Betting Cue Sports
A Betting Cue Sports 600-year-old sport would be expected to have gone through an identity crisis. This is not the case with pool. The sport’s name derives from the practice of pooling money to decide odds. And betting adds to the mystery of pool; hustling and pool go together like a cue stick and chalk. But this is both a curse and a gift. How can a sport flourish at the top level when so much of it happens behind closed doors? Shane Van Boening from Rapid City has arrived. Despite having little interest in gambling, he is likely the finest American player to ever break a rack and is rated first in the world for 2022. He is also hard of hearing. Can the South Dakota Kid help convert pool, which is popular in bars and basements but not on television, into a legitimate pro sport at the Betting Cue Sports? We followed him around the circuit to find out.
Another casino hotel, another day. Shane Van Boening travels the country playing professional pool 300 days a year. Today, he’s getting an early start at the Derby City Classic, a smorgasbord of American Betting Cue Sports competitions.
Derby City, held every January outside of Louisville, is a colorful representation of pool’s divided personality. A felt ocean draws hundreds of the world’s greatest practitioners below. They participate in numerous events for 12 hours a day for nine days.
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This winner is beaming from ear to ear, and his winnings total $16,000 dollars.
But it’s a different economy above. Look at the pool’s spicier side. Pop-up action rooms with standing room only where professionals, amateurs, and want Betting Cue Sports gather for unauthorized competition. There are signs that indicate no smoking and no gambling… and we didn’t see any smoking. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of money change hands until the sun comes up.
Van Boening, a generational prodigy noted for his lethal break, has won the US Open five times and been voted Player of the Decade. He has been deaf since birth and uses hearing aids, which makes it difficult for him to play pool.
Shane Van Boening: It’s a huge benefit for me.
Jon Wertheim: How about that?
hane Van Boening: You know, I can simply turn it off while I’m playing pool.
Jon Wertheim: Do you turn off your hearing aids while you play?
Shane Van Boening: Yeah, I had everything off when I won my first US Open. I was concentrated.
Jon Wertheim: There is complete quiet.
Shane Van Boening: Of course. I’m definitely, like, completely focused.
He was never more focused than when he led the United States to triumph over Europe in the Mosconi Cup, pool’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup.
He finished with a high-risk, high-reward, pressure-packed off-angle, long-distance 1-9 combination.
Do you believe you could have made that shot? We traveled to Van Boening’s pool hall in Rapid City at the Betting Cue Sports, South Dakota, a side pocket of America, where he emphasized that making balls vanish into pockets is just half of pool greatness. It’s also about setting up your next strokes – what they term “cue ball management.”
Shane Van Boening: I’m going to stop the cue ball exactly here so I can shoot the two in the side. Then…
Wertheim, Jon: Stop. Whoa, whoa, whoa. How did you do it? How did you accomplish that?
Shane Van Boening: It was just below center.
Jon Wertheim: That following ball is now perfectly aligned.
Shane Van Boening: Absolutely.
Jon Wertheim: The geometry of it all strikes me.
Van Boening claims to be able to see every aspect on the table, a sixth sense he gained after practicing up to ten hours a day and shooting half a million balls a year.
Shane Van Boening: I want to nail the shot. The only way to strike it perfectly is to practice over and over again.
Wertheim, Jon: Can you achieve perfection in this sport?
No, Shane Van Boening. I tried so hard all these years— (LAUGH)
Van Boening says it honestly. Gary Bloomberg, a well-known trick shot performer, built pool rooms near I-90. These rooms were convenient for hustlers travelling across the Great Plains, but they were also family-friendly. Shane loved pool so much that he acquired his first cue when he was two and went to the pool room every day after school – not only to play, but to avoid youngsters who teased him because he was deaf.
Wertheim, Jon: How terrible did things get?
Shane Van Boening: They’d start hurling rocks at me. They’d stick gum in my hair. And then I’d go home to my mother, and I’d be crying. You are aware. “Do you want to go to the pool room?” she said, making me feel better.
Wertheim, Jon: What made you feel better about going to the pool room?
Shane Van Boening: What do you notice when you come into the pool room? You notice folks having a wonderful time.
But it went beyond that. He possessed a phenomenal capacity to think many steps ahead at the Betting Cue Sports. Van Boening struck the road when he was 18 years old. He and his uncle piled into an RV in search of money games.
Naturally, they did. For decades, the Hustler – that sneaky roadman armed only with a wooden stick and confidence, separating people from their money – has been idealized at the Betting Cue Sports, not least by Paul Newman. This reporter was so enamored with pool hustling that he published a book about it. For Van Boening, the relationship ended suddenly.