I’ve learned valuable lessons from playing all kinds of sports and games, but one stands out among the others: snooker. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s what the starting position looks like.
DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0
The angle of this photo hides the true size of the table. A typical bar pool table in the U.S. is 6 feet long and 4 feet wide (6’ x 4’), 8’ x 6’ tables are common in pool halls, but a full-sized table is 9’ x 6’. Snooker tables are 12’ x 6’, which means 33% more surface area than even the largest standard pool tables for eight ball, nine ball, and straight pool.
Snooker combines straight pool, where you sink the object balls in any order, and a rotation game such as nine ball where you must target (though not necessarily make) the balls in numerical order. In snooker you pot a red for one point and then nominate a color. After sinking all 15 reds and the nominated color, with the colors being respotted after they’re made, players must pot the colors in order without replacement. Color order is yellow for two points, green for three, brown for four, blue for five, pink for six, and black for seven. If you run the table and make a black after each red, you’ll score 147 points.
So, yeah…this game is hard. The balls are heavier than standard billiard balls, the pockets are tighter, and they have rounded edges instead of points. As a long-time eight ball and nine ball player that difference took some getting used to.
I played snooker a couple of times when I lived in Canada and at odd intervals since then but hadn’t stepped to a table for over 20 years. Last month I was in London on a business trip and had time to sneak away for a couple of hours. A friend of a friend recommended Cousins Snooker and Pool in Holloway, between Seven Sisters and Finsbury Park on the Victoria tube line. Excellent choice. The club is open and friendly, there’s plenty of space between tables, and the membership fee is quite reasonable.
Why was I keen to play snooker again? In part because it’s challenging and fun, but also because it reinforces the need to mix tactics, strategy, offense, and defense in your approach. There aren’t many places to hide when you’re playing eight ball or nine ball, especially when there are just a few balls left on the table. Safety play is certainly possible and at times necessary in those games, but snooker’s vast distances and higher ball count early in the game put a premium on maneuvering and safety play. Once the first red goes down the nature of the game changes a bit, but there’s always a chance you won’t have a clear shot on a red and will have to play safe.
If you’re not familiar with snooker, I encourage you to watch some matches on YouTube. The ease with which professional players maneuver the ball and make long-range shots hide how difficult the game is for amateurs. A friend and I played for two hours and finished two frames, which gives you an idea of how much time to set aside if you do get to play.
After you’re done playing, or have watched some matches on YouTube, take some time to consider how your experience relates to life and business. The lessons will be different for everyone, but I personally gained an appreciation for when it was time to go on full offense, make shots with offensive and defensive components, or play it safe. You can also challenge yourself in friendly games to go against your natural tendencies. I’ve done so and gained valuable insights.
I hope you get a chance to try snooker—it’s a marvelous game. Be sure to watch the clock, though, so you’re not late for dinner!
Curtis Frye is the president of Technology and Society, Incorporated.