Billiards and Pool Boy Wonder Willie Hoppe Part 2

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


The boys barnstormed through the small towns of the country. Pool hall proprietors paid from $1 to $25 for an exhibition. Their fortunes were uncertain. Sometimes Mama had to pawn her diamond to get the family out of town. When Willie was 12, Frank quit the act, determined to study stenography. (He returned to Cornwall and died there in the late '30s after teaching billiards in Chicago.) But Willie stuck with it. He soon became enough of an attraction in himself. He improved his situation by mastering the more difficult balkline billiards, at which Americans Jake Schaefer and George Slosson, and Frenchman Maurice (The Lion) Vignaux, were making handsome incomes. After his balkline victory over Taylor, Willie prospered.

At 16, William toured with Jake Schaefer. But when, 2 years later, he challenged Slosson, who had dethroned Schaefer for the 18.2 championship, Slosson sneered that he would not play an unknown.

Soon thereafter, Willie made a reputation which no one could ignore. (Slosson did meet and lose to him the following year.) He went to Paris to play Vignaux for the world's 18.1 title.

The night of January 15, 1906, some 3,000 Frenchmen crowded into the lavish ballroom of the Grand Hotel to watch the old Lion defeat this challenger who looked like a lad at his 1st formal dance. The white-maned Vignaux had majestic bearing and a gift for dramatic flourish. He seemed like an eminent professor about to squelch a college freshman. But plump, round-faced Willie, his hair plastered and parted in the middle, was quite calm. He bent over the table like a laboratory scientist, prepared to capitalize on every error Vignaux made. Whenever Vignaux missed, he yielded the table with an elaborately sardonic bow. Willie, not realizing its effect on the Lion's blood pressure, would give him a moonfaced grin and return to work. While the audience booed his cold efficiency, Hoppe scored repeated high runs and won the title, 500-323. He returned to New York to be met by a great crowd and a brass band playing "The Yankee Doodle Boy"; he was the champion of the world--and still only 18 years old.

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