History of the World Snooker Rankings
With its roots in history dating back to the late 19th century, snooker has evolved over the years, and one aspect that has played a significant role in shaping the sport’s landscape is the introduction of world rankings.
This article delves into the history of the world rankings in snooker, exploring their origins, development, and impact on the game and its players.
Introduction of a World Rankings System
The concept of world rankings in snooker emerged in the 1970s, primarily to establish a systematic method of assessing players’ performances on the professional circuit.
Before the introduction of rankings, snooker lacked a clear hierarchy, and players’ achievements were measured mainly through their tournament wins, exhibition performances, and reputations.
In 1975, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) devised the first world rankings system for professional snooker players.
The system aimed to rank players based on their performances over a three-year period.
In the early years, only results in the World Snooker Championship counted towards the rankings.
Welshman Ray Reardon became the first official world number one in the sport.
He would win the World Championship six times during the 1970s, and his overall consistency in the tournament ensured that he held onto the world number one position until 1981.
Increase in Ranking Events
By the 1980s, snooker was thriving and enjoying a boom in popularity, particularly across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The increased interest led to the introduction of more tournaments, and eventually many of these became ranking events.
Between 1980 and 1990, the number of world ranking events on the snooker calendar went from just one to ten.
Calculation and Points System
The initial ranking system used a points-based approach, where players earned points depending on their performances in various tournaments.
The number of points awarded was determined by the tournament’s status, with major tournaments such as the World Championship offering more points.
For decades, the world rankings were fixed for a season after the conclusion of the season-ending World Championship, and then reset again at the end of the next season based on the previous year’s results.
This system offered a significant degree of protection to players in the top 16, who qualified automatically for the round of 32 at the majority of ranking tournaments.
Ahead of the 2010/11 snooker season, this formula was altered so that the rankings would be regularly updated after each tournament of the campaign.
A two-year rolling system was implemented, and from the 2014/15 season, the world rankings in snooker transitioned to one that mimicked a player’s prize-money earnings during the respective period.
Periods of Dominance
There have been four sustained periods of dominance at the top of the world snooker rankings in the sport’s history.
As mentioned, Ray Reardon was the first world number one in the history of snooker.
He held the position for almost six years in a row between 1975 and 1981, although results in the World Championship counted during the period.
Steve Davis first became world number one in 1983 after winning the World Snooker Championship for a second time.
The Englishman would feature in every subsequent World Championship final of the decade, winning the title six times in total.
The introduction of additional ranking events to the calendar from 1982 also helped Davis sustain his status as the world’s leading player.
In 1990, Stephen Hendry ended Steve Davis’ long tenure as the world number one in snooker.
The Scot won the World Championship for the first time that year and would proceed to dominate the 1990s, owning the world number one position until 1998.
Hendry is generally considered as one of the all-time greats of the game, and his total of 36 ranking titles was once a record.
Mark Selby has dominated the world rankings since the rolling two-year system was implemented in 2010.
The Englishman, who has won four World Championship titles, ended the season as the world number one in seven consecutive seasons between 2013 and 2019.
Other World Number Ones
Although the following players have not enjoyed sustained dominance at the top of the world rankings list, they have had a significant impact in snooker history.
The Class of 1992
Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, and Mark Williams are commonly referred to as the Class of ’92, having each graduated to the professional main tour at the same time that year.
All three players have established themselves as all-time greats of the game, winning almost all of the biggest tournaments the sport has to offer.
Between 1998 and 2011, the world number one position changed hands between the trio on a number of occasions.
O’Sullivan, regarded by many as the most talented snooker player of all time, experienced both highs and lows in his ranking positions throughout his career.
Despite his unrivaled talent, O’Sullivan’s fluctuating form and periods of absence from the tour sometimes impacted his ranking.
Judd Trump first became world number one in 2012 after a breakthrough that included reaching the World Championship final and winning the prestigious UK Championship.
However, the Englishman established himself as the game’s best player towards the end of the 2010s when he captured the world title for the first time in 2019.
Trump’s success over the subsequent two years saw him enjoy a stranglehold at the top of the world rankings, and he won a record six ranking titles during the 2019/20 snooker season.
While snooker has traditionally been dominated by players from the United Kingdom, two international players have risen to become the sport’s world number one.
Ding Junhui’s meteoric rise in the mid-2000s marked a new era for Asian snooker.
Ding became the first player from China to win a ranking event and, subsequently, to reach the world number one position in 2014. This milestone exemplified China’s increasing influence on the sport.
Much earlier, Canada’s Cliff Thorburn became just the second world number one in snooker history – replacing Ray Reardon at the summit of the sport in 1981.
The history of world rankings in snooker reflects the growth and evolution of the sport over time.
From its humble beginnings in the 1970s to the globalized and fiercely competitive modern era, rankings have played a crucial role in shaping players’ careers and establishing snooker as a truly international sport.
As the game continues to captivate audiences worldwide, the world rankings will remain a central element in determining players’ standings and celebrating the talents of the sport’s greatest competitors.
Photos: Wikipedia Commons