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IT HAPPENED IN PITTSBURGH in 1986, back when The Color of Money, a movie about a young pool shark, had hit theaters and Carson “CJ” Wiley was himself hustling pool on the road—back when, on a moment’s notice, he would drive hundreds of miles to some backwoods dive on a trip that someone with wads of cash gambled big-time there. On that particular night, Wiley wore fake glasses and assumed one of three aliases, Mike from Indiana. His mark was the owner of a restaurant, a bearded man with receding jet-black hair who led him up a dark staircase to a private pool table on the second floor.
“And the guy is smiling this real goofy smile,” Wiley recalls today, chuckling hard before dragging deeply on a Marlboro Light. “’It’s just like in the movie,’ he says. ‘You saw the movie right?’ And I nod my head but don’t really say anything. Then he says, ‘Oh, boy, I love action. I love playing pool for money. I even love betting on other players. You saw the movie right?’ And I nod again. And we begin playing some nine ball, and I find out right away that this guy can’t play at all. I mean, not a lick. So after I’m done beating him for a few hundred, he has me play nearly everybody in the building. I end up beating his bartender, his cook, his dishwasher, five locals, and finally, the best player in town—and he staked every one of them. By the time he quit, I had him stuck for about seven thousand dollars. And he says to me, not smiling anymore, ‘You know kid, you played a lot better at the end than you did at the beginning.’ And I look him square in the eyes and say, ‘Well, you saw the movie, right?”