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Freddy 'The Beard' Bentivegna, part 2

Freddy 'The Beard' Bentivegna, Chicago's grizzled sage of One Pocket and Bank Pool, recently agreed to be interviewed by  A long-time action veteran, Freddy’s keen insight into the game, as well as his knack for story-telling, has made him one of Accu-Stats Video’s most popular guest commentators. He recently published his first book, entitled Banking with the Beard, and he is working on a second.

© 2005 Steve Booth,


1P: Where we left off, your girlfriend is on the way and you’ve got a hickey the size of an apple…

FB: Right, and she was very suspicious; she used to inspect my body and my clothes – not very trusting. So Doc and I are in front of Bensinger’s poolroom, where I’m supposed to meet her. We came up with a scheme where Doc brings his car over to the front of the poolroom and we lift the hood. Then Doc starts the motor and says, ‘Get underneath the car like you’re fixing it. When we spot her coming, I’ll give you a kick when she’s right there.’ So as soon as she’s in range, he nudged me underneath the car and I let out a scream, and I come out cursing covered with grease and yell at Doc, ‘You dumb son-of-a-bitch, you leaked the goddamn hot oil all over me!’ And of course my neck is all red. She looked at it, all sympathetic, ‘Honey, we better get you home right now and I’ll put some salve on that for you.’

1P: So you turned it to your advantage

FB: It’s an example of thinking on your feet at the last second.

1P: So Freddie, you had your own room in Chicago for a while?

FB: Yeah, North Shore Billiards.  It was the second greatest action spot maybe in that whole era, next to Detroit.  Nothing was like Detroit because those guys bet $15,000 or $20,000 sessions.  But we were like $3,000 a game, $5,000 a game, $5,000 or $10,000 sessions on a regular basis.  Everybody was hanging around there -- every player.  Buddy Hall, Louis Roberts, Larry Hubbard, what’s his name that’s on the TV from New Jersey, Alan Hopkins, and Nick Varner and Jack Cooney.  I mean, just everybody; even Earl Strickland.  Ask Earl; Earl slept on the floor.  We let him sleep upstairs underneath the tables.  Earl, he didn’t have a buck.  And he’s big enough to talk about it.  He’s not ashamed, that’s just what he went through when he first came up here before he started beating everybody.  He got his start at North Shore, my joint.

1P: He was a teenager then?

FB: Yeah, just a kid.

1P: But he got real strong, real early didn’t he?

FB: Right then, right from my room; he launched from there and it was 100 m.p.h.  We used to see him, and he played okay.  But all of a sudden, boom, he’s a monster and he started winning tournaments.  Keith McCready was there.  Everybody was there and they were playing all over the joint, not just on one table.

1P: But Earl is one guy even though he hung out in your room, he never really picked up one-pocket, did he?

FB: No, he liked to play nine ball; that was it.  He played a little banks on the south side but he’s not a banker either.  He was there to play nine ball.  Nine ball really wasn’t that big in my room though.  It was mostly one-pocket or banks, and tremendous, tremendous action, 24 hours a day.

1P: Why do you think Chicago had such a strong one-pocket tradition?

FB: Well, we had some great players, we learned from ‘Pony’ [Isadore Rosen].  ‘Pony’ was our guy and then Artie had his own style and Bugs [Leonard Rucker] had his own style.  I had my own style kind of a mixture between Artie and Bugs.

1P: Because you’re a real good banker too, of course.

FB: Right.  Artie wasn’t; Artie couldn’t bank a lick.  I used to play him eight to six. And he couldn’t even play nine ball.  He couldn’t beat nobody playing nine ball.  He played a little straight pool, he played pretty good straight pool.  It’s hard to believe that he had that kind of speed at one pocket without that bank power.  His percentages were just so good.

1P: He controlled the cue ball real well then?

FB: Basically it’s percentages.  The shots that he took were so good.  After a while he would break a guy down.  He just kept looking at the right thing; the guy never makes a mistake.  The guy never does the wrong thing, hour after hour, day after day.  And he could play for days without any drugs.

1P: So it was his cue ball control and the fact that he just always picked the right shot?

FB: That’s right.  His percentages were just unbelievable.  He just knew exactly what to do.

1P: And that’s something that he didn’t just learn he also must have invented some of that himself.

FB: Yeah, nobody plays like he did.  First he used to play ‘Pony’ just to learn, then he told me ‘Pony’ couldn’t teach him anything anymore.  Then he started robbing ‘Pony’, playing even.  Finally ‘Pony’ dropped dead playing him! As a matter of fact, Artie’s probably got the record, two guys dropped dead playing him pool; that’s the kind of pressure he puts people under.  He’s had two people drop dead at the table!  Artie had ‘Pony’ like seven to nothing and ‘Pony’ fought back and tied it up; he needed one ball. He was shooting at the game ball and it was just too much and he just gave out and dropped dead in front of Artie.  And another guy, not a famous player, did the same thing.

1P: That's brutal! So he’s probably one of the smartest one-pocket players you ever ran in to?

FB: Not probably; he was the smartest.  There’s nobody smarter than him.  Like I told you, he was no great pool player. He couldn’t beat anybody playing nine ball; couldn’t beat anybody playing bank.  He was just a nice straight pool player, but he couldn’t beat any of the New York guys playing straight pool. So how did he beat you?  And he didn’t cheat.

1P: How about the black players, like Kenny Romberg?
FB: Remus was his name.

1P: That was his nickname?
FB: No, his name was Remus, his nickname was Romberg.

1P: Oh, I got that backwards! It seems like they had parallel pool in one-pocket and Chicago, you had the white rooms and the white players and then you had the black rooms and the black players.

FB: There was plenty of action. It used to be a guy could have fun if he wanted to play one-pocket around Chicago. One-pocket or bank. There was plenty of bankers and plenty of one-pocket players.


Without the beard

Photo courtesy Fred Bentivegna

1P: And that’s part of the reason why Chicago had such good one-pocket is they had all those good bank players too?
FB: Well, it’s a certain style. We’ve call it the Chicago style of one-pocket, it’s a little squeezy. California’s got a different style, because Ronnie was the main player out there. Ronnie was the power guy, with power shots and scrambling balls, but here in Chicago we just kept putting you behind balls and frozen.

1P: Was Clem from around Chicago?
FB: Clem was from Cincinnati, Eugene Metz. Clem was maybe the safest player ever. I would have liked to have seen him and Artie play, the game may never have ended!

1P: That’s what I hear about Clem.
FB: He’s another guy that didn’t like pool either. I’ll tell you how tough Clem was; he beat Eddie Taylor and Johnny Vives playing one-pocket. The bad thing was, as good as he played if you beat him he was liable to stick you up. Hard as it was to beat the guy, if somebody did kind of luck out, they were liable to get stuck up. He might put the gun on you; that’s how tough things were then.

1P: He did spend some time in jail I believe.
FB: He led a motley kind of a life.

1P: Well, there is a little of that around pool.
FB: But he was a great player; played real good safeties. But he didn’t like pool; he’d rather do anything.

1P: I never understood that, being that talented but not liking it.
FB: He didn’t like pool to the extent; it was just a way of making money and stuff. The same thing with Artie I guess. They got away from it as soon as they could.

1P: I would think in order to get that good, especially at one-pocket, you would have to like it to some degree.

Freddy's Book is available now

( click for information on how to purchase an autographed copy)


1P: Freddie, I wanted to ask you about your upcoming book, Banking with the Beard

FB: About 90% of the secrets that I know are in there. I’m giving them up because my son is not really that into pool; I was going to just leave it for him. He’s got this, because I’ve taught it to him, but he’s not that interested in pool, so your ego finally gets to you; you want some recognition. Everywhere I look I see people getting recognition, and half of them can’t even play!

1P: Well there are a lot of players that can do things, but they can’t explain what they are doing, and if they try, they explain it wrong anyway!

FB: Exactly

1P: But you are very good at explaining things, and I’m sure that comes through in the book. I notice that in the front of your book you credit Gene Skinner…
FB: Gene was a great player in the 30’s and 40’s, then he went to work at the race track and kind of got away from pool. But in his career he played everybody. He’s one of the few people to play Mosconi One Pocket, and he beat him.

1P: Oh really, how did he lure Mosconi into One Pocket?
FB: You’re asking me to remember something he told me too long ago for me to remember. He beat Jimmy Moore playing One Pocket too. He was a great all around player; he played in those World Billiard Tournaments too.

1P: Three cushion billiards?
FB: Yes, there were ten guys that were always one through ten at those tournaments, but he was just under those guys; just the next level.

He used to keep Fats broke; they used to play all the time. He played Marcel Camp, too. He was a great player, and bet his own money.

1P: Was he out of Chicago?
FB: No, he was from Fullerton, California but when the race track -- Arlington Park – was open he’d be here. That’s how I met him. He took me under his wing and showed me how to play One Pocket. In one week I learned so much from him that when I went down to Johnston City a week later and played in my first tournament ever, and I came in fifth. I beat some great players. I had Ronnie Allen dead-to-rights, three games to two and seven to nothing – that was for second place. I went for a bad shot, a three ball combination, it didn’t go and Ronnie got five and ended up winning that game. And it was winner breaks, and he broke real good and got three off the break and out-managed me from there. Ronnie ended up winning the tournament. But with Skinner’s stuff, I improved two balls in that week.

1P: That was a little unusual back then to have somebody actually tell you stuff.
FB: Well the reason he did was because he had quit playing pool; he was one of the few guys that would release anything. He kind of liked me and he did it for nothing. If he was still into pool he wouldn’t have shown me anything; believe me, they just didn’t do it.

At the Derby City Classic 2005


As a matter of fact I was just out at Artie’s house in Vegas, and he’s got a pool table in his garage and he leaked a few secrets to me, for the same reason. No way on earth would he ever tell me anything back when we were playing; but we don’t compete anymore. So he drizzled off a few things. Listen, I think I’m pretty smart at pool; I’ll put my knowledge up against just about any human, especially at banks, and at One Pocket I think I’m pretty smart too, but Artie is a friggin’ genius. Now I understand it; I finally understand how he was able to beat everybody. He really had a plan.

And another thing, I’m going to put this on your web site, he issues a challenge, anybody thinks they know more One Pocket than him, who thinks they have a better understanding of One Pocket – that goes for any human – he’ll put up thirty thousand. You get a panel of five knowledgeable people to judge and each guy has an hour to display what they know, and then the panel will decide who knows more.

1P: Boy, I tell you as a spectator that would be pretty incredible!

FB: Yeah, a millionaire One Pocket freak might put up the money just to learn the stuff.


1P: Absolutely; it might be worth thirty thousand.
FB: I only got few minutes with him, and I’m not a humble kind of guy, so for him to humble me, that was really something. I wouldn’t bet against him. I showed him a few banks too. And once I showed him, he never missed them; every time they came up he made them and never gave me any credit, as if all along he knew how to make that bank.

He was a weak banker; he didn’t really have shooting power, so how did he win? It was his management of the balls.

1P: I find it kind of interesting that he ended up making all that money in Vegas by managing the odds – just like what you are talking about at One Pocket. He had a good strong knack for recognizing an advantage in percentages.
FB: He made millions doing it, and the thing was, he didn’t like pool. The two toughest guys to play against were him and Clem and neither one of them liked pool; they got away from it as soon as they could!

I’ll give you a few of my road stories. These guys put a spread down for me to go play Archie Karas. I don’t know if you’re ever heard of him.

1P: No.
FB: Archie the Greek, from Las Vegas. He’s the highest rolling man of all time. You’ve heard of Nick the Greek?

1P: Yeah.
FB: Well, Nick the Greek is like a nit. Nobody has ever gambled in the history of the world like Archie Karas. There’s an article in Cigar Magazine about him. He was like $50,000,000 winner at the Horseshoe Casino. He played the owner of the Mirage Casino pool on his nerve, won about a million and then beat him playing poker. Then he went on to win $50,000,000 playing dice. He had all the $5,000 chips. They had to print a new chip for him, a $25,000 chip. I’ve got the article in Cigar Magazine. Anyway, nobody gambled like this guy. He even broke all the no limit poker players. They couldn’t play with him. He’s got no use for money. He was dead broke and now he’s got $50,000,000.



At the Derby City Classic One Pocket HOF dinner


So now he’s on the way down, he lost a lot of the money back, he had a few million left, three, four, five million left, so these guys trapped him. They told him that there’s a billionaire in Pennsylvania, an industrialist that likes to play pool and gambles real high -- which there is such a guy; Archie had been hearing about this guy for years. Audie Weiss was the guy’s name; a billionaire industrialist gambling degenerate, who can’t play at all and Archie had heard about this guy. So these guys told him they could get him a game with Audie Weiss, the only kind of guy who would gamble his fee. So they got him to go to Pennsylvania, some little town in Pennsylvania, and planted in that town is me. I’m Audie Weiss, the billionaire.

Archie knows this guy is an eccentric billionaire, he don’t dress fancy, he don’t wear no jewelry, but he’s a degenerate gambler, so they passed me off as Audie Weiss. We meet; they introduce me and so on, then we go to the poolroom; we’re going to play some eight ball. I say, ‘What do you want to play for Archie?’ We kicked it off at $40,000. Archie has in his pocket $200,000 in $5,000 and $25,000 chips from the Horseshoe and the $25,000 chips were like travelers checks. You couldn’t steal them from him because nobody would cash them. He’d have to okay to cash them in because he was the only guy who had $25,000 chips. So that’s what he had in his pocket instead of money.

So the first game we played for $40,000, a game of eight ball. He broke, didn’t make nothing and I run out. It was an easy layout. He reaches in his pocket and gives me eight $5,000 chips. I break I don’t make nothing, he runs out. Another easy layout, I give him back the $40,000. I was a little shaky. I could beat him; I was a good pool player, but we’re playing $40,000 a game and I don’t have a quarter! None of us had that kind of money. There ain’t no paying him off. What are we going to pay him with? So we wound up playing $100,000 a game one-pocket. And I’m stalling too; I have to stall! I beat him out of $100,000 the first night. He pays me off with four $25,000 chips.

1P: You must have had a tough balancing act; stalling enough to be credible, but you couldn’t afford to lose!
FB: I was a good lemon man in those days. So we go up to the counter to pay the time, and the time is $21.00; it’s a little bowling alley, a cheap joint. I short armed him on the time. I’m $100,000 winner, but I’m an eccentric billionaire; I have to play the part through. So I’m patting my pockets and slow drawing him on the time. I’m patting, like I can’t find $21.00. He says, ‘Don’t worry about it Audie, I’ve got the time.’ I’ve got him so f**king hooked he paid the time! I said, ‘Oh, thank you Archie.’

Anyway, it was a hell of a deal. Then we stalled around because we wanted to get that money cashed. Before we played again, I’ve got to cash those chips before he finds out who I am or something. We had to have somebody fly back to Vegas, and Archie had to go back to Vegas to okay it also, so I told him that I had to go fly to Japan. Then we sent this kid back, Larry Schwartz. We had to let time elapse, that’s why I said I had to go to Japan for a big business meeting -- that would get me out of the country so we couldn’t play. Because I didn’t want to play more until we got our money -- the first part of it anyway.

But we got the okay and we got the money cashed and then we played again, and he lost another $100,000. But the guys with me were idiots; they weren’t experienced scufflers, real lemon hustlers. They’d set it up but they didn’t really know what to do; they didn’t know how to do this properly. It ended up, he paid $100,000, but he owed $800,000, which they never got because they weren’t true lemon pros; they were amateurs. I had him so convinced that I was Audie Weiss.

1P: So he owed another $800,000?
FB: That’s right. When he got back to Vegas these guys screwed it up. They’re so guilty, they acted so guilty about it. You have to act like a legitimate thing occurred. I’m supposed to be Audie Weiss. Big deal, I won $200,000, so what, I lose millions. But they dogged it real bad and then he started asking around about this guy that plays one-pocket and he’s got glasses and he limps. So pretty soon, someone says, ‘I know that guy, that sounds like the man from Chicago.’ We got busted and we didn’t get the rest of the money. But it was one of the great scams; he really was hooked. He really fell for it. I laid a stall down. They were trying to get him to quit too because they didn’t want him to owe that much money. He was saying, 'No, no, no his leg is going to give out any minute.’ He thought my leg was going to give out on me; it looked like I was suffering. I was in pain, my leg was screwed up. I was in pain, but so what, I could play for four days like that.

1P: So you were a pretty good actor then?
FB: Yeah, I got turned out by some good lemon men. I hung around with Bunny Rogoff. And a guy named Hollywood Jack and some guys from Chicago, some other players, real good lemon men. Jack Cooney, they were great lemon men.

Freddy at Grady Mathews' Gulf Coast Classic in 2004


1P: Well, I’ve seen you up at Chris’ Billiards and you were slumped in the chair and it looks like you’re half asleep, yet you’re an awful sharp guy. You’ve got a look that doesn’t look that way, but man you’re an awful sharp guy.

FB: Well, if you want to get action, you’ve got to show flaws. You’ve got to show weakness. I’m knock proof. See, a lot of good players, they can’t get a game because they play too good. Now the better I played, the more action I got, because I’m knock proof. Guys might say, ‘Don’t play him, he’s too strong.’ But I’d have them hooked so good, they’d say, ‘No, don’t tell me; you’re an idiot, I’m going to keep playing him.’ I’d shoot right past the knocks! I prepared my game like that. I didn’t want to be in dead stroke without a game.

A lot of those players can’t get a game; they don’t know how to make a game. You have to present weakness, you have to let a guy find a way to want to play you or find a way that he thinks he can beat you. You have to present that to somebody. That’s the secret to hustling. You have to give that up. You can’t have the whole picture. You can’t just beat a guy and take everything away from him, and come in strong and look good. You can’t do that. You have to give him something back. If you beat him, you have to give him the crying, the moaning, that you suffered to win.

I learned that from a guy named Reno. He’d rob guys and you’d swear to God the guy he’s playing was taking his children away from him -- and he’s robbing the guy! He’d cry, he’d moan, he’d throw the cue stick, he’d pull his hair while he’s winning every game, but he gave them a little something back. A lot of guys want to take everything. They want to take the whole thing. You can’t do it. You’ve got to give a little back. You’ve got to sacrifice a little pride, a little ego and let the guy leave with something.

So I always got action, when I was playing I always got action. I could get a game anywhere. Ask any of those guys, I’d come in off the tournament, I’d be playing in five minutes. But the Archie story was kind of funny. Like I said, the guys I was in with weren’t real pros. They fell for my stall, that’s how dumb they were! I’m stalling and they believe that it’s the real thing, even though I told them before, I said, ‘Don’t you fall for my acting, it’s only meant for Archie; at some point, you’re going to think this is real, but it ain’t,’ I said. The guy in with me couldn’t handle it the first day; he kept running out of the poolroom, he was too nervous to watch.

1P: That was quite an art because you couldn’t afford to actually show anything because there was nothing to show!
FB: Oh, the cheese, no, but I had moves for that, too. What the hell, I’m a millionaire.

1P: You were prepared for that, too?
FB: Really not that night, but we were prepared later on because then he started wondering how is he going to get paid, so we had to invent a phony checkbook. We had a checkbook with my name on it. What the hell, I’m a billionaire; can’t I owe you? You think I have it in my pocket? I knew all that, but they didn’t know that, the guys with me. They had such larceny and they were so guilty. It was obvious on their faces which was kind of bad. The performance really had to go to another level to go over.

1P: That’s a good story, and I know you have more.
FB: I have ten million more.

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