2014 and 2016 world champion Mark Selby playing a practice game
|Highest governing body||World Snooker Association|
|Equipment||Snooker table, snooker balls, cue, triangle, chalk|
|Olympic||IOC recognition; bidding for inclusion in 2020|
Snooker (UK //, US //) is a cue sport which originated in India in the latter half of the 19th century. It is played on a table covered with a green cloth, or baize, with pockets at each of the four corners and in the middle of each side cushion. Using a cue and 22 coloured balls, players must strike the white ball (or "cue ball") to pot the remaining balls in the correct sequence, accumulating points for each pot. An individual game, or frame, is won by the player who scores the most points. A match is won when a player wins a predetermined number of frames.
In the 1870s, billiards was a popular sport played by members of the British Army stationed in India. Snooker gained its own identity in 1884 when officer Sir Neville Chamberlain, while stationed in Jabalpur, devised a set of rules that combined pyramid and life pool. The word "snooker" was a long used military term used to describe inexperienced or first year personnel. The game grew in popularity in England, cemented by the formation of the Billiards Association and Control Club (BB&CC) in 1919. It is now governed by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).
The World Snooker Championship has taken place since 1927, with Joe Davis becoming a key figure in the early growth of the sport with 15 championship wins from 1927 to 1946. The modern era began in 1969 after the BBC commissioned the snooker television show Pot Black and began to air the World Championship since 1978, which led to the sport's new peak in popularity with Ray Reardon dominating the game in the 1970s, Steve Davis in the 1980s, and Stephen Hendry in the 1990s; Ronnie O'Sullivan has won the most world titles since 2000.
The origin of snooker dates back to the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the 1870s, billiards was a popular activity amongst British Army officers stationed in India and several variations of the game were devised during this time. One such variation originated at the officers' mess of the 11th Devonshire Regiment in Jabalpur in 1875, which combined the rules of two pocket billiards games, pyramid and life pool. The former was played with fifteen red balls and one black positioned in a triangle, while the latter involved the potting of designated coloured balls. The game developed to become its own identity in 1884 when its first set of rules was finalised by Sir Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain, an English officer who helped develop and popularise the game at Stone House in Ooty on a table built by Burroughes & Watts that was brought over by boat. The word "snooker" was a slang term for first-year cadets and inexperienced military personnel, but Chamberlain would often use it to describe the inept performance of one of his fellow officers at the table. The name instantly stuck with the players. In 1887, snooker was given its first definite reference in England in a copy of Sporting Life which caused a growth in popularity. Chamberlain came out as the game's inventor in a letter to The Field published on 19 March 1938, 63 years after the fact.
Snooker grew in popularity across India and the United Kingdom, but it remained a game mainly for the gentry, and many well established gentlemen's clubs which had a billiards table would not allow non-members inside to play. To accommodate the growing interest, smaller and more open snooker-specific clubs were formed. In 1919, the Billiards Association and the Billiards Control Board merged to form the Billiards Association and Control Club (BA&CC) and a new, standard set of rules for snooker first became official.
The game of snooker grew in the later half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, and by 1927 the first World Snooker Championship had been organised by Joe Davis who, as a professional English billiards and snooker player, moved the game from a pastime activity into a more professional sphere. Davis won every world championship until 1946 when he retired. The game went into a decline through the 1950s and 1960s with little interest generated outside of those who played. In 1959, Davis introduced a variation of the game, known as "snooker plus" (see the Variations section below) to try to improve the game's popularity by adding two extra colours. However, it never caught on.
A major advance occurred in 1969, when David Attenborough commissioned the snooker tournament Pot Black to demonstrate the potential of colour television, with the green table and multi-coloured balls being ideal for showing off the advantages of colour broadcasting. The TV series became a ratings success and was for a time the second most popular show on BBC Two. Interest in the game increased and the 1978 World Snooker Championship was the first to be fully televised. The game quickly became a mainstream game in the UK, Ireland and much of the Commonwealth and has enjoyed much success since the late 1970s, with most of the ranking tournaments being televised. In 1985 a total of 18.5 million viewers watched the concluding frame of the world championship final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis. The loss of tobacco sponsorship during the 2000s led to a decrease in the number of professional tournaments, although some new sponsors were sourced; and the popularity of the game in the Far East and China, with emerging talents such as Liang Wenbo and more established players such as Ding Junhui and Marco Fu, boosted the sport in that part of the world.
In 2010, promoter Barry Hearn gained a controlling interest in World Snooker Ltd, the professional sport's commercial arm, pledging to revitalise the "moribund" professional game. Under his direction, the number of professional tournaments has increased, certain tournament formats have been changed in an attempt to increase their appeal, and, as of 2013, total prize money had more than doubled from £3m to more than £7m.
The object of the game is to score more points than one's opponent by potting object balls in the correct order. At the start of a frame, the balls are positioned as shown, and the players then take turns to hit shots by striking the cue ball with the tip of the cue, their aim being to pot one of the red balls into a pocket and thereby score a point, or, if this is not possible, to at least hit a red ball so as to avoid making a foul shot. If the striker pots a red ball, he or she must then pot one of the six "colours" (in snooker, the term colour is understood to exclude the red balls). If the player successfully pots a colour, the value of that ball is added to the player's score, and the ball is returned to its starting position on the table. After that, the player must pot another red ball, then another colour, and so on. This process continues until the striker fails to pot the desired ball, at which point the opponent comes to the table to play the next shot.
The game continues in this manner until all the reds are potted and only the six colours are left on the table. At this point the colours must be potted in the order from least to most valuable ball – that is, yellow first (two points), then green (three points), brown (four points), blue (five points), pink (six points) and finally black (seven points), with the balls not being returned to play. When the final ball is potted, the player with more points wins. If the scores are equal when all the balls have been potted, the black is placed back on its spot as a tiebreaker. A player may also concede a frame while on strike if he or she thinks there are not enough points available on the table to beat the opponent's score. In professional snooker this is a common occurrence.
Points may also be scored in a game when a player's opponent fouls. A foul can occur for various reasons, most commonly for failing to hit the correct ball (e.g. hitting a colour first when the player was attempting to hit a red), or for sending the cue ball into a pocket. The former may occur when the player fails to escape from "a snooker" – a situation in which the previous player leaves the cue ball positioned such that no legal ball can be struck directly without obstruction by an illegal ball. Points gained from a foul vary from a minimum of four, to a maximum of seven if the black ball is involved.
The total number of consecutive points (excluding fouls) that a player amasses during one visit to the table is known as a "break". A player attaining a break of 15, for example, could have reached it by potting a red then a black, then a red then a pink, before failing to pot the next red. The traditional maximum break in snooker is achieved by potting all reds with blacks then all colours, yielding 147 points; this is often known as a "147" or a "maximum". The highest possible break is a 155 break, also known as a "super maximum". This is achieved via the opponent leaving a free ball, with the black being potted as the additional colour, and then potting 15 reds and blacks with the colours. Jamie Cope has the distinction of being the first player in snooker history to post a verified 155 break, achieved in a practice frame in 2005.
One game, from the balls in their starting position until the last ball is potted, is called a "frame". A match generally consists of a predetermined number of frames and the player who wins the most frames wins the match. Most professional matches require a player to win five frames, and are called "best of nine" as that is the maximum possible number of frames. Tournament finals are usually best of 17 or best of 19, while the world championship uses longer matches – ranging from best of 19 in the qualifiers and the first round proper, up to 35 frames in length (first to 18), and is played over two days, extended if necessary until a winner is determined.
Professional and competitive amateur matches are officiated by a referee who is the sole judge of fair play. The referee also replaces the colours on the table when necessary and calls out how many points the player has scored during a break. Professional players usually play the game in a sporting manner, declaring fouls the referee has missed, acknowledging good shots from their opponent, or holding up a hand to apologise for fortunate shots, also known as "flukes".
Accessories used for snooker include chalk for the tip of the cue, rests of various sorts (needed often, due to the length of a full-size table), a triangle to rack the reds, and a scoreboard. One drawback of snooker on a full-size table is the size of the room (22 by 16 feet (6.7 m × 4.9 m)), which is the minimum required for comfortable cueing room on all sides. This limits the number of locations in which the game can easily be played. While pool tables are common to many pubs, snooker tends to be played either in private surroundings or in public snooker halls. The game can also be played on smaller tables using fewer red balls. The variants in table size are: 10 ft × 5 ft, 9 ft × 4.5 ft, 8 ft × 4 ft, 6 ft × 3 ft (the smallest for realistic play) and 4 ft × 2 ft. Smaller tables can come in a variety of styles, such as fold-away or dining-table convertible.
A traditional snooker scoreboard resembles an abacus, and records units, tens and hundreds via horizontal sliding pointers. They are typically attached to a wall by the snooker table. A simple scoring bead is also sometimes used, called a "scoring string", or "scoring wire". Each bead (segment of the string) represents a single point. Snooker players typically move one or several beads with their cue.
Governance and tournaments
The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA, also known as World Snooker), founded in 1968 as the Professional Billiard Players' Association, is the governing body for the professional game. The amateur game is governed by the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF).
Professional snooker players can play on the World Snooker main tour ranking circuit. Ranking points, earned by players through their performances over the previous two seasons, determine the current world rankings. A player's ranking determines what level of qualification he or she requires for ranking tournaments. The elite of professional snooker are generally regarded as the "top 16" ranking players, who are not required to pre-qualify for three of the tournaments, namely the Shanghai Masters, Australian Open and the World Snooker Championship. The tour contains 96 players – the top 64 from the previous two seasons, the 8 highest ranked professional players on the Players Tour Championship Order of Merit who are not in the top 64, 12 players from the Q School, and various regional, junior and amateur champions.
The most important event in professional snooker is the world championship, held annually since 1927 (except during World War II and between 1958 and 1963). The tournament has been held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England since 1977, and was sponsored by Embassy from 1976 to 2005. Since 2005, tobacco companies have not been allowed to sponsor sporting events in the United Kingdom, and the world championship has had to find a new sponsor. It was announced in January 2006 that the 2006–2010 world championships would be sponsored by online casino 888.com. The championship is currently sponsored by Betfred.com after 888.com pulled out of their five-year sponsorship deal after three years. On 15 April 2009 the World Snooker Championship website announced that Betfred.com would be the new sponsor of the world championship for the next four years.
The status of the world championship is great, and it is the most highly valued prize in professional snooker, both in terms of financial reward (£300,000 for the winner, formerly £250,000) as well as ranking points and prestige. The world championship is televised extensively in the UK by the BBC and gains significant coverage in Europe on Eurosport and in the Far East.
The group of tournaments that come next in importance are the other ranking tournaments. Players in these tournaments score world ranking points. A high ranking ensures qualification for the next year's tournaments, opportunities to play in invitational tournaments and an advantageous draw in tournaments. The most prestigious of these, after the world championship, is the UK Championship. Third in line are the invitational tournaments, to which most of the highest ranked players are invited. The most important tournament in this category is the Masters, which to most players is the second or third most sought-after prize.
In an attempt to answer criticisms that televised matches can be slow or get bogged down in lengthy safety exchanges and that long matches cause problems for advertisers, an alternative series of timed tournaments has been organised by Matchroom Sport chairman Barry Hearn. The shot-timed Premier League Snooker was established, with seven players invited to compete at regular United Kingdom venues, televised on Sky Sports. Players had twenty-five seconds to take each shot, with five time-outs per player per match. While some success was achieved with this format, it generally did not receive the same amount of press attention or status as the regular ranking tournaments. However, this event has been taken out of the tour since 2013, when the Champion of Champions was established.
There are also other tournaments that have less importance, earn no world ranking points and are not televised. These can change on a year-to-year basis depending on calendars and sponsors.
Several players, such as Ronnie O'Sullivan, Mark Allen and Steve Davis, have warned that there are so many tournaments that players risk burning out. In 2012, O'Sullivan played fewer tournaments in order to spend more time with his children, and ended the 2012-'13 season ranked No. 19 in the world. Furthermore, he did not play any tournament in 2013 except the world championship, which he won.
- The playing surface, 11 feet 8.5 inches by 5 feet 10 inches for a standard full-size table, with six pocket holes, one at each corner and one at the center of each of the longer side cushions. For further information see Billiard table, specifically the section Snooker and English billiards tables.
- The fully wool cloth is usually green, with a directional nap running from the baulk end of the table towards the end with the black ball spot. The cloth is often called "baize"; however baize is a much inferior type of cloth sometimes used on pool tables. The nap will affect the direction of the cue ball depending on which direction the cue ball is shot and also on whether left or right side (spin) is placed on the ball. Even if the cue ball is hit in exactly the same way, the nap will cause a different effect depending on whether the ball is hit down table (towards the black ball spot) or up table towards the baulk line. The cloth on a snooker table is not vacuumed, as this can destroy the nap. The cloth is brushed in a straight line from the baulk end to the far end with multiple brush strokes that are straight in direction (i.e. not across the table). Some table men will also then drag a dampened cloth wrapped around a short piece of board (like a two by four), or straight back of a brush to collect any remaining fine dust and help lay the nap down. The table is then ironed. Strachan cloth as used in official snooker tournaments is made up of 100% wool. Some other cloths include a small percentage of nylon.
- 22 balls (15 red, 6 colour balls and a white cue ball), 52.5 mm or 2 1⁄16 inches in diameter. For further information see Billiard ball, particularly the section Snooker
- A stick, made of wood or fibreglass, tapering to a tip, usually ending in leather, which is used to strike the cue-ball.
- Cue-tip chalk
- The tip of the cue is "chalked" to ensure good contact between the cue and the cue-ball. This "chalk" is generally a silica based compound rather than actual chalk of the type used on blackboards.
- A shorter baton that fits over, or screws into, the back end of the cue, effectively lengthening it. Is used for shots where the cue ball is a long distance from the player.
- A stick with an X-shaped head that is used to support the cue when the cue ball is out of reach at normal extension.
- Rest head adaptor
- An attachment that slips onto a conventional rest head to make a spider or to give a slightly different bridge.
- Hook rest
- Identical to the normal rest, yet with a hooked metal end. It is used to set the rest around another ball. The hook rest is the most recent invention in snooker.
- Similar to the rest but with an arch-shaped head; it is used to elevate and support the tip of the cue above the height of the cue-ball.
- Swan (or swan-neck spider or giraffe)
- This equipment, consisting of a rest with a single extended neck and a fork-like prong at the end, is used to give extra cueing distance over a group of balls. If not available, a regular X rest can be placed on a spider so it in turn hangs the required distance beyond to provide similar support.
- The piece of equipment is used for gathering the red balls into the formation required for the break to start a frame.
- Extended rest
- Similar to the regular rest, but with a mechanism at the butt end which makes it possible to extend the rest by up to three feet.
- Extended spider
- A hybrid of the swan and the spider. Its purpose is to bridge over large packs of reds. Is less common these days in professional snooker but can be used in situations where the position of one or more balls prevents the spider being placed where the striker desires.
- Half butt
- Usually housed underneath the side of the table, the half butt is a combination of a table length rest and cue which is rarely used unless the cue ball needs to be struck in such a way that the entire length of the table is the actual obstacle.
- Ball marker
- A multi-purpose instrument with a "D" shaped notch, which a referee can place next to a ball, in order to mark the position of it. They can then remove the ball to clean it; also used to judge if a ball is preventing a colour from being placed on its spot and to judge if the cue ball can hit the extreme edge of a "ball on" when awarding a free ball (by placing it alongside the potentially intervening ball).
Through the decades, certain players have tended to dominate the game, but none more than its original star player, Joe Davis. Davis was world champion for twenty years, retiring unbeaten after claiming his fifteenth world title in 1946 when the tournament was reinstated after the Second World War. Davis was unbeaten in world championship play, and was only ever beaten four times in his entire life, with all four defeats coming after his world championship retirement and inflicted by his own brother Fred. He did lose matches in handicapped tournaments, but on level terms these four defeats were the only losses of his entire career. He was also world billiards champion. It is regarded as highly unlikely that anyone will ever dominate the game to his level again. After Davis retired from world championship play, the next dominant force was his younger brother Fred Davis who had lost the 1940 final by a single frame. By 1947 he was deemed ready by his brother to take over the mantle but lost the world final to the Scotsman Walter Donaldson. After this setback, Fred and Walter contested the next four finals with Fred proving himself the stronger player. After the abandonment of the world championship in 1953, with the 1952 final boycotted by British professionals, the Professional Match Play Championship became the unofficial world championship in all but name. Fred won the event every year until its penultimate one, when in 1957 he did not enter. After winning three official and five unofficial world titles, his absence from the 1957 tournament was to prove vital, as its winner, John Pulman, was automatically awarded the official world title on resumption of the tournament in 1964. Davis would try, but never regain the world title again.
John Pulman was the king of the 1960s, when the world championship was played on a challenge basis. However, when the tournament reverted to a knockout formula in 1969, he did not prosper. Ray Reardon became the dominant force in the 1970s winning six titles, with John Spencer winning three. By the time Steve Davis won his first world title in 1981, there had been just ten world champions since 1927, with Davis becoming the eleventh, including the winner of the boycotted 1952 title, Horace Lindrum. Stephen Hendry became the fourteenth in 1990 and dominated through the 1990s. Reardon won six (1970, 1973–1976 and 1978), Davis also six (1981, 1983, 1984 and 1987–1989) and Hendry seven (1990, 1992–1996 and 1999). O'Sullivan is the closest to dominance in the modern era, having won the title on five occasions in the 21st century (2001, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2013). Mark Williams has won twice (2000 and 2003) and John Higgins four times (1998, 2007, 2009, 2011) but since the beginning of the century, there has not been a dominant force like in previous decades, and the modern era has seen many players playing to a similar standard, instead of one player raising the bar. Davis for example, won more ranking tournaments than the rest of the top 64 players put together by 1985 and still holds the record for most tournament wins overall, at a time when there were far fewer tournaments than today. By retaining his title in 2013, O'Sullivan became the first player to successfully defend the world championship since 1996 when Hendry won the sixth of his seven titles, his fifth in a row.
- American snooker, a variant dating to 1925, usually played on a 10 by 5 foot table with 2 1⁄8 inch balls, and a simpler rule set influenced by pool (despite its name, American snooker is not governed or recognised by the United States Snooker Association).
- Power snooker, a variant with only nine reds, in a diamond-shaped pack, instead of 15 in a triangle, and matches limited to 30 minutes.
- Sinuca brasileira, a Brazilian version with only one red ball, and divergent rules.
- Six-red snooker, a variant played with only six reds in a triangular pack.
- Snookerpool, a variant played on an American pool table with ten reds in a triangular pack.
- Snooker plus, a variant with two additional colour balls (8pt orange and 10pt purple), allowing a maximum break of 210. The variation was created by Joe Davis in 1959 and used at the 1959 News of the World Snooker Plus Tournament. It failed to gain popularity.
- Ten-red snooker, a variant played with only ten reds in a triangle.
- Volunteer snooker, a variant from the early 1900s.
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