December 1 , 2004
20 Greatest American Pool Checkers Players
Of All Times
(Written by Charles ‘Pecan’ Thompson)
#2 - Vladimir Kaplan
Mr. Kaplan, of Soviet Russia, and living in New York City, at the time, simply revolutionized the game of American Pool Checkers in this country. Although his reign was brief as well as spectacular, his play was faultless-in the three years he did perform.
In one of his many books, he claims to have played a total of 178 games, in competitive play, and had only one lost. That, indeed, was remarkable. One thing is for certain, the three years he played at the APCA National Tournaments, he had no losses. While there was some competition, such as Elton William, Momodou Faals, and "Buster's" challenges, his faultless play over that span of time was unequal in the annals of Tournament play.
After his 1979 championship year, he retired. But in the ensuing years, he visited Chicago many times. He and "Buster" played many exhibitions. Since they had become good friends, they would stay at each others homes on their exchange visits. Those of us from Chicago shared our hotel rooms with him at the APCA National Tournaments on many occasions.
Often times, while in Chicago, he would play players on the street corners, in the parks, or wherever the game was being played. We got to know him, up close, and very well. While playing a ton of games against the ’street competition’ he seldom lost. But on rare occasions he did lose; and when he did, the loss would become front page news through out the Pool Checkers community. There was the time "Ohio, the Great Mule" won a game from him, and there was the time Moses "Preacher" John won a game; and finally I won one, (after all those many losses), and the news spread, like wildfire, throughout the city. Other than a few losses, over a period of about fifteen years, the Grandmaster was flawless.
In his later years, we continued to be close to him as he attended the APCA National tournaments to ‘Sell his Books.’ In fact, the joke here is, that one of our members, General Owens, bought so many books from him, that he (Kaplan) invited ’The General’ to New York and put him up, at his home, for a week only to see ‘The General’ return to the tournament and compete against him, in selling the very books he had purchased from Kaplan (at a reduced price). 'The General’ never denied the charge. The fact is, of all the great players, Vladimir Kaplan was the most accessible. More than a few players have commented on how he would help them solve a particular complex problem.
With his health failing, the Grandmaster became a mentor to many of the American players who were trying to improve their games. We were inclined to believe that much of that failing health had to do with his wartime experience. He would often talk about the wound(s) he received fighting the Nazis during World War II. In one conversation he had at our Club, after we expressed our concern about him walking, by himself, through a really tough neighborhood, I can recall him saying, "I no afraid;" "I fought the Germans during the war." He would then proceeded to show us the wound(s) that he had received. We could only marvel at his bravery and honesty.
Notwithstanding the three APCA championships, or the matches he won against "Buster," Elton Williams, and other great players of the time, perhaps Mr. Kaplan’s greatest contributions to the Game, was his literary one. In addition to the many books he published, ( by some reports, at least seven), his pamphlets, and other written commentaries will stand, for centuries, as a hallmark to his greatness. His books are accessible in many library in this area and, I suspect, in libraries around the country. In them lie a treasure trove of information on the Game.
And so, at the #2 spot, I will select the name of Vladimir Kaplan.
#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