English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Amateur Billiard Player : Winter 2002

The Amateur Billiard Player : Winter 2002

Lindrum v. Smith

Following Walter Lindrum’s record breaking visit to England in the
1929-30 season, he became universally accepted as the greatest player
the game had ever seen. In the last issue we published a letter from
Andrew Ricketts, possibly the leading authority on Walter Lindrum
today, stating the case for Walter to be recognised as being the best
player in the World, not from this date, but as early as 1920, when most
people in England accept that accolade as belonging to Willie Smith.

Here we have some responses from supporters of Willie Smith:

From Harry Smith—Australians have always been noted for their
traditional love of sport and their sense of humour, and both of these
are evident in Andrew Ricketts’ piece on his hero, Walter Lindrum. As
John McEnroe used to say he “can’t be serious”.

He claims that Walter was “already the greatest” by 1920, when he was
21 and had been playing the game for only 12 years, but later reminds
us that “the development of billiards is a long and gradual process” and
in his published biography of Lindrum he writes “a billiardist has to
serve a long apprenticeship—up to twenty years—before he has, by
regular practice and competition, developed the game to its potential”.

Walter’s father’s challenge to take on anybody in the World for a side stake,
is one of many that have been issued, the latest example coming
from Mike Russell. They are largely publicity stunts. What Andrew
Ricketts forgets to mention is that the challenge specified that bonzoline
balls had to be used. Young Walter must have been allergic to ivory!

The demolition of Stevenson by Walter in 1922 appears impressive
until you remember that Stevenson was 48 at the time, past his peak,
and that bonzoline balls were used. And why did the best player in the
World feel the need to harass the “old man”, by, as Andrew revealingly
puts it “employ(ing) that all-red route in a deliberate attempt to upset
Stevenson”? Surely gamesmanship should not have been necessary to
defeat a player who was not even considered a Championship contender
in England at that time.

The games against Claude Falkiner in 1924 and 1925 are mentioned
only in terms of Walter’s 1,879 break, mostly from the red ball, but that
break came in the final and deciding match, the players being level until
then. Falkiner was a good player, but like Stevenson, was not considered
to be a serious Championship contender. The session in Kalgoorie
(Walter’s birthplace) when Falkiner won 750 to 153 has not been
referenced, nor are the many offers that were made to Walter to go to
England—including one in 1924—that guaranteed him £2,000 for a
season’s play (around £70,000 in present day values) against the very
best English players. In his book Andrew writes “The offer was firmly
rejected. Lindrum was obviously reluctant to go to England, but the
reason for his repeated refusal of attractive terms remained obscure”.

Leaving aside Walter’s fear of the harsh English winter, we can only
conclude that he didn’t feel he was ready to tackle the World’s best
players, especially using ivory balls.

When Willie Smith finally forced the confrontation by travelling to
Australia in 1929, he managed to beat Walter in Sydney (though Andrew
suggests that the game may have been fixed) and became the first player
to make a 2,000 break in that country. An outstanding feat achieved by
a visiting player in an unfamiliar environment using unfamiliar
composition balls, and one which had apparently been beyond the
ability of the “World’s best player”. Just to ensure that Willie didn’t win
the series, some of these Aussie “sportsmen” sabotage Willie’s cue
causing it to break early in the match. So in 1929 Walter became recognised
as the greatest by defeating the 43 year-old Smith, and with the obstacle
of ivory balls out of the way, he eventually came to England and started
his amazing record breaking feats which established him as the greatest
player of all-time. But the greatest before 1929? Don’t come the raw
prawn Andrew!

From Peter Ainsworth—During Claude Falkiner’s tour of Australia
in 1924 he played Walter Lindrum three level matches of 16,000 up
winning the second and losing the other two. All of these matches
having a winning margin of around 800 points. Falkiner returned to
England and played two matches against Willie Smith before leaving on
another overseas tour. Being given a start of 4,000 in 16,000 he was
comprehensively beaten on each occasion by more than double the
margin that Lindrum managed in a level game. Had Lindrum accepted
the offer of £2,000 to return to England with Falkiner it would almost
certainly have been him playing Smith in these matches. Could he have
done better than Falkiner? Possibly—although he may have had more
difficulty than Falkiner in switching to the ivory ball. Could he have
defeated Smith? The figures suggest this would have been unlikely.

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