Hustler Days: Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red, and America’s Great Age of Pool

Hustler Days, originally published in 2001, was revised, updated, and republished in 2006.

Hustlers & Players

Minnesota Fats was a brilliant pool player, but he was even better at lying about his past. Wimpy Lassiter, the gentlemen hustler, started playing at age seven and for the rest of his life lived for the rush of victory and high stakes. Violent and determined, Jersey Red made and lost a fortune at the table.

With a passion for the game evident on every page, R. A. Dyer takes us through smoky bars and late nights where a win was just as dangerous as a loss. He captures the game’s popularity in the Thirties, its dark days in the Fifties, and its renaissance and apex in the Sixties, fueled by the smashing success of Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason going face-to-face in The Hustler. It was an era that culminated in the legendary, nationally televised tournaments in Little Egypt, Illinois, where Jersey Red and Wimpy Lassiter went at it for hours. And it was an era that ended in perhaps the most dramatic scene in all of pool. Just as Jersey Red beat Wimpy Lassiter in 1969, after a decade of bitter rivalry, the police shut down the tournament. Cameras in tow, they arrested eighty hustlers—including the new champion.

Dyer offers fascinating insight into the game of pool, as it parallels the economy of our country and its trends. Readers will embrace Fats, Wimpy, and Red—the fool, the poor-boy-done-good, and the hustler with a heart of gold—as their stars rise and fall. Complete with a glossary of pool terms, a list of tournaments, and profiles of other top players, this is the definitive book on a time when pool was king and those three player, its princes. From Fat’s first showdown—in Brooklyn, with a Texas-style gunslinger in cowboy boots and revolvers—to world championship clashes, Hustler Days is a rollicking portrait of America’s most roguish sport.


“‘…Thievery. Pure and simple.’ He [Wimpy Lasiter] won plenty, won big, and died alone in his room with little more than twelve dollars in his pocket….”
Barbara Bamberger Scott

Curled Up

“This lyrical, profane ode to the irresponsible life explores the dissolute romance of pool through the lives of legendary hustlers Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter and Jersey Red. Journalist Dyer follows the fluctuating fortunes of the hustler demimonde from its Depression-era heyday, when unemployed men flocked to pool halls looking to make a quick buck (“idle men…surge like lifeblood into poolrooms”), to the doldrums of the years after World War II, when these men had jobs, families and mortgages to absorb their time and money and a “black plague infected pool,” to the explosion in pool’s popularity in the 1960s, after the movie The Hustler glamorized it for a new generation seeking escape from propriety. Following sociologist Ned Polsky, Dyer appreciates the pool hall as the last redoubt of the “permanent bachelor,” a classless, defeminized zone where “men argued and spat and threw money across green felt” and evaded the burdens of respectability and domesticity. Dyer brings this subculture to life through many colorful anecdotes about his three anti-heroes, examining their childhood opposition to chores, their unfitness for gainful employment, their titanic tournament duels, where their human deficiencies become virtues, and the sad denouement-especially for pool demi-god Wimpy Lassiter-of a lonely old age. His prose can shade toward the purple (“Jersey Red came at the other fellow ferociously…his young lion heart pounding with every soft thud of the nine-ball,”) but connoisseurs of urban decadence will enjoy soaking up the rich atmospherics.”
Publishers Weekly

“Author R.A. Dyer gives a historical, linguistical and documentary-style account of legendary pool sharks, Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter and Jersey Red in his new book Hustler Days.”
Todd Boatwright

News 8 Austin

“The risk and rewards of living by your wits as well as the pressure of tournament play and big-money games are vividly described in this tour through the world of Wimpy, Fats, and Jersey Red. You’ll come away knowing them better than you do your friends. “
Robert Byrne

Billiard Congress of America's Hall of Fame

“R.A. Dyer has written a billiards classic. It’s a paean to a game and a time that will always be a piece of America’s soul. The book clicks along with the precision and elegance of Jersey Red running eight and out. Complex as one-pocket, smooth as a nine-ball combination, this book will find its way to the shelf next to McGoorty, The Hustler and The Color of Money.”
David McCumber

Author of Playing Off the Rail

“Dyer’s writing style is like big, bold pencil strokes on bright white paper — it’s gritty, it’s real and it’s unafraid.”
Sally P. Timko

Inside Pool Magazine

“In a dozen chunky, detailed chapters, he has written one of the best, if not the best book I’ve ever read on the people, the history and what went on in the minds of the world’s greatest pool players.”
Howard Schwartz

Casino City Times

“Tracing pool through the highs and lows, through dark dens and televised championships, and through the eyes of myriad personalities, Dyer paints a very American picture of the game as cultural phenomenon.”
The Alcalde Magazine

“Dyer has a passion for the game, a nostalgia for those times and a gift with the profane language of the pool halls that will have you reaching for “The Hustler,” if not your chalk and cue.”
Steve Duin

The Oregonian

“People who love pool will love this book. People who love a good story — fact or fiction — will love this book. … (The) human touch, really letting readers know who these hustlers were and how they became what they were, makes this book entertaining. ….The tales of these three men are fascinating.”
Bryan French

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“According to the author, a newspaper reporter and contributor to Billiards Digest, Rudolf Wanderone, the man who became famous as Minnesota Fats, was no more the “real” Minnesota Fats than was Jackie Gleason, who portrayed Fats in the 1961 movie The Hustler. But no matter. Wanderone, previously known as New York Fats and Chicago Fats, was a professional hustler who often shied away from facing pool’s best in tournament play, but who possessed a boundless aptitude for self-promotion. And in promoting himself as the person upon whom the character was based, he joined the landmark movie… in sparking a renaissance that lifted the game from dark back rooms to bright family rooms across America. Dyer also follows two other billiards greats of this era, Luther ‘Wimpy’ Lassiter and Jack ‘Jersey Red’ Breitkopf, who through their brilliance with their cues also helped make the 1960s the golden age of the sport. Well researched and stylishly written, this salute to pool’s glory days is recommended for all public libraries.”
Jim Burns

Library Journal

“Every great countercultural moment lives longer in analysis than in real time. Adding to a slow-growing canon, Dyer explores “America’s second great age of pool” (roughly 1960-72) and the players who defined it: self-inventing bloviator Fats; shambling, hypochondriacal, shot-making genius Wimpy; and Red, gifted but a perennial also-ran. Pool hustlers, like con men, tap into an especially American envy of those who literally refuse to play by the rules. Dyer knows this, even as he, too, is seduced by the film noir quality of these lives: predatory masters of an obscure craft, the hustlers’ greatest triumphs are little-known and most die broke and alone.”
Keir Graff


“Appropriately enough, R.A. Dyer takes a lot of risks in ‘Hustler Days,’ his absorbing history of the gritty, glorious days of the pool hustlers. … What makes ‘Hustler Days’ so engaging, and so readable for those with little interest in the game, is that Dyer subverts the hustler’s life while also celebrating it.”
Robert Elder, Jr.

Austin American-Statesman

“The pool hall was once a refuge for the working-class American bachelor, a place where he could “gamble, spit and cuss freely,” according to Dyer. And from this environment came the hustler, who perfected the art of setting up, then fleecing unsuspecting victims. The 1961 film The Hustler celebrated this culture, bringing fame to real-life characters such as Wimpy Lassiter and Jersey Red Breitkopf, not to mention world-champion Willie Mosconi, who had a small role in the movie. The most notorious hustler may have been the mendacious, motor-mouthed Rudolf Wanderone, Jr., who inspired the Minnesota Fats character in The Hustler and then adopted that moniker. Dyer deftly explores the shifting fortunes of the game, towns and hustlers through rich anecdotes, none better than the one about Minnesota Fats and Hubert (Daddy Warbucks) Cokes being robbed at gunpoint in DuQuoin, Ill., in 1941. Fats owed Cokes money. ‘Before you rob me,” Fats begged the masked bandits, “let me pay him the $5,000 I owe him.'”
Sports Illustrated

“A masterpiece, a rollicking guide into a rare, exotic side of the American Dream–where hip, urban versions of the gunslinging cowboy spend smoky nights in pursuit of perfect freedom. Dyer’s prose is as clean and breathtaking as a killer corner shot. This is the definitive word on a sport that is really a way of life. Anyone who has ever wondered what it means to really be free needs to read this book–but be careful . . . you just might be tempted to drop your 9-to-5 job and follow Dyer’s extraordinarily crafted roadmap to those seductive Hustler Days.”
Bill Minutaglio

Author of First Son: George W. Bush & The Bush Family Dynasty