His ample belly suspended over the table, Danny Basavich stared at the configuration of balls as though peering into a microscope. The game was nine ball, and his shot verged on the impossible: a 90-degree "cut" to hit the 1 ball into the corner pocket, as the cue ball hugged the opposing rail. It was nearly 2 a.m. in the converted ballroom of a nondescript hotel in Toledo, and in a quarterfinal match of the Glass City Open, Basavich was "on the hill"--as they say in pool, only one game from defeat--his opponent up nine games to six in a set to 10. ¬∂ With an authoritative crack that pierced the chatter and the clinking of beer bottles, Basavich fired the cue ball, garnishing it with the perfect amount of draw--a violation of physics for any other player hitting a ball on the rail. It sped through the cluster of balls and collided with its intended target. The 1 ball fell into the corner pocket with a sharp ka-tunk. It was a brilliant piece of shotmaking, and the railbirds on the makeshift bleachers whistled and shook their heads. "Dee-licious," the tournament's abundantly tattooed security guard said aloud.
With that shot Basavich--a.k.a. Kid Delicious--entered the zone, that blissful state in which nothing distracts him from running racks. Not the stakehorses in satin baseball jackets who'd bet big bucks on him in the Calcutta. Not the young blonde hottie in the red sweatshirt a few rows back, conspicuously tossing her hair. Not the dark clouds of depression that, for years, had rolled in with little advance warning, once keeping him in bed for six weeks. Not the awkwardness he occasionally feels about tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds.
Shrouded in gauzy light, sweat dripping profusely from his forehead, Basavich potted four straight racks with a brilliant flourish to win 10-9. After the 9 ball had disappeared from view, his vanquished opponent, 2003 U.S. Open champion Jeremy Jones, smashed his stick against the table in frustration. Basavich, a 5'10" butterball of energy, accepted a round of handshakes, high fives and backslaps before repairing to the crowded hotel bar for a few rounds of beer and tequila shots.
"I'm buying," he announced in a voice that sounds like Wolfman Jack's with a New Joisy accent. By then the sun was nearly up.
Basavich slept into the afternoon, returned to the tables that evening and won again. In the Glass City final the following day, Nov. 14, with television cameras following him around the table and the bleachers packed, he finally had an off-day, falling 10-6 to Charlie (the Hillbilly) Bryant, a square-jawed Texan. But it had been a hell of a tournament for Basavich, who, in every sense, is fast becoming professional pool's biggest sensation. Playing against 95 of the premier players in the world, Basavich, 26, had finished second and earned one of his heftiest professional purses.
He was too thrilled to dwell on the reality that his week's earnings of $5,000 would've made for a mediocre night a few years ago, when Kid Delicious was among the most successful high-rolling hustlers that pool has ever known.
they say that aptitude in pool is a sure sign of a misspent youth. But pool was the salvation of Danny Basavich. A portly kid often beset by the depression that ran in his family (Danny's paternal grandfather is in a mental institution), he had it rough his first year in high school. He was harassed by classmates and didn't get much sympathy from teachers. "When he started giving me his possessions--his tennis rackets, his bowling balls--that's when I got the most shaken up," says his father, Dave. "I didn't let him out of my sight for two weeks." Fearing that their son might commit suicide, Dave and his wife, Doris, enrolled Danny in counseling and psychotherapy, but those sessions did little good, according to Dave.
At 15 Danny's sanctuary was Elite Billiards, a 25-table hall near his house in Milltown, N.J. Everything about the place appealed to him: the sound of maple cues colliding with hard plastic balls, the stale smells that lingered in the air, the menagerie of characters with faintly menacing nicknames like Frank the Exterminator and Neptune Joe. Danny had a native talent for the game, an inherent grasp of the geometry and possibility in every shot. But beyond that, cracking balls and winning games and speaking the lingo all imbued in him the ineffable quality that every teenage boy seeks. It made him feel cool.
At first he rode his bike to Elite on weekends and played for hours, winning enough to take a cab home. In the early 1990s, after he dropped out of high school in the first week of his sophomore year, he became an Elite regular, spending as many as 16 hours a day refining his skills and, just as important, picking up the finer points of the hustle.
Kid Delicious--that marvelous nom de felt--was coined when Danny was 17. Late one night he sauntered into Chelsea Billiards in New York City, looking as clueless and slovenly as he could, both his gut and his money hanging out of his pants. It was all a hustle, of course. He put down $1,000 to play Kid Vicious, the best player in the house. Then he bet $3,200, the rest of his stash, with the railbirds. As he ran rack after rack, one of the vultures whooped, "That boy ain't Kid Vicious, but he's Kid Delicious!" Basavich assumed it was just another crack about his weight, but he didn't much care, not when he strutted out of the joint at 6 a.m. with those 84 C-notes. Kid Delicious it was.
A few months later Delicious moved to Chicago Billiards, an appealingly seedy pool hall in a West Haven, Conn., strip mall off I-95. Chicago was to hustlers in the '90s what San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore was to beatnik poets in the '50s. Ralph Procopio, a wealthy businessman with a thing for pool and a soft spot for hustlers, owned the place, and he allowed the best players to live free of charge in the back rooms. Delicious and a half-dozen other squatters would rise in the afternoon and play money games of eight ball, nine ball and one pocket, mostly against each other, through the night. They'd spend the downtime practicing trick shots. Then, when the sun came up, everyone would crash. "There was always action there," Delicious says, "and when things got slow, Ralph would throw 500 or 1,000 bucks on a table, tell two of us to play for it, and, bam, the place would be jumping."
Delicious estimates that he won $100,000 in his first six months in West Haven. Unfortunately, he lost most of it back making what he calls "stupid bets." Like on cards? "Yeah," he says, "we played some cards--sometimes one of the [pool] tables would be used for poker games with $1,000 hands. But I mean really stupid betting. I'd beat a guy out of $5,000 playing pool, and then I'd go double-or-nothing betting that the next car out of the driveway would turn right. It would turn left, and I'd lose the cash."
The scene in West Haven laid bare one of pool's abiding paradoxes: The game's best practitioners might be scoundrels and scalawags--guys who live on the cultural margins, whose circadian rhythms are unlike yours and mine--yet the sport is predicated on precision and discipline and efficiency. Hitting a clean tee shot is nothing compared with sinking the ball of your choice in the pocket of your choice, all the while leaving the cue ball positioned perfectly for your next shot. Kid Delicious was an exemplar of this.
"Danny was known for having unbelievable natural talent," recalls Procopio. "But what really impressed everyone was that he could eat a whole cake before playing and still run a bunch of racks."
it was in West Haven that Kid Delicious met Bob Begey, a.k.a. Bristol Bob, another suburban boy whose life had been hijacked by pool. To the horror of his middle-class parents in Bristol, Conn., Begey dropped out of Central Connecticut State University as a sophomore to become a shark-in-training. On the surface, at least, Bristol Bob was everything Delicious was not: strikingly handsome, trim and unremittingly serious--"a real intense dude," Procopio recalls. The two players were united, though, in their belief that there was truth and romance to be found in hitting five-ounce balls across swaths of felt into a half-dozen unforgiving leather pockets.
In late 1997 Delicious and Bristol played in a tournament in Massachusetts. When it was over, and they had lost, neither of them wanted to return to West Haven, and neither wanted to return to his home. So they became road partners. They loaded their cues and their clothes into the back of Delicious's 1982 Cadillac Cimarron and went caroming across the country in search of action.
For the next four years the road was their home. Their places of employment were smoky roadhouses, upscale billiards parlors and sometimes the tables in the back of Mexican restaurants next to Dairy Queens. On smaller "bar boxes" and on standard-sized long tables, at all hours of the night, throughout the Lower 48, they played anyone who'd give them a money game.
The most successful hustlers will spend months at a time in one town, staying in character and cultivating the trust of the locals before making their sting. Lore has it that one-pocket legend Jack Cooney, a.k.a. San Francisco Jack, assumed the guise of an unassuming schoolteacher, spent months at a billiards parlor without hitting a ball, then took on the biggest whale in town in a $100,000 game. Delicious and Bristol had a different strategy: stick and move. "I'm not going to say we didn't want to make money," says Delicious, "but our goal was to play a lot, improve on playing under pressure and become pros. We didn't have the patience to hustle the old way."
Still, they did O.K. Better than O.K. Each hustle was different, but most unfolded like this: Bob would play first and win some money. Then the big fella, invariably underestimated because of his appearance, would come in and clean up. One of their first big scores came at a pool hall in Warsaw, Ind., a backwater halfway between Fort Wayne and South Bend. Begey played first and won a grand or so. The locals demanded another match to win back their money. "But this time," they said, "we want to play the big guy."
"Danny?" Bristol Bob said, brushing off the suggestion. "Aw, he don't hardly play."
"We want a piece of the big guy."
"O.K., but you'll have to spot him three balls."
Suddenly Delicious, a decidedly better player than Bristol, was taking on Warsaw's hacks--shortstops, in pool lingo--with the benefit of a three-ball handicap. After dumping the first few games, he demanded a high-stakes rematch. Sure, the locals snickered, we'll gladly take more of your money. Delicious then played his best. His smile illuminated by the dim bulb overhead and the neon sign in the window, he potted ball after ball. He and Bristol walked out with $4,000. "Needless to say," says Delicious, "we didn't sleep in Warsaw that night."
Other times Delicious would head to a college bookshop, buy a sweatshirt ("assuming they had my size," he says) and spill beer or smear cake on the front of it. Then he would walk into the campus pool hall and deliberately fumble a stash of hundreds as he tried to buy a Coke from the vending machine, provoking taunts and giggles. Inevitably he'd get an invitation to put $20 on a game. A college kid would beat him and then call his friends: Come down here quick! I got this clumsy, fat-ass freshman ready to gamble away a stack of hundreds! Finally, when the stakes were sufficiently high, Delicious would run the table, leaving the frat boys to lick their wounds--sweet payback for all those times he had been teased about his weight.
Before long Delicious and Bristol were wiring $5,000 money orders back home to their parents. And by trial and error they were grasping the niceties of road playing. When they tried to save money, sleeping in the car or eating fast food, it exacted a price from their games, so they rarely stayed in any hotel south of a Red Roof Inn and often treated themselves to steak dinners. Realizing that an expansive pool vocabulary could blow their cover, they took pains to use incorrect lingo. "We'd say, 'Are there any money sticks?'" recalls Bristol. "They'd grin and say, 'Huh? You mean a money game? Sure, come on back!'" They also armed themselves with Sneaky Petes--exotic sticks that are made to look like cheap house cues. "When you [hustle] games, you've got to be able to play good pool," says Delicious, "but you've got to be able to act good too."
Delicious and Bristol had their big scores--$20,000 in Davenport, Iowa; $20,000 in Philadelphia; $5,000 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and $5,000 in Charlotte, they say--but on nights when there wasn't a game to be had, they could make nice cake by performing sleight-of-hand. If you gave Bristol a few tries and bet $100 against him, he'd throw your car keys into a pocket on a table 50 feet away. If you stood back five feet from a table and held the cue ball in the air, he could hit a clean break out of your hand. Delicious would place a quarter atop an 8 ball in the middle of the table and bet $100 that, with 10 tries, he could hit the cue ball and make it carom off five rails and finally touch the 8 ball so softly that it would not knock off the coin. If you gave him odds, Delicious would also bet you that he could throw a stack of quarters onto the table and have all the coins land on heads. These, of course, were tricks he and Bristol had perfected on those slow nights in West Haven.
Nor were they beyond basic grifting. A favorite scheme entailed setting up the cue ball along one rail and the 8 ball along the opposite one. They'd bet a local that he couldn't walk around the table three times and then hit the cue ball into the 8 ball. Easy, right? As the poor sap took his three laps and everyone in the hall crowded around to watch him make his money, Delicious would remove the chalker from the table while Bristol surreptitiously wiped the chalk from the tip of the guy's cue. The sap would hit the cue ball, and it would leave the chalk-deprived cue and miss the target. "Everyone would have a good laugh," Bristol says, "and we would have our hotel money for that night."
Before leaving a town, the two always asked if anyone knew where else they could find action. But they also relied on Greg Smith, a pool spy--007, they called him--to alert them to money games. A former road player from outside Chicago, Smith has a folder as thick as a phone book filled with information about pool halls and players throughout the country. Name a pool hall, and he knows not only the names of the money players there but also the order in which to play them. Whenever 007 heard about a whale looking for action, he would tip Delicious and Bristol. All he asked in return was a cut of the booty.
Delicious and Bristol would be hustling games in, say Bessemer, Ala., and 007 would send word that big money was rolling into a pool hall in Watervliet, Mich., or Beloit, Wis., or Sarasota, Fla. "Boom!" says Delicious, banging his hand on a table. "We'd get into our car, look at a map, drive through the night, crash at a motel and then show up that next night to get in on the action. We made a ton of money thanks to him."
early in their four-year road trip the relationship between Delicious and Bristol started to evolve into something out of a classic buddy movie. They divided everything 50-50: the loot, the expenses, even the girls. When one of them was playing poorly, the other headed to the jukebox and put on a song that would jack up his partner's confidence--Zeppelin or the Doors for Bristol, Kid Rock for Delicious. Each also tried like hell to help the other improve his stick. Stuck one week in St. Louis without any action, Bristol spent a few days dissecting the mechanics of Delicious's break, making it at once more powerful and more accurate. The tutorial came with only one proviso: Whenever anyone asks Delicious about his break, he's obligated to say, "Bristol Bob taught me everything I know."
Soon the strongest personality traits of one bled into the other. Delicious wanted nothing more than to lose weight, but he lacked the discipline. Bristol, ascetic by nature and fitness-conscious, became a 24/7 personal trainer, weaning Delicious from his cheeseburger-and-large-fries diet and making sure they stayed only at hotels that had pools and gyms. By 2000 Delicious had lost more than 100 pounds, putting him under two bills for the first time in a decade. Bristol also impressed upon Delicious the need to save money. He kept his pal out of casinos and forbade him to gamble on things like the color of the next gumball to come out of the machine. Plus, Bristol helped persuade Delicious to take the antidepressant Paxil, which a doctor in New Jersey had prescribed for him but he hadn't been using.
In turn, Delicious persuaded Bristol, a self-described hothead, to temper his temper. Watching Delicious work a room--cracking self-deprecating jokes, buying drinks, making everyone in his orbit comfortable--Bristol came to see the power of kindness.
"I was strung so tight, after a game I'd be ready to fight the other guy," says Bristol. "Danny would beat a guy out of $10,000, and the guy would invite him to come over for dinner and meet his family. Everywhere we went, people fell in love with him. I was like, How do I get to be like that?"
Owing mostly to Delicious's disarming personality, he and Bristol never once found trouble. Delicious had a cardinal rule: If he sensed tension at the table, he'd dump a game, make sure everyone came out even and leave the joint. One night Bristol was on the verge of coming to blows with an opponent he thought was cheating him. Delicious interceded--by shoving Bristol against a wall. "I figured if the two of us fought, at least only one of us would get hurt," says Delicious. "Even though it would have been me."
Along the way they discovered that their game's iffy reputation is at odds with reality. There is a dignity, a sense of honor among players: You lose, you pay up. Delicious claims he once beat a sucker out of $6,300 in Jefferson City, Mo., and the mark had to pay part of his debt with a personal check. Delicious had been taught to accept only cash, but he took the check and it cleared, no problem.
Conversely, even after winning big and getting paid, Delicious would ritually give a little money back to the player he'd beaten--enough to get home, maybe even stop at the strip club on the way. "Danny got a reputation for having a huge heart, a road player with real good character," says Steve (the Mechanic) McAninch, a current pro and veteran road player. Besides, for Bristol and Delicious it was never about cleaning out the average pool player. "I was always looking for the millionaires and the rich doctors and the high-stakes gamblers," Delicious says. "I wanted to take money from the guys who could afford to lose it."
How much money did they make? Delicious estimates that he and Bristol grossed $500,000 together in their four-plus years on the road, though they could blow through $1,000 a week, easy, in expenses. (Delicious also made money by himself playing solo.) In their best year they figured they topped $200,000.
Hustlers are known to apply a little English to the truth. The results of their games don't appear in the newspaper; the Elias Sports Bureau cannot confirm that Delicious won $5,000 that wild night in Fargo. But ask around, and few players dispute Delicious's financial claims. "Put it this way," says 007. "You've got to win four out of five games to make it as a hustler. Danny won like 99 out of 100. I know that because I got paid when he got paid."
Adds Ronnie Wiseman, a top pro from Detroit who doubles as a road player, "I know a lot of people who lost a lot of money playing Kid Delicious."
Delicious is quick to point out that whatever his winnings totaled, his real accumulated wealth might be measured in stories. There was the time he walked into a Wyoming pool hall and busted Cheyenne Pete, one of the best players west of the Mississippi, in 80 straight games. ("It's true," confirms his victim, Pete Trujillo, owner of Plush Cue Billiards in Cheyenne.) Then there's the time Delicious was in Duluth and drove almost half the 160-mile distance to the Ontario border on a gravel road to beat some guys out of a few grand. And the time in Baltimore that Delicious beat the brother of a prominent professional wrestler and then returned to beat him a couple of times a week for the next month. And the time he cruised into rural Manchester, Ky., and stood on the dirt floor of a modern-day speakeasy (Manchester is a dry town), lording over a table with ragged felt and uneven rails before leaving with $5,000.
It was Fast Eddie Felson, the hustler in The Hustler and The Color of Money, who observed, "The trouble with shooting pool is that it's no good if you don't win." Delicious doesn't agree.
"Even if I had gone broke, I would have had no regrets," he says. "Every day on the road is a wild experience."
Three years ago Delicious-Bristol Inc. started to splinter. There wasn't a blowup; the partnership had just run its course. One reason was the changing climate for hustlers. The poker boom was still in its infancy, but already it had sounded the death knell for road action. Bristol was struggling with his game and wearying of the vagabond's life. "I also got tired of lying," he says. "It's fun at first, but it's exhausting always being someone you're not. After a while I didn't feel good about myself."
Delicious took on another road partner, Chris Bartram, a brilliant player and savvy gambler from Columbus known as Fifty because of his uncanny resemblance to the portrait of Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill. They headed west and made their share of money, once taking in $50,000 in a single night at Mikey's 24-7, an Oklahoma City pool hall. (Delicious and Fifty ended up spending the night at the home of the defeated player.) Another night Delicious made $10,000 on a single shot--a ridiculous double bank that would have left Euclid scratching his head.
But without Bristol, Delicious went back to his beloved cheeseburgers and quickly put the weight back on. He also went off Paxil. Ultimately, though, he was a victim of his own success. Through word of mouth and Internet message boards, news spread that the heavyset kid with the goatee was a ringer: You need a huge handicap to play him; and still you do so at your peril.
Even in the hinterlands Delicious would walk into the pool hall, and more often than not someone would recognize him. He started to go by his middle name, Martin, and he dyed his hair green, but even that didn't always work. There are only so many 300-pounders who crack jokes in that chalk-on-a-cue voice and then run off 30, 40, sometimes 50 balls in a row. "It got to the point where I'd look for action, and I'd feel like one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted walking into a bank with my name on the back of my shirt," he says. "I knew I had to come off the road and go straight."
at the highest level, pool is less about the made shots than about the missed ones. Every world-class player is so abundantly skilled, so conversant with the angles, that entire matches turn on one lapse in concentration, one unforced error that gives the other guy a sliver of opportunity. When you've come up hustling and dumping games and playing with a gambler's mentality, you have to change your ways to play straight tournaments. Delicious learned the hard way that in pro pool, if you try a spectacular shot, miss it and lose the match, there's no double-or-nothing bet.
"I'd travel somewhere to play a match, hit a stupid shot and go home without making a dime," he says. "I really had to get out of my old mind-set and retrain myself to play conservative."
He entered a few pro events as early as 2000 but played erratically. There was no question that he had the chops to make it, but the economics were discouraging. Even when he played well and won, there wasn't much money left over after expenses. (At that Glass City Open in Toledo, for instance, only 32 of the 96 entrants won prize money, and only eight made more than $1,000. A typical winner's purse on the United Pool Association [UPA] circuit is $7,500, though Delicious collected $12,000 in December for winning a tournament in Reno.)
Old joke: What do you call a professional pool player without a girlfriend?
"You sweat blood to beat four or five world-class players and hardly make anything," Delicious says. "When you're used to walking around with $10,000 in your pocket, it's tough." It wasn't until last year that he decided to become a full-time pro. The pay cut still stings, but every time Delicious beats a top player such as Johnny (the Scorpion) Archer, Buddy (the Rifleman) Hall or Earl Strickland, it validates his decision.
Ranked No. 11 in the UPA world standings as of Jan. 28, Delicious is a rising star. He was the UPA's 2004 rookie of the year, and he came in second at the UPA Pro Tour Championship, at The Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, where he lost 7--5 to Corey Deuel in the final on Jan. 9. Three weeks later Delicious took the 16th Ocean State 9-Ball Championship, in Providence, beating Steve Tavernier 9--4 for the $2,500 winner's purse.
Basavich is lending his name to a Kid Delicious cue, which will retail for $349, and appears in a series of instructional DVDs. He has hooked up with agent cum stakehorse Tom Dennehy, who underwrites his travel and tournament entry fees in exchange for a piece of the Kid's endorsements and DVDs. Introducing Delicious before a match in Toledo in November, the tournament emcee joked, "He'll be coming out with his own rap album any day now."
Success may have gone to Kid Delicious's midsection--his weight, he concedes, is at an alltime high, three bills and change--but not to his head. He has quickly become one of the most popular acts in pro pool's traveling caravan. "We're like a big family out here," he says. "You see the same people every week, so what's the use of making enemies?" A half hour before his matches in Toledo he was at the hotel restaurant, a cheeseburger in hand, telling stories and sweet-talking the waitress. After the meal he left a $15 tip on the $22 tab.
Not everyone has been won over. Delicious recently beat Strickland, a five-time world champion, 10--9 in a tense "hill-hill" (9--9) match and celebrated with a primal scream. Strickland, a temperamental genius known for his mind games, snarled at Delicious, "I hope you lose your next match."
But Strickland is in the decided minority. "The only guys who don't like Danny feel threatened by him," says McAninch. "He's just one of those people who lifts the mood of the whole room."
you'd never guess it once the matches start. A mask of concentration welded on his face, Delicious contemplates shots the way Jack Nicklaus sizes up putts, often taking minutes between strokes. With the sleeves of his flannel shirt rolled up, he wraps his left index finger around the cue and thrusts it with his right arm. The intense expression on his face doesn't much change whether he has missed an easy ball or sunk one of those no-way-in-hell shots.
"It's such a mental game that you have to develop a playing style you're comfortable with--like in any sport, I guess," he says. Then he smiles and pats that Falstaffian gut. "Remember, you're talking to a serious athlete."
His weight concerns him more than he lets on. He knows that he's a heart attack waiting to happen. He's also aware that there's a psychological dimension to his overeating. Dennehy recalls going to a restaurant with Delicious and watching him order more food than he could possibly eat. "What the hell are you doing, ordering like that, Danny?" Dennehy asked.
Delicious responded softly, "Sometimes I just like to look at food."
At the same time he recognizes that his size is part of his appeal. And apart from requiring him to employ the mechanical bridge more often than his colleagues do, his outsized physique doesn't much affect his game. "You'd think stamina might be a problem with me," he says, "but I can't think of one time it's cost me a match."
Unlike a rack of balls, old habits are hard for Delicious to break. Even after his conversion to playing professionally, the road beckons. About a year ago he got a call from a stakehorse asking if he would drive to a dive in Poplar Bluff, Mo., and play a series of games against a man known as the Gunslinger. Delicious drove for 16 hours and played for one. After hitting a bunch of those no-way-in-hell shots, each time leaving his cue ball perfectly positioned, he emerged $10,000 to the good. "I can't really hustle like I used to," he says, "but if someone arranges a money game for me in advance, they know where to find me."
Still, his lifestyle has changed dramatically. He's now based in Manchester, N.J., where he lives with his parents. Dave and Doris still marvel at how their troubled 15-year-old dropout, who eventually got his diploma by attending an alternative high school while he hustled pool, has flourished. "Pool was always what made him happiest, which is why we let him play," says Dave, who has taken to calling himself Dad Delicious. "But we didn't really know how good he was. I've been going to some of Danny's tournaments--I even saw him win, like, $1,000 on a hustle in a small town in Michigan--and the whole thing has been tremendous."
When Kid Delicious isn't competing in tournaments or giving lessons for $50 an hour at the Prime Time Sports Bar & Billiards Cafe in South Amboy, N.J., odds are good that he's either practicing on a table or--get this--doing yoga meditation exercises. Pete Fusco, a veteran pro player of some distinction, recently opened a pool palace in suburban Philadelphia that has dozens of tables, a private glow-in-the-dark room and Ping-Pong tables. Before the place was ready for the public, though, it was used as a practice facility by a handful of ranked pool players. On a chilly day in November, Delicious drove in from Jersey to hit some balls. He was practicing his break when an old friend walked in.
Delicious cried, "Bristol!"
Now a community college student hoping to teach gym, Bristol Bob, 29, lives with his girlfriend, Janelle (who designed Fusco's pool hall), outside Philadelphia. He has stayed in close contact with his old road buddy and become his informal coach.
As Delicious practices his break--a violent smack that sounds as if it came from a gun barrel--and then runs through a menu of cuts and double banks and demonic touch shots, Bristol watches intently and notes any mechanical glitch. On this day, though, they mostly reminisce about their years on the road.
"I can't tell you how happy I am for Danny," Bristol says. "All he wanted was to be a professional player, and look at him now. He's going to be the best."
At this point Delicious can't suppress his inner hustler. A sly grin starts to form inside his goatee. "Nah, don't say that," Delicious says, laughing. "Just tell 'em I'm going be the best in my weight class." ‚ñ†
Delicious and Bristol were united in their belief that there was truth and ROMANCE TO BE FOUND in hitting five-ounce balls across swaths of felt.
The most successful hustlers spend months in one town, cultivating trust before making a sting. Delicious and Bristol had a different strategy: STICK AND MOVE.
To keep their cover, Delicious and Bristol took pains to use incorrect lingo. They also used SNEAKY PETES--exotic sticks made to look like cheap house cues.
007 would send word that big money was rolling into a pool hall in Watervliet, Mich., or Beloit, Wis. "Boom!" says Delicious. "WE'D DRIVE THROUGH THE NIGHT."
"I'd look for action, and I'd feel like one of the FBI's TEN MOST WANTED with my name on the back of my shirt. I knew I had to come off the road and go straight."
Delicious learned the hard way that in professional pool, if you try a spectacular shot, miss it and lose the match, there's NO DOUBLE-OR-NOTHING BET.
Photograph by Clay Patrick McBride
RIGHT ON CUE
Inside a Toledo pool hall during the Glass City Open, Delicious revels in his march up the professional rankings.
Photograph by Clay Patrick McBride
Photograph by Clay Patrick McBride
Bristol was the ideal foil for Delicious, and he showed the Kid how to improve his game and his life.
Photograph by Clay Patrick McBride
Delicious says he wasn't interested in fleecing the average player; he looked for the big bettors.
Bristol got Delicious to work out and lay off the cheeseburgers, and for a while the Kid slimmed down.
Photograph by Clay Patrick McBride
Smith kept an eye out for big marks and alerted Delicious and Bristol--for a piece of the action.
Photograph by Clay Patrick McBride
At the end of the Glass City Open, Delicious was one of the last two players standing in a field of 96.
Photograph by Clay Patrick McBride
Delicious, now back to his former girth, says his weight doesn't affect the stamina he needs for tournaments.