John Roberts Senior
From "Hints on Billiards" by J.P. Buchanan, pub. 1896
Some eight years ago, after a harassing day in the Law Courts, I went, to occupy the time before dinner, into a very large Billiard-room close to Charing Cross. Sitting down in a quiet corner, apparently watching some very bad players, was, as I took it, a harmless old gentleman. I was at that time rather young, and fancied myself considerably at Billiards, as very young men are apt to do. Here, I thought, was a grand opportunity to have a game or two at someone else's expence. Seeing a table vacant, I went up and asked this old gentleman if he would care to play me a game. He consented, and we started.
The first thing I noticed was the great ease and grace with which he handled his cue. Before he had played very long, I was perplexed beyond measure. I had seen all the professionals of the day, and some of the best amateurs and markers. His game resembled nothing that I had seen. He seemed to play with great carelessness and ease - in fact, I could not make out at first whether his was play or mere luck. The old gentleman seemed to possess marvellous power of cue, and no stroke on the board appeared to come amiss to him. I lost the first game by forty.
So interested and, at the same time, so perplexed was I, that I asked him to give me thirty points in another game. This, too, he won, playing in the same dashing, seemingly reckless style. Wondering more than ever who he could be, I asked him to give me forty points start in a third game. This game I did just manage to win from the old boy, who, I had fondly hoped, was going to yeild me cheap amusement.
At the conclusion of this game, the elderly stranger said, in jaunty fashion, "Young gentleman, pay for the tables; I'll just have one whiskey with you, and you can tell your friends you have been playing with old John Roberts". My astonishment in finding that I had been opposing the veritable "Father of Billiards" it can be imagined was very great.
After that, old John and I were always on very friendly terms. Many a pleasant half-hour have I spent with the old man, hearing tales and anecdotes of a bygone generation. This meeting with a man who for twenty-one long years held the proud position of the unapproachable Champion of the World, was a most singular one, and it certainly taught me a valuable lesson.
Of course, the play nowadays is something altogether superior to old Roberts' form, even when he was at his very best. I have no doubt but that his son, in his present form, could have given his father, when in his zenith, 15,000 start in 24,000, allowing him to play the spot-stroke, himself playing spot-barred, and made a good fight of it. At the same time, the old man's game was something to watch and marvel at. It was totally different from the professional play of the present day.
I have seen him, too, in his usual jolly, chaffing way, challenge a fairly good player, he himself having to play with his walking-stick. He usually carried a somewhat long stick without a ferrule, the end of which he would trim with his knife. It was really marvellous what power of cue he displayed even with his stick, with which, obviously, he could hardly apply screw or side.
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