Snooker is a billiards game played on a baize-covered table that has pockets in all four corners and in the middle of each of the long cushions. It is played using a cue , one white ball (the cue ball), 15 red balls and 6 balls of various colours (the 'colours'). The intention of the game is to score points by potting the red and coloured balls in the pockets in the correct order. Snooker is particularly popular in Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia and India. There has recently been a surge of interest in East Asia, with players from Thailand, Hong Kong and China entering the rankings.
The game of billiards dates back to the 15th century, but snooker is a more recent invention. In the late 19th century, billiards games were popular among British army officers stationed in India, and players used to experiment with variations on the game. The most commonly accepted story is that, at the officers' mess in Jubbulpore in 1875, Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain (no relation to the later Prime Minister) suggested adding coloured balls to a billiards game. The word 'snooker' was army slang for a first-year cadet. This came to be used for novices to the game, and eventually for the game itself. British billiards champion John Roberts travelled to India in 1885, where he met Chamberlain. Chamberlain explained the new game to him, and Roberts subsequently introduced it to England.
Snooker championships date back to 1916. In 1927, Joe Davis, by far the best player of the time, helped establish the first professional world championship, and won its prize of £6.10s (£6.50, equivalent to about £200 today). He went on to win every subsequent world championship until 1946.
Snooker suffered a decline in the 1950s and 1960s, so much so that no tournament was held from 1958 to 1963. In 1969, the BBC, in order to demonstrate their new colour broadcasts, launched a new snooker tournament, called Pot Black. The multi-coloured game, many of whose players were just as colourful, caught the public interest, and the programme's success wildly exceeded expectations.
A few years later, the world championship was first televised, and snooker became a mainstream professional sport. World rankings were introduced in 1977. Money poured into the game, and a new breed of player, typified by Steve Davis, young, serious and dedicated, started to emerge. The first televised maximum break of 147 was achieved in 1982 by Steve Davis. The top players became sterling millionaires. There was even a comic snooker song in the pop charts: Snooker Loopy by Chas & Dave.
Perhaps the peak of this golden age was the world championship of 1985, when 18.5 million people (one third of the population of the UK) watched Dennis Taylor lift the cup after a mammoth struggle that finished with the potting of the last possible ball, well after midnight.
Snooker remains immensely popular in the United Kingdom, second only to football amongst television viewers.
The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), founded in 1968 as the Professional Billiard Players' Association, is the governing body for the professional game. Its subsidiary, World Snooker, organises the professional tour. The organisation is based in Bristol, England.
The amateur game is governed by the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF).
Snooker is played on a rectangular 6' by 12' (about 1.83m by 3.66m) table (often referred to as 'Full Size' as smaller same ratio tables can be used) with six pockets, one at each corner and one in the middle of each long side. At one end of the table (the 'Baulk End' ) is the so-called 'baulk line'. On this line, looking up the table from the 'baulk end', the yellow ball (2 points) is on the right, the green ball (3) on the left and the brown ball (4) in the middle. An easy way to remember these positions is to see the phrase 'God Bless You' the first letter of each word being the first letter of the three colours. At the exact middle of the table sits the blue ball (5), and further down the pink ball (6), followed by the red balls, touching each other and placed in a triangle behind the pink (the pink must be as close as possible to the red ball at the apex of the triangle of red balls without touching it ), and finally the black ball (7) is placed on a spot half way between the back line of reds and the top cushion. The white cue ball can be placed anywhere inside The D (the semi-circle behind the baulk line), although it is normal for players to start by placing the ball on the line, between the brown ball and either the green or yellow ball.
The game consists of two phases. In the first phase, the players have to play a red ball (that is, play the cue ball so that it is a red ball it first touches). When they succeed in potting a red ball, they get another shot, now at a colour. When this colour is potted, it is replaced on the table - if possible on its own spot, otherwise on the highest remaining spot, or if all spots are occupied, as close to its own spot in a straight line (perpendicular to the baulk line) as is possible without touching the ball sitting there. After this another red has to be played, etcetera.
When potting a colour, the game's rules state that a player must nominate the ball he is playing for to the referee; however this is not necessary on most shots because the choice is obvious. The choice is usually only made explicit if two or more coloured balls are in close proximity or near the same line of sight.
After the last red and the following colour have been played, the second phase begins. In this phase, all colours have to be potted in the correct order (yellow, then green, then brown, then blue, then pink, then black).
One scores points by potting the correct ball - 1 point for each red, the ball's value for the colours. One also scores points if the opponent makes a mistake such as:
- not hitting any ball with the cue ball
- hitting a colour first when a red should be hit, or a red when a colour should be hit, or the wrong colour
- potting a red when a colour should be potted, or a colour when a red should be potted, or the wrong colour
- potting the cue ball
- making a ball go off the table
- touching any ball other than the cue ball
- playing a "push shot" - a shot where the cue, cue ball and object ball are in simultaneous contact
Penalty points are 4 points, the value of the ball that should be hit or the value of the ball that was faulted with, whichever is highest. If a foul has been committed by not hitting the ball on first, or at all, and the referee judges that the player has not made the best possible effort to play a legal shot, then 'foul, and a miss' is called and the other player may request that all balls on the table are returned to their position before the foul, and his opponent play the shot again. (In top class play, this will usually only require the cue ball and a couple of other balls to be moved.) When a foul shot has been played, the player who committed the foul may be asked to go back to the table for another shot if the position is still difficult to play from.
The highest possible score in a break that can be achieved without receiving penalty points is 147; in that case, the player must pot the black ball after each red ball in the first phase of the game. Scoring 147 points in a single break rarely occurs in match play.
The highest possible score achievable in a single break is 155 points. That happens when an opponent fouls before any balls are potted and leaves every red ball at least partially obscured by a colour. The player nominates and sinks a colour which is scored as a red, then sinks the black for a total of 8 points. He then clears the table to score the 147 points mentioned in the previous paragraph, and adds that to his 8 points for a total of 155 (see also highest snooker break).
Due to the 'foul, and a miss' rule, it is possible for an endless number of points to be scored by one player in one frame, if he puts his opponent into a snooker from which the opponent keeps having 'foul, and a miss' called, and he keeps asking for the balls to be replaced. The highest score in one professional frame was achieved in the first round of the 1999 World Championships. Dominic Dale was leading Nigel Bond 1-0 in the frame, when he snookered Bond on all reds. Bond had 'foul, and a miss' called against him 11 times, at four points each for a total of 44 points, before escaping from the snooker. Dale subsequently performed a 122 clearance of the table for a total of 167.
The most important event in professional snooker is the Embassy World Championship, held annually since 1927 (except between 1958 and 1963). The tournament has been held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield (England) since 1977. It might move to a different venue starting in 2006.
The group of tournaments that come next in importance are the ranking tournaments. Players in these tournaments score world ranking points. A high ranking ensures qualification for next year's tournaments, invitations to invitational tournaments and an advantageous draw in tournaments.
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.
Some of the most famous snooker players are:
- Joe Davis (England), won the World Championships 15 consecutive times from 1927 to 1946
- Steve Davis (England), won six World Championships in the 1980s. Nicknamed 'The Nugget'.
- Ken Doherty (Republic of Ireland), won the 1997 World Championship
- Tony Drago (Malta), one of the fastest snooker players around, noted for potting the fastest ever maximum break.
- Stephen Hendry (Scotland), won seven World Championships in the 1990s
- Alex Higgins (Northern Ireland), won two World championships; 1972 and 1982
- Ronnie O'Sullivan (England), won two World Championships, most recently in 2004; holder of the record for fastest televised 147 break. Nicknamed 'The Rocket' due to his blisteringly fast rate of potting.
- John Pulman (England), dominated in the 1960s
- Ray Reardon (Wales), won six World championships in the 1970s
- Dennis Taylor (Northern Ireland), won the 1985 World Championship final; also famous for wearing large spectacles.
- Cliff Thorburn (Canada), the only player from outside the British Isles to win the world championship
- Bill Werbeniuk (Canada), noted for the large amounts of alcohol he consumed during matches on medical advice to control tremors.
- Jimmy White (England), the "eternal 2nd", was runner-up in the World Championships six times. The most popular player the game has yet seen, also known as 'The Whirlwind'.
- chalk: The tip of the cue is 'chalked' to ensure good contact between cue and ball.
- cue: The wooden stick, which is used to strike the cue ball.
- extension: A shorter stick that fits over the back end of the cue, effectively lengthening the cue. Used to facilitate shots where the cue ball is a long distance from the player.
- rest: A stick with an X-shaped head that is used to support the cue when the player's arm is too short.
- spider: Similar to the rest but has an arch-shaped head; it is used to elevate (and support) the tip of the cue above the height of the cue ball.
- swan: Rarely used - the swan has an single extended neck with a fork-like prong at the end to give extra distance over larger obstructions.
- triangle: The piece of equipment used for gathering the balls into the formation required by the game being played. Also known as a rack.
- back spin: A shot played by striking the cue ball slightly below centre, the spin causing ball's trajectory to bend against its initial direction of motion.
- baulk area: The area between the baulk line and the nearest edge.
- break: Series of consecutive pots by the same player.
- cannon: A shot where the cue ball stikes more than one object ball.
- century: A break of 100 points or more.
- clearance: Break ending with potting the black in phase 2, and thus with an empty table (except for the cue ball).
- colour: A non-red object ball.
- drag, drag shot: A shot played over a large distance but with much backspin, often utilized when delicate contact between cue ball and object ball is required. The backspin, or drag, helps to nullify the effects of any deviancies in the table surface that may cause the cue ball to wander off course when played at low speed.
- frame: A single game in a match over a number of games.
- free ball: If a foul shot leaves the opponent at least partially snookered (meaning that every 'ball on' is at least partially obscured by a 'ball not on', i.e. for every 'ball on' a 'ball not on' prevents it from being hit in a straight line on any edge), the opponent can elect to play another ball in place of the obscured ball. This is known as a free ball.
- kick: An unexpectedly poor contact between cue ball and object ball (possibly caused by dirt on either of the balls, or by static electricity).
- kiss: A soft contact between two balls.
- masse: A shot played with the cue played in an almost vertical position - used to impart extreme swerve on the cue ball.
- maximum: The maximum (without fouls) possible score of 147, scored in a single break.
- miss: A miss will be called if a player does not hit the 'ball on' first and is deemed by the referee to not have made a good enough attempt at the shot. This gives his opponent the option to have the balls replaced as they were and have the fouling player take his shot again. The applied interpretation of the rule has proved controversial.
- pack: The red balls in their initial position, or, later in a game, the remaining reds remaining together roughly in the initial position.
- plant: Hitting one ball first, which in turn (possibly indirectly) causes another ball to be potted. This is only legal when either both balls are red or when the ball hit first is a free ball and the ball potted is a ball which would normally have been 'on' if no free ball were given.
- pot: To hit (a ball) into one of the pockets.
- push shot: The cue tip maintains contact with the cue ball when the cue ball hits another ball. This is normally deemed a foul, unless the cue and object ball where already almost touching each other and the object ball is hit on a very fine edge.
- respotted black: When the frame ends with both players having the same number of points, the black is put back on the table, as is the cue ball, and the first player to pot it wins the frame. If a foul shot is committed by either player, that player loses the frame.
- roll through: A shot played with topspin and making a full contact with the object ball, allowing the cue ball to follow the path of the object.
- safety: A shot not with the intention to pot a ball, but to leave the opponent with little or no opportunity to make a pot on his next shot.
- screw, screw shot: A shot with heavy back spin.
- side, side spin: A shot played with the cue striking the white to one side of centre, used to change the angle at which the white bounces off the cushion.
- snooker: A snooker is a shot that leaves the opponent unable to hit a legal ball directly. The opponent is said to be snookered. If potting all the remaining balls would still leave a player trailing his opponent, then he is said to be needing snookers. At this point the only way for him to win is to lure the opponent into making fouls.
- stun shot: A shot played with exactly enough backspin such that the cue ball stops dead upon contact with the object ball. It is also possible to stun across, achieved again by using a precise amount of backspin, but this time hitting the object slightly off centre, causing the two balls to travel perpendicular to each other.
- swerve: A shot played with extreme spin causing the cue ball's trajectory to be curved. Mainly used to escape from difficult snookers.
- top spin: A shot played by striking the white slightly above centre, causing the ball to accellerate after contact with on object ball.
- touching ball: Situation in which the cue ball is touching another ball. The cue ball must be played away from the touching ball. If this is a ball that is to be hit, the ball counts as having been hit. If the ball that is touching the cue ball is caused to move while the shot is being played, then a foul will be called (see push shot).