Snooker Rules: How to Play a Game
Before playing your first game of snooker, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the basic rules of the game.
Snooker is a cue sport which originated in the late 19th century that is played on a rectangular table with six pockets.
The game is typically played between two players, and the objective is to score more points than your opponent by potting balls in a specific order.
Here is a basic description of the rules of snooker.
The standard snooker table is a large rectangular playing surface covered with green baize, a type of felt material.
The dimensions of the table are 12 feet (3.6 meters) in length and 6 feet (1.8 meters) in width.
The table is supported by four legs and has a sturdy frame to ensure stability during play.
The baulk line is a line located 29 inches (737 mm) from the bottom cushion.
It spans the width of the table and serves as a marker for specific rules, such as the placement of the cue ball during the break-off shot and the positioning of the yellow, green, and brown snooker balls.
The “D” is a semicircular area at the baulk end of the table, directly behind the brown ball. It is marked on the table and is the starting position for the cue ball during the break-off shot.
The game is played with a set of 22 balls, 21 of which are colored and one is the white cue ball:
There are 15 red balls in snooker, and they are the lowest-scoring balls, each worth one point.
At the beginning of a frame, the red balls are positioned in a triangular formation on the table, known as the “pack.”
There are six colored balls with different point values: yellow (2 points), green (3 points), brown (4 points), blue (5 points), pink (6 points), and black (7 points).
These balls are placed on their designated spots on the table, as marked by small dots.
Cushions and Pockets:
The table’s surface is surrounded by cushions made of rubber, which allow the balls to rebound off them during play.
The cushions are typically covered with cloth matching the color of the baize.
There are six pockets on a snooker table, one at each corner and one in the middle of each long side.
The pockets are wide at the opening but narrow toward the back, making potting balls more challenging.
Players use cue sticks, also known as cues, to strike the cue ball and pot other balls.
The cue sticks are typically made of wood and have a leather or synthetic tip that comes into contact with the cue ball.
Before each frame, the red balls are arranged in a triangle formation using a triangular rack.
The rack is removed just before the break-off shot, which begins the frame.
2. Starting the Game
There are two common methods to determine which player starts a game in the rules of snooker.
First, players may lag to determine who breaks first. Each player shoots their ball from behind the baulk line towards the top cushion.
The player whose ball finishes closest to the baulk (bottom) cushion wins the lag and chooses who breaks first.
Alternatively, players may determine who starts the game first by flipping a coin.
3. Potting Balls
On a player’s turn, they must first hit a red ball with the white cue ball. If they pot a red ball, they can then attempt to pot a colored ball.
Potting Colored Balls:
After potting a red ball, the player can attempt to pot a colored ball in ascending order of point values (yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and black).
Each time a colored ball is potted, it is returned to its designated spot on the table.
Once a colored ball is potted, the player’s turn returns to trying to pot another red ball. This continues until all the red balls are potted.
End of Break:
The player’s turn ends when they miss a shot, fail to pot a required ball, or commit a foul (such as potting the cue ball or failing to hit any ball).
The opponent then takes their turn, and the game continues in this alternating fashion.
Players earn points for the balls they pot during their turn. Each red ball is worth one point, and each colored ball has its designated point value (2 to 7 points).
A player can score a “break” by continuously potting balls during their turn.
For example, a “break of 50” means a player has potted 50 consecutive points worth of balls without missing.
The maximum break in snooker is normally defined as 147 points, achieved by potting all 15 reds with 15 blacks, followed by all the colored balls.
However, a rare total break of 155 is possible when an extra “red” is available on the table through the Free Ball rule.
Winning a Frame:
A frame of snooker ends when all balls have been potted or when one player has amassed more points than what are remaining on the table.
The player with the higher score at the end of the frame wins that frame.
A match usually consists of multiple frames, and the player who wins the most frames in the match is declared the overall winner.
Successive potting of balls requires a high level of skill, strategy, and precision, making snooker a captivating and challenging sport for both players and spectators alike.
4. Foul Rules
In snooker, fouls occur when a player commits certain infractions during their turn.
When a foul is committed, the opponent is awarded penalty points, and the offending player’s turn ends. Here are some common foul rules in snooker:
Failure to Hit a Ball
If a player fails to hit any ball on the table with the cue ball during their shot, it is considered a foul. This is commonly known as a “miss.”
The opponent has the option to either have the balls repositioned and the shot replayed or to let the offending player continue from the current position with no penalty.
However, if the opponent chooses to have the shot replayed and the foul is repeated, penalty points are awarded.
Potting the Cue Ball
If a player pots the white cue ball (also known as “scratching” or “going in-off”) during their turn, it is a foul.
The opponent is awarded four penalty points, and they can place the cue ball anywhere in the “D” at the baulk end of the table.
Potting a Ball Out of Order
After potting a red ball, a player must pot a colored ball in the specified order (yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, black).
If they pot a colored ball out of order, it is a foul, and the opponent is awarded the value of the colored ball potted plus four penalty points.
Failing to Declare a Free Ball
If a player is snookered after a foul, they have the option to nominate any colored ball as a “free ball” that can act as a replacement for any color.
If a player fails to properly declare a free ball and pots it as a nominated color, it is a foul, and the opponent is awarded the value of the ball plus four penalty points.
Causing a Ball to Jump Off the Table
If a player’s shot causes any ball to jump off the table, it is considered a foul.
The opponent is awarded the value of the ball potted (if any) plus four penalty points.
Disturbing the Balls Illegally
If a player disturbs any ball on the table in a manner that affects the outcome of the shot, it is a foul.
The opponent is awarded four penalty points, and they have the option to request the balls be replaced to their original positions.
A foul snooker occurs when a player cannot directly hit any ball on using a straight shot, and the referee deems it to be an intentional action to gain an advantage.
The opponent is awarded the value of the ball on and the value of the ball hit, plus four penalty points.
These are some of the main foul rules in snooker. It is essential for players to be aware of these rules, as they can significantly impact the flow and outcome of the game.
Referees play a crucial role in enforcing these rules during professional snooker matches, ensuring fair play and adherence to the principles of the game.
5. Free Ball
“Free Ball” is a special rule in snooker that comes into play when a player is snookered after a foul shot.
When a player is snookered, it means they cannot directly hit any ball on with a straight shot, and they need to use the cushions or other balls to attempt to hit a legal ball.
1. After a Foul Shot
The Free Ball rule applies when a player commits a foul, and as a result, their opponent is left snookered, meaning the opponent cannot see both sides of any ball on directly.
This can happen if the player committing the foul leaves the opponent in a difficult position.
2. Nominating a Free Ball
In this situation, the player who is snookered has the option to nominate any colored ball as a “Free Ball.”
The Free Ball can act as a replacement for any ball on the table. This means the player can treat the Free Ball as if it were the ball they are required to hit, regardless of its color.
3. Taking the Shot
The player who is snookered takes the shot with the Free Ball as if it were the ball on.
The objective is to legally hit any ball on the table, including any color, using the Free Ball.
4. Points Scoring
If the player successfully hits the ball on using the Free Ball, they are considered to have legally hit the required ball, and no penalty is incurred.
However, if the player fails to hit the ball on or commits a foul while using the Free Ball, their opponent is awarded the value of the ball on and the value of the Free Ball as penalty points.
For example, if the ball on is the blue ball (worth 5 points) and the Free Ball is the green ball (worth 3 points), the opponent receives 8 penalty points (5 + 3) in addition to any points they may score in their turn.
5. Ball Spotting
After the Free Ball shot is taken, the Free Ball is not re-spotted. Instead, it remains off the table until the next normal shot, where it will be treated as the color it represents.
6. End of Free Ball Rule:
Once the player successfully hits the ball on using the Free Ball or commits a foul while using the Free Ball, the Free Ball rule ends, and the game reverts to the normal rules of play.
The Free Ball rule adds an interesting strategic dimension to the game, allowing players to gain an advantage when they are in a difficult snookered position.
It can lead to exciting and challenging situations where players must carefully consider their shot selection to make the most of the Free Ball opportunity.
6. End of Frame/Game
A frame ends when all balls have been potted. The player with the higher score wins the frame.
A match typically consists of several frames, and the player who takes the most frames is the winner.
These are the basic rules of snooker, though there are additional intricacies and fouls that can occur during a match.
Familiarizing yourself with the rules will enhance your understanding and enjoyment of this fascinating cue sport.
Photos: Wikipedia Commons