Jimmy White is a true snooker legend for more than just mere achievements, hence the affectionate nickname of “the People’s Champion”. Despite failing to pick up a World title, the lightning fast potting and quick movement around the table of Whirlwind White has won over legions of fans.
In a career that spans 27 years, he has won 10 ranking and 21 non-ranking tournaments. He achieved a 147 break in the 1992 World Championship tournament and, of course, has famously attended 6 World Championship final bouts, but has finished runner-up in all. Despite never claiming this most prestigious title, his overall record is among the world’s most successful and his status is second to none in the game today.
Jimmy White began playing snooker from an early age, and it is reported that he frequently played truant from school in order to spend hours playing frames down the local snooker hall. By the age of 18, he was competing in major amateur tournaments; in 1979 he won the English Amateur Championship and, in the following year, went on to claim the World Amateur Championship title, being the youngest player ever to do so.
White turned professional in 1980 and one year after entered the World Championship competition for the first time and took the non-ranking Scottish Masters title soon after. By 1982, White was back in for World Championship contention and reached the semi-final to face Alex Higgins in a match that would unfortunately, be one of the greatest disappointments of his career. In the match, he was actually leading 15-14 with a 59-0 point advantage in what have been the last of the game, White succumbed to a devastating Higgins comeback effort.
The World Championship torment continued for White in 1984 when this time he reached the final, pitted against Steve Davis. At the end of the first day’s play, he trailed 12-4 and things were not looking hopeful for the young star. On the second day, he mounted an attempt to claw his way back into the game, but eventually, after a valiant fight, lost by the narrow margin of 18-16 to Davis.
In 1992 he was back for more, this time against young riser superstar Stephen Hendry, at various points leading 12-6 and then 14-8. However, the dark cloud of defeat and disappointment prevailed once again over White. Needing only to pot a red to win both the 24th and 25th frames, he somehow failed to do so. Hendry then proceeded to reduce the deficit to 14-12, before White went in-off when in the process of building a potentially frame winning break and this was indeed the beginning of the collapse. Hendry took the lead at 15-14 and then extended it with two consecutive century winning breaks, eventually punishing White in an 18-14 victory.
Perhaps White’s greatest opportunity at the World Championship title came in 1994, when he once again faced Stephen Hendry in the final. White was trailing 1-5 early on in the game, but after several hard-fought frames, he managed to pull the game back to lead by a margin of 10-9. Hendry again powered back into the lead over the next few frames 15-13 and then 17-16, but White valiantly pulled the game to a tie-break decider with a stunning exhibition break of 75. In the final frame, with White leading on a break of 29 and with only required 3 reds each accompanied by the black to win, he missed an easy pot on the black. Commentator Dennis Taylor attributing it to the high levels of tension at that point in the game. Hendry proceeded to clear the table and, once again, win the game and World Championship title.
Later on however, White got his revenge on Hendry by knocking him out of the first round in the 1998 competition (finishing 10-4), as he had done exactly 10 years previously. Jimmy White is also one of only five players to have achieved the perfect 147 break during a World Championship match.
Some argue that White’s wavering concentration is to account for his failure to gain the World Championship title despite reaching the final on 6 occasions. On several occasions the player has surrendered leads in crucial frames during matches. Nevertheless, White’s aptitude for truly inspirational and entertaining snooker and ability to pull seemingly unbelievable shots out of the bag, made him a perennial favourite of the fans.
Success has also come in different forms too, as White has walked away with a plethora of major competition titles. In 1984, he won the Benson and Hedges Masters and then the Irish Masters on two consecutive occasions in 1986/7. He also won the British Open in 1987 and in 1992 had a world-beating year by claiming the British Open, the UK, and the European Championships.
Later on in his career, he has been less prolific and has slipped down the rankings somewhat, largely as a result of his exit from the first round in the 2006 World Championships. However, he remains a feature of the professional tour and still draws crowds.
Outside of Snooker
Jimmy White is seemingly not only a legend of snooker, but also numerous other “bar sports”. He is a very useful pool player, and alongside Steve Davis and Alex Higgins, he was victorious in the Mosconi Cup in 1995, a major international pool tournament. White is also very adept at poker. And won the second Poker Million Tournament, which also featured Steve Davis at the final table.
Of course, like all great snooker players, he has featured on the popular TV game show Big Break, where he was always a crowd favourite and in fact the first player to clear the table with 3 reds remaining in the final stage of the challenge.