Bank on it: Three-cushion billiards club opens in Madison

Bank on it: Three-cushion billiards club opens in Madison

Pool players walking into Madison 3-Cushion Billiards Club may not notice anything different about the club’s billiard tables immediately.

But a closer look at the small club’s four tables, and they’ll see something is missing. Six things, actually.

Three-cushion billiards is a tricky variation on traditional billiards in which the goal is not to sink balls in a pocket. Instead, there are only three balls on the table, and the goal of each shot is to use your cue ball to not only hit both of the other balls, but to hit at least three rails before making contact with the second ball.

The game is a lifelong passion of Bob Keller, the 91-year-old real estate developer who founded Keller Real Estate Group in Madison. On May 1, Keller opened the small private club at 1137 Greenway Cross, just off of Fish Hatchery Road, where for $75 per month players can play anytime they want. For Keller, that’s at least four times a week, and daily if he could. On a recent weekday morning, Keller and a fellow member, Bernie Kapinos, were lining up shots around one of the blue tables in the club.

Three-cushion, a variation on “carom billiards,” originated in the United States sometime in the 1870s. Its origin is hazy, but some sources credit a man named Wayman Crow McCreery, who was the Internal Revenue Collector of the Port of St. Louis, Missouri, with inventing and popularizing the game.

Keller first came across the game as a teenager growing up in Beaver Dam.

“There were two pool halls in Beaver Dam at that time,” he said. “As a kid, I was playing pool all the time. I walked by this billiards table and started watching these older guys playing this game. I thought, ‘This is a better game.’”

What appealed to Keller was the game’s mathematical elegance. A website devoted to the game calls it “a convergence of sports, science and beauty.”

To make a successful shot, players must use the silver dots lining the table (known as “diamonds”) to calculate exactly where to line up the shot. Get the calculation wrong, and the three banks off the rail won’t end up exactly where you need it to go.

“When we used to play in high school, we’d just bang the balls around,” Keller said. “If one happened to go into the pocket, that’d be good. That’s not totally true, but it’s mostly true. This game requires a lot more finesse.”

“It’s a very beautiful game,” Kapinos added. “You have to play with discipline, and you have to really work on your game.”