What Is The World Snooker Championship?
The world’s oldest and most important professional snooker tournament, the World Snooker Championship, also has the biggest purse, with the winner taking home half a million pounds. The grueling 17-day event held every year in Sheffield, England, is the pinnacle of competition for pro snooker players. A knockout format means each match is decisive, sending one player onward to glory and the other home in defeat. Have you ever wondered, how does the World Snooker Championship work? Find the answer below, with more information about the prestigious tournament’s history, format, and winners.
The tournament began in 1927 when it was billed as the Professional Snooker Championship. This was the first professional snooker tournament ever, although the English Amateur Championship for amateur players had been running since 1916. Ten players entered the first championship, and matches were played over the course of three weeks, beginning at Thurston’s Hall in London and ending with the final at Camkin’s Hall in Birmingham. Initial matches were played over 15 frames. The semi-finals were 23 frames and the final was a best-of 31 frame match.
Joe Davis won the first championship. He was already a major player in the professional snooker scene and dominated the early championships along with his younger brother Fred. Eventually becoming known as the “Emperor of Pot” and “Sultan of Snooker,” Davis was a significant force behind increasing snooker’s popularity. Before the first championship, Davis himself purchased the distinctive silver trophy in the shape of a cup topped by a Greek shepherdess, which is still used today.
In 1977, the World Snooker Championship moved to its new home at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England. The tournament has been held there ever since, leading the modern period of championships to become known as the “Crucible Era.”
The format of the World Snooker Championship has undergone many changes over the course of its history. It began as an open tournament, then switched between a challenge-based tournament and a semi-invitational knockout with a qualifying round several times before settling on the configuration which is currently used.
Today, the World Snooker Championship takes the form of a 32-person single-elimination (or “knockout”) tournament. Out of the 32 entry positions, 16 are filled by invitations which are automatically extended to the 16 highest-ranked professional snooker players in the world. The remaining half of the field is determined by the results of a qualifying tournament. The qualifying tournament takes place over three rounds, whittling 128 entrants down to 16 finalists.
For the first round of the championship, each match pits one of the 16 top-ranked players who are automatically invited against one of the finalists from the qualifying tournament. The qualifying challengers are matched up with the seeded invitees by a random draw. This means that the initial round is particularly intimidating for qualifiers, and especially entertaining for fans, as first-round upsets are just as exciting as they are rare.
The first round of the tournament is made up of 19-frame matches, each played over two sessions. The second and third (quarterfinal) rounds use 25-frame matches played over three sessions. The semi-finals span 33 frames, and the final is a 35-frame match; both semi-final and final rounds are played over four sessions. During the first 12 days of the tournament, or the first three rounds, two matches are played simultaneously on adjacent tables. For the final two rounds, only one table is used, with each match played at different times.
The most successful player in the history of the World Snooker Championship is the tournament’s own godfather, Joe Davis, who won the title 15 times. Part of the reason Davis was so dominant was the challenge-based format of many of the early tournaments, in which the reigning champion only had to play one match to defend their title. Davis was also an exceptional snooker player for his time. It was only after he declined to compete in the championship that other players started to win the title.
The modern era for World Snooker Championship records began in 1969, when the tournament reverted to a knockout format for the final time. The record for most championships in the modern era is shared by Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan, who are tied at seven titles apiece. Setting a record for the youngest world champion in 1990, Hendry won six more championships during the ensuing decade. Ronnie O’Sullivan assumed the role of presumptive champion in the 2000s, winning his first title in 2001. After a seven-year drought, O’Sullivan took home another title in 2020, followed by his record-tying seventh win in 2022.