty years (Mosconi 15). This man was such a dedicated player that he received one of the highest paid sponsorships in history from Brunswick Billiards.
He was also a childhood prodigy who was holding trick shot exhibitions at the age of eleven. This shows how unrelenting his competitive side was. He also won titles in America for two decades straight in a game called straight pool. Straight pool is one of the hardest games that is still played in pool today because of its need for perfection in shot selection and knowledge of position play which takes extreme critical thinking to master. Mosconi holds the record for most balls made consecutively and it was 526 (Mosconi 25). This was at an exhibition and it took him over three hours to complete this feat.
Imagine how hard it is to focus for three hours with your mind and body in sync with one another. Another Amazing feat Mosconi nearly accomplished was when he was six years old. He challenged the world champion at that time who was Ralph Greenleaf to a game of straight pool which meant first to make fifty balls. Mosconi lost but only by four points and Ralph Greenleaf said “this child will be a World Champion someday” (Mosconi 14). Little did Ralph know this statement would become true and very early in Mosconi’s life he became a champion at the age of seventeen.
This shows that billiards is just as important in a child’s life as a musical instrument of soccer practice. The same skills are learned and it is productive for child development and it is not a waste of time. Mosconi also helped get rid of some negative connotations like this “To play billiards well was a sign of an ill-spent youth” by Herbert Spencer by helping create and give a great deal of publicity to the Junior National pool community. The Junior National pool tournaments are held annually in a different state every year and are held in a college to promote the possibilities of further education.
Also the winners of these tournaments receive scholar ships toward their educational costs. These tournaments forbid gambling and promote doing well in school by giving out awards for kids who have high GPAs. Another thing these tournaments promote is professionalism because you are required to dress in business attire or you are not allowed to compete in the event. These tournaments have been going on for many years and have helped produce some of the best citizens and billiards players that play the game today.
I played in these tournaments and personally they were life changing they showed me a different world, people with different backgrounds who care about education and are dedicated to a game that we all loved and enjoyed. As a result of these three players extreme talent and dedication to the game, more than 39. 2 million people play billiards two or more times a week (Lee 36). Billiards has been taken over by the people who can enjoy it and released from the grasp of alcoholics and hustlers. Billiards is perfect for a family to enjoy together and that is why it is the fourth largest participatory sport in the United States (Lee 36).
Billiards has connected so many people and given us an activity that we can all participate in together. Billiards has given me more than something to do in my spare time, it has taught me to strive for perfection with a good work ethic, to respect my opponent and myself at all times, and to carry these traits into all aspects of my life. Billiards to me is more than a game it’s a way of life. So now when you think of billiards think of people enjoying billiards or professionals competing at the highest level, not hustlers in bars and drunks because they are the minority now.