It’s months until the southern hemisphere football codes kick off, cricket doesn’t bear thinking about for the Aussies and there’s only so much Premier League one can stomach. So, with the new year under way, it’s a perfect time to embrace a new TV sport.
And, with the World Masters happening at Wembley Arena this week, the obvious choice should be snooker.
What’s that? It’s not a real sport? It’s just something people do in bars? Give it a chance. You’ll find it strangely addictive or, at the very least, discover that the gentle staccato of a game, interspliced with the murmuring of a commentator, is the perfect complement to a nap on the sofa.
The Rules of Snooker
In snooker, there are 22 balls: the white cue ball, 15 reds and six balls of different colours. Players take it in turns to try to pot balls to score points – a player must pot a red ball, worth one point, before having a crack at one of the colours. If they succeed, the colour is returned to its pre-determined spot on the table and the player must pot another red before having another go at one of the colours. This continues until all the reds have been potted, at which point the players must try to pot the remaining colours in ascending order, according to their points value: yellow (2 points), green (3), brown (4), blue (5), pink (6) and finally black.
Whoever has the most points by the time all the balls are potted wins the frame. In tournaments, a match will be made up of several frames – anywhere from best of nine to best of 35.
The number of points scored by a player in one go is known as their “break”; the most a player can score is 147 – that’s known as a maximum and is regarded as a crowning achievement for a player.
The Brits generally dominate snooker – a glance through the sport’s elite bracket reveals a mix of English, Welshmen and Scots although the Chinese have, as with most things, recently discovered snooker’s joys – but in among it all is Neil Robertson, a lone Aussie and the reigning world champ and former world number one.
Robertson, 28, is the only Australian to have won a ranking event. Hailing from Melbourne, but now based in Cambridge, Robertson has made a name for himself with his aggressive, composed style of play and has risen quickly by refusing to be intimidated, even when facing more accomplished players on the sports biggest stages.
Robertson had a spectacular year in 2010, winning the world championships and the inaugural World Open. He ascended to the number one ranking late in the year but has since slipped back to second spot.
The World Masters, staged annually since 1975, is the circuit’s richest tournament, the winner taking home a cheque for £150,000. Only 16 players qualify for the main draw, which proceeds in knock-out format from the first day, all the way through to the final, which is scheduled for Sunday.
As with many of snooker’s biggest tournaments, the Brits have had a mortgage on success. Not since 1975 has the winner come from outside the British Isles. This year, though, China’s Ding Junhui is in the mix, along with Hong Kong’s Marco Fu. And, of course, Neil Robertson has a real chance to notch an Aussie win. God knows the nation needs one.
Ronnie O’Sullivan – the Greatest and the Loosest
Ronnie O’Sullivan is the most freakishly talented snooker player ever. This would seem like hyperbole if it wasn’t uniformly accepted to be true. Ten years ago, he won his first world championship at the age of 25 and has since asserted himself as one of a kind, although his erratic personality means his domination of the sport has been sporadic at times.
When he first emerged, O’Sullivan, normally right-handed, raised eyebrows by beating an opponent while playing with his left hand. Cited for disrespect, O’Sullivan proved to a disciplinary panel that he was genuinely ambidextrous and the charges were dismissed.
He also holds the record for the fastest maximum in the sport’s history, clearing the table in less than five minutes. Astonishing stuff.