|Renowned pool trick shot artist
Paul Gerni’s dazzling displays,
friendly ways have earned him
title of “The Ambassador of Pool”
by Alan Hoskins
Sun Sports Correspondent
It’s too bad the world of pool and billiards doesn’t have
a Super Bowl for trick shot artists. If it did, then Sun Country could
lay claim to the tag of “Titletown”.
Although he spends most of his year criss-crossing the U.S. and the world,
this area is home to Paul Gerni. Gerni, who lives in Shawnee, is known
as the world’s greatest trick shot artist.
Since 1975, Gerni has won the World Championships of Pocket Billiards
Artistic, Skill, Trick and Fancy Shots every year! In January in Trollhattan,
Sweden, he again won the prestigious
International Challenge Cup of Artistic Pool Billiards – a title
he has won fifteen times.
Unfortunately, outside of Breakers Billiards at 75th and Nieman in Shawnee,
where he sometimes stops in when he’s in town, Gerni is probably
not as well-known in Sun Country as he is in the billiard circles in many
countries in Europe and Asia. (He’s played in over 40 countries.)
“We don’t have a Super Bowl or get a lot of TV exposure so
we don’t get a lot of publicity like major sports or sporting events,”
Gerni said. Nor are there very many world-class tournaments in the U.S.
Most of the major events on the world tour are played in Europe or Asia,
although Gerni would like nothing better than to bring a major professional
pool event to Kansas City.
With more than 700 trick shots - including more than 200 he created himself
- Gerni spends most of his time with a full schedule of appearances at
colleges, sports shows and trade shows, as well as international tour
appearances. “Now I only have time for just a few select tournaments
each year,” said Gerni.
However, his trick shots have been seen on numerous TV programs over the
years, including “Baretta,” “Kojak,” “Colombo,”
“Dynasty,” “Bionic Woman,” “Sesame Street,”
not to mention numerous TV commercials.
But Gerni is more than a great trick shot artist. “Paul Gerni is
probably the biggest thing that’s happened in this business as far
as getting the public into the far-reaching aspects of trying to sell
the game again and getting rid of the old image,” said Red Jones
of the Billiard Congress of America.
“He is truly, in my opinion - and we’ve nicknamed him this
- “The Ambassador of Pool.” With all his skills, public relations
abilities and his contributions to the billiard industry, Paul Gerni is
a can’t-miss Hall-of-Famer.”
Jones continued, “I’ve had the great pleasure to watch Ralph
Greenleaf, Jimmy Caras, Willie Mosconi, and the great trickshooters Clarence
Anderson and Charlie Peterson. Paul Gerni doesn’t have to take a
back seat to any of them, and will probably go down as the greatest trick
shot artist of all time.”
“Paul Gerni has so dominated the discipline of pool billiards artistic
shots that he has become the standard by which all the other trick shot
artists of the world are measured,” said the German magazine Stern.
In 1978, in Sweden, Gerni set a world record that still stands officially
- pocketing 21 balls in one legal stroke. And in an exhibition in a packed
ballroom in Vejle, Denmark in 1994, Gerni shot the cue ball nine cushions
around the table and stopped it on a Danish 100-Crown note. “I remember
it very well, “said Gerni. “It was one of those magical nights
where everything was going right, so I pressed my luck, and put a Danish
postage stamp on the table. The entire room stood up as I shot the cue
ball off nine cushions, and cheered loud and long as the ball stopped
right in the middle of the small stamp. I think I had a little help from
above on that one,” Gerni said modestly.
Gerni, the second son of a Lutheran minister, was introduced to the game
of pool at the age of six when he wandered into the recreation room of
St. James Lutheran Church in Logansport, Indiana, where some older men
were playing pool after a church dinner welcoming his father as the new
“I remember that one of the men gave me his cue and held me up to
the table, and I took my first shot,” Gerni said. “I missed,
but I was fascinated with the sport from then on.”
Gerni was most intrigued by the analytical skills required in pool and
billiards, and using the church table to hone those skills, he later entered
his first tournament at the Logansport YMCA at the ripe age of seven,
although he wasn’t officially old enough to join the “Y”.
He shoveled coal at the Y to “earn” his membership, and then
cleaned up in the tournament, beating high school players in the process.
He still has his winning prize, a cloth YMCA patch, now framed in his
“That old patch means a lot to me, more than most of the other trophies
and the awards that followed because it was the first, and sort of a springboard
for what was to follow,” Gerni explained.
By the age of 15, Gerni was playing and learning from such pool greats
as Willie Mosconi, Jimmy Caras, Luther Lassiter, and Joe Balsis. At 16,
he was not only his class president, but he was also Indiana’s youngest
state 8-ball champion, although he did not get into the game full-time
until he had earned BS degrees in Economics and Marketing and a Masters
in Consumer Psychology at Purdue University, and then spent a year in
a marketing job in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I remember the funny circumstances of my first college exhibition
at Western Carolina University. When I was asked my fee, I hadn’t
even thought about it much, so I said $150, and I also agreed to include
my transportation. I later found out that the air fares were $155, so
I lost $5 on the first show,” Gerni chuckled. “Still, that
was a super start with all the excellent recommendations generated from
Today, his fee ranges from $3000 per day and up, plus expenses, a far
cry from the early days. But he still finds time to get involved in several
charity events each year, such as the annual Buck Buchanan Sports Festival.
Perhaps most important of all, Gerni is a really nice person. He personifies
today’s new look in the sport of billiards, which is taken out of
the old smoke-filled pool halls and taverns and is now found in clean,
upscale family centers, to meet the demands of a fast-growing sport that
boasted 48 million participants in the U.S. last year, more than double
the 21.5 million who played in 1984.
Unlike many of today’s athletes, Paul Gerni is a positive role model.
He doesn’t smoke, drink, or curse, shows up in one of a half-dozen
tuxedos, and graciously takes time to sign autographs and answer questions
of all who ask. Gerni explains the interruptions with “my father
always told me not to forget to take time for people.”
“With all its past image troubles,” said NBC Sports, “pool
has a shining light, a player whose character and values actually represent
all that is good and right about the cue sports. Paul Gerni is the Cal
Ripken of pool.”
Gerni, meanwhile, plans to continue to spread the gospel and artistry
of the green felt, taking personal appearance requests from all over the
world. His preference is for performing for the college audiences, although
his busy schedule also includes trips to Asia, South Africa, Scandinavia,
Central and Eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
About trick shots, Gerni says, “I don’t think we may ever
see an end to all the amazing trick shots that can be developed, and I
am always finding players from many lands who like to share with me their
newest favorite shot or shot ideas.”
“I have been very fortunate,” Gerni reflects. “I’ve
made many friends all around the world, and I’ve been able to make
some good things happen for the future of the sport. That gives even more
value to what I do, and it gives me as much satisfaction as performing
a program of exciting trick shots which can dazzle the beginners yet still
impress even the most seasoned players, while entertaining all of them,
and making a positive statement about the sport.”