Desmond Kane explains why the World Championship is snooker’s only major – and why its status as the toughest event to win ensures its iconic standing above any other tournament in the sport.
“We have to remember that there is only one World Championship a year. It is not like winning majors in golf. Majors are always around the corner in tennis and golf, but in snooker you have to wait another year, and another year. I know from personal experience, it is difficult when you go a few years without one.”
It is important to recognise the cultural and historical significance of the World Championship, first staged at Camkin’s Hall in Birmingham in 1927 and held in its modern televised form at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield since 1977.
The Triple Crown of World Championship, Masters and UK Championship is a relatively new phenomenon in snooker. It certainly did not exist in the mainstream lexicon of the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s when the glorious Ted Lowe’s hushed tones in the commentary box helped to enhance the sport beyond a sense of kitchen-sink drama, shining a light on what working-class men did in time away from the wife.
It was only encouraged as part of a ‘major’ set by the BBC in the past decade when they stopped showing the old Grand Prix, an event which could in theory have provided us with four snooker ‘majors’ on terrestrial television. It is a sharp marketing idea, but you cannot suddenly change history or meaning in sport.
You cannot suddenly claim Indian Wells is on the same level as Wimbledon in tennis. Or the Players Championship has parity with the Masters in golf.
It should also be noted that winning the Triple Crown is only truly soothing on the senses if you already have the World Championship stored in your locker. Which men like perennial runner-up Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White do not.
“I’d give everything I’ve won this season to win that trophy,” said world champion Judd Trump prior to last year’s final. “In the past I’d probably say differently, but now I’m of the age where to win that trophy for me and my family would mean everything.”
In what feels like another world away, Stuart Bingham carried off the Masters in January to add to his World Championship victory in 2015. If he does not win the UK title, it matters not. All his lifetime achievements crystallised at the Crucible five years ago. He could retire a content figure tomorrow knowing he achieved his dreams in the sport.
Would he prefer another world title or a UK? It is a bit like wondering if a player would prefer 15 blacks with his reds in every frame.
The Masters and the UK have historical significance beyond the Crucible, but they are great tournaments in their own right rather than a true rival to the colour-draining demands of Sheffield in springtime. Less time, strain and demands are placed on winning them. Less meaning is therefore attached to triumph.
To suggest the World Championship is on the same level as the Masters or the UK is a bit like arguing K2 presents the same challenge as Ben Nevis. Look at the blokes who never made it to the top. The Hillary Step at the Crucible can be mentally excoriating beyond anything else that snooker throws up.
“This is what we all play for, we grew up watching this tournament above the rest. It’s the pinnacle,” the 1997 world champion Ken Doherty told me.
“In golf, you get four goes at it in the Majors, but that’s what makes this harder to win because it only passes this way once a year. For these guys, it would be a cherry on the cake.”
When you reach the semi-finals of the World Championship, a top-16 seed would have won 36 frames. He needs another 35 over five more days to win the tournament. If you are a qualifier these days, you are looking at winning 66 frames to reach the last four. It goes on and on, session after session, day after day. Not so much a celebration of snooker, more a demand to stay upright.
Little wonder it has been described as a bow-tied torture chamber. It might not be to everybody’s liking, but that is part of the challenge. For the viewer, it is wonderfully engrossing as players are sometimes forced to confront their own soul between shots, sitting contemplating who knows what, stuck alone with their thoughts and a pint of water.
As a way to earn money, snooker is a darkening experience. White seen less light than Blade as he came up agonisingly short in his bid to enter paradise. There is more than one route out of potting perdition. It is made for grinders and speed merchants, dreamers and realists. It is the ultimate test of technique and concentration.
Unlike other tournaments, nobody forgets who won the World Championship. And nor should they. Its stature as snooker’s ultimate event is assured. It has been and always will be snooker’s only major despite attempts to alter the narrative for marketing purposes.
It is all there in black and white and in full colour over a golden 93 years. Even if staged behind closed doors this year due to the coronavirus health crisis, it will still let the world in. It is survival of the fittest, mentally and emotionally the most demanding event of them all, but the riches on offer are forever.
From Joe Davis to Steve Davis, from Hurricane Higgins to Rocket Ronnie, it has made immortal men in waistcoats, armed only with a lump of chalk, a snooker cue and their childhood dreams of entering green baize utopia.
Watch every ball, every frame and every break of the 2020 World Championship LIVE on Eurosport starting on Saturday 31 July until Sunday 16 August.
Snooker’s Multiple World Champions
- Joe Davis (England)
- 15 – 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1946
- Fred Davis (England)
- 8 – 1948, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956
- John Pulman (England)
- 8 – 1957, 1964, 1964, 1965, 1965, 1965, 1966, 1968
- Stephen Hendry (Scotland)
- 7 – 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999
- Steve Davis (England)
- 6 – 1981, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989
- Ray Reardon (Wales)
- 6 – 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978
- Ronnie O’Sullivan (England)
- 5 – 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013
- John Higgins (Scotland)
- 4 – 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011
- Mark Williams (Wales)
- 3 – 2000, 2003, 2018
- Mark Selby (England)
- 3 – 2014, 2016, 2017
- John Spencer (England)
- 3 – 1969, 1971, 1977
- Walter Donaldson (Scotland)
- 2 – 1947, 1950
- Alex Higgins (Northern Ireland)
- 2 – 1972, 1982
It is obvious, reading this article, that the (re-)build-up to World Championship has started in the media, although there are still uncertainties. A lot, I guess, will depend on how smoothly the Championship League, starting next week, will go. Jason Ferguson is putting in every effort to make sure that all the players will be able to play in it unless it’s their choice not to enter. It’s a massive challenge, as will be organising the qualifiers, involving 128 players.
The most likely scenario, if the tournament does go ahead, is that it will be played behind closed doors. It will be weird, and it will be challenging for everyone. The broadcaster and media will almost certainly need to change their approach to the coverage. The logistics alone represent another massive challenge, from health and security to medical support, accommodations, practice, transport … everything will need careful planning and a lot of work.
Some players will probably struggle in an empty arena, whilst it might actually help others.
If it does go ahead – and I’m starting to believe that it actually might – Barry Hearn, Jason Ferguson, and everyone at WST and WPBSA will deserve the highest praise!