When it was time to flip it on his marks, Russ didn't just instantly turn into a billiards badass, because that would've been an obvious invitation to bash his skull in: "I had to pretend that some of the shots were accidents or flukes. It helped to try talking to the ball. Like I said 'Please, no -- not that way. Go, go, go -- yes!' A person who is good at pool doesn't do that, or so most people think."
Russ rotated between five pool halls and fourteen bars in the area around his college. He rotated regularly, and tried to put a couple weeks between each hustle at an individual location. It didn't make him rich, but he estimates it was about as profitable as a "good part-time job."
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Having to make shots is better than having to make someone's Unicorn Frapp.
But it was also unpredictable: "Some weeks I only broke even, and there were some rough patches in there where I lost money. A few times, players caught on [more on that in a sec] and I was thrown out of a church hall for doing it."
See, the whole "lose several games and then escalate" scam only works if your opponent keeps doubling down: "Sometimes players cashed out early. They didn't want a round three, and walked away with $40."
And my dinner for the week.
But what Russ really hated was losing money thanks to blind, dumb chance.
"There was this pool hall near the fairgrounds. Big, empty, hunting-club-looking place. My state doesn't allow smoking inside places, but they allowed it, regardless. It was great. Two guys in their 20s were playing, and they were only doing so-so. I think I was complaining loudly about my cue not working tonight, and we got to talking, and we played. I lost the first two, and then on the third I was going to come back big. I allowed them to break, and I thought I could sink them as soon as they missed. They didn't. They got solids on the break by getting three of them in the pockets, and the rest they got from a series of flukes. They weren't hustling me by the way they played, but it felt like it. When they got the 8 ball in, they said 'Jesus fucking Christ. How'd we do that?!'"