Snooker loopy

(p.s. ‘cos I wear these gargles’ is probably my favourite lyric in any pop song ever)

If a bell made Pavlov’s dog salivate in anticipation of food, for me, the clink of balls can bring out a cold sweat at the prospect of imminent exams. For six of my formative years, from GCSEs to Tripos finals, the World Snooker Championships coincided with best-laid revision plans. What a cruel twist of fate that The Crucible showdown should have to compete for your attention with Latin verbs, the statecraft of Nazi Germany or the plays of Arthur Miller (that’s a vague attempt at a literature gag there).

Worse still, snooker is a procrastinator’s dream (or nightmare); a sport designed to soak up your time. Admittedly, anything might be a more attractive prospect than heading back to the books, still, there’s something about snooker, especially those long format marathons in Sheffield, that makes it particularly appealing come late April.

Like all the greatest sports, the concept is relatively straightforward; in the words of Chas’n’Dave you just pot-the-reds-and-screw-back-for-the-yellow-green-brown-blue-pink-and-black. However, spend more than a few minutes watching and you are drawn into a beguilingly complex world. Anyone who has ever played a bit of snooker – and if you’re anything like me will celebrate a break of 9 – knows all too well the astounding skill of the pros. (I think most lads, maybe some girls too, can remember the first time they saw a full-size snooker table in real life and struggled to get over the sheer size of the thing – a swimming pool of green where you practically need binoculars to see the black from the baulk end).

Snooker at the Crucible (unlike those execrable 1-frame shootouts) is also somewhat of a slow burner: safety exchanges and calmly composed breaks build towards crucial frames, or even individual shots, on which a match can turn. Like watching Test cricket, snooker demands the investment of time (honestly mum, I’ll get back to the physics at the mid-session interval!) to get the most out of it – to appreciate the light and shade, the ebb and flow. I think that’s one of the reasons why snooker highlights never really work for me; one becomes all too aware of the repetitive nature of snooker, which, when watched live is rhapsodic.

Unlike football, drip-fed into our consciousness every night, we gorge ourselves on snooker for two weeks in the excellent company of Hazel, Steve, Terry and the rest of the Matchroom Mob.

Now that I’m finally clear of exams and dissertation deadlines, I’m glad to say the World Snooker Champs have lost none of their appeal (even if I do miss the red velure fixtures of the cigaratte-sponsored days that made it look like a sport’s premier event was taking place in the lobby of a 3* hotel).

From a spread betting perspective the match markets offer some interesting propositions and tend to be, like The Crucible cloth, extremely responsive. Spin’s staple supremacy market offers 10 points for winning the match plus 3 for every frame won by. For example, Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Peter Ebdon 10-4 in their first round match meaning a make up of 28 (10 + 6×3) in favour of the Rocket. This system can make the market very volatile, particularly as a match reaches its climax and the advantage shifts from player to player.

This morning’s match between Ryan Day and Ding Junhui, for example, went down to a final frame decider after a magnificent comeback from the Welshman. Ding looked nailed on to win frame-and-match, and the supremacy market reflected this (trading at around 8-10 in his favour), before he missed a red with the rest. Instantly, with the balls nicely spread, Day became favourite (6.5-8.5 if memory serves) and duly went on to clinch a second round place. Trading this market is not for the faint hearted, but its fluidity can make it rewarding – a botched safety or fluked snooker can have an instant impact of the price. If you feel you can ‘read’ how a frame might pan out you could well have an advantage here.

Another tip is to watch players’ reactions to the behaviour of the cloth and the supposed ‘tightness’ of the pockets. The Crucible is renowned for having the fastest, tightest tables on the circuit – to what extent this feeling exists in the players’ minds is debatable – but if you see a few players struggling to control the cue ball or pot down the cushions, you might want to look at selling ‘ton ups’ or ’50-ups’ (predictions on the cumulative points scored above 100 and 50 breaks respectively), markets that, in my opinion, tend to favour the seller in any case.

One of the last exams I ever took, the Part II Practical Criticism paper on the English Tripos, included a question asking candidates to compare Amy Winehouse’s Love if a Losing Game with a Raleigh lyric (the paper actually made the national news). The late-Winehouse’s song includes the line “O what a mess we made/And now the final frame” – it’s testament to my snooker heavy revision programme that I couldn’t get the image of Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis c.1985 out of my head – not, I fear, what Amy had intended.

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