English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Amateur Billiard Player : April 1997

The Amateur Billiard Player : April 1997

Historical Pot Pourri

Photo of Peter Ainsworth (2k)

by Peter Ainsworth

Perhaps I’m getting cynical in my old age, but having just watched another re-run of the “World Trick-Shot
Championship” on TV, I am astonished that these great cuemen feel that we should be impressed with
shots which any moderate club player could accomplish with five minutes practice. I could just imagine the
British contingent preparing for the event by leafing through a copy of “Ray Reardon’s 50 Best Trick-Shots”
on the flight over to Johannesburg. Invariably, the highlight of this strange competition comes with the
obligatory American pool player, who usually manages to produce at least one shot requiring a high degree
of skill – a feature sadly lacking from the efforts of our Snooker stars. Perhaps the blame rests with the
demise of the exhibition circuit for the home players, where trick-shots were always part of the standard
entertainment package.

The concept of an “exhibition match” (with income primarily from spectators rather than trying to win it from
your opponent) was first devised by John Roberts Senior back in the 1850’s. With the onus of these matches
on entertainment, the earliest references to trick shots also began to appear at this time.

Roberts frequently wore a soft felt hat known as a “wide-awake” during his games and one of his favourite
tricks involved placing the hat, which contained the red ball, in the centre of the table. With the object white
against the cushion, he would play the cue ball against it with such force that it jumped into the hat, making
the cannon.

An even more spectacular shot in a similar vein, was called “the steeplechaser,” in which he made his ball
rebound from the side cushion, over the table lighting, catching it on the other side. A would-be imitator in
Australia, having seen the shot performed by Roberts’ son during a tour of that country, eventually
succeeded in making the stroke, but with a more disastrous finale than he expected. He stuck the ball so
well that it rebounded right over his head, through a plate glass window and into the street, where it struck
the head of a passer-by and flattened him out! – a salutary lesson for the unskilled masses.

Photo of Carter Trick Shot (4k)

But perhaps the saddest loss to the trick shot repertoire are the finger-spin specialists. At the height of their
popularity in the 1880’s the best exponents were often from overseas. They toured England playing
exhibition matches of “hand against cue”, concluding the entertainment with the most improbable of fancy
shots. The exploits of one of these, Adrain Izar, I have already mentioned in a previous article. But possibly
the most popular of the hand-spin exponents to visit these shores was an American, Eugene Carter. He was
in London for several months at the start of the 1895/6 season and his exhibitions at the Argyll Hall
(currently the site of the London Palladium) were packed out from start to finish. However, the crowds did
not flock to see his games of American billiards. It was his finger-spin expertise with”Carter’s Little Liver
Pills”, a set of diminutive ivory balls, which caused the sensation. His exhibitions were a masterly
combination of skill and wit. The latter is evident from his choice
of name for the ivories, as the real “Carter’s Little Liver Pills” were
a popular medication of the time which was sold as a cure for
constipation. Edward Diggle, a leading professional of the day,
saw Carter perform what, in later life, he recalled was the most
difficult shot he had ever seen. This particular “trick-shot” Carter
played with his cue, and is illustrated opposite. The white ball was
played onto the red with a raised butt as for a swerve shot, but
applying such extreme side that the cue ball rebounded from the
cushion and taking the nap, curled into the top pocket.

The last of the great finger spin specialists was Richard de Kuyper, who, despite the name, was born in
London and came to prominence in 1901 at the age of 40. He was responsible for something of a revival in
an appreciation of the art, at least in England, which earned him a good living for the next 25 years. Several
of his shots are reproduced below – and remember these were achieved with full-sized, heavy ivory balls. If
any aspiring entrants for next year’s trick-shot championship would like to start practising now – be my guest,
but watch the windows!

Photo of De Kuyper Trick Shots (30k)


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