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Steve Mizerak (October 12, 1944, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey – May 29, 2006), nicknamed "the Miz", was a world champion pool player dominant during the 1970s and early 1980s, especially in the game of 14.1 continuous (straight pool) and nine-ball. He also had a brief turn as professional snooker player.
Mizerak began playing pool under the guidance of his father, who for many years had been the New Jersey State Champion. At the age of 13, he won the Perth Amboy City Championship and turned professional. The next year, he was refused entry into that event; they said he was too good. The 1960s saw a downturn for the so-called "world pool tournaments", and as they diminished, the era of the Johnston City Hustlers tournaments were growing. By this point in his life, Mizerak decided it would not be possible to earn a living playing and went on to attend Athens College in Athens, Alabama.
He earned a teaching degree from Athens College and taught school for thirteen years before he became famous outside of pool circles after appearing in a humorous commercial for Miller Lite beer in which he executed three complicated shots (which took more than 100 "takes"), then proclaimed that you can "really work up a thirst, even when you're just showing off", and later had a brief cameo in the 1986 film The Color of Money for which he also devised the "plays" seen onscreen.
Foray into snooker
Mizerak played in a series of snooker and pool challenge matches in 1987 and 1988 – rare televised examples of Mizerak playing snooker – against two of the top snooker players in the world, Steve Davis (a World Snooker Champion) and Jimmy White. The format, which was a best of three legs out of straight pool (14.1), nine-ball, and snooker, meant that Mizerak was the heavy favorite due to his opponents' unfamiliarity with pool. Although, predictably, he lost the snooker legs heavily, he won both pool legs, and so his record includes wins over Davis and White.
In the 1987 event, Mizerak lost more frames at both straight pool and nine-ball than Davis did at snooker, but due to the "best of three" format, Mizerak was the overall winner, despite losing heavily to Davis by 5 frames to 1 in the snooker leg, with Mizerak winning the one frame after Davis went in-off on the final pink, which made it numerically impossible for him to win that frame. Confusion about the rules occurred on both sides. Mizerak's unfamiliarity with snooker mirrored Davis's with pool, as demonstrated by Davis, together with referee Len Ganley, having to explain to a confused Mizerak that he had actually won a snooker frame, despite Davis potting the pink ball. Davis, who at one point had to rely on Mizerak for an explanation of the rules of pool mid-game, adapted quickly to the smaller table and more forgiving pockets, but was let down by his lack of knowledge of the rules, which left him at an disadvantage in tactical situations, such as deliberately playing a foul, which in snooker is strictly prohibited. In Mizerak's words, "[Davis] makes every ball on the table but there were times when he didn't know what to do, and if he had, he could have tied me up in knots, instead of me tying him up in knots." This foray into each others' sports saw Mizerak adapt less successfully, and struggle to make runs (snooker term: breaks) on the larger snooker table with its less forgiving pocket jaws, though he displayed straight and accurate shooting from a distance. Mizerak observed, referring to the size of the table which he nicknamed the "football field" and the extra amount of walking necessary: "I see why the snooker players are so thin over there [i.e., the UK]; I couldn't see the end of the table." whilst explaining that he wore spectacles except when actually playing. "I've been playing so long I do it by instinct" he said. Mizerak's performance on the snooker table was unorthodox, but he displayed some awareness of safety play, shot selection, and shot-making skills. His major failing when playing snooker was a lack of cue ball control, and a general lack of precision in that game, which has a smaller margin for error due to the smaller balls, tighter pockets, and greater shot distance. As a result, he made only short runs, and was unable to prevent Davis from winning comfortably, although Davis had in the words of commentator Rex Williams "A couple of outrageous flukes" early on. After the snooker leg was completed, Davis agreed with the interviewer that he hadn't performed to his usual standards, playing in a far more carefree manner than his usual match game. Mizerak then stated: "I would hate to see him at his usual standards; I would be scared to death."
Mizerak repeated his overall win the following year, this time with Jimmy White as his opponent, but again losing in snooker.
Mizerak stated in the post-tournament interview after the match with Davis that he intended to enter the World Snooker Championship, and said he would "keep entering until I win." He duly competed in the event in 1988 and 1989, but failed to progress beyond the first round of qualifying on both occasions, losing to low-ranked snooker professionals. In 1988, he was whitewashed 10 frames to 0, and the following year was beaten by 10 frames to 1, before giving up on his snooker ambitions.
Mizerak owned and operated pool halls in the West Palm Beach-Lake Park, Florida area during the 1990s and 2000s. He founded the Senior Tour in 1996 for players 50 years of age and older and often hosted Senior Tour events at his pool hall in Lake Park.
Mizerak suffered a stroke in 2001 which left him with physical challenges that prevented him from playing pool competitively. He was inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame in 1980. He was ranked number 6 among the Billiards Digest "50 Greatest Players of the Century".
Mizerak died on May 29, 2006 at the age of 61, survived by his wife Karen, two sons, and two grandchildren.
- 1970 Stardust Open, Las Vegas, Nevada
- 1970 US Open 14.1 Pocket Billiards Championship (defeated Luther Lassiter in the final)
- 1971 US Open 14.1 Pocket Billiards Championship (d. Joe Balsis)
- 1972 US Open 14.1 Pocket Billiards Championship (d. Danny DiLiberto)
- 1973 US Open 14.1 Pocket Billiards Championship (d. Luther Lassiter)
- 1974 US Master's, Arlington, Virginia
- 1976 US Master's, Arlington
- 1976 World Open, Asbury Park, New Jersey
- 1977 World Series of Pool, Asbury Park
- 1978 World Open, New York City
- 1978 US Open Nine-ball Championship
- 1978 Trick and Tough Shot Championship, Las Vegas
- 1980 Breaker Pool 14.1 Challenge Cup, England
- 1982 PPPA World Pocket Billiard Championship (14.1)
- 1983 PPPA World Pocket Billiard Championship (14.1)
- 1988 PBA U.S. Open 14.1
- 1997 Grand Casino Classic, Biloxi, Mississippi
- "Steve Mizerak", page 7, The National Billiard News, November 1980. Retrieved May 20, 2007
- Colour of Money film credits
- New York Times - Snooker Debut Won by U.S.
- Post-straight-pool and post-tournament interviews with Steve Mizerak and Steve Davis, on The Fiat Snooker Pool Challenge, 1987, VHS home video.
- "Steve Mizerak". CueTracker - Snooker Database. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
- Guinness Book Of Snooker World Championship Qualifying rounds Match Results
- "Billiards Digest 50 Greatest Players of the Century".
- USA Today, "Legendary pool player Steve 'The Miz' Mizerak dies" May 30, 2006 retrieved May 31, 2006
- Pool's Biggest Showoff
- on YouTube
|US Open Nine-ball Champion