Ronnie O'Sullivan's maximum at the 1997 World Championship
The maximum break in snooker under normal circumstances is 147. This is often known as a maximum, a 147, or verbally a one-four-seven, and is amassed by potting all fifteen reds with fifteen blacks for 120 points, followed by all six colours for a further 27 points.
Joe Davis compiled the first officially recognised maximum break in a 1955 exhibition match in London. In 1982 Steve Davis achieved the first official maximum in professional competition, which was also the first televised one. The following year, Cliff Thorburn became the first player to make a maximum in the World Championship. In total, only 58 snooker players have achieved maximums in professional competitions, totaling 114 such breaks. Ronnie O'Sullivan holds the record of thirteen competitive maximum breaks and he also has the record for the fastest competitive maximum break at 5 minutes 20 seconds, set at the 1997 World Championship.
Breaks greater than 147 are possible in a free ball situation. This has been achieved only once in professional competition, when Jamie Burnett made a 148 break in the qualifying stages of the 2004 UK Championship.
Joe Davis compiled the first officially recognised maximum break on Saturday 22 January 1955 in a match against 68-year-old fellow Englishman Willie Smith at Leicester Square Hall, London. The Billiards Association and Control Council initially refused to accept the break since the match was not played under their rules. At the time the professionals played using a rule (now standard) whereby after a foul a player could compel the offender to play the next stroke. It was only at a meeting on 20 March 1957 that they recognised the break. Davis was presented with a certificate to commemorate the event. The match between Davis and Smith was played as part of a series of events marking the closure of Leicester Square Hall. The hall, known as Thurston's Hall until 1940, had hosted many important billiards and snooker matches since its opening in 1901, including 12 World Snooker Championship finals. The final match was a snooker contest, played on level terms, between Joe and Fred Davis from 24 to 29 January but from 17 to 22 January Joe Davis played Willie Smith at both billiards and snooker. In the snooker match Smith received 28 points in each frame but, despite this handicap, Davis won the match by 23 frames to 13.
For the next 11 seasons, only 14 other official maximum breaks were scored. Starting with 1994/1995, a maximum break has been achieved every single season, with a peak of twelve maximums during the 2001/2012 season. The 100th officially recognised maximum break in professional competition was made on 7 December 2013 by Mark Selby in the 7th frame of his semi-final match at the UK Championship against Ricky Walden. The maximum break has now been officially achieved 114 times in professional competition, over half of which were achieved by English players. England's Ronnie O'Sullivan has compiled thirteen ratified competitive maximum breaks, the most by any professional player. Following him are Scotsmen Stephen Hendry and John Higgins with eleven, respectively seven maximums, and China's Ding Junhui with five. O'Sullivan also holds the record for the fastest competitive maximum break at 5 minutes 20 seconds, which he set at the 1997 World Championship. Despite the inherent difficulty of compiling a maximum, only four players have missed the final black on 140: Robin Hull, Ken Doherty, Barry Pinches and Mark Selby.
Breaks above 147 are possible when an opponent fouls and leaves a free ball with all fifteen reds still remaining on the table. A break greater than 147 has happened only once in professional competition, when Scotland's Jamie Burnett made a 148 at the qualifying stage of the 2004 UK Championship. England's Jamie Cope attained a break of 155, the highest possible break including a free ball, in a practice frame in 2005.
In other variants of snooker the value of the maximum break is different. In six-red snooker, the maximum is only 75 points, as there are fewer reds and thus fewer black-scoring opportunities. In snooker plus the maximum is 210 due to the additional, two high point-value colours, but this has never been achieved due to the distance between the highest value ball and the reds.
The first maximum compiled in professional competition was made by John Spencer on 13 January 1979 at the Holsten Lager Tournament against Cliff Thorburn, but it was not officially ratified due to oversized pockets. His achievement also wasn't recorded, as the television-crew were away on a tea-break.
The first official maximum break in professional competition was made by Steve Davis in the 1982 Classic against Spencer. This was also the first televised 147.
Cliff Thorburn became March 1989 the first player to have made more than one competitive maximum break, while Stephen Hendry became in November 1995 the first player to have made more than one televised maximum break.
Mark Williams became the first person to compile an official maximum break against a woman, at the Rhein–Main Masters in October 2010.
There have been at least four matches where more than one maximum was compiled. Peter Ebdon compiled two maximum breaks during an 11-frame exhibition match at Eastbourne Police Club on 15 April 1996. In 2003 he also compiled two consecutive maximum breaks against Steve Davis in an exhibition match. In 2009 Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan compiled consecutive maximum breaks at an exhibition match in Ireland.Mark King and Joe Jogia achieved the same feat at the Grove Open later in the same year. The only player known to compile more than two maximum breaks on a single occasion is Adrian Gunnell, who compiled three maximums in four frames at a club in Telford in 2003 while practising against Ian Duffy.
Higgins and O'Sullivan are the only players to record maximum breaks in consecutive ranking events. Higgins made one during his defeat by Mark Williams in the LG Cup final, and then one in his second round match at the British Open in 2003. O'Sullivan made one at the Northern Ireland Trophy and another at the UK Championship in 2007. Since top 16 players were seeded through to the second round at the 2003 British Open, Higgins' maximums also came in consecutive ranking matches, albeit not in the same tournament.
Higgins' maximum breaks at the 2003 LG Cup and 2004 Grand Prix made him the first and only player to record maximums in the same tournament in successive years (the LG Cup being the sponsor's name for that year's Grand Prix). Since Higgins made the maximums in the 2003 final and the 2004 first round, he made maximums in successive rounds of the same tournament but not at the same event.
In professional tournaments there was usually a substantial prize awarded to any player achieving a 147 break. For example, Ronnie O'Sullivan's maximum at the 1997 World Championship earned him £165,000. Of this, £147,000 was for making the 147 break and £18,000 was for achieving the highest break of the tournament. This was however abolished in the 2010/2011 season. In the 2011/2012 season World Snooker introduced a roll-over system for the maximum break prize money. A maximum break is worth £5,000 in the televised stages and £500 in qualifying stages of major ranking events. There is a £500 prize in the Players Tour Championship events from the last 128 onwards. If a maximum is not made then the prize rolls over to the next event until somebody wins it.
A break higher than 147 can be achieved when an opponent fouls and leaves the incoming player snookered on all 15 reds. The player can nominate one of the other colours as a red, known as a "free ball", which carries the same value as a red for just that shot. By potting the free ball followed by a colour, then the reds with colours and the colours up to the pink or black, the player can compile a break of more than 147. If the free ball is followed by a black, and the player goes on to clear the table taking all reds with blacks and then all six colours, the total score for the break is 155. In six-red snooker this is 83 and in snooker plus 221.
In October 2004, during qualifying for the UK Championship, Jamie Burnett became the first player to record a break of more than 147 in tournament play, when he scored 148 against Leo Fernandez. He took the brown as the free ball, then potted the brown again followed by the 15 reds with 12 blacks, two pinks and a blue, then the six colours.
There are also at least eight breaks exceeding 147 that have been recorded in non-tournament settings:
A 151 is reported to have been compiled by Wally West against Butch Rogers in West London's Hounslow Luciana snooker club during a club match in 1976. After Rogers fouled, West took the green as his free ball followed by the brown. He then took 14 reds and blacks and a pink off the last red. He then cleared up to make the 151.
In 1997 Eddie Manning achieved a 149 break in a practice match against Kam Pandya at Willie Thorne's Snooker Club in Leicester. Like Drago he took brown, brown, 13 blacks, pink and blue.
In April 2003 Jamie Cope made a 151 break at The Reardon Snooker Club during a practice game with David Fomm-Ward. After a foul by his opponent, Cope was snookered behind the brown ball. He took the brown as the free ball and then potted the blue, 13 reds with blacks and two with pinks, then the six colours.
In the summer of 2005, Jamie Cope made snooker's first maximum 155 break in a witnessed practice frame.
In November 2010 Sam Harvey made a 151 break in a practice match against Kyren Wilson at his home club in Bedford. Harvey potted the brown as the free ball and then the black, 12 reds with blacks, two with pinks and one with blue, then the six colours.