28 SCHOOLBOY WHO MAKES POOL AN ART JOHN ZICHMANIS

HOW TO HUSTLE JOHNNY

John Romanelli is 16. He shoots pool. He has a manager, and he plays by appointment only. Two years from now, when he’s old enough to step into a poolroom legally, he could be the best player in the country. Want to beat him? Your only chance is to get ready now. So listen carefully: what follows is our step-by-step treatise on

JON EBY,JOHN ZICHMANIS February 1 1968
28 SCHOOLBOY WHO MAKES POOL AN ART JOHN ZICHMANIS

HOW TO HUSTLE JOHNNY

John Romanelli is 16. He shoots pool. He has a manager, and he plays by appointment only. Two years from now, when he’s old enough to step into a poolroom legally, he could be the best player in the country. Want to beat him? Your only chance is to get ready now. So listen carefully: what follows is our step-by-step treatise on

JON EBY,JOHN ZICHMANIS February 1 1968

HOW TO HUSTLE JOHNNY

John Romanelli is 16. He shoots pool. He has a manager, and he plays by appointment only. Two years from now, when he’s old enough to step into a poolroom legally, he could be the best player in the country. Want to beat him? Your only chance is to get ready now. So listen carefully: what follows is our step-by-step treatise on

No POINT GETTING scared, but you have to remember the kid will be tough. Started shooting pool before he was 10, up in his father’s establishment in North Toronto. By the time he was 12, he’d given up bubble gum, bicycles and TV-watching in favor of four hours’ daily practice. “Johnny loved the game.” says Old Man Romanelli, “but he had to learn to judge the types who play it. You have to travel to find good games. You’re on your own then. No one protects you. I wanted Johnny to learn that from the start.”

Johnny was a good pupil. His game is snooker, where you have 15 red balls and six colored ones and the object is to pocket them in succession. A perfect score is 147, but for most players, running 100 points in succession is the poolhall equivalent of a royal flush. Johnny practised for 1,000 hours trying to make that century, getting 80, occasionally the odd 90. Once he came home crying — crying! — because he’d only run 97. But a year ago. at the age of 15, he finally made his 100. He’s done it four times since, each time getting congratulations from Billiards & Snooker, The Official Journal of the Games. This so impressed the august gentlemen who run the world's snooker championship in Leeds, England, that last January they invited Johnny over to witness the matches. Today, when most boys his age are still contending with acne, Johnny Romanelli is the essence of Cool: sharp dresser, nonsmoker, no small talk. He completes his trade-school course in oil-burner service this year, but Johnny intends to be a pool player all his life.

“I want fame,” he says. “I don't care about money. When you’re somebody, the money takes care of itself. I’d never hustle, making people think I’m worse than I am. I'll just walk into a room and tell the best player that I'm good and I want to play. The rest is up to him.” What makes Johnny so good? It's the fine points — a move here, a few clues there. Johnny has these moves. You haven't. So let’s look at the crucial fine points that have made Old Man Romanelli's boy so good — the fine points that could help you beat him.

JON EBY

JOHN ZICHMANIS

1 Pinocchio, the man with the golden arm.

For a perfect stroke, your elbow must be a hinge. Your forearm hangs straight down, but you still take a quick look back to make sure. Everything is in line: the ball, the cue, your shoulder and elbow are all in a row.

Now for the payoff, the fundamental guide to good pool: when you stroke, nothing, nothing moves except the striking arm. Shoot from

the elbow, never from the shoulder. Your forearm pistons ahead in a smooth slide, keeping the cue low and level through the whole stroke. You know everything is nice and tight as you feel your thumb brush past your side.

In Toronto’s Derby Billiards, Doc Cassidy heals sick games at five bucks a visit. Nine out of 10, he says, the trouble is a wobbly stroke. The Doctor’s cure: Put an empty pop bottle in place of the cueball. Then, with a slow, steady rhythm, slide the cue in and out of the bottle without touching the sides.

One more thing: keep the back swing short, five inches or so. A short, smooth stroke is the good cueman’s giveaway. To see it done right, watch somebody like Indian Joe in Calgary or old Cannonball in Toronto’s Olympia. But if the old man gets mad, keep your head down. You’ll see why they call him Cannonball.

2 Never let them break your thumbs. It ruins your hands.

Poor Paul Newman. The poor losers who got to him in The Hustler knew what good hands mean to a shooter.

Consider the open bridge Romanelli uses. You flatten your left hand on the table, fingers apart. Now pull them in, straight, stiff and apart. Cock the thumb high, making a groove for the cue to snuggle into. If it feels shaky, press the index finger down on the cloth as hard as you can. The rest of the hand follows and stiffens just right.

Down Stateside, Minnesota Fats, Jersey Red, and all that bunch use the closed bridge. The idea is about the same as the open bridge; the difference is, you wrap your index finger around the cue. Now it’s

tough to argue with fellows shooting 50 bucks a ball, but you might remember this: they play straight pool, not snooker. Small table, large heavy balls, big pockets. They need power first, accuracy second. But snooker takes accuracy. And Joe Davis ruled as undefeated snooker champ of the world for 20 years using the open bridge.

The right hand gives you touch. Touch is hard to describe, but try working the cue the same way you’d iron a shirt. Firm but sensitive. The cue rests in all five fingers, but the thumb and the first two do the work. The tip here is the knuckles: if the cue is snuggled in good and proper, the line of your knuckles is level with the cue.

3 Stand back from the ball, show some respect.

The cueball hates to be crowded. Put at least 12 to 15 inches of cue between it and the bridge hand. Like everything else in snooker, stance and movement demand a routine, so before you approach the ball, stand back and plan the stroke. Now, walk into the shot.

Step up to the ball from directly behind it and bend low to aim.

Your left arm stiffens on the table. You force the arm out, far out, until you feel the tension strain the shoulder. Your body is pushed away from the cueball, but the farther away you are, the more cue barrel you have to sight with.

You’re really low now. The cue is digging a smooth rut in your chin. Your eye skims along the shaft, fixing on the ball to be potted. Your head is down and frozen.

The right leg is ramrod stiff, knee straight and rigid. Slide your right foot back until it feels comfortable. Now back a little more.

Now lean forward. As you point your left toe in line with the shot, your left knee bends and takes most of your weight. You’re set solid.

How important is a good break? Play it carefully, and the opposition never gets a chance to get off the ground. John recalls, “I’m playing this guy, and I know he’s not bad. I break. I hit it just riaht. leave him behind the brown ball, and now he has nothing to shoot at. He stabs at it. barely hits a red, and leaves me open. I run out all the reds and colors and make 120 points. My first century.”

4 If you miss the easy ones, you need glasses. To study some theory with.

WRONG: The dotted line is the path to the pocket. You know that if the pink ball is going to follow this path, the cueball has to contact the pink at point A. Naturally, you aim for A. Yet you have made no allowance for the width of the cueball, so it actually contacts the pink

at point B. Result: pink is sent off in the wrong direction (arrow).

RIGHT: Imagine another ball (outlined) behind the pink in line with the path to the pocket. Now aim the cueball to take the place of this imaginary ball. Result: cueball contacts the pink at desired point A. The moral: aim for an area the width of the ball, not a point the size of a pinhead; you hit the point automatically. (And when you sink a ball, memorize the angles for the next time.)

5 Matt Dillon would never rent a gun. Buy your own cue.

A cue is an instrument, not a club. It is as delicate as a violin and considerably cheaper. Cues start at five dollars, but you have to pay $20 for a two-piece, ivory-joint one like Romanelli’s. A good player knows instantly when a cue is out of tune, and when he finds one to his liking, he never parts with it: Paul Thornley, winner of CBC’s national snooker tournament, turned down $200 for his.

One theory has it that the perfect snooker cue should weigh 18 ounces, four times the weight of the cueball. The English professionals tend to play with lighter cues, mostly l6'/2 or 17. Young John uses a 20-ouncer, a holdover from the early days when he depended on the cue to do the heavy

work for him. In general, a heavy cue is better for you than a light one because the extra weight makes you more accurate.

If you do have to use a cue off the rack, look for the ounces stamped on the butt, and use the same weight all the time. Roll it gently on the table top to test its straightness. If it wobbles, get another. Stick with a medium-size tip. Eleven millimetres is best. The smaller the tip. the greater the chance the cue will be crooked.

When you can’t reach the ball, don’t be afraid to use the rake (or rest, as some call it). Accept the fact that it cuts your effectiveness by 60 percent, so scale down your hopes likewise. Leave the fancy shot for when you can reach it.

Young John is an exception — he uses the rake beautifully. When he learned to play, his arms were too short, and the rake became his long third arm. Still, he plays it with care: rake fairly close to the ball, he keeps the stroke short and simple.

6 The trick shot for fun and profit.

FOR FUN: Announcement heralds the Freight Car Shot, wherein five balls will be made into the same pocket with one shot. Ignoring the disbelieving crowd, set up the balls as in the diagram above. Make sure the tip of the triangle touches the balls and is lined up with the centre of the pocket. With flourish, hit the triangle with a good solid shot. All the balls enter pocket with a bang as you exit in awed silence.

FOR PROFIT: Chalk a three-inch circle around centre spot. Place

blue ball on spot and a dime on top of the ball. Offering the cueball. you challenge anyone to knock the dime off the blue ball and out of the circle. Success keeps the coin. Failure loses it.

After all and various have tried and failed, you offer for a fee to perform what is now considered impossible. Nudge the cueball very, very gently so that it just barely reaches the blue ball. The blue slowly turns over, the coin rolls out of the circle, and you roll up your dimes. Warning: This shot takes good touch, so practise it in the privacy of your own home table (about which you can learn below).

7 Your own table. No castle should be without one

Of course, tables have changed since the day the Queen of England dropped a close one to the Dowager Empress of Russia down at the old king's palace in Copenhagen. Today, tables are small, light and affordable. And about 20,000 tables have found their way into private homes so far.

An “official” table must be twice as long as it is wide. The ideal table size for the average suburban basement seems to be 4Vi by 9 feet, though you need at least another 4>/2 feet of free space all around.

After building tables for 27 years, Tom Chapman insists, “A real snooker table must have a slate top. Anything else is a toy. Slate won’t warp, wears well, stays

smooth.” The cognoscenti demand Portuguese slate, though the softer Italian kind will do.

But even on a small table, cushions and cloth should be the best you can afford. Always brush the cloth clean — never vacuum: it lifts the cloth and weakens the joints between the slate slabs.

The cost? Count on around $850 for a slate-top table, half that for one with a composite surface. Accessories included. Heaven is a sixby-12 Brunswick Gold Crown. Weight, 2,900 pounds. The price, $2,100.

Also, Uncle Wally’s old relic in the basement might be worth restoring, providing the slate is intact. New rubber and cloth. $120. Transport and assembly, around $75. Add another $100 for English balls, cues, Lily of the Valley talcum powder, etc. For $300 you have a royal billiards room that the Queen herself might have envied.

8 When things get tough...

Snooker is a pressure cooker. “The ulcer game.” Gentleman Harvey Rothwell calls it. "If you make a mistake, you not only hurt yourself, you help the other man. He makes a ball, that ball stays down and your chances get less. He kills you by degrees.” After 10,000 hours of killing and being killed. The Gentleman admits. “Before you can win, you must be ready to lose.”

In the States the game is much less Christian. You want to win, and anything goes. If a man plays fast, you walk, talk and smile slow.

If he likes to take his time, you keep checking your watch. He’s getting ready to shoot to finish you off, so you blow your nose out of misery. You leave him a setup, but you count the points out loud before he makes it. If he likes to use the chalk a lot, you steal it.

Last year, Paul Thornley slipped down to Detroit testing the local talent. Three hundred a game. Game ball, and the home boy tightens up and leaves it over the pocket. Just as Paul pulls back the cue to pick up the marbles, the other guy rolls a ball under the table. Out of nowhere, a little brown terrier yelps after the ball, almost takes a nip out of young Thornley’s leg. Thornley makes the shot anyway.

Here in Canada, things are much subtler. “A good player respects the other man and expects the same.” says George Chenier, the dean of Canadian snooker players. “It's a tough, tough game, and there are so many things that can break you. When you've been through it yourself, you know how the other fellow feels, and you just don't think of doing all these little things to him. If you’re a better player, you win.”

But even the “little things” don’t seem to bother young Romanelli. His father confesses, “When he was young, I tried doing everything to him. Called him names, tried to make him mad. humiliated him, rushed him, slowed him down. I knew if he didn’t learn how to handle it then, someday, somewhere. some guy was going to drive him crazy.” The result is, says John with a gentle smile. “I play best when I'm mad. You get me behind and mad and I really turn on.”

So what do you do against the kid? Forget him. When it’s your turn to shoot, it’s just you against the table. And get your thinking in shape: think precise, think order, build up a sequence you follow every time you step up to shoot. Decide the position you want in the next shot. Decide the force you need to hit with. Decide the point of aim, the angle. Now that you’re that far. concentrate. Stick to your decision even if the guy at the next table shoots himself.

What about the days when you play like you left your game at the popcorn factory? First, see if your sequence has been upset somewhere. If you normally play fast, maybe you're playing too slowly now that you're worried. Get a friend to watch for mistakes. Don’t get scared. Play the shot as you do any other day.

And listen to Gentleman Harvey. “The game isn’t confidence. I hate that word. Confidence only follows performance, and if performance goes, you don't have a leg left to stand on. You need determination, not confidence. When Churchill faced the Germans, he didn’t have an ounce of confidence left. All he had was determination. You understand?” ★