The game of snooker is a cue sport which emerged in its modern form in the late 19th century, with roots going back to the 16th century form of English billiards. Billiards was popular among the British Armed Forces stationed in India. As billiards was only a two player game, new games such as life pool and pyramid pool were developed in order to accommodate more players. Eventually, these two games were combined to form snooker.
Billiards was first played in the 16th century. It was known as a "gentleman's game" because of its popularity among royalty. The tables had no side rails, pockets, or cushions, but only contained holes for the balls to be potted. Every time that a pot was achieved, the ball would fall to the ground. The balls, which were made of ivory, were another difference from modern billiards.
In the 19th century, the sport became quite popular among the British Armed Forces stationed in India. Billiards was a two-man game in its original form, which was played with 3 balls, of which two were cue balls, one for each player. This led to the formation of multi-player versions. New versions included life pool and pyramid pool. Life pool involved several colored balls used as both cue balls and object balls. In pyramid pool, there were 15 red balls and a white cue ball, and each player received one point per red ball potted. Along with the new games being developed, the table was taking steps toward its current state.
Black pool was the next version created. Black pool was similar to pyramid pool, except that the black ball from life pool was added to the game and could be potted for more points. In 1875, at the officers' mess in Jabalpur in the Central Provinces, Colonel Sir Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain suggested adding the other coloured balls to the new version. The game was beginning to resemble snooker in its current form, though the blue and brown balls were added in later years.
The name snooker comes from a comment Chamberlain made about a player who missed a shot. He called him "a real snooker", referring to his lack of experience, "snooker" being a slang term for a first year cadet. The first official set of rules for snooker were drafted in 1882 at Ootacamund in Madras Province. When British Billiards Champion John Roberts travelled to India in 1885, he met Chamberlain and decided to introduce snooker to England when he returned home.
The Early Years
The first official competitions, the English Amateur Championships, took place in 1916. In 1927, Joe Davis helped to establish the first Professional World Championship of snooker. Joe Davis won and took home the prize of £6.10. At that time, the standard of play was not very high considering that the highest break of that tournament was just 60. By the 1930s, Snooker was becoming one of the most popular cue sports.
Joe Davis continued to dominate the era, winning every World Championship until his retirement in 1946. Between 1952 and 1957, a dispute had arisen among the games' governing body, the Control Council, and the Billiards Association. As a result, only two people participated in the official World Championship, although an unofficial one was organized. At the time, the winner of the unofficial tournament was generally considered the best player in the world. During this time frame Horace Lindrum won the official World Championship. Due to a decline in popularity, there were no world championships between 1958 and 1963.
Rise in Popularity
In 1969, the BBC launched the Pot Black tournament at the BBC Studios in Birmingham, which proved to be very successful in helping put snooker back into public view. The BBC began broadcasting in colour, and were looking for programmes that could exploit this new technology. The programme first aired on 23 July 1969, on BBC2. Pot Black was a British series of (non-ranking) snooker tournaments televised by BBC, that played a large part in the popularisation of the modern game. In 1972, at the age of 23, Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins clinched the first of his 2 World Titles and through a mixture of bravado, charisma and an ability to make headlines, became the games first true "rock'n'roll superstar" who helped to popularise the sport in the new age of colour television. The event continued until 1986, at which time more and more televised snooker events were held and the Pot Black format was out dated. It returned in 1990, but it was discontinued after the 1993 event.
The event was revived in the form of several one-off tournaments throughout the 1990s and up to 2007. Pot Black helped transform snooker from a minority sport with just a handful of professionals into one of the most popular sports in the United Kingdom. Mark Williams holds the events' highest break record of 119. The World Championship was first televised in 1973. World Rankings were introduced in 1976, and, in 1977, the World Championship was held in the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, where it has been ever since. Daily television coverage of the World Championship began in 1978.
The 1980s capitalised on the sport's already growing popularity.
Steve Davis dominated for much of the decade thanks to a smooth technique, all-round game, vast amounts of dedication and PR savvy off the table from his ambitious manager Barry Hearn.
Maverick left-hander Jimmy White came along as a people's champion candidate very much in the mould of his good friend and idol Alex Higgins.
The number of tournaments on the calendar was to increase further as from the 1984/1985 snooker season ITV started to televise three new ranking events in the International, Classic and British Open.
Snooker's finest hour and ultimate peak occurred at the 1985 World Snooker Championship Final as heavy favourite and 8-0 early leader Steve Davis succumbed to an inspired comeback from Northern Ireland veteran Dennis Taylor. The 35th and deciding frame lasted for 68 minutes, and had a nation gripped as Taylor sunk the final black at 12.20am with a record audience of 18.5 million UK TV viewers who tuned in for the nail-biting climax.
Though the record viewing figure was never topped, the 1986 World Snooker Championship Final between Steve Davis and Bradford underdog Joe Johnson, in which Johnson surprisingly won 18-12, also drew a strong audience figure of 16 million UK TV viewers. In the build-up to the 1986 World Championship, infamous novelty anthem "Snooker Loopy", recorded by Chas and Dave featuring the Matchroom Mob (Barry Hearn, Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorne, Terry Griffiths and Tony Meo), hit number 6 in the UK Singles chart.
The domestic success of snooker continued to remain strong into the late 1980s. During this time, with the help of Barry Hearn, tournaments were starting to expand globally into Europe, Asia and North America. The 1988 Canadian Masters was the first ranking event to be staged outside the UK.
In December 1988, the invitational Matchplay (featuring the worlds top 12 players) was the first ever professional tournament to have a £100,000 winner's prize.
In the late 1980s, Steve Davis' dominance was starting to be challenged by future World Champion Stephen Hendry.
By the end of the decade, there were more than 200 playing professionals on the circuit, a figure which increased to more than 400 professionals during the 1990s.
Standards Rise, Popularity Slides
A new generation of players came to the fore in the 1990s, most notably Stephen Hendry who went on to dominate for much of the decade. Hendry eclipsed many of Steve Davis' records including most World Championships, most ranking titles and most (BBC) major titles. Hendry's type of attacking, breakbuilding game which often clinched frames in one visit ushered in a new era of player. In 1993, at the age of 17, Ronnie O'Sullivan became the youngest ever winner of a ranking event by beating Hendry himself at the 1993 UK Snooker Championship Final.
Though the standard of snooker continued to rapidly increase, the immense popularity that Snooker enjoyed started to wane. ITV stopped screening ranking events after the 1993 British Open and during this period, much attributed to the economic recession, prize money totals started to stagnate or decrease for events outside the World Championship.
From the mid-1990s onwards, Snooker still enjoyed decent exposure thanks to BBC continuing to televise the major events and the continuation of tobacco sponsorship. Due to the increasing restrictions or eventual ban on tobacco advertising in sport, Benson and Hedges last sponsored the invitational Masters in 2003 and Embassy's long-standing association with the World Championship concluded after the 2005 tournament.
With cutbacks necessary (due to loss of tobacco funding) and less events, the main tour roster was reduced to 96 professionals for the start of the 2005/2006 season.
Afterwards, the number of events on the circuit started to dwindle. However, since the loss of tobacco sponsorship, the online gaming and gambling industry has stepped in to sponsor numerous events on the calendar. The WPBSA chairman Sir Rodney Walker was ousted in a vote of no confidence in December 2009, which cleared the path for the longtime sports promoter Barry Hearn to attempt to revitalise the sport.
Barry Hearn was appointed Chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association which was reformed into a rules and regulatory body. In winning a players vote on 2 June 2010 by a margin of 35-29, Hearn also took control of World Snooker Ltd, which is the commercial arm of the sport. A number of new tournaments like the Player Tour Championship and Sky Shootout have been added to calendar. The Grand Prix tournament has been revamped as the World Open.
One of the matters most relevant to the ousting of the previous WPBSA board and the return of Barry Hearn was giving the players more playing and earning opportunities. In the 2009/2010 snooker season (pre Hearn) there were 6 ranking tournaments, added with invitationals the number of events on the calendar being at around 15 competitions in total that were open to most professionals. Those players lower down the rankings required second jobs to supplement their income as the game for them had become a part time choir.
In contrast, the provisional calendar for the 2011/2012 season features 9 ranking tournaments, 13 minor ranking events under the Players Tour Championship brand and 7 invitationals which include the traditional Wembley Masters and the shotclock Premier League. The calendar increasing to a record breaking 29 official World Snooker events. The sport is now a full time profession once again.
Format alterations such as Power Snooker and Six Reds also include the very top players, with these type of tournaments added to mix, there could potentially be 35 events available on the circuit for the 2011/2012 season.
With an expanded tour schedule, it will give players an option to pick and choose their events, similar to the practice in other sports like tennis and golf.
ITV and Sky Sports are seeking to broadcast more coverage of the sport once again.
More tournaments are scheduled to take place in Asia in the coming years.
The current generation of top players still includes Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins. In recent years, new global talents have emerged such as Australian Neil Robertson, Englishman Judd Trump and Ding Junhui from China. Multiple World Snooker Ladies champion Reanne Evans was the first ever female to be granted a place on the main tour for the 2010/2011 snooker season.
The prize money fund for each season currently stands at £5 million ($8 million US dollars). The winner of the sports flagship World Championship collects £250,000 ($400,000 US dollars).