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The Feel Of It

Cross-Over Billiard Players Through the Years

If you are a carom billiards player, you cherish a five-minute scene in the middle of the 1961 movie, The Hustler. Fast Eddie Felson’s manager, Bert Gordon, has set up a high stakes game at a Louisville mansion owned by Findley. Anxious to start the match, Fast Eddie removes the table cover and is confused by the absence of pockets. “Thought we came here to play pool?” Felson says. "I don’t play pool, Mr. Felson,” Findley says. He sips from his drink, a cigarette wedged between his middle and ring fingers. “I play billiards. My house, my game. You don’t have to play if you don’t want to.”

After some hesitation, a game for $100 is arranged, but not before Bert asks Eddie whether he’s ever played billiards before. “Sure,” says Eddie, obviously lying. After playing even for several games, Eddie wants to raise the bet. “Level with me, Eddie,” Bert says. “You ever play billiards before?” Eddie responds, “What's the difference? You got a pool cue, balls on the table. All you gotta do is get the feel of it.”

For fictional players, moving from the pocket game to the carom game is seamless. Fast Eddie eventually busted Findley, taking a cool $12,000 off the southern gentleman. In real life, fewer and fewer players play both disciplines. Cueists more often play one exclusively. It was not always this way.

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