Snooker and English Billiards share many similarities. For example, they are both played on the same ‘12 by 6’ table, the balls are the same size and composition, and a player’s cue does not need to be drastically changed, if at all, when switching between the two games. They are aligned by the same governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association. The professional tier, the World Snooker Tour, has benefitted from significant expansion in recent years. You can check out the favourites for each event, and much more, on the latest Snooker betting.
However, how many players can consider themselves the ‘master cueist’, by excelling at both Snooker and Billiards, and why is this so difficult?
Despite the obvious things that the two games have in common, the skills required in order to play them both at a high level are very different. Billiards requires the control of all three balls, often at the same time. This is exemplified in the drop cannon, a common stroke in Billiards, and in top of the table play, the heaviest mode of scoring in the modern game. In Snooker it is somewhat different, the focus is almost entirely on the cue-ball. Assuming a pot is successful, a player does not need to worry about the positioning of the object ball as that will often be dispatched into the pocket. The player’s positional focus will largely be on the cue-ball to leave good position for the break to continue.
The striking of the cue-ball is very different between the two games. Billiard players are often playing strokes with above-centre striking, in order to ensure the cue-ball is in a natural rolling state at the point of contact with the object ball. In Snooker, many breaks predominately contain shots which are ‘stuns and screws’ with below-centre striking. Snooker players are often seen to have a punchier delivery of the cue, more conducive to this type of play.
Potting is the ‘name of the game’ in Snooker. Potting requires more accuracy with the contact on the object ball than playing an in-off. Billiard players can impart side to the cue-ball to help it spin into the pocket for an in-off, a luxury not available to you when you are faced with a tricky pot.
The exclusive club of double World champions
The first player to excel at both games was Joe Davis. A World Billiards Champion on four occasions between 1928 and 1932, he regularly surpassed the four-figure break mark. He was also the first World Snooker Champion in 1927 and retired undefeated after 15 World titles in 1946. He was the first player to study Snooker at a high level and many of the break-building techniques he discovered are still relevant today. Six-time World champion Steve Davis (no relation) attributes much of his success to honing his technique through study of Joe Davis’ book ‘How I Play Snooker’. His younger brother Fred continued in a similar vein, becoming World Snooker Champion for the first time in 1948. He would later add seven more World titles in the 22-ball game, including five World Matchplay triumphs. In 1980, he became World Billiards Champion and thereby only the second player ever to win World Professional titles in both games. This win, despite coming later in his career at the age of 66, was at a time when he was still playing professional Snooker at the highest level. He later became the oldest player to reach the Crucible, at the age of 70 in 1984, a record which still stands to this day.
In more recent times, the player who was so close to joining this exclusive club was ‘steady’ Eddie Charlton who was runner-up in the World Snooker Championship in 1973 and 1975. In the latter, he lost to Ray Reardon in a deciding frame. In 1984, in equally agonising circumstances, Charlton, in-play at the bell, was narrowly defeated by Mark Wildman in the World Billiards Championship final by 1045 to 1012. He was also runner-up in 1974, 1976 and 1988.
The record breakers
India’s Geet Sethi, a World Billiards Champion on nine occasions, also played on the professional Snooker circuit. Although he did not achieve a high Snooker ranking, he remains the only player to make a maximum 147 in competitive Snooker and a 1000+ break in competitive Billiards.
There have been several other players, both in the early days of competition and in more modern times, who have excelled in both Snooker and Billiards or who have been a professional in both games at the same time. However, as in many sports, comparisons are very difficult to make from one era to another due to the various changes in the game and the way it is played. Murt O’Donoghue of New Zealand made the first witnessed 147 Snooker break in 1934, albeit not officially recognised by the governing body of the day, and in 1965 Rex Williams was the second man behind Joe Davis to make a recognised maximum. Both O’Donoghue and Williams were renowned for their Billiards ability, with the latter winning seven World titles.
“A billiard player of average ability can always turn his hand and play quite a good game of snooker, whereas a fair snooker player can rarely turn his hand to play a good game of billiards” – Jack Karnehm.
Due to the demands required to earn a living as a professional Snooker player, with the standard of play being higher than ever and the constant amount match-play, practice and travelling that must be undertaken, a Snooker professional must devote so much energy to their primary discipline in order to reach their full potential. It therefore must be unlikely that any further players will be joining Joe and Fred Davis in the exclusive club of double World champions in the near future. However, leaving World Championships aside, having the skills to make three-figure breaks in both disciplines is no mean feat.
Many believe that it takes 10 years of focussed study and practice to learn the huge repertoire of shots, hone your slot selection and develop the touch required to become a top Billiard player. Although this obviously can’t be taken as a scientific formula (indeed, Mike Russell became World Professional Champion only eight years after he started playing), this belief must surely resonate with those who have tried to master Billiards, and whilst these players may also enjoy Snooker, many will employ it primarily as ‘potting practice’ while their attention is captured and mesmerised by the pots, in-offs and cannons of the three-ball game.