The history of snooker tournaments and competitions dates back to 1916 and, beyond the televised events, you can still find a huge array of exhibition matches and unranked tournaments across the world. The majority of them are listed in the calendar at the World Snooker website.
Reflecting its history in this country, the major tournaments represented just a handful of the competitive events, and they are all played in the UK. However, the snooker season is filled up with a longer list of ‘ranking tournaments’, some of which take players way beyond English shores. Performance in these events, in turn, form the world rankings every season. Here is a list of those events in detail:
The World Snooker Championship
Without doubt the most prestigious tournament in the sport, the World Snooker Championship is the climax of the snooker calendar, held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield over 2 weeks between April and May. As well as the repute associated with the title, it also provides the most prize money (£250,000 for the winner) and world ranking points.
The tournament was first held in 1927, with the highest break a paltry 60. However, the sport has grown with the tournament and, as of 2007, five players have made the maximum 147 break; Cliff Thorburn in 1983, Jimmy White in 1992, Stephen Hendry in 1995, Ronnie O’Sullivan in 1997 and 2003, and Mark Williams in 2005. Such is the standard today that, in 2006, Robert Milkins made a maximum break in the qualifying stages of the tournament!
While the standard of play and the prize money has grown though, the venue is something of an exception. Originally held at Camkin’s Hall in Birmingham and then carted across Britain, the tournament settled in the Crucible Theatre in 1976 and is remarkable for its small capacity of less than a thousand people.
The knock-out format has also remained consistent, being introduced in 1969 and conducted as a celebration of the best talent in the game at that moment. Only 32 players are admitted; the top 16 ranked players and 16 qualifiers (who go through the process in March). There are two rounds, then the quarter-final and the semi-final. The tournament is also notable for its considerably longer match duration, with the first round a best of 19 frames, the semi-final a best of 33 frames and the final a best of 35 frames. This huge ordeal has made for a fair few tense finishes and surprise outcomes and the championship (and venue for that matter) is known for its ‘Crucible Curse’, which states that no first-time champion has retained the trophy.
This is naturally with the exception of Joe Davis and his brother Fred, and the difference in competition is such that a separation is made with the Davis-era and the modern game. Along these lines, the record for number of wins is Stephen Hendry’s seven titles, with Steve Davis and Ray Reardon picking up six wins in the 1980s and 1970s respectively. However, the tournament has seen a number of extremely popular characters who failed to garner any victories, most notably Jimmy White, who was a finalist an incredible six times. All these factors – the personalities, the venue, the history and the title – add up to make the World Championships unquestionably the top prize in the sport.
UK Snooker Championship
The UK Snooker Championship is regarded as second only to the World Championships and, like its more illustrious counterpart, is televised by the BBC. The competition is held at the Barbican Centre in York during December.
The tournament dates back to 1977, when it was only open to British residents and was won by the Irish player Patsy Fagan, but changed to admit all professionals in 1984. Whereas Fagan picked up just £2000 for his troubles in 1977, the victor in 2005 picked up a cool £70,000.
The Championship has unsurprisingly been dominated by British players, and the first to pick up a victory was the aforementioned Chinese starlet Ding Junhui in 2005, who defeated the veteran Steve Davis 10-6. Nevertheless, Davis himself holds the record for most wins, having won an exceptional six titles in the 1980s, with Hendry just one behind with 5 in the 1990s.
The competition proper starts in the second round, when the top 16 ranked players and the defending champion enter the field (which starts originally with 48 participants). The affair is much shorter than the World Championship, with the final itself just a best of 19 frames.
Bizarrely, this event (formerly known as the Benson & Hedges Masters) is not a ranking tournament, despite being televised extensively by the BBC and providing the second-highest prize money in the sport.
The whole affair is overseen by World Snooker though, and its irrelevance to the ranking charts has not damaged its profile. When first held in 1975, John Spencer received £2,000 for winning the title. Conversely, in 2003, Mark Williams won a staggering £210,000 for his efforts. The standard of play has not suffered either, with two televised maximums courtesy of two foreign players in the shape of Canada’s Kirk Stevens in 1984 and China’s Ding Junhui in 2007.
Its exclusion from the ranking tournament circuit is explained by the fact the Masters is an invitational. Only the top 16 players in the world play, with three wildcards making up the field of 19 who battle it out for the title over a week in mid-January. There is just one round before the quarter-finals, and the final itself is comparatively short, being the best of 19 frames.
The Premier League
The other top non-ranking event in the snooker calendar, the Premier League is held over a period between September and December at various venues across the UK. The prizes are substantial, with £50,000 going to the winner, and the whole competition is televised by Sky.
Again, the Premier League is an invitational affair, with approximately ten (or fewer) of the world’s top ranked players each taking on one another in a round-robin situation. As the matches are the best of 6 frames, draws are possible and the statistics of frames for and against do count, meaning the full allocation is played. Two points are awarded for a victory and one for a draw.
The top four after the round-robin stage is completed go through to the semi-finals, which are the best of 9 frames. The winners then contest the final, which is the best of 13 frames.
As well as the round robin, the Premier League is notable for other innovations like the shot clock, which compels players to make a shot within 25 seconds. Players are permitted five time-out periods, but only three can be used per frame. The penalty for failing to keep pace is 5 points.
The tournament was first held in 1987, when it was won by Steve Davis. Since then, 16 of the 21 tournaments have been won by Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The Welsh Open is a ranking tournament held at the Cardiff International Arena (after moving from the Newport Centre) from late February through to March. The winner receives a sizeable £35,000 cheque.
First held in 1980, it was originally open to Welsh players but changed in 1992 when it was classified as a ranking tournament. From that year on, the most successful player is Stephen Hendry with 3 titles.
Northern Ireland Trophy
The Trophy is a recent addition to the ranking tournament circuit. It was first held in 2005 and takes place in August at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
The winner receives £30,000 and the field is always strong, with the top 32 players and 16 qualifiers included.
The Malta Cup is the only ranking tournament in continental Europe, having replaced the European Open in 2005. It takes place at the Hilton Conference Centre in Portomaso in Malta from January through to February. The winner picks up £18,000.
The China Open is a perfect reflection of snooker’s growing popularity and specific appeal in the Far East. Originally held in 1995 in Thailand as the Thailand Classic, the Open moved to China in 1997. Revived in 2005 after a three year hiatus, it is now held at the Beijing University Students’ Gymnasium in Beijing during March.
Other notable tournaments
- Pot Black (1969-1986, 1991-1993, 1997, 2005-Present)
- Irish Masters (1978-Present)