Friday, September 19, 2008

Pool Hall Ower was Once the World's Best in Billiards!

Billiards GraphicAlexis Paz, a billiards buddy, sent me a link to an article published in the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review. The article tells the story of a pool hall owner in Indiana, who once the world’s best at billiards!

Truth be told, the article is a great read! And I kid you not! For all my billiards buddies and pool players, here is the post in its entirety!

*All credits for the article go to its author – Jared Stout, and the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review. Much thanks!


Indiana Pool Owner Was Once World’s Best in Billiards
by Jared Stout

To casual players at Lucky Break pool hall, Gary Nolan is the guy behind the counter who takes the money, gives out the balls and assigns people to tables.

But to the more seasoned competitors at the pool hall, he's something much more: a world champion.

The New York native has been playing -- and winning -- n pool halls all around the country since he turned 18. Nolan made a career out of playing pool professionally from 1972 until 1990.

"When I still lived at home, I just loved to play so much that I wanted to do that for a living," Nolan said. "I didn't know at that time that I'd be able to do it. It was just kind of a dream back then. But, once I got out among some of the best players, I was very competitive."

By the early '80s, Nolan was more than just competitive--he was a consistent winner, taking first place in several state tournaments around the country.

In 1982, his professional career hit its apex when he won that year's world 9-Ball championship in Milwaukee.

"I would imagine it was a goal of mine from when I was a teenager," Nolan said of claiming the world title. "Even after that, my practice routines would be playing under those conditions, imagining this was big-time pool."

In the double-elimination tournament, Nolan cruised through the winner's bracket and reached the final without a loss. That's when, for the first time, Nolan started to feel just a little bit nervous.

"I could remember I was already in the finals and I was waiting for the outcome of a couple other players, and they were setting up the TV lights," Nolan said. "I was worried about not playing very well in front of the cameras."

The tournament final was broadcast on the local NBC network affiliate in Milwaukee, but there was also talk that the event eventually would be shown nationally.

Although he'd never played that deep in a tournament of such importance, Nolan calmed down after finishing the first rack and didn't feel nervous again until the final shot.

"On the final shot, I felt the pressure a little bit, but it was an easy enough shot that I knew I could make it."

When Nolan sunk the 9-ball into the pocket, he completed his ascendancy from a talented teenager in Long Island to the world's best 9-Ball player.

Nolan started playing pool as a youth in Patchogue, N.Y., located on Long Island.

"There was a community center that had pool tables in it," Nolan recalled. "It was just a place to hang out after school was over. It was just a game I picked up pretty quick. Within a year, I was playing the game pretty good."

Nolan eventually moved to New York City and started playing against world champions. Some of them took an interest in Nolan and began to teach him the finer points of the game.

"At an early age, I was in pretty good competition," Nolan said. "I always had somewhere to look up to, somewhere to set a goal for myself because there were so many good players around."

That experience helped Nolan become one of the top players as he picked up many state championships during his career, including 9-Ball titles in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Tennessee and Iowa and an additional 8-Ball title in Michigan. Nolan said he also won "probably about 10 other midwest 9-Ball championships."

Nolan additionally finished as the runner-up in the world championship in 1983, just falling short of claiming back-to-back titles.

During about 20 years as a professional, Nolan managed to juggle his family life with his billiard career. While he traveled all around the country to play in tournaments, he and his wife raised three daughters.

"I didn't like being away from home," Nolan said. "I wasn't gone for long periods of time. A week, 10 days, that was a long time for me. But still, that's what I had to do."

In addition, there was no such thing as a guaranteed paycheck. Players had to pay entry fees in order to get into the tournaments, and only a certain amount of players would get paid. That meant a long losing streak could lead to some financial hardships.

The best way to deal with it, Nolan said, is to put some money aside for when things aren't going well.

One of the biggest frustrations in the game is there sometimes isn't much a player can do to get that paycheck if his or her opponent is shooting extremely well.

In most 9-Ball tournaments, the winner of one game gets to break in the next game, and the player usually has to win a certain number of games (often around seven) to win the match and advance. When a top player gets a chance to shoot, he or she could hold the table for several games, leaving the opponent helpless.

"If a guy just plays a perfect match against you, there's very little you can do besides sit in your chair and watch it," Nolan said. "It's one of the few sports where you don't really get a chance if your opponent plays good against you."

Back in the 1970s and '80s, professional pool players also didn't have the benefit of nationally televised tournaments. Now, pool competitions are often shown on channels such as ESPN, which brings more revenue to the tournament.

In addition, current professional pool players often get sponsorships from companies that produce pool-related products and will have their expenses paid.

"(When I played) it was pay your own way, pay your own expenses, and if you didn't do very good, you didn't get a check," Nolan said. "It was tough. In a way, it kind of drove me a little harder to play good."

In 1989, Nolan and his family moved to Pittsburgh because the area had become a popular place for pool players. Shortly after, his professional career came to a close as he took a regular job managing three billiard rooms in the city.

"I think I lost a little bit of my competitive drive because I no longer had to make this ball or make that ball or win this tournament or cash high to make expenses at home," Nolan said. "I was getting a weekly paycheck just like everybody else did."

In 1996, Nolan moved to Indiana when he started managing the pool room at Lucky Break, and three years ago he became the owner. He now has a pool room all to himself.

But, "I probably play less pool now than I ever have before," Nolan said. "I spend more hours in a pool room, and I have more time to play than ever before, but I don't play.

"I think I still would like to go out and play if I could get that competitive spirit back, but it hasn't come back yet."

Still, every now and then, someone walking into the Lucky Break pool hall can catch Nolan playing with one of the regulars looking to improve his or her game. And there's no better way than to learn from a world champion.



"Pool halls. The AnitoKid's home away from home!"

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2 comments:

Mike of How To Make An 8 Ball on the Break said...

And what is amazing is that like the article says, if you didn't know him personally, you would never suspect his background. It is not something that they brag about... except with really close friends over a beer. It is always amazing to me when you find these guys and ask a question about the game... they are so willing to share their knowledge and are actually very good teachers.

Along those lines you can visit the link above and see how to make an 8 Ball Break

THE ANiTOKiD said...

Many thanks, Mike!

:)

It's always a runout at The Runout TV!