Jersey Red (Jack Breitkopf commonly Jack Breit) was a tremendous guy who kept an enthusiasm that is uncommon…he made pool fun. You know that his prime began during the midst of Mosconi, Crane, Lassiter, prime too. He hung tough with those guys and you had to be fantastic to win games against them, and he won a fair share.
What I truly respected and greatly admired about Jersey Red was that he had a very powerful stroke and could execute power shots beyond that of the average professional. He was the consummate pro player too because he played all games top caliber, while many lesser professionals specialize in a primary game. Red played world class Straight Pool, 9-Ball, 10-Ball, One Pocket, and Banks. He had a diverse skill set that allowed him to win against the very best players in any pool discipline.
Those of us that grew up during the Straight Pool era hold a special fondness and romance for what world class Straight Pool looks like and the capacity of those players to perform under great pressure against the other true pool warriors.
Nick Varner told me a story from a past era regarding Red. Nick had to face Red in the Winners Bracket final in a major tournament and Red played fantastic and won. Nick then fought his way into the tournament finals to face off against Red. Varner had to beat Red twice to win the tournament championship which were matches to 150 balls.
Nick said that in the first game of the Finals, Red ran 108 balls, and in the second game, Red ran 110 balls but finished 2nd place. That is truly a remarkable great victory and memory for Nick Varner to win contests where the opponent played at such a level. The rarity of losing a game where the player ran 100 balls is significant, perhaps as infrequently as 10% of the time and can only possibly happen against another world class player. I have never heard of it happening two games consecutive. Imagine how good Red was playing to come in Second Place.
Red was almost two generations older than me, so when he was mid 50’s (still playing fantastic, top tier) and I was 22, somehow he befriended me. Then he would see me arrive in the poolroom and from three tables away he would start yelling, “Wilson, Wilson, come here”, he would say with some urgency in his voice, “gotta show you this shot”. I would love his attention because he was a bigger than life hero to me.
He would then set up a shot that was ultra difficult if you possessed extreme skill. “Watch this, watch this one, as he hurriedly and enthusiastically shot it and missed then quickly grabbed the non obedient balls while saying, ” hold it, you caught me off guard”. He would then produce a perfect shot on try number two. You had to be a real good player to make it 1 out of 8 tries.
Red had a passion and heart for pool. I could see, but he also told me, that as a kid he was a gifted athlete. You could just feel it, given the dexterity and coordination that he had and his large size would add up to being great as an athlete.
He had played Firstbase in professional minor league baseball. I had already witnessed him playing in the biggest pool tournaments against the all of the biggest names and emerge as a consistent winner, he lost matches also, but only to other top tier players, because they were the only one’s that had a chance and even then it was a toss up.
During the time that I lived in Houston, Texas 1981 and 1982, one of the top pool “action” rooms was called Reds, named surprisingly after the owner Red Walling not Jersey Red. Red Walling later hired Jersey Red as his house pro. He was there most every day and sold cues, gave some lessons, and created a pool atmosphere with stories and his gambling games of all sizes, small stakes or he would play $500 sets.
Jersey Red made pool fun and was perpetually in a great mood and laughing, stories were fantastic too. You could play him for small stakes, but never zero dollars, and you would enjoy everything, learning with his explanations, tremendous execution, and the most fun guy that you ever played pool with, plus firepower supreme.
We normally played $5 One Pocket, more by his request, he was capable of still playing me 9-Ball, but that was a tougher 50/50 endeavor, in One Pocket his edge rose tremendously, and so much that he would win for sure, but some days I would not lose much. The price of education was reasonable and the fun, plus playing a legend made it completely worth it. We played quite a few sessions and I suppose that he mostly won $20-$30 from me per session, but it was invaluable for me too. I won knowledge and inspiration to do better and he had me laughing every game that we ever played, he will forever be a happiest of pool memories for me.
I always have loved dynamic characters, they are interesting and compelling…Red had it beyond description. He was often willing to describe himself in the third person as he happily arrived at the poolroom saying, “Jersey Red, the Raidin’ Red Rooster, the Ayatollah of One Hola, Master of Disaster, the Prince of Pocket A Piece, or the Red Raider, as he began his work day.
People loved playing pool with him despite knowing they would lose a small amount of cash because pool was so fun. Red always commentated his own matches too, describing his thoughts aloud and having pet names for his shots too. A tough Straight Back bank requiring high velocity was called “The Dixie Whistler”. Red would state, here we go, the 5:15 Dixie Whistler right on time, which referenced a famous daily freight train that ran through the south as the ball often eagerly crashed into the back of the pocket.
Then in another One Pocket instance, he might have an object ball hanging in his pocket but he was preferring delaying shooting because he could only get one ball, so he preferred the value of keeping a threat as he safely moved a few more balls into a favorable position, he would say, “I’ll just leave a ball on layaway”.
He had a lifetime of traveling the nation playing for money against everyone. Top tier players or those that could not play well. He played them all at their best game on their home turf because he could play anyone at their best game and Red was still the favorite to win in 98% of the circumstances, plus he had some gamble to him. He told me how he truly felt when on the road, “tell me your best game and I’ll make it mine”. I loved watching him and there is no way that his magnetism would not make you cheer for him every time. I am confident that his personality and joy of playing helped him get money pool games.
On a side note, this is why that I hold less than utmost respect for the Billiards Hall of Fame, players like Jersey Red are not in, but far more qualified than most modern day entrants. He is not the only example of this either. He played at a time when there was no internet or media coverage and fewer tournaments, yet very few inducted could play him all around games and they might not win playing their singular best game. I find it very sad and phony that players like Mosconi, Greenleaf, Lassiter, Crane, and Varner, are surrounded by guys that cannot produce success like Jersey Red. He belongs and his stature is part of the elite tier all time greats.
Today, it is more the commercialism and the trend toward promotion rather than the actual reality for inductees. Oddly, I also love my era of modern players who become enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but some are nowhere near the capacity of Red. The people that vote on this have no idea because they never saw or heard much from that era. If anyone feels that I am biased or becoming a stodgy old man, most of the people that would know are gone, but I will rest my case with Jeremy Jones, who was just a kid under Red’s tutelage. I do not know Jeremy’s feelings for sure, but feel supremely confident that he would agree completely.
One day I walked in to the pool room and Red was there and I asked him to play. He also wanted to play me, but he had just sold a cue to a business man in a three piece suit and he wanted a pool lesson from Red too.
I was interested to see Red teach, as it might help my understanding and teaching too, so I looked upon it as an opportunity. I did not want to interfere nor be in the way making the student uncomfortable and I inwardly decided to avoid being conspicuous and remain out of the way, but still observe from afar for Red’s approach and information.
A non-pool person is really not in Red’s interest at all, and he truly would have preferred an afternoon of playing me as I look back. Nevertheless he had committed to do this lesson and there before him stood a man with a suit and tie, nervously standing very erect with both hands gripping the shaft of the cue with the butt on the floor standing vertical too. The price sticker still attached on the butt. Meanwhile, Red is the most relaxed man in history and quick with a smile at all times. Upon seeing this timid soul it truly zapped Red’s deep passion and heightened his inherit reluctance to try and introduce pool to somebody that will never stick with it. I had rented a table some distance away to not be obviously observing and for my own practice.
Red looked at this guy and it drained his inspiration, but he carried on as promised. He began the lesson by placing the cue ball few inches from the end rail and a little in from the side rail. He then placed the object ball a few inches past the side pocket and a maybe two inches from the side cushion. Red then said “say your next object ball is back here by the cue ball and you have to snatch your rock back here for position. Red stepped up with his very powerful and accurate stroke, elevated the cue, and smoothly executed the shot. The object ball hit the pocket like a freight train and here came Whitey right back there perfect first try. It looked nearly automatic, yet you would have to devote your life to make it look like that. You have to hit a tiny precise point on the cue ball while being elevated and producing power, I was both impressed and astounded. I knew that Red could execute this shot often and had watched him do it frequently, but starting off a beginner this way seemed perilous.
Red was undaunted however and told the guy, “now work on that” as he stepped over uninvited to my table to chat. Red spoke to me as we looked on at the rigid and unfamiliar student labor greatly to contort himself into a body position to even hit the cue ball. His bridge hand wobbled and he was not limber nor comfortable to come close to replicating Red’s ease of delivering the cue tip precise with power too. He flailed away for 8-10 tries that occasionally did not even hit the object ball, never pocketed the ball, nor had any backspin whatsoever, and he miscued a few times also.
Red then went over and feigned interest for 1-2 more of these attempts bordering on cue ball abuse and said, “no, no, like this” and Red would hit it again beautifully. Zoom the cue ball came right back as the object ball cleanly entered the pocket. Red would then come back and begin talking to me and once in a while he would throw out an positive few words over towards the ever struggling student.
After 30 minutes of this approach Red went and played the guy a few games. The guy hardly ever made a shot but Red ran out nearly every game while explaining his thoughts and approach to playing. These were interesting concepts but the guy had no stroke at all, drawing the ball was not possible, nor was producing any accuracy. They played like that for nearly an hour and Red was exhausted and the student was kind of relieved and amazed. I must say that I have laughed many times to myself thinking over Red’s introductory lesson, but maybe he was right too, as this will test you to see if you come back and are still serious anyway.
Red will forever be in my heart and my Hall of Fame.