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Harold Worst

Worst was born on Sept.29,1929,in Grand Rapids,Mich. He was the son of Harry J. and Lavina Worst, both devout Reform Christians. His father did not play pool competitively, although the Worsts had pool and ping-pong tables in the basement of their Grand Rapids home.Young Harold attended Grand Rapids Creston High School, was a regular at Alger Park Christian Reform Church. He held two jobs early in life: He sold advertising space for the local newspaper, and shoes for his dad.

At about 17 he began to study pool on his table at home.Worst’s first billiards tutor was Walter Brundage.He also learned from oilman Joe “Red” McDevitt,a respected amateur champ who came to Grand Rapids from Ohio in 1946. McDivitt spent several days each week teaching the young prodigy angles and shots.Worst was a quick learner,smiled easily,was friendly(although he never suffered fools) and soon soon outstripped McDevitt,his teacher.

harold worst 1960

“Joe taught me the fundamentals,”Worst said in a February 1950 newspaper article. “Billiards requires concentration more than anything else. Certainly a good pair of eyes and fairly strong wrists are important, but it’s the concentration the problem that counts”. If it was from a respected amateur that Harold learned the fundamentals, then it was from the nation’s finest-ever billiards pro that he received his graduate training.Willie Hoppe, considered by many as the finest cueist this nation has ever produced, befriended Worst in 1949.This happened by way of Roy Deak “The Deacon” Nichols,who managed Chinnick’s poolroom, and who was known for spotting and cultivating top-notch talent.According to The Grand Rapids Press, The Deacon contacted Brunswick-Balke, which then sponsored Hoppe and other pool and billiard stars in exhibition tours. As a result of The Deacon’s intercession and a last-minute cancellation of another player, Brunswick-Balke agreed to pit Worst against Hoppe in a Detroit exhibition. Although Worst got beat (by just one point), the event nonetheless cemented his reputation as a world-class contender. The event also became the glue that sealed his lifelong friendship with Hoppe.In 1949, according to The Grand Rapids Press, “Worst had followed in Hoppe’s steps as a ‘boy wonder,’ having set a record for youth when at the age of 21 he became the youngest player in history to qualify for world championship play.” He placed second in that year’s national tournament and then fourth in the world meet.

Katsura,Worst

Katsura,Worst

Then came 1950 – November – when Worst’s fortunes shifted in two particularly dramatic ways. First off,he got married. Secondly,he got drafted.Harold shipped out with the army’s 244th Ordnance depot company, served basic training in Indianapolis,and then got briefly stationed at Camp Atterbury,Ind.He managed to snag a quick furlough to play in that year’s national tournament, where he placed second (with a 7-2 record) after Mexico’s Joe Chamaco. Hoppe, forever in Harold’s corner, predicted afterwards that the new boy wonder would emerge as “the next world champion, providing he can practice as much with a cue as he can with a rifle.” Worst then spent nine months in Korea as a member of the Army graves registration unit,an assignment that forever depressed him.”He had to identify the bodies, and sometimes the whole body wasn’t there, or he would have to find the leg, or an arm, or whatever, before they could ship the body home,” said Tena Worst. “He had to put them in bags and identify them. It’s no wonder that half those men go crazy. You had to have a lot of a faith, and his faith helped him in that. It’s not a pleasant thing”.Mercifully, Worst later won a transfer to a special services unit, in which he was called upon to give pool lessons and perform exhibitions at military recreation centers. He got discharged in November 1952, and returned to world competition five months later.

San Francisco’s Ray Kilgore won the 1953 world billiards championship, held that April in Chicago. It would be the last such world championship in Harold’s life in which Worst himself did not end up on top.Stripped across the front page of the Oct. 26, 1954, edition of The Grand Rapids Press reads this headline: “Worst Brings City Second World Title.” (The first was from bowler Marion Ladewig).The story tells of Worst’s journey to Buenos Aires, his overall 8-2 record in the tournament, his victory over reigning champion Kilgore (the score was 60-45), and his victory on Oct. 25 over Argentina’s Ezequiel Navarra, 60-43, in the final game. Argentina sponsored the world competition as part of a grand sports carnival at the Luna Park stadium, capacity of 25,000.Harold Worst’s triumph Monday marked the climax of a meteoric 10 year rise.Navarra was a favorite with the local mobsters, and that those mobsters had lost thousands of dollars in wagers with his loss. Worst said he even refused a $15,000 bribe to dump a challenge match that the locals wanted to mount immediately following the tournament.A cordon of 25 policemen was needed to escort Worst through the angry crowd. And shortly afterwards, on the very evening of that unwanted world championship, the American billiards ace dined with Juan Peron and his wife, Evita.”Leave the country,” Juan Peron reportedly said. “Vayanse manana. Go tomorrow.Don’t wait”.The billiard star did not need to be told twice. The very next morning he gathered up his belongings and caught the first flight out to New York.

Twelve years later,in 1965, he conquered the world of pocket billiards with victories at the Las Vegas Stardust tournament in June,and in Johnston City in October and November.He died of cancer a year later.He was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame in 1970.

Billiards Digest.