top of page

Long Form Snooker

Reflections on the 2024 World Championships

Well that wasn’t what was supposed to happen, but that’s actually becoming the norm for this championship. First things first, congratulations to Kyren Wilson. He was the most consistent player over the two weeks, and never really looked troubled until the final day, when he still managed to just do enough. The history books don’t give bonus points for winning in style, his name will forever be etched on that trophy and nobody can argue with that.


He’s had to deal with a lot off the table this year, with his wife having her driving licence removed due to epilepsy and his son needing an operation following a freak accident, with Kyren having to do all the driving to and from medical appointments for all of them. As the only driver in my household I know how much of a pain in the backside that can be, and I haven’t had to worry about my son or wife’s health nor do I have to play elite level sport around it. Kyren’s a committed family man, a committed snooker man and although I’ve never met him, comes across as a thoroughly nice bloke – a worthy winner and good luck to him.


Of course anyone with a ticket to the final might have expected Kyren to be in it but they certainly didn’t expect Jak Jones to be in the opposite chair. Coming through a bottom half of the draw which included Messrs O’Sullivan, Williams, Trump and even overcoming a semi-final against Stuart Bingham, Jones was the surprise package. By his own admission, he didn’t play particularly amazing stuff, but just kept winning. And that’s basically all you’ve got to do at the Crucible. He had a second round match v Si where he won 5 black ball frames, 4 of them in one session. On another day, with a different rub of the green he’d have been out in round two. But he wasn’t and acquitted himself pretty well in the final after a shocking start, helped out with some uncharacteristically poor stuff from Kyren with the winning line in sight.


Watching the final, which let’s be honest was quite a poor standard for long stretches, you’d imagine Mark Allen, Judd Trump and even Ronnie O’Sullivan would have been thinking that this was a huge opportunity missed. Bingham always had ‘banana skin’ written on him for me to put pay to a visibly unsettled O’Sullivan. I’ve watched Ronnie O’Sullivan for a long time and ever since the Selby defeat in 2014 I’ve felt he has to be in a certain frame of mind for the Crucible, and has to beat a potential or fellow champion early doors. Any talk of ‘easy routes to the semi’ seems to not matter, in fact the harder the draw the better he performs – in 2020 he beat Ding, Williams and Selby on his way to the final, in 2022 he had to overcome Allen, Higgins and of course Trump in the final. Around them he’s lost to Cahill, McGill, Hawkins and Carter before the one table set-up. Go figure. I have no idea why but having to beat a fellow contender early doors is usually what O’Sullivan needs to dial him in nowadays, he no longer seems to do a nice untroubled waltz to the one-table setup, like he did in 2013. Give him a “hard” route to the final and he becomes a different animal, and he’ll be back in 2025.


Mark Allen will, in my opinion, never have a better chance to win the World Championship – he was a ball away from beating Higgins. I also firmly believe that the Mark Allen of 5 years ago would have won that decider by playing more aggressively on to the reds, but the counter argument would be whether the Mark Allen of 5 years ago would have taken it to a decider at all.


Judd Trump, however, is a more curious case. He’s been to three Crucible finals, one as a sort of ‘unknown quantity wonderkid’, one as the favourite, one as the second favourite. The first two were against John Higgins – he lost his first and famously won the second in swashbuckling style, and in his third he ran into a Ronnie O'Sullivan on the march to his seventh in imperious fashion. So Judd certainly has what musicians would call ‘the chops’ for the Crucible. But for some reason he very rarely turns it on here – even the year of his triumph, he was one unlucky split of the pack from being dumped out in the first round in a decider by Thepchaiya un-Nooh. Judd does everything a player should – he watches his fitness, he waits until after the event to go partying, he surrounds himself with trustworthy people and practices hard. So quite why he was so rusty in this event is anybody’s guess – he beat Hossein Vafaei with a highest break of 77, then looked pretty unconvincing against a stagestruck Tom Ford, before the wheels came off against Jak Jones.


Judd came into this with a pedigree of 5 titles this year, as did O’Sullivan. Judd had won the English Open, Wuhan Open, Northern Irish Open, German Masters and World Open. He’d also been runner up in the European Masters, Champion of Champions and World Grand Prix. One interesting feature of all of these tournaments is that they start of with best of 7/best of 9 rounds and tend to involve large fields of players each playing every day. The exception being the Champion of Champions but even then Judd managed to land a first round tie with the female player Baipat Siripaporn who he brushed aside 4-0. In many of the tournaments Judd does will in, you have to be quite unlucky in the draw to play anyone really top-end until later in the tournament, by which time you’ve played yourself into some form. This is a luxury not afforded to him by the Worlds and the UK’s, where the seeds are playing match-sharp qualifiers, or the Masters where you play the top 16 (and at which, intriguingly, Judd has his best record of the majors). Meanwhile O’Sullivan seems to prefer tournaments where it’s best of 11’s and you’re guaranteed an interval, other than in Riyadh where it was all short-format and there was massive money on the line.


I firmly believe at some point in the future that Trump will overtake O’Sullivan in terms of ranking titles and centuries made. But until Judd prioritises winning the Worlds and maybe a couple more Masters, he’ll never be spoken in the same breath, in fact at present he has as many world titles as Graeme Dott, Stuart Bingham, Peter Ebdon, Luca Brecel and Kyren Wilson, despite winning more ‘ranking titles’ than the five of them put together (27 v 29 if you’re counting).


Which brings me on to… is the World Championship becoming a bit of a lottery? The concept of having to win 71 frames in the Crucible theatre over nearly 3 weeks means that you simply cannot ‘fluke’ your way to it. There are no lucky winners of the World Championship. It’s not like football where you can hang on and hope to nick a winner at the end, you’ve got to go out and win more frames than your opponent each and every day for several days, and quite often over the last few decades, your opponent is one of the best players ever to have lived. Indeed, since 1991 there have been only 3 years where the eventual winner hasn’t had to beat one of Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins or Stephen Hendry at some point (Selby in 2021 & 2016, Robertson in 2010). So I think we can all agree that you have to be pretty good at snooker to win the World Championship.


Why, then, have we started to see surprise winners? Brecel and Wilson are very talented players but nobody at the start of the tournament was tipping them for success. Going back a bit further, we had the magical Mark Williams renaissance in 2018, Stuart Bingham in 2015, both of whom would definitely class as surprises at the time. Looking at the finalists we see regular deep runs for people like Ali Carter, Matthew Stevens, Graeme Dott, Peter Ebdon, Barry Hawkins. All wonderful players in their own right but unlikely to have been considered as future world champions on talent alone. In fact in Dott and Ebdon’s cases they proved time and time again that actually talent doesn’t really matter here – they’re all good snooker players, it’s a case of who wants to win the most. Dott beat Ebdon at 12.52am in 2006. When Neil Robertson won it against Dott in 2010, he did so at 12.54am and had he not potted frame ball, there were still another 4 frames still to play. These were not games for the neutrals, but Graeme Dott didn’t care – he was there to win a World Title, not entertain, and he duly gave it everything he possibly could. For what it’s worth, Robertson was not the high-scoring machine that you see now, in fact he didn’t score a single century in what remains his only World Championship final.


Mark Selby is perhaps the ultimate exponent of what the commentators call “matchplay snooker”. Although this year he had very serious off-table issues affecting him and his family, when he is fully dialled in he is perhaps the hardest player to beat over long format games that has ever existed. John Higgins is, of course, also in a similar conversation although I’d say he still largely tries to win rather than avoid to lose. What Selby does possess, away from the safety and the ability to tie his opponent up in knots, is also the ability to put the frame away relatively quickly when he does get his hard-earned chance, which is why he is a great of the game and has won 4 world titles. John Higgins, whilst not quite being a cavalier attacker, is a bit more aggressive than Selby and also has 4 titles to his name albeit the last one in 2011 with some bruising final defeats since. The one I can never quite work out is Mark Williams, who has the perfect mix of attack and safety plus an exemplary temperament, and you could argue that the 2 world titles when he was in his pomp represents something of an underachievement for him, especially considering some of the players who did go on to win it... adding the third later on certainly papers over potential question marks for someone of his ability.  

So could it be that you don’t actually need to be a dazzling snooker player to win a world title? Are Hendry, O’Sullivan and Trump mere outliers? I would say ‘yes’, and even the greatest of them all regularly reins it in to get over the line. Just looking at the finals alone, in 3 of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 7 victories, he only scored 1 century all match. That’s the greatest breakbuilder in the history of the game, someone who doesn’t get fazed by big occasions and has crunched in numerous centuries at the Crucible itself only scoring 1 century in 18 winning frames three times. Selby has only scored 7 centuries in his 4 winning finals. Higgins has scored 11 in total, albeit 5 of them were in one match against Ken Doherty in 1998.


Solid being the operative word to get to the business end of the World Championships it would seem. 71 frames over 19 days arguably favours players that are perhaps more solid than spectacular – Selby, Higgins, Dott, Ebdon, Wilson. Perhaps this is why Trump, Ding, Robertson and Allen 1.0 have largely struggled compared to expectation (and why Mark Allen has completely rebooted his game to become Allen 2.0). And perhaps why Luca Brecel’s champagne snooker express train in 2023 will, in my opinion, remain his only World Championship title. Even he couldn’t keep it up for 2 weeks, he was dross in his semi v Si for the whole first day, then just whirled into life spectacularly.


Let’s not lie, if we were handing out titles based on who is the best player in the world to watch, Ronnie O’Sullivan would have 25 world titles by now. Stephen Hendry might have had something to say in the early days, Judd Trump might have muscled in occasionally recently. But we don’t hand out titles for aesthetic beauty, players have to earn them by winning 71 frames, 36 of which are in cramped and frankly difficult conditions. It takes a metronomic ability to just keep playing frames and finding ways to win more than you lose, regardless of how you’re actually playing in the wider scheme of things, and for this reason, matchplay is king in Sheffield.


TL;DR Luca Brecel was a one-off. Judd Trump has to work out how to win more here. Allen thinks he has worked out how to win his first but now has to do it. But once O’Sullivan retires, the Crucible will be the exclusive domain of the ‘matchplayer’

bottom of page