“The Encyclopedia of Pool Hustlers” by Freddie ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna

Front cover of Encyclopedia of Pool Hustlers by Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna
Back cover of Encyclopedia of Pool Hustlers by Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna

Freddy Bentivegna, otherwise known as “The Beard”, has many years of experience as a pool hustler, starting in his hometown of Chicago, and also travelling on the road, building a reputation as one of the most renowned hustlers around, at the same time making a (not quite honest) living.

Throughout his career he has played many of the best players in the history of the game as well as a wealth of great unknown players and shortstops, and in this book he shares his experiences, regaling the reader with an overview of each player, with anecdotes, photos, interviews and excerpts from other sources.

Page 68 of Encyclopedia of Pool Hustlers by Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna (click to enlarge)

Throughout the book, we also learn a lot about the life of the author, as The Beard gives us his take on the mischief he got up to with the players listed, as well as some stories on his time in the army, on the road, and competing.

Included in the “Encyclopedia” are accounts of many well known players such as Efren Reyes, Earl Strickland, and the unforgettable Rudolph “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, along with tales of shortstops, lemon men, high rollers and everything in between. The author even includes a piece on Elvis Presley, and several pages on “King, the Wonder dog of pool”, a dog so smart he “could give any other dog the 5 and the break!”.

We are also made privy to the gritty side of the hustler’s lifestyle, as the author tells us of mobbed-up pool hall owners, guns being drawn over missed balls, and the jar men who would spike a player’s drink in the blink of an eye.

This book is not an encyclopedia in the traditional sense. It doesn’t have a formal, academic feel to it. Instead, it reads in a manner reminiscent of a conversation, as though the reader is sat at the bar or shooting some balls with “The Beard”, and the reader realises fairly quickly that Freddy knows what he’s talking about.

This isn’t a scholarly compilation of information; this is a firsthand account of life as a hustler, and when you have as many years under your belt as “The Beard”, you can bet that you’d have your fair share of hairy stories.

Page 69 of Encyclopedia of Pool Hustlers by Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna (click to enlarge)

Almost every player listed in this book was known personally by Freddy at some stage, and because of that, we can really get an idea of not only what kind of player they were, but what kind of person they were; how they handled their booze, their drugs, and the sweators watching them play.

As you’d expect, the author doesn’t shy away from using the language of the game, and thanks to the inclusion of a glossary of terms, you’ll soon be able to tell the difference between lemons and locksmiths, and this really adds to the casual, but not quite careless, writing style that makes this book a pleasure to read.

Back cover of The Encyclopedia of Pool Hustlers by Freddy 'The Beard' Bentivegna
Back cover of The Encyclopedia of Pool Hustlers by Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna

The reader will find themselves immersed in Freddy’s world as he takes them into the muggy rooms of Bensinger’s Billiard Academy, The Rack, The Four B’s club, and a host of his other haunts over the years. The reader will see what it was like to shoot Banks with Bugs Rucker, One Pocket with Efren Reyes, and trade quips with Minnesota Fats.

A fantastic book, with a charming style. Freddy “The Beard” Bentivegna really knows his stuff, and provides an entertaining read as he takes us through a plethora of colourful characters, locations, and tall tales. I would highly recommend this book to any pool player interested in the game, be they a top level shortstop, or even just a square john like me.

by John Parke.

Buy on Amazon: The “Encyclopedia” of Pool Hustlers: A rowdy assortment of anecdotes, insights, encounters, and esoteric knowledge of the legendary pool hustlers of the second half of the 20th century

About Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna:

Freddy “the Beard” Bentivegna grew up in Chicago, & turned out for pool in the shark-infested environs of Bensinger’s poolroom.
Freddy built his career putting a hurt on visiting players, & taking his game on the road; sometimes in stealth, but often in an open challenge to the best the country had to offer. Read more about Freddy on BankingWithTheBeard.com

Freddy passed away in 2014.


The old site, for reference, is here