pool hustler

Hustling in Pool: The Backstory and Fascination with Deceptive Billiards


When it comes to playing pool, the allure of hustling has been present for as long as the game itself. Hustling involves luring unsuspecting pool players into playing games they can’t win, either for fun or to make money. Although hustling is considered unethical, it has gained fascination in pop culture and has contributed to the decline in pool’s popularity. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of pool hustling, exploring what it is, its legality, and how it is executed.

What is Hustling in Pool?

Hustling is a common practice deeply rooted in American culture, extending beyond billiards into gambling and various sports. In the context of pool, hustling entails enticing a less skilled or inexperienced opponent to wager money on a game. The hustler, often a more talented and experienced player, disguises their true skill level to give the impression that the opponent has a higher chance of winning, leading them to raise the bet. The hustler reveals their true skill only later in the game when it becomes too late for the opponent to back out, leaving them at a disadvantage.

Is Pool Hustling Legal?

While gambling and wagering in pool are common and legal in some jurisdictions, hustling involves an element of deception that crosses ethical boundaries and often leads to illegality. Attempting to defraud someone through hustling can be considered an illegal act. Additionally, hustling in places where gambling is prohibited is unlawful. Even though hustling may have legal gray areas, it is universally recognized as cheating and is generally frowned upon in pool communities. Engaging in hustling can have serious consequences, including confrontations with opponents, expulsion from establishments, or even legal repercussions.

Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats in the movie The Hustler

What is a Pool Shark?

Pool sharks are hustlers who employ various techniques to deceive opponents and lure them into games they cannot win. These techniques, known as “sharking,” can range from distraction tactics to actual threats. Pool sharks are notorious for their unorthodox methods and are often referred to as such due to their predatory nature.

How to Hustle a Game of Pool?

Hustling a game of pool involves convincing a weaker, often overconfident opponent that they have an easy win, enticing them to wager money. Skilled hustlers employ several tricks to manipulate their target and may even have an accomplice known as a “stakehorse” to assist in the hustle. Here are some common techniques used in pool hustling:

  1. Playing a few games without wagering or with small wagers to study the opponent’s skill level and habits.
  2. Using cheap or house cues to create the illusion of being an inexperienced player.
  3. Deliberately missing easy shots while making impressive or difficult shots to give the impression of luck rather than skill.
  4. Pretending to be impaired, intoxicated, or even feigning incompetence to instill a false sense of confidence in the opponent.

Ethics of Hustling in Pool

While hustling may not always be explicitly illegal, it is universally regarded as unethical. Hustlers are primarily focused on making money, often disregarding the integrity of the game itself. Engaging in fair and honest competition, such as participating in tournaments or worthy competitions, is a more ethical approach to making a living as a pool player.

5 Most Famous Pool Hustlers Ever

While hustling may be deemed unethical, there have been notable pool players who gained fame through their hustling abilities. Here are five of the most famous pool hustlers of all time:

  1. Vernon “Burnie” Elliott: Known for his incredible bank shots and defeating some of the greatest players without participating in official tournaments.
  2. Larry Lisciotti: Nicknamed the “Prince of Pool,” he was known for his come-from-behind victories and impressive skills.
  3. “Cowboy” Jimmy Moore: A world-class pool player and renowned straight pool player who had a long hustling career spanning over five decades.
  4. Titanic Thompson: A legendary hustler known for his fraudulent propositions and involvement in various sports and gambling activities.
  5. Luther “Wimpy” Lassiter: Considered one of the greatest 9-ball players, he hustled extensively before participating in formal tournaments, winning numerous titles.

Pool Hustling in Pop Culture

The practice of pool hustling has been glorified in books and movies, capturing the imagination of many. Some notable works include Damon Runyon’s short stories “Dream Street Rose” and “Madame La Gimpa.” In film, “The Hustler” and its sequel, “The Color of Money,” have gained significant popularity.

“The Hustler,” based on Walter Tevis’ novel, follows the journey of “Fast Eddie” Felson, an ambitious pool hustler who faces challenges and seeks to regain his game and confidence. “The Color of Money,” the sequel, portrays the aging “Fast Eddie” mentoring a talented young player named Vincent. Both movies explore the world of pool hustling, showcasing its allure and the characters involved.

Who is “Fast Eddie” Parker?

“Fast Eddie” Parker is a real-life pool player who inspired the character “Fast Eddie” Felson in Walter Tevis’ novels, which were later adapted into movies. Known for his speed and skill, Parker hustled for many years but never achieved substantial wealth from his endeavors. His most significant victory was winning the California championships while serving in the Navy. Parker’s achievements and skills in the game made him an influential figure in the pool hustling world.


While pool hustling is widely regarded as unethical and poor etiquette, ithas undeniably played a significant role in the history of billiards, particularly in the United States. Pool hustling has garnered fascination and even become the subject of books and movies, fueling interest in the sport. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that hustling breaches the principles of fair play and integrity.

As the sport has evolved, pool hustling has declined in popularity, giving way to more legitimate forms of competition such as tournaments and organized leagues. Engaging in ethical and honorable gameplay is not only more respectable but also promotes a healthier and more inclusive environment for all players.

It’s worth appreciating the cultural impact of pool hustling, which has left an indelible mark on popular culture. Books and movies like “The Hustler” and “The Color of Money” have captivated audiences with their depictions of the intense world of pool hustling. These portrayals serve as reminders of the allure and excitement associated with the practice, even as society recognizes its unethical nature.

In conclusion, while pool hustling remains an intriguing part of billiards’ history, it is important to emphasize fair play, respect, and integrity in the sport. By embracing ethical competition and supporting organized events, players can contribute to the growth and positive development of pool, ensuring a vibrant and inclusive community for all enthusiasts.

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