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Willie Hoppe - Old Master of the Cue
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Willie Hoppe - Old Master of the Cue - 11-01-2010, 11:12 PM

Old Master of the Cue - Story of Willie Hoppe, a champion again at 52

The first chapter of this story opens some 46 years ago when a stern German father named Hoppe stood his solemn-eyed six-year-old son Willie on a wooden box alongside an erratic old billiard table and placed a cue in his small hands. The latest chapter was written in Chicago recently when Willie Hoppe, in a performance unprecedented in billiards history, recaptured one of the numerous championships he has held. In between are many dramatic chapters in Willie Hoppe's amazing career.

Young Willie's world was bounded by the four corners of a billiard table. Known throughout the country and abroad as the "boy wonder", he earned a living for his family by playing in exhibition matches. Then, at the old age of 18, he captured his first world's championship. For 15 years he stayed on top until, in 1921, a younger man defeated him. It was said that 'old age' finally had caught up with the great Hoppe, but he made an expedition up the traditionally impossible 'comeback trail', quickly recaptured his old crown and for another long period stayed either on top or near the top of the heap.

When the erstwhile boy wonder, now the old master, entered the recent Chicago tournament for the world's three cushion billiards championship, the old age whispers again were heard, for Willie was 52 and he was up against strong opposition. But the old master, in the language of billiards, was "freewheeling", and the other guys were as good as dead. He not only won the championship but swept the tournament in a manner never before equaled, by defeating each of his 10 rivals twice, to pile up 20 straight victories. If he never touched a cue again, Hoppe's place in the billiard hall of immortals - along with such all-time wizards of the cue as Frank Ives, old Jake Schaefer and the rest - would be assured.

Willie Hoppe today -the sleek blond hair of his youth has been polished down to a thinning gray pompadour, and he is stocky and somewhat poker-faced - holds or has held so many billiard crowns that he has to think a bit before he can catalog them. The very fact that there are so many titles is a tribute to Hoppe's skill and the skill of other players of his caliber; when one game became too easy for the experts, another and more difficult one was invented.

It was all very simple at the start. In straight-rail billiards the player was required to hit the two object balls with the cue ball. Then skillful players discovered that they could maneuver the balls into little triangles near the cushions or in the corners of the tables in a manner which permitted them to repeat the same pattern shot over and over again -- the object balls hardly moving as the cue ball traveled to a cushion and thence to each of the object balls before returning to its original relative position -- and roll up points so fast that it became difficult for the spectators to keep track of them.

Rules were adopted which limited the right of the player to make these shots in the corners, and the various balkline games were invented to limit them along the rails. Lines were drawn on the table and the player had to move at least one of the object balls out of the areas marked off by the lines in a given number of shots. [The various balkline games are designated by numerals defining the areas and the number of shots]

In three cushion billiards -- most spectacular of all billiard games -- there are no limited areas on the table but the cue ball must strike the cushion three times and the two object balls to score a point.

In the evolution of the game Hoppe has played his part, and his skill with the cue has brought him not only fame but fortune. Back in the golden 1920s a championship was worth $20,000 a year; the largest manufacturer of billiard equipment paid the "champ" a $7500 salary for giving exhibitions and there was plenty of extra money to be earned in tournaments. Today there is no salary and tournaments are fewer; yet the championship remains a bonanza, for exhibition offers have poured in since the Chicago triumph -- enough to keep Hoppe, who is general director and instructor at the Metropolitan Billiards Club on W. 57th St., extremely busy.

Hoppe, however, has paid the price of everything he has won. All his life he has kept a training schedule as rigorous as that of any athlete -- roadwork, exercise, regular hours, diet, temperance and interminable practice.

It all began back in Cornwall Landing, a tiny town on the Hudson, when Hoppe's father, who kept a battered billiard table in his combination lunchroom and barbershop, discovered that Willie had the makings of a billiard player. So there was no playing sandlot baseball with the other kids for Willie -- he had to stay in and practice his billiards. And besides, baseball might hurt his hands.

"Father was one tough taskmaster", Hoppe says. "He trained my older brother Frank and me so we could trim all the visiting drummers -- though I had to stand up on a box to do it."

Then in the spring of 1895, when Willie was seven and Frank was nine, the elder Hoppe took them on a barnstorming tour of upstate towns. It eventually led to an exhibition at that old center of the elite billiards, Maurice Daly's Academy at 31st St. and Broadway in New York City. Willie captured Daly's heart with his trick of scrambling up on the table for a difficult shot, then flopping off onto the floor to get out of the way of the cue ball. Soon Daly had bought him a little dinner jacket and was taking him to the Union League Club for exhibitions.

Hoppe's father sold his business in order to continue barnstorming with his "wunderkind". This barnstorming made for a strange life. Willie had little time for school, so for a while his mother accompanied the party as a sort of traveling schoolmarm. When Frank, who wanted to study stenography, insisted on quitting there was a brief period when mother Hoppe, who never before had touched a billiard cue, appeared as Willie's partner.

There was a lean stretch when she had to pawn her diamond ring to keep the family eating. Just when things looked gloomiest Willie, then 14, received his first offer to go to Paris. From then on the boy wonder advanced steadily until, at the age of 18, he finally was matched with Maurice Vignaux, then the 18.1 balkline champion of the world.

It was a picturesque contrast the two players presented as they met on that drizzly night of January 15, 1906, in the glittering ballroom of the Grand Hotel in Paris: Willie, a stripling, his hair plastered and parted down the middle as straight as one of his cue shots, and Vignaux, the old lion, a white-maned portly old man who resembled a music professor. Willie was nervous and got off to a bad start, but in the second half of the game the magic click of the ivories drowned out everything else from his consciousness. When the match was over Willie was world's champion.

His career from then on is told in headlines that fill a scrapbook almost as fat as a billiard table. [Side Note: Willie's actual scrapbook is now in the possesion of Jim Parker, founder of the Illinois Billiard Club]

Back in America, he speedily lost his championship and was publicly joshed by his friend Mark Twain for the 'steadfast' manner in which he held his cue as he sat in the high chair watching his opponent stroke away his title. But he won it right back, and also won the 18.2 championship. He played for President Taft in the White House. [side note: see also the "Hayward & Hoppe" thread in this forum]

Then he held the balkline crown from May 1910 through November 1921, defending it against all challengers from Europe, Japan and the United States, until "young Jake" Schaefer, brilliant son of "old Jake" lifted it from him.

Far from finished however, Hoppe went into training, worked a 'hitch' out of his arm that was affecting his game, and returned to recapture the title in 1922. Then he found a new world to conquer in the newer three-cushion game. New stars rose and old stars sank, but Hoppe hung on like father time himself.

At 52 Hoppe still lives up to the rules of training, practice and concentration to which he attributes his success. He goes to bed as early as his exhibitions permit, gets nine or 10 hours of sleep and after a light breakfast, walks two or 3 miles in Central Park not far from his home on W. 57th St.

For many years Hoppe was a total abstainer from both tobacco and alcohol; only lately has he permitted himself a few cigarettes and an occasional beer or cocktail. He has never driven a car for fear driving might stiffen his wrists and he limits both reading and the movies to save his eyes.

To see Willie Hoppe in action is to see an almost unbelievably efficient human billiard playing machine. When he puts on his dinner jacket and stiff shirt to face a tournament gallery he becomes a man of iron nerves. There are no temperamental outbursts from him; he doesn't even know the crowd is there; it's noise and applause are but a distant hum to him. "The game", says Hoppe, "is won on the table" -that's where he keeps his eyes.

Hoppe has no superstitions; he is so free of sentiment that he has never bothered to name the maple cue butt that has served him faithfully for the past 36 years. Though he isn't very articulate -- he is a soft-spoken man who talks best with a cue in his hands -- he has developed a personal philosophy that might be equally applicable to boxers, chess players, musicians, lawyers, writers or businessmen. That philosophy is expressed in his quiet dictum that "it isn't always the genius who gets to the top; it takes plenty of hard work and concentration along with talent".

His idea of what makes a good billiard player is summed up according to that philosophy. "First", he says, "you must have natural ability. But you also must be able to concentrate - an even temperament is a big help too -- and you must love the game well enough to put a lifetime of practice into it".

Hoppe can't quite put his finger on the intangible element that distinguishes a champion from an expert amateur. His best explanation is that a 'champ' must have all the qualities of the good player and also the ability to stand up under the 'terrific fire' of tournament play; that's where power of concentration becomes important, he believes.

As for himself, the 'old master' intends to keep up that hard work and concentration. He says he never has been in better form than he is now and he expects to keep on playing billiards "at least until I'm 60."


Published May 19, 1940
New York Times
By Sidney M. Shalett

Last edited by Mr. Bond; 11-03-2010 at 12:54 PM.
  
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11-01-2010, 11:26 PM

He never drove a car??
  
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11-04-2010, 09:29 AM

"His idea of what makes a good billiard player is summed up according to that philosophy. "First", he says, "you must have natural ability. But you also must be able to concentrate - an even temperament is a big help too -- and you must love the game well enough to put a lifetime of practice into it".

Hoppe can't quite put his finger on the intangible element that distinguishes a champion from an expert amateur. His best explanation is that a 'champ' must have all the qualities of the good player and also the ability to stand up under the 'terrific fire' of tournament play; that's where power of concentration becomes important, he believes."


Thanks Mr. Bond. This is pure gold.
  
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11-09-2010, 02:45 PM

You're welcome~ this one is interesting as well:


Billiards and Willie Hoppe were mentioned in the same breath for a half a century. Christened William Frederick Hoppe, the world knew him as just plain Willie from the time he was a boy wonder at the age of six and on through the years when he ruled the ancient indoor game.

Quiet, unassuming, always immaculate in dress, he was poised, self-assured and courteous alike to friend and opponent. He looked more like a cleric than a great figure in the sports world.

He began his dazzling career by touring the dirty, smoke-filled pool rooms of bygone days but so dignified the game that he drew Kings and Princes, ranking members of world society and opera stars to see him weave a spell with his magic cue.

He probably was the only billiard player ever to give a special exhibition at the White House, playing before President Taft in 1911.

He reached the heights of balkline competition before the first world war, declined somewhat during the Golden 20s and then came back to be recognized as the greatest three cushion player in the world.

A Young Champion

He was crowned 18.1 balkline champion in 1906 at the age of 18; ruled the 18.2 world from 1910 to 1920; was unchallenged 14.1 king from 1914 on and tried 71.2 successfully in 1938.

As the exacting balkline game took its toll of top-notch players, he turned to three-cushion. Although always a threat, he was unable to win the world title until 1940 when he ran off 20 straight victories, believed to be a record for tournament play.

A year later he collapsed while playing a challenge match with young Jake Schaefer, but in a month he had rebounded from a severe case of pneumonia and retained his title with the loss of only one game out of 17. In the 1942 round-robin championship he won eight of the nine contests.

A great player when he was still young that he had to mount a soap box in his father's pool room, he never enjoyed normal boyhood. Baseball was his favorite sport but he never dared play it for fear of injuring his hands.

But, in later years he became a rabid fan [of baseball] and often took a chance of injury by "working out" with the New York Giants. A real student of the game, he could be found in a seat at the Polo grounds or the Yankee Stadium near the outfield. He wanted to be away from the noise and the crowds.

Oddly, he never was able to master golf. He was powerful off the tee but that delicate touch that amazed onlookers at the green cloth table was missing when he got onto the green.

Trained Like Pugilists

He trained for his matches like a prize fighter, doing several miles of road work a day, getting plenty of sleep and watching his diet. Even in later years he could be seen doing his daily walk in Central Park, New York City -close by the Metropolitan Billiard Academy, where he worked and lived for years.

It was at this Academy that he loved to meet his small circle of friends, show them a trick or two about making a difficult shot and give lessons to those who were willing to pay the fee of $10 an hour.

He was born October 11, 1887 at Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, New York, where his father was a hotel-keeper, barber and a billiards player of local repute. His mother also played the game well. Willie always gave his father credit for making him practice. If he made a good shot, he received a word of praise; if he made a bad one, his ears were boxed.

He was only six when he and his brother, Frank two years older, began taking on the "drummers" at the hotel. He liked to recall that he and his brother "two-timed" the drummer, who thought he was good. Willie would make a good run and then leave the balls open for brother Frank to do likewise. Frank, in turn, would try to tie up the opposition with an impossible shot.

A Professor's Opinion

When he was nine he gave an exhibition before a group of Princeton University professors. One of them explained his uncanny skill by saying that his eyes had a peculiar faculty of measuring angles with mathematical precision. He solved billiard problems at a glance.

Two years later, the parents took the boys on a tour of the United States. Some weeks they made $100, if the father placed his bets right, but there were lean times when the mother had to pawn her diamond ring to get the family out of town.

He was only 12 when he beat such established stars as Ora Morningstar and Tom Gallagher. After practicing two years in France he defeated Maurice Vigneaux, recognized as the world's best, 500 to 323, in the 18.1 match. That established his world fame.

Short of stature and the necessity of using a box or climbing up on the table to make shots in his early youth resulted in the development of an unorthodox side-arm style. In the middle 20s he developed neurosis in his right arm and often found himself nearly unable to make his favorite masse' shot. It was then that he gave up balkline and took up three-cushion.

Hands Insured For $100,000

He tried his hand at running a billiard parlor but proved to be a better player than business manager. Although at one time his hands were insured for $100,000 and he made upwards of $50,000 a year, he never was wealthy.

Although his face grinned from billiards and posters endorsing all kinds of tobacco and beverages, he did not smoke or drink until late in life; then in extreme moderation.

He was twice married. In 1910 he eloped with Alice Walsh of Baltimore, sister of George Walsh, film actor, and Raoul Walsh, director. The story is they became acquainted when Willie rescued her from drowning. They had a son and a daughter. The marriage ended in divorce in 1924. In 1925 he married Dorothy Dowsey, an actress but became estranged four years later and they were divorced in 1931



Orlo Robertson
Associated Press
Issued Nov 15 1942
Published in Chicago Tribune
  
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11-15-2010, 12:17 PM

Willie Hoppe's records, set over a 47 year period.
1906 -1952:


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03-21-2013, 09:28 AM

Was his manager Charles Tennes and what was the relationship to Mont Tennes?
  
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03-21-2013, 10:54 AM

Charles' father was Jacob Tennes
Charles had two kids, Charles Jr. and Helen.
He had three brothers, Monte and Bill, who were widely know in the field of turf, and Peter.

Charles was in fact Hoppe's manager for a while. I'm not quite sure (without looking it up) when Charles started managing Hoppe, but he was for sure done managing Hoppe by about 1910.
At that point, a gentleman by the name of R.B. Benjamin became Hoppe's manager.
  
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03-21-2013, 12:21 PM

Did Charles Tennes manage Jacob Schaefer Jr. the son of Jake the wizard Schaefer ?
Mont Tennes was a very good pool player and owned or controlled many plool halls. His main source of income was from off track betting.
  
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03-22-2013, 09:49 AM

He for sure managed Jake Sr. (1905 until his death in 1910), but I don't think that (Charles) Tennes ever managed Jake Jr.

It appears that all of the Tennes brothers were somewhat well known for their pool playing abilities, and their betting practices. Charles' favorites were horse racing and boxing.

Edited to add this:

Herman Rambow claimed to have toured with (and built cues for) Jake Sr.
If this is in fact true, Charles and Herman probably knew each other very well and I wouldnt be at all surprised if Charles owned a Rambow cue as well.

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03-22-2013, 11:07 AM

Willie Hoppe played billiards before three cushion. Are there any examples of the earlier games ?
  
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03-22-2013, 11:36 AM

you're right, his three cushion career came about later in life, but what do you mean by examples? news articles? records?

Ironically, at one point, Willie even played a pocket billiard match against Ralph Greenleaf but got his ass handed to him.

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03-22-2013, 12:13 PM

An example would be current players on U tube playing 18.1 or 18.2
  
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03-25-2013, 10:29 PM

I suppose I'd be surprised if there were no videos anywhere, but I havent really looked into it, so I'm not sure...

I do know that Efren Reyes loves balkline games, so I might look for him playing it, or the 47.1 or 2 version...


Its likely that Hoppe got into 3cush mainly because 18.1 and balkline games were dying out, so he had very little competition. That, and he was offered 10K per year to play in the pro 3cush leagues, win or lose.
  
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03-27-2013, 11:20 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by xplor View Post
Did Charles Tennes manage Jacob Schaefer Jr. the son of Jake the wizard Schaefer ?
Mont Tennes was a very good pool player and owned or controlled many plool halls. His main source of income was from off track betting.
It looks like Charles did at least "assist" if not manage Jake Jr. for a spell...
This was probably after Jr. moved back from the west coast.

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01-28-2014, 01:09 PM

I'm curious as to his height. I read that Willie Hoppe was a short man but there is no reference to his height.
  
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