1861 to 1870
It is really difficult to realise the wonderful advance made in billiards during the past twenty years, and it was not until I looked over some of the older records that I fully realised how great the difference is in the billiards of today and of twenty years ago, when John Roberts, sen., was regarded as an exception to all rule-a player whose like would never be seen again.
To illustrate what I mean it is not necessary to go farther back than the December of 1866, when a handicap took place at the Philharmonic Hall, Islington, and in one of the heats Roberts, sen., met Charley Hughes, the former owing 60 points, and the latter starting at scratch in a heat of 200 up. In this heat Roberts made a break of 128, concluding with a series of 38 consecutive spot hazards.
The leading sporting newspaper comments as follows, and it is but just to say that these comments were in accordance with the opinions of all the best judges of billiards of the day:-“What can we say about such a performance ? Nothing save that there never before was such a player, and that there is not his equal in the whole wide world. We do not include England and the continental countries alone, but America, the very hotbed of billiards. To write that there was immense cheering would be absurd. Our pen indeed must fail to describe the applause which followed so great an achievement. “It is really difficult to repress a smile when we read this account, and think of the breaks made by Roberts, jun., Peall, and Mitchell in the present day.
In 1861 Roberts, sen., stood alone, for no player would accept 300 in 1,000 from him. Next came Bowles, Tabley, C. Hughes, and Dufton. I remember the first match between these latter players which took place at the Eyre Arms Tavern, St. John’s Wood, in January, 1861. Dufton was favourite, and was expected to perform wonders at the quill stroke, just then coming into fashion, as well as on the spot. Hughes won the game by 90 points, his best break being 50. The break of the evening was one by Dufton, viz., one of 56. The Sporting Life says, “Dufton continued scoring in a brilliant manner, making no less than 17 red hazards with the spot stroke in a break of 56 off the balls.”
In a return match made shortly afterwards between the same two men Hughes again won, this time by 190 points, making breaks of 56, 52, 93, and 60, Dufton’s best break being 54.
In March in the same year a match took place between Alfred Bowles, of Brighton, and James Tabley, to decide which was the second best player in England. Bowles won by 85 points. His best break was 68, while Tabley never scored 50 throughout the game.
Later on in the same month Roberts, the champion, played one of his very best matches, at Savile House, his opponent being a Mr. Downs, an amateur, who accepted the start of 700 in 1,000. This match well illustrated Roberts’s powers. He played a fine dashing, brilliant game, striking his ball, as a rule, far harder than first-rate players do nowadays.
One stroke is worth mentioning. Mr. Downs very properly calculated that if Roberts scored 3 while he made 1, that he would reach game while Roberts’s score stood at 900. Consequently Mr. Downs ran a coup. If Roberts gave a miss he would probably run another coup, and so on. Roberts’s answer was most effective. He merely said, “Look out, gentlemen,” and played at the red ball on the spot, hitting his ball clown, and very hard. Away flew the ball like lightning, red and white both sprang up in the air, one of the balls doubling up the hat of a gentleman who was sitting on some raised seats fronting the spot end of the table. Of course, Mr. Downs soon saw that he could not run coups against nothing, and was then obliged to give a miss. The result of this game was that Roberts, who scored breaks of 96, 58, 195, 200, etc., won by 93 points.
Those who, like myself, were fortunate enough to witness this magnificent performance, as indeed it was at the time, will remember how vastly different was the style then from what it is now. The brilliant forcing hazards-the dash-the evident pleasure the player had of sending in a ball with a bang-the occasional fancy shot, such as some kiss cannon right up the table, or some wonderful screw back, seemed to stamp Roberts’s game as something different to any other ever seen before or since.
Probably the same play now would look comparatively poor, after what we have witnessed in more recent times.
For some time after 1861 but little change took place in the way of improvement of play. In December, 1861, Roberts gave C. Hughes 375 points in 1,000, and beat him by 180 points, making two good breaks of 160 and 114. About this time Bowles was universally considered the second-best player in England, and in January, 1864, he played Roberts a match for £100, Roberts giving him 300 points. In this match the Field states: “Then came the break of the evening, the champion making 90 off the balls, and great was the excitement caused thereby.’ Bowles won this match by 109 points. In March in the same year Roberts gave Hughes 350 points in 1,000, and won by 243 points; the Sporting Life remarking apropos of the time of the game, which was 2 hours 23 minutes, “an extraordinary performance truly.”
The year 1865 was chiefly memorable for a famous money match between Dufton and Green for the large stake of £1,000. Dufton won by 107 points, his best break being 75.
In October, 1866, Roberts and Dufton gave 200 points in a game of 1,000 up to C. Hughes and Joseph Bennett. The latter players won by 344 points. At this period, evidently, the rising player was Charles Hughes, as in this four-handed match the points scored by each were as follows:-Charles Hughes 497, Roberts 488, J. Bennett 281, Dufton 136; though it must not be forgotten that Bennett, who played before Roberts, acted strictly on the defensive, and invariably gave a miss whenever he did not feel sure of scoring, his mission evidently being to prevent the champion from getting a break.
Early in the year 1869, Charles Hughes left England for a tour in Australia, India, and other places, and shortly before he started played a match with Roberts at the Golden Lion Hotel, Deansgate, Manchester. In this match, which Hughes won by 264 points, he made the very fine break of 269 off the balls. Hughes had made many friends, but his promising career was cut off, and, like many others, he may be said to have been killed with kindness.
It was about 1866 that W. Cook first appeared above the horizon, and it required a prophet indeed to foresee that this young player, whose reputation then was, figuratively speaking, no bigger than a man’s hand, was destined to rise and eclipse the very sun itself; that had shone so long and so uninterruptedly.
Such, however, was the case, and the history of billiards for the next fourteen years is almost the history of Cook himself. He has had many brilliant victories, and many disastrous defeats. But throughout, friends and foes equally admit that he has done much to raise the tone of the game, and to render it popular. Indeed, in few sports can it be said that through a series of years a man has taken a leading position, and yet even the breath of suspicion has never been known to taint his name. This, however can be said of William Cook, and the universal respect in which he is held by all, once more proves the grand old saying that “Corruption wins not more than honesty.”
In 1866 and 1867 Roberts, jun., J. Bennett, and W. Cook were all rapidly coming to the front. In February, 1867, J. Bennett and Roberts, jun., played a match, which Bennett won by 71 points, the break of the evening being one of 52 by Roberts. In the December of the same year Roberts, jun., beat Bennett in another match by 97 points, Roberts scoring breaks of 77, 93, and 61.
In November, 1868, W. Cook played J. Bennett both players having been previously beaten by Dufton. Cook had an easy victory, making breaks of 78, 64, 76, and 60, and winning by 357 points; and in the close of this year Cook played his first match for money with Roberts, Jun. Cook at the time was nineteen years of age, and Roberts twenty-one. The following account of the match appeared in the Sportsman paper, and is well worth studying, contrasting as it does with the play of the present day:-
Roberts, jun., and W. Cook, jun., for £200.
“For nearly twenty years John Roberts, the elder, has been the undisputed Champion of the ‘noble game.’ And his claims to supremacy have been acknowledged universally, and we have thus been called on to chronicle but few matches of late to which any great interest has attached. When Dufton and Green played, a lot of speculation took place, and when the former and Smith, of Liverpool, met, a good deal of excitement pended. The handicaps two seasons back created somewhat of a furore, and several matches resulted, but no large sums of money have been betted until the encounter of last night came upon the tapis. The opponents were William Cook, jun., and John Roberts, the Champion’s eldest son, who played a match of 1,000 up even, for £100 a side, at the new Bentinck Club, 404, Strand. Since the signing of the articles Roberts has practised with Dufton at the Prince of Wales Club, where he put together some remarkably fine breaks. Cook, prior to the match, resided at Brighton, and played a good deal with Bowles.
“Amongst racing men Roberts was the favourite ‘for choice,’ but at the West End Cook held his own in the quotations. Before the game commenced, however, Roberts’s supporters, who mustered strongly, laid £25 to £20 on him, and in some cases £6 to £4.
Long before eight o’clock the room was full, and prior to play opening it was crammed. We were informed that tickets had been issued for 350 persons, but it seemed to us that many more were spectators, and new seats had to be put together for the accommodation of late comers. At sixteen minutes past eight, the balls having been duly weighed, and the remainder of the stakes (£50 a side) posted with our representative, play commenced, Roberts winning the string, and ordering his opponent to begin. Cook was first to score, but they had several strokes each ere a break was made, Roberts getting in with a 19. Cook followed with a 15, and presently the marker called them ’29 all.’ Then Roberts missed an easy kiss cannon, and Cook having the balls near the top of the table went away with a pretty break of 41, including six spot hazards. From 48 Roberts got in with a 25, and became 73 against his opponent’s 78. Then another run of 24 made Roberts 119, Cook being 94 only. The latter, however, here improved his position greatly, consecutive breaks of 21,18, 32, and 36, the last including eight losers off the red, making the game-Cook 191, Roberts 123. Slow scoring succeeded for half a dozen strokes, but from 213 Cook put together 27 (eight ‘spots’), and then 18, reaching 258 against Roberts’s 159. Here the latter fluked a cannon, and added 13, Cook following with 39, and becoming 302 against his adversary’s 172. Then Roberts, in the midst of a break, landed a red winner, and 25 resulted, Cook from 309 getting farther away with a 37, inclusive of a lucky red loser. Game- Cook 346, Roberts 208. From this point the play changed altogether, Roberts, who had been less fortunate in the breaks than his adversary, and had hit out once or twice rather wildly, ‘pulling himself together,’ and inspiring his backers with fresh confidence by contributing the first substantial run-a 72-in which were a lot of finely judged strokes. Game- Roberts 299, Cook 360. Both were now very careful, and when at 370 Cook got away with a 28 his opponent succeeded with a 41, the marker shortly calling Cook 400, Roberts 404, the partisans of ‘young Jack’ being almost wild with excitement at this unlooked for alteration in the state of affairs. Roberts followed up his advantage with a break of 38, and was soon again a strong favourite, £14 to £8 being laid on him at 453 against Cook’s 417. No contributions of any importance ensued until at 470 Roberts added a 29, and presently he reached 512 Then followed the break of the evening, made principally near the top of the table. It included ten spot hazards, and terminated eventually for 120, Roberts failing at an easy red loser. Game-Roberts 632, Cook 444. The latter made a 20, and then his opponent went on again with a run of 99, this time composed chiefly of ‘spots,’ of which he put on twenty consecutively. Game- Roberts 731, Cook 465. Betting £30 to £5 on Roberts taken. Shortly Cook got to 471 (Roberts 748), and then added a break of 59, including 17 ‘spots,’ Roberts following with 36, and then with 50 more, in which were 13 spots. Game-Roberts 838, Cook 555. And now a second ‘change came o’er the spirit of the dream.’ Cook had been playing with the worst, and his adversary with the most outrageously good luck. Four times Roberts began breaks with a fluke, and as often his opponent lost the white ball after the first or second stroke. At 576 Cook added a 32, at 613 he followed with 92, in which were ten spot hazards, and at 703 he made 37 more, contributing no less than 166 while Roberts made 17. Game-Roberts 892, Cook 742. Those who earlier on had laid ‘fancy’ bets of £50 to £2 and £30 to £1, now began to feel rather ‘in the hole,’ and though their man here put on a fine run of 60, including 18 spot hazards, Cook continued to score well, and breaks of 31, 92 (20 ‘spots’), and 24 made him 900 against 976. Roberts now landed a lucky red hazard, and eventually won the best match we have ever seen by 92 points, after exactly three hours’ play.
“After so lengthy a description of the game we do not feel called on to enter upon any very lengthy remarks. Everybody who saw the match was delighted, and every backer of Cook must have felt that he had a ‘straight run’ for his money, and a good man to carry it. At the outset both were undeniably nervous, and Roberts, too anxious to be going on, missed a lot of strokes he would otherwise have made. Then the balls began to break favourably, and from that point he went ahead like a steam engine. Nothing seemed too difficult, every stroke was accomplished by his dexterity and power of cue. His break of 120 was a splendid display of the scientific points of the game, and many of his shots showed that careful attention to finesse had not been without avail.
“Of Cook’s performance we cannot speak too highly. Fortune seemed to forsake him early, when Roberts was having chances, and he never got well down to his work again until it was almost too late to retrieve his position. If the match were to be played again we should hardly know to whom to assign the position of favourite. At one time we were impressed by Roberts’s dashing style. The result seemed a foregone conclusion. But afterwards Cook got the balls into play, and his remarkable judgement and delicacy of touch forced us to believe that there is little to choose between them. Cook’s uphill play was the admiration of all, and though Roberts received the stakes, we are inclined to think the result might have been much closer had Cook’s attention not been taken off by mistakes in the marking (particularly when 800 instead of 900 was called in the midst of a spot-hazard break), and by a lot of by-play and loud talking amongst several persons interested to the extent of a few sovereigns in bets.”
This account of the match, which at this period of time there is no harm in saying was written by one who was himself a good amateur player, gives a very accurate description of the difference of style between Cook and Roberts, jun; the latter dashing and brilliant, like his father, the former remarkable for judgement and delicacy of touch.
Cook’s backers were by no means discouraged by the defeat, and a return match was quickly made, and played in March in the following year-viz., 1869. On this occasion the tables were completely turned, Cook winning by no less than 323 points. His best breaks were 81, 51, 49, 52, and 76; whilst Roberts only once made more than 50 off the balls. Neither man played with such brilliancy as when they last met, and indeed Roberts seemed to be much out of form In addition, he had bad luck throughout, as far as the breaking of the balls was concerned. Cook made altogether 116 spot hazards, and Roberts 37- rather a contrast to the play in an “all in” match in 1888.
After this, Cook, during the remainder of the year, played better and better, making some of the largest breaks ever known. and beating all Roberts’s best records. At the Royal Hotel, Dale Street, Liverpool, Cook made a break of 351; and at the Prince of Wales, Moss Side, Manchester, a still better one of 359. A match for the championship was now inevitable, and Cook challenged Roberts, senior, the result of which challenge, and the mode in which it was accepted, deserving a chapter to themselves.
1870: The Championship
The year 1870 was certainly a memorable one in the history of billiards. Indeed, it marks a new epoch, like 1066 in English history. Before this year there had virtually never been a match for the championship. Roberts, senior, had for many years been looked on not merely as champion, but as one who stood alone, unapproachable. The rapidly increasing excellence of Cook’s play, however, rendered a meeting between the two inevitable, and it only remained to decide upon the terms. The general feeling at the time amongst the best judges of the game was that Roberts was the best all-round player, but that Cook, owing to his superiority in one particular stroke, viz., “the spot-stroke,” would probably win.
It should be remembered that hitherto nothing had been done to settle a question that should have been settled long before, viz., what is the proper shape of the pockets on a billiard table. There are many now living who will remember how often Kentfield’s table at Brighton was mentioned-how it was frequently said that had Roberts or any other player to play on his table, how different it would be. Consequently a certain rigid pocket was fixed upon, the object of which there is no doubt was to do away as much as possible with the spot-stroke. Roberts and his advisers were of opinion that with large easy top pockets, Cook, who had made a special study of this one stroke, would prove too good. A model table was made and fixed up. Cook tried the table, made thirty “spots” on it, and approved. Models of cushions, pockets, openings, and slates were made by the three leading manufacturers, and exhibited at the Sportsman office, when the celebrated original low cushion (now called the “Eureka” extra low cushion), made by Mr. James S. Burroughes, of Burroughes and Watts, was chosen by J. Roberts, sen., W. Cook, and the other players in the presence of the representatives of the firms, the Editor of the Sportswear’, and many other witnesses. It was then arranged and settled that all future matches for the Championship must be played on tables constructed on this model. Thus originated the present championship table, which, as most players know, virtually does away with the spot altogether. It is a very difficult point to decide how far this alteration was just. Persons are apt to urge that the champion is always the “best player on an ordinary table.” But, then, who is to decide the difference between an ordinary table and an extraordinary one ? In 1870 the size of the pockets was in a transition state. Many used to remark on the difference between the public match table at Savile House, and those at some of the clubs in Pall Mall and elsewhere. That Roberts, senior, was right in limiting the size of the pockets has been abundantly proved. Even in the present day we see the evil increased.
The match of 1870, for £200 and the championship, between Roberts, sen., and W. Cook, deserves a special account, the following from the Sportsman being written by an eye-witness at the time:-
“The Match for the Championship.
“Extraordinary preparations had obviously been made for the match, the entrance to the grand hall being strongly barricaded, and police stationed at all the pay places. The table was of course placed in the centre, and temporary seats were constructed which reached beyond the ordinary balconies. The commencement had been fixed for eight o’clock, but the arrival of spectators began a considerable time before that hour; and owing to the capital arrangements in the issue of tickets with counterfoils, places were found without much confusion. The immense company, it is safe to say, included all the representative men of the leading branches of sport, including a preponderating number of turfites, patricians and plebeians. A private box was apportioned for His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in the left-hand corner of the chief balcony, many of the racing speculators having secured the most eligible positions immediately surrounding the table, which was corded off, and in one angle of which Joseph Bennett, the referee, took up his official post on a chair.
“Bowles and Dufton were early in making their appearance for the preliminaries of the match, and Mr. Steel (the leviathan) was the first to make an offer in a betting shape by expressing his willingness to accept 50 to 20. Shortly after the same stentorian voice proclaimed his intention of taking 200 to 100 about Roberts. It was agreed when the company were seated that such a spectacle had never before been witnessed at any billiard tournament in the world. Just after eight o’clock the impatient lookers-on began to call ‘Time !’ whereupon Dufton, addressing them, said that the players were only waiting for order, and they would proceed. The shouting becoming more general, Roberts and Cook made their entree, and were received with loud cheering, which continued for some seconds. Dufton then said it was unnecessary to introduce to them John Roberts, who for twenty years had been champion of England and the world. (Cheers.) He also added that at 600 points there would be an interval of fifteen minutes, and he advised the spectators generally as to taking the best means of recovering the places they might vacate. (Laughter.)
“Roberts’s appearance contrasted very much with that of Cook, whose extreme juvenility evidently took the uninitiated by surprise. Each was attired in black and in his shirt-sleeves, Roberts wearing, as is his wont, a wideawake during the match. Perfect order having been obtained after some slight difficulty, the first ball was struck at a quarter-past eight. Shortly afterwards the Prince of Wales, accompanied by Colonel Keppel, the Earl of Leicester, Hon. O. Montague, Hon. Mr. Arundel, Mr. Sumner, and Mr. G. Russell, came in so quietly that for some time the arrival of the Heir to the Throne was unnoticed. Upwards of one thousand spectators were assembled when the game opened. It was plain at first that both men were somewhat nervous, but it soon wore off, and when the first stroke was made the silence contrasted strangely with the hum and babbling just before. The only ladies present were Mrs. Cook, Mrs. J. Bennett, and two or three feminine friends, and the young champion more than once looked up, and, with natural pride, smiled in confidence at his fair partner. During the progress of the first portion of the game the most skillful strokes were greeted with enthusiastic recognition, and Cook, upon the first occasion that he secured position for the spot-stroke (at 40), was greeted with several rounds of applause. The Prince of Wales watched this display, only five in succession, with manifest interest and the deepest curiosity, and when Cook broke down there was a general feeling of disappointment. When the players settled to their work they were quite composed and collected, Cook’s bearing being reserved and becomingly modest, while the veteran performed in his lingual jaunty fashion, and constantly offered to back himself, pausing early to hand bank notes up to Steel, who was three or four benches up on the right. The first bet made by Roberts with Steel was 20 to 10. Shortly afterwards a gentleman betted Steel 200 to 100 Cook, which the leviathan not relishing much, disposed of by retailing the same bet out in ‘tenners’ and small amounts. In the fifteen minutes’ interval 100 to 40 was currently offered on Cook, without finding takers. The prevalent opinion among those conversant with Roberts’s play was that in the first stage of the game, up to 600, he was too offhand, and ill-natured critics went so far as to describe him as acting with indiscreet ‘flashness.’
“The Prince left at twelve o’clock, and expressed himself highly pleased with Cook’s fine play in the second half of the match. His Royal Highness at the same time, we understand, declared his intention of not witnessing another match except on the old-fashioned tables, as he wished to see how the great breaks, of which he had read so much, were played.
“Cook having won the ‘string,’ Roberts opened with a miss in baulk, an example followed by Cook. This was repeated a second time by each player, but then Roberts succeeded with 23, composed of losing hazards and cannons. Cook did not score, nor did Roberts, at his next attempt, but then the former added 8. Roberts now made 5 and Cook 19, finally breaking down at a white losing hazard for the middle pocket. Twice in succession did Cook fail to score, and during that time Roberts added 3 and 2. Score-Roberts 35, Cook 29. The champion now had the red ball left over the top pocket. This he holed, and then ran up 19. From 29 Cook went on to 40, when he got into position for the spot-stroke, but in making his second ‘spot’ hazard he accidentally touched his opponent’s ball, and the score was disallowed. Cook was now 44 to 54. Roberts did not score, but Cook added half a dozen and then five more, leaving a double baulk. Roberts gave a miss, and Cook ran from 57 to 94 by an all-round 37 capitally played, and with great care. Roberts next got in with 7, but Cook added a dozen before relinquishing his cue, and passed into his second hundred after playing 27 minutes. When Roberts had again failed to score, Cook went on with 18, and made the marker call the game-Cook 124, Roberts 65. The latter now put together 20 in very fine style, while Cook only added an all-round cannon, an example followed by Roberts at his next innings.
“A couple of misses were now given, and then Cook ran up 18, five ‘spot’ hazards being in the break. Twice did Roberts fail to score (while Cook each time only made one red hazard before breaking down), and then went on with 13. Score-Cook 151, Roberts 104. The former next made 7, and the latter 9, followed by 17 from Cook. The next to score was Roberts, with 7 and 4, Cook after one futile attempt succeeding with 14. From 130 the elder player added 10, but Cook capped this with 9, after which Roberts ran on with 22, in which were a couple of ‘spots.’ Failing to score at his next attempt, Cook let Roberts in again, but he only added 7. His adversary’s next score was 21, and he then followed with another 7. Small scores carried the combatants to-Cook 241, Roberts 187, when the latter added 34, in which were four ‘spots;’ and then, Cook not scoring, 7 more; the last-named now went on to 249, but Roberts again at that point resumed scoring, and with a capital 17 attained to within three points of his opponent. Cook now had an opening left, and in very steady fashion put together 38, a break which was finished only by his missing cue. He soon followed this with 12, while Roberts succeeded with 19, and made his game 278 to 302. Here Cook manipulated a nice all-round 24, but had no sooner worked his way up to the spot ere he broke down, the small size of the pockets materially affecting the play of each man in this particular. From 278 Roberts went on to 287, while Cook at 331 added 22 and got as far as 353. Each man now failed to add to his figures, but then Cook ran up 16, and Roberts followed with 30, the game at this point being-Cook 369, Roberts 324. The former next made 23, and the latter 17, after minor breaks, but then Cook entered his fifth hundred with a run of 28, and made his total score 420. A break of precisely the same value brought Roberts on to 378, while another of 20 by each again followed. Roberts with 13, 10, and 8, Cook failing to score, now rapidly reduced the gap between the players, but Cook, with a couple of 7’s, ran on again to 456, Roberts then being 431. Two smaller runs of 8 and 13 carried Cook to 478, while Roberts with 23 went on to 456, and thence to 463, in the latter break of 7 a stroke which holed the red ball in one of the bottom pockets and came back round the table and cannoned, fairly bringing down the house for the first time during the evening. From 471 Roberts added 22, and then got on to 497, again taking the lead, which, however, Cook directly afterwards reassumed, and with 10 got to 505, passing into his sixth hundred at half-past ten. At 517 both players were level. When Cook got to 522 he made a couple of such brilliant cannons that the assembly, getting very excited, cheered him again and again. From 532 Cook proceeded with 49, the highest break hitherto made, to 581, and thence, after Roberts had added but 3 more, with 44 more to 625. An interval was now allowed, the total score standing-Cook 625, Roberts 521. Time, 10.45.
“During the interval odds of 100 to 40 were offered on Cook, but these were only taken in isolated cases. It was not until twenty minutes past eleven that play was resumed. For some time it was very slow work, but at length from 641 Cook went on with 18 to 659, Roberts having then reached 540. At 665 Cook stayed for some time, while Roberts gradually crept on to 578, his largest break in doing so being 17. The younger player now went on again with 27, in which his delicate cannons were very conspicuous, and followed it up with 11, after Roberts had scored 10. Cook was now 705 against Roberts’s 600, and the former put together a very fine losing hazard and cannon break of 80, at the conclusion of which the whole room cheered to the echo. He followed this with a dozen, while Roberts only made 8 in three breaks, and Cook entered his ninth hundred while his opponent was only 608. Here Roberts put together 20, and then each player added 11 before Cook went on with 14 and 16 to 856. A good spin of 20 now carried Roberts to 660, and another of 16 immediately succeeded, Cook meanwhile making but 5. The latter, however, was next to score with 22, but Roberts, with breaks of 26, 10, and a couple of 17’s, while Cook remained stationary at 883, made up a good deal of his leeway. The total numbers were now-Roberts 746 to Cook 887; but the latter could make no move, while Roberts again kept moving with 24, 14, and 12, until he had scored 796 to 897. Here two ‘ponies’ were offered and accepted about Roberts, who was playing grandly, and in his next break passed into the same hundred (the ninth) as Cook.
“At length, when Roberts had reached 822, Cook got the balls in position, and quickly ran up 63, making his score 962; but as Roberts followed by making 62 (five spots), he did not gain much advantage thereby. When the score was Roberts 892, Cook 977, the latter made a foul stroke, and the balls had to be spotted. At about ten minutes to one Cook completed his 1,000 (Roberts being then 899), and went on in the same run to 1,016 the entire break numbering 35. In the succeeding break Roberts added 39, and followed with 10 and 11, after Cook had gone on to 1,027. Here he stopped, while Roberts put together a very fine break of 31, mainly composed of losing red hazards. Roberts got to 1,000 when Cook was 1,037, and then with a break of 41 went by his youthful antagonist, who, however, again repassed him, and with 22 and some little ones got to 1,069 to 1,049. The excitement was now very great and each stroke was loudly applauded. Again, with 31 and 10, he got farther away, until he reached 1,110 to 1,051.
“Each man was now very careful, and the play proportionately slow for some time, until Cook was 1,132 to 1,083. Here, with a little luck, he got the balls in good position, and worked them so well that he ran out with an incomplete break of 68, several of his losing hazards being especially brilliant. The winning stroke was a losing red hazard into the middle pocket at twenty minutes to two o’clock.
“The match altogether lasted just five hours, of which two hours and forty minutes were occupied in making the first 600. Cook was thus declared the winner (by 117 points) and the champion amid a scene of the wildest excitement. Roberts was naturally much chagrined at his defeat, but after a little while recovered himself, as he found that his old supporters, so far from deserting him in his trouble, crowded round him all the more eagerly to offer consolation.”
1870 to 1873 (The first great Burroughes & Watts tournament)
The next great match after the memorable one between Cook and Roberts, sen., was a match at pyramids between Cook and Roberts, jun. This match, which was virtually, though not nominally, for the championship at pyramids, was played on an ordinary Burroughes and Watts table (3 5/8 inch pockets) at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Paddington. The play on both sides was magnificent. After the two players had won nine games each, the match being the best of twenty-one games, Roberts, jun., scored the next two games, and thus won.
After this match a series of exhibition games took place principally round the country, the players being as a rule Cook and Roberts or Cook and Stanley. Day by day news came of larger and larger breaks being scored, till at last Cook, in a match with Stanley at Totnes, made no less than 512 in one break.
Next followed the second match for the championship, which proved a most easy victory to Roberts, jun., who won by no less than 478 points. This game was played on the 14th April, 1870, and was 1,000 up instead of 1,200. The time of this match is still the fastest on record for a match for the championship, Roberts winning in 3 hours 4 minutes. He was immediately challenged by Alfred Bowles, of Brighton, and the match was played on May 30, 1870. Bowles, however, had no chance, and it was at once apparent that he was altogether a different class of player. Roberts won an easy match by 246 points, the time being 4 hours 10 minutes.
The next to challenge was Joseph Bennett, who met the holder of the Cup on November 28 in the same year, defeating him by 95 points in 4 hours 45 minutes. And thus closed the memorable year of 1870, which had witnessed four championship matches and four billiard champions-viz., John Roberts, sen., W. Cook, John Roberts, jun., and Joseph Bennett.
Early in 1871-viz., on the 30th of January-the championship once more changed hands. Roberts, jun., had at once challenged Bennett to a return match, in which the latter suffered a severe defeat, as Roberts won by no less than 363 points, in 3 hours 22 minutes, whereupon W. Cook once more came to the front and challenged Roberts. The two met on the 25th of May, 1871, and Cook once more won the championship, after a most exciting struggle, by 15 points only. The next to challenge was Joseph Bennett, who met Cook on 21st November, 1871, and the latter won by 58 points in 4 hours 23 minutes. Thus ended the year 1871, which, in addition to these important matches for the championship, teemed with others too numerous to be mentioned.
The first match in 1872 was between W. Cook, the champion, and Roberts, jun., who once more challenged for the Cup, but was again doomed to disappointment, as, on the 4th of March, Cook defeated him by 201 points, in 3 hours 27 minutes; and the last named was now in the zenith of his fame, playing better and better every day. No one again challenged for the championship in 1877; but before the end of the year Cook had surpassed all his former efforts, and in an exhibition match with Joseph Bennett, on the 29th of November, had scored the splendid break of 936 off the balls, including 262 consecutive spot hazards.
In 1873 another event took place that has had a marked effect in advancing billiards as a scientific game. In the December of that year Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, the well-known firm of billiard table manufacturers of Soho Square, first commenced that series of handicaps which has done so much to advance billiards, and which has been the means, in fact the only means, of bringing forward rising young players, who, but for their liberality, would still be comparatively unknown.
For some time professional billiards had been too much monopolised by three or four players, to the exclusion of all others. By means of these handicaps young players for years past have had opportunities of showing their powers unhampered by a backer.
The secret of the marvellous success of these Burroughes and Watts handicaps has been that the best players have been selected with the utmost fairness. The handicap has been left in the hands of the press, and no entrance fee whatever has been demanded from the players, who, in addition to the valuable prize of over £100 given each time, have been allowed to share all profits accruing over each entertainment It is by these means that men like Shorter, Collins; Mitchell, Peall, and others, have been enabled to come to the front rank of players.
In the first great handicap, played at the Guildhall Tavern in December, 1873, the following sixteen players were selected:-Cook, Roberts, jun., Joseph Bennett, Taylor, F. Bennett, Stanley, Harry Evans, Dufton, Roberts, sen., Tom Morris, Alfred Hughes, John Bennett, L. Kilkenny, Alfred Bennett, Stammers, and Collins. The play was very interesting throughout, and eventually Cook (scratch) beat Kilkenny (130) in the final, winning two games out of three, and winding up the last game with a break of 428.
Cook finished up this most successful year with a match at Liverpool with Timbrell, to whom he gave 250 points in 1,000 for a stake of £400. Timbrell in this match made one good break, 112, but Cook won the game by 229 points, making breaks of 116, 149, and three consecutive ones of 111, 106, and 168. In addition to this match another took place in the same month, December, between Taylor and Stanley, at the Wheatsheaf Hotel, Holborn, the game being rendered memorable by a famous break by Taylor of 435 points (137 spot hazards). It is almost needles to say that Taylor won the match, which was for £100 a side.
The first event of any consequence in 1874 was another match for the championship, Roberts, jun., once more challenging Cook, who had remained in undisturbed possession of the title of champion since March, 1872. Cook’s star was still in the ascendant, as he won the match, the ninth for the championship by 216 points, in three hours and ten minutes. This game was played on the 4th February. Cook was in wonderfully good form, starting with a break of 121, the largest that had ever been made on a championship table.
About this period considerable discussion took place in various papers with regard to the spot-stroke. Timbrell had been credited with a break of 893, in which were no less than 296 spots; Cook, in the previous year, had made 936; Taylor’s famous break with Stanley of 435, were all quoted to prove that the spot-stroke spoiled the game. Some, on the other hand, maintained that, without the spot-stroke, the game became dull and uninteresting. The result of this was that Messrs. Burroughes and Watts came forward once more and offered the liberal prize of a hundred-guinea table and a cue-case valued at ten guineas for a handicap in which the spot-stroke was barred.
This handicap was extremely interesting, and tended to prove that as a rule the best spot-stroke player will generally be also be best all-round player-that is, on an ordinary fairly-made table. This handicap was entrusted to me to make, and the following account of the final heat, which appeared in Land and Water, contains my views on the game written at the time:-
“Taylor, 180, and S. W. Stanley, 200, commenced their first game at three o’clock on Saturday, the final heat being the best of two games out of three. At starting Taylor made a break of 26, thus gaining the points which he had to concede, and getting ahead of his opponent. Stanley, however, soon began to play, and that too in remarkably good form. By means of one well-played break of 50 and several small ones he gradually drew 100 points ahead of his opponent, as he reached 366 to Taylor 259. The latter, however, who had rather the worst of the luck during this run of Stanley’s, played on with good pluck. A break of 36 helped him to decrease the lead, and he reached 346 to Stanley 408. Soon after Taylor, by means of two more breaks of 25 and 26 each, got up to 428, while Stanley had in the meantime only reached 443. Here, however, Stanley got in again. A break of 34 brought him to 482 to Taylor 443, when the latter failing to score, Stanley made the game off the balls, thus winning the first match of the three by 57 points.
“The second match commenced as the former by Taylor getting the lead, he reaching 267 to Stanley 245, when the latter made a break of 51, and soon after, by means of another break of over 30, succeeded in reaching 329 to Taylor 268. Soon after however, a splendid break of 63 brought Taylor again to the fore, as he reached 342 to Stanley 337. A 36 break, however, enabled the latter to get away again, but not for long, as Taylor reached 423 to Stanley 407, and soon after the game was called 457 all. At this point Stanley made a very bad stroke, as he missed an easy hazard. Taylor, however; failed to make more than 2, and Stanley soon after by means of a 16 break won the game by 40 points, and with it Messrs. Burroughes and Watts’s handsome 100-guinea table, Taylor receiving the second prize of a fitted cue-case worth £10 There can be no doubt but that the victory of a rising young player like Stanley is beneficial to sport. Nothing does so much harm as that systematic shutting out of young men in handicaps in order that well-known influential names may be left in at the finish to make what is called a gate.
“Fortunately billiards in the present day is conducted on very different principles to what it was some years back. The strict integrity of the leading professionals coupled with the wonderful liberality of Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, has been the means by which the game now ranks as high as chess for science, and is entirely dissociated from the vice of gambling.
“In reference to Stanley’s well deserved victory, we would call attention to a letter from him we published two months ago, in which he states, ‘ I believe as a rule it will be always found that the best player at the spot-stroke is the best player after a time at the all-round game. To play the spot-stroke well requires great patience, a great deal of practice, and a great amount of nerve. Now any one who can combine all these is sure to be a good all-round player…. I believe after a certain point that the best player in a match for money will always be the one who funks the least, and not the one who can make the largest break in private, or when there is nothing on the game.’
“There is an old and somewhat vulgar saying that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating,’ which certainly applies in the present case.”
It is certainly a curious feature in a “spot-stroke barred” handicap that the two players left in for the final heat were the two who were mostly noted for being entirely dependent on the spot-stroke for their game.
In the following week Stanley met a defeat at the hands of Timbrell, of Liverpool, for the large stake of £1,000 and on the same day Roberts, jun., in a match with Cook, at Stockton, made a break of 800 off the balls.
The next match of any moment in 1874 was one between John Roberts, jun., and J. Bennett, for £200, which took place at Bennett’s rooms in Oxford Street, on Monday, June 1st. Roberts, whose best break was 140, won the game by 432 points.
Later on, Stanley got up a handicap at Rupert Street, Leicester Square, in which the following players contended: Joseph Bennett owe 50, Taylor and Stanley scratch, F. Bennett 50, H. Evans 80, Collins 100, Shorter, Richards, and Godwin 125, J. Bennett 140, G. Hunt 175, J. Hart 200, W. Dufton 220, H. Stenning 230, J. Stammers 250, Wilson scratched. This handicap was eventually won by G. Hunt, Stanley being left in to the last heat.
One feature of the year was the visit of W. Cook, the champion, to America, where he was ill-advised enough to play Rudolph at the cannon game. It is needless to say that Cook was defeated, which called forth shrieks of exultation in some of the American papers, which came out with sensational headings, such as “All England brought to grief,” etc. Indeed the tone was almost as ludicrous as that of some of the second-rate French papers, who declared in 1865 that “at length Waterloo is avenged,” because Gladiateur won the Derby.
To the Americans, however, we owe a deep debt of gratitude, and Cook’s visit was certainly not in vain, as he brought back with him the American system of handicaps.
The one great feature of the year 1875 was the introduction of billiard handicaps on the American system. With regard to these Land and Water observed at the time:-
“It seems now definitely settled that a handicap in which the eight best players will contend on the American system will take place. Thanks to the munificence of Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, who, for the third time during the past two years, have offered the sum of £100 to be given away in prizes, there can be no doubt of the handicap being a great success. One good point in the American system, which we may briefly describe, as each man plays one game with every other player, is that it necessitates a smaller number than an ordinary handicap. Hitherto sixteen has been almost invariably the number fixed on, as it avoids the necessity of having an odd man in the draw, which too often has been the means by which quite an inferior player has, by sheer luck, got into the final heat and won second prize.
“Now, eight men playing on the American system will play considerably more games than sixteen on the English, as the latter only play fifteen, whereas the former play twenty-eight at the very least, and probably more, as very likely there may be some ties. For instance, suppose two men or more win four games each, four being the greatest number of games won by any individual player-these men will have to play again in order to decide who is the winner. Another great point in favour of the eight best players being picked instead of more is that almost every match is interesting. Now, in some of the recent handicaps, when two men, neither of whom ranked among the first ten players of the day, by chance drew together, the spectators knew, to their cost, how extremely tame and uninteresting was the match. In the present instance Cook has chosen, we think, wisely, the players being Cook, Roberts, jun., Joe Bennett, Taylor, Timbrell, Stanley, Kilkenny, and Alfred Bennett. Now it is impossible to pick any two who will not make an exceedingly interesting match.
“How often, too, are people who take an interest in billiards heard to say, ‘I should like to see a match between so-and-so’-e.g., Taylor and Joe Bennett. One good point in the forthcoming handicap will be that every man can pick any particular match he likes-every one playing with every one else. Then, again, the element of luck, so often the spoiler of sport, is, by the method adopted, almost eliminated. How often do we hear the regrets of some fine player who, owing perhaps to some lucky fluke of his opponent, is knocked out in the very first game, who probably, but for the fluke in question, would have been the winner of the handicap ? In the present case, no man who did not win a single game would be audacious enough to attribute his want of success to luck only; nor, on the other hand, should a player win every game he played, could the meanest of his opponents but candidly confess that he had fairly earned his triumph. However, a meeting of the players takes place, when all preliminaries are settled. Should some players prefer to be placed with less points against their names than would otherwise be credited them, the result would prove how far their wishes are the result of conscious power, or simply one of the many instances of the proud spirit that goeth before a fall. At any rate, never has any billiard tournament taken place that will so clearly bring out the respective merits of the different men who will contend.
“Billiards, as a sport in the present day, bids fair to take a very high position. We believe this is due partly to the high honourable tone of the leading professionals, and partly to the encouragement given in the shape of prizes, such as those lately offered by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, who have done more to make billiards a recognised national amusement than any who have in their way been encouragers of the game for years past. There has never been any difficulty in finding men ready to come forward with money for a stake when a crack player has wanted backers. Various are the motives. Hundreds of men will put down money in the firm belief that they will win it back again, or for the love of being thought a sporting man, or simple vanity, but the case in which a sum of money is absolutely given away in hundreds is rare. It is much to be regretted that the example thus set is not followed by those who, with an earnest wish to encourage sport of all kinds, seem at a loss to perceive any other method open to them than that of backing their particular ‘fancy,’ too often to their own loss, and attended with the sacrifice of the honour of the ‘fancy’ in question.”
The preliminary meeting is described as follows:-
“At a meeting that took place last Tuesday at the private residence of Mr. J. Burroughes, of the firm of Burroughes and Watts, the whole of the arrangements in connection with what will undoubtedly be the great handicap of the year were definitely settled. Mr. Burroughes being unanimously voted into the chair, the meeting, which consisted of all the players, with the exception of Roberts and Alfred Bennett, besides numerous representatives of the London press, proceeded to business. The first point decided was that the handicap should commence on Monday, January 18th, at three o’clock in the afternoon, at Joseph Bennett’s well-known rooms in Oxford Street, almost adjoining Regent Circus. Two games will be played each afternoon, and two in the evening, commencing at eight. Consequently, the handicap will last seven days, and cannot be concluded before Monday, January 25. Should, however, there be any ties, they must be played off afterwards.
“The next point decided was the handicap itself, and resulted in the members of the press present being entrusted to decide the delicate question as to how many points each player should receive, it being previously determined that the champion and two ex-champions-viz., Joseph Bennett and Roberts, jun.- should all start at scratch. The members of the press having retired to another room for the purpose, there ensued what our old friend Herodotus used to call a great pushing of words. However, fortunately, the members were an odd number, and the following handicap was finally carried by four to three.
“Somewhat anxious were a few of the faces as the handicappers returned to the festive board. The feeling of honourable rivalry runs somewhat high among the upper-class professionals, and to their credit be it said that the feeling with each was that he preferred the honour of being thought well of in being allotted a few points to the mere pecuniary advantage to be derived from receiving many. After a laugh had subsided from the youthful Stanley observing in a tragic voice, ‘Gentlemen, are you all agreed upon your verdict ?’-and certainly the scene was uncommonly like the return of a jury-the handicap was announced as follows:-Cook, Roberts, J. Bennett, scratch; Taylor 100; Stanley, 120; Timbrell, 140; Kilkenny and Alfred Bennett, 160. The verdict was evidently one of ‘Guilty, my lord,’ so far as Stanley was concerned, as he was evidently annoyed at receiving twenty points more than Taylor, which fact seemed to outbalance the honour of receiving twenty more than Timbrell. This latter player was probably surprised at being handicapped to receive points from a man whom he had but recently played and beaten in a match for a stake of £1,000. However, being a full-grown man, he concealed his emotions. For our part, leaving out of the question as to who is the best player of the three and who is the worst, we think the handicappers would have shown more worldly wisdom had they placed Taylor, Timbrell, and Stanley all on the same footing, as this would have been more gratifying to the players’ feelings, and also an exceedingly interesting point in the handicap would have been the order of merit in which these three undoubtedly fine players would have placed themselves. As it is, should Timbrell beat Stanley, or both beat Taylor, much of the credit that they would otherwise have won is removed by the fact that points were given.
“After the question of the handicap was disposed of, the point next considered was in what proportions should the prizes be awarded, as, on the American system, each player gets a prize. Mr. Burroughes now announced that they proposed giving, in addition to the £100 in prizes, a gold medal to the winner of the first prize, besides which the whole of the profits of the tournament, which will probably amount to a considerable sum, would be added to the £100 and divided among the players. Joseph Bennett, also, has allowed the use of his room for the week for so small a sum that he may be almost considered as the giver of another prize. Cook also stated that he would give a gold locket, value £10, to whichever of the other players should make the largest break during: the handicap. After some little discussion, the principal difficulty being that the American system seemed to call for a more than ordinary knowledge of arithmetic, it was decided to divide the money in the following proportions:-The lowest, or rather the player who wins the least number of games, was to receive two parts, the next best three, the next four, and so on to the winner, who would receive nine parts; consequently, the whole sum of money will have to be divided into forty-four equal parts, and then distributed accordingly; or as the old-fashioned arithmetic books say-Example: Suppose the whole sum of money should amount to £220, each player will receive as follows:-The winner, the gold medal and £45, the next £40, the next £35, the next £30, the next £25, the next £20, the next £15 and the last £10. Some will probably think we have entered rather unnecessarily into a very simple and obvious calculation, but we have found so many persons who were quite unable to grasp the idea, that for their sakes we trust we may be pardoned by the more mathematical.
“But this last little difficulty was nothing to the awful problem that next presented itself, which was the order of play. It was determined that each man should play one game each day, that no man should play more than one each day, yet every man was to play every other man, and no two men to play twice together. Required: To draw up a list of four games with the names of the players for each of the seven days. A very pretty little puzzle or problem. The three rabbits with the three ears between them, and each to have two ears, was nothing to it. It was rather cruel of Mr. Burroughes to invite seven distinguished literary gentlemen to open an unknown number of bottles of excellent champagne, and then to present them with a problem that, to say the least, requires some little consideration. But the seven distinguished literary gentlemen behaved nobly under the trial. Reams of paper and bundles of pens and pencils were produced, and for a time silence reigned around.
“The scene almost recalled the Senate House at Cambridge, with Great St. Mary’s chiming the quarters apparently every five minutes. After vainly endeavouring to divide n(n -1) by Moet and Chandon, the seven distinguished literary gentlemen settled to their work, and ultimately produced a successful result.”
The handicap commenced on January with, and was, as every one had anticipated, a great success.
Roberts and Alfred Bennett were equal, each one having won five games. They played off the tie the following evening after the last game, when Roberts won easily, starting with a splendid break of 213, and ultimately winning by 140 points.
The next event of importance in 1875 was a match between Cook and Taylor for £200, the latter receiving 200 points in 1,000. Cook was in fine arm, and won by 474 points. The match was played immediately after the handicap, and on the same table, a very fine specimen supplied by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts. On a previous occasion these two players met, Cook giving 300, when Taylor won with great ease.
So complete had been the success of the first billiard tournament on the American system in London, that Messrs. Burroughes and Watts once more came forward with the offer of £100 for another one on the same system at Manchester. This was commenced on Tuesday, March 30th, and was played in the Cotton Waste Hall, Manchester, the players being the same as before, with the exception of Harry Evans being substituted for Timbrell.
The result of the handicap was an easy victory for Roberts, who won every game, in addition to which he secured a silver tankard, valued at fifteen guineas, for the best general average; while an extra prize, a fitted portmanteau, for the largest break in the handicap, was won by W. Cook, who in his game with J. Bennett made 304 off the balls.
Most assuredly Roberts’s play in this handicap was a grand performance. Up to about this period Cook and Roberts, though handicapped to play level, were scarcely considered equal. Cook’s long run of winning four matches in succession for the championship, as well as the fact of his having made the largest breaks on both an ordinary and a championship table, had caused him to be generally regarded as Roberts’s superior. After this time, however, the position of these two players became reversed, Roberts taking a decided lead, which he has steadily increased ever since.
On Friday, May 14th, Cook and Taylor met for the third time, Cook giving 300 in 1,000 for a stake of £200. In this game Taylor reached 903 to Cook’s 827, when the latter scored the game off the balls with a magnificent break of 173.
On the 24th of the same month Cook and Roberts met once again for the championship. Cook suffered a defeat, as Roberts won by 163 points in three hours and thirty-nine minutes. In this game Roberts’s best break was 49, and Cook’s 52.
In July, 1875, the two famous American players, the Dion Brothers, visited London, but their exhibitions proved a dead failure, as, in the first place, it was wrong to choose the summer, and, in the second, the English public have never yet shown any interest whatever in French billiards.
In July Stanley and F. Bennett met on a championship table for a stake of £200. After some weeks of wrangling, the game not being finished in time, and never played out, Stanley received the stakes.
Nothing of real importance occurred till the close of the year, when, on the 20th December, Roberts, jun., the champion, once more met W. Cook for another match for the championship. The result was Cook was again defeated by 135 points, the time of the game being three hours and twenty-five minutes Roberts’s best break was 85, and Cook’s 54. Unfortunately in this match considerable offence was not unnaturally taken, owing to the utter absence of any provision being made for the press, the room being so completely darkened, except the light on the table, that taking notes became impossible, and many papers failed to give any account whatever of the game. This was the last match of the year.
1876 to 1878
The year 1876 commenced with a handicap, as on January 3rd, at the Guildhall Tavern, the following men met in one on the ordinary, and not the American, system: W. Cook, scratch; T. Taylor, 110; S. W. Stanley, 100; F. Bennett, L. Kilkenny, and Alfred Bennett, 170; Shorter, Collins, Richards, and Hunt, 220; Stammers, 270. This handicap was won by L. Kilkenny, who took the first prize of £50. G. Hunt took the second prize, a fitted cue-case presented by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, while an extra prize for the best general average was won by Shorter.
On January 21st Alfred Bennett and T. Taylor met on a championship table for £200, but owing to the lateness of the hour the game was not finished. On February 21st John Roberts, the champion, played a match with Timbrell, the latter receiving 300 points in 1,000 for a stake of £600. Roberts won by 236 points.
Soon after this F. Bennett and Tom Taylor met to decide their long-postponed match on a championship table. This match was played at the Cambridge Hall, Newman Street, and resulted in the victory of Taylor by 315 points, his play being much applauded.
Cook at this period wished to play another match for the championship, but Roberts declined, as he was very shortly leaving England for Australia, and a benefit took place for him at St. James’s Hall, when he and Taylor played Cook and Stanley, a four-handed game, the former pair winning by 232 points.
The next event of importance was a handicap that took place under Cook’s management at 367, Strand, the first prize being a billiard table, presented by Messrs. Turner and Price. The handicap was as follows: Cook, scratch; Taylor, Stanley, and Timbrell, 125; F. Bennett, Kilkenny, and Alfred Bennett, 150; Richards, 170. It was won by Cook, who only lost one game-viz., that with Stanley. Next to Cook, Richards played best, winning five games, being defeated by Cook and Kilkenny. The best break in the handicap was made by F. Bennett, who in his heat with Timbrell scored 232 off the balls.
Roberts, jun., still prolonged his stay in Australia, and consequently Cook claimed the championship.
The first event of any importance in 1877 was a match at the Gaiety Restaurant, on January 18th, between Cook and Taylor, the latter receiving 300, points in 1,000. As this was the first money match that had taken place for over twelve months it excited an unusual amount of interest. Cook wont showing remarkable form, and scoring breaks of 112, 125, 115, 121, 196, etc. He made his first 500 in 1 hour 1 minute, and his second in 36 minutes, ultimately winning the game by 365 points.
This match was followed by one between J. Bennett and T. Taylor for £200, which was played on February 1st, Taylor winning by 27 points only. In the return match that followed, on the 20th of the same month, Taylor again won a most exciting contest by 21 points. Both these games were played on a championship table, specially made for the occasion by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts.
Next followed another of those popular tournaments promoted by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, who gave another £ 100 in prizes. This tournament commenced on February 27th, 1878, at the Gaiety Restaurant, the players being handicapped as follows: Cook scratch, J. Bennett, Taylor, Stanley, Timbrell, and Kilkenny each receiving 150 points, F. Bennett and Shorter receiving 200. Shorter won six games out of seven, being defeated by F. Bennett only. In his game with J. Bennett, Shorter made a fine break of 295, thus virtually winning the game off the balls, J. Bennett being beaten a love game of 500 up, a rare occurrence in billiards.
It is a curious feature, showing how men’s form changes, that J. Bennett, who afterwards defeated Cook level for the championship, should then be receiving 150 points in 500. J. Bennett shortly before this handicap defeated Stanley on a championship table for £100 by 247 points. The next month, April, was prolific in matches. Moss defeated Cook, who gave him 400 in 1,000, by 203 points, the stake being £200. Taylor gave J. Bowell 200 points in 1,000 on a championship table for £200, and won by 71 points, shortly after, on the same terms, for a stake of £100, defeating him by 14 points only.
The match of the month, however, was the one between Shorter and Taylor, the latter giving 200 points in 1,000 for a stake of £200. In this match Shorter made the famous break of 636 off the balls, including 207 spot hazards. Shorter won the game by 848 points.
On the 28th of May Cook and Roberts met once again for the championship, Roberts winning by 223 points. Owing to the refusal of Roberts to allow the usual facilities to members of the press, the match failed to receive that notice due to a match for the championship.
In the same month Taylor gave Moss 150 in 1,000 for £200, and won by 27 points. He also defeated Kilkenny in a match for £50, and Bowell once more for £100. Cook also beat the brothers Moss, the first match for £100, and the second for £200. None of these games, which were all played in Manchester, were remarkable for any great breaks.
In the following month W. Cook gave Taylor 200 points in 1,000 for £300, winning easily by 334 points. This match was played on a championship table specially provided for the purpose by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts.
On the 18th of June a very extraordinary match took place at the Gaiety Restaurant between John Roberts and Timbrell, the latter receiving 300 points in a game of 1,000 up. The Sportsman held a stake of £500 a-side. The match was played on an ordinary table, and Timbrell won by 439 points, his best break being 73, whilst Roberts never made more than 35 off the balls. This match was originally fixed for an earlier date, but Roberts, with rare courtesy, postponed the match on account of Timbrell’s ill-health.
In the next month Timbrell was not so fortunate, as Cook gave him 350 points in 1,000 for a stake of £100, and beat him easily, Cook running out with a break of 364.
The year 1877 closed with a match for the championship of Scotland, played at Glasgow on December 14th, for which Messrs. Burroughes and Watts had presented a splendid trophy in the shape of a silver cup. Green in this match, which was played on a new table by Burroughes and Watts, defeated Sala by 346 points.
The first great event of 1878 was another tournament on the American system, Messrs. Burroughes and Watts giving £100 to be divided amongst the players in addition to the proceeds.
The following were the players: W. Cook, scratch; Shorter, J. Bennett, Taylor, and Stanley, 125; Collins, Kilkenny, and Green, 170. The tournament commenced on Monday, February 4th, and was played at the Queen’s Rooms, Argyle Street, Oxford Circus. The result was a victory for Collins, who played throughout in rare form, winning six games out of seven, Taylor being the only player who defeated him. Collins made a break of 132 in his game with Cook, 92 with J. Bennett, 83 with Stanley, 111 with Shorter, 86 with Taylor, 121 with Green, and 109 with Kilkenny. The best break in this handicap was 365 by Cook in his game with Taylor. J. Bennett also made a good break of 265 in his game with Kilkenny.
The next match of any real importance in 1878 was one on the 8th of April between Stanley and Fielding for £200, Stanley giving 150 points. Messrs. Burroughes and Watts fitted up a table for the purpose at the Cotton Waste Exchange, Manchester, and Fielding won by 179 points. Roberts in the meanwhile was in India, and having declined to play Cook for the championship, Cook once more claimed the title of champion, and before himself leaving for India deposited the 150-guinea championship cup in the hands of the original donors.
On October 5th another American tournament was begun at the Westminster Aquarium, Messrs. Burroughes and Watts giving a sum of £50 in prizes. The feature of this handicap was that it was played on a championship table, heats 300 up. The players were Joseph Bennett, scratch; Collins, 25; Richards 35; A. Bowles, 40; A. Hughes, 60; G. Hunt, 60; John Bennett, 70; and R. Wilson, 80. G. Hunt carried off the first prize of £30, winning every game, a feat only once before accomplished, viz., by Roberts in the Manchester handicap. Wilson won the second prize of £10, and Joseph Bennett and Richards divided the third and fourth prizes.
This handicap was shortly followed by another one in November at the same place on an ordinary table, the players being Joseph Bennett, scratch; T. Taylor and G. Collins, 50; Richards, 75; G. Hunt, 85; A. Hughes, 90; R. Wilson, 110; A. Davis, 120. Joseph Bennett throughout the tournament, which was played on an ordinary Burroughes and Watts table (heats 500), was in rare form, and he repeated Hunt’s and Roberts’s performances of winning every game. Collins won 5 games, G. Hunt 5 games, Taylor 4, Richards 3, Davis 2, Wilson 2, and Hughes 0. J. Bennett also won the prize for the best break, making one of 213. Collins made a good break of 201, and Taylor one of 182.
The last American tournament of the year was played the second week in December at St. James’s Hall on a Burroughes and Watts ordinary table, T. Taylor presenting first prize of 50 guineas and second prize of 20 guineas, the third prize of 10 guineas being given by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, who also gave £5 for the best general average. The players were handicapped as follows:-Joseph Bennett and T. Taylor, scratch; Collins and F. Bennett, 50; Fielding and Richards, 100; G. Hunt, 110; and J. Lloyd, 150. The result of the tournament was that F. Bennett won 6 games, and consequently took first prize. Taylor and Lloyd won 5 games each, Taylor beating Lloyd in playing off the tie; Joseph Bennett won 4 games, G. Collins 3, G. Hunt 2, Richards 2, and Fielding 1 game. With this tournament the season of 1878 may be said to have closed.
THE ADVENT OF WILLIAM MITCHELL – AMERICAN TOURNAMENTS – JOSEPH BENNETT AND TAYLOR – JOSEPH BENNETT AND JOHN ROBERTS, JUN.
CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHES in 1879 were conspicuous by their absence, but that particular year will ever be regarded as fraught with interest to lovers of billiards, as it introduced to public notice a player whose light had previously, strange to say, been concealed under a bushel. The player in question-William Mitchell, of Sheffield, better known at the time as “Bradley’s Boy”-a phenomenal exponent of the art of spot-stroke play, had, antecedently to the winter of 1879, been known to some habitues of provincial billiard rooms as a player of exceptional ability, but it may be safely asserted that never during his embryo career did he publicly give any signs of possessing such power and skill as he displayed in the Westminster Aquarium tournament of November, 1879. In that particular handicap Mitchell, whose real quality was then publicly unearthed for the first time, proved himself a veritable Simon Pure.
In the previous year billiards-in the absence of the rival champions, W. Cook and J. Roberts, jun., who were starring in India-had become stale, flat, and unprofitable to professionals generally, and had it not been for the American tournaments which (established in 1875) then became popular, high-class professional billiards might have become a dead letter in the market. These tournaments, however, stimulated as they were by the efforts of Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, who were constantly furnishing new tables and extra prizes as inducements for professional players to try their very best for honour and renown, might have failed altogether in their object but for the infusion of new blood among the players contesting them.
In November, 1878, Collins, the manager of the Westminster Aquarium tournament, introduced into his handicap a young player named A. Davies or Davis, who in private was credited with constantly making 200 and 300 off the balls. From the scratch man, Joseph Bennett, in the handicap in which he made his debt, Davies received 120 points, but he altogether failed to play up to his private reputation. Either from nervousness or incapacity, he proved an utter failure. His style was good but his execution was lamentable, and he altogether failed to hit the tastes of the critics who witnessed his performances at the Aquarium, and, later on, at the Baynard Castle.
Mitchell, however, showed himself a dark horse of quite another colour. In the first six days of the Aquarium tournament, held in November, 1879, he never lost a game, although he had for his opponents such tried men as Joseph Bennett, G. Collins, F. Bennett, D. Richards, and G. Hunt, to say nothing of the youthful player, J. Lloyd, who made so favourable an impression in Taylor’s handicap at St. James’s Hall in December, 1878.
Strange to say, in this handicap Mitchell, who had won six games off the reel against the best players left in England, succumbed on the seventh day to J. Roberts, senior. Mitchell doubtless lost his heat with the elder Roberts by a series of mishaps which, in billiards and cricket alike, may be accounted as amongst those things which, as Lord Dundreary phrases it, “no fellah can understand.” Mitchell, however, won the tournament with a record of six wins and one loss.
Before enlarging upon the events happening at the latter end of 1879, it may be as well to chronicle the matches and handicaps in the order in which they happened. The first contest worthy of note in the month of January was an American tournament held at Manchester. The prizes were £30 in value, and the heats were 300 up on an ordinary table. The eight players engaged were all men whose names were well known in the north, and at the end of eight days play the first prize was won by W. Grundy, 75 points start, who beat A. W. Morgan (85) in the final tie.
The first really important contest of the season was, however, the match for £200 between Joseph Bennett, the ex-champion, and T. Taylor. The conditions were that Bennett conceded his opponent 200 points in a game of 3,000 up, played on a championship table manufactured by Burroughes and Watts. The match did not turn out so interesting as was expected at the outset, for Taylor secured a very easy victory. The contest was fought out on the evenings of January 22nd, 23rd, and 24th. At the end of the first stage the figures on the board were registered as Taylor 950, Bennett 731. When play ceased on the second night Taylor had scored 1,923 to 1,343, and finally he won by 569 points.
On February 20th, W. Timbrell and W. Fielding contested a match of 1,000 up, level, at Manchester, on a Burroughes and Watts championship table, for stakes amounting to £200, and Fielding won by 342 points.
In the following month, on March 8th, a novel kind of American tournament, promoted by Joseph Bennett, was commenced at the St. James’s Hall. The innovation introduced into this handicap was a special table, invented by Joseph Bennett, and manufactured for the occasion by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, which was a kind of medium between the championship and the ordinary match table. It had long been felt that spot-hazard striking was monotonous, and play on a championship table was tedious in handicap competitions, and it was hoped that Bennett’s newly-designed table would obviate the disadvantages of both. As it was, the tournament proved a decided financial failure. The players were ill at ease on the hybrid table, and the play being poor all round, with the exception of Alfred Bennett’s performance, which was of a most consistent character, the whole affair, so far as the novel experiment was concerned, must be voted one of the most unsuccessful ventures ever started. The prizes were £50, and the heats 500 up. The result was that after seven days play J. Bennett (scratch), F. Bennett (receives 50 points), and A. Bennett (receives 50 points), each had won five games; T. Taylor (scratch) had won four; D. Richards (receives 80 points) and J. Lloyd (receives 80 points) had won three; G. Collins (receives 50 points) had won two; and G. Hunt (receives 80 points) had won one game only. The brothers Bennett then divided the prizes, and so this novel tournament ended. The best break during the play was A. Bennett’s 139 (44 spots).
A tournament took place at Manchester early in March on a Burroughes and Watts ordinary table. The players were W. Fielding (scratch), J. Roberts, sen. (receives 25 points), W. Grundy (receives 25 points), H. Wortley receives 55 points), J. Moss (receives 75 points), W. Moss (receives 75 points), E. Bancroft (receives 100 points), and T. Varden (receives 140 points). W. Moss won all his heats, and took the first prize of £45.
About the same time another American tournament was in progress at Bristol. In this competition D. Richards, G. Collins, John Bennett, A. Hughes, A. Davies, and F. White took part; and John Bennett won it with a record of four victories.
A fortnight afterwards the veteran ex-champion, J. Roberts, sen., won an American tournament at Manchester, in which the following players were engaged:- A. Bennett, W. Timbrell, W. Fielding, H. Wortley, W. Moss, J. Bowell, and J. Moss.
On March 26th the well-known marker and player, “Oxford Jonathan,” whose real name was Owen, died from the effects of a surgical operation. His decease to a certain extent severed a link connecting players of the past with those of the present.
On April 3rd yet another billiard tournament of transatlantic origin was commenced at the Westminster Aquarium. The heats were 500 up on an ordinary Burroughes and Watts table, and at the end of seven days play the result was that Joseph Bennett (scratch) and G. Hunt (85 points start) tied with six wins apiece; T. Taylor (scratch), D. Richards (100 points start), A. Hughes ( 130 points start), G. Collins (50 points start), and J. Lloyd (120 points start) tied with three wins each; and F. Bennett (50 points start) won two games only.
As an outcome of this competition, it may be remarked that J. Roberts, jun., the champion, who was present, having just returned from India, challenged Joseph Bennett to a match of 3,000 up on a championship table, for £200, Roberts offering to concede 200.
The match was subsequently arranged to take place on May 23rd, 24th, and 26th, and furnished one of the keenest struggles ever witnessed. On the first day, Roberts, whilst Bennett’s score was stationary at 336, took the lead. From this point a close fight occurred, each going in front alternately. When play ceased on the first evening their respective figures were:- Roberts 1,024, Bennett 939. At the finish of the second period of the match Roberts had made 1,987 and Bennett 1,971. During the last stage of the game the battle was of the most stubborn description. Bennett’s all-round play was very fine. In one break he made 14 spots, and followed this up with a break of 112. Roberts, however, played in his usual dashing and determined style, and eventually won by 20 points only, his best break being 91.
The winter season of the year opened auspiciously on November 17th with another American tournament. In this event W. Mitchell made his successful debut before mentioned. The heats were 500 up on an ordinary Burroughes and Watts table, and the players were-
|G. Collins||receives 60 points.|
|F. Bennett||receives 60 points.|
|G. Hunt||receives 110 points.|
|D. Richards||receives 110 points.|
|W. Mitchell||receives 120 points.|
|J. Lloyd||receives 120 points.|
|J. Roberts, sen||receives 120 points.|
Within three days, so excellent was Mitchell’s play that the whole billiard world was aroused. His spot-hazards were the talk of metropolitan billiard rooms, and when he played his heat with Joseph Bennett, which, by the way, he won by 104 points, the room was completely crowded. In fact, Mitchell’s play alone rendered this identical tournament the most successful ever held at the Aquarium or, indeed, in London.
At the end of seven days’ play the result was:
|J. Roberts, sen||5||2|