Monday, April 8, 2013

Ran into an old billiards opponent today…

20130408_131223-1I stopped at a convenience store this morning after running some errands. While standing in line at the cash register, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and there stood my nemesis in Nine Ball Tournaments, “Oscar.”  Oscar was a mainstay at Mobile’s only place for real pool players to test their skills against the best in the area and the best in the southeast—The Twilight Club. We all practiced our skills at places like the Florida Club in Midtown, the Loop Club in The Loop, or USA Billiards in West Mobile. But when you wanted to play the best opposition—you always went to the Twilight around 10:00 pm.

My hangout was the Florida Club. It was run by an elder gent we all knew as “Percy.” Percy had a amiable personality but a look in the eye that told you he was capable of killing for money (maybe he had; I never asked). I don’t remember where Oscar practiced his trade, but I don’t think it was in my neighborhood.

Playing Oscar in Nine Ball was like playing Bobby Fischer in Chess. He never went on offense unless he had the advantage, and he never let his defense down when he thought you had the advantage. He could spot even a good player two balls and the Eight, and still win seven of nine racks. I could too, and I paid for books and gas money in college hustling cocky college kids at USA Billiards.

Oscar and I always played straight up, and any time we shared a table, we always drew a crowd. In the the local finals of the 1982 World Series of Tavern Pool, Oscar beat me four games to three and advanced to the Regionals in Atlanta. I returned the favor the next year, beating him four games to three and making the trip myself. I made the finals in 1983 and lost to a guy with a penchant for sinking the Nine on the break.

I didn’t play in the 1984 WSOTP and I don’t know if Oscar did, either. But if he did, I’m sure he made a helluva run.

One Pocket was Oscar’s other favorite game. I never played him in One Pocket. Part of that was because frankly, that game is literally Chess on a pool table and Oscar was just better at that than I was. But the other part was because my other favorite game was Snooker, and Oscar didn’t care for the larger table, the smaller balls and the rounded “titties” on the pockets of Snooker tables. Good men know their limitations.

But I don’t think I saw him lose many more One Pocket games than he saw me lose at Snooker.

Oscar, like me, is middle-aged. He’s got a bit of a paunch, a little more grey hair and like me, wears glasses to combat the “over 40 disease” that prevents us both from being the sharpshooters we were 30 years ago. We’re too old and too blind to be really good pool players anymore. Time sucks. He did still have that twinkle of confidence in his eye and any decent pool player will tell you that a game of billiards is won with 50% skill, 40% confidence and 10% luck.

I don’t think Oscar ever relied on luck. It was his confidence and his skill that made him money.

Standing next to Oscar in the convenience store was his daughter, Olivia. Oscar has taught her how to play Nine Ball. I looked at that tall and lovely black woman and saw the same confident, yet defiant twinkle in her eye that so many feared in her father.

I never feared playing Oscar. I’d lag for the break, rack’em up and shoot it out with him anytime.

But I wouldn’t play his daughter if a trip to Las Vegas depended on it.

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