You are too young to know Bugs in his prime but nobody in any cue sport has ever dominated as long as Bugs did in Bank Pool. Eddie Taylor is the only possible candidate, but he was before my time and I still do not think that his longevity was as long as Bugs reign of 25 years nobody won playing even in Bank Pool.
Bugs real name was Leonard Rucker. He was a large football linebacker athletic build type of guy from the rough side of Chicago. Yet he was a pleasant and cheerful kind of guy, often flashing a broad smile, not a mean spirited or menacing south Chicago type character. He was so skilled and confident that he was beyond any need for demonstrating ego.
Efren was coming to stay with me from Chicago and called me last minute saying, “Marky you come to Billiard Cafe, got big game with Bugs”.
The game was One Pocket and Bugs had a backer named Archie. Archie traveled with his posse of body guards and was extremely overweight. He did not appear to be a man that could file taxes on his full income as he carried a large Louis Vuitton purse filled with cash as his walking around money. This made for an interesting group to play Efren with our little group also forming a gambling syndicate.
I had previously watched Bugs play 9-Ball for money, but never One Pocket and never, never, Bank Pool, because nobody ever dared playing Banks for many years.
I was really curious about this match as Efren had only recently been introduced to One Pocket by Chicago Freddy, Freddy the Beard, Freddy Bentivegna. Freddy considered One Pocket as by far his best game and was very proud of his history of success gambling at that discipline.
Efren had been dominating the Chicago pool scene for months generating some good cash flow, and giving increasing handicaps to the best players there, playing 9-Ball.
Freddy had also played Efren 9-Ball while getting a large handicap multiple times but between his immense pride and experience at One Pocket, and the fact that Efren had never heard of that game, Freddy explained that he would teach Efren the game.
Freddy volunteered that he would give Efren a handicap of 8 to 7 for $50 per game to facilitate Efren’s education. The tuition would be a modest fee compared to the volume of cash that Efren would learn to win elsewhere from Freddy’s lessons. This was kind of a Technical College and an On the Job Training compilation course.
Upon conclusion of day 1 of Efren’s studies, he had won $500. Then on day 2 Freddy said that he had did so well that today they would have to play even, and Efren advanced to winning another $500. On day 3, Efren won another $500 despite now giving Freddy 8-7. That victory concluded Efren’s lessons from Instructor Freddy.
Bugs approach to pool was the absolute most curious thing that I have ever witnessed, before or since, in terms of his dexterity and smoothness for the pool stroke execution. His form was so very awkward and uncomfortable to watch that it appeared he only learned pool a week prior, plus he often would either grab a house cue from the wall or borrow a random cue minutes before playing high stakes pool. Despite all of those things he played like a wizard.
Archie only wants to play for big money and Bugs enjoyed being staked for large sums too. The match was discussed for 30 minutes and they arrived at a race to 4 games of One Pocket for $7500 and must play two sets. Both sides deposited $15,000 each with Frank the pool room owner and play began. The location was at the Billiards Cafe which had become the primary “action room” at that time in Chicago.
I felt confident that Efren would win because I had never seen him lose playing cash games, but he held very little experience at One Pocket plus banking is an important attribute for that discipline which Bugs was the best ever.
The match began and as I described, Bugs looked so uncoordinated for pool, while Efren was comfortable and smoothly artistic. Somehow during a tactical exchange where Efren had maneuvered the balls to his advantage and then out of nowhere Bugs manufactured a bank shot that I had never considered nor seen, it was a multiple rail, create an angle, the cue ball passes the object ball, bank shot and the proper speed to get position and win the game. That feat was astonishing as I was very experienced yet had never witnessed such a shot played and executed perfectly. The games quickly progressed in this fashion and Bugs won the first set 4-0 plus took a 2-0 lead in set two. I was deeply concerned for Efren and the awkward Bugs had absolutely dominated.
Efren then won 4 consecutive games and the match was tied as the sets were 1 apiece. They agreed to play a final race to 7 for the entire $30,000 and Efren won 7-5 in a hard fought match.
I have been able to watch Efren win many times in super tough matches over the years and this was certainly a great example of extreme pressure pool. They actually were even in game count for the day at 11-11 but Efren had won the last set.
In all of my years around Efren he was naturally matched up against guys that possess super firepower which he also possessed but where he was able to distinguish himself was in the “moving” game of controlling the secondary object balls, safety play, and the kicking game, always supported by his superior shot selection choices with high quality execution. However playing Bugs, who created and pocketed so many unconventional and non-standard bank shots from obscure angles that did not appear to even be a bank shot, this was one time that Efren won an important tough match due to his firepower. Efren would appear to out maneuver his opponent per usual but Bugs would create victory from nowhere. This was a most interesting match for that reason and I learned a lot.
Both of these tremendous talents had grown up playing on very crude equipment, Bugs on the south side of Chicago and Efren playing in the Angeles City pool clubs with worn out cloth and peculiar circumstances.
I think that playing under those conditions produced a toughness and attention to detail that created additional excellence when playing under superior table conditions.