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The World Snooker Championship, currently held at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, is the climax of snooker's annual calendar and the most important snooker event of the year in terms of prestige, prize money and world ranking points.
The first championship was held in 1927, and the legendary Joe Davis helped to organise the event. Matches were held at various venues, and the final took place at Camkin's Hall, Birmingham. Joe Davis won the event, beating Tom Dennis 20-11. His prize money was £6.10s. The highest break of the tournament was 60 by Albert Cope.
In subsequent years, finals were held at various venues. Joe Davis won every year until 1940, when he just beat his younger brother Fred 37-36. No tournaments were organised during the war years, and it only resumed in 1946 when Joe Davis won again for the 15th time, a record that still stands. Joe Davis never contested the world championship again, though he continued to play professional snooker. Some have speculated that he did not want to risk losing his unbeaten record.
In 1952, as a result of a disagreement between the governing bodies (the Billiards Association and Control Council), and some of the players, two tournaments were held. The World Matchplay, organised by the players and widely viewed as the "real" world championship, continued until 1957. The BA&CC event only lasted one year. Meanwhile the 'official' world championship did attract two entrants in 1952, Horace Lindrum beating Clark McConachy – and it is Lindrum's name that is inscribed on the familiar trophy.
Snooker then went into a period of decline, and no tournament was held between 1958 and 1963. In 1964 it was revived on a challenge basis, a format which lasted until 1968. This meant that matches took place on an irregular basis, sometimes more than once a year. John Pulman, who had won in 1957, completely dominated during this period, overcoming all challengers in a total of seven matches.
The championship reverted back to a knockout tournament in 1969. That year it was won by John Spencer, but it was Ray Reardon who was to dominate over the coming years, winning six times between 1970 and 1978.
1976 was the first year the championships were sponsored by the cigarette brand Embassy. The following year, the event moved to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, UK, and the BBC started providing major television coverage. The Crucible provides a unique atmosphere to the tournament, both for spectators and live television viewers. The venue seats less than a thousand people with the front row of seats only a few feet from the players. This was about the time snooker started attracting very large television audiences, and for most fans The Crucible is synonymous with snooker. The most successful players at The Crucible are Steve Davis, who won six times in the 1980s, and Stephen Hendry, who won seven times in the 1990s. Recently, the tournament has been more open, with four different winners in the last four years. The most famous final occurred in 1985, when Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis 18-17 in one of the most closely contested matches of all time),which finished at 00:19; it was superseded as the latest finish to a final by the 2006 final (00:53).
In 2004, the championship offered a total of £1,378,920 in prize money, including £250,000 for the winner and £125,000 for the runner-up. A further £147,000 was on offer for a 147 break, though no player achieved this.
Recent United Kingdom legislation has placed restrictions on tobacco advertising, including sponsorship of sporting events. Embassy had a special dispensation to continue snooker sponsorship until 2005. Currently the Championship is sponsored by 888.com, after the company signed a five-year sponsorship contract. During the 2005 Championship it was announced that the Championship would remain at the Crucible for at least another five years. Plans to build a purpose-built billiardrome in the city are in their early stages. It is anticipated that the World Championships will be switched to the new venue once the current Crucible contract ends.
A recent contract ensures that the BBC will continue to televise this event (along with three others) until 2011.
- The greatest number of wins is fifteen, by Joe Davis. This was in an era when there were few professional players, and is unlikely to be beaten. In the modern game, the best record is that of Stephen Hendry, who has won seven times to date. Steve Davis won six times in the 1980s, as did Ray Reardon in the 1970s.
- The first 147 in the championship was achieved by Cliff Thorburn in 1983. Ronnie O'Sullivan is the only player to achieve the feat twice, and the only player to lose a match in the World Championship after scoring a 147 (against Marco Fu in 2003). His other was in 1997 and was, at 5 minutes 20 seconds, the fastest ever recorded in the professional game. Jimmy White (1992), Stephen Hendry (1995) and Mark Williams (2005) are the other players to have made a maximum break at the world championship.
- History was further made on 14 March 2006 when Robert Milkins became the first player to make a 147 in the qualifying stages of the tournament.
- Fergal O'Brien is the only player to score a century in his first frame at the Crucible, which he did in 1994.
- Stephen Hendry was the youngest ever champion when he won in 1990 aged 21.
- Cliff Thorburn, who won in 1980 and Ken Doherty, who won in 1997 are the only two champions from outside the United Kingdom.
- Surprising wins at The Crucible include Joe Johnson and Shaun Murphy, who won in 1986 and 2005 respectively against odds of 150-1 each, and Terry Griffiths, whose 1979 victory was only his second professional tournament.
- Jimmy White has reached six finals, but never won. The closest he got was 18-17 in 1994 against Stephen Hendry, on his 32nd birthday. In 1992, he lead 14-8, only to lose 18-14.
- Ken Doherty is the only player to have won the world title at junior, amateur and professional level.
- The player to reach the most World Championship finals since 1969 is Stephen Hendry with 9.
- The so-called "Curse of the Crucible" has ensured that no first-time Crucible champion, since the event was first held there in 1977, has retained his title the following year. Terry Griffiths, Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor all succumbed in the first round, while the other champions failed in the latter stages.
- The latest ever finish to a match at The Crucible, was 3:51am, in a 1983 Second Round match between Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths. Thorburn won 13-12. Earlier in the match, Thorburn made the first ever 147 in the World Championship.
- The most frames played in one Championship is 132 (out of 136) by Ken Doherty in 2003. He was 9-7 down to Shaun Murphy in the First Round, before winning 10-9. He was 8-2 down to Graeme Dott, before winning 13-12. He lead 8-0 after the first session of his Quarter Final, against John Higgins, before having his lead reduced to 9-7. He went on to win 13-9. He trailed Paul Hunter 15-9 and 16-14 in the Semi Final, but prevailed 17-16. In the Final, he trailed Mark Williams 11-1, but levelled at 11-11, 12-12 and 16-16. There was no happy ending, for he lost 18-16.
- The first century break in the Crucible Theatre was by Eddie Charlton against David Taylor in 1977.
The World Matchplay Championship has been included as the World Championship although this is not the same competition. Technically, Horace Lindrum is the 1952 Champion, and 1952-1957 are not World Championships, although in modern times, these are generally considered to be the true World Championship.