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For the Record


John Schmidt's majestic 626-ball run was the culmination of years of single-minded effort and required a dedicated support team and incredible mental fortitude.

Story By Mike Panozzo
For John Schmidt, it was always personal.

At least, it became personal that day 25 years ago when fellow pro Bobby Hunter introduced him to straight pool.

"We were in a poolroom and he was showing me how to play straight pool," recalled Schmidt. "The first thing I asked was, "What's the all-time high run?" I'll never forget it. About nine people in the room all chimed in at the same time, "Willie Mosconi, 526 balls, Springfield, Ohio, 1954." I knew right then that this was THE record in pool. This was the number EVERYBODY knew.

"Then I looked at all the photos of Mosconi. He was always dressed so dapper. You could tell he was a man respected and revered. I started wondering, "Am I good enough to even get close to a number like that?""

The answer, of course, was yes. On Memorial Day 2019 in Monterey, Calif., Schmidt not only got close, he actually realized the feeling of staring down that very number.

"Once I topped 500," Schmidt recalled, "and got to the break ball at 504, the panic, nerves, fear, etc., all set in. I don't know how I didn't dog it."

And when ball number 527, the 11 ball, was all that stood between himself and pool immortality, Schmidt found himself overwhelmed by the moment. He paused, put down his cue and excused himself to the men's room at Easy Street Billiards, the room he all but lived in for 54 days during three extended visits over a 14-month period.

"A bit of a crowd had built up and I was starting to get a little teary-eyed," Schmidt admitted. "I wasn't worried about gushing into tears, but I was watering up a bit. I needed to just be by myself for a minute. I splashed some water on my face and gathered myself."


Schmidt's obsession with Mosconi's mark drove him to spend months challenging himself to set a new record. (Photo by Danielle Penn)

After taking a deep breath, Schmidt marched back to the table, looking anything but Mosconi-esque in a golf shirt, blue shorts ("I wore them every day because they're so comfortable!") and Hoka shoes. With his wife Felicity, benefactor and rack caddy Doug Desmond, and California cuemaker Jerry McWorter sitting silently off to the side, Schmidt lined up the shot he had fantasized about over the years. The 11 ball was just six inches from the corner pocket and the cue ball was eight inches behind. The shot was at a slight angle.

"When I first hit it, my heart stopped," said Schmidt. "I had the whole pocket but I knew I hit it thick. It went in, but it was into the left side of the pocket. I didn't want to touch a face as it went in.

"I thought to myself, "My god, if I'd missed a hanger at 527 I would have stepped into traffic.""

With the weight of 20-plus years obsessing over Mosconi's storied mark lifted, Schmidt settled back into a natural groove. He rattled through six more racks before missing on a combination shot. His record-shattering run had reached 626 balls.


Affadavits confirming Mosconi's historic run in 1954 are on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

"This number meant so much to me," Schmidt understated. "I feel like I have been chasing this number my whole life. It was a strange thing."

Not surprisingly, Schmidt wasn't really sure how to celebrate the feat. There were no balloons over the table waiting to be released if and when he broke the record. There were no television or newspaper reporters waiting to interview him. There was, in fact, a suddenness to the ending. The long journey was over.

"We just kind of cleaned everything up at the room and went back to the apartment," Schmidt said.

After cleaning up at their shared apartment in Del Monte Forest along the scenic 17-Mile Drive, the Schmidts, along with Desmond and his wife Cecilia, celebrated at Monterey's famed Whaling Station Steakhouse, perched above Cannery Row and overlooking Monterey Bay. The hero washed down crab and lobster with several glasses of his favorite cabernet sauvignon.

Having had time to digest the personal magnitude of his accomplishment and reflect on the long road he'd endured, Schmidt shared his thoughts.

"A lot of people think I did this for attention or so people can tell me I'm great," he started. "I could have been on a deserted island and never met a soul, and I still would have kept trying to top 526. I've always been curious about whether I could do it. The skill that's required to run, say, 250, is so immense that it boggled my mind that [Mosconi] could run 37 racks in a row without hooking himself or missing a ball. It became a personal obsession.

"There are some things that you KNOW you can do, and you'd bet your life on it. I didn't know if I could do this."

Not that John Schmidt is a struggling amateur. He has been a top American professional player for more than 20 years. He has won the prestigious U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, numerous national and regional events, one-pocket titles and, of course, straight pool titles. He has played for Team USA in the Mosconi Cup twice.

But the Holy Grail for the 46-year-old from Hesperia, Calif., has never been a tournament title. It has been, at times, an unhealthy obsession with the number 526.

"This has been a journey of curiosity and self-discovery," Schmidt acknowledged. "Sure, I love straight pool, but it was more than that. Could I challenge myself like this and hold my nerve together? Did I have the shot-making ability and pattern recognition?

Schmidt never needed an opponent to enjoy playing pool, and straight pool offered the perfect challenge of man vs. himself. The steep odds against him ever reaching 526 never deterred him.

"Just to have a shot after that many consecutive break shots is almost impossible," Schmidt contended. "On top of that, over all those racks you don't have a skid or a miscue or a treetop or a roll-off. Plus, you need the skill. Finally, you are shooting knowing that 65 years have gone by since that number happened. That adds pressure because Willie wasn't shooting at a number. He just kept shooting. I had a specific number that I was chasing.

"Believe me, if anyone understood the odds, it was me."

Through the years, Schmidt often set days aside to take serious runs at 526. His 400-ball run in Milton, Fla., in 2004 earned him the moniker "Mr. 400" and cemented his reputation as a straight pool big shot. He topped 400 again three years later in Virginia, reaching 403. Only a handful of players had reached that rarified air, including Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famers Earl Strickland (408), Allen Hopkins (421), Ray Martin (426) and Dallas West (429). While legend claimed that New York's Michael Eufemia had run 625 in the 1970s, the closest recognized run to Mosconi was Germany's Thomas Engert's 491.

In 2013, a thread about challenging Mosconi's 526 drew attention, with Schmidt offering to play 6-8 hours a day, five days a week in an effort to top the mark if someone or some company would give him a $50,000 salary. While discussion was lively, there were no takers.

In March 2018, Schmidt decided it was time to take a concerted run at the hallowed number. He packed up his motor home and drove to Monterey, where the owners of Easy Street agreed to give him a dedicated table over a 26-day period. Schmidt arrived at Easy Street 18 mornings during that period, cleaned the table, polished the balls are embarked on his runs. Incredibly, Schmidt posted 23 runs of 200 or more balls and peeled off 300-plus-ball runs on five consecutive days.

"I was amazed," he remembered. "Then I realized I was still 200 balls away!"

It was during what became known as "John Schmidt 14.1 Challenge I" that Desmond suggested a different arrangement for the next attempt. Desmond, a 71-year-old retired sales manager, had been making the drive from his Saratoga, Calif., home to Monterey each morning (66 miles) to assist Schmidt with polishing, cleaning, racking and charting. Desmond offered to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Monterey in November and December for Challenge II. The team shopped for food, ate together, watched tape, discussed the day's efforts and formulated strategy for the next day.

The addition of normalcy to Schmidt's life made a distinct difference, with Schmidt posting two runs north of 400 balls, including a personal high 434.

"Again, I was still 100 balls short," Schmidt said, exasperated.

In late January 2019, Schmidt traveled to Southern Indiana to play in the annual Derby City Classic. Naturally, he competed in the George Fels Memorial Straight Pool Challenge, in which players post an entry fee and get a dozen chances to post the event's high run from a break ball position. (Schmidt posted the fourth-highest run, with 216.) During the event, Phoenix poolroom owner Trent King approached Schmidt with an offer to spend four weeks in Arizona and continue his quest at Bull Shooters, with each session streamed live to pool fans around the world.


Schmidt is seeking validation of his run from Guinness Records, the Smithsonian and the BCA.

The Arizona trip proved to be a turning point for Team Schmidt. While Schmidt authored another personal best - 464 - and ran through five more 300-ball runs, it was information away from the table that helped him turn a corner.

"I learned a ton of important things in Phoenix," Schmidt said.

For starters, Schmidt started to change habits, change playing strategies and even change his attire.

"I bought a pair of Hoka shoes," he said. "[Fellow pro] Mike Davis told me about them. They made a huge difference. My feet and legs didn't get nearly as tired. I also started eating differently. I started fasting and drinking these B-12 smoothies from Whole Foods. I started breaking the balls differently. I was improving every day by learning what worked and what didn't."

Just three weeks later, the Schmidts and Desmond were back in Monterey for Challenge IV, a previously scheduled one-month stint.

"We'd already had the fourth block scheduled, so this was happening regardless," said Schmidt. "And, truthfully, this was going to be the last block. Doug had spent a lot of money to help us, and it was costing me a lot of money too."

On the second of the 16 days Schmidt played in May he ran 421.

"That gave me high hopes," Schmidt recalled. "Then I had about a 10-day lull of high 200s and low 300s."

Perhaps the most astonishing factor in Schmidt's four-block assault on Mosconi's run was his perseverance and mental fortitude in the face of 200- and 300-ball "lulls."

While every long run and new personal high were great achievements, they were, at the same time, failures.

"If I was at Derby City and ran 400 I would be the hero," Schmidt offered. "I'd be carried off on everyone's shoulders and I'd have eight people trying to take me out to a nice dinner. But in this environment, there is no fanfare when I mess up. I feel like an idiot and I have to start over. It's the only time in my career where I've done things that I would normally think are great and I feel like the biggest loser on the planet.

"I had hundreds of days that just were not fun. People think a lot of pros can do this, but I want to see how they react after they get a skid at 390 or a miscue at 275, day after day. When you're on a big run everyone is watching. They're all off their phones and their jaws are hanging open. Then when you screw up everyone just walks away.

"It's an awful thing when you miss," he added. "The livestream in Phoenix was good because it forced me to just rack the balls and start over. There were times I just wanted to break my cue and walk out of the building. But I kept going because I thought at any moment I could reach greatness. There were times I ran a 330 and followed with 170 on the very next shot. That's hard to do when you're disgusted."

The mental focus it takes to endure hours of shooting, days on end, also took a physical toll on Schmidt.

"Some days I would walk in and run 100 four times in a row," said Schmidt. "Now it's noon and I'm already worn out. I still have a half day left. Or I'd run 360 and it's after 6 o'clock. I've run past dinner, but I keep playing. Then I get a skid. My whole body is messed up.

"In Phoenix there were a number of days where I'd walk in and run 360 on the first or second shot," he said, laughing at the recollection. "Now my feet hurt, my neck hurts and we've just started. It's streaming live and people are yelling, "Yeah! Let's put on a show!' Meanwhile, I'm dying."

Still, by Challenge IV, Schmidt's new routine was paying dividends. In the evenings, Felicity would make dinner while John and Desmond logged the days numbers and discussed strategy.

"We constantly tested things," Schmidt said. "Sleeping more, sleeping less. Eating more, eating less. Breaking hard, breaking soft. Every day, Doug and I were throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick. Doug is a good player and is very knowledgeable. He'd say, "Why don't we hit the break softer tomorrow?' Or, "Let's use high left on the break ball.'"

Schmidt would watch the evening news and retire early. Schmidt would rise by 6 a.m. and have his morning cup of coffee with Desmond. On the way to Easy Street, they would stop at Whole Foods to grab a few egg croissants and some fruit. Once at the poolroom, they would vacuum the table, polish the balls, close the drapes and start the camera. It became a ritual.

It was late in the day a week into his final trip to Monterey when Schmidt found himself deep into what he thought might be a record run. He cleared 450. Next, he blazed past his previous record of 464. Suddenly, he was knocking on the door of 500.

At 490, Schmidt faced a break shot to the right of the rack. It was a relatively routine break shot for Schmidt.

"I dogged my brains out," Schmidt said in disgust. "And I will admit that it was 110 percent because of the pressure. It was right in front of me and I thought, "This is it.' And I completely fainted. I let everyone down…Doug, my dad, my wife, my family, my fans. It was more heat than I could handle."

Not surprisingly, Schmidt took a day of rest following the 490.

"Listen, I'm 46," Schmidt confided. "I tried to wrap my head around accepting that failure was more likely than success."

Twelve days later, on Monday, May 27, Schmidt strolled into Easy Street for another day of attempts. Unofficially, he had eight more days with which to break the record.

He wouldn't need them.

Schmidt limbered up with 126, then 28.

"It was a perfect start," he recalled. "I was still fresh. I had good energy. The conditions were perfect."


Schmidt became a fixture at Easy Street, here with owner James Forest (right).

So were his patterns. He blazed through rack after rack. When he got to his break ball, Desmond would calmly grab their trusty Sardo Rack and corral the balls for the next rack. A few hours later, Schmidt was well into the 300s. Soon after, he had topped 450 and the pressure began to build.

"470 to 530 I was a nervous wreck," Schmidt admitted.

Ironically, at 490, Schmidt was faced with the very same break shot he'd botched two weeks earlier. Schmidt glanced over at Desmond, but Desmond refused to make eye contact. Schmidt felt nauseous.

"It was miserable," he said. "If there was a heart monitor, I could have lit up an entire city."

This time, however, Schmidt did not "faint." The 5 ball sailed smoothly into the corner pocket and the cue ball dove into the rack, creating a nice spread of balls.

"Well," said Desmond, matter-of-factly. "Engert is handled." Having cleared two significant hurdles, Schmidt knew the record was in sight.

Suddenly, the panic, fear and nerves all set in. To Schmidt, virtually every shot the rest of the way looked nearly impossible.

Schmidt broke at 504 and worked his way through the rack. At 518, Schmidt made the break ball, but the cue ball found its way into the middle of the rack. He feared the worst. Would he end up tree-topped or trapped? The balls seemed to move in slow motion. At the last second, the balls opened up and Schmidt saw a lane. He had one shot, a missable ball along the rail. It forced him to elevate his cue.


Schmidt, with benefactor Doug Desmond, earned a special trophy from rack creator Lou Sardo. (Photo by Danielle Penn)

"My heart was going a million beats a second," he insisted.

Having successfully dodged that bullet, Schmidt knew Mosconi's elusive 526 was in this single rack. A few balls later, Schmidt opened up a small cluster of balls.

"You need four," Desmond offered.

The balls were right in front of him for the taking. Strange thoughts started to creep into Schmidt's mind. What if they'd miscounted? What if they moved the coin (used to count racks) wrong and he was really only at 512?

So after Schmidt returned from his bathroom break to pocket 526, there was no celebration. No jumping up and down. No hugging.

"I didn't want to beat the record by two balls," Schmidt rationalized. "I wanted to put up a number that might last as long as Willie's did. I know how hard it is to run this many balls."

Schmidt continued for another 100 balls, finally missing on a combination at 626. "It was a shot that I could have made, but it was very missable," Schmidt said. "If the run had to end, that's the way I wanted it."

Not surprisingly, news of Schmidt's run blew up pool's corner of social media. The New York Times heralded the accomplishment and a local Monterey television station did a short piece with Schmidt. Fans and fellow pros offered their congratulations.

"It is my proudest moment," acknowledged Schmidt, "and the fanfare and congratulations from my fans and peers was way more than I thought it would be."

The news, however, also sparked debate over the merits and significance of Schmidt's 626. Critics claimed Mosconi's run, completed in an exhibition match, was made during "competition," while Schmidt simply set up break shots to start his runs.

"The criticism and skepticism have bothered me, to be honest," Schmidt said of the posts. I can't believe some of the things people have said. To me, it's a small-minded mentality. In the end, though, it's been about one percent of the comments."

It appears that the Billiard Congress of America, recognized keeper of the sport's official rules and records, has found no fault with Schmidt's run. In early June, Desmond flew to the BCA office in Colorado with the unedited videotape. BCA officials Rob Johnson and Shane Tyree watched the entire four-hour plus video, and while no official statement has been released, the BCA is expected to recognize Schmidt's effort as a "record exhibition high run." It is also expected that the run will be submitted to the Guinness Book of Records.

In the meanwhile, Schmidt has been huddling with friends and advisors to discuss the best ways to capitalize on the record. An edited (for time) version of the video has been prepared but has yet to be released.

"Honestly, I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with the video," Schmidt confessed. "I've got to monetize this to a degree. I don't really make money in pool. It is an opportunity for me and I can't let that pass by. I'm not going to simply release this video for free and end up dying broke behind a Walgreens. If the world won't allow me to get something from this video, then I guess the world will never see it."

Schmidt contends that he has not shot an inning of straight pool since Memorial Day. "I really want to put together a nice run the next time I step to the table," he said. "It's ego and pride. It's important to me to run 250 or 300. The inning after that I won't care."


Celebrating with a champagne toast at Easy Street.

How Schmidt's 626 will be remembered in pool lore remains to be seen. Will it carry the same mystique as Mosconi's 526? Will it last as long?

Schmidt isn't sure himself, but he is understandably proud of the effort and the result.

"I feel like this whole journey brought the pool world together a bit," he said. "It was nice to see everyone talking pool and talking about straight pool again."


Champs Weigh In
Former straight pool champions react to news of John Schmidt's 626.

Mike Sigel
World 14.1 Champion 1979, '81, '85

It's the most amazing feat I've ever heard. My high run was 339. Look at all the other runs he had in the 300s and 400s. How hard is what he did? He's the only one that's ever done it. You have to have the ability and you have to get a shot after 44 consecutive break shots. It's hard to believe. To concentrate that long and get the opportunity in 44 racks is amazing. As for criticism, I don't think this should be questioned at all. Give him the credit. The reality is that nobody else has even come close to that. Even if straight pool was the game today and all the top players were playing it all the time, I still don't think this number would be beat. That's how incredible it is.



Thorsten Hohmann
World 14.1 Champion 2006
World Tournament of 14.1
Champion 2011, '13, '15, '18

For starters, I have to give John credit for such a pubic attempt, putting the pressure on himself by putting his attempts on social media. It was a mission. And for him to put up so many high runs over that time is pretty amazing. And to get to 626 is incredible. I don't have an opinion on people's discussion of its merit. Him doing it is amazing. I don't care about who recognizes it.



Nick Varner
World 14.1 Champion 1980, '86

I don't think anybody has tried that hard before. This was John's goal and he accomplished it. My high run is 337. It's a remarkable feat to break Mosconi's record after all these years, and to break it on a 9-foot table is even better. I think this run should be accepted for what it is. It's not a game situation in either case. What's even more amazing to me is that he ran 100 more balls after he broke the record. Concentration is such a big part of running balls in straight pool and it would have been hard for me not to stop and celebrate after hitting 527.



Darren Appleton
World Tournament of 14.1 Champion 2014

To me, it's one of the greatest feats of all time in our sport. It's an incredible achievement. I didn't think he'd make it after breaking down on 400 a few times. The pressure once he got to 450 would be too much for anyone. But it was a lifelong ambition for him and his determination was amazing. He deserved it more than any other players. Negativity on social media has been disappointing, but John has the respect for this achievement from his fellow professionals because we all know what a mammoth effort it was and how difficult this really is.




What Were The Odds?
Although John Schmidt's run of 626 balls was a singular event, he had a lot of tries leading up to it, which allows for good statistical analysis. Based on records kept during his last three attempts, Schmidt posted 209 runs of 100 balls or more.

What were Schmidt's percentages on a single shot? While missing 209 times, he made 15,998 balls which is 98.7 percent successful shots or, on average, one miss every 77 balls.

Given that average, Schmidt is expected to run 100 or more from an open shot about 27 percent of the time, and 200 or more about once in 13 tries. Stated as a proposition, if you give Schmidt 10 tries, he is slightly better than even money to run 200.

Schmidt's goal was 527, and the chance of that for a single try given John's average pocketing percentage is 1 in 937. In all of his sessions, John had about 1,100 tries, so breaking the record is not surprising. What is surprising is that he got to 626. The chance of that given the above was about 1 in 3.

98.7 percent: Schmidt's per-shot accuracy

1 in 937: Chances of running 527 from a single start

1,100: Approximate total number of attempts

1 in 3: Chances of running 626 with 1,100 attempts


John Schmidt 14.1 Challenge I
Easy Street Billiards, Monterey, California
March 16 thru April 10, 2018
Total Playing Days 18, Total Rest Days 8
100+ Ball Runs: Did Not Track
200+ Ball Runs: 23
300+ Ball Runs: 5
400+ Ball Runs: 0
500+ Ball Runs: 0

John Schmidt 14.1 Challenge II
Easy Street Billiards, Monterey, California
November 19 thru December 13, 2018
Total Playing Days 20, Total Rest Days 5
100+ Ball Runs: 45
200+ Ball Runs: 13
300+ Ball Runs: 4
400+ Ball Runs: 2
500+ Ball Runs: 0

John Schmidt 14.1 Challenge III
Bull Shooters Billiards, Phoenix, Arizona
March 20 thru April 17, 2019
Total Playing Days 25, Total Rest Days 4
100+ Ball Runs: 67
200+ Ball Runs: 8
300+ Ball Runs: 5
400+ Ball Runs: 1
500+ Ball Runs: 0

John Schmidt 14.1 Challenge IV
Easy Street Billiards, Monterey, California
May 8 thru June 4, 2019
Total Playing Days 16, Total Rest Days 4
100+ Ball Runs: 49
200+ Ball Runs: 8
300+ Ball Runs: 4
400+ Ball Runs: 2
600+ Ball Runs: 1

John Schmidt 14.1 Challenges I, II, III, IV
Grand Total Summary
Total Playing Days 79, Total Rest Days 21
100+ Ball Runs: 161
200+ Ball Runs: 52
300+ Ball Runs: 18
400+ Ball Runs: 5
600+ Ball Runs: 1


John Schmidt Equipment List
14.1 Challenge IV
Easy Street Billiards
Monterey, California

  • Rebco Pocket Billiard Table 4-1/2 x 9
  • Drop Pockets - No Ball Return
  • Simonis 760 Tournament Cloth Green
  • 5-inch Corner Pockets
  • 5-1/2 inch Side Pockets
  • Sardo Rack
  • Super Aramith Pro Belgian Billiard Balls
  • Predator P3 Red Butt
  • Predator Revo 12.4mm Carbon Composite Shaft
  • 19.5 oz and 58 inches
  • Techno Dud Tip by Outsville
  • Taom Pyro Blue Chalk
  • Predator Second Skin Billiard Glove
  • Predator Urbain 3x5 Hard Case Red

 

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