Who Invented One-Pocket? Amateur sleuth Brandon Scott King takes on the question.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Prompted by a question raised on this website, amateur sleuth Brandon Scott King (also known as Rabbi Hippie) began researching one-pocket’s origins some years back. He now has nearly finished an entire book that should add to our understanding of one-pocket’s history. Just below we present a few words from Mr. Scott King himself, pertaining to his findings. We’ve also reported on his findings in a recent issue of Billiards Digest.
By Brandon Scott King
Most pool historians credit Hayden Lingo with inventing the game of One Pocket. But other sources as diverse as Minnesota Fats’ autobiography and Eddie Robin’s Winning One Pocket cite another player named Jack Hill as the game’s creator. All the sources agree that One Pocket was first played in Oklahoma in the years leading up to the Great Depression, then spread across the country as road players sought to make a score wherever the locals were not yet schooled in the game’s subtleties.
“… I’ve heard stories that I can’t testify to, but Hubert Cokes, Minnesota Fats and Marshall Carpenter, they all testified that [Oklahoma] that’s where the game was invented. They started off with a 3-cushion billiard table with two pockets, and then they moved it to play the game on six pockets.” — Ronnie Allen, May 20041Allen, Ronnie. 2004. “Rack ’em up with Ronnie Allen.” Interview by Steve Booth. OnePocket.org. https://www.onepocket.org/rackem-up-with-ronnie-allen/.
To be clear, there’s no record of Lingo or Hill ever claiming to have invented One Pocket. Others made that claim for them.
“The game of one-pocket was not invented until Hayden Lingo started it in Oklahoma City in 1931. Today the professional pool players consider one-pocket as the truest test of a player’s ability.” — George Jansco, 19652Southern Illinoisan. 1965. “$30,000 Pool Meet: Janscos To Run Las Vegas Tourney.” April 26, 1965, https://newspapers.com.
“The high rollers in Kansas City were talking about a new game they had seen down in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. They called it One Pocket but nobody was playing it in Kansas City at the time, even though they said it was a tremendous gambling game. So now I’m bound for Oklahoma City looking for the fellow who invented One Pocket, a fellow by the name of Jack Hill.” (Rudolf “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, 1967)3Fox, Tom, and Minnesota Fats. 1966. The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies: The Uncrowned Champion of Pocket Billiards Describes His Game and How It’s Played. 1st ed. Cleveland: World Pub. Co.,
Hayden Lingo and Jack Hill are both mysterious figures whose backgrounds remain largely unknown despite having played a role in the creation of pool’s most cerebral discipline. That’s hardly surprising, though, given the inherent secrecy of hustlers who need to stay “undercover” on the road. Lingo, at least, was still active as a player in the late 1960s, recent enough that a few people recall seeing him in action before he died in 1973. So little is known about Jack Hill, on the other hand, that there’s been some doubt surrounding his very existence. With no one left to vouch for him, it’s easy to dismiss Hill as just another figment of Minnesota Fat’s imagination.
“Am I the only person left alive that saw Lingo play one pocket? I was going to OU in 1960 and went to OKC to play snooker with Norman Hitchcock. Broke even and then went downtown to another pool room. On the first table on the left Lingo was playing one pocket with Glenn Womack (Eufaula Kid). Don’t remember if they were playing even or not but Lingo could still really play.”— Bill Stroud, 20134Stroud, Helfert, and Bentivegna 2013
“Lingo was terrific. I met him at Chester Truelove’s place at 44th and May, a couple of years before he passed away. That would have been around ‘66. He played well even then, in his near dotage.” — Grady Mathews, 20065Mathews, Grady. 2008. “Hayden Lingo.” OnePocket.org Forum. https://onepocket.org/forum/index.php?threads/hayden-lingo.997/post-24960.
Fat’s propensity for confabulation makes his autobiography a dubious source of solid facts regarding what actually took place. However, Fat’s account about tracking down Hill to learn One Pocket from its inventor is told in a fairly straight-forward manner without his usual embellishment or braggadocio. So great was Fat’s respect for One Pocket, he seems almost reverent when telling the story of his initiation into the game’s mysteries and does an admirable job of describing events that transpired thirty years earlier. Precise details such as Babe Emitt running a pool room on Main Street or the Huckins Hotel being nearby all turn out to have been actual people and places in Oklahoma City circa 1930.
Author R. A. Dyer has speculated that Jack Hill and Hayden Lingo could have been the same person. Given the propensity for aliases in the hustling world, this is a plausible explanation that would neatly settle the matter. (Consider the “Billy Johnson” and “Cesar Morales” pseudonyms used by Wade Crane and Efren Reyes early in their careers.) However, it’s a hypothesis that quickly falls apart upon closer examination, as Dyer himself points out. Dyer notes that Fats said Hill was an “old man” when they met for the first time in Oklahoma City. This encounter occurred in 1928, according to Eddie Robin. Fats and Lingo were born in 1913 and 1907, respectively, making them close to the same age, and both men were at Johnston City. It’s not likely that Fats would have mistaken Lingo for “Old Man” Hill whom he’d met thirty years before.
Who Was Jack Hill?
Jack Hill was indeed a real person although even basic facts about him are difficult to pin down. “Jack Hill” is a fairly common and indistinctive name, making it a challenge to find an exact match for him in the usual public records like birth, marriage and death certificates. Surprisingly, though, there is actually more contemporary coverage of Hill’s pool career in newspapers than exists even for Lingo. Throughout the 1930’s, Hill traveled extensively doing exhibitions–mostly in the midwest but with occasional forays as far east as Connecticut and Florida–and these exhibition tours were widely promoted in newspapers.
You can read more about The Oklahoma Roots of One Pocket at OnePocket.org. If you’re interested in buying the book, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll notify you when the book is available for purchase.