The History of Snooker

history of snooker

Snooker is a cue sport with a rich history that originated in the latter half of the 19th century.

It is played on a rectangular table covered with green baize and involves the use of colored balls and a white cue ball.

The objective of the game is to score points by potting the balls in a specific order, with the ultimate aim of scoring more points than the opponent.

Here’s a brief history of snooker.

1. Origins of Snooker
2. Early Development
3. Professionalizing the Game
4. The Modern Era

Origins of Snooker

The commonly accepted theory is that the term “snooker” originated in the British military in the 19th century.

It is said to have been used as a slang term to describe inexperienced or first-year cadets at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, London. These cadets were often referred to as “snookers” or “snooks.”

The origins of the slang term are not entirely clear, but it likely had its roots in the British slang of the time.

The term might have been used in a pejorative sense to mock or poke fun at the new and inexperienced cadets who were still learning the ropes of military life.

The connection to snooker, the cue sport, is attributed to Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain, who was an officer in the British Army during the late 19th century.

According to the legend, Chamberlain was an avid billiards player, and he enjoyed playing a variant of billiards with different colored balls, which later became known as snooker.

Chamberlain’s unique style of play and the game he introduced caught the attention of his fellow officers, who began referring to the new game as “Colonel Chamberlain’s game” or simply “snooker” as a playful nod to the inexperienced cadets at the military academy.

Over time, the name “snooker” stuck, and the game gained popularity among officers in India, where it gained even more prominence.

While the exact details of this historical account may be subject to some speculation, it is generally accepted that snooker did evolve from billiards and became distinct with its own set of rules and colored balls.

As the game spread, it evolved further into the snooker we know today, with standardized rules and equipment, leading to its formalization and establishment as a popular cue sport around the world.

Early Development

Sir Neville Chamberlain, a British army officer, is often credited with the introduction and early development of snooker.

According to history records, the game of snooker is believed to have been devised by Chamberlain in the latter part of the 19th century.

As mentioned earlier, the name “snooker” is said to have originated from the British military slang used to describe inexperienced cadets.

Here’s a more detailed account of the early development of snooker:

Invention of Snooker:

The story goes that during Chamberlain’s time stationed in Jubbulpore, India (now known as Jabalpur), he devised a new game that was based on the existing cue sport of billiards.

This new game, devised circa 1875, utilized a combination of colored balls in addition to the usual reds and whites.

Popularity in the British Army:

The game quickly gained popularity among British Army officers stationed in India during the late 19th century.

It provided a recreational pastime and a social activity for the officers, and they took the game back to England upon returning home.

Introduction in England:

Snooker was first introduced to England in the early 20th century, with the first English Amateur Snooker Championship taking place in 1916.

Initially, the game faced some resistance from traditional billiards players, but its appeal and the excitement of the colored balls soon won over enthusiasts.

Expansion and Standardization:

As more people started playing snooker, the rules evolved, and an official rule book was established in 1919.

Visit our other page for more information on how to play a game of snooker.

history of snooker
Joe Davis

World Snooker Championship:

The first World Snooker Championship was held in 1927 at Camkin’s Hall in Birmingham, England.

This tournament, organized by the Billiards Association and Control Council (BACC), featured just ten participants.

Joe Davis won the event, beginning his era of dominance in the early years of competitive snooker. Davis is credited with winning 15 world titles, the most in the history of snooker.

Spread and Popularity:

Throughout the 20th century, snooker continued to gain popularity in the UK and other parts of the world.

The introduction of color television in the late 1960s and early 1970s played a significant role in bringing the excitement of snooker to a wider audience and turning it into a mainstream sport.

Professionalizing the Game

The 1960s and 1970s were crucial decades in the history of snooker, witnessing significant changes and developments that shaped the sport into what it is today.

During this period, snooker transformed from a niche cue sport into a popular form of entertainment, with the emergence of star players and the introduction of color television playing pivotal roles.

Television and Popularization:

The introduction of color television in the UK during the 1960s had a profound impact on snooker’s popularity. The colorful balls and the dynamic nature of the game made it an attractive sport to watch on television.

This exposure significantly increased snooker’s appeal and drew larger audiences, turning it into a mainstream form of entertainment.

The Pot Black Tournament:

In 1969, the BBC introduced a new snooker tournament called “Pot Black.”

The format involved single-frame matches, and it was designed to fit into the limited time slot available for snooker on television.

The success of Pot Black further boosted the sport’s popularity and helped introduce snooker to a wider audience.

The Formation of the WPBSA:

In 1968, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association was formed to oversee the professional game and set standard rules and regulations.

The WPBSA played a crucial role in promoting the sport, organizing tournaments, and establishing a unified structure for the players.

A New Era

The 1970s saw the rise of a new generation of snooker players who brought a fresh and attacking style to the game.

Players like Ray Reardon, John Spencer, and especially Alex Higgins, among others, were known for their more aggressive play compared to the stars of the past like brothers Joe and Fred Davis.

World Snooker Championship:

The World Snooker Championship remained the most prestigious tournament in the sport.

Ray Reardon emerged as a dominant force, winning six World Championship titles during the 1970s. Other notable champions during this period included John Spencer and Alex Higgins.

In 1977, the World Snooker Championship moved to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield for the first time. It has remained at the same venue since then.

International Expansion:

The 1970s saw snooker’s expansion beyond the UK.

Tournaments were organized in various countries, and players from different parts of the world began participating in the sport. T

his international growth set the stage for snooker’s globalization in the subsequent decades.

The Modern Era

The modern era of snooker refers to the period from the late-1970s to the present day.

This era has seen significant changes and developments in the sport, including the rise of star players, globalization, increased media coverage, and commercial success.

The Crucible Era:

The end of the 1970s and into the 1980s marked the beginning of the Crucible era, where the World Snooker Championship found its permanent home at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England.

The intimate setting of the Crucible and its iconic single-table setup provided the perfect stage for dramatic and memorable matches.

The Championship’s televised coverage attracted a growing audience, establishing the event as snooker’s pinnacle tournament.

Periods of Dominance:

During the 1980s, Steve Davis emerged as a dominant force of the game, winning six World Championship titles during the decade.

The 1990s belonged to Stephen Hendry, a Scottish player who dominated the sport like no other during that period.

Hendry won a record-breaking seven World Snooker Championship titles at the Crucible Theatre and was known for his clinical and aggressive style of play.

He cemented his status as one of the all-time greats of the game.

history of snooker
Ronnie O’Sullivan

Ronnie O’Sullivan:

Ronnie O’Sullivan emerged as another iconic player in the modern era.

Known for his natural talent, speed, and flair, O’Sullivan won multiple World Championships and earned the nickname “The Rocket.”

He wowed audiences with his astonishing break-building ability and played a major role in maintaining snooker’s popularity during the 2000s and beyond.

In 2022, O’Sullivan matched Stephen Hendry’s modern-era record of seven World Championship titles.


The modern era saw snooker’s expansion into new territories, particularly in Asia.

Countries like China embraced the sport enthusiastically, producing a wave of talented players such as Ding Junhui, who would rise to become the world number one.

As a result, China has hosted several major ranking events and has become a crucial market for snooker’s global growth.

Commercial Success:

The growing popularity of snooker led to increased commercial opportunities for the sport.

Sponsorship deals, television contracts, and prize money significantly increased, attracting more players and elevating the standard of competition.

Modern Tournament Structure:

The World Snooker Tour, in partnership with the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), underwent several changes to its tournament structure and ranking system.

Players earn points based on their performances in various events throughout the season, and the top-ranked players qualify for prestigious tournaments like the World Championship.

Enhanced Media Coverage:

Advancements in technology and broadcasting have led to enhanced media coverage of snooker events.

Fans can now watch matches live and access highlights and analysis through various platforms, expanding the sport’s reach to a global audience.

New Stars:

While many legendary players from the past continued to have a lasting impact on the history of snooker, new talents emerged, ensuring a competitive and exciting future for snooker.

Players like John Higgins, Mark Williams, Jimmy White, Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, and Ding Junhui are just a few examples of top players from the modern era.

The modern era of snooker history has been marked by a dynamic and competitive landscape, where players from different corners of the world have made significant contributions to the sport’s growth and popularity.

With ongoing innovations and the sport’s global appeal, snooker continues to thrive as a beloved cue sport on the international stage.

Photos: Wikipedia Commons

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