FAIRFIELD — Two of the nation’s top pool players squared off Friday in a Fairfield courtroom. At stake was $5,000 in prize money.
Behind the eight ball was legendary player Tony Annigoni, a managing partner of the U.S. Pool Players Association and the owner of the Two Cushion Club pool hall on North Texas Street.
“The game of billiards has destroyed my naturally sweet disposition.” — Mark Twain
Annigoni was appealing a small claims court judgment awarded to Michael J. Gregory back in March.
Gregory, who has been putting cue stick to cue ball for more than 20 years, got to make the first shot in the court hearing. He said he had spent four days in Reno in the Pacific Rim International Expo back in 2010 competing against more than 100 pool players.
“I won fair and square,” Gregory told Judge Michael Mattice.
Gregory played a video clip of himself, Annigoni and the second-place finisher at the awards ceremony at the Peppermill Resort in which Annigoni told Gregory the $5,000 check would be put in the mail Friday. Having won the tournament twice before, in 2001 and 2006, he had no idea the winnings would be elusive.
A week passed, then a month.
“After eight months I lost faith in Mr. Annigoni,” Gregory told Mattice. “I spent $1,200 of my hard-earned money to play in the tournament. It was two weeks before Christmas. This was $5,000. I was looking forward to having a great Christmas for my daughter and my family.”
Gregory claimed none of the top finishers received any of the $20,000 in prize money that had been touted before the start of the tournament.
“To play billiards well was a sign of an ill-spent youth.” — Herbert Spencer
Annigoni got his turn. He looked over at Gregory and took his best shot — a hard smack.
“He cheated,” Annigoni said.
Annigoni then gave Mattice a primer on billiards challengers who agree to throw a game with one of them winning and the other agreeing to take a dive. He labeled the players who make that sort of deal as “savers” and said it gives those players an unfair competitive advantage during the course of a tournament.
“Immediately after the event it was brought to our attention that collusion had been going on which is specifically against association rules and the rules of conduct for all tournament events,” Annigoni said. ”Four or five players were in collusion so we recently decided to take their prize funds and redistribute it to the whole field. . . . We owe (Gregory’s) prize money to the whole field.”
Then it was Gregory’s turn.
“I went to the tournament,” he said. “I followed the rules and I won and I expected to get paid.”
Gregory went on to admit that he and the second-place finisher agreed to be savers for their finale game.
“He offered. He said ‘Let’s have a saver for $500,’ ” Gregory said.
The deal was Gregory would settle for $4,500 for first place and the winnings for second place would be boosted from $3,000 to $3,500.
“Half of something is better than nothing,” Gregory said of the deal.
He said the practice was common for working people who are playing pool late into the night to wrap things up sooner rather than later.
“This has been going on for 20 years and it’s going on today. . . . It’s all about bragging rights and money,” Gregory said. “I had to play good. . . . I’m a working guy. I fought hard to win the tournament and I won it.”
Gregory had the last shot.
Mattice declared Gregory the winner in the courtroom contest, saying there was no evidence of any unfair practices before the final match in the tournament and that there was no evidence to show Gregory had not gone all out to win the tournament or that any cheating had given him an unfair advantage.
You can learn more about the U.S. Pool Players Association at http://www.usppa.com.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.