I just finished reading "Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last Great American Pool Hustler" by L. Jon Wertheim. It's a very good read that unfortunately won't get much pickup because: 1) People don't care about pool and 2) The cover isn't good enough to draw those who don't care in.
But this book is one I won't forget because it really has little to do with the game. It's one of the most fascinating human profiles I've ever read. So twisted and so unbelievable that it's pretty much exactly that--not believable. But it's not fiction. I know because I spoke to the hustler himself on the phone.
The book follows around a kid named Danny Basavich, a.k.a. "Kid Delicious," who ditches high school to travel the country hustling. The best parts of the book? This place called Chicago Billiards, which becomes a pool hustling camp where Danny learns his skill. And this agent he meets who tells him where to hustle, who to hustle and in what order for a cut of the profits.
I hate pool and I thought this book was a nice read. Fortunately, there's not a lot of pool verbiage. Its only major drawback is that the stories don't go from least outrageous to most outrageous, so when a story isn't as good as the previous one, you get discouraged. By the end of the book, you're wondering how exactly the kid takes thousands from unsuspecting people in their city and still leaves alive. I spoke with Basavich after reading the book.
Darren: What was this Chicago Billiards place like? I mean, it was literally a pool hall that you slept in.
Basavich: It was really crazy. It was like a wonderland make-believe place. It was for people who loved pool to death and that was all we did.
Darren: There were some pretty outrageous stories in the book. I suppose you've seen it all.
Basavich: Yeah, I've seen more than most. One night at Chicago Billiards, these two drug dealers from Bridgeport, Conn., came in with bags and bags of cash and they were playing each other in no limit hold 'em poker. I've never seen that kind of money in my life. It was at least $200,000, but was probably closer to $1 million. Everyone was standing around watching. And this was a place that people could have just walked into.
Darren: I never thought about it before but it was interesting to learn that in order to hustle you had to have a cue that looked bad, but was really a quality cue. But you obviously also used standard bar cues. My favorite story was when you used a broomstick as a cue.
Basavich: Yeah that was a good ploy. People don't realize that it actually makes certain shots easier. Anyone who really knows how to play pool can run a rack with a broomstick.
Darren: Jon L. Wertheim, who wrote the book, calls you the last hustler. Is that because the Internet has kind of hurt the underground world--that once a guy starts taking $25,000 from people, he's known?
Basavich: It's 10 times harder now to hustle than it was 10 years ago. The Internet and cell phone have really hurt things. But there are still thousands of guys who are hustling at underground bars as we speak. The best hustlers are guys that are really good, but not great. Not to be cocky or anything, but I think I was I was too good. So people heard about me quickly. I mean, I was probably the best road hustler there ever was.
Darren: You went into some pretty shady areas and came out taking thousands of dollars from these people. How are you still alive?
Basavich: I really don't know, to be honest. I mean, I went into some really bad neighborhoods. I've hustled at a bar where it was me against all Mexican gangsters and there are bullets and blood marks on the floor--I'm not kidding. And these guys are all drunk off tequila and we're playing for $1,000. I guess I survived because I was a nice guy. I mean, I took their money, but I was nice about it.
Darren: Not many people would believe these stories. How do we know they're real.
Basavich: Yeah, I'm sure people wouldn't believe it. But every story I told Jon about, he flew to those places and verified that everything I said was true.
Darren: Seems like you've been to many interesting places. Big pool towns aren't necessarily places tourists would travel to.
Basavich: America is really a great place and I really have seen it all. I've been to Bessemer, Ala., where it's still segregated like it was in the 50s and 60s. There's a black pool hall and a white pool hall two blocks away from each other. So when I wanted to go play in the black pool hall, I had to have the town sheriff with his pistol accompany me because I probably would have gotten beaten up if I walked in there myself. Then there's a town like Watervilet, Mich. Not many people would stop there. But there are like three or four pool halls with a lot of great players there.
Darren: You're a heavy set guy, did that help you hustle?
Basavich: Oh yeah. No one thinks the fat guy is ever great even if they saw me run 200 balls in a row.
Darren: Now there's a book about you, the screenplay has been optioned, you're only 29, what are you life plans?
Basavich: I will consult on the film, but hopefully I can do something for the pool world. The Pro Billiards Tour needs help. There are only six tournaments and first place is still $15,000, the same that it was decades ago. I'd love to see that rise so that more people could make a legitimate living off pool.
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