The Greatest Snooker Players of All Time
On the surface, snooker is a simple table game where you strike the white cue ball using a cue stick to hit the object ball, causing it to fall into the pocket. In reality, though, it is tough to master. Snooker is similar to billiards or pool but has its own rules. The first-ever snooker players were British Army officers back in the 19th century. While stationed in India, they played on a snooker table with a total of 22 balls; one served as the cue ball, 15 were red, and the remaining six were of different colours.
Snooker has come a long way since the first time it was played. Many players have proven their worth and skill, so ranking the best snooker players is not an easy task. Nevertheless, we have taken up the challenge. After considering the stats and figures, here is our top 10 list of the greatest snooker players of all time:
1. Ronnie O’Sullivan
Ronald Antonio “Ronnie” O’Sullivan is arguably the most successful player in the history of snooker. Born in Wordsley, England, on December 5, 1975, he is the reigning snooker world champion as of this writing. According to the world ranking system utilised by the sport, O’Sullivan currently sits as the “world number one” player. Therefore, we believe it is only fitting that he also claims the top spot on this list.
Nicknamed “The Rocket,” Ronnie had his first game experience on the snooker table at the tender age of seven. He was already competing with other amateur players at age nine and later turned pro in 1992 when he was only 16. Ronnie got his first-ever highest-pro break at the 1997 Embassy World Championship. But before that, he had already won his professional game just a year after turning pro, giving him the world record of the youngest player to win a ranking title at 17. Ronnie also holds the record for the youngest player to win the Masters, which he accomplished at 19.
The Rocket won his first world final in 2001, defeating another legend, John Higgins. He won his third UK title that same year. It was what cemented him into the list of greats. His career continued as he broke more records and defeated even more snooker stars, such as Ali Carter, Barry Hawkins, Mark Selby, and Kyren Wilson. In the last World Championship final in 2022, O’Sullivan beat Judd Trump, underlining his position as the greatest snooker player.
Ronnie also shares the record for the greatest number of appearances at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. He currently holds the record for the oldest world champion when he won his 7th world title in 2022 at 46.
The talented Ronnie O’Sullivan has more ranking titles than any other snooker player. He has more Triple Crowns, as well, and has gathered more 147s and centuries than anyone – and that’s why he deserves the number one spot.
2. Stephen Hendry
Here comes the tricky part: determining the succeeding players in the ranking. Nevertheless, we’re giving this spot to Stephen Hendry. He received his first World Championship in 1990 when he was only 21, making him the youngest receiver of the title. Stephen Hendry topped the world rankings for a total of eight seasons consecutively. He also garnered seven world title wins six Masters, and five UK Championships.
Stephen Gordon Hendry was born on January 13, 1969. He is a Scottish snooker player and works as a commentator for ITV and BBC. It was not long before Stephen started playing on snooker tables when he was 12. About four years later, he was the youngest snooker player to win the Scottish Professional Championship in the 1985-86 season. However, in the 1989-90 season, he showed his dominance in the sport. He won the UK Championship and obtained his second Master’s title whilst also gaining his first world title.
Stephen was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1994. This was also the season when he won his third UK Championship. Hendry was indeed unstoppable, winning all three Triple Crown events in the 1995-96 season. Before he retired in 2012, he won his 27th world title.
Stephen’s joint record of world titles, including five that he won consecutively, was achieved from 1990 to 1999. This record is still the benchmark today. Although he did retire, he returned to the game in the 2021-22 season.
3. Steve Davis
It was the 1980s, and everyone who loved table games like snooker tuned in to watch the man-to-beat, Steve Davis himself. Although he has since retired, Davis has left an indelible mark. He won eight World Championship finals and six world titles. He remained at the top of the world ranking for seven consecutive seasons.
Steve Davis was born in 1957 in Plumstead, London, England. He learnt about snooker when he was 12, thanks to his father, who gave him a snooker instructional book. This book was where Davis based most of his techniques in the 1970s, allowing him to navigate through snooker tables even before his prime. When he was 18, Steve started playing against professional players like Alex Higgins and Ray Reardon. He later earned the nickname Nugget because people who bet on him would always win.
His success came in 1980 when he reached the quarter-finals of the 1980 World Snooker Championship. Although he did not win the title, he was a talent to watch out for. He had more wins later, but he also lost some games. However, he dominated the scene for 18 months until the 1982 World Snooker Championship, where he lost to Tony Knowles in the first round. Even though he was unsuccessful, he was anointed the world number one when the season finished.
Davis made his 30th Crucible appearance in 2010 when he was 52 and defeated John Higgins, the reigning world champion at that time. Steve Davis is the only snooker player to receive the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
4. Ray Reardon
If Steve Davis was the 80s snooker table king, Ray Reardon had the 70s. Born in 1932, Reardon worked as a policeman, miner, and part-time Welsh amateur player. He had exciting battles with Cliff Wilson and won amateur titles six years in a row.
Mining was on a steady decline, so Ray and his family decided to transfer to the Potteries in hopes of finding a good job. Although he had his sights somewhere else, he was still playing snooker here and there, even winning yet another amateur title in 1964.
After three years, Ray Reardon finally turned pro. At the beginning of the 70s, he started climbing up the rankings. Reardon played against other greats like Alex Higgins and would often emerge on top. His first world title came in 1970, but it did not stop there as he gained more successes in 1973-76. He lost in 1977 but gained back the title the year after.
Ray did stop playing for a while, but he made some appearances into the 80s. Even with good players around, he showed that he still had it at 49 when he reached the final round of the world championship. Unluckily, he did not win, but he won two more professional games.
Perhaps his most memorable moment was in 1988. At the age of 56, he defeated Steve Davis, who scored null against Ray’s five in the British Open. Ray was awarded the MBE in 1985 and coached Ronnie O’Sullivan during the 2004 world championship.
5. Mark Selby
Mark Selby is an English professional snooker player born in 1983. He is a four-time World Championship title holder. Mark has ranked world number one several times from 2012-2018 – and rightfully so with his 20 ranking titles. He is currently placed at the eighth spot on the all-time list of tournament winners.
Nicknamed Jester from Leicester, Mark Selby is among the most successful in the snooker industry. There are only six players to have obtained the World Championship on at least four occasions, and Selby is one of them. He has a total of eight major victories.
Selby has more than 600 centuries throughout his whole career, with three maximum breaks. His key to success was his ruthless approach, where he showcases his inability to give up. He trains hard, which has allowed him to dominate the world’s number one ranking for the last five years. His strengths are in match play, safety, and simply scoring in each of his games. Although underrated, he’s extremely tough to beat, even when he is playing his B game.
What’s notable about Mark Selby is that he’s also a pool player and won the World Eight-ball Pool Federation in 2006. He was the runner-up in the Chinese Eight-ball World Championship in 2015. No other pool and snooker player has accomplished the same feat.
6. Alex Higgins
Steve Davis calls Alex Higgins “the true genius,” and you will see why. Alexander Gordon Higgins, a Northern Irish player, was gifted and unique whilst being a flamboyant player. He was even nicknamed Hurricane Higgins because he loved to play fast.
Born in 1949, Alex started playing snooker at 11. Immediately at 14, he moved to England to work as a jockey. But Alex wasn’t successful in competing, so he returned to Belfast. Two years later, he began playing more serious snooker games. He finally had his first prominent win in 1968 as the Northern Ireland Amateur Snooker Champion.
Alex was the first snooker player to qualify and gain the World Championship title in 1972. Only two other players accomplished the same, but they are not on this list. Alex won the Masters in 1978 and 1981 and was the UK Champion in 1983. This record included only 11 players who were able to complete the Triple Crown. In 1984, he won with Jimmy White in the World Doubles Championship.
Alex Higgins was a fan favourite, which is why it is not surprising that he was called the People’s Champion. Because of his popularity, he is considered why snooker reached a much broader audience in the 80s.
Although Alex Higgins passed away in 2010, his legacy remains.
7. John Higgins
No relation to the previous Higgins above, John is from Scotland and was the World Champion in 1998, 2007, 2009, and 2011. He also won the Masters in 1999 and 2006 and was the UK Champion in 1998,2000, and 2009.
John Higgins is a well-rounded player and probably the best match player of all time. He is lauded for his outstanding temperament and ability to win almost any situation. He has a unique instinct of a champion, a trait needed for anyone who wishes to play snooker, pool, or billiards like a pro.
Born in 1975, John learnt about snooker at a very young age. He was only 16 when he turned professional and had already advanced to the British Open quarter-finals during his debut season. Just two years after turning pro, John took home his first Grand Prix trophy. In 1998, he was hailed a world champion when he defeated Ken Doherty in the finals.
Known as the Wizard of Wishaw, John is the first ever snooker player to have four-century breaks consecutively in a major tournament. He recorded 103, 104, 138, and 128-century breaks. Higgins is also one of the five players in snooker history to win the World and UK titles in the same year.
Because of his significant contribution to the country, John Higgins was awarded the MBE.
8. Jimmy White
With a solid technique and a calm temperament, Jimmy White is truly one of the greats. Born in 1962 in Tooting, London, England, James Warren White is a former professional player on snooker tables. He’s known as The Whirlwind due to his fluid style of play, especially when attacking. Like Alex Higgins, whom he played and won in the 1984 World Doubles Championship, he was known as the People’s Champion.
Jimmy White has several awards under his belt, but here’s what makes him unique from everyone on this list: he never won the World Championship. Yes, you read that right. So why is he a part of this list when he did not become a world champion? You’re about to find out.
Although White did not win any championship, he was a six-time World Championship finalist. He did win the World Amateur Champion in 1980 and received the Six-red World Championship title in 2009. He went on to win a World Seniors Championship in 2010.
The list of his accomplishments does not end here. He was also a UK Champion and a Masters winner. He also received the Nations Cup. Jimmy White is one of the few left-handed players and is, in fact, the first ever of his kind. He is the second player to record a maximum break at a World Championship.
9. Mark Williams
Mark James Williams is a Welsh pro snooker player born in 1975. He won the World Championship title in 2000, 2003, and 2018. Mark got his nickname, The Welsh Potting Machine, because of his single-ball long potting skills.
Born in Cwmbran, Wales, Mark Williams played snooker at a very early age. He already played at a bigger stage when he was 13, where he won the British Under-16 Championship and UK Under-19 Championship. A year later, Mark turned pro in 1992. He was already climbing the world ranking ladder during this time and debuted at the Masters three years after.
Mark is another left-handed player and was the first one who has ever won the World Championship, which took place in the 2002-03 season. Along with Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis, two players who are also on this list, Mark Williams is the third player to win the Triple Crown events in the same season. A humble player, no one was more surprised than Mark when he was hailed the world champion for the third time. He even promised he would strip naked if he ever won the title.
Williams’ earned his spot in this list, having ranked at the top on three occasions in the world ranking list. He has also made more than 450-century breaks throughout his whole career, which included two maximums. Mark is also one of the six snooker players who compiled 147 breaks at the televised World Championship stages in 2005.
10. Dennis Taylor
Another Irishman, Dennis Taylor, is now a retired snooker player. He also works as a commentator. Born in 1949 in Coalisland, Northern Ireland, Dennis began as an amateur snooker player with great success. He won the British Junior Billiards Championship in 1968. It took him a few more years to turn professional, which was in 1972.
A year after turning pro, Dennis debuted in the World Snooker Championship. However, he did not win against Cliff Thorburn, scoring 8-9 in the first round. He faced him again in 1984 when Taylor finally won his first ranking event at the Grand Prix 1984.
Born in 1949, Dennis is famous for his 1985 win during the World Snooker Championship. This was back when Steve Davis was dominating the industry. Dennis won the match against the defending champion. It was an incredible game and a must-watch where Dennis trailed 0-8 but remarkably bounced back before trailing again. The 17-17 score was tense, but he eventually won after potting a long brown. This World Championship game was one for the books, catapulting Dennis Taylor to snooker stardom.
That wraps up our list of the top 10 players in snooker history.
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