Strength of a snooker player

The strength of a snooker player

by Cor van Dusschoten

1. Preface

In many branches of sports it is tried to measure the strength of a sportsman. Often this is not possible, and the player is judged by subjective perception. In some sports the strength is determined by a quantifiable performance of the player, for example in tennis and chess.
In snooker a player can score points, based on his results in ranking events. In this way a ranking list is put together. The scored ranking points are the result of winning frames only, of course, regardless the points scored in the respective frames.

2. Club snooker

The average level at the average snooker club is often too low for direct comparison with good professionals. The chance to play against a professional is very small, and obviously rather pointless. Consequently, a club ranking list is made, based on frames among the members.

3. Snooker

3.1. Rules (very concise)

Snooker is played on a large billiard table (about 3,6 x 1,8 metre), with pockets in the corners and the middle of both long cushions. The aim is to pot more balls than the opponent, using a white cue-ball. Violations of the rules are punished by giving points to the opponent.
Comprehensive rules

3.2. Marking a frame

During a frame the scores of both players are recorded. A player can score points by potting balls (preferably a long series) or forcing the opponent to make fouls (by laying "snookers"). The result shows something like this:

     Player A                    Player B

series fouls  total        series fouls  total
   1              1            8             8
         4        5           16            24
   9             14            5            29
   8             22                  4      33
   1             23            9            42
         6       29            1            43
  24             53            1            44
   5             58           15            59
         7       65
  24    17       65           16     4      59

Under "series" you find the scores of the actually potted balls, and below the dotted line the highest break (respectively 24 en 16).
The numbers in de column "fouls" are the result of fouls made by the opponent, added together respectively 17 en 4.
In the column "total" the scores are recorded cumulatively. The last number is the final score (T), which determines who wins the frame. Obviously A won by 65 points against 59.
A draw is not possible, a special rule requires the black ball to be re-spotted.

3.3. Handicap

3.3.1. Introduction

Like in golf, a handicap system is introduced. Here, the handicap is a way of compensating differences in strength between two players by giving a number of points to the weaker player before starting a frame. For instance, this system is very common in the game of go (a board game, especially popular in Japan).

3.3.2. Calculating the handicap

The calculation of the handicap of a player is based on:
a. scored points by potting balls,
b. points received as a result of fouls made by the opponent (either forced by good defensive play or by mistakes made by the opponent), and
c. fouls made (obviously not desirable).

3.3.3. Different kinds of handicap

Dependent on the way of calculating three concepts are introduced:

LH = low handicap  = LH = T - (b + c) = resp. 44 en 38
HH = high handicap = HH = T - c       = resp. 61 en 42
PP = potting power =  a = T - b       = resp. 48 en 55
a = points scored by potting balls according to the rules
b = points received as a result of fouls made by the opponent
c = points awarded to the opponent as a result of fouls made by the player
T = total score (see column "total")
Of course the numbers above will be calculated over a number of frames, for instance the 25 most recently played frames. In this way a snooker club can make a continuous ranking list of its members.

3.4. The use of the calculated handicaps

3.4.1. Factors which determine the strength of a player

The strength of a player is the result of:
a. physical ability: perform the striking action exactly as was intended
b. knowledge: how do I direct the cue-ball to have the desired effect
c. strategic understanding: which plan will I choose in order to maintain good position for each stroke (break-building)
d. attitude: how do I deal with misfortune, and strokes of good fortune by the opponent

A novice will initially be occupied with b., and after some practice throw himself into a. Dependent on talent and motivation a certain level of play is reached. A good trainer may help a lot here.
During the inevitable training sessions more and more understanding is obtained (c.). Looking at good players may help here a bit.

The attitude of a player (d.) can have a negative influence on his results because he loses his concentration:
a. by a large lead or being well behind during a frame,
b. because a player gets agitated by strokes of good fortune in favour of his opponent
A professional snooker player will be superior in all four factors mentioned, when compared with the average amateur.

3.4.2. Sorting parameters for a ranking list

The strength of a player manifests itself primarily in winning frames, which is the intention, of course. The percentage of frames won can be a basis for ranking, but if the resulting order must reflect the strength differences of the players, each player must have had about the same level of opponents. If this cannot be achieved, calculating the potting power, low handicap or high handicap may be a solution. In these cases the level of play of the opponent is less important.
Not mentioned before is the highest break, which reflects the level op play in a certain matter as well.
At my club I recently chose for ordering the ranking list according the low handicap. Occasionally I still receive questions about this way of calculating the differences in playing strength, which are expressed in the weekly ranking list. To put is briefly: it is still under discussion.

Copyright Notice

Copyright 1996 by C. van Dusschoten
Of course the text above may be freely copied or distributed, stored in a retrieval system or translated, provided that the author is mentioned. Written on August 19, 1995 (in Dutch), translated into English on January 30, 1996, and with thanks to Martin Los for some constructive comments.

Last update: December 20, 1996

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