Pool hustlers

How does one get hustled in a pool hall?
Often in movies you see a young sucker losing his life savings or a piece of his person, because someone who apparently can’t play well turns out to be an expert shooter.

How exactly does this work, or is this just Hollywood fantasy? Can’t you just say “no” when challenged to a game for money? Can’t you just walk away after the first game you lose? Can’t you just take $20 to the billiard room and preemptively limit your evening’s losses?

“Anything is peaceful from one thousand, three hundred and fifty-three feet.”

Hustling is not just limited to pool, its a form of gambling, and when you think you can win easy money (but the true odds of you winning is very low) you get suckerd. The basketball game in the movie The Super is a simple classic example.

Not bad advice… never bet more than you are willing to lose, ever. I do not gamble, but you must always remember that yes you can lose. I have been asked before to play for money (usually a small amount, such as $2) and there is no foul in declining to play, or leaving after you lose, provided you pay first of course, some guys will get pretty upset, even over a small amount of money. Just stick with playing for fun with your friends. I am sorry I cannot tell you exactly how a hustle works, I have not been hustled, nor have I hustled anyone.

Usually, the hustler plays poorly at the outset, letting the victim win a game or two. The victim becomes cocky, and the hustler suggests a small bet, which he loses. Now the victim is sure he can beat the hustler. The hustler then increases the bet (“give me a chance to break even”) and just manages to win the game. The victim figures the hustler got lucky (he played so badly before), so HE asks for a chance to get even. The hustler continues to reel him in by looking “lucky,” so that the victim is SURE he’ll win the next one.

The hustle depends on the victim’s competitiveness and on making him think he’s got a good chance to win if he gets the right breaks. The victim can walk away at any time (when he wins the hustler’s money would be nice), but he’s usually “hooked” – he won the $5 he from the hustler so easily that it’s perfectly reasonable that he bet $50. Ego is involved, too, a very dangerous element when you’re betting.


Often enough hustlers can work either as a one man or two man team. Some of the ones I have seen used and still used always work the mark against himself. (my aunt ran a pool hall and I used to come by all the time)
All of them do have things based on human weaknesses though, lust, ego, greed etc.
Drunkards- This either works games or a “impossible shot” Two guys seem totally blitzed as they play pool and continually bet money but play horribly. They finally get into a arguement and one says he will play anyone here for a large sum of money. The other says ok but he will pick and takes their mark (whose been picked before, usually the pool hall hotshot) He picks him and loudly says he is putting money on him. They run the table gaining people to watch and more or less letting the mark win and get the ego working. Finally the drunk whose losing says he will bet double all the winnings and lays down a serious wad. Drunk number 2 says he would love to honor that bet but hes only got maybe half of it (think 500 of a 1000). The mark will of course be totally into it and will hit up friends, people around him and such to get a double of his money already won. As soon as the money is laid down, luck shots from drunk number 1 will abound and the mark is victimized

The beauty- Beautiful girl watches the mark and makes eyes at the mark while he plays pool. The associate plays either jealous or angry at the girl and goes over to ask mark to stop making his girlfriend bounce around, since he cannot shoot. Mark is flabbergasted and says it is not her girlfriend, but girl makes with the eyes and joins the conversation. She plays it cool and calmly suggest a game for the table, all while milking the mark with flirting. Same thing goes, associate loses a few and gets steamed and demands the girl leave because he cannot shoot at all. Girl finally stands and whispers to mark to make a bet to keep him quiet, working him into a lather with promises. Ego and lust soon take over and his is dead in the water. Associate only wants to make the guy take his girlfriend elsewhere. Girl works the mark with flirting and the money slowly starts drifting away. Finally when they tap him out the associate snatches money and leaves…and the mark will turn to find that the girl is gone.

These are just a few…there are hundreds more

In the pool hall I used to hang around in, everyone was a hustler and everyone knew it. It was hard to tell who was doing the hustling.

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NEVER bet on a sure thing!

Here is one of my favorite movie quotes, from Sky Masterson, Marlon Brando’s character in “Guys and Dolls”:

And then later on in the movie, having fallen victim to a beautiful woman, he looks to the sky, and admits, “Daddy… I got cider in my ear.”

If you want slightly more accurate movies on this, I suggest you watch “The Hustler” or “The Color of Money”. Both offer some ideas on how to hustle.

Most posters have it right in that the hustler plays poorly to start, and then plays better when he needs to win.

As far as I can tell, there are two scenarios a hustler has to deal with:
A) The person you are playing against is not that good. All you have to do is appear to be drunk and then get lucky to win the big games. Note: if you appear to be a poor player, you better hope not to see your mark again, because he’s going to be pissed when he sees how good you really are.

B) With a better player, they are going to have a clue about how good you are. They will be able to tell based on what you do with the cue ball. Good players nearly always get good leaves. Fortunately, pockets on a pool table are incredibly small, so you can decide to miss shots and have them rattle in and out to make you look like your aim is a little off (or make it look like you get nervous under pressure). When the big money comes, you can look a bit better and start winning the games.

Anyway, in common pool hall parlance, a “hustler” is any guy who is playing below his skill level. If you make and lose bets to a guy who is playing below his level, you’ve been “hustled.”

Finally, a good hustler will not let you know that you’ve been hustled. This will keep you coming back for more, and also allow him to play the other marks in the house.


The quote mentioned above is actually by Damon Runyan, in “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown”.

As for hustling… The best hustlers never suggest a wager. They get the other guy to suggest the wager. That makes the mark think he is in control. If the mark is the one always suggesting an increase in bets, then he’s never going to believe that he’s being hustled, and will play 'till he’s broke.

The ‘con’ in ‘con game’ comes from ‘confidence’. Most people think that it means the hustler is trying to get your confidence, but in fact it’s the opposite. In a true con game, the mark thinks he has YOUR confidence. For example, a good con might involve telling a mark that you have some crooked dice, and you want him to get you into his local dice game and vouch for you. You’ll give him your own cash, he puts up a matching amount, and later you’ll meet and split the proceeds. Now, you’ve given him YOUR confidence, because he’s holding your money. What he doesn’t realize is that the dice game is filled with your cronies, and the dice are rigged, but in the opposite way that he thinks. Now the game starts, you signal the mark to make a certain bet, he does and loses. You take him aside, tell him that he misread the signal and bet wrong. Now he feels bad, because he made a mistake and lost some of your money. Now you make an ambiguous signal, he doesn’t know what to do, and the dice come up wrong again… Etc. Eventually, he loses his money and yours, and you both leave. You ask him what happened, did he not understand? The guy leaves feeling bad, feeling like he let you down. And you go off and split up his money with your cronies.

This leads to the phrase “You can’t cheat an honest man.” In a true con game, you can’t.


It seems fitting that a Broadway musical (later movie) based on the characters and stories created by Damon Runyon would actually include text he wrote.