Prone to sunburns? Avoiding the beach due to thalassophobia? Prefer not to get eaten by bears during a camp trip and rather spend the summer in the confines of man-made structures? To you, I present a fully indoor sport, which is best experienced in a dingy bar and in the company of silent and humorless opponents. I am, of course, referring to snooker, the king of billiards!
Snooker rules in a (bloated) nutshell
To the uninitiated, watching a bit of snooker on TV is likely to have zero sex appeal and evoke fast-acting narcolepsy. Devoting some time to its rules and objectives will, however, quickly reveal a game which is rich in strategy, wit and entertainment. Snooker is a two-player billiard game in which the primary goal is to outscore the opponent by potting teeny tiny snooker balls into teeny tiny snooker pockets – in a particular sequence, of course. A snooker match is comprised of a set number of games, or frames, and the winner of a match is the player who first wins the required number of frames (e.g. first to win 3 frames out of 5).
A frame is won by scoring more points than the opponent. Apart from the white cue ball, each ball awards points according to its color, which are as follows: red (1 point each), yellow (2 points), green (3), brown (4), blue (5), pink (6) and black (7). The images below represent the positioning of the cue ball, the 15 reds and the solitary ‘colored balls’ at the beginning of a frame:
When a player begins a turn at the table (also known as an inning), the first ball that needs to be hit is a red. If a red ball is knocked into a pocket, the player will resume by hitting one of the colored balls. If a colored ball is also pocketed, the player will resume by hitting yet another red ball (needless to say, very exciting stuff!). A key rule is that the colored balls will be returned to their original spot after pocketing, until there are no more red balls on the table. This red-color-red dynamic makes the high value balls alluring targets for a decent break (the points scored during an inning), and professional players will often try building break around the alluring black, which is worth a whopping 7 points alone. After all the red balls have been potted, the players will finally need to pot all colored balls in order from lowest to highest. The video below demonstrates how snooker legend Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan’s flawless play on the black earned him a handsome 147,000£ (the former prize money awarded for the tremendously rare ‘maximum break’ of 147 points during a Snooker World Championship tournament match) in less than six minutes.
But alas, not everyone can be Ronnie O’Sullivan, so there’s a good chance that you will be missing a shot every now and then. If a player fails to pocket a ball or commits a foul (which also awards the opponent penalty points), their inning ends and the opponent takes the turn. After the table has been cleared out (or if a player concedes the frame), the break points are tallied up and the player with the most points wins the frame. Simple as that!
A word of warning to newbies: snooker is a very tough and challenging game to master. If you are a beginner in billiards, it is highly recommended that you start out with the more commonplace 8-ball or 9-ball before advancing to snooker, in order to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of potting, positioning the cue ball and other shooting techniques. Once you feel comfortable with the daunting transition to snooker, here are some useful pointers to get you started:
Stance and bridge – Finding the right posture can have a big impact on your balance, confidence and overall attractiveness when taking a shot. Stances may vary from player to player, but a good rule of thumb is to keep your legs apart at shoulder width (with the back leg braced and the front leg slightly bent) and maintaining a straight back at all times. The bridge refers to the hand which supports the cue stick during a shot, and a steady one will be indispensable during those clutch moments in a close match. A good bridge can be formed by placing the entire palm on the bed of the table, and then slowly raising the knuckles in order to “grab” on to the table with the pads of your fingers. Finally, bring your thumb up to your forefinger to form a ‘V’, providing the cue with an unwavering runner with minimum lateral movement.
Breaking off with a safety shot – When facing a difficult shot, a smart safety shot will often yield better results than a forced attempt at potting. A break off shot (the opening shot of a frame) in snooker is nothing like a break off shot in 9-ball, and striking the cue ball with great force will make you look quite silly. A well-executed break off is instead a gentle shot on the side of a red ball, which allows the cue ball to roll back to the “safe” end via the table cushions. Such a safety shot ensures that the opponent will have a harder time hitting a red ball, leaving more room for error and hopefully lining up a lucrative next inning for yourself!
Snookering the opponent – a satisfying/infuriating form of safety play in which the player lines up a most difficult shot for the opponent. A player is “snookered” when they have no chance of making a direct legal shot, meaning that they will need to utilize cushions or a curve shot (e.g. a sharply curving massé shot) in order to escape the snooker without a foul. The clip below demonstrates a great snooker by English player Judd Trump, who forces Ronnie O’Sullivan to commit a couple of critical fouls before managing a mind-boggling escape shot via five cushions.
That should cover the basics of snooker, whether you were interested in testing it out with friends or just trying to understand what the hell is going on during a televised match. Enjoy the gentlemanly essence of the game, and always remember to play nice!