A cue from the master: Billiards ace blends experience, love for the game

Green Valley News – October 22, 2011 – By Mike Touzeau

A crusader with a cue stick, Dick Sussman’s efforts have produced a plethora of skilled pool shooters in Quail Creek, including a group that took nine medals in the 2010 Senior Games.

More than 290 residents have been drawn through his tutelage into the Quail Creek Billiards Club, where he welcomes beginners and juggles competitive play on two tables at Madera Clubhouse in the sport that has captivated him for more than 60 years.

Sussman, 75, got hooked on the game growing up in New York City, where he says there was a poolroom on nearly every street and he used to deliver sandwiches to players from the deli where he worked or ran errands for them so he could hang around the tables. They were dark and sometimes dangerous places where the good players fed their families from gambling on the game; they definitely wouldn’t give away any secrets.  Newcomers quickly understood that you had to gamble a few cents whenever you played any of the experienced players in short matches that you couldn’t possibly win no matter how fair the match was made to appear as in: “You (the kid) only have to make 10 balls to win; I have to make 50.” But every time you missed, they’d run 35 or 40 balls and they’d have your dime within a couple minutes.

“I played them anyway, just to learn all I could,” he said, often walking 20 blocks to save bus fare so he could afford an extra half-hour of play.

He discovered that most of the best players in those days were great marble shooters as kids.  (Pool playing was a very natural way to use what the game of marbles taught you about the angles involved when spheres collide (caroms), accurate shot making, and ball-speed control.)

Poolroom owner Paddy McGowan became a mentor, turning him on to 14.1 Straight Pool. At age 20, (in 1910) McGowan played one of the first 14.1 matches in history with Jerome Keogh, who had just invented the game of Straight Pool that year.

McGowan played against a lot of the greats, including a young upstart in the 1930s named Willie Mosconi. The two became lifetime friends, so as a teenager in 1952, Sussman watched some exhibitions from the great master in McGowan’s room. Most notably was the time Mosconi put a postage stamp on the table and made ball after ball, rolling the cue ball back precisely onto the stamp after each shot no matter what distance or angles were involved in making the original shot.

McGowan pushed his protégés to practice the drill with pieces of paper, and it cemented Sussman’s passion for Straight Pool.

Control the ball

A game of precision and planning several shots ahead, it requires developing a stroke and touch that can keep the cue ball in a position to continuously create easy shots.

“When someone slams the ball,” he said, “they are making the statement that they cannot control the cue ball.”

“Billiards is the only sport where something important happens after the target is reached,” he explained.  (The well-controlled cue ball rolls into ideal position for the next shot, enabling long runs to be achieved.)

He believes nowadays women are often better able to make progress in learning that control, pointing out that women’s billiards is probably more popular on television today because they“operate better collectively — they cooperate better,” he said, and they didn’t come from the “hustler” roots, where gambling players were suspicious and wouldn’t share any iota of helpful knowledge about the game. Many of his club members are women.

The Army, college, and a career as a toolmaker/tool engineer never got in the way of the game for him.

“I always found time to play pool,” he declared.

Sussman was consistently among the top players in Vermont when he retired, though he was always the oldest competitor, once a runner-up in the state championships, and he became a sought-after teacher, sharing his expertise at VFW and Legion halls and Elks clubs.

When he moved to Quail Creek in 2006, he immediately spearheaded a lobbying effort to get tables and a room. He started the club three days after he arrived, before the tables were even delivered, welcoming beginners and setting up competitive play after attracting about a hundred residents through an article he wrote in the community newsletter.

Using his tool-making experience, he fashioned scoring devices and devised a system that allows the present 294 members to all get playing time, free instruction, while still playing around 15 hours a week himself.