Artist on a canvas
of green felt
by Jim McCarty
Darling shoots, balls find the pockets as if by magic. "Spitball"
Charlie is a trick shot billards artist who holds court in Washington,
want to shoot pool with Charles “Spitball” Darling. You especially
don’t want to shoot pool with him if money, your car, your cue stick
or the World Artistic Pool Championship are on the line.
52, burst on the trick shot scene by winning the world championship in
2001. But hundreds of others learned the hard way years ago — this
guy is good.
that way by doing what mothers warn their kids not to do. He hung out
in pool halls, specifically the now-defunct Jim’s Pool Palace in
Pacific where Charlie grew up. “I hung out there all the time,”
says Charlie, who now lives in Washington. “I couldn’t get
enough pool. I had a real knack for it.”
14 there were few contenders who could sink an 8 ball against Charlie.
Adults who challenged him went home without their paychecks. Charlie soon
found he had to travel farther and farther away to play.
County got a lot smaller as I got better,” he recalls. “When
I was 15 I had to go to St. Louis to find a game.”
workers Charlie knew would set him up in high-stakes games. “The
subject of pool would come up on the job. They would say, ‘I’ve
got this 13-year-old kid who can whip you.’ That weekend I would
be off playing.” He rarely let his friends down.
early 1960s Charlie played many different games. Snooker was a favorite,
as were more obscure games you don’t see played a lot today. One
game was called Kelly. Players drew numbered balls from a leather bottle.
Then they would try to sink the ball with their number on it. Another
game, cribbage, required sinking two balls with numbers adding up to 15.
days people play 8 or 9 ball,” Charlie says. “Years ago people
played more of a variety of games. There are probably 100 or more games
you can play on a pool table.”
took his pool skills to college. As an art education major at the University
of Missouri, he discovered Mizzou once had a pool team. “The old
boy in charge said, ‘We just let it drop, no interest in it.’
I said, ‘You have some interest now’ so he reinstated it.”
traveled along with Mizzou’s chess, bridge and bowling teams to
two Big 8 tournaments each season. “I was the University of Missouri
pool team,” Charlie says.
nickname Spitball comes from his ability to launch the cue ball with
in Columbia Charlie learned a trick that would earn him his nickname.
Columbia Billiards brought in a man from Tennessee for an exhibition.
The man’s hands were crippled so badly he could not hold a pool
cue. Instead, he spit the cue ball from his mouth to make shots.
was making some real simple shots,” says Charlie. “The thing
he ended his show with was spitting the ball out of his mouth and going
five rails and hitting the ball in.”
was pretty sure he could do better. “I found I could fit the ball
in my mouth. The next day I got on a table and tried it and I made it
on the first try. I kept trying it and the rest is history.”
Spitball Charlie wows customers at his downtown business, Washington Billiards,
with an amazing show of spitball tricks. Spitting the cue ball from his
mouth, he can make half a dozen shots that would be nearly impossible
with a cue stick.
the spitball antics are for fun, Charlie also is a wizard with a stick
in his hand. In between tending bar at his pool hall he spends hours honing
his trick shot skills, often walking around the table knocking down shots
with one hand. The table nearest the bar is where Charlie holds court.
Its green felt surface is pockmarked with tiny dimples caused by massé
shots — taken with the cue stick held vertical in order to make
the ball curve.
on a pool table defy the laws of physics. One shot has him place the number
1, 2, 3 and 4 balls on top of four beer bottles. He then banks the 5 ball
off the back rail. Before the 5 returns he moves across the table and
sinks the first four balls in order. The last falls just as the 5 ball
passes between the bottles and drops in the pocket.
shots the cue ball reverses direction or curves around another ball. His
“swish” shot requires shooting five balls into the corner
pocket without them touching the table. Another trick has the ball bank
off the back rail, leave the table through the bridge and roll across
the floor to knock a ball off a beer bottle.
practices his shots when not waiting on customers at Washington Billiards.
uses anything he can find in the pool hall to set up trick shots, including
cue sticks, ball trays, the rack, pennies, beer bottles and bottle caps.
Even wrappers from a fast-food hamburger get used in a shot that has the
ball flip out of two bags before hitting the pocket.
used shots like these to win the 2001 World Artistic Pool Championship.
He was third in 2002 and sixth in 2003 at a match held in Kiev, Ukraine.
he will be one of eight people invited to a trick shot event held by sports
channel ESPN. This will be his second time in the ESPN competition.
played in it last year and hopefully I will win it this year,” Charlie
says. “I’m going in with a win-the-thing attitude.”
ESPN event players take turns shooting. Their opponent then has two chances
to duplicate it. “If someone’s got a shot I haven’t
seen I have a good idea how to make it. There’s nothing out there
that scares me,” Charlie says.
in the Oct. 1 match might spell a new career, Charlie says. The match
will be repeated on TV more than 100 times. And that would give Charlie
enough exposure, he thinks, to take his act on the road.
Charlie plans to spend September practicing his shots 6 to 8 hours a day.
“I do it over and over again,” he says of his practice sessions.
“It’s like being in a nuthouse.”
holds court at Washington Billiards located at 3rd and Jefferson streets
in Washington. He can be reached at (636) 390-8498 or email@example.com.