"Magicians of the Green Baize"

Snooker: Foul and a Miss in the World Championship

I enjoy watching Snooker on YouTube. Watch two of the all-time greats in the 1992 World Championship Final. Jimmy White was the youngest-ever professional snooker player when he turned pro. Five years later, Stephen Hendry broke that record, turning pro at age 16. Both White and Hendry were at the peak of their powers for this match; Jimmy White had scored a 147 break in the first round of the tournament. I've set the YouTube start parameter to show Stephen Hendry pot a red in Game 5, but then decide to snooker Jimmy White. The position with Jimmy White to shoot is shown on the left in the image below.

Jimmy White aims at the pack of red balls, fouls by grazing the blue ball, but still contacts and disrupts the red balls. The referee chants "Foul ... Five ... [the crowd begins snickering] ... a Miss [general laughter and amusement]." If Hendry chooses, White will have to replay the shot from the position as it was before. The referee, John Street, will need to restore all the balls to their previous position!

I'd always wondered how the referee could do this when several of the balls had moved. Now I know. From a world-championship, no less.

To reset the red balls, the referee consults with the marker officials, who wave their hands back-and-forth. Eventually they settle on the position shown at the right in the image. As you can see, it's quite different from where the red balls "should" have been placed. (I wonder if today, the referee could set the balls from a screenshot on his iPhone. But I guess 1992 was still lowish-tech compared with the present.)

The miss didn't really affect the game, but I wanted to make the comparison and having gone to the bother, decided to share it. What is far more fascinating is how well the players play. As game 5 plays out, there are more excellent safety shots, snookers and misses. In the endgame Hendry needs another foul from Jimmy to win but, despite some excellent safety shots, doesn't get it. 3-2 in favor of Jimmy White.

Watch all twelve games on the YouTube. Both players are spectacular. Jimmy White's only chance to win Game 8 is to sink 16 balls in a row -- Guess what? Game 11 is one of several others with spectacular safety shots. The entire final is available on YouTube. Here is the second group of 12 games. After 22 games, White is ahead 14-8, and Hendry would need to win ten of the final 13 games to win the Championship.

Here are the last eight games of the match. For snooker fans this match is so famous it probably won't spoil any suspense by saying that Hendry did win ten frames in row. He was certainly the greatest living player at that time. But when Jimmy "the Whirlwind" rose to accept the consolation prize, he received louder applause than the victor. (And, by the way, White received £204,000 to Hendry's £150,000. White got £100,000 for his first-round maximum break, and another £14,000 since that was, of course, the largest break.)

This final was a rematch of the 1990 final, where Jimmy White lost to Stephen Hendry. White made it to the Finals six times over the years 1984-1994 but never won, losing once each to Steve Davis and John Parrott, and losing four times to Hendry. Only Hendry, Davis and John Higgins have played in the Finals at Crucible Theater more times than White. Ronnie O'Sullivan also played in the W.C. Finals six times. (If Championships held before Crucible are included, Ray Reardon, Walter Donaldson, John Pulman, and the brothers Fred and Joe Davis also played in the Finals six or more times.) Jimmy White has spectacular cue-ball control.

I've watched lots of interesting snooker and pool videos on YouTube. Here's an interesting look at the three-foul rule in nine-ball.

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