"The Legend of "Buster"                                                                            09/01/2003

The "Pecan Man"

When Pool checker players in Chicago talk about ‘greats’ of the game, its starts and ends with "Buster". We say, (it may be disputed by others), that he was the greatest African American Pool Checker player of all times. We realize that’s a tall statement, but we are prepared to defend it with some facts and some "legend".

I first met "Buster", a small and quiet man, in the late 60s. It was at a barber shop- called ‘Gus’ Barbershop.’ A friend of mine, and my first Pool Checker mentor, Clarence Dew - a very good player in his own right, at the time, had secretly brought "Buster" into the shop without my knowledge.

At the time, I was being considered as the next great player in the area. I was rising fast. I was young (by Pool Checker Player’s standards), brash, and ‘full of it.’

After Mr. Dew had convinced Buster to throw a game or two to him, unbeknownst to me, (which he later said was very hard to do), I said to Mr. Dew: "Who is this "Scrub"? Where did he come from?"

Mr. Dew said to me, "Would you like to play him?"
I said, to no one in particular, "If he doesn’t bet, I don’t want to be bother with the "Ham" ".

"Buster" sat quietly, saying nothing. As I pulled my seat up to the table, (Dew had brought in about 10 or 12 other players from the area), I said to "Buster"
"Do you bet, "Scrub"?
Buster said, "No", I don’t bet."

Then Mr. Dew said to me, "I will bet on him; How much do you want to bet?"
I said $5.00! Mr. Dew then said, "No!, that’s too much, I will bet you $2.00". (He and the rest knew what I was getting into). They could have cleaned up if they had wanted to.……….
TO BE CONTINUED in the next issue.

"The Legend of Buster"                                                                            10/03/2003

And so it was, "Pecan," (I will tell you about how the name, "Pecan" came about later). The brash young upstart to the world of Pool Checkers, was to meet the wily veteran of the game - Carl "Buster" Smith, that had often been talked about, and who was already a legend in his own time. It was just that I didn't know it.

An old checker player, Shirley Huckaby, was later to say to me, "Buster", he became champion at 16 years old; "Today more that 40 years have passed, and he still Rules." "It must be the longest reign in history."

I had to remind my friend, Mr. Huckaby, that a little research that I had done had revealed to me that, Julius Caesar, Octavinous (Octavian)- Augustus, the mighty Emperor of Rome ruled from 27 B.C. until 14 A.D. (41 years). But then "Buster" was still ruling. From that comes legends!!

The first game was a classic "alley game," that I had studied and thought I new well.
I quietly maneuvered "Buster" into what I thought was my ‘hammer‘ game. When "Buster" left a two for one hit for me, I grabbed at it like a hungry dog! And it was my demise. It was a trick play; he allowed me to make a two man hit, and then he pitched even a third man, before taking a king shot. The crowd, and Mr. Dew died with laughter. To me, of course I was embarrassed; and it wasn't funny. I still didn't know I was playing the ‘Great’ "Buster."

Game two was a ‘quiet’ game; there was nothing spectacular but just some hard playing. I can recall "Buster" saying to me at one point, "Young man you play a nice game." This was rare for "Buster"- for he hardly ever said anything when he was playing - and not very much afterwards. Little did I know when he made that statement, he was preparing the final moves for my demise again. As we say in the "hood," he was ‘tightening the screws.’
-------TO BE CONTINUED in the next issue.

Legends of "Buster"                                                                                  10/30/2003

And so it was, after having lost the first two games, I had a sense that something was up. The guys in the back of the room were abuzz. As I finally conceded game three, someone walked in and asked "What is the score?"

A player in the back could conceal his anxiety no longer and blustered out, "Buster is killing him." With that statement, all of my confidence, arrogance, and hope went south. I then realized I was playing 'The Great Buster."

Games four and five, I lost, without seemingly putting up much of a fight. Five games played; five games lost was my way of assessing the outcome. It was not only a "mug", it was the most embarrassing of "mugs". As we will see in the coming issues, it's not what "Buster" did to me. But what he did to others, as well, that made him a legend.

Finally, as I paid my $5.00 to my Dew, and walked out, the owner of the barber shop, Gus Hawkins, said to me, "What happened back there Mr. Thompson?" I replied, "Gus, I couldn't get a "Pecan"- meaning not only could I not win, I couldn't even draw.
From that day on, I became, not Mr. Thompson, but "PECAN" Each day as I would return to the shop, Gus would hollow out to the guys in the back, "Here comes the "Pecan Man." ......To be continued