The Best Pool Player I’ve Ever Seen

The Best Pool Player I’ve Ever Seen

It was 1987 late night at The Velvet Rail Billiards in Dover, Ohio which had recently opened.  My Grandfather Pop and I were done playing and a stranger playing alone was on the last table going.  I did not really pay much attention at first even though the owner Rich Lange told us he was good and we should watch.  Being fifteen at the time, as a far as I was concerned, no one could touch my Grandpa on a pool table for a 1,000 mile radius.   Anyway, this guy was just a normal looking fellow who was doing nothing fancy.  But I sat down, watched, and listened to his friendly banter as he played 9-ball.

In a matter of a few short games, my paradigm had shifted.  I went from being not impressed to watching in awe as it began to dawn on me just how good he was, or a least have a glimpse of how good he was.  He was always in line.  His stroke was always smooth.  The cue ball danced, spun, and landed on his command.  Object balls slid smoothly into pockets, over and over.  And over and over.  Bank shots went in with ease and he executed 3 rail position shots smoother than any name at the top of today’s rankings.  He had calm, relaxed and confident walk around the table with a firey concentrated look in his eyes.

His name was Garten Bierbower.  To this day he shot the best pool I have ever seen, without question.  He was the Ralf Greenleaf, the Mike Sigel, the Earl Strickland, that the world never got to know.   He was the Fast Eddie who quit serious pool before it ever really began.  A family and a job in stone masonry kept him busy after his young hustler days as a late teen and 20 something phenom player.  I met him when he was 42 and getting back into playing, because of the Velvet Rail.  Luckily for me, he became another mentor along with Pop, and he became a great friend.

I racked many hours for him as his opponent for several summers and thanksgiving vacations, absorbing the patterns and stroke of one of the greatest minds and talents the game has ever known.  Pop used to tell him, “Garten, you make the game look so easy!” and he would say, “It is easy Charles,” with a sly grin on his face.

Like all around him, I learned so much from Garten about upper tier world-class pool.  Man it was sweet to watch him play.  Garten recently passed away from heart complications and my love goes out to his family.  He made some of the most beautiful custom cues ever in his later years, if you are lucky enough to buy one, snatch it up while you can or tell me about it.

Thank you, Garten, for your art and passion in playing the game, and as I’ve always told you, you are still the best pool player I’ve ever seen.  I wish the world could have seen you play too… those who have know what I’m talking about.

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