Billiards and Pool Boy Wonder Willie Hoppe Part 1

About the Boy Wonder of pool Willie Hoppe, history and biography of the young pool player.


Just around the turn of the century a seemingly bizarre bit of billiard matchmaking sent a 12-year-old boy to play Al Taylor, then about 30, and one of the country's best balkline players. It was agreed that little Willie Hoppe would be allowed to climb on the table to make his shots. At the outset of the match, which was held at the luxurious American Billiard Academy in Chicago, Taylor was very jovial. He patted Willie on the head and promised to buy him ice cream if he won. And Willie did win, 300 to 207. Taylor burst into a rage, slamming his cue across his knee. After buying ice cream for his conqueror, he gave up billiards and went to Colorado to take up mining.

The victory over Taylor made Willie nationally famous as "The Boy Wonder," a name he always detested but which ironically persisted, not only after his hair grew thin and gray, but even after his retirement from tournament billiards in 1952. The match with Taylor, however, was just another milestone in an implausible childhood and youth.

Six years before, Willie and Frank Hoppe had invaded the poolroom of their father's Commercial Hotel in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, N.Y. They were attracted by the sharp click of billiard balls and the fast quips of traveling salesmen who met there to play and kibitz. Willie was 6, Frank 8. Their father, a good player, watched at 1st as they dragged soap-boxes up to the table and stood on them to imitate the shots they had seen. But he soon took over the boys' instruction, drilling them several hours each morning. For Mr. Hoppe had fixed on an idea: He was determined to see his tykes trim the visiting drummers.

Impressed (and embarrassed) when the little Hoppes made them look like so many jelly-fingered beginners, the patrons of the Commercial persuaded Papa Hoppe to take his boys to Professor Daly's billiard academy in New York. In an exhibition there Frank and Willie did so well that they stayed for 2 weeks at the invitation of the professor, who had noted how they pleased the crowds in his establishment. At the end of the engagement Mr. Hoppe reached a decision. He summoned his wife, billed Frank and Willie as "The Boy Wonders" and put his show on the road.


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