Review of Playing Off the Rail

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David McCumber, a professional author and pool enthusiast, finding himself with some money to his name and time on his hands, decides to finally carry out a boyhood fantasy, that of touring the country as an old time pool hustler. Unfortunately, McCumber doesn’t play well enough to hustle himself, so he becomes the backer for his friend and pool master Tony Annigoni. This book is the story of their almost four month adventure.

We follow these players as they tour around the country encountering interesting characters and situations, playing against both the biggest names and the best unknowns in pool. This true story covers the ins and outs of hustling pool, contrasting the similarities and differences between their events and the historical icon that the pool hustler has become.

Annigoni is an interesting character. One doesn’t expect a pool hustler to be a martial artist, devotee of Eastern religion, and vegetarian. Given this intriguing premise, I expected more from the character than I saw in the book. It’s hard to say if this is because Annigoni doesn’t manifest his personality externally, or if McCumber just doesn’t report it when he does, although I strongly suspect the former. Nonetheless, their characters provide at least some variation to the stereotype of the pool hustler.

This book resembles a pool version of Anthony Holden’s excellent book, Big Deal, a professional writer’s story of his foray into playing pro poker for a year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite measure up to these lofty standards. While interesting, it doesn’t have the same Slot Gacor intensity or depth that we find in Big Deal. In part, one should give some credit to McCumber for this. Instead of making the characters or scenes more colorful, he sticks to an intellectually honest portrayal of the people and characters involved. Nonetheless, while the book is entertaining, it’s not going to become a classic. It’s enjoyable, but don’t expect a masterpiece. I marginally recommend it.

Capsule:
A decent, but not terribly remarkable true story of a professional writer as a stakehorse to a pool player as they travel across the country hustling games. While enjoyable, Playing Off the Rail isn’t a great book by any means. If the subject interests you, you probably won’t feel cheated, but you might want to find out if a paperback version will become available.

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