In his autobiography, Fats identifies “Jack Hill” as the inventor of one-pocket.

Here’s a one-pocket mystery.

Jack Hill, apparently from Oklahoma, is referenced in Hustler Days as the inventor of one-pocket. But the original source for that information was The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies, the book by Minnesota Fats. Fats offers only a few details about Hill, and we have never seen Hill’s name referenced elsewhere.

According to Fats, a man by the name of Babe Emmett owned a great room in downtown Oklahoma City, on Main Street. Fats first went there, looking for Hill, but to no avail. The locals told him that instead, Hill would be playing in a room at the Huckin’s Hotel, down the street.

“I must have stayed at the Huckin’s Hotel for six months, watching old man Hill playing one-pocket,” Fats states in the Bank Shot. “He told me if I could play three cushion and banks and straight pool, I would have a tremendous advantage at one-pocket so we played some three cushion and banks and once he saw the way I could bank a shot he said I wouldn’t have any trouble at all.”

So who was Jack Hill? And was he really the father of the most cerebral of hustlers’ games?

A difficulty here is that a separate man,  a hustler named Hayden Lingo, also has been credited with inventing one-pocket. Lingo is also from Oklahoma.

There’s a bit more known about Lingo. For instance, he played Johnston City, during the Jansco Brothers tournaments. Two sources told Steve Booth at that it was Lingo’s rules that the Janscos used at their one-pocket events.

“Although he was from Oklahoma City, Lingo spent long stretches on the road, at least as far from home as Boston,” wrote Booth. “Old-timers from Oklahoma City describe him as a well-dressed and soft-spoken man, while those who ran into him on the road often describe him as a secretive hustler. From Eddie Taylor to Squirrel, to Freddie the Beard, all who knew him agree that he was an unusually smart player, who approached One Pocket like a studious chess master would approach chess.”

But Lingo passed away several years ago and no one knows for certain what role he played in the creation of one-pocket. Booth himself expresses skepticism.

So that brings us back to Jack Hill, who is referenced in the Bank Shot. That book was actually written by Philadelphia journalist Tom Fox, and it was based on his conversations with Fats and his then-wife Evelyn. But there wasn’t a lot of fact-checking going on when Fox wrote the book, and Fats was known for playing extremely fast and loose with the truth.

Could it be that Fats simply forgot Lingo’s name and so made up that of “Hill” instead? That is, could it be that Lingo and Hill are the same person? After all, they’re both from Oklahoma City. Or could it be that Hayden Lingo learned the game from Jack Hill?

I tend to think the second supposition is the more likely. That’s because Fats, in his book, described Hill as “an old man.” Given the timeline from the Bank Shot, that means that Lingo would have been either dead or positively ancient by the time of the Johnston City tournaments. That doesn’t quite square with the description of Hayden Lingo that we’ve seen.

But Fats, Tom Fox and Hayden Lingo and are all dead. And so too, presumably, is Jack Hill. So it seems impossible to do more than speculate.

— R.A. Dyer