Snooker: "Chess With Balls"

Since I’m working from home and not going out much I’m probably going to watch more of the World Championships of this wonderful game than ever before. Anybody else a snooker fan? It usually takes a few frames to get into it again but it hypnotises and fascinates me every time.

Just about eight years ago, I posted this thread “Talk to me about Snooker”.

Did you start following snooker in the end?

Chess with balls? One-pocket!


The rules of one-pocket do seem to mimic the red-ball phase of snooker. Other similarities being that it is mainly the two bottom corner pockets used for that phase and the focus in both games of avoiding leaving an easy ball for your opponent should your miss your attempt. One-pocket goes some way to replicating the safety play aspects of snooker but I still prefer snooker to watch. It has more complexity than pool and the added challenge of a bigger table and harder potting.

And of course no snooker thread is complete without a link to Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 147 maximum, 36 consecutive balls potted at a rate of 8.5 seconds per pot.

Will try to watch some of O’Sullivan Selby, second sesh starts in a bit. Great, great matchup - prob the two best players of the last ten years with diametrically opposed styles.

Mixed feelings watching Selby. There’s so much to admire - granite mentality and forces his opponent to play his game, few can withstand his pressure when he’s on form at the Crucible, with the longer format. But if everyone played like that the game would be dead tomorrow.

Yes he’s not exactly exciting, but he provides a good foil for Ronnie.

For me there’s nothing better than a mixture of free-flowing potting and grinding, almost oppressive safety play, Trying to force your opponent into playing your game is a skill in itself, no-one likes a five-cushion escape from baulk, (I think Sun Tzu said that)

Yeah, I enjoy watching the big breaks and marvelling at the cueball control inherent in doing so, but I tend to find the tactical exchanges more interesting, particularly when one player needs snookers. Like how in bowling it’s more interesting to watch a pro try to make a spare off a difficult split than it is to watch 12 strikes for a perfect game, as impressive as the latter is. Or in golf, recovery shots are usually more entertaining than someone hitting the middle of the green from the middle of the fairway.

Ronnie is evidently in a pretty good mental state for this tournament - I thought after going 2-6 down against Mark Williams he might simply switch off and virtually (or indeed, actually) concede the match. But to his great credit, he fought back mightily and won fairly comfortably in the end. I do think that sometimes (probably not in this match, but it’s possible) he almost deliberately plays carelessly in the early stages, in order to go behind and set himself a real challenge - partly to test himself, partly because that’s the only way he can retain interest in the game. Selby is probably one of the few players on the tour he actually respects (others would be Higgins, Trump and possibly Williams), for his combination of ability and mental strength, and would therefore put in 100% at all times to try and beat him. And he may yet not succeed at that, winning the first session but losing the second to trail 9-7 at the halfway stage.

I actually like Selby, though I’m not sure his nickname (the Jester from Leicester) is appropriate any more - I wonder whether his gritty attitude is something he has developed in the past few years to try and maximise his potential, if so I can’t say I blame him especially given the money involved. Trump is my favourite player on tour at the moment given he grew up not far from me and the way he plays the game, but of the players left in the tournament I’d say Selby is the one I’d most like to see win. Least favourite of the 4 is McGill, nothing against him personally but he doesn’t quite have the style of the other 3. Better than Graeme Dott though, still can’t believe he won a world title. Also better than the first few minutes of the one-shot pool video linked above - nothing against the game itself, but those players were taking a loooooooong time to decide on their shots. Not as interesting as snooker in my view.

Can’t believe these games today!

Some session that - had a feeling ROS would take it as he’d been bullied around the baize by Selby middle two sessions, but had hung in there for only a two frame deficit. He’d have taken that at the start of the match I reckon. Still thought he was dead at 16-14 mind, showed great steel to come back - just exceptional safety play in that last frame.

Selby sounded quite bitter I thought afterwards which is not his usual style AFAIK - guess he’s just gutted at such a narrow defeat. He played brilliantly 3 out of 4 sessions. Ronnie bolloxing on about having no cue action can’t have helped - disrespectful really but I guess they are all more than used to it at this stage.

That Friday was the most incredible day of snooker entertainment that there has ever been, bar none (yes, including the 1985 final, which was amazing but in the end just one dramatic match - Friday had 2). Hyperbole is of course literally the worst thing in the world but in this case I feel it’s justified. Note that I’m not saying it was the highest quality (in particular both Wilson and McGill will be embarrassed about how many attempts it took them to pot that red over the middle coming off the top cushion, not that it was a gimme of course), but for sheer bizarreness, drama, and grit it was unmatched.

Having seen the conclusion of the first semi-final I thought the second couldn’t come close, but it did - Ronnie definitely looked like he’d given up at 15-14 and when he duly lost the 30th frame I thought he might concede the match there and then. But ever one to defy expectations, he then rattles of 139 in about 10 minutes, followed by 71, and 64 in the decider before missing frame ball. Selby had a great chance to counter-clear but played a poor positional shot on the last red, I still thought he was favourite when he snookered Ronnie not once but twice, but rather than just smash it Ronnie played 2 perfectly judged escapes (yes, with a bit of luck) and forced a mistake from Selby.

I suspect Selby will regret his comments but I think it was fair to say Ronnie smashing the balls around is a bit disrespectful, Ronnie’s response blaming it on the miss rule and saying you have to smash it and hope for a fluke was disingenuous at best (yes the miss rule can lead to poor outcomes but when he missed that thin snick on the pink in frame 30, rather than risk missing it again he could have aimed to rest on it off the side cushion). And if Ronnie did move in Selby’s eyeline that is beyond careless. The cue action thing made me laugh but although he was definitely overplaying it, I think that came from a genuine place, I don’t feel that bit was disrespectful - certainly not as much as his comments earlier in the tournament about the standard of new players being so poor, which he seemed to make a point of subtly rowing back from in his winner’s speech which was quite gracious.

At the end of the day though Ronnie is quite clearly the GOAT (whether or not he matches/overtakes Hendry - despite what he says, the standard these days is far higher than in the 80s and 90s) and mentally he struggles with a lot of things, including, I think, this mantle - his natural inclination is to be self-effacing, which can spill over into being dismissive. He doesn’t need me to make excuses for him, I just find it interesting to try and analyse his behaviour.

Obviously the final was never going to match up to the semis and as I predicted (albeit not here) Ronnie ran away with it in the end. A shame he didn’t quite make the fairytale ending with a century in the clinching frame.

Speaking of GOAT, while we’re here would anyone care to disagree with the following top 5? I’ve restricted myself to Cruicible-era onwards as I don’t really know how to compare the achievements of the likes of Joe Davis and Ray Reardon with the modern game.

  1. Ronnie O’Sullivan
  2. Stephen Hendry
  3. Steve Davis
  4. John Higgins
  5. Mark Williams

Ronnie has overtaken Hendry on pretty much everything except world titles. Admittedly that’s a big deal, but Ronnie has over 1,000 competitive century breaks whereas Hendry made a mere(!) 700-odd. And Ronnie now has a greater number of major titles…

Major titles table is as follows:

Ronnie O’Sullivan 37
Stephen Hendry 36
John Higgins 30
Steve Davis 28
Mark Williams 22
Neil Robertson 18

Mind you there are probably more tournaments now than there were 20 years ago - so perhaps a table like this is not the ultimate measure.

Couldn’t argue with ROS being the GoaT - aside from the sheer weight of achievement, pushing this level of performance into your mid-40s in the modern game is amazing and something Hendry and Davis didn’t manage. For a player with well-publicised mental ups and downs he has a remarkable ability to keep focussed on playing (and training) for top level snooker.

I’d put Davis second I reckon and could see the argument for placing him first - actually more dominant than either ROS or Hendry ISTM. Just in a different league to the guys he was playing with at the time and prob more revolutionary in defining the elite game. Prior to Davis if you were good at just potting balls you could do OK as a snooker player.

That is a good point and one Ronnie himself modestly referred to in his interview last night - there are certainly far more tournaments in the last few years than ever before, and I suspect even discounting the massive recent expansion, more in the 2000s than there were in the 90s - therefore O’Sullivan > Hendry > Davis in terms of opportunity to rack up the numbers. Which would tend to suggest the inverse in terms of their greatness as players, and certainly makes Higgins’ 30 titles ‘worth’ a bit less than Davis’ 28. I could also accept Davis being greater than Hendry for similar reasons - I only started to follow the game in the Hendry era so missed most of Davis’ prime (the first World Championship I can remember was John Parrott winning in 1990, I was 4 years old at the time). On the other hand, as I already mentioned I believe the standard was generally higher in the 90s than the 80s, Hendry was still winning world titles when the likes of O’Sullivan, Williams, Higgins, Doherty were all playing at or near their peak, all (IMHO) objectively better players than Davis’ contemporaries such as Taylor, Griffiths, Johnson, Mountjoy, Thorburn, Higgins (A), Thorburn.

And having said all that, while there are loads of tournaments nowadays (which makes Trump’s century of centuries a lesser achievement than Robertson’s 10 years ago), Ronnie doesn’t play in most of them, so I suspect his centuries to frames ratio ranks nearly as highly as the absolute number.

Here’s another way to measure greatness. Competitve century breaks:

* # Player Total 19-20 18-19 17-18 147’s
1 1 Ronnie O’Sullivan 1,061 52 61 74 15
3 2 John Higgins 792 30 32 58 10
2 3 Stephen Hendry 775 - - - 11
5 4 Judd Trump 718 102 83 74 4
4 5 Neil Robertson 715 73 84 57 4
6 6 Mark Selby 630 49 63 44 3
7 7 Ding Junhui 537 33 26 25 6
9 8 Shaun Murphy 524 39 28 39 5
8 9 Marco Fu 501 8 21 20 4
10 10 Mark J Williams 487 20 28 56 2

Surprised to see Marco Fu in the top 10 there, never really rated him. I think he’s the Willie Thorne of the modern era - great break builder, just a tendency to lose his nerve in tight matches.

Steve Davies doesn’t even appear in that list so it’s clearly another flawed measure. Ultimately the snooker players primary goal in a tournament is to win each match, and as you point out with Marco Fu, there are players in that list who aren’t great at actually so great at winning matches. It’s a skill that’s separate to break building.

I’ve enjoyed watching snooker since Steve Davis was winning World titles.
I stayed up to watch the amazing World Title match in 1985 which went to the black ball in the final frame of 35.

I was lucky enough to meet Steve when he was President of the English Chess Federation. He came to present the prizes at the National Schools Chess Tournament. He’s a competent club player at chess - and also gives a good speech. :sunglasses:

I didn’t know Steve Davis played chess, but I’m not surprised.