Snooker gamesmanship – 5 things you should absolutely avoid

Snooker gamesmanship stops players enjoying the game

Gamesmanship, the art (if you can call it that) of using various ploys to gain an advantage over your opponent, is rife in competitive sport. A win-at-all-costs mentality and a growing acceptance of questionable tactics has led to the belief that a little subterfuge or psychological attrition are just part-and-parcel of the game. Yet snooker gamesmanship, particularly at the highest levels, is relatively rare. Ours is still an honest game. One where players confess a foul not seen by the referee. We should be very proud of that. Can you imagine a footballer owning up to a handball? Yes, Diego, yes Thierry, I’m looking at you!

Snooker gamesmanship and our values

In this blog post, I’m going to look at snooker gamesmanship in the context of the three values in our snooker code; respect, courtesy and tolerance. I’ll use those values to highlight the 5 things you should absolutely avoid doing at the table.

Snooker is about respect

During the 2021 World Snooker Championship, both Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby were criticised for behaviours that veered perilously close to gamesmanship; behaviours which their opponents felt were openly disrespectful.

Murphy was criticised by Kyren Wilson for “over the top and theatrical” fist-pumping, which he denied. As far as Shaun is concerned, he is in the entertainment industry and putting on a show. To his way of thinking, a little exuberance adds to the spice.

Selby was criticised by Stuart Bingham for overly slow play. Indeed, Selby had been warned earlier by the referee for slow play, but responded by saying that he would be “out there for five days” if it meant he got to 17 frames first. Bingham commented that “it’s the same sort of player, time in, time out, who plays slow. Does he do it on purpose or what?” You can read the Guardian’s report on these incidents here.

I’m highlighting these examples because Kyren Wilson and Stuart Bingham implied that their opponents were doing these things intentionally. Yet, at club level, many behaviours that could be thought of as gamesmanship are actually an unintentional lack of self-awareness. Snooker clubs are places where people go to socialise, but many of the best things about socialising need to be kept separate from the actual playing of the game.

Here are the first three things you should avoid doing when you’re playing a game of snooker:

  • Avoid doing anything that might affect your opponent’s concentration when they are on the shot. The most common examples we see include standing or moving in your opponent’s eye-line, standing directly behind your opponent, or chalking your cue. It’s best to remain still and off to one side as they play their shot. Talking whilst your opponent is at the table is actually very disrespectful, even if it’s someone whose company you really enjoy.
  • Don’t put your opponent off their stride. It’s perfectly natural to want to understand how your opponent is approaching each frame. As an Academy, we are all about learning, but there’s a time to ask questions and it’s not in between shots during a break. At club level, a genuinely respectful question after a missed pot, such as “were you trying to knock that red into play?” isn’t necessarily an etiquette faux-pas, but it’s better to wait until the end of the frame to analyse decisions. And this is where Mark Selby comes in again. How long is too long to decide on a shot? Going for a slow walk around the table, examining every possible angle is very likely to disrupt your opponent’s flow. As such, it could be classed as gamesmanship.
  • Don’t show a disregard for your opponent’s play. Something as simple as putting your cue down as if you don’t expect to return to the table for a while can be off-putting, and it’s not uncommon to see players checking their mobile phones whilst their opponents are trying to put a break together. You show a great deal more respect by quietly watching their efforts and replacing the balls for them. Remember Ronnie O’Sullivan sitting with a towel over his head? Not much respect being shown to his opponent there!

Snooker is about courtesy

Courtesy is defined as politeness in your attitude, behaviour and language towards others. Snooker has a hard-earned reputation for being one of the most courteous sports, even if that reputation gets frayed around the edges when Ronnie plays Ali Carter, or Hossein Vafei. No respectable club would allow players to treat each other like that, but, once again, club players often behave discourteously without meaning to.  The fourth and fifth behaviours to avoid are the ones below:

  • Avoid commenting on your opponent’s play: Though it might be said with the best of intentions, a comment such as “I didn’t expect you to miss that” will cause your opponent to question their ability. Similarly, some players might express surprise at their opponent’s shot choice with a phrase like “you didn’t fancy the blue by the pocket then?”. That’s another expression guaranteed to sow doubt in the mind of the person you’re playing and is actually rank gamesmanship.
  • Avoid setting your opponent up to fail: Well-meant irony can put unintended pressure on your opponent, too. If you miss a shot and leave your opponent in, avoid phrases such as “go on, fill your boots” or “I might as well put my cue away now.” You might mean it in a complimentary way, but it raises the bar for your opponent.

Please note that the need for courteous behaviour extends to your neighbour’s table as well as the one you’re playing on.

Snooker is about tolerance

Mostly, when we talk about tolerance at Surrey Snooker Academy, we mean that the game is for everyone, but tolerance within a match is important too. Many of us have unconscious mannerisms that can affect our opponent and, mostly, they have nothing to do with gamesmanship. A loud cough can be annoying, a clicking of the tongue can be irritating, and a whistling through the teeth can be highly vexing, but the chances that these mannerisms are deliberate gamesmanship are extremely slim. We need to be tolerant of the idiosyncrasies of others.

At club level, snooker is meant to be fun. Intentional or not, gamesmanship works against that. If you can avoid the five pitfalls I’ve outlined above, and develop the tolerance needed to prevent other people’s behaviour affecting you, your enjoyment of the game should increase dramatically. And so should your performance. Respect, courtesy and tolerance – the snooker code of Surrey Snooker Academy. You can read more on our values here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.



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Academy co-founders Brian Cox and Gareth White

Brian Cox and Gareth White

Co-founders of the surrey snooker academy

We want our members to experience the kind of playing environment, equipment and coaching normally only enjoyed by professional snooker players.

Brian and Gareth

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