Happy New Year 2018


And so, this is the last day of 2017 … a year that in many ways has been a rollercoaster on the baize, with a terrific last three months for Ronnie’s fans.

For this blogger however, as some may know, it has been a very dark and difficult year on personal level. When certain things happen, affecting people you love, taking them away from you, you realise how futile most of the spats and fallouts are, be it on social media or in “real life”. So here is my first and most important wish for all who read this blog.

In 2018, and in every day in your life, I’m wishing you health and happiness. I’m wishing you to love and being loved. I’m wishing you to enjoy the little things that brighten everyday life: a good meal with friends, a lovely walk in the woods, the first flower in your garden, the smile on your child’s face, the hug of your partner … even the grumbling of your elderly parent. Don’t take things too seriously. Be yourself. Don’t worry about opinions, don’t try to please everyone, it’s just impossible. Be true, be kind, be forgiving … 

I mean it, every word of it. Now onto more snooker drivel… snooker wishes and stuff!

Selby's prayers

picture shared by Worldsnooker on twitter
  • Ronnie to win World title n°6 … yes, I know, yesterday on twitter Ronnie said, again, that he “might” (might, not will) give the World Championship a miss but he’s got nearly four months to think about it and change his mind a 100 times, something he’s quite prone to do. As a fan I’d love to see him do himself justice and equal Steve Davis record. However, in the spirit of what I wrote above, if he really does skip this year’s Crucible, I won’t go mad. We should never forget that it’s his life, his career, his well-being, his happiness. He owes us nothing. He’s not Worldsnooker employee either, he’s self-employed. He said that the World Championship isn’t his favourite tournament; I can understand that, the pressure and demands he gets there every year, since 25 years, are unreal. The fact that the press immediately jumped on those tweets is testimony enough of the expectations people put on him all the time. But, yes, I still dream and hope for n°6.
  • A big “non betting” company/business to start to support and sponsor snooker … I have expressed my concerns about snooker’s reliance on the betting industry , and the ambiguity of their relationship, often enough, so I won’t repeat myself here. But yes, this is something I’d dearly want to see. It’s never healthy to rely on just one source of sponsoring, it’s even more risky when that source is an industry that is known to generate addictions as well as social and sometimes legal issues. Tobacco and alcohol sponsoring were clamped on. To me it’s only a matter of time before betting sponsoring is strongly “regulated” too.
  • The Seniors Tour to succeed and flourish… Every sportsperson, even the very best, one day finds themself in that position: they still love it, they aren’t quite good enough anymore to compete on the biggest scene. What then? Jason Francis, from Snooker Legends, is trying to develop a “Seniors” tour, giving both 40+ and retired pros a circuit where they can play, entertain, compete, dream and … win! This January there is one qualifying event in Beijing that attracted 80+ players. Such is the demand. This is a big financial risk that Jason took, he’s now got the support of WPBSA, but there is still so much to do. Please, go and attend one of their events. You won’t regret it!


Yes, I know, Mark Selby probably won’t pray for my wish n°1 to come true, but I couldn’t resist the picture. And for all the fans who love to hate him … here is what Ronnie got to say about Mark in one of the last Worldsnooker features

Ronnie O’Sullivan

Sport thrives on great rivalries: Jack Nicklaus collided with Arnold Palmer, Bjorn Borg was pitted against John McEnroe and Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are frequently the main contenders for football’s Ballon D’or.

Selby and O’Sullivan is snooker’s modern day version of the clash of the titans. The pair met in an epic UK Championship final in 2016 which produced some of the most captivating snooker ever witnessed at the York Barbican, Selby eventually coming through as the 10-7 victor.

They have now contested finals in each of snooker’s Triple Crown events, with Selby having won three of the five showpiece meetings. However, he has some way to go to reach O’Sullivan’s tally of 18 Triple Crown titles and 31 ranking wins – currently holding 8 and 13 respectively.

The Rocket had previously referred to Selby as the ‘torturer’, but in recent times has come to relish his meetings with the world number one.

O’Sullivan said: “I like playing Mark now. We get on really well. I wouldn’t say we are best mates because I don’t want to be his best friend as we are still rivals. I’d rather keep it that way so when we get on the table there is an element of wanting to beat each other. I like his mindset and he is a winner.

“I see a lot of Stephen Hendry and a lot of me in him. I’ve learnt that his style of play isn’t just based on playing against me. He plays like that against everybody. That’s his game. If he brings that game to the table, you just have to try and break it down.”

Happy New Year 2018!

2017 Awards and a Golden Turkey

It’s that time of the year again … so here we go! Those are of course my picks, personal choices. Fell welcome to come up with yours !

2017 Awards


Player of the year

Clearly there were two obvious candidates in Ronnie and Mark Selby for the reasons exposed here.

Mark won three ranking events: the World Championship, the International Championship and the China Open. He also made the final of the Championship League Snooker. You can have a look at Mark’s 2017 achievements on Cuetracker.

Ronnie also won three ranking events: the UK Championship, the Shanghai Masters and the English Open. In addition he won the Masters and made it to two other finals: the champion of Champions and the Hong Kong Masters. You can have a look at Ronnie’s 2017 achievements on Cuetracker. Ronnie also equalled or broke several records during the year: he passed the 900 centuries mark, he now holds the record of most Masters won with 7, equalled Steve Davis record of 6 UK Championships and equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of 18 Triple Crowns.

So, all things considered Ronnie is my player of the year.

Young player of the year

That’s an easy one: Yan Bingtao is my young player of the year. Look at Yan’s 2017 achievements on Cuetracker. Yan has only been a pro for one season and a half. He’s climbed as high as 26th in the rankings, he’s reached a ranking event final. He took some serious scalps during short career including Mark Selby and Ronnie. And I like his gusto, he’s a showman, he relates to the crowds. I even have a soft spot for his terrible sense of fashion!

Entrepreneur of the year

Jason Francis is my entrepreneur of the year for singlehandedly building the Seniors Tours, now supported by WPBSA. This is a fantastic achievement in a very short time span. It’s about giving opportunities to all those players who have entertained and thrilled us in their prime, who still love the game but dropped off the tour, as well as to all the amateurs over 40, who dare to dream to play a legend, in a legendary venue. Jason’s events offer the right balance between good snooker, competitiveness, fun, glamour and nostalgia.

Snooker coverage of the year

The Eurosport UK coverage of the Home Nation Series and the UK Championship. They are my pick, providing the right mix of knowledge, intelligent punditry and commentary and lighthearted fun. There is a complicity in that team that I never found elsewhere. Special mentions for Ronnie, Jimmy White, Neal Foulds and David Hendon.

Coup de coeur of the year

It has to go to this, especially the twin interview with Ronnie and Sunny Akani after their UK match. And Sunny himself. I’m a fan!


2017 Golden Turkey


Golden Turkey

That one goes to Barry Hearn for making the Shootout a ranking event.

Here we have an event that isn’t even played under the rules of snooker, with a ridiculously “short” shot-clock, over just one frame, in a drunken atmosphere. It was marred by refereeing mistakes that robbed players of earning opportunities or worse and I don’t blame the refs really because it’s humanely impossible to keep the required level of concentration and to spot everything in that circus. And it had a definite impact on who was finally at the Crucible by right.

In my eyes this event is an insult to the players skills. and hard work. It’s not even funny anymore with what is at stake. It’s just tailor-made for the bookies, as close as it can be to prostitution to the betting industry. We were told that making it a ranking event was required by the television broadcasters, probably in an attempt to get the big names on board. It didn’t really work.

And the way Hearn reacted to the flood of criticism, by organising a vote that excluded the option everyone wanted, was one of the worst pretence of “democracy” I’ve seen in this sport.

End of rant!





Looking back at 2017 on the baize

It is a bit of a bloggers tradition at this time of the year to look back at what happened over the last twelve months, good or bad. So here are my picks

The lows …

Stuart Bingham’s ban for breaching the rules over betting 

I touched the subject in this post , where you will find the full WPBSA statement. It always baffles me that pros are regularly caught in breach of these contractual rules and afterward state that they were not fully aware of them nor of the possible consequences. What makes Stuart’s case worse than the previous recent ones (Burden, Perry), is that, instead of collaborating fully with the authorities, he actually lied about a number of instances. There is no evidence whatsoever that Stuart actually tried to “fix” anything, for all we know he competed to the best of his abilities in every match, therefore we can only suppose that he was stupid in doing that, rather than plain dishonest. But still, I’m extremely uneasy with this case, as I am BTW with the constant involvement of WS with betting companies, their main sponsors, to the point that we now have events in the calendar that are clearly tailor-made for them.

Mark Williams not at the Crucible … because of the Shootout

Again, this is something I already wrote about here . I haven’t changed my mind. Making the Shootout a ranking event was a disgrace. This is one of those events that are tailor-made for the bookies. To a very large extend it’s a lottery and it was marred by refereeing incidents. It was OK with me whilst it was just an opportunity for the players to earn some money whilst having a bit of fun. It definitely isn’t now. And the way Barry Hearn responded to the criticisms that flooded the Internet isn’t going down well with me either. He organised a vote with only two options, either keep it on the calendar as a ranking event, or ditch it. There was only going to be one answer. Why indeed would players refuse an earning opportunity? The “missing option”, revert it to an invitational event, wasnt offered, and it’s the one that I firmly believe would have won the poll.

The terrible timing of the German Masters qualifiers

The German Masters is the only “high-profile” ranking event in mainland Europe. It has a decent prize money, it is held in a very special and prestigious venue, it attracts huge enthusiast crowds, especially over the final week-end … but since it’s become a 32 men event,  big names have consistently failed to qualify for it, or didn’t even enter it. In my opinion, the timing of the qualifiers, just before the Christmas break is a determining factor. It’s a shame and here are my thoughts about the situation.

Judd Trump in a crisis?

When in 2011, Judd Trump won the China Open, made the final of the World Championship and ended the year as the UK Champion, everyone thought that he would soon become a dominant figure on the tour, and a multiple Triple Crown winner. It didn’t happen. Judd didn’t do badly: he won six more ranking titles, plus the World Grand Prix in 2015, but the snooker world, and probably himself as well, expected more. This year has brought a number of causes for concern. He went out in the first round at the Crucible, beaten by Rory McLeod of all people, by 10-8, having lead 4-0. He was the bookies joint favourite and had told the press that this was “his year”. In the Northern Ireland Open he lost to Stuart Carrington by 4-2, conceding the match prematurely, spreading the balls around with his cue in frustration after  missing a pot. In the UK Championship he lost 6-2 to Graeme Dott, from 2-0, and declared later that he wasn’t enjoying playing. Judd has all the talent in the world, no question, but his temperament of late has been suspect. Maybe he is putting too much pressure on himself. I think he could do with the advises of someone like Steve Peters…

The highs …

Ronnie’s golden spell 

Since September 2017, Ronnie has made it to 5 finals, won three: the English Open with a stunning 97% pot success in the final where he missed six pots in nine frames played, the Shanghai Masters, his first title in China since 2009, having arrived at the event on the back of a bitter defeat to Shaun Murphy in the Champion of Champions final and in spite of the time difference, and the UK Championship, his sixth, a joint record with Steve Davis, bring his tally of Triple crowns to 18, a joint record with Stephen Hendry. Maybe 42 really IS  the answer to life the universe and everything …

Mark Selby’s big fight

Mark Selby defended his World crown last April at the Crucible, bringing his tally to three World titles. That in itself is an awesome achievement, but the manner of it made it even more remarkable. Mark trailed 8-3 and 10-4 to John Higgins, one of the best all rounders in the game, maybe the best, and he fought, and fought … and fought. He once again showed his extraordinary battling qualities. His style might not be to everyone’s tastes, but nobody can deny that he’s currently the biggest fighter in snooker, maybe even the biggest ever to this day.

Anthony Hamilton German Masters Champion

Anthony Hamilton, 46 years old, won his first and, to date, only ranking title in front of 2500+ at the iconic Tempodrom in Berlin last spring. He had not been in a final since 2002, he had not won a professional title since 1995. Anthony is well respected by his fellow pros, he’s a proficient break builder, but his talent had never translated into big events wins. His career over the last years had been ruined by neck and back injuries. His parents , who were not impressed by his choice of career, had never seen him play competitively, never mind win… and yet, there they were in Berlin, watching their son lifting the trophy. They had been convinced that Berlin was worth a touristic visit, with maybe a bit of snooker thrown in! It was a proud and emotional moment for the three of them. Anthony’s injuries have since returned, unfortunately, but he’s a Champion and nobody can take that away from him.

Luca Brecel wins the China Championship

Not just the feat, but the significance of it … this is a break through for young snooker in mainland Europe. Despite the lack of structures, the relatively shortage of competitions and coaching opportunities, despite the fact that snooker isn’t seen as a sport in most of European countries, making it ineligible for funding and unattractive for sponsors in search of tax rebates, young snooker players from mainland Europe can do it. That’s the big message. Belive me, it’s been heard!

Match of the year … 

Purely for the thrill, the emotions, the smiles, the mutual respect and the marvellous twin interview that followed: a young Thai street urchin meets his idol over 11 frames.



The Psychology of “Celebrations”

Following the Scottish Open Final, and the various reactions to Neil’s early a celebration, including an unimpressed Ronnie stating that he would see it as an admission of weakness,  Worldsnooker has published this article:

Neil Robertson’s 9-8 victory over Cao Yupeng at Sunday’s Dafabet Scottish Open final was one of the most captivating clashes in recent memory. With Robertson searching for his first ranking title in over a year and world number 67 Cao competing in his maiden ranking final, passions ran high. Fire, determination, nerves and relief were all very much on show.

In the latter stages Cao’s devastation was there for all to see, as the Australian fought back to overturn a seemingly unassailable 8-4 deficit. Earlier on, in just the second frame, Robertson punched the air with delight after depositing the black to level at 1-1.There is no doubt that the emotion and desire on display made for captivating viewing, but does celebrating during play spur on those involved or act as an impediment to their focus?

As well as being an extremely demanding sport technically, snooker delves deep into a player’s psychology. Those who can act and think most clearly under extreme pressure are usually the ones who emerge victorious. The complexity of snooker heightens the need for mental strength and focus: it’s chess in motion and poker with balls.  Can celebrating during a match be likened to letting one’s poker face slip?

Terry Griffiths is one of the most sought after coaches in the sport. He has worked with the likes of Ding Junhui, Barry Hawkins, Mark Allen and Michael Holt over recent years. By his own admission, the 1979 World Champion’s most valuable attribute is his years of experience and the knowledge he can impart on the mental aspect of tournament play. For Griffiths, the pressure cooker environment of top level snooker means players need to let their emotions out from time to time.

Terry Griffiths

Griffiths said: “They do it because they have come from a place mentally they weren’t comfortable with, but have pulled through. They have achieved something. Fists go and you give it everything to let out some emotion. Mark Selby did it against Ding at the World Championship this year. The pressure at the Crucible is unbelievable and you have to remember that. It is very important to the players and when they achieve something in their mind they outwardly show what they feel about it. This sport requires intense concentration. It is inevitable that in a moment like that it is going to come out. It’s like the shaking of a coke can.

“I remember a time when Peter Ebdon used to do it every frame! I watched him face Stephen Hendry in the final of the 1995 Irish Masters and he came from way behind, he was 5-1 down and won 9-8. I was in the press box, so had a perfect view of it. Ebdon was electric, if he potted a good ball he would be punching the air. I think the whole thing did have an effect on Hendry. I have to say I found it stimulating to watch, you were waiting for him to have a big moment so you could see him do it again. It was a first hand display of the power of the person, it was a wonderful atmosphere.”

Other coaches believe that keeping a calm frame of mind without any spikes of emotion is more likely to allow a player to achieve his potential. Chris Henry has coached the likes of Stephen Hendry and Shaun Murphy, using his innovative theories based in neural science. He also works with top European golfer Rafael Cabrera Bello. Henry trains his players to maintain a serene state of mind even under intense pressure, rather than letting emotions take control.

Henry, who spent three seasons as a professional, said: “Celebrating before the end of a match is not the optimum thing to be doing. We know in psychology about what is called the alpha brain wave state. This is a very calm, relaxed and focused state to be in. That then allows you to tap into what I call the brain software, which is a piece of software you have been writing for years. It is composed of things such as driving a car, walking or playing snooker and it lets you do these things without really consciously thinking about it. You can only tap into that part of the brain when you are relaxed. Showing emotions during a match is not advisable.

“I don’t mind my players showing a bit of positivity.  But you can boil over, which is in my opinion what Peter Ebdon used to do. He would get too excited. That’s detrimental to your subsequent performance for the rest of that match. I believe that when he became World Champion in 2002, he was at his most calm. He learned to control it.”

Last season’s 2017 World Championship involved high stakes. It was the most lucrative tournament in the history of snooker in terms of prize money, with champion Mark Selby landing a cool £375,000 for his win. With such a vast amount of money and prestige on the line, the tournament produced raw emotion from those involved.

Robertson’s display of delight in Glasgow on Sunday wasn’t the first time the Australian has shown his fire on the baize. In his epic last 16 clash with Marco Fu at this year’s World Championship, the 2010 Crucible winner Robertson roared with joy after converting the winning black in a scrappy 21st frame. It was eventually in vain as Fu went on to take the tie 13-11. When asked whether his celebrations were premature in the post-match press conference, Robertson remained steadfast in the opinion that he needs to evoke his emotions to produce his best snooker.

Robertson said: “I’ve tried to play within myself but I need adrenalin, I need to be pumped up, I need that to play well. I have to play with passion. I’m not saying that I’m going to start running around the table, but I’m going to be a lot more aggressive. In the first round I was trying to be polite, too polite, I’m going to be showing my emotion when I feel like it.”

Liang Wenbo

Commentator David Hendon has worked with Eurosport for over a decade and has called some of the most memorable moments in recent years. He was on the mic for Liang Wenbo’s thrilling victory at the 2016 English Open. Liang could hardly contain his joy, as he began rapturous celebrations before even depositing the winning ball in his 9-6 win over Judd Trump. Hendon could understand his reaction and believes that the raw emotion of competitors very much adds to the spectacle for viewers.

“It would have been awful if, having celebrated, he hadn’t potted the winning ball. Everyone’s personality is different and he is very excitable. This was the biggest moment of his career,” said Hendon. “I think people warm to that and the public likes to see someone who is genuinely happy. But it’s a good job he got the winning ball.

“In the middle of the match there is of course always the chance it could backfire. The point is: what does it do to your opponent? Does it give them a shot of adrenalin? It could make them want to come back and beat you even more. That’s what we want. We want the rivalries, we want the psychological shifts. That’s one of the reasons people watch snooker.”

Now this is an interesting read, and even more so for me as none of the interviewees even mention the type of perception I have of such gestures. Now, no doubt, there will be people telling me that I don’t understand sport … but all the same, here is how I feel about some of those “celebrations”. I’m not saying that I’m “right” here, it’s just how I genuinely feel when I see them.

I don’t mind players expressing their delight at winning, not even when it means jumping around like a crazy frog. I don’t mind the players clenching their fist after winning a particularly important frame, after a hard-fought battle, the “Yes, I did it” gesture aimed at themselves. But I totally hate the “fist pumping”, with matching face expression. I’m actually surprised that none of the interviewees see this as an aggression, an “in your face!” gesture aimed at the opponent to break them emotionally, even after the match is over, when it’s totally unnecessary. In my eyes it’s mean and bad sportsmanship. Simple as that. I hate it in any sport, and as much as I like watching tennis for instance, this is really something I dislike mightily. It’s definitely NOT what I want to see. Neil’s embarrassment at what he had done last Sunday clearly shows that he knew how it would feel for his opponent, and he went to talk to him, which he deserves a lot of credit for. But it also proves that I probably have a point about the nature of some “celebrations” …

Your take guys … and gals?

Strange article in the Weekly Standard

It’s long, and strange and whilst there is truth in it, I’m not sure I agree … to me it’s the expectations put on Ronnie by people who forget he’s only human, and by himself as well in the past , that are crazy, not his career that is a “failure” by any means.

This is it

The God of the Snooker Table

The game’s greatest player and the anguished dream of perfection.

Ronnie O’Sullivan at work in London, January 22, 2017 Photo Credit: Ben Stansall / AFP / Getty
 A beautiful simplicity seems to unfold when Ronnie O’Sullivan constructs a century break, potting 100 points’ worth of balls on a single visit to a snooker table. No one ever described snooker as an easy game, but when O’Sullivan begins to flow, he makes each moment look natural. Obvious, almost. Self-evident. To watch him line up a shot is often to think that you—or I, any of us—could pot that particular ball. And while we’re watching the struck ball settle in the pocket, the cue ball has magically drifted to a spot where the next shot possesses the same easy clarity. The same self-evidence. And so with the next, and the next, and the next, until he’s finished putting away the 36 balls that make up a completed frame of snooker.

“The Rocket,” they call him for the speed with which he plays, and he is, more than anything else, an artist at the game. Michelangelo once said that sculptors should discern the shape that wants to be freed from a block of marble, and Ronnie O’Sullivan practices a kindred art, perceiving in some not fully conscious way the simplicity that wants to be revealed on a snooker table.

That artistry may be what keeps O’Sullivan the crowd favorite everywhere he plays. At age 42—getting on in years for a successful professional snooker player—he is still by a huge margin the most popular figure in the sport from London to Shanghai. He’s lost nine tournaments for every tournament he’s won, but bookies nonetheless make him the favorite in nearly every match, if only to lay off the sentimental bets that invariably follow him.

His artistry may also be the problem with Ronnie O’Sullivan’s game. By almost any measure, the Rocket has had a successful career. His 30 career tournament victories over his 26 years of professional play tie him for second-most since the modern recordkeeping system was established in the 1970s. He stands as the all-time leader in prize money, having won in competition some £9 million (plus many millions more from exhibition matches, endorsements, and celebrity appearance fees).

And yet, to watch him play—to watch, for example, his seven-match trek to the English Open championship this October—is to wonder why he hasn’t been even more successful. For anyone else, his snooker career would seem a triumph, making him one of the all-time greats. But the Rocket wasn’t supposed to be one of the greats. Since his debut as a professional at age 16 in 1992—for that matter, since he first started appearing on the covers of snooker magazines as the game’s child prodigy at 10 or 12—O’Sullivan has demonstrated his transcendental ability, the best snooker has ever known. He’s also demonstrated his petulance, his quirky charm, his oddball humor, and his deep unhappiness: a morbid depression at each failure to play consistently at the impossible level of perfect snooker. It’s one of the many peculiarities of Ronnie O’Sullivan that he could have found all this success and still seem something of an underachiever. Something of a disappointment. Something of a failure.

Added to his play is the drama of his public presence, ginned up in equal measure by O’Sullivan himself and a British press that grasps at any storyline about the only snooker player whose name the entire nation knows. He sprained his ankle on a long-distance run just before the English Open, and he spent his first match limping around the table while wearing comfortable blue sneakers with the black vest and bow tie that snooker tradition demands. He easily won the best-of-seven match 4-1, but the British reporting was all about his rule-breaking shoes.

In the end, the shoe controversy was settled sensibly enough, with the tournament authorities giving O’Sullivan medical leave to wear soft shoes in his remaining matches, as long as they were black. But soap opera refuses to travel far from the Rocket. At the end of his third match, a middle-aged woman came down from the stands and began trotting around the table, telling O’Sullivan that she was “just going for a jog.” Snooker referees enforce silence during shots, decorum during matches, with a ferocity that golf officials, tennis umpires, and Amtrak conductors on the quiet car can only envy. But the invasion of the players’ area seemed to have them at a loss. So O’Sullivan calmly stepped up, potted the pink ball that assured him the match. And then—worried, he said, that the officials “were going to rugby-tackle her”—he handed the jogging spectator his cue so she could take on the final ball remaining. (She missed. Twice.)

In the following days, he struggled to set aside his most successful contemporary, John Higgins, then romped through the remaining rounds, defeating Kyren Wilson 9-2 in the best-of-17 final, with 4 century breaks along the way. But every O’Sullivan match has to have a little melodrama for the tabloids to report. He showed up for the final at Barnsley Metrodome arena on October 22 without his cue. Only a friend’s 40-minute dash back to the hotel saved O’Sullivan from having to forfeit the opening frames.

What championship tennis players arrive at a tournament final without their rackets? Golfers without their clubs? Boxers without gloves? O’Sullivan’s career is littered with dozens of strange episodes—some small, like the forgotten cue, and some large, like his storming out of the arena after his (victorious) first round of the 2016 world championship. Enraged that he hadn’t played as well as he wanted, he skipped the mandatory media interview, let his close friend, the artist Damien Hirst, watch him smash up his dressing room, and then fled to London to spend five days in the hospital getting treatment for depression and exhaustion. (He returned in time for the tournament’s second round the next week, which he lost, marking one of his earliest exits in years.)

Ronnie O’Sullivan would probably have been a happier man—and have won at rates that better reflect his talent—if only he could have brought himself to play the game as others do. With 13 perfect frames in his career (scoring all 147 possible points) and over 900 century breaks (the most 100-point turns anyone has achieved) he has considerable great play to be satisfied about.

But snooker was not designed for much precision. Small flaws and minute miscuings add up across the expanses of green baize, and the Rocket cannot stand it. In truth, Ronnie O’Sullivan has never played much snooker. What he plays is some mad game against the imperfection of the world and his own demons. The battle only happens to take place on a snooker table. Having won 74 percent of his matches over his career, O’Sullivan has the highest winning percentage of any longtime tournament player, but it feels to him mostly a record of frustration: How could he lose more than a quarter of his matches? The greatest snooker talent who ever lived, snooker’s sole genius, plays to create the perfect simplicity of a work of art.

It’s a mug’s game.

* *

Tabletop cue-and-ball games originated in the 15th century among French and English aristocrats, essentially as lawn games moved indoors for the winter (hence the traditional green color of the cloth). At the beginning, the thick end of the stick was used to whack the balls, like a miniature version of croquet. Pockets, once they started to appear, were akin to ponds or bunkers in golf: things to be avoided while the balls smashed around the table.

By the 18th century, the pockets had become goals rather than hazards, with the narrow end of the cue used to poke the cue ball. A range of new games developed, culminating in the modern forms of billiards and pool. Snooker, too, although it was a deliberately invented variety, created in the 1870s by British Army officers stationed in India. Snooker was army slang for a new and useless cadet, and in the officers’ mess the term came to be applied to the game: first as a position with the target ball blocked from a direct shot (leaving a player snookered) and then as a name for the game itself.

The officers brought snooker back to Great Britain, and the game had a brief vogue among the upper middle classes and the posh gentlemen’s clubs. But soon enough it drifted down to working-class pubs and what became snooker halls, where it picked up the vague aura of seediness and criminality it kept for decades. (No one was surprised, for instance, to learn that the Kray brothers, England’s most infamous 1950s gangsters, had started out managing snooker clubs.)

Still, in the late 1920s, the game found its chance. Billiards, snooker’s main rival in Britain, was falling in popularity, mostly because of the tedious stalemates at the highest level of play, while American pool had never caught on. Perceiving the opening, some skillful players (notably Joe Davis, who won every “world championship” from 1927 to 1946) tried to bring respectability to a professional version of the sport. They mandated vests and bowties for snooker players and dressed the referees in dinner jackets, giving the game the working-class formality of emcees in 1920s music halls—an aesthetic to which snooker still adheres.

As far as the rules go, snooker thrives on the kind of British complexity that makes cricket so indecipherable. (Hard to play, hard to watch, and hard to explain to Americans, as the old line runs.) A frame of snooker starts with 21 balls on the table, plus a cue ball. Fifteen red balls, worth one point each, are arranged in a triangle. Six different balls are then set in marked positions around the table. Called “the colors”—yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and black—these balls rise in value from two to seven points. The game requires using the white cue ball to knock any red ball into one of the table’s six pockets, followed by knocking in any colored ball. Each time one of the colored balls is potted, the referee returns it to its place on the table. After all the red balls are gone, the colors must then be potted in order from yellow to black.

At most, then, a frame of snooker requires knocking in 36 balls: 15 reds, alternating with 15 colors, followed by the 6 colors. Players continue a turn, called a break, until they miss, at which point their opponents get a chance. And all of this takes place on a table almost double the area of even the largest tournament-sized pool table, with pockets an inch tighter. Just to make things more difficult, the green baize covering a snooker table has a definite nap running in one direction, distinguishing the warp from the woof of the cloth. Many of the combinations allowed in pool are banned by the rules of snooker, which require the object ball, whether a red or the designated color, be the first ball struck by the cue ball. A foul results from accidentally potting a color other than the one the player named while lining up for the shot, which eliminates most bash-and-pray techniques.

All these rules are designed to lend snooker a superficial precision—and to casual spectators, cue-and-ball sports do look like wonderfully clean games: Euclidean in their angles and Newtonian in their motions. In the 17th century, deistic philosophers commonly used billiards as a metaphor for God’s mechanistic management of the physical universe.

Unfortunately, snooker at the highest level becomes something non-Euclidean and even anti-Newtonian. Snooker tables are so big that a pot down the diagonal runs over 13 feet—an enormous distance to roll a five-and-a-half-ounce ball across napped cloth and expect it to hold its line. On those expanses, infinitesimal imperfections in the cloth and resin-cast balls, even dustings of chalk, have an influence. Balls wobble, failing to keep an even motion. Unpredictability adds up from tiny slippages of the chalked cue tip, angular momentum as the balls spin, and small compressions as they strike one another.

Players sometimes seek non-Euclidean lines with tricks of friction to swerve and reverse direction (putting “English” on the ball, in the old American expression). But always they play with a probabilistic physics. Professional snooker is more like Niels Bohr’s vision of the atom than Newton’s picture of the solar system. The key to snooker is only partly—almost incidentally—the potting of reds and colors. The real game concerns where the cue ball goes after it has struck the target balls. Using top spin, side spin, or back spin to control the bounce of the cue ball off the target ball, calculating the reversal off the side cushions and the cannon (a billiards corruption of the French word carom) off other balls, the players aim for a probabilistic field, seeking to settle the cue ball somewhere within the area offering the greatest chance to line up the next shot.

And how do you play the game if you’re someone who despises chaos theory and unpredictable cascade effects—someone congenitally incapable of a let’s-just-see-what-happens attitude? How do you play the game if you’re Ronnie O’Sullivan?

* *

O’Sullivan owns a painting Damien Hirst made for him, an enormous tableau (12 feet by 6 feet, the size of a tournament snooker table) that shows the position of the balls as O’Sullivan began his first maximum break of 147 points, with ghostly gray images of the frame’s later positions.

Snooker has had some famous moments in the years since the BBC began televising it, giving the game a national prominence—originally in 1969 with a program called Pot Black, designed to show off the BBC’s new color broadcasting, and then in 1978 with the first coverage of the World Snooker Championship tournament. Cigarette companies became the broadcasts’ enthusiastic supporters (followed by gambling companies, once the BBC banned tobacco advertisements, and snooker has had a problem with players’ gambling in recent years). As the television and promotional money increased, so did the number of players converting from amateur to professional, and the level of prizes rose from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands.

Television showed a classic frame in 1982, for example, when Alex Higgins—the Hurricane, he was nicknamed: a slight and wildly self-destructive Irish player, the most popular figure of the time—snatched an improbable victory from another crowd favorite, Jimmy White, in the semifinals of the world championship. A second came in the 1985 championship final, when the largest British audience for a sporting event tuned in to watch Dennis Taylor in his oversized glasses defeat the most successful player of the 1980s, Steve Davis. After grueling through to a 17-17 tie, Taylor and Davis played a 35th and final frame that lasted 68 minutes, ending well after midnight with over 18 million viewers watching Taylor pot the final black ball to win the title.

And then there was the break Hirst memorialized for O’Sullivan—a first-round match at the 1997 championship in which the Rocket, 21 years old, scored a perfect 147 in a break that took him only 5 minutes and 20 seconds. A typical frame for professionals lasts around 20 minutes, with matches varying from as few as best-of-7 frames to as many as best-of-35—and tournaments requiring as many as 7 matches to get through to the final round. Like the walking in professional golf, the grinding through frames, day after day, makes endurance one of the abilities needed to win a snooker tournament.

That grinding seemed to irritate O’Sullivan even while he was young, and the speed of his 1997 perfect break remains unrivaled. A 147 score requires that the 7-point black ball be the only color potted after each red: no reaching for a nearby pink or blue to ease the tactical situation, no running up the table for a yellow, green, or brown. O’Sullivan’s 5:20 time, averaging 8.8 seconds per shot, stands as one of those sports records never seriously challenged, akin to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point basketball game and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in baseball.

And perhaps the most interesting element, as one watches video of the break, is that the young O’Sullivan never appears hurried. A handful of professional snooker players (notably Tony Drago, Hurricane Higgins, and the Whirlwind, Jimmy White) played the game fast, rapidly lining up the best available shots. But they always seemed to be rushing, pressing for speed, while O’Sullivan simply flows around the table, gliding to the next spot and even appearing to take his time. Each of his career’s 13 perfect games is a master-class in break building, but that first 147 had a joyousness in its perfection—a happy promise of all the young genius would do. And then he lost the next round and failed to reach even the quarterfinals, growing frustrated and surrendering a 12-13 match to a journeyman named Darren Morgan.

The highs and lows of that 1997 tournament are a perfect microcosm, a lasting figure, for much of O’Sullivan’s odd career. Every sport has seen players of undoubted ability (think of, say, football’s Ryan Leaf) who failed to click at the professional game. Every sport, for that matter, has seen any number of players who had runs of brilliance (think baseball’s Denny McLain) but never quite put together an extended career. What’s rarer are the athletes who have shown what, for any others, would have been greatness at a high level for a considerable period but nonetheless appear to leave their talent unfulfilled. Mike Tyson, certainly. Mickey Mantle, perhaps. Jim Brown. The wildly emotional early years of John McEnroe. Tiger Woods, maybe. Often enough, father-figure demons haunted them. Many of them drank, drugged themselves, and misbehaved, rebelling against the activity that had made them famous. All of them found less joy in the sport than we believe we would have, when we imagine ourselves with their stratospheric levels of talent.

* *

This is the class of which Ronnie O’Sullivan is the archetype. Born in 1975, he was both cosseted and abandoned as a child. His parents were working class with millionaire money, running a string of sex shops in London. It kept them too busy to care much for Ronnie and rich enough to hire constant help. The father, Ron Sr., cut a large figure, paying all his son’s club fees as he developed into a young snooker phenomenon. Whenever Ron came into the club to watch his son, one friend recounted, he paid for all: “No one put their hand in their pocket.”

By the time he was 12, the ambidextrous boy was reportedly making several thousand pounds a year from exhibitions and junior tournaments, and he was already developing the charm and persona of working-class shyness that would endear him to fans. Asked how big he wanted to be in the sport, he told a television interviewer he wanted to be 5-foot-10—the perfect height, he thought, for a snooker player. The interviewer laughed and the audience fell in love with the wide-eyed little boy in a satin waistcoat and bowtie.

By the time he was ready to turn professional at 16, he seemed primed to explode on the snooker scene. Forced to play qualifying matches as a first-year player, he set the sport’s record by winning 38 matches in a row and 74 of his 76 qualifiers. But then in 1992 his father was sent to jail for knifing to death in a pub brawl a driver for the gangster Charlie Kray. Emotionally, the world collapsed for the young player.

Ronnie won the U.K. championship the next year at age 17, the youngest champion of one of the Triple Crown tournaments, the three most prestigious events on the tour. Dozens of reporters lined up to film him and shout questions as he brought the trophy to prison to show his father. Two years later, his mother, Maria, was sent to prison for tax evasion.

Through the first decade and a half of his career, he won enough tournaments to keep himself among the game’s premier players, including the Masters in 1995 at age 19 and the world championship in 2001, completing his trio of Triple Crown victories. But his wins were rarer than they should have been as he wandered through the snooker scene lost in drink and fatherlessness. In 1996 he was suspended after he head-butted an official. He quarreled with the snooker association, gave shyly charming interviews that kept him in the public eye, and lost matches he should have won. In 2000, O’Sullivan checked himself into rehab after being stripped of a title for failing a drug test. In 2001, while winning the world championship, he called a suicide hotline and began dosing himself with antidepressants.

Snooker players usually start to lose their edge in their 30s. Stephen Hendry, for example, was the greatest player of the 1990s, the man whose 36 career victories in ranking tournaments place him ahead of O’Sullivan. He no longer had his old invincibility by the time he was in his mid-30s, and had essentially retired by 40. What weaken, most obviously, are the eyes: Snooker lives in the middle range between nearsightedness and farsightedness as the players lean over to bring the cue ball, an arm’s-length from their faces, in focus with a target ball sometimes 10 feet away.

Throughout his late 20s and early 30s, O’Sullivan seemed a wild man. He grew his hair out. He shaved his head. He sat through another player’s break with a towel over his face. He sired three children out of wedlock with two different women, neither of whom is his current companion, and he reportedly has rarely seen his eldest daughter.

In 2004, the six-time world champion Ray Reardon coached him on improving the weakest part of his game, setting up safety shots and snookers that leave opponents no good replies, and O’Sullivan won the 2004 world championship. It didn’t settle him. He repeatedly threatened to retire, and he walked out of a match with Stephen Hendry down only 4-1, reportedly saying, “I’ve had enough of it, mate.” It was always as though he wanted to play by himself, hating the presence of his opponents and being out of sync with the referees. In 2008, he threw away a match against Marco Fu by playing too fast and too sloppily—and then, obviously stoned, he made an obscene suggestion to a female reporter at the after-match press conference. And just because he was the unpredictable Ronnie O’Sullivan, he went on to win the world championship, his third, only a few weeks later.

A dry spell would soon follow, as age apparently caught up with O’Sullivan, who failed to win a tournament from late 2009 to early 2012. His top spin disappeared, his long pots went astray, and his safety shots rolled short. He found himself concentrating even more on his obsessive running, seeking in the loneliness of roadwork some escape from his anxieties. (His 2003 autobiography, Ronnie, tells of his parents’ troubles, while his 2013 book, Running, speaks of his own demons.) Over his career, he’s flirted with multiple religions and even left the game for a while to try farming.

What eventually did seem to help were sessions with the sports psychiatrist Steve Peters, and suddenly, at age 36, he started claiming tournaments again. In 2012 and 2013 he won his fourth and fifth world championships. In 2014 he took his fifth Masters and his fifth U.K. championship. In 2016 and 2017 he added his sixth and seventh Masters titles—despite such well-reported adventures as deliberately refusing a perfect game, scoring 146 in protest over the low bonus offered for a 147.

Mark Selby has been the top-ranked player for the past few years, but Ronnie O’Sullivan, entering relatively few events, remains a serious threat at 42 years old—reviving his career yet again this season as he followed his English Open victory by reaching the finals of the Champion of Champions on November 12, winning the Shanghai Masters on November 18, and playing well in the U.K. championship through the first week of December.

* *

The late surge of good play hasn’t made him entirely happy or content. He claims to be much calmer these days, much more accepting of small failures. But after winning the English Open, he immediately began to squabble with tournament officials and refused to accept the trophy that went along with his victory. He publicly complained about “numpties” in subsequent matches, his word for minor players who, he thought, enter tournaments just so they can get their pictures taken with famous champions. He caused a scene by insisting on photographers being thrown out of a match in Shanghai, and he told an interviewer that he would happily skip the next Triple Crown tournament for the chance to appear on a British reality-television show.

What remains for him? Still able to win matches in his 40s, embarked on yet another successful run this season, O’Sullivan should reach in the next few years the mark of 1,000 century breaks he has said he wants. Six more ranking tournament victories would match Hendry’s 36 wins (albeit over a much longer period than Hendry’s 17 years). O’Sullivan’s last 147 was in 2014, and he may add a few more perfect breaks before he stops playing. His career will go down in snooker history as ranking alongside the careers of Joe Davis, Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, and perhaps Mark Selby.

It doesn’t seem quite enough. The greatest sheer talent snooker has ever seen, the one true genius of the sport, he should have no one rank alongside him. To watch Ronnie O’Sullivan play snooker, in those moments when the Rocket flows and his break-building reveals the simple beauty in the game, is to wonder how he ever lost a match.

The answer is inextricable from the style with which he plays. The imperfections of the snooker table, like the imperfections of the world, will not be overcome forever. The demons of the human condition will not be held at bay for long. Ronnie O’Sullivan wanted to make a perfect art of snooker, and the problem isn’t his choosing snooker. The problem is his sad need for perfection. His mad need for art.

Snooker news “en vrac”

While I’m in Redhill, snapping around, there’s been a lot of things happening in and around snooker …

Worldsnooker has published the Shanghai Masters draw and format

The draw and format for the final stages of the 2017 Shanghai Masters is now available.

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

Ronnie will play his first match against Gary Wilson on Tuesday, November 14, in the evening (afternoon in Europe). He did a bit of promo for the event too…

Worldsnooker also published this article explaining where everyone stands ranking wise after the English Open

Ronnie O’Sullivan has climbed to sixth on the one year ranking list thanks to his victory at the Dafabet English Open.

O’Sullivan captured the 29th ranking title of his career by beating Kyren Wilson 9-2 in the final in Barnsley on Sunday. And the £70,000 top prize sees him leap from 38th to sixth on the one year list.

Wilson banked £30,000 and he’s up from fourth to third, now behind only Luca Brecel and Ding Junhui.

Switzerland’s Alexander Ursenbacher reached the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time and he’s up from 60th to 22nd.

This list will once again be used to determine the field for the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix and Ladbrokes Players Championship later in the season. The top 32 on the one-year list after the Coral Shoot Out will qualify for the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix in Preston (February 19-25) then the top 16 from the same list after the Gibraltar Open will qualify for the Ladbrokes Players Championship in Llandudno (March 19-25).

As it stands there are eight players in the top 32 of the one year list who are outside the top 32 of the official two year list, and six players in the top 16 of the one year list who are outside the top 16 of the two-year list.

O’Sullivan moves up from 12th to ninth on the two-year list while Wilson is up from 15th to 12th. Ursenbacher jumps from 91st to 75th.

Neil Robertson reached the quarter-finals in Barnsley to boost his hopes of a place at the Dafabet Masters in January, he’s now in 17th place and less than £7,000 behind 16th-placed Ryan Day. To see how that race is shaping up click here.

Tickets for all of the above events are on sale now, for details click here

And WPBSA published this one to explain their policy regarding trophies … no doubt to answer some of Ronnie’s rants on twitter.

WPBSA Statement – Trophies

Following recent comments made via social media the WPBSA today seeks to clarify its policy in respect of both original and replica tournament trophies.Historically, it was not practice to provide replica trophies to every tournament winner, with players instead receiving a commemorative plaque or medal to keep. However, last year, the WPBSA undertook a full review of all its trophies on the World Snooker, this included the commissioning of new high-quality and meaningful trophies for new events. The WPBSA made also made a further commitment to provide replica trophies to a number of past champions, many of which have now already been provided. These include ¾ size World Championship trophies, handmade by an original Sheffield Silversmith, the UK Championship, International Championship and the German Masters since the introduction of the new Waterford Crystal bowl.

We are also working alongside our incredible partners, Waterford Crystal, who are renowned for quality and excellence to produce bespoke replica trophies for winners, not only for our Masters, but also for other prestigious World Snooker Tour events. It is our expectation that the Masters trophy will be available for the 2018 Dafabet Masters, this is in accordance with the timeframes previously discussed with individual players.

Many of our current trophies have significant historical value. We work on the principle that players are proud to put their hands on the original iconic trophy when they earn their place in history and become a champion.

The current policy is that players who win major titles can take home the original trophy until the event next takes place. At this point, players will be provided with a suitable replica worthy of a champion. Again, the principle being that players are proud to take home the actual trophy to be on display, it is also an opportunity to assist players with local media around their achievement.

This policy was in place at the 2017 Dafabet Masters. Ronnie O’Sullivan was offered the original Paul Hunter Trophy to take home, he was also informed that he would be provided with a suitable replica when it was to be returned. He refused to take the trophy and World Snooker have retained the trophy. Ronnie has since been offered delivery of the trophy on a number of occasions, however has continued to refuse it. Ronnie was also offered the original English Open trophy following his exceptional performance in Barnsley last week, he also declined to take this trophy away.

The WPBSA will continue to work with its partners to reward players when they achieve their dreams.

Reading this article, you would believe that the players get their trophies to keep for the whole year, yet that’s not what I have heard from various players. Indeed “major” trophies are put on display at major tournaments like the Masters, the World or the UK Championship. So, from what I understood, the players are asked to return their trophies ahead of those events, and can get them back after. But it seems to be a bit of a hassle …

Finally, and sadly there is also yet another story about a player in breach of the rules regarding betting. This time, Stuart Bingham… 

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) conducted an investigation into the allegation that Stuart Bingham was betting on snooker in contravention of the WPBSA Members Rules. The investigation was supported by the Gambling Commission Sports Betting Intelligence Unit. On 15th March 2017 the WPBSA decided that he had a case to answer and the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee with an independent chair would hear the case.

After a hearing chaired by Nicholas Randall QC that took place on 11th July 2017,  Stuart Bingham admitted a small amount of betting on snooker using two accounts in his own name, to limited betting on snooker using three proxy accounts and to betting with a third party on high break scores.

The WPBSA contested his account and the hearing found him to be guilty of much greater betting over at least seven years. This included bets on his own matches using an account in his manager’s name between 2003 and 2015, which he had not admitted.

The estimated total of his betting on snooker in this time is £35,771. Where he was using proxy accounts to bet, it is not possible to establish whether he won or lost from his betting activity.

The detail of the betting and finding of the Committee is summarised below where the numbers correspond with the charges that can be found here.

1. He bet on snooker using an account in his name in 2009-10 to a total of £424.44, with losses of £280.20.
2. He bet on snooker using an account in his name in 2012-13 to a total of £20, all of which were losing bets.
3. He placed bets on snooker matches that he was playing in using his manager’s account. There were 36 matches between 2003 and 2015 to a value of £4,636.
4&5(a)i Between 25th August 2009 and 11th January 2017 he bet on snooker using an account in his manager’s name.
5(a)ii Between 1st January 2012 and 11th January 2017 he bet on snooker using a different account in his manager’s name.

In relation to counts 4 and 5(a)i and 5(a)ii the exact value of the betting by Stuart Bingham on his manager’s account could not be ascertained. The hearing found that he was responsible for 50% of it to a value of £29,619.73.

5(b)i That his manager placed bets for Stuart Bingham’s direct or indirect benefit
5(b)ii That a second party placed bets for Stuart Bingham’s direct or indirect benefit  to a value of £1,706.85
6(a) Between 1st December 2014 and 8th November 2016 he placed bets with a third party to a value of £ 4,000 that his highest break in a competition would be beaten. All of which were winning bets, where made a profit of £7,000.

The charges at 5(a)iii and 6(b) were not found.

The finding of the Disciplinary Committee can be found in full here.

On Wednesday 11th October 2017 there was a second hearing to determine sanction, where the decision of the Committee was that Stuart Bingham serve a six month period of suspension effective from 28th October 2017. Of this period three months and one day are suspended until 31 October 2018 subject to Stuart Bingham confirming that he will comply with any course of medical treatment recommended to him regarding his gambling and will commit no further rule breaches.

This means that Stuart Bingham will serve an immediate suspension from 28 October 2017 until 26 January 2018 and the remainder of the six month periods of disqualification (three months and one day) will not be enforced provided he complies with the conditions identified above and provided also he is not found to have committed any similar breaches during the period ending 31 October 2018.

The Committee ordered Stuart Bingham pay £20,000 towards the costs incurred by the WPBSA.

The finding on sanction and costs can be found here.

There is no suggestion whatsoever that Stuart Bingham was doing anything to influence match outcomes or engaged in any corrupt activity, he was solely betting on snooker.​

He has until 6th November 2017 to appeal the decision.

WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: “It is very disappointing to see such a high profile player fall foul of the WPBSA Betting Rules. Stuart is a great competitor and I have no doubt he has always played to the best of his ability. This case shows that there are no exceptions to the rules. Players must understand that they cannot bet on snooker at all, even if they are not involved in a match or event. Any player found to breach of the betting rules will face the most serious of consequences”.

The WPBSA Rules

The WPBSA Rule pre 25th August 2009 was:

  • A Player shall not bet or lay bets on the result, score or any other aspect of any snooker or billiards match in which he is playing or cause any such bet to be placed or laid on his

The WPBSA Rule post 25th August 2009 is:

  1. Betting misconduct

2.1 It shall be a breach of these Rules for a Member to do any of the following:

2.1.1 Betting: to place, accept, lay or otherwise make a Bet with any other person in relation to the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match in events sanctioned by the WPBSA, WSL or WBL; to solicit, induce, entice, instruct, persuade, encourage, facilitate, authorise or permit any other person to enter into a Bet for the Member’s direct or in direct benefit in relation to the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match in events sanctioned by the WPBSA, WSL, WBL, WLBS or WDBS;

The full WPBSA Members Rules can be viewed here.

How some players still continue to bet is beyond my understanding …