Top Ten: The Best Tactical Snooker Players

best tactical snooker players
Credit: Bill da Flute

Modern-day snooker players are mostly best at potting balls and break building, but the tactical side of the game remains important.

While snooker may seem like a straightforward game of pocketing balls in a specific order, it’s the tactical prowess of players that often separates the champions from the rest.

In this article, we will delve into the world of snooker’s tactical masters, exploring the strategies and techniques that have propelled them to greatness.

The Art of Snooker Tactics

Snooker is often described as a chess game played on a green baize table.

The objective is simple: pot the balls in a specific sequence, accumulating as many points as possible.

However, achieving this goal can be exceptionally challenging due to the intricate nature of the game.

Tactical play in snooker involves several key elements, including:

Safety Play

Snooker is as much about preventing your opponent from scoring as it is about scoring yourself.

A tactical player excels in placing the cue ball in positions that make it difficult for the opponent to pot a ball, thereby forcing errors.

Control of the Table

The ability to control the position of the cue ball and the colored balls on the table is crucial.

A tactical player strategically positions balls to create opportunities and limit the opponent’s options.

Potting Under Pressure

Tactical players have the mental fortitude to pot crucial balls under high-pressure situations, often using finesse and precision rather than relying solely on power.

Break Building

While scoring a single pot is important, building a break (potting multiple balls in succession) is equally vital in snooker.

Tactical players have the ability to plan and execute extended breaks, maximizing their score.

Now that we understand the fundamentals of tactical play in snooker, let’s explore some of the best tactical players in the history of the sport.

This top ten list of the best tactical snooker players is in no particular order.

1. Steve Davis

No discussion of snooker’s tactical masters would be complete without mentioning Steve Davis.

The Englishman, known as “The Nugget,” dominated snooker in the 1980s.

His tactical astuteness was unmatched, and he was often hailed as the best safety player in the history of the game.

Davis’s meticulous approach to snooker made him a formidable opponent.

His ability to control the cue ball and set up snookers left his adversaries frustrated and defeated.

Davis’s six World Championships – a record at the time – and numerous other titles are a testament to his tactical brilliance.

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2. John Higgins

John Higgins, a Scottish snooker maestro, is known for his calculated approach to the game.

His strategic brilliance often outwits opponents, leaving them with limited options.

Higgins excels in creating snookers or difficult situations that force his rivals into mistakes.

One of Higgins’ notable strengths is his break-building ability.

He can construct large breaks while meticulously planning each shot.

This combination of tactical awareness and scoring prowess has earned him multiple World Championships and a reputation as one of the finest tactical players of his generation.

3. Mark Selby

Mark Selby, known as “The Jester from Leicester,” is a contemporary snooker star who epitomizes tactical excellence.

Selby’s safety play is second to none, and he has the knack for grinding down his opponents in long tactical battles.

Selby’s game is characterized by patience and precision.

He often opts for safety shots even when a pot is available if it does not offer an advantage.

His four World Championship titles and numerous other victories underline his mastery of the tactical aspects of snooker.

4. Ronnie O’Sullivan

While Ronnie O’Sullivan is renowned for his natural talent and speed around the table, he is also a tactician of the highest order.

Often referred to as “The Rocket,” O’Sullivan possesses an uncanny ability to combine flair with strategy.

O’Sullivan’s tactical game revolves around making the game look effortless.

His understanding of the angles, cue ball control, and safety play is impeccable.

He can switch between aggressive potting and astute safety play, making him a versatile and deadly opponent.

With a modern-day record of seven World Championship wins, O’Sullivan has cemented his legacy as one of the best tactical players in snooker history.

5. Mark Williams

Mark Williams, a Welsh snooker icon, is known for his unorthodox and often unpredictable style of play.

While he is celebrated for his potting ability, Williams also possesses a keen sense of tactical play.

He can surprise opponents with unconventional shots that disrupt their rhythm.

Williams’ tactical approach is a blend of creativity and precision.

His three World Championships and longevity in the sport are a testament to his well-rounded snooker skills, which include a deep understanding of the tactical side of the game.

6. Joe Davis

To fully appreciate the evolution of snooker tactics, we must pay homage to Joe Davis, the sport’s pioneer.

Davis dominated snooker from the 1920s to the 1940s, winning the World Championship 15 times consecutively from 1928 to 1946.

His strategic approach to snooker laid the foundation for future generations.

In an era when the game was still developing, billiard enthusiast Davis was a master of safety play.

He set the standard for precision and control, showcasing the importance of tactical awareness even in the early days of snooker.

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7. Peter Ebdon

Peter Ebdon has earned his place among the best tactical players in the sport’s history.

Ebdon’s playing style is characterized by meticulous planning and an unwavering focus on the tactical aspects of the game.

He was known for his ability to grind down opponents in long, drawn-out frames, often using safety play to gain an advantage.

Ebdon’s reputation as a tactical master was solidified during his 2002 World Snooker Championship victory, where he showcased his resilience and strategic brilliance.

He possessed a deep understanding of the nuances of snooker, including the importance of cue ball control and effective use of safety shots.

One of Ebdon’s standout tactical strengths is his mental toughness.

He could maintain his composure in high-pressure situations, making it difficult for opponents to break his concentration.

While he may not have the same number of World Championships as some of the other legends of the sport, his tactical prowess is undeniable, earning him a place in snooker history.

8. Ken Doherty

Irish snooker sensation Ken Doherty is another player whose tactical finesse has left a lasting mark on the sport.

Doherty’s tactical game is built on a foundation of patience and precision. He excels in safety battles, often using subtle shot selections to gain an advantage over his opponents.

His understanding of the angles and spin on the cue ball allows him to position it with great accuracy.

One of Doherty’s career-defining moments came in 1997 when he won the World Snooker Championship.

His tactical brilliance was on full display as he navigated through a highly competitive field, showcasing his ability to adapt to different playing styles.

In addition to his tactical prowess, Doherty’s mental fortitude cannot be underestimated, and during his heyday he was referred to as “Crafty Ken”.

9. Cliff Thorburn

Canadian snooker legend Cliff Thorburn is a true tactician of the sport.

Known for his calm and composed demeanor at the table, Thorburn’s tactical prowess often left his opponents frustrated and struggling to find openings.

His contributions to snooker’s tactical playbook have earned him a special place in the history of the game.

One of Thorburn’s notable strengths was his ability to read the table and anticipate his opponent’s moves.

He would meticulously plan his shots, ensuring that he not only pocketed balls but also positioned the cue ball strategically for his next shot.

This knack for planning several moves ahead is a hallmark of a great tactician.

Thorburn’s crowning achievement came in 1980 when he became the first non-British player to win the World Snooker Championship.

10. Terry Griffiths

Terry Griffiths is another player who has made significant contributions to the tactical aspect of the game.

One of Griffiths’ tactical strengths was his ability to control the tempo of a match.

He would often slow down the pace, carefully considering each shot to disrupt his opponent’s rhythm.

This deliberate style of play allowed him to create opportunities and capitalize on his opponent’s mistakes.

Griffiths’ finest hour came in 1979 when he won the World Snooker Championship as a qualifier at the Crucible Theatre.

His tactical mastery was on full display throughout the tournament, and his ability to outthink his opponents was a key factor in his success.

Photos: Wikipedia Commons

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