December 15 , 2004

Pecan’s -
20 Greatest American Pool Checkers Players
Of All Times
(Written by Charles ‘Pecan’ Thompson)
-20th Selection-

#1 - Iser Kuperman (Grandmaster)

Mr. Kuperman, of the Soviet Union, and who was living in Boston, Massachusetts at the time of his APCA dominance, was simply, in my opinion, the greatest pool checkers player to ever play the Game - in America. I know that’s a tall statement, but his accomplishments in the Game, in this country, simply has no parallel.

From his early years, (as far back as 1940 it is documented), Mr. Kuperman, as a 19 year old prodigy, was a champion. Over the years, in his native Russia, and later on, in this country, I have found in doing my research, that he has continued to be a champion. There is tons of information on the Internet documenting his exploits. Consequently, it’s not necessary for me to elaborate on them here.

What I will tell you about is his activities while living in this country. His seven straight APCA Tournaments championships (1984-1990) has been well documented and need no further enumeration For the record, practically all the great players I have mentioned previously, had the chance to compete against him at the tournament level. Few can be confirmed as having won a single game.

In 1990, in Atlanta, Georgia, that distinction went to Momodou Faals. But, Mr. Faals would pay dearly for that sin. In a private match arranged later, Momodou was humiliated by the score of 7-1. Kibitzers swore that Mr. Kuperman, had ‘staged’ his defeat, in the tournament, in order to set the stage for a high stakes private match. Of course, there was no hard evidence of that, and one had to dismiss the charges as, the musings of some know-it-all meddlesome onlookers.

Back to the tournaments-if there were other loses, I have not been able to uncover them. Whatever the matter is, in playing possibly over 300 games in an eight-year span, his record was remarkable.

What might be the most astonishing feat by him, was perhaps, this little known fact; during the years 1984 -1988, a span of five years, he won five successive championships on both the 100 Square Board and the 64 Square board. That, indeed, was awesome. Even his well-documented attempt at his eight successive championship, on the 64 Square Board, in Los Angeles, California, in 1991, did not record a loss.

What is most interesting about Mr. Kuperman, was that when he first arrived at the APCA Tournament, much had already been said and heard about him. "Buster" often said he was the greatest player in the Soviet Union during his visits there in the 60s. Consequently, when he began winning, here, it was not unexpected. But few were prepared for his kind of dominance.

But, as time went on, something began to go awry. Was it his winning or was there other factors creeping into the mix? I recall playing the Grandmaster, in a tournament, and in a year, that I don’t remember anymore. I was ‘knocked out, on my way to the fight.’ (In boxing parlance, it means, ‘I was defeated quickly‘). He, of course, made short order of me-winning two straight games before I could even get settled at the table. The routine ness of his wins, and the regularity with which he was getting them, began to harbor some concern with many of the American players. The feeling of ,"I don’t have a chance,’ inevitable crept in.

I had the pleasure of observing him at the 1985 100 Square Board Tournament in Chicago. (I played in the Majors Division and won it 7-0-qualifying me for the 1986 Tournament in the Masters Division.) in Washington D.C.. I went, observed, but didn’t play. Mr. Kuperman won both of those tournaments.

Again, in 1987, in Jackson, Mississippi (my hometown) I was present and competed. It was at this tournament, where it was said "Not since Thomas Jefferson dined, alone, at the Whit House had that much talent been assembled under one roof." That was the tournament, I had indicated earlier, that had the all the great American players-Kaplan, Smith, Faals, along with Mr. Kuperman- and several Haitian players. Mr. Kuperman won that tournament as well.

Because of his dominance at the APCA Tournaments, on occasions, private matches were arranged for him. He simply came, destroyed the opposition, and moved on. It was obvious, no American player could compete. Consequently, the feeling began to be, he was like the marauding gunslinger who would come into your town, ‘clean out the mess,’ and then move on. Maybe, this was an erroneous perception, but it was there.

Consequently, when the report came from Los Angeles, that "Buster" had dethroned Mr. Kuperman, there was much rejoicing, not only back in Chicago, but also, I understand, that was the case at the Los Angeles Tournament as well. (I didn’t attend that tournament). Of, course, this had as much to do with "Buster’s" popularity as it had to do with Mr. Kuperman’s previous dominance. Even then, many of us felt we knew who the best player, really, was.

Whatever the perception or misconception of Mr. Kuperman, there is little argument that he played the Game of American Pool Checkers better than it had ever been played before or since. And a remarkable characteristic about his play was ‘how’ he played ‘the Game.’ What I mean is, as I studied the games he played, there were no restricted openings. All openings were on the table and were to be used.

While other great players usually restricted themselves to a few choice openings, he shrewdly demonstrated that every possible opening had meaning; it and could and should be a part of one’s arsenal, and was to be used whenever and wherever most appropriate. For that, I think the, bar was raised. The Game, itself has profited. And for that, we all have benefited. That was his contribution!!

And so, at the #1 Spot, I will select Iser Kuperman - THE GREATEST POOL CHECKERS PLAYER OF ALL TIMES

The Elite Ten

#1 Iser Kuperman (Grandmaster) - Boston, Massachusetts
#2 Vladimir Kaplan (Grandmaster) - New York, New York
#3. Carl "Buster" Smith - Chicago, Illinois
#4. Ion Dosca - Moldova
#5. Al "Eastpoint" Barnett - Eastpoint, Georgia
#6. Calvin "Iron Claw" Monroe - Decatur, Georgia
#7. Momodou Faal - Gambia, Africa
#8. Elton "Little David" Williams - Flint, Michigan
#9. George "Lil George" Ramsey - Detroit, Michigan 
#10. Freddie "The Hawk" Owens - Baltimore, Maryland
#11. Andrew Frazier - Nassau, Bahamas
#12. William "Bill" Langley - Detroit, Michigan
#13. Ollie "Shot Gun" Howard - Bronx, New York
#14. Victor "Vic" Krafft - Chicago, Illinois
#15. Charlie Brown - Baltimore, Maryland
#16. Moses "Headchopper" Lightfoot - Macon, Georgia
#17. Charles "Little Charles" McDuffie - St. Louis, Missouri
#18. Tony Rivers - Bronx, New York
#19. George Robinson - Toledo, Ohio
#20. Clyde "King Row" Black - New York, New York