Through informative snippets and bite-size facts, as well as quotes and anecdotes from players, pundits, and fans alike, one of the world's most popular sports is revealed here in all its pocket-rattling glory
Who has the highest break? When were red balls first introduced? What do Marie Antoinette and Mary Queen of Scots have in common (aside from being unable to keep their heads)? From the lawn games of the 17th-century elite to glittering waistcoats and lush green baize at the Crucible, this is wonderful collection of stories about the most hilarious and often embarrassing scenes that have taken place in the green rooms, hotel rooms, and at parties attended by the biggest legends in snooker. These stories, many never before published, have been told by the stars themselves. The book also lists the profiles of the contributing players and their career achievements and includes the winners and the runners-up of the most important tournaments in the snooker year, as well as a host of fascinating facts, stats, quotes, and trivia relating to the green baize.
About the Author
Sean Boru is the author of A History of London and Londoners and No Sense of Tumour. Jimmy White MBE is a professional snooker player and a multiple World Championship finalist.
Read an Excerpt
The Little Book of Snooker
By Sean Boru
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Sean Boru
All rights reserved.
A HISTORY OF THE GAME
A game similar to croquet and 'Pallo à Maglio' was first played in royal palaces and parks as early as 1430 in the reign of King Henry VI. It was played using a billiard club and a ball on a manicured lawn. From this game billiards was developed in the form of 'Pool Games'. Billiards as a name is, it is suggested, derived from the French word 'Billart' which was a mace-style weapon, from which the design of the billiard club emerged. This club was a 3ft stick with a chain at the bottom attached to a metal ball; the player swung the chain and ball to hit the balls on the lawn and potted them into holes. The Chinese warlords also had a similar game as far back as the ninth century although they used balls made from stone and jade.
There is a lot of speculation about the origins of billiards as nothing of any value is documented until around the middle of the seventeenth century. Probably the most authentic and detailed account is The Compleat Gamester by Charles Cotton, published in 1674. According to Cotton, billiards was a class sport played throughout Europe, and it was most popular in England where many of the larger towns had public tables, mainly in gentlemen's clubs and gambling houses. Cotton drew an illustration showing an oblong table with six pockets – it was much the same as modern tables, albeit slightly smaller in size.
Around the beginning of the eighteenth century billiards was quite different to our modern game. It was played with only two balls which were then pushed along the table by a cue called a 'Mace' or 'Mast'. The game changed a lot in that century and by 1710 the balls were improved to effect a better flow. Balls were by then made from ivory and replaced the unpredictable wooden balls. An ivory arch, called the 'Port' was positioned on the table where, today, we place the rack. An ivory peg called the 'King' was then placed on another spot at the far end of the table. The rules were to pot your opponent's ball while keeping your own ball out of the pocket. The pocket in this version of the game was called a 'Hazard' and was an obstacle you had to avoid. Points were gained by passing the ball through the 'Port' or hitting the 'King'. A full game was five frames played by daylight or three frames by candlelight. Originally it was played on a smooth wooden board. The cloth covering of tables started in about 1650. In 1734, Cotton's fifth edition book of the game said that the 'Port' and 'King' had been taken out of play, and he mentions cues for the first time.
A 1775 publication of the rules of billiards was called Hoyle's Games. This book tells of the introduction of a red ball in a new version of the game which had quickly become popular in parts of Europe. This version Hoyle referred to as 'Caram' which was often also referred to as 'Carambole'. The red ball was the 'Carom', and was in affect the origin of the cannon ball. This version had the red placed on what is now the 'Pyramid Spot'. The players had to shoot from the baulk spot, and you weren't allowed to play back into the baulk, as in the present rules. Both the white and red ball had to be re-spotted after they were potted, but the rules stated that each player only had the one shot, so making a break wasn't possible. The introduction of the red ball according to Hoyle came from the French; they are also accredited with the design of a table with six pockets. The French then changed the rules again and took out the pockets, and what they were left with was the cannon game which was popular in the nineteenth century.
Billiards as we know the game today was, as stated, developed in Europe before coming to England in the early nineteenth century. It was also especially popular in Germany where they played three versions of the game. With the development of the sport came new designs and sizes of table; by the time it became popular in England it was an expensive sport to support and was therefore played only by gentlemen and the aristocracy, and on tables which now had sides and pockets to catch the balls.
In India during the early days of the Raj, the army usually had a billiards table in the officers' mess. The rules were in place by the mid-nineteenth century and the game even had a governing body. One day in 1875 at the officers' mess in Jubbulpore, a new version of billiards was introduced by a Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain. He simply added more coloured balls to make the game more challenging and to allow more players. Later on that year when a young officer was playing him at the new game, the officer missed a simple shot and was called a 'snooker'. A 'snooker' in the British army was a new recruit and one that would make a lot of mistakes in his early career. From this incident the word spread to all the other army posts, and the new sport soon became known as 'Snooker'.
The first rules of snooker were written and implemented in 1882 at the army headquarters in Ootacamund, India – the Billiards Association didn't recognise the rules until 1900. They realised that the game of snooker was now as popular as billiards, and decided to welcome the new sport into the association. There are more snippets of how the game developed throughout the book.
DID YOU KNOW THAT ...?
A snooker cue cannot be less than 3ft in length, but there is no maximum length. The most common wood used is ash, which is often intertwined with hardwoods. Most players design and balance their own cues which are unique to them.
HE SAID WHAT?
I've had enough of snooker, I'm off mate!
Ronnie O'Sullivan walking out of a frame against Stephen Hendry
BRITISH WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
The first official British World Snooker Championship took place at Camkins Hall in Birmingham in 1927 and was organised by the Billiards Association and Control Council. It was won by Joe Davis who beat fellow Englishman Tom Dennis 20–11. The prize money was £10 10s; the highest break was 60 by Albert Cope. Joe went on to win his first Billiards World Championship in 1928, along with his second Snooker World Championship that same year.
Scottish player Walter Davidson was the second world champion in 1947; he beat Fred Davis (brother of Joe) in the final 82–63.
The third world snooker champion was Fred Davis – he ironically beat Walter Davidson 82–63 in 1948. Then in the following year he again beat Davidson, 80–65.
In 1952 the first foreign player won the Billiards Association and Control Council (BACC) title – he was Australian Horace Lindrum and he beat New Zealander Clark McConarchy 94–47. They were the only two entrants. It was given the title of the BA and CC championship title – the last time the title was used.
In 1952 the professional players held an alternative world championship title tournament. It came about after a dispute with the official association, the BACC. The tournament was called the World Matchplay, and the winner was Fred Davis who beat his old adversary Walter Davidson 38–35. This tournament was regarded by the players, the media and the fans as the official World Championship.
MR BROWN? OH YEAH ... HE'S ALL WHITE! THE QUOTES OF JIMMY BROWN NÉE WHITE
With a bit of luck, the name Jimmy Brown will be engraved on the Masters trophy at the end of next week.
The atmosphere's great but I didn't get the practice I would do at home.
After being distracted by The Crucible atmosphere
I have not come to Sheffield to look at the gardens near the hotel. If I didn't think I could win the World Championship I would go and play golf badly in Spain.
Steve was fantastic in the UK Championship and if he'd played the same game in the final as he had the rest of the tournament I think he would have won it.
I think I've got more chance of winning the Masters now (2006), than I had when I won it in 1984.
I love playing at Wembley. It's the only tournament in London and the only one-table event. I can't wait to get out there.
'NOW I'M SEEING RED,' SAID THE CANNON!
The red ball became popular in the English version of billiards shortly before the start of the nineteenth century. By about 1815 the three-ball game version had overtaken the original game in England and was called the 'Common Game of Billiards'. According to the new English rules, pocketing the opponent's ball was referred to as a 'winning hazard'. If a player lost points by pocketing his own ball, it was called a 'losing hazard'. These rules revolutionised the popularity of billiards and the interest it created helped to develop it into another version that was the opposite to the winning game, where only losing hazards and cannons counted as points. A rule now said that a player could follow a point-winning shot with another one, and so breaks were now part of the rules. The old and the new versions combined in the 1820s to become the modern game. It was known throughout most of the nineteenth century as the 'winning and losing game'. The 1820s popularity of billiards also encouraged the development of the sport in America. Initially it was along similar lines to the English game. The Americans devised their own version of the cannon game using four balls. The four-ball version of the game was extremely popular in America in the nineteenth century.
THE BRITISH OPEN
Final Frame Results (ranking event)
2003 Stephen Hendry 9–6 Ronnie O'Sullivan
2002 Paul Hunter 9–4 Ian McCulloch
2001 John Higgins 9–6 Graeme Dott
2000 Peter Ebdon 9–6 Jimmy White
1999 Stephen Hendry 9–5 Peter Ebdon
1999 Fergal O'Brien 9–7 Anthony Hamilton (autumn)
1998 John Higgins 9–8 Stephen Hendry
1997 Mark J. Williams 9–2 Stephen Hendry
1996 Nigel Bond 9–8 John Higgins
1995 John Higgins 9–6 Ronnie O'Sullivan
1994 Ronnie O'Sullivan 9–4 James Wattana
1993 Steve Davis 10–2 James Wattana
1992 Jimmy White 10–7 James Wattana
1991 Stephen Hendry 10–9 Gary Wilkinson
1990 Bob Chaperon 10–8 Alex Higgins
1989 Tony Meo 13–6 Dean Reynolds
1988 Stephen Hendry 13–2 Mike Hallett
1987 Jimmy White 13–9 Neal Foulds
1986 Steve Davis 12–7 Willie Thorne
1985 Silvino Francisco 12–9 Kirk Stevens
ALEXANDER GORDON HIGGINS: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
Alex Higgins very nearly never made it as a snooker player. Although he was said by his school teacher, Mr Walsh, to have had 'a misspent youth playing snooker rather than attending school,' Alex first became interested in becoming a jockey. After school he left his native Belfast for England and spent a few years at the stables of trainer Eddie Reavey in Oxfordshire, during which time Alex was nearly trampled to death by a horse he was exercising. He still managed to keep up his snooker playing though, and later on went to London where he earned a living hustling in the West End snooker halls. On his return to Belfast, Alex joined a league at the YMCA and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Second World War was barely over when Alex blew into the world on 18 March 1949 – no doubt his scream was the loudest the hospital had ever heard. Alex excelled at his sport and won many titles as an amateur, both as an individual player and as a league team player for boys' clubs. By 1968 he was such an awesome player that he won the All-Ireland Amateur Title and the Northern Ireland Amateur Champion title, just months apart.
He grew up in a tough part of Belfast called Sandy Row, and ironically now lives back there in a new block of flats. The club where Alex started playing snooker at the age of nine is long gone, but Alex and his incredible career have made the name of the Jampot Club a legend around the world. He was always supported by his mam and dad and his three loyal sisters in his early career.
Today Alex is a legend among modern day greats such as Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan. It was Alex's playing in the 1982 World Championship that inspired a six-year-old Ronnie to take up the cue, while Jimmy met Alex in his dad's social club at age fourteen when Alex came to play an exhibition and Jimmy played him a frame. Jimmy and Alex have been great mates since then, and today the pair still thrill the fans as they play exhibition matches in Ireland and the UK to packed clubs and halls.
First turning professional in 1971 at the age of twenty-two, he made a name for himself on the exhibition circuit as well as the competition circuit. However, just a year later he took Sheffield by storm and won the World Championship on his first attempt.
Alex was always a controversial player, and is accredited with bringing snooker 'kicking and screaming' into the twentieth century. He is said to have made a £3m-plus fortune out of the sport, but then spent it on the good life. He was married twice, first to Cara Hasler in Australia in April 1975, and then to Lynn Avison in England in January 1980. He has two children from his marriage to Lynn: Jordan and Lauren.
When he won the 1982 World Championship, he then invited Lynn and Lauren down to the table. He cried with joy at having won the title for Lauren as he had promised her he would do so. That particular championship at Sheffield was also a sad one for Alex as, in order to get into the final, he had to beat his old mate Jimmy White in the semi-final. Alex never got over winning that title at the expense of Jimmy, although Jimmy always says 'it was just part and parcel of what we do as sportsmen, there is never anything personal in beating a friend at snooker and taking a title.'
Always controversial, Alex had a long-running argument with the old WPBSA on various issues, numerous court hearings never seeming to settle the issues. Alex was in trouble with the association on more than one occasion, usually ending in a ban or a fine, but it never lost him any fans.
There is no match played by Alex that is considered the 'best one' – they are all thought of as masterpieces of his incredible ability to pot a ball with speed and agility. However, his big downfall has always been his inconsistency of play; he can be a master of the baize in frame after frame, then suddenly lose his edge and, subsequently, the match.
He never learned to drive a car, although he has owned several in his time.
In June 1998 Alex's world was 'turned upside down' when he went to a Manchester hospital for tests on his sore throat and later learned he had cancer. He was so down about it at first that he thought he was going to be breathing his last very soon. He returned to Belfast and was treated in the general hospital; he recovered after many sessions of Radiotherapy and his confidence quickly returned.
Alex had a portrait painted of himself which once hung in the Belfast art museum, but after they closed for a long refurbishment, the painting failed to reappear and is thought be in storage in the basement.
All in all Alexander Gordon Higgins, aka 'the Hurricane', has been responsible for making snooker what it was in its heyday and, to an extent, today. He has brought joy to his legions of fans in many countries around the world and is still considered to be the most famous player in the history of the game. There have been many books written about him, some of which Alex says 'are a work of fiction', but his own book, From the Eye of the Hurricane, is said by him to be the only true reflection of the real Alex Higgins.
HE SAID WHAT?
He was one of the best-looking snooker players we ever had, and had a heart like a lion.
Willie Thorne on Paul Hunter
TERRENCE GRIFFITHS OBE: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
These days Terry is running his own academy, and works closely with World Snooker to promote etiquette and skill in the game. Being born in Llanelli in Wales on 16 October 1947, Terry was almost destined to follow family traditions and work as a coal miner. His dad was a member of the local social club and they had a snooker table where a young Terry used to be fascinated as he sat with dad and his uncles on a Saturday morning watching the players.
Excerpted from The Little Book of Snooker by Sean Boru. Copyright © 2013 Sean Boru. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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