May 13, 1854 – The First Public Stakes Game of Billiards in America

I sling stick yo
I sling stick yo

On a Spring night in scenic, salty 1850’s Syracuse, New York, far from the tumult of Tammany Hall in New York City, the first stakes game of billiards was played at Malcolm Hall for a $200 purse. The contest paired Joseph N. White of New York City against George Smith of Watertown, New York, and took place on a four-pocket, 6′-12′ table. It was a caroms game with unlimited pocketings, up to 500. The big city shooter White took down Smith 500-484.

The game was held in a public pool hall, however it was by invitation only (keeping the side action among a circle of trusted spectators). The averages and runs of the game are not known, and the scoring of the contest was delayed to reach publication, which obfuscates the records.

Regardless of unknown stats and side-wagering, and no matter how drunk some of the Irish canal workers around might have been, the history of the event is clear. Billiards had reached American shores, taken hold, and was beginning to churn some action in a rapidly growing America. Less than five years later, purses would be claimed for $10,000, a massive take for the time and place in history.

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