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BEST POOL HALL Minneapolis 1999 -

If you're going to shoot stick, shoot stick with the best. Shoot stick where old-timers spin tall tales for the wide-eyed, eager youngsters. Where the waft of Marlboro reds keeps hustlers buzzing until the doors lock at 4:00 a.m., and where seasoned journeymen stop for some action on their way through town. Shoot stick where there's no booze to bleed your bank account or cloud your judgment. Shoot stick where it's all about the game. Old school. At this cavernous, well-kept suburban haunt--owned and operated by 31-year-old World Champion Jimmy "The Kid" Wetch--the sure-shot regulars always sport a wad, often wrapped in a worn rubber band. They don't carry the cash to pay for table time, which is only two bucks an hour per player during the day and $6.50 an hour per player at night. (From midnight to 4:00 a.m., $7 will buy a player unlimited time.) These guys (and plenty of gals, we'll have you know) carry a stake just in case someone is ready to make it interesting, ready to flex his nerves. Meanwhile, novices and wannabes can hack to their heart's content. No one will judge, as long as you respect the tradition. Wetch, who likes to pace the carpet when he's not practicing at one of his joint's 26 tables, will even give you a few tips. A master at position play, he'll drop knowledge on angles, percentages, and technique. If you can talk the talk, you might even convince him to bust up a rack. Then, as the schooling commences, you can take time to fiddle with the arrow-straight house cue, chalk away at the finely manicured tip, and marvel as the polished balls float across the carefully calibrated table, only to drop with a soft, seductive thud. And if Wetch isn't in the house, don't fret: You'll still leave feeling like a player.

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