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Article:An Idiot's Guide to Snooker

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Recently, people have seen snooker, and either not understood it, or wanted to know more about it. So, I thought that it would be an ideal time to post an Idiot's Guide to the game. I wrote one 696 days ago (apparently), and it seemed in good nick, so I am reposting it here now. Some of the links may have been broken since the time I wrote it, but generally it should be okay. Ask any questions, and I'll answer them. I may explain the skill and strategy behind the game in subsequent articles. But consider that any factual information in this article (about current winners etc.) may be slightly out of date. But it'll do!

After a request to explain Snooker, and many confused people when posting news about it, I figured I ought to explain what it is.


Snooker evolved from the more popular game of Billiards. Billiards was popular amongst the aristocracy of of the 15th century. The idea, was to find an indoor substitute for croquet, hence the green cloth of a snooker and billiards table. Billiards had three balls, two cueballs and a red.

In the 19th century a variety of games evolved. The game spread to America, where once again, they put their own little spin on billiards, to create straight pool.

In 1870, Sir Neville Chamberlain (not the World War II British Prime Minister!) founded the game of snooker during a team moral exercise in the army. He thought the game was an ideal way of keeping his unit entertained, whilst focusing their minds.

Billiards was huge in the early twentieth century. Snooker was only played between sessions of billiards matches, to give the billiards players time to rest. By 1920, however, billiards was on the decline. Several times over the previous century, the rules had been changed, due to the repetition of the game. At some junctures, it was possible to make huge breaks, by doing the same thing over and over again. To indicate this, Tom Reece made a break of 499,135 in a first to 500,000 match in 1909. It took him five weeks! He was the only person to see the break in full along with the referee (his "opponent" wasn't even there some of the time!) In comparison, the record break of the now accepted rules is just over 4,000 by Walter Lindrum. It is now rare to see a 500 break.

But back to snooker! Joe Davis (England) was playing a billiards game, and he was beginning to realise that the spectators wanted to see the snooker more than the billiards. Realising this, he and Bill Camkin wrote a letter to the BA&CC, asking for a professional championship. In 1927, he got his wish. Ten entered, and Joe won the first title. Most of his prize money was kept by the BA&CC to buy the trophy, which is still played for today.

Joe indeed won the first fifteen of these titles, the last of which coming after the war in 1946. At this point he felt that he was ruining the game, so retired, unbeaten in the World Championships. Indeed, he only lost four times, all to his brother.

The 1950s were the era of Fred Davis (England) and Walter Donaldson (Scotland). By now, professional billiards was practically extinct, and the players were snooker specialists, not billiards players playing for some money in their spare time. Joe Davis was still the best player in the 50s, he made the first maximum 147 break in 1955.

As John Pulman dominated the 60s, the championship hit financial trouble. There were only a few professionals, and the Championship was in a boxing style format, where the champion played a challenger.

This changed in 1969, when the BA&CC reorganised a proper championship. The modern era had begun. Players like Ray Reardon (Wales), Steve Davis (England) and Stephen Hendry (Scotland) all became household names.

Pot Black was a tournament designed to be put on BBC TV in order to draw the masses to snooker. It worked, and by the mid 70s, snooker had grown to the extent it could no longer be a one-tournament circus.

In 1977, the championship went to it's present home, The Crucible Theatre. Joe saw his brother Fred (now 64) in the 1978 Semi Final. Fred lost, and Joe suffered a heart-attack. He died a couple of months later having never really recovered.

By the mid 80s, snooker had a full rota of ranking events, where, much like golf, points were given in according to a players' performance in that tournament.

Snooker's latest crisis came in 2004, when tobacco sponsorship ended. Prize money and events has dipped from double figures of events, to just six in 2005-06. It is hoped this can be resolved soon.

As opposed to the dozen or so professionals before 1969, there are now over 100.

The game

Snooker is much more simple than billiards, although you wouldn't think it by reading the rules! I will explain the basics.

The table is 12' by 6'. The pockets are much tighter than those on a Pool table, and generally, the jaws of the pocket are much more rigid.

Snooker start

On the baulk line, there are three colours, the yellow, brown and green. In the middle of the table is the blue. Half way along a straight line between the bottom corner and the opposite middle pocket is the pink spot. Uunderneath which, there is a triangle of 15 reds. A black goes about a foot or so underneath the reds.

You take it in turns. You try to pot a red ball worth one point. You can then pot any other colour you wish. Yellow is worth 2, Green 3, Brown 4, Blue 5, Pink 6, Black 7. If you pot one of those, you then try to pot another red, and the colour is respotted. You then carry on, until you miss a pot, at which point it is your opponents turn. He then starts by attempting a red.

When all the reds have been potted (and the colour after it), you then pot the colours in ascending order of value.

So the maximum possible break (i.e. consecutive pots) = 15 reds + 15 colours (black is highest = 7, 7*15) =105 + other colours =27. The maximum is therefore 147.

Whoever scores the most points in a frame wins. In the event of a draw, the black is respotted, and whoever pots the black (or opponent fouls on the black) wins the frame.

If a player does not have enough points left on the table to catch up, he can still win the frame, by forcing his opponent to commit fouls (snookering his opponent). This can be done by, for example, snookering him on a red would be to position the cueball tight behind a baulk colour (i.e. yellow, brown, green), and therefore making the opponent attempt to hit a red by hitting a cushion first. A miss results in four points to the opponent.

A match is a number of frames for any match. Most ranking event matches are best of 9 frames, with finals increased to 17. The World Championships are longer, with the Final being best of 35 frames (played over four sessions, over two days). That is nothing compared to the 1946 World Championship Final, it was best of 145 frames, over two weeks!

Note that a player will not always try to pot a high valued colour. It may be placed near a cushion, making the pot difficult, or position on the next red difficult. A player will often pot the colour that gets him best on the next red, irrespective of value.

So, there you have it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. To know more about the game, see the Snooker section I have so painstakingly created, or read the, in my opinion, over-complicated rules. See the Classic Match section to see why snooker has become so popular in Britain. You can even watch exerts from the 147's that have been made over the years in the 147 Club section. The Snooker Dictionary section may help you to understand some of the terms used in the game. The history section or Snooker Seasons section will show you all the finals in most of the tournaments ever played, or the entire tournaments in the 2005-06 season. The red links will be updated when the season restarts in October.

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