Modern Billiards (1910 Edition)

by John Roberts Jnr.


John Roberts, the famous son of a father no less famous in his day, was born at Ardwick, near Manchester, on August 15th, 1847, his father being at the time in charge of the billiard-room of the Union Club, Manchester.

When he was about ten years of age his father took the billiard-room at the George Hotel, Liverpool, and the family removed to that town. Young Roberts attended school at the Mechanics’ Institute, Mount Pleasant, but the love of billiards was in his blood, and no sooner was he released from school than he used to make the best of his way to his father’s billiard-room and knock the balls about for so long as he was allowed, which depended upon whether his father was present or not. If the elder was absent, young John would have fine times with Johnny Herst, one of the markers, who afterwards became a well-known player himself. It was from this Herst that young Roberts obtained much of his early instruction, if indeed he ever had any guidance beyond his own observation.

One of the regular customers at the “George” billiard-room at this time was Mr. James Barber, well known for his connection with the turf He was a most enthusiastic billiard-player, and it was his custom to gamble heavily on any game he played. His most frequent opponent was a Mr. Hugh Williams, and they usually played games of 50 points up for too or too, and the stakes in ready money were always stuffed into one of the pockets of the table. Mr. Williams always conceded Mr. Barber a start of 15 with the red hazard thrown in-that is, the red ball, instead of being placed on the spot, was put into position for the easy loser. Barber was so enamoured of the game that he could not tear himself away from the table; in fact, on one occasion he had gone down to Liverpool to see the race for the Liverpool Cup, for which a horse of his had been heavily backed; but he got to playing billiards at the “George,” and could not make up his mind to leave, with the result that though his horse won the cup he did not see the race! When playing billiards he would bet with the spectators on almost every stroke, stopping now and again to say in broad dialect, “Nathen, aw think a’ll hev a little settlin’.” He was a good example of the men who make and lose fortunes on the turf. Of humble origin, he made a large fortune by horse-racing, and though he was up to all the tricks of the turf, his knowledge did not prevent his losing it again, so that he eventually died in very poor circumstances.

The elder Roberts afterwards left the “George” for the Queen’s Hotel, in Lime Street, and it was here that the younger Roberts first noticed a trick of his father’s, which ultimately had some bearing upon the introduction of the rule imposing a penalty for knocking a ball off the table. At that time there was no such penalty, and it was a common practice of old John’s, if his opponent’s score stood at 96 or 97, to knock his own ball and the red off the table, and so give himself a chance. The walls of the room were covered with dents at the height of the table where the balls had been driven against them with force, and on one occasion he actually drove a ball through a window nine feet from the ground. This was thought to be such an extraordinary feat that the pane was not put in for some time afterwards, the empty sash being covered with a curtain and shown as a curiosity.

The family came to London in 1860, and young John took his place as a regular assistant in the subscription-room of his father’s rooms at Savile House, in Leicester Square. He says that money used to change hands very freely in this subscription-room, which was the resort of many well-known men about town, the late Lord Westbury and the late Earl of Dudley being two of the most regular players.

Savile House was burned down in 1864, and the elder Roberts went to Australia. He returned in 1865, and took billiard-rooms in Wellington Street, where the subject of this sketch played constantly

The champion says that to the best of his recollection the first handicap he won was in 1866, but he has no particulars, and only remembers that his opponent in the final was H. Evans.

In 1867 he won a big handicap promoted by W. Dufton and played in the St. James’s Minor Hall. The record of this handicap is valuable as showing the status of the different players before the public at that time, so it is given here in full.

Play commenced on Monday, January 14th, 1867. The heats were 400 up, and there were twenty-four players.

John Roberts, sen. London owes 100
C. Hughes London rec. 10
Christmas London rec. 10
J. Bennett London rec. 10
J. Herst London rec. 10
John Roberts, jun London rec. 35
W. Green Liverpool rec. 70
W. Dufton London rec. 70
W. Cook, jun London rec. 70
H. Evans London rec. 70
T. Morris London rec. 70
G. Davis London rec. 70
A. Hughes London rec. 70
G. Mulberry Twickenham rec. 70
F. Symes (winner of a handicap at the Philharmonic) rec. 100
S. Bunting Manchester rec. 110
W. Moss Manchester rec. 110
G. Craggs London rec. 115
Gus Baillie London rec. 115
G. Collins Bristol rec. 120
J. Bradley Scarborough rec. 120
Bancroft Manchester rec. 120
Murray Leeds rec. 120
T. Ottoway London rec. 130

The results as far as Roberts was concerned were: –

FIRST GAME.-John Roberts, jun., beat W. Moss by 32.

Breaks.-Roberts: 11, 23, 11, 14, 16, 17, 28, 15, 21, 20, 10, 10, 15, 11, 12. Moss: 10, 29, 12, 19, 21, 29, 10, 12.

Betting 5 to 1 against John Roberts, jun., for the handicap.

TENTH GAME.-John Roberts, jun., beat John Herst by 116. Time, 1h. 21m.

Breaks.-Herst: 13, 12, 10, 12, 48, 17, 14, 29, 19, 30. Roberts: 30, 11, 49, 15, 26, 14, 25, 15, 117, 19.

In the twelfth game John Roberts, sen., beat Dufton, and afterwards was freely backed for the handicap at evens, and 3 to 1 was taken about the chance of John Roberts, jun.

THIRTEENTH GAME.-John Roberts, jun., beat H. Evans by 101 in 1h. 17m.

At the start of this heat the odds on Roberts were 5 to 4. Towards the finish, after he had made a break of 53, £50 to £1 was laid on him. Other breaks were 51 and 63.

FOURTEENTH GAME.-John Roberts, sen., beat G. Davis by 90.

FIFTEENTH GAME AND FINAL.-John Roberts, jun., beat John Roberts, sen., by 97 in 1h. 28m.

Betting level.

Breaks.-John Roberts, jun.: 13, 61, 22, 14, 21, 48, 17, 50, 27, 13, 19. John Roberts, sen.: 45, 37, 31, 19, 55, 22, 42, 12, 22, 12

In the final heat, according to the terms of the handicap, John Roberts, son., had to score 500, while his son had to make 375. The elder man actually scored 403, or only 28 more than his son.

At this period the subject of our sketch had charge of the billiard-room at the Exchange Hotel, Newcastle-on-Tyne. This room was frequented by all the best people in the town, but the busiest time was when the race-meetings were on. Then there were high jinks, and the billiard-room was often kept going the whole night.

During Roberts’ tenancy of this room, on the occasion of a race-meeting, the late Sir William Elliott played billiards the whole of the night with a Pontefract bookmaker named Greaves. During the night, in the course of an argument between Sir William, who owned horses, and a Nottingham bookmaker named Nichol, who was also an owner, about riding, a match was made to be decided the following day, each to ride his own horse. The wager was for either £500 or £200 a side and the two horses. Owing probably to the ‘`all-night sitting,” which had a greater effect upon Sir William than upon the seasoned Nichol, the former was not able to do full justice to his horse, and accordingly lost the match.

Roberts played in another handicap about this time at the Post Office Hotel, Manchester. The players were almost the same as in the St. James’s Hall Handicap. In this competition, however, young John owed 25 in 300 up, and his father owed 100. Young Roberts beat a player named Syddal in the first round, but in the second round he was beaten by W. Moss, of Manchester, the scores reading: Moss 300, Roberts 297. Moss won the handicap, the second prize falling to W. Green.

In the last game of the second round of this competition there was a good illustration of old-time tactics. The game was called, Green 297, Johnson 294; Green to play. With the object of leaving Johnson only one ball to play at and that ball on the spot, Green knocked the red and his own ball off the table. As already explained, this manoeuvre was often resorted to, the elder Roberts being its originator. In the result it served its purpose here, for Green won the game.

W. Moss, the winner of this handicap, was about the best known player in Lancashire. He was possessed of great nerve, and was, moreover, a great gambler. He was at the Chester Meeting the year that Beeswing won the Chester Cup At the commencement of the meeting he had very bad luck; and had come down to his last five shillings. He put this on a winner, and then commenced “playing up.” He backed winner after winner, and when the time arrived for the Chester Cup to be run he had quite a respectable amount in hand, which he planked down to the last shilling on Beeswing and won £1,100.

He and Julius Johnson were always antagonistic. They were pretty nearly equal, not only at billiards, but at many other things, and they never met without having a dispute, with a consequent wager. They would fight, swim, play billiards, or anything else. It was not very material to them what they battled about, but they must battle about something. It is said that on one occasion, on a Sunday morning, when they were got up in silk hats, etc., they were walking on opposite sides of the river at Oxford. Though they were separated by the river, they must have the inevitable argument, which ended by both of them plunging into the stream to settle it in the middle. These two men played many matches in Manchester, when the bets would amount to thousands. Prior to a big match of this sort they would both go into training, but never in the same town; that would not have done at all. Moss usually selected Southport as his training quarters.

C. Hughes, another player in these handicaps, was a fine exponent of billiards, and at that time a great rival to J. Bennett. Bowles, Hughes, and Bennett were constantly meeting, and used to play at evens. Hughes afterwards went to India, and died there about 1873, on his way to Calcutta after visiting the Nawab of Dacca.

Christmas, the head marker at Pook’s Club, St. James’s Street (afterwards the “Cocoa Tree”), another competitor, was in those days supposed to be quite as good as anyone, except John Roberts, sen.

J. Herst, who has been previously mentioned as being a marker with old John Roberts at Liverpool, was also a very good player. After Cook had got into the form which led him to aspire to the championship, Herst beat him at evens in Scotland.

W. M. Green, who also was in the St. James’s Hall and Manchester Handicaps, now keeps a large billiard saloon in Glasgow, where he has been for years.

W. Dufton, who promoted the St. James’s Hall Handicap, was selected by Earl Spencer to give lessons in billiards to the present King, and afterwards wrote a book on the game which he called Practical Billiards. In 1865 he played a great match for £1,000 with a well-known quasi-amateur named E. Green, who laid £600 to £400 on himself. Dufton won, and his backers thereupon presented him with an illuminated testimonial and a purse of 210 sovereigns. This testimonial was picked up in a saleroom a few years ago by William Mitchell, and is now in his possession. Dufton committed suicide, and Green, who at the time of the match was very well off, died in London about three years ago in the most extreme poverty.

H. Evans, another of the players, is still wielding the cue in Australia, and a few years ago was champion of that continent.

G. Davis, another of the players, was a turf commission agent, his principal employer being a gentleman named Nicholson, who raced under the name of Graham. As to one of this gentleman’s horses, Gamos, who won the Oaks of 1870, Roberts tells a story.

He says that George Fordham, who was to ride, strongly advised him to back it, and meeting Mr. Hugh Williams, previously mentioned as being Mr. Barber’s constant opponent at billiards, asked him to get £5 on, at the same time handing him a note for the amount. Mr. Williams replied that Roberts might consider it done. The horse won at 20 to 1, and Roberts, again meeting Mr. Williams about an hour after the race, asked him for £105. He said, ” Good God! I forgot all about it, and did not put the money on, but I must pay,” and pay he did.

About the end of 1867 Roberts played a series of games at pyramids with L. Kilkenny, of Huddersfield. The match was the best of twenty-one games for £50, Roberts conceding a start of one ball in each game. The score was ten games each, and seven balls all on the twenty-first game. Kilkenny got the remaining ball, and thus won the match. Roberts describes this as the closest and most exciting match he ever played.

Writing of Kilkenny brings to mind a funny story he used to tell. He was playing a match against a player named Bishop, and in the course of the game he made a simple masse stroke. This stroke was almost unknown in England at that time, and a pitman, who was in one of the top tiers of seats, was so overcome by what he thought was the unnatural behaviour of the ball that he started for the table, plunging through the spectators, and clearing his way by swinging his arms about. Arriving on the floor, he proceeded to shake Kilkenny violently by the hand, at the same time fairly shouting in a very excited way in broad Northumbrian, ” By the holy, did ye ivvor see such a shot in yor life! ”

Roberts left Newcastle in the beginning of 1868, and spent most of that year between York and Scarborough playing pool and billiards. At the end of 1868 and beginning of 1869 he went on a tour in and about Lancashire with his father and William Cook. This was the time when Cook began to show promise of his future excellence by making breaks of 300 and upwards. He was then so much better than young Roberts that he used to beat him three times out of four, and had his physique and self-control been equal to that of the present champion, he might have remained his superior to the end of the chapter.

In those days, however, professional billiard players led very Bohemian lives, and the all-night sittings, the drinking, smoking, and other things were responsible for many good men losing form and weakening their constitutions. Roberts was no better than his contemporaries, but in addition to having the advantage of a strong constitution, he soon discovered that extreme Bohemianism and excellence at billiards do not keep company for long.

Somewhere about this time Roberts played a very sensational match at the Bush Hotel, Manchester, with W. Timbrel, giving him a start of 300 in 1,000. Timbrel finished the game with a break of over 100 with Roberts within 9 or 11 points of the game. During the course of this match one of the spectators actually laid £100 to £1 on Roberts and of course, lost his money. Nowadays there is practically no betting or gambling at all on professional billiard matches, but at that time any match between professionals was sure to be productive of very heavy wagering, and in subscription and public rooms the amount of money which changed hands was enormous.

In December, 1868, a match which was productive of much interest and consequent speculation was played at the old Bentinck Club, which is now the Vaudeville Theatre. The players were John Roberts, jun., and W. Cook, and the stakes were £100 a side. Roberts was favourite at the commencement of the game, but Cook speedily deprived him of that position, and the game was called 346 to 288 in Cook’s favour. Roberts then began to gain on him, and shortly after entering the fifth 100 he was again backed at odds on. Roberts won this game by 92, and his father, who was present, was so struck by the excellence of the play that he stated publicly that he doubted his ability to beat either of the players on the form displayed. Cook however, shortly afterwards evened up matters by beating Roberts easily in a match of 1,000 up at St. James’s Hall.

Now occurred the first match for the championship, and here are some remarks of the younger Roberts concerning it. He says:-

“I fancy that it was about the beginning of 1869 that the idea first occurred to Cook to challenge my father for the championship. At any rate, I quite recollect Tom Cook saying about that time that he would back his nephew to play Roberts, sen., level if Will kept on improving as he did. When it became known that William Cook was actually going to challenge, I tried to persuade my father to retire and let me play instead, but he had the idea that he could not be beaten, and would not, therefore, give way. In vain his friends put before him the value of retiring with an unbeaten record, and assured him that he would have a magnificent testimonial given to him if he retired. He knew as well as anyone what Cook’s abilities were, and could not disguise from himself the fact that it was by no means a good thing for him to beat Cook, but he would play.

“I was present at the match, which took place at St. James’s Hall on February 11th, 1870, and, although odds of 5 to 1 were laid successfully on Cook, I certainly think that Cook was very lucky to win. He made his last break of 60 odd off a fluke, and on many occasions during the match the balls went very favourably for him and ran very adversely for my father. Again, the offer made by Lord Dudley while the match was in progress to give my father £1,000 in the event of his winning rather upset his play for a time, and I have little doubt that it tended to defeat its own object by making him too anxious to win.

“During the match W. Dufton acted as a self-appointed master of the ceremonies. At the interval Dufton caused considerable amusement by advising the spectators to spend the most of the few minutes allowed in recovering their seats. As there were a large number of people standing, the hall being crowded and standing room at a premium, it was almost a certainty that anyone who left his seat for the interval would have to stand for the remainder of the time.

“If my father had won this match, he would probably have retired. If he had not done so, he would only have been putting off the evil day, as he must have been beaten a very short time after. After the match he had for a while the intention of trying to regain his position, but his play got worse, and with Cook and myself improving daily, he soon saw that it would be useless to make the attempt.

“In estimating my father’s position as a billiard player, it must be borne in mind that for some time previous to this match he had had but little practice, and, in fact, never had more than could be obtained by playing an occasional match in public and by playing at his own rooms. Against this, Cook and I were always on the billiard table, and it is not surprising that while we, in the course of the four years from 1866 to 1870, improved beyond all expectation, my father deteriorated, or was at least left standing still. If the amount of practice my father had and the different conditions of play in his day and the Present be taken into consideration, I think that most people will agree with me in the opinion I have formed that he was a greater player than has been seen since. Had he taken the advice of his friends and retired without playing Cook, he would now, doubtless, be quoted by competent authorities as the greatest billiard player of any time.”

Immediately after the conclusion of the first championship match young Roberts challenged the winner, a friend in the North of England promising to find the necessary £100. A week or two before the time fixed for the match this friend suffered a serious financial loss, and asked Roberts to try and find the money elsewhere. This he was unable to do in the time, and it looked as if the match would fall through. His friend, however, eventually found the money, and the match took place on April 14th, 1870, Roberts winning by no less than 473 points.

Roberts states that just before starting play he asked Cook how he felt, and he replied, ” Oh, pretty well for a man who is going to be beaten.” During the course of the match Roberts took a bet of £100 to £10 that he would win by 500 points, and lost it by 22 points.

Roberts was not allowed to rest on his laurels, for he was immediately challenged by Alfred Bowles, whom he easily beat by 246 points on the 30th May following. It may be doubted whether Bowles was ever really up to championship form, as he was always considered to be about 300 in 1,000 inferior to the elder Roberts. The strength of his game lay in cannon play, and it may have been this fact which led him and his friends to think that he would have a chance for the championship, as the small size of the pockets discounted hazard play. After this match he appears to have recognised the fact that he had attempted something beyond his class, for he never challenged for the championship again.

Bowles once played the elder Roberts a one-handed match for £100 a side. The match was played at Bowles’s rooms, in Brown Street, Manchester, and, as might have been expected, Roberts won easily.

Five days after the championship match with Bowles Roberts played on the same day two matches of 1,000 up with Cook. The first one was played in the afternoon at the Crystal Palace, opposite the Handel Orchestra, and Roberts had the best of it all the way, winning by 226, the best breaks being 116 and 100 by Roberts and 104 by Cook. The second match was played in the evening at Cook’s rooms, at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Paddington, when Cook won by 53.

A few days after this again (June 9th) Roberts played a somewhat sensational exhibition game at Birmingham with Alf. Bennett. He gave Bennett a start of 300 in 1,000, and actually caught him in the last 100, but for all that Bennett won by 77.

Alf Bennett was a bit of a humourist in his way, and it was sometimes difficult to know whether his remarks were in jest or earnest. For instance, he once told Roberts quite seriously that he had improved in his play so much that he had not had a fluke for three years!

Roberts had to play for the championship again on November 20th. His opponent was Joseph Bennett, who succeeded in beating him by 95 points. Roberts thinks that Bennett’s victory was much in the nature of a fluke, and was more due to Roberts having got careless in his play and deteriorated, owing to keeping late hours and not taking care of himself generally, than to the excellence of Bennett’s game. He says further that the strength of Bennett’s game lay in his losing hazard play, and that though he played what might be described as a splendid mathematical game, he ought not to be classed with those players who have the resource to make a game for themselves when they get into difficulty.

By the way, the honour of inventing the spot-barred game rightly belongs to Bennett, though it is generally ascribed to Roberts. So far back as 1869 Bennett issued a challenge to play anyone in the world “spot hazard barred,” and this was long enough before Roberts thought of discarding the spot stroke. When Roberts did make the spot-barred game his own, and had invented the break-making methods which every professional now aims at acquiring, someone asked Joe Bennett what he thought of it. “Think of it?” said Bennett, ” why it’s a devil of a game. He goes out for all sorts of strokes-and gets ’em too ! ”

Bennett was always very fond of dogs, and generally had several of them about him. A friend once asked him how it was that he showed such a predilection for canine society, and he is said to have replied, “I don’t know. I suppose it’s because they are the only pals I have in the world, and I can give ’em a good hiding if I like without their rounding on me.”

About this time Cook’s rooms at 99, Regent Street, were the gathering-place for men about town who liked a game of pool. The pools were open to the world-anyone could play-but professionals were only allowed two lives, and as may be imagined with this handicap, they did not by any means have the best of it. The play was not high-three shillings the pool and one shilling a life, but it was quite possible to lose pretty heavily. Roberts used to be a regular player there, and says that on the whole he does not think that he got anything out of it. It was by no means unusual for him to come away, after an afternoon’s play, £5 or £10 out of pocket. He says in these pools he came across some of the best hazard strikers he ever met.

In those days a public billiard-room of good class was worth having, for club life had not taken such a hold as now, and the best amateurs used to do most of their play in public rooms. The attractiveness of pool, too, always made the rooms busy, but nowadays it is very much the exception to see pool played in a public room, and it is not played at all to anything like the extent it was.

In December, 1870, Bennett (champion), Cook, and Roberts played a series of matches at the Town Hall, Manchester. The opening match (750 up) was between Cook and Roberts, and Cook won by 428 points, making a break of 304, which included 59 spots. The same afternoon he beat Roberts two games out of three at pyramids. In the evening they met again, when Roberts won the billiard game by the narrow margin of 24, and also took the rubber at pyramids. The following day Cook and Bennett played, and Cook won all the games, the billiards by 155 and 31, and the pyramids each time by 2 to 1.

In January, 1871, Roberts met Bennett again, this time at the Corn Exchange, Manchester. The game was 1,000 up, and lasted three hours. It was well contested, Roberts only winning by 30, his best break being 91. A day or two previous to this he had defeated Cook at the Maypole Inn at Nottingham in a game of 800 up at billiards, and the best of twelve games of pyramids.

The fifth match for the championship was played at St. James’s Hall on January 30th, 1871, and resulted in the decisive defeat of Bennett by 363 points. Roberts was so confident of his ability to reverse the result of the previous match that he did not train or practise, though in the game itself he played very carefully, and did not throw away any chances. There was a great deal of betting on this match, odds of 6 to 4 being laid on the winner.

Between this time and May 25th, when Roberts met Cook in the sixth match for the championship, they played five matches together at Paddington, Bala, Great Yarmouth, Hartlepool, and Boston. Of these matches Cook won four, so that it was no wonder that he was made favourite when the championship contest came on. At one period of the game Cook was 150 ahead, but Roberts passed him at 624, and was himself caught at 668, and he did not get in front again until Cook was 872. Roberts absolutely threw this game away. He only wanted 15 to win while Cook wanted 36. Roberts had an easy screw cannon to go at, which should have left the balls together, making his winning a certainty, but he missed the stroke, leaving excellent position for his opponent, who ran out.

In the month previous to this match (April 21st) Roberts played a match of 1,000 up at Hull with William Mitchell, then known as “Bradley’s Boy”. Young Mitchell on this occasion received a start of 500, but he managed to win by no less than 452, and also won the three games of pyramids which followed. In speaking of Mitchell, Roberts says that he has always thought that if the Sheffield player had taken more care of himself he might have made a bold bid for premier honours. Almost everyone who knows Mitchell is much of this opinion, and the glimpses of marvellous form which he even now gives us occasionally amply confirm it.

On January 2nd, 1872, Cook and Roberts played 1,000 up at the White Bear Hotel, Manchester. The highest breaks were 127 by Roberts and 111 and 100 by Cook. Cook won this game mainly by spot-stroke play, and, bearing in mind the mammoth “all in” breaks which were the rule only a few years afterwards, it is noticeable that his highest break was only 111.

Roberts tells the following story of the after-proceedings on this occasion:-

“In those days it was hardly considered the thing to go to bed before the small hours, and after the match Cook and I sat up with others talking billiards, and, as was also the custom of the time, taking a fair quantity of drink. About two o’clock Cook and I were engaged in a hot discussion as to our respective merits at pyramids, and by way of settling the question, I offered there and then to give him a ball. We adjourned to the billiard-room with several of the company, but we played so slowly that they filed out one by one, until Cook and I had the room to ourselves.

“About four o’clock a gentleman named Ainsworth, who was at the time the secretary of the Gun Club, came in, and hearing from the night porter or someone in the smoking-room that we were in the billiard-room, he came up. At this time we had been playing for nearly two hours, and we had been playing so much safety, and, moreover, the sitting up had so affected our play that in all this time neither of us had taken a ball. We both owed three balls, and had we continued playing, the game might reasonably have been expected to finish some time the next night.

“Mr. Ainsworth, seeing the position of affairs, suggested that we should postpone the game until another evening, and we readily fell in with the idea, as we were both heartily sick of the game. This incident led to my making a match to play Cook the best of twenty-one games of pyramids for £50 a side, I owing a ball in each game. We played at the ‘White Bear,’ on February 13th, with the result that I won by eleven games to seven.

“On one of these occasions I met a gentleman named Washington Taylor, an American resident in Manchester. He was a great frequenter of the Albion Hotel, then perhaps the place in Manchester most resorted to by billiard players. On the occasion I refer to he invited Cook and me to go up and play a game. We did so, and Cook won. Afterwards, sitting in the smoke-room, the talk turned on hotels, and I, having already had some experience of hotels in all parts of the United Kingdom, was airing my knowledge a little, when Taylor, turning to me, said, ‘Why, you haven’t any big hotels in this country at all. If ever I see you in America I’ll show you what I call a big hotel.’ Strange to say, some four years afterwards, when passing through San Francisco on my way to Australia, and having to stay there a few days, I put up at the Palace Hotel, then perhaps the largest hotel in the world, and going in at the door, I came face to face with Mr. Taylor, who hailed me with the remark, spoken as if we had only been arguing about the matter the day before, ‘Ah, now I can show you what a big hotel is like!’ ”

It was in 1872 or thereabouts that Roberts took the billiard-rooms at 82, Market Street, Manchester, now in the occupation of Edward Diggle. He retained these rooms until 1876, and for about three years of the time he had them he was a total abstainer and won £2,100 in stakes.

It was in January, 1872, too, that John Bennett promoted a handicap at the Nell Gwynne Tavern, near the Adelphi Theatre. The heats were 500 up, and the final was 1,000 up.

The players and the starts were as follows:-

W. Cook; John Roberts, jun; Joseph Bennett [each owed 100]

Kilkenny; Harry Evans; Alfred Bennett; John Bennett; Fred Bennett; Stanley; Taylor; Richards; T. Morris [75 start]

R. Inman; R. Wilson J [100 start]

John Stammers; W. Hinton [125 start]

Roberts was beaten by Morris in the first round by 89, and Morris was beaten in the final by Joseph Bennett, who won the handicaps.

On January 25th, 1872, Cook and Roberts played two matches at the Angel Hotel, Macclesfield, and Roberts won both. With the exception of the pyramid match above mentioned, they did not meet again until they played the eighth match for the championship on March 4th. Roberts was dead out of form on this occasion, while Cook was in very good trim. Cook won by 201 points, and in the course of the game made a break of 116, which up to that time was the highest break ever made in a match on a championship table. As to his doings during the summer of i872, Roberts says:-

“After this match I played but little exhibition billiards until the winter, being engaged very much in racing. In the racing centres there used to be a deal of high play at billiards and pool in the evenings, and though I must admit that at times I won some money, generally speaking, I was too heavily penalised to make much. As I have before mentioned, those were the days of late sittings and much drink, and had I continued at this mode of life I am afraid that my billiards would have suffered permanently.

“A prominent figure in these gatherings, and an enthusiastic billiard player, was E. Green, who died only a couple of years ago in abject poverty. Green was to be found in the billiard-room in one of the hotels affected by racing-men at every meeting. He was, in my opinion, one of the gamest players that ever played, and played pool as well as anyone, especially on the tables we used to come across in these provincial hotels, where neither the tables nor the balls were calculated to enhance scientific play. Green was a very successful owner of racehorses, and was on one occasion reported to have won over £100,000 on two races. His good fortune on the turf, however, was more than counterbalanced by his ill-luck in other lines, and he was eventually brought to extreme poverty, not, as might be supposed, by his turf speculations, but by commercial losses. If I remember rightly, one ship went down which meant a loss to him of some £34,000. Up to the end of his life he used to lament the fact that he had embarked in commercial speculation, and was firmly of opinion that had he stuck to the turf he might have died a rich man. He once played a match at billiards with Dufton, the professional player, for £1,000, Green laying £600 to £400. Dufton won, but it was generally considered that he was rather lucky to do so.

“The last I heard of poor Green previous to his death was of his being in the habit of frequenting a licensed house at Walham Green, where he used to pick up a few coppers at ‘shell out.’ As to this, my informant told me the following story: Green, just before his death, suffered from a trembling in the hands, and generally looked the very last man to be successful in a game of either billiards or pool. Well, one day-it was an early-closing day-he went into the billiard-room above mentioned and found about a dozen shop-assistants and so forth playing ‘shell out.’ He diffidently asked to be allowed to take a cue, and the players, after some demur from one of them as to the iniquity of ‘shacking’ the poor old gentleman, let him in. Now it was a curious fact that, though ordinarily his hands shook as though he had the palsy, no sooner had he got his left on the table and made his bridge, than they were as steady as those of any of the company, and it was found at the finish of the game that the ‘poor old gentleman’ had pretty nearly all the money in the crowd.”

The antagonism with Cook was renewed on November 9th, 1872, when they played two matches of 500 up at Pursell’s, in Cornhill. They each won one of these games, but Roberts won the best of eleven games of pyramids by taking six games to two.

Pursell’s was another great pool-room. As at Cook’s, the game usually played was threes and ones, and the tables were going continuously from about 10.30 in the morning until seven or eight at night, when the place closed.

Before the year ended the rivals met again at the Grosvenor Hotel, Blackburn. In the afternoon they played 500 up and the best of six games at pyramids, and Cook won both events. In the evening they played 1,000 up at billiards, and Cook again won by 179.

It was Cook and Roberts again in the first half of 1873. On January 1st and 2nd they played two games of 1,000 up at the Hen and Chickens Hotel, Manchester. Cook won the first by 299, and Roberts won the second by 236. In the first game Roberts’s best break was 114 (22 spots), but Cook made what was then considered the magnificent break of 396 (110 consecutive spots) and another of 112 (22 spots). In the second game the best breaks were: Roberts, 109 (27 spots), 50 (9 spots), 63, 59, 46 (these three breaks being all-round), 73 (mostly nurseries), 51, 65 (7 spots), 65 (9 spots), and an all-round 101 unfinished. Cook made 66 (9 spots), 122 (19 spots), 55 (16 spots), 141 (30 spots), 65 (20 spots), and 104 (11 spots). At pyramids they left off equal, each of them winning one of the sets of five games.

On January 27th and 28th they played a somewhat sensational match at the Waverley Hall, Edinburgh. The conditions were that four games should be played-two of 1,000 and two of 750-the player making the highest aggregate to be the winner. Cook won the first game of 1,000 up by 259, and the following game of 750 by 516, thus securing a lead of 775. On the second day Roberts won the 1,000 up by 405, and the 750 by 392, thus beating Cook’s aggregate by 22 points, and winning the gold medal which was offered as the prize. Roberts also beat Cook at pyramids on this occasion.

They again met on February 23rd, at the Albert Institute Hall, Dundee. There they played two games of 1,000 up, and Roberts won both, the first by 248, and the second by 146. Cook won the best of nine games at pyramids. Again, on the afternoon and evening of March 4th, they played two games of 750 up. Roberts won the afternoon game by 131, and Cook won the evening game by 219. They played the best of seven games of pyramids at each sitting, and each won a turn.

They met again at the same place on March 5th, when Roberts beat Cook by 74 in 750 up in the afternoon, and by 53 in the evening. They each held their own at pyramids.

Cook won two games which they played on April 1st, 1873, at the White Hart Hotel, Lewes. The first game of 500 up he won by 148, and the second of 1,000 up by 387. Cook was again successful in two games played on the following day at his rooms at 99, Regent Street. In the afternoon the game was 500 up and the best of eleven games of pyramids. Cook won the billiards by 114, and Roberts the pyramids by six games to four. In the evening the game was 1,000 up, and Cook won by 278.

On May 26th there was an exciting match at pyramids between Roberts and Cook. Roberts undertook to concede a ball in each game. The stakes were £25 a side, and the game ended in a draw, each player winning ten games.

Roberts went racing again this summer, and did not play in public until December 8th, when he took part in a big handicap promoted by Cook, and played at the Guildhall Tavern, Gresham Street. The entries and the draw for this contest were as follows:-


H. Evans (130) v. S. W. Stanley (120); W. Dufton (170) v. T. Taylor (120); Joe Bennett (scratch) v. John Bennett (150).


L. Kilkenny (130) v. G. Collins (130); J. Roberts, jun. (scratch), v. F. Bennett (120); J. Stammers (200) v. A. Bennett (150).


W. Cook (scratch) v. T. Morris (140); J. Roberts, sen (130), v. A. Hughes (140).

Roberts beat F. Bennett in the first round by 133, but was himself beaten by Cook in the second round by 223. Cook won this handicap, the runner-up being Kilkenny. The heats were 500 up all in.

After this there were two games with Izar, the celebrated French hand-stroke player. They took place at the Falstaff Hotel, Market Street, Manchester, and Izar won both. The first was a cannon game of 150 up, which the Frenchman won by 18 points, and the other was a game of 500 up at ordinary billiards, at which Roberts was beaten by 198.

On January 14th, 1874, at the Guildhall Tavern, Roberts conceded F. Bennett a start of 300 in 1,000 for £100 a side. Roberts won by 68 in two hours and forty-four minutes.

He was at Cook again on January 27th, when they played 1,000 up at Pontypool. Cook was in excellent form, making breaks of 380 (125 spots), 157, and 129, and won by 122. Roberts’s best break was 124.

On the following day they played two games at the Royal Hotel, Cardiff. The first game was 500 up spot-barred, and Roberts won by 116. The other was 500 up all in, and Cook won by 24.

In February, Roberts himself promoted a handicap at the Bush Hotel, Manchester. The entries and draw were:-


L Kilkenny, Yorkshire (130), v. John Smith, Liverpool (160); John Roberts, jun, Manchester (scratch), v. John Roberts, sen., Manchester (130); W. Timbrell, Liverpool (120), v. D. Richards, London (150).


A. Hughes, London (150), v. G. Collins, Bristol (130); John Bennett, London (160), v. S. W. Stanley, London (120); W. Cook, London (scratch), v. W. Dufton, London (180).


F. Bennett, London (130), v. H. Evans, London (130); A. Bennett, Birmingham (130), v. T. Taylor, London (130).

The heats were 500 up, and the final was the best of three games. Roberts beat his father in the first round by 131, but Cook knocked him out in the second round by 273 and eventually won the handicap by beating Joseph Bennett two games out of three in the final round.

On February 24th Cook again defeated Roberts for the championship by 216 points.

There was another handicap promoted by Cook at the Guildhall Tavern, commencing March 16th, 1874. The draw was F. Bennett (received 140) v. J. Stammers (received 250); H. Evans (140) v. T. Morris (160); Jos. Bennett (scratch) v. Louis Kilkenny (140); A. Bennett (140) v. D. Richards (180); J. Roberts, jun. (scratch), v. John Bennett (180); S. W. Stanley (200) v. G. Collins (150); J. Roberts, sen. (140), v. W. Dufton (200); W. Cook (scratch) v. T. Taylor (180). The heats were 500 up, and Roberts was knocked out in the first round. The final lay between Stanley and Taylor, the former proving successful.

After this nothing of note transpired until the following June, on the first of which month Roberts met Bennett at St. James’s Hall in a game of 1,000 up for £100 a side. The table was a difficult one, which, with the great amount of safety play, accounts for the fact that the breaks were small. Bennett never appeared to have a chance of winning, and was beaten by 432 points.

Beyond taking part in an entertainment for the benefit of William Cook at St. James’s Hall, on August 20th, 1874, Roberts made few appearances in London, and none of any importance, until November 27th, when he beat Cook by 63 points in a game of 750 up, at 99, Regent Street, and also on the same occasion took five out of nine games of pyramids.

In the early part of the same month Cook and Roberts had played together at the Brookland Hotel, in Manchester, and at the Victoria Hotel, Widnes. Both games were 750 up, and took place on succeeding days. On the first occasion Roberts won easily by over 200 points, but the second game was productive of a rather remarkable finish, for Cook only wanted 6 points of game when Roberts ran out with an unfinished break of 211.

The year 1875 is notable for the introduction of the American tournament into England. Previous to this all tournaments in England were played on the “knock out,” or coursing principle. In the American tournament each player meets every other player, and the winner is he who wins most games. Cook was the introducer of this system into England. He had been to America, and on his return mentioned the matter to Mr. J. S. Burroughes, of the firm of Burroughes and Watts. Mr. Burroughes at once fell in with the idea, and his firm offered to give £100 as prize money. A meeting was held at the house of Mr. Burroughes, at which preliminaries were arranged. The eight selected players were W. Cook (champion), John Roberts, jun., and Jos. Bennett (scratch), T. Taylor (100 start), S. W. Stanley (120 start), W. Timbrell (140 start), A. Bennett and L. Kilkenny (160 start). The heats were 500 points up. The distribution of the prize money and the “gate” was to be pro-rata, according to the number of heats won. Thus the winner of the greatest number of heats would receive nine shares, the next eight, and so on, down to the winner of the least number of heats, who would receive two shares. The winner was also to receive a gold medal, presented by Messrs. Burroughes and Watts, and W. Cook presented a locket, value £10, as a prize for the highest break.

No one knew how to arrange the order of play, but after some trouble and guess and trial figuring, this was managed. The competition commenced at Bennett’s Billiard Rooms, 315, Oxford Street, W., on January 18th, 1875, and was an enormous success. It is pretty safe to say that there has never since been a tournament which at all approached it for public interest. The betting on the handicap was very heavy. A. Bennett was the favourite, his backers having to lay odds of 6 to 4 on his chance when he had won his first five games.

Roberts in the meantime was so unfortunate as to lose two out of the first three games he had played, so he was not thought to have a chance. He won the next four games, however, and tied with Bennett for first place with a score of five games out of seven, and beating Bennett on playing off the tie, he came out the winner. Cook, Stanley, and Taylor dead-heated for the third place, but did not play off the tie, while Taylor won the highest break prize with 248. Roberts was rather lucky to win, for had it not been for a fluke in his game with Taylor, he would probably have been beaten, and have had to put up with second place.

In February there was a handicap at the Montpelier Tavern, Walworth, in which Roberts beat Taylor in the first round, but was knocked out by Kilkenny in the second. This handicap went to Stanley, who in the final with Cook won two out of the three games of 500 up.

Cook defeated Roberts twice on the 24th February, at 99, Regent Street, in games of 500 and 1,000 up.

During the progress of the American tournament a match had been made for Roberts and Cook to play Taylor and Stanley a four-handed match of 1,500 up for £200 a side, the two champions conceding 300 start. This match took place on March 26th, 1875. Though the charge for admission was a sovereign, the hall of the Guildhall Tavern was packed, and money had to be refused at the doors. There was much speculation on the result, Roberts and Cook being made strong favourites at 5 to 4 on. One does not ordinarily look for the best of form in a four-handed match, but this was a notable exception, for each of the four played quite up to his best form, and it was a stern struggle all the way. Stanley was the first to make anything like a break, when he put on 209, which included sixty-three spot strokes. Roberts shortly topped this with 289, also made mostly by the aid of the spot. Then it was Taylor’s turn, and after getting spot position he was nearing 200, when in getting down to play he touched his ball with the side of his cue near the tip. Roberts at once claimed this as a stroke, and as no referee had been appointed the matter had to be settled by argument. At one time it looked as if the match would not go on, but eventually Roberts and Cook gave way, and the point was decided in favour of their opponents. Taylor ran the break into 348, which gave his side a lead of nearly the start received. Cook following, only scored just over a hundred, but Stanley, though left with fine position, could not take advantage of it, and, breaking down, left the balls in fine position for Roberts, who made 148. Taylor replied to this with 79, and after this play ruled somewhat slow until the game was called, Taylor and Stanley 1,333, Roberts and Cook 1,303, with Stanley to play, and left in dead position for the spot. The excitement was now very great, and it looked as if Stanley would finish the game. Alas! for the hopes of his backers, for he missed the very first hazard, and let in Cook, who made no such mistake, for he finished the game with a break of 197, winning one of the most remarkable games ever played between professionals by 167 points.

Though it had no connection with Roberts beyond the fact that he backed the loser, it may be recorded here that on the following day at the same place Cook played Richards the best of twenty-one games of pyramids for the pyramid championship. Cook was made a very strong favourite at the start, odds of 7 to 4 being laid on him, but in the opinion of many good judges who were present this was a false price, for so far from its being odds on Cook, the balance should have been the other way. Richards took the lead from the start, and when the game was called, Richards 9, Cook 6, it looked such a good thing for Richards that John Roberts himself laid odds of 5 to 2 on him. The game was not, however, by any means over, for Cook was never beaten until the marker called game. He took the next two games in fine style, bringing off some hazards which called forth the enthusiastic applause of the spectators. Richards won the next game, which made the score read 10 to 8 in his favour. He had only to win one of the three remaining games to win the match, and his backers were already congratulating themselves, but they were doomed to disappointment, for Cook took the whole of the three games, and thus won the match.

The success of the London tournament on the American principle led Messrs. Burroughes and Watts to promote another one to be played in Manchester. The idea was to have the same eight players who had competed in London, but Timbrell Was not available to play, and his place was taken by Harry Evans. The entries and starts were: W. Cook and J. Roberts (scratch), Jos. Bennett (100 start), T. Taylor (100 start), S. W. Stanley (100 start), A. Bennett (160 start), L. Kilkenny (160 start), and H. Evans (160 start). This tournament was played at the Cotton Waste Exchange, Manchester, in March, 1875, and was won in hollow fashion by John Roberts, who won the whole of his seven games and received a special prize in the shape of a silver tankard valued at fifteen guineas, in addition to the first prize. The second prize was taken by Louis Kilkenny, who won six games out of seven. W. Cook and A. Bennett tied for third place with four wins each, while Cook won the prize for the highest break, a handsomely fitted suit case, with a break of 304. Jos. Bennett retired after losing three games.

On April 30th, 1875, Roberts beat Cook in a game of 500 up, and in the evening of the same day Cook turned the tables in a game of 1,000 up, and also beat Roberts at pyramids. These games took place at Cook’s rooms, 99, Regent Street. On May 5th they met again at the Angel Hotel, Chesterfield, when Roberts won a game of 1,000 up by 193

Roberts succeeded in wresting the championship from Cook on May 24th, 1875, by 163 points after a very interesting game, and following this he twice beat Cook (500 and 750 up) at Newton Heath, on June 19th, in one of these games making a fine break of 290.

Between this date and September he played no public matches. At the end of September he met Louis Kilkenny at the Union Cross Hotel, Halifax, for two days’ play. On the first day the game was 1,000 up, Kilkenny receiving 250 start. This game Roberts just won by 11 points only. The next day Kilkenny, receiving a start of 150 in 700, was beaten by 244. On this occasion they also played nine games at pyramids, Kilkenny receiving a ball, and Roberts won by five games to four.

The next public match played by the champion was at the Queen’s Theatre Hotel, Manchester, for a piece of plate value £300. His opponent was W. Timbrell, who received a start of 300 in 1,000. Roberts was defeated after a close struggle by 62 points. This was on October 18th, 1875.

Two days afterwards the champion made his first and only appearance in public as a bagatelle player. Mr. Grundy was playing bagatelle in fine form just then, and-the result of some banter and argument-he and Roberts made a match off hand for £10 a side. Roberts was beaten easily, but was not satisfied until the process had been repeated. It is somewhat difficult to see why Roberts ever went into this. His chance of winning was small, and he had little to gain if he did win, while he suffered the loss of a certain amount of prestige by being beaten.

A few days afterwards he again met Kilkenny on successive days-at Lanscher’s Hotel, Bradford, and at the Union Club, Bradford. Each game was 750 up, Kilkenny receiving 150 start, and Roberts won both, the first by 118, and the second by 17. At pyramids honours were divided, Kilkenny winning on the 28th and Roberts on the 30th.

On November 15th Cook won a game of 1,000 up in hollow style at Chelsea. Roberts was dead out of form, which may have been partly due to the want of public interest in billiards just then. Tom Taylor tried to take 250 points in 1,000 from the champion on November 29th, at the Gloucester Hotel, Park Street, Oxford Street, but was beaten easily by 156.

December 20th, 1875, saw a very keen struggle between Cook and Roberts for the championship. H.R.H. the Prince of Wales was present, and it was evident that the lack of public interest in the game did not extend to championship matches, for St. James’s Hall was packed. The players passed and repassed each other many times, and Cook was in front at the interval, but after nearly three and a half hours’ play Roberts won by 136.

Shortly after this there was some rather sensational billiards at Cook’s rooms, in Regent Street. He and Roberts were giving an entertainment, consisting of two games of 500 and 1,000 up. Roberts won the game of 500 up in the afternoon, and it looked as if Cook was going to run away with the game of 1,000 up in the evening, for early in the game he made a break of 362 (113 spots), and by the aid of other breaks got so far ahead that Roberts appeared to be hopelessly out of it. Much to the surprise of everyone, however, Roberts came out with breaks of 345 (98 spots) and 448 unfinished, and beat Cook on the winning-post.

In the beginning of 1876 Roberts left Manchester and removed to Brighton, where he had billiard-rooms behind the Bedford Hotel. Kilkenny was given a complimentary benefit at the Imperial Hotel, Huddersfield, in February, 1876, and Roberts gave his services. He played Kilkenny 1,000 up, allowing 250 start, and won by 218. Following an unimportant victory over Tom Taylor, Roberts played Timbrell for £300 a side at St. James’s Hall, on February 21st. It was a very tame match indeed, and evoked little or no public interest. Roberts, who conceded a start of 300, won by 236, Timbrell never having the ghost of a chance.

A match played with Tom Taylor at the Globe Hotel, Newton Abbot, was remarkable by reason of Roberts making half his total points at one visit to the table, at that time a great feat. He was giving Taylor 250 points in 1,000, and made a break of 558 (175 spots), which enabled him to win very easily,

A few days after this Cook and Roberts played 750 up to celebrate the opening of the billiard-room at the Pavilion Hotel, Brighton. In this game the number of consecutive spots was limited to 20. Cook was dead out of form, and was beaten by more than half the game. The next night, at the Bedford Hotel, Bedford Hill Road, Balham, Roberts defeated Cook by 174 in a game of 750 up, and also took four out of five games of pyramids.

Roberts now made his first visit to Australia, leaving this country on April 6th, 1876. Here, in his own words, are his experiences of that trip:-

“Acting on the invitation of Mr. Alcock, a billiard-table maker, of Russell Street, Melbourne, an old friend of my father’s, I went to Australia, little thinking at the time that the journey was to be the first of a series which was to include eleven visits to India, three visits to Australia, two to New Zealand, two to America, and six to South Africa. I, of course, went to Australia on a professional tour, and when I arrived there one of the first things I did was to make an arrangement with an agent to conduct all the business arrangements of the tour in consideration of his receiving one-fourth of the profits.

“The success of the Australian tour was so great that, happening to see an advertisement in the Melbourne Argus offering advice on that country to those about to visit India in a professional capacity, the idea occurred to me that it was very likely indeed to yield at least sufficient to pay expenses, and I accordingly had an interview with the advertiser, who, it turned out, had been travelling in India with theatrical companies, and was therefore just the man for my purpose. He advised me to write to two men named Soundy and Breslauer, who went in for theatrical speculations, and would, he thought, be very likely to take me up at their own risk. I accordingly wrote to them, and, having made up my mind to go on to Ceylon, I asked them to reply to me at Point de Galle, where the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s boats called at that time When I got to Point de Galle I found a letter awaiting me, offering £300 for a month, in addition to all my expenses I at once closed with the offer.

“While in Ceylon I met and played with a precious stone trader named Mohammed Bey. Mohammed sold me two sapphires, and on my hesitating as to their value, he offered to give me my money back at any time if I found that the stones were not worth the money I had given him for them. Sure enough, when I returned to England the next year I found that the bland Ceylon trader had not treated me any better than they are reputed to treat everyone when they get the chance, and that the stones were certainly not worth anything like the money I had given for them. I was mindful, however, of his promise to refund, which was probably made on the supposition that he would never see me again; and on my next visit to Ceylon I kept a sharp look-out for the gentleman, and on seeing him, at once tendered him his sapphires and demanded my money. He was very much surprised, but paid me at once, simply remarking that such a thing had never happened to him before.

“When I had finished the month for which I had engaged myself to Messrs. Soundy and Breslauer-out of which, by the way, they made a gigantic success-I decided to stay awhile on my own account, and engaged Mr. Breslauer as my agent. I made such a success of this tour, playing in military messes, clubs, etc., that the Pioneer, the leading Indian paper, referred to the tour as ‘The Great Billiard Epidemic.’

“It was on this tour that I first made the acquaintance of Ram Singh, the Rajah of Jeypore. It came about almost by sheer accident. I was playing at the Agra Club, and Breslauer, my agent, went on to Jeypore to ask for an engagement. The Rajah declined to give me an engagement, but said that if I chose to come he did not think that I should go away disappointed. We naturally thought that this was encouragement enough, and I went. I certainly never have had cause to regret that visit, for on that occasion the Rajah made me a present of 1,000 rupees, and afterwards became a most munificent patron of mine, giving me an annual salary of £500 as his Court billiard player, besides making me many valuable presents. This tour lasted a year and a day. I left England on April 6th, 1876, and returned on April 6th or 7th, 1877. I think I made about £7,000 over this trip, so there was no cause to regret having made the journey.

“I arrived at Bombay on the morning of the 24th January, in the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s steamer Assam. perhaps the most important match I played in the course of his tour was one I played on the evening of the 24th February, 1877, at the United Service Club, Calcutta. My opponent was Major Mant, Royal Engineers, who at that time was considered, and I should say justly so, to be one of the best players on the Bengal side of India. Certainly up to the time of our meeting he was the toughest opponent I had met in India. The game was 1,000 points up, and I conceded the amateur a start of 600 points. I recognised the fact that I should have to go at my best pace to win, and accordingly made the most of my opportunities. I started with a break of 60, which was almost immediately followed by one of 23 and another of 21, and then the largest break of the match, viz. 188, in which there were no less than 44 consecutive close cannons. This was followed by breaks of 56, 52, and 39, bringing my score to 508 to my opponent’s 698, I having scored 508 to his 98. After the interval, however, I did not have it all my own way, and Major Mant overhauled me at a rapid rate, scoring almost every time he visited the table, his best breaks being 17, 23, 25, 21, and 31. Eventually I won by the narrow margin of 46, the scores at the conclusion reading: Roberts, 1,000, Major Mant, 954.

“I played this gentleman again during the course of this tour. This time the match was 500 up only, and was played at the Town Hall, Calcutta, the Viceroy and Lady Lytton, accompanied by the viceregal party, honouring the match with their presence. I won this match after conceding a start of 350 points, and then played a Mr. Dickinson, a prominent member of the Civil Service-he was a magistrate, I think- and beat him also. I was much shocked to hear some years ago of Major Mant’s suicide, which took place in England.

“Another of my opponents during the course of this tour was Colonel, afterwards General, A. W. Drayson, Royal Artillery. I played this gentleman twice-once at Allahabad and again at Calcutta-on both occasions giving him a start of 700 in 1,000. On the first occasion, that is at Allahabad, he beat me; but on the second, when we played at the Town Hall, Calcutta, I beat him by 90 odd. Colonel Drayson was what I should call a scientific player; every stroke he made was well considered, and he seldom played any of a risky nature. He could play an uphill game as well as any amateur I have ever met. I heard some years afterwards that this officer became a professor at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and I know that he is the author of one of the best-known works on billiards. He was also, I think, a somewhat celebrated whist player. A few days after my second meeting with Colonel Drayson I played a game with a Mr. Morris, a judge of the Bengal High Court. This match took place at the Bengal Club, and was most keenly contested, Mr. Morris eventually winning by about 100 points.

“During this tour in India I played nearly every evening, mostly at different stations. I used to travel after finishing play, so as to be at the next station in time to have a rest before playing the following night. In many cases the places were far apart, and generally the trains ran but seldom, so that I was obliged to work things in this way. I suppose that during my seven weeks’ stay in India I played on an average five nights a week, and travelled quite 1,000 miles to do so. It will be agreed, I think, that this was very hard work, and of course could not have been kept up for any length of time. I think that nothing could have exceeded the kindness and courtesy with which I was treated by everyone during this tour, and I took the occasion before leaving India to express my thanks through the columns of the Calcutta Englishman.

“One of the funniest incidents of the tour occurred when I was playing a native, a Parsee, at the Franjee Cowasjee Institute at Bombay. My opponent was a very bad loser, and several times in the course of the game made peevish remarks to the effect that it was of little use anyone playing against me, as the balls always ran very kindly for me and unluckily for my opponent. After the conclusion of the game I gave an exhibition of fancy strokes. A well-known fancy stroke of mine is to throw a ball down the table and, by putting twist on it with the fingers, to make it stop near some desired spot, generally in the D. The company was largely composed of Parsees, and when I came to this shot and commanded the ball to stop, and it of course did so, one of the most influential of them got up and said, ‘I can understand what he does with the stick and balls together, but when he speaks to the balls and they obey him I have done with him, for he must be in league with the devil !’ and, having said this, he got up and solemnly walked out of the hall, about a dozen of his friends accompanying him. The Governor of Bombay, Sir Philip Woodhouse, and party were present on this occasion, but had left before the incident occurred.

“My usual remuneration for these one-day matches in India would be from 350 to 500 rupees. I daresay the average would cone out at quite 450 rupees per night. On the afternoon in Calcutta when I played Major Mant and Mr. Dickinson I took about 2,000 rupees, and this, I think, was the largest amount I took at one ‘show’ during this tour.

“Another match which I forgot to mention in its place was played in the Chutter Munzil at Lucknow against Dr. Galway, who beat me with a start of 650 in 1,000.

“Another incident of the tour was my taking an order from the Nawab of Dacca to fit him up two tables and supply all appurtenances This order came about in rather a curious way. The Nawab on one occasion having expressed surprise that I played so well, I told him that I could play much better if I had a good table to play on-in fact, with a good table and appurtenances I could easily make breaks of 500. I am pretty sure that the Nawab did not believe me, but he gave me the order above mentioned with a view of testing my assertions when I next came out. The tables were duly fitted up, and I believe are still there.”

During this tour Roberts, while playing a Mr. Weston at Dunedin, New Zealand, made the record time of 1,000 in 1 hour, 2 minutes. When news of this feat reached England it was disputed by The Sportsman, because that newspaper thought the performance an impossible one.

Prior to returning to England Roberts had challenged Cook for the championship, and this match came off on May with, 1877, at the Gaiety Restaurant, Roberts winning by 221 points.

On June 11th, also at the Gaiety Restaurant, Roberts gave Timbrell 300 in 1,000 for £250 a side, and Timbrell won by no less than 439 points.

Roberts had played Shorter the week before this at the opening of the billiard-room at the Chancery Restaurant, and had attempted to give him a start of 150 in 750 up, but was beaten by 319 points. He fared little better on June 18th, when he attempted to give Shorter 250 in 1,000 at the Kings Arms, High Street, Kensington, for he was beaten again, this time by 280 points. Things improved on the next occasion, however, for, playing Shorter at the Mitre Tavern, Greenwich, on July 2nd, Roberts won a game of the same description as the previous one by 213 points.

On the 5th of the month, playing an exhibition match against Cook at the Suffolk Hotel, Lowestoft, Roberts made a break of 756, of course “spot in.”

A tournament for the benefit of George Collins was commenced at the Alexandra Palace on July 14th. The players were W. Cook, J. Bennett, F. Shorter, T. Taylor, F. Bennett, and John Roberts. Cook and Roberts were at scratch, and met in the first heat, the heats being 500 up. Though Roberts scored 109 while Cook was scoring 2, the latter won by 130 points.

On July 16th Roberts played one of the closest games in his experience. It was at the “Delaware Arms,” Portman Street, against Tom Taylor in a game of 1,000 up, in which Taylor received 250 start, and won by 11 points only.

After this Roberts went on tour in the provinces, and visited Liverpool, Southport, Manchester, Runcorn, Sheffield, Swansea, and Tenby. At the latter place, at the Royal Gate House on August 23rd and 24th, Roberts beat Cook “all in,” “spot-barred,” and at pyramids. The “all in” game was 1,000 up, and the final scores were: Roberts 1,000, Cook 856. At the “spot-barred” game of 500 up Cook fared even worse, for he only scored 240, while at pyramids Roberts beat him by six games to one.

After this tour Roberts and Cook played a series of games at Roberts’s rooms at Brighton, Cook on the whole coming off best, as he did on September 22nd, when he defeated Roberts twice at his own rooms at 99, Regent Street.

The game was now dragging a bit in London and the South of England, and there was no money in exhibition billiards, so Cook and Roberts decided upon a tour in Ireland. They visited Cork and Dublin and drew good gates, and the tour generally was a financial success.

From Ireland they went to Wakefield and played boon up at the George Hotel, Wakefield, where the billiard-room was then leased by Mr. Claude Norton, brother-in-law to Roberts. Here Roberts won by 250. Back again in London they played at Notting Hill on November 1st, when Cook won, and almost immediately afterwards Roberts left England on his second trip to India and the Antipodes. Here, as in the former visit, we can let him tell his own experiences:-

“I reached India on my second tour early in September, 1878. To anticipate a trifle, I may mention that it was during this visit that I founded the firm of John Roberts and Co., of Bombay, which is now a limited company paying 12 per cent. My partner was the Mr. Breslauer whom I have before mentioned as being my agent when I first went to India, and who also acted in the same capacity during this tour. He is still the manager of the limited company. When we first started we imported carpenters’ benches and other tools from England, and Breslauer engaged a staff of Parsee workmen. One morning-the first after the arrival of the benches-Breslauer went down to the works, and was considerably astonished to find the men sitting on the top of the benches using their tools as though they had been used to them all their lives.

“I played my first match during this tour on December 17th. My opponent was a Mr. Bridger, who was on the staff of The Times of India. I forget exactly what start I conceded, but I know that I won very easily. One of my own tables was erected especially for this match, for of course I was travelling purely with an eye to business. This was in Bombay. The following night I gave no fewer than 650 points start in 1,000 to a Mr. Morrells, and won by over 70. In recording games against amateurs it is desirable to make it quite clear that in India the standard of amateur play is much higher than is the case in this country. Not that we don’t possess as good an amateur player; that is not my meaning. I simply wish to convey that amateurs as a body attain greater proficiency than is the case in England. The game just referred to was played at the Temple Bar Restaurant, Bombay. The owner of the place was Antone Bonneville, a Frenchman, who also had a similar establishment in Hyderabad.

“On the 19th-you will see that I was playing every night- I met Antone, a Portuguese, the marker of the Byculla Club, giving him 600 in 1,000. Antone had a very good local reputation, but I beat him fairly easily, and won by 123. The following night was rather an important one, for then I set up a record, one, however. which I-and other players as well-have frequently beaten well since. I played a Parsee, named Morenas, 1,000 up, giving him 650 start, and winning by 248. In the course of the match I made a break of 124, in which were fifty-six consecutive cannons. Such a run of cannons had never previously been made, and the achievement caused a lot of excitement. Morenas, my opponent, afterwards went to Baroda, where he entered the service of the Gaekwar.

“From Bombay I went to Calcutta, and on Thursday, January 4th, played M. Eugene Courjon, of Chandernagore. He was a Frenchman, who had been in India for some years. He was reputed to be the best amateur billiard-player in France before he went to India, and at the time of my visit he was, in my opinion, one of the best, if not the best player of English billiards in that country. He was also a confirmed misogynist. He had promised to play me on one occasion during my first visit, and duly turned up to fulfil his engagement, but noticing a few ladies in the hall, he incontinently bolted without saying anything to anyone, and I had to play a scratch match with a man named Green. When I next saw him I asked why he had run away and left me in such a fix, and he said, ‘Oh, I don’t know; I suppose that I was not very well. He had a brother whom the Europeans used to call the Wild Man, because he would go out into the jungle for months at a time, and hold no communication with civilisation. He (Eugene) was an excellent musician, one of the best chess players in the world, and a magnificent shot; in fact, he was good at anything but facing ladies, and that he couldn’t stand. He was a most eccentric character, and very passionate. I remember hearing of him that he once went shooting, and because he did not hit anything he actually threw his valuable gun away. His house, like most bungalows, had all the rooms opening on to a veranda, and this veranda he had made wide enough to admit of a team of ponies being driven round it, and when he wanted any exercise he would have the pony-carriage brought on to the veranda, and drive round it until he was tired, and then jump out at the door of whichever room he wished to enter. I tasted my first dish of snails at his house, and though I did not at first much fancy the experiment, I found that they were very toothsome, and I enjoyed them very much.

“The papers spoke of my first game with Courjon as the most difficult I had undertaken so far. I gave him 600 points start in 1,000, and commenced by scoring 200 whilst he obtained 40. At the interval the scores were 730-501 in his favour, and finally I won by 169. Courjon was not satisfied with his defeat. He had undoubtedly improved since my first visit to India, but then, so had I. The Frenchman had practised the ‘spot’ a good deal, and thought he might turn the tables on me, so we met for a second match on Saturday, January 5th. The game was a noteworthy one. It was decided at the Dalhousie Institute, Courjon again receiving 600 start in 1,000. The match went all in favour of the Frenchman for a long while, and he eventually reached 940 to 800. I ran to 962 against 973, however, and then went out.

“Subsequently Courjon had the satisfaction of beating me, for, when receiving 650 in 1,000 on one occasion, he played a very fine game, and won by as many as 370.

“At this time I received an invitation from the Nawab of Dacca to his private mansion. An amateur player of fairish ability was pitted against me there on January 14th. We played two games of 500 points up. I conceded 300 start, and was beaten by 266 points the first time, but won the second by 47. The Nawab was a great admirer of the all-round game, and so I confined my attention almost solely to that, making but slight effort to play the ‘spot’ stroke. I may mention that the name of my opponent at Dacca was Vahid, but the gentleman of the same name who has competed in amateur championships in this country bears no relationship to him.

“I must place it on record that both the Nawab Abdul Ghoni and his son the Nawab Ahsunollah treated me with the greatest kindness. The younger, especially, I found to be a capital fellow, and a good all-round sportsman to boot. I have not mentioned previously that Mrs. Roberts accompanied me on this tour. At Dacca I received many presents from Nawab Abdul Ghoni, who also gave Mrs. Roberts a very valuable cashmere shawl.

“During the same month I visited Bengal. On the 23rd I played some games with amateurs. One man I gave 200 points in 300 up, and won by 9, after which I played a couple of men at the same time, allowing them half-way start in a game of 300 up. I did not catch them until their score was 290 but I then ran out. Up to this time I had only been beaten twice during the tour, but at the same time was not showing my best form. Some of the newspapers noticed the fact, and commented upon it. There was a simple and an obvious reason for the fact, however. My want of form was due partly to the fact that I was playing on all sorts of tables, some of them very bad, and partly to the constant travelling.

“On January 28th I was at Allahabad, and at the club there gave an entertainment. On this occasion I met two amateurs, conceding 300 points in 500 each game. Mr. Porter and Mr. Shirooze were my rivals, and both were easily beaten.

“During my stay in India there was a Frenchman named Carme touring the country. He gave exhibitions of the French game, but they did not pay, and I and a few friends assisted him to go to South Africa. I am pleased to say this effected a great alteration in his fortunes, and at Kimberley he did very well.

“On February 1st I was at the Agra Club, and played a very exciting game with a Mr. Billings, who had 600 start in 1,000. The game was called 974 all, and then 998 to 980 in favour of Billings. He was left with an easy stroke on, but failed to get it, and I ran out amidst very great excitement. The same evening I left for Jeypore, under engagement to the Maharajah. The city of Jeypore lies 140 miles S.W. of Agra, but is approached with great ease. The late Maharajah built a most exquisite palace solely for the purpose of billiards. Ram Singh, although not anything of a billiard-player himself, was wonderfully fond of the game, and I must say he treated me with the greatest distinction. A suite of rooms in the Palace were placed at my disposal, and during my stay I, of course, lived in them. I played mostly with Runjit Singh, the Rajah’s head marker, who was supposed to be the best native player in the country.

“His Highness was delighted with my play, although, as previously stated, my average in India was far below that for England, and on leaving he presented me with an enamelled gold cup and saucer, studded with diamonds. I was also appointed his Court billiard-player, and the letter of appointment-a reduced facsimile of which I reproduce-carried with it a salary of £500 per annum, which I enjoyed up to the day of Ram Singh’s death.

“I left Jeypore on January 15th or 16th and went to Meerut, where I played on the 18th. From Meerut I journeyed to Umballa, appearing at the Sirhind Club, and thence to Lahore.

At the latter place I had the pleasure of playing Major Broadfoot, the editor of the Badminton Billiard Book. I then proceeded down country, playing at Agra, Dinapore, Bombay (two nights), Hyderabad-at Sir Sala Jung’s invitation-Secunderabad, and Bangalore. Afterwards entertainment’s were arranged for me in Madras, Colombo, Kandy, and Guile. The latter was the last of the series, and about the end of April I took ship for Melbourne, where I expected to meet either Shorter, Stanley, Taylor, or Kilkenny, from England. I had booked dates in Australia till the end of September. Ere leaving India I undertook to return in October, and booked a few engagements. I was certain that my play had to some extent suffered through my playing nobody but amateurs. It was my idea that on my return to India I would take with me a good professional. I had Shorter in my mind, for at that time he was, in my opinion, the next best player to Cook and myself

“I was again defeated at the Sirhind Club at Umballa. I tried to give Major Angelo 600 points start in a thousand, but the table was a dreadful one. ‘Spot’-stroke play was absolutely out of the question on it, and I never caught the Major, who won by 90 points. Altogether my second visit to India proved very enjoyable. It was also highly remunerative, and was one that I shall always recollect with pleasurable feelings.”

In 1879 and 1880 Roberts made a third visit to India, this time in company with Cook; and it was after the return from this tour-in the autumn of 1880-that he first attempted to give Cook a start. This match was for £500 a side, and took place at the Palais Royal, Oxford Street, W., on January 16th, 17th, and 18th, 1881, Roberts conceding Cook 500 points in 5,000 up (all in). Though Roberts was so ill on the second day that it was thought that he would have to abandon the match, he won in hollow fashion by no less than 1,658 points.

Space will not permit much detail with regard to Roberts’s career for the past twenty years. His matches during that period have been mostly of the exhibition order, and are not to be taken too seriously. By far the most interesting part of his career is the ten years when he and Cook were active rivals and there was little to choose between them.

When Cook had sunk into a secondary position and Roberts became the autocrat of the billiard world he became more or less a showman, and his matches, generally speaking, do not possess any value as records. Perhaps the two most interesting matches he played during this period were his match of 6,000 up with Ives in 1893, and his match with Dawson in the early part of the year 1899. The latter has not improperly been called the “match of the century,” and was certainly one of the most interesting matches at billiards ever played.

The match with Ives can hardly be called a match at English billiards. It was played at Humphrey’s Hall, Knightsbridge, between May 29th and June 4th, 1893, and resulted in a victory for Ives by 2,169 points. The English game proper is, as is well known, played with balls 2 1/16 inches in diameter, the pockets being 3 5/8 inches wide at the fall of the slate. In the game under notice a compromise was made, the balls being 2¼ inches in diameter and the pockets were only 3¼ inches wide. This was, of course, all against hazard play, the backbone of the English game, and in favour of cannon play, at which American and Continental players greatly excel those who play the English game. Notwithstanding this, Roberts was ahead on the first three days of the match, the scores at the close of the third day’s play being: Roberts 3,000, Ives 2,243.

On the Thursday, however, Ives got the balls in one of the corners. They were not jammed under the English rule, as to fall within that rule part of the balls had to overhang the pocket, and this was an impossible position with balls and pockets of the size used in this match. The position was more what is known in America as the “anchor,” and was perfectly allowable under the articles. With the balls in this position Ives made a break of 2,540, and then purposely destroyed the position, feeling no doubt that he had the game perfectly safe. On the Saturday he again got this position, and went out with a break of 892. Roberts’ highest break was 249.

It will be seen that there is not the slightest foundation here for saying that Ives beat Roberts at English billiards, for the game was not English billiards, but a compromise between the English and American games, and yet there are still many people in England who maintain that the American came over here and beat Roberts at his own game. If any American thought that he would stand a chance at that there would surely have been some acceptor before this of Roberts’s standing offer to give 5,500 in 21,000 to anyone in the world for £1,000 a side.

Between this match and the recent match with Dawson there comes Roberts’s record spot-barred break. This break was made in a purely exhibition match, and would probably have never been made at all in a match for money, for in serious money matches breaks do not rule high. This break was made on Thursday and Friday, May 3rd and 4th, 1894, in the course of an exhibition match with E. Diggle at the Gentlemen’s Concert Hall, Manchester, and it entitled Roberts to the prize of £100 which Messrs. Burroughes and Watts had offered to anyone who first made a break of 1,000. The break was of an ordinary character until he had reached 400, when he had to face a difficult masse stroke; following this he played an all-round game until he reached 700, and then he put on a string of 54 nursery cannons. When he had passed his previous best spot-barred break of 867 a cheer from the Press table announced the fact. When he had made 1,000 the cheering was loud and prolonged, and the champion was kept for some minutes bowing his acknowledgement. At 1,033 play ceased for the day, with the balls in no very good position for continuing the break. He carried the break on to 1,392, however, and then in playing for a red winner in the left hand corner pocket he played a trifle short of strength, and the ball stopped dead in the jaw of the pocket. At the conclusion of the break there was a scene of the wildest enthusiasm, and Roberts in all his experience probably never got such an ovation before. This break still holds the record, and from all appearances is likely to do so for some considerable time to come.

The level match with Dawson which has been referred to as “the match of the century” was brought about in the first place by some ill-feeling between the men, caused by a dispute over the takings at the Egyptian Hall when Dawson was playing there on sharing terms. This happened the season before, and as the outcome of some remarks made by Dawson as to Roberts insisting upon those professionals who played at the Egyptian Hall “waiting” for one another and playing to the “gate” there was an acrimonious newspaper correspondence, which culminated in Dawson offering to play level for £100 a side.

It is difficult to believe that Dawson actually thought that he had a chance with Roberts at evens. What is more probable is that Dawson and his friends thought that the advertisement to be got out of such a match would be very cheap indeed at the stake money, £100. Be that as it may, the issue of the match was never in doubt, and the general impression is that Roberts could have won by a much greater margin than he did had he so desired.

Since 1898 Roberts has played exclusively with Bonzoline balls, the only exception being the match with Dawson above alluded to.

It will be interesting to see the developments when Roberts returns from his present tour to India and the colonies. It is quite on the cards that he will voluntarily retire when he returns, but that will depend upon his own opinion of his capabilities. He will hardly retire so long as he thinks himself unbeatable at evens, but, on the other hand, he is hardly likely to stay before the public until advancing age makes defeat a certainty.