Fifteen balls. One cue. Six pockets.
No, not what you’re thinking …
I’m talking about pool.
Pool’s a great game to play with friends while having a few libations, and then giggling at the detrimental effect those drinks have on you both. Your ability to see straight, make the right choices and actually make a shot become more of a feat. It’s okay, as you are having fun. Though that’s not what can be said for the two people sat waiting for you to finish, as they have the table next. If you’re not sure who those waiting are, just take a look around; it’s easy to spot them. They (probably) look very annoyed, on the verge of killing you after every easy shot you miss.
Fifteen minutes later, the black is somehow potted and your game is over. You look around and shout, “Who’s next?” only to realize that everybody has died waiting, or, more likely, got sick of waiting and left. So you look back at your partner with a smile. “Fancy another?”
And the game starts all over again …
Now, imagine if: the table was much bigger; there were more balls; you had to follow a certain order when potting some of the balls. If this sounds great to you – and there’s no reason it shouldn’t – then you should take up the awesome sport of snooker!
I presume some of you are doubting the gargantuan size of this table, while others are wondering how it’s possible to reach some of the shots that need to be played. Don’t worry, we have additional equipment.
I am aware pool has a rest, too. However, in pool, it’s very rarely used and many people actively avoid using it. In snooker, you have no choice but to use it. I also realize that none of these are long enough to reach shots at the other end of the table, which is why there are also a variety of cue extensions that can be used, and also a long rest.
That’s enough about the table.
So, how do you win? Well, you need to score more points than your opponent. Easy, right? Not really. Basic rules: Different-colour balls equate to different point values.
Red = 1
Yellow = 2
Green = 3
Brown = 4
Blue = 5
Pink = 6
Black = 7
There are 15 reds in total, as you can see from the image provided above. The idea of the game is to pot a red, followed by a color and keep doing this for as long as possible. This is referred to as a “break.” WHEN a player misses, the returning player will attempt to pot a red, even if their opponent missed a “color” ball. Once all the reds are cleared off the table, the players must pot the balls in order of ascending value, finishing with the black ball.
It is very rare that a frame – the name given to each game – will ever get to the black ball, because one of the players will usually concede once it is mathematically impossible to catch up. Yes, I did write usually, because it is possible to “snooker” a player. This means you hit a strategic shot that results in the cue ball having no clear path to the object ball. The reason for doing this? Well, if the snookered player misses the object ball, then the snookering player is awarded 4 points (5, 6 or 7 points if the foul is committed while attempting the blue, pink or black, or if one of those high-scoring balls are hit by accident). Why? You’ve got it! They are now mathematically able to catch the leading player.
For example: If you are going for red, but you hit pink: that’s 6 points to your opponent. If you’re going for red and you miss every ball? That’s 4 points. What happens if the cue ball goes into the pocket? That’s 4 points to them, and they get ball in hand. However, “ball in hand” in snooker means you can put it anywhere within the confines of the “D” at the far end of the table, leaving you with a tough shot at the reds that are waiting at the other end of the world.
It can be a frustrating game for mere mortals like myself. However, watching the gods of snooker break-build is truly mesmerising. The highest break you can amass is 147 – accomplished by potting all 15 reds with blacks, then potting all of the colors in the correct sequence. It may sound impossible to do, yet in this video, you’ll see a snooker god in action. Pure genius.
You’re probably thinking that you could sink every one of those pots. That may be true, but would you be able to get the ball in the correct position every time? Or break up the cluster the way he does? Or play as quickly as he does? Could you do all three at the same time during the World Championships?
Unless Ronnie O’Sullivan is reading this article, which he might be, then I don’t believe you! He is a player that others have stopped mid-play so they can watch him compile a 147 break. Don’t believe me? Watch his 147 break at the U.K. Championships. Want to see his other 147’s? No problem – he has 14 and counting. That’s three more than the retired Stephen Hendry, and six more than John Higgins. (Obviously you all know who they are … )
If you are still not convinced by the difficulty of this sport, then go try it. My highest break is 53, which is not great for snooker, yet I can clear up a pool table effortlessly.
Believe it or not, my favorite part of snooker is not the break-building but the safety play. Playing a shot that puts your opponent in a spot of bother, forcing them to have to take on a risky pot, or trying an outlandish safety shot fascinates me. Seeing their opponent sweat, knowing that hitting the object ball is not good enough. You have to hit the ball, and get it safe.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it happens to be the latter stages of the Snooker World Championship. Unfortunately, Ronnie got beat in the quarters by Ali Carter, who I met in person at Beijing Capital Airport at the beginning of April. He was in town for the China Open. Despite Ronnie’s absence, there are a very talented group of cue handlers left to entertain the snooker fans around the world.
This sport is hugely relaxing to watch, doesn’t require your full attention, and is much more interesting than pool. Just be aware that a single frame lasts around 15 minutes on average – 45 minutes when Alexandra and I play – and the final is first to 18 frames. Don’t worry, it’s played over four sessions, split over two days, and unlike the players, you’re allowed to head to the bathroom whenever you want. (It’s always funny to see a grown man look at the referee and ask to go to the toilet, and then watch as the referee asks the other player if it’s okay, all while the initial player is close to wetting himself. That’s why they are told to go between frames and not during.)
Snooker really is a true test of mental strength, hand-eye coordination, stamina and bladder control. You never know – you or your family member might become the next world champion!
P.S. If you fancy a game, then do learn the:
- “Foul and a Miss” rule. It’s more frustrating than the offside rule in football. (You know what what football I’m talking about).
- Free-ball rule.
- Re-rack rule.
As we’re all experts now, I expect snooker halls around the world to surge with players in the next few weeks. … OK, perhaps I’ve taken it too far. But as a true novice myself (this is Alexandra speaking … erm, typing) I can attest to the addictive nature of this incredibly difficult sport.
By the way, this is just the start of Manfriend’s regular appearances on this blog. Keep your eye out for more than (brilliant) sports explainers – though there will be a fair share of those, too!