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Sunday, 11 January 2015


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Did you notice all games of skill involve balls, or objects shaped similarly? Snooker, billiards, golf, polo, rugby (sort of round) curling
(a stone is circular in one dimension) tennis, squash, soccer, basketball (a
Canadian invention, natch) and a whole lot more. And too most "ball"
based games are dominated by men.

All derivatives of that same object d'art. Weird eh? Just a crazy
late night posting on my part.

Speaking of which have you moved the pool table from the old house?

There was a time when the leading proponents were "real characters" ie brawling drunks. Then the game was dominated by more sober but less interesting fellows.

I quite like watching it (it's only very slightly more complicated than pool)

Becoming very popular in China too.

O'Sullivan is a joy to watch.

For Jordanesque levels of influence one need look no further than billiards player Walter Lindrum, whose record break of 4,137 caused the rules of the game to be changed!

Ronnie O'Sullivan is only one in a long sequence of talented players over the last 40 years or so. It achieved a new level of popularity when competitions began to be televised also around 40 years ago. Key to its success then was the informed and subtle commentary that whispered along in the background. Since then its popularity has attracted players from around the World, at least one of whom was Canadian but not sure if any Americans have competed. I'm sure there are better informed compatriots who can add to this.

Allison Fisher was a force of nature in UK/international snooker before crossing over to the States to play pro billiards, where she generally crushed her opposition. After all those years of putting tiny balls into tinier pockets, she must have felt like Derek Jeter walking into a pickup softball game.

Putting everything else aside, I find playing on a 12 foot table to be surprisingly harder than on an 8 foot table, and certainly much harder than the mere size difference would suggest - not that I am particularly good at either game on any size table.

There was a BBC TV series called Pot Black from the late 60s through to the mid 80's - I think produced by Richard Attenborough. It was very popular in Australia, and my school friends and I used to play snooker and not pool because of that show. We all wanted to be Eddie Charlton. The series was intended to show off the wonders of colour television, which was introduced in the UK in '67. Ironically, it was broadcast in black and white in Australia (until 1975), with the wonderful Ted Lowe whispering the colours of the balls.

For one of the most compelling matches the sport has seen, the 1985 World Championship final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor is a tough one to beat. A comeback from being totally whitewashed in the first 8 frames, culminating in the championship being decided by the last ball of the last frame.

I was 11 and still remember sitting up well after midnight that Sunday night (Monday morning by then!) watching it with my dad. Didn't hurt that Taylor was a fellow Northern Irishman and the underdog to boot. I think every boy in my class was sleepy the next day for the same reason as me...

Still holds a couple of records for TV audience numbers to this day, highest BBC2 ratings ever and highest post midnight audience for any UK TV channel ever (according to Wikipedia anyway!)

Ronnie O'Sullivan is one of a long line of high profile players, many of whom competed alongside each other throughout the Eighties. As a kid I knew about them all, the businesslike Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor and his "upside down" glasses, Jimmy White (perhaps the best player never to win the World Championship?) and the flawed genius of another fellow Ulsterman, Alex Higgins (who is generally regarded as the player who brought the sport to the high level of popularity it saw at that time, but also got himself into a lot of trouble throughout his career and died penniless a few years ago having smoked and drunk himself into an early grave).

Notably O'Sullivan has been compared in style to Higgins, so you may be onto something regarding the talented and entertaining (and mercurial to some degree) players helping to make the sport popular.

Hang about. Tennis? So that was us, too?
I've always blamed the French for that one!

O'Sullivan's perhaps greatest moment was when he scored 147 (the highest possible in one frame, a perfect score) in about 5 and a half minutes. (A frame can sometimes last 45 minutes). Well worth checking out.

Snooker in the UK - that is, televised snooker - is less popular than it was 30 or so years ago, in fact. At that time it was a TV monster. The story is that the game's popularity began when the TV channel BBC2, the first in the UK to go to colour in the mid-60s, wanted a quick and easy program to show off colour TV, and they picked on snooker and created the program 'Pot Black'. Millions watched it and were hooked. Previously snooker had been a game played in, wait for it, snooker halls and working men's clubs only, and would never have been on TV; from then on, it was. The game's leading players became household names. Steve Davis; Alex Higgins; Stephen Hendrie; Terry Griffiths; Dennis Taylor - all predeccors of O'Sullivan. The world championship is played on the main stage of one of the UK's principal regional theatres, the Crucible, in Sheffield.

Google 'Black Ball Final' for an account of what was a truly unifying UK national moment in 1985. I have never played snooker, nor has my wife, but we were both amongst the 18.5 million people who watched to the end, at somewhere after 1am, of one of the most gripping pieces of TV we've ever seen.

Yes, Ronnie is a bit special, likely the worlds best ever (so far) and a big draw to UK/EU audiences although the uptake in China is quite encouraging.

Nice post Mike, though you might find you get a lot of people countering your point about the relative difficulty of snooker vs. pool. Having had something of a misspent youth, I can vouch for the fact that snooker is way harder to play well than pool.

One of the things that the rest of the world doesn't tell America (or else you're just not interested, being busy with things like your peculiarly named 'world series') is that every big commercial US sport (and it seems the lesser ones too) have equivalents that the rest of the world plays and which are, at least to the casual observer, rather more complex, subtle and/or difficult to understand. Glad you're enjoying snooker Mike, once you've played it you should try rounders, netball, rugby (especially rugby) and field hockey.

Pool tables are much smaller and much cheaper than snooker tables so you find them in pubs, social clubs and youth clubs everywhere. You don't find snooker tables other than in the homes of the wealthy or in dedicated clubs.

This means most people in the UK are much more familiar with playing pool than snooker, despite snooker being the more popular spectator sport, especially on TV.

I've played both socially and whilst I'm terrible at both, I'm worse at snooker because it is more difficult to play without the basic skills. The pockets often seem a very long way away and very small and you do do a lot of very long potting!

I don't think there is much point in comparing one sport with another - even if they share superficial similarities - because each has its own subtleties (especially at the top level) that translate poorly and disguise the true nature of the game from lesser mortals. Take rugby for example -rugby league and rugby union share the same roots and are superficially similar, yet super stars who have successfully swapped between the two codes are rare on the ground. Many fail to make the transition despite the similarities.

I'd recommend enjoying every sport for what it offers rather raising one above another.

Glad you like snooker Mike it's a great game to watch and to play.As someone who has played both snooker and pool both of which I enjoyed I would venture the opinion that snooker is a more difficult sport for the amateur i.e. occasional player as opposed to full time amateur [a player who plays to a high level of expertise but is not professional ]this in part is due to the bigger size table,smaller pockets and the method of compiling scores.
Many shots which are very easy in pool are just not possible on a snooker table because of the size and shape of the pockets.
Mike your point that when scoring in snooker only a small section of the table is in use is mainly true i.e. the top section around the black and pink spots as these are the highest value colours on the table,however this is made look easy by the control over the cue ball that top players like O'Sullivan have mastered and which lesser mortals never attain.

With regards to popularity snooker is no longer as popular as it was 20 years ago which was the era when it was most popular with television audiences and playing public,O'Sullivan although not yet 40 yrs is a veteran of the game and would be expected to be slightly past his phenomenal best.

In my opinion one of the reasons for the fall off in popularity of snooker is the huge gap in playing ability between the professionals and the members of the public who see whats possible on televised matches but find this level of expertise largely unattainable except by the gifted few, it is possible to play a very enjoyable game of pool with limited playing ability not so with snooker.

As always, I enjoy your Off Topic stuff. Back in my university days, I played a lot of snooker and have to admit to being a bit snobbish when comparing it to eight or nine ball at the time.

I grew up in Canada, where snooker did have a pretty good foothold in the pool halls. I attribute at lot of that to Canada being somehow more British; in the same way that rugby is relatively more popular in the north

As to the popularity; I think it comes down two very related things. First, the difficulty of the game. Even people who were good on the small table had a lot of difficulty on snooker tables. My guess is that a lot gave up pretty quickly and went back to eight or nine ball. As a spectator sport, I think that people watch what they played, so the greater difficulty hurt snooker in the States.

Second, the speed of play and length of games. A top level game of snooker can at times be drawn out. Like you, I find the safety game fascinating, but I think a lot of people wish that there would be more potting from the outset, as opposed to exchanging safeties five times or more to begin games. Even without a tonne of safety play, the games are a lot longer. A "perfect game" takes a minimum of 36 shots and most games take many more shots than that. I would guess that with nine or ten ball, the average game is probably fifteen strokes or less. Snooker just takes up more time and attention than a lot of people have. The time issue is even bigger when it comes to beginning players actually playing a game. Even bad players can get through a game of nine/ten ball in just a few minutes. Beginning players in snooker can take the better part of an hour on a game.

A little gripe: players in all versions of games seem to have slowed down way too much since the time I used to play. Now, it is chalk the cue, look the table over a number of times, chalk the cue, a couple practice strokes and finally take the shot. I miss the days of Jimmy (Whirlwind) White who raced through the table (both in snooker and in nine ball).

There is one other functional advantage "pool" has over snooker. Lots of people have enough room in their basements for a poor table; not many homes would have enough space for a full sized snooker table.

Not sure how you pronounce words on your side of the pond but Booker, as in the literary prize, and Looker as Good Looker both rhyme with snooker over here.

Incidentally WAG in the U.K. is an acronym for Wives and Girl Friends. Usually applied, derogatively I feel, to footballers companions.

Snooker is working mans sport and has been popular for yonks. Long enough for the expression " A good snooker player is a sign of a mis-spent youth" to be common parlance since before my time.It became increasingly popular when the BBC, when searching for a good programme on which to test colour television, settled on Snooker and ran a programme called Pot Black.

Anyway if pool is that good how come all the variations ? Over here we have Snooker or Billiards and that, generally speaking, is that.

Actually snooker's been on the wane for a while and is only just reviving. Peak popularity was the 80s - in real terms (and even absolute), prize money was higher then.

I still think snooker is harder. Every normal shot around the black is a long pot in pool terms. There's also a difference in the way the balls behave. When I used to play a bit of pool I could control the cue ball - not so much in snooker! Remember, potting nine balls in a row in snooker will get you a break of 32 - pretty modest. The pros are racking up century breaks on a regular basis.

If you do want to see amazing snooker, search for Ronnie O'Sullivan's 5min 20sec 147 break...

Having photographed a number of pool tournaments of various types I have wondered why Women don't beat the men more often? Much of the handling is 'touch' rather than power and many women I know have more delicate and refined 'touch' - so why they don't beat the men is still a mystery to me.

You play, any ideas on this?

While we are at it, do you photograph Pool/Billiards in its various forms?

Who knew? When I was growing up in Western Canada, the game we played was called 'pool'. However, being curious because of your column, I checked the differance between pool and snooker, and it seems we actually played snooker.I don't know if that was due to England's influence on Canada, or pure ignorance on our part.

Have you heard of billiards?

It's generally thought to be more skilful than snooker and can be played with or without pockets.

I was never any good as these games but my late and much missed Uncle Harold was an artist and won so many competitions that he stopped picking up trophies and if anyone pressed him to do so he gave them away for friends or good causes.

If you get the time see if you can Google your way to some quality billiards.

The point as to whether snooker is more difficult than pool. For an average snooker player, playing pool is like putting the ball into buckets. A snooker players problem is adapting to the rules and tactics of pool.

A top snooker player would give a top pool player a good run for their money. However the other way round a top pool player just couldn't live with a top snooker player.
I would further say that if any top pool player played Ronnie O'Sullivan I doubt they would win one frame.
Technically snooker really is that much more difficult.

[Not sure about that. In an interview in 2004, Daryl Peach said he saw Efren Reyes beat both Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan at snooker in 1998, making three centuries along the way--playing with his pool cue. And Steve Davis has gone the farthest of any snooker player in 9-ball tournaments, making a finals once, the World Pool League in 2001, but he was beaten by Reyes 9-5. He did have some triumphs in Mosconi Cup play, though. But then, Davis is also great at chess and poker. [g] --Mike]

I grew up in Montreal and Snooker is the game we played there. I still fondly remember my Saturday mornings at Leaders Pool hall downtown. It is definitely a superior game where ball position, planning your shots ahead, and threading your shots through 15 red balls and colored balls is far more complicated. My favorite part though is when you have no options left, your last on is leaving your opponent with no shot whatsoever. My other favorite game from that era was "Skittles" which included small pins placed on the table which you had to knock down in a prescribed way to score. Both games were played on a much larger table and wherefore more interesting than the games played in the US.

Mike, make sure you look for videos of Alex Higgins and Jimmy White playing in their prime as they were the ultimate crowdpleasers - with personal lives like a never ending car crash. Ronnie has managed to achieve far more than Jimmy and Alex, and doesn't seem to be worsening with age, unlike all the other greats.

I'm colour blind. Would you believe I was quite capable of identifying which balls were which colours when I watched snooker on a black and white (shades of grey) tv. These days I find it much harder to follow on my hd, all singing and dancing colour tv, not least because the commentators now assume you know which balls are which colours. Heigh Ho!


Off on a tangent, did you know that in parts of Ireland, book is pronounced more like buke, similar to the snook in snooker? Dublin and Louth in particular. And some peeople say Dunkey for Donkey. Maybe because it's spelt similarly to Monkey.

When I was growing up in Bedford, Indiana in the early '50s, the town pool hall, which was located in the basement of the Masonic Temple, had both pool and snooker tables. In our provincial ignorance, we called it "snooker" to rhyme with "looker" (another item much-discussed over the tables).

My high-school classmate, Howard Marley, was quite the snooker shark. He tried to teach me, but I was only a very casual player and have never played since high school.

Regarding snooker and the introduction of colour television, BBC2 commentator Ted Lowe was famous for many years for the remark "and for those of you who are watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green."

Seems like Snooker is much too hard for most players. Couple that with the table size issues, and I can see why it isn't very popular where people mostly play at home.

And, contrariwise and counterpoint, I can see why the simpler pool games end up having far too much luck involved when played by actual experts.

It just bothers me to return balls to the table after they've been sunk, though. So wrong! (Also, quite a complexity for a coin-operated bar table.)

And now, it remains only to introduce you to cricket....

….brought to you by the culture that thought "thirty-love" was a fine enough way of saying "two points to none."
Wasn't tennis scoring was invented by the French? It seems crazy enough.

Back in my hometown of Indianapolis in the 60's seems all pool halls had a Snooker table...hard to get on.. but it was a great game if you could wait long enough....We use to play 8ball with regular pool balls on those tables, with smaller pockets and larger real estate.. thought it would sharpen our skill on a regulation pool table.

Ted Lowe was a famous snooker commentator. In the days when some people still had black and white TV sets, he is credited with this comment:

"...For those watching in black and white, the blue ball is the one behind the pink...

It was not an error. The blue ball was off it's spot, but the pink was not. Hence, it made sense.

It just sounded funny.

Interesting. I watched a decent amount of snooker when I was younger (very late 80s/early-mid 90s). Big Stephen Hendry fan (although maybe everyone is?). I just assumed everyone knew what snooker was. Most of the pool halls in Ottawa had a couple snooker tables.

But I never played it really. We would always play pool. I think snooker is a more intimidating game for novice players (note that I never progressed beyond totally novice). There are a lot of different (casual) and faster games one can play on a pool table and so better for socializing over a few pints etc. I think this versatility must be a factor in snooker never gaining popularity.

And, as mentioned above, it has always rhymed with booker in my mind.

When I was a grade schooler, my grandfather and his friends in Schaller, Iowa had a snooker table at the Men's club. They bought the table from a nearby pool hall. When they installed it in a vacant building downtown, they realized that a structural post was in the way of normal play. So, there was a special cue and rules if the post was in the way. I learned snooker there and played it through college in the early 70's. Good times.

Ironically, it was broadcast in black and white in Australia (until 1975), with the wonderful Ted Lowe whispering the colours of the balls.

And his classic: "For those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green"

Not sure how you pronounce words on your side of the pond but Booker, as in the literary prize, and Looker as Good Looker both rhyme with snooker over here.

Not sure which side of the pond you are, but here on the UK side, it does not. The oo in snooker sounds like the u in nuclear.


Nine foot is only a wee table in snooker terms. A real one is twelve by six feet, truly enormous and starting around $10 000.

The mention of billiards makes me think of Belgian Billiards - no pockets and you have to get canons but also hit at least three different cushions between hitting the balls. It is so strange, you really do not want to go there.

Can't blame the English. Tennis scoring is French. The numeric values are from jeu d'paume, an earlier game. Love is from l'oeuf, or the egg, for zero. Just fyi.

For someone who has only recently even learned the rules of Snooker (I sent these to you about a year ago BTW Mike...) your observations are at best naive. How come none of these talented pool players get to play in even the qualifying stages of international snooker tournaments? Aren't they interested in winning the enormous prizes on offer? As for the comment that the snooker table is effectively only 6x6, I'm stymied from even finding a comment appropriate to such foolishness. You need to watch some top-level matches before pontificating thus.

Ronnie O'Sullivan is an interesting individual. His previous tendency to emotional instability has been corrected by working with a sports psychologist and he's been playing magnificently for a couple of years now.
Take a look at this frame - a 147 clearance - with which he clinched a match (he went on to win the tournament). For no reason except for the hell of it he plays the last ball (black) left handed.

Pool: don't make me laugh - it's hardly to even be compared with snooker. I've watched some top level pool on TV and it's a complete bore. And yes, I've played both quite a bit when I was younger.

Although snooker is played on it, it's actually a billiard table: the 'proper' game is billiards (which in the hands of gifted professionals makes watching paint dry seem like a Six Nations rugby match [Note to Mike: the contest starts on 6 Feb: http://www.rbs6nations.com/en/matchcentre/fixtures_and_results.php ; note that local time means just that: Britain and Ireland are an hour out of sync with the rest of Western Europe]); snooker is regarded as déclassé, at least by those who think that Downton Abbey is reality TV.

What? No love for billiards?

Growing up in India, most of us had heard only of billiards, especially since two Indians won the world championships a few times in the 1950s and 60s.

I've since learned that pool and snooker were almost entirely absent in the former British empire countries for some reason.

Neat blog post you might find interesting about snooker from a fellow photography blogger:


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