The rise of snooker’s ‘magical’ maximum break

There is nothing quite like the sense of anticipation generated when a snooker player is on to complete a maximum break.

Those watching find themselves hoping and praying, in a state of silent fever pitch, that the requisite 36 shots are made, and they get to see a small part of history.

However, those small pieces of history, once a rare occurrence, are now happening far more frequently and it begs the question: why?

“It’s the quality of play. Players are getting better and better.” – Higher standards of player mean more players can make maximum breaks

There have been 201 official maximum breaks made in professional competition since Steve Davis made the first back in 1982.

Zak Surety hit the most recent at the World Open in March – the 12th made this season.

To put that into perspective, it took just over 10 years for the first 12 maximum breaks to be made.

For Nick Metcalfe, co-host of the Talking Snooker podcast, the rise in playing standards is the main reason as to why more 147s are being made.

“It’s the quality of play. Players are getting better and better and standards in the game have gone up. That’s the top reason for me. There’s no doubt,” he said.

“In terms of the way the players play the game now, everything is sharper. Cue ball control is better, and players play more attacking shots. The attacking nature of the game is a key point I think.

“Players want to make more big breaks now, win frames in one visit, they’re always looking to go into the reds because they know they can’t afford to make a 40 or 50 break now because their opponent could pinch the frame off them.”

However, Nick didn’t feel the increase in the number of tournaments in recent years was a massive factor behind the increase in 147s, pointing out there were roughly an equal number of competitions in the 1980s and 1990s compared to now. And nowhere near as many maximum breaks being made.

Metro sports reporter and fellow Talking Snooker co-host Phil Haigh highlighted the improvement of players lower down the rankings.

“We know that the standard of play has increased down the tour,” said Phil. “Some people don’t think it’s much different at the top end, like the top four or five are probably as the good as the top four or five were 20 years ago, but certainly once you get out the top 20, they are a lot better now than they used to be.

“You see people down the rankings, Sean O’Sullivan hit one this season, ranked outside the 64, you wouldn’t have seen that happening in the past at all.”

To illustrate his point, out of the 12 maximums compiled this season, five have been made by players outside the top-16. Surety, the most recent maximum maker, ranked 73rd and Sean O’Sullivan who made a 147 in July at the European Masters qualifiers ranked 85th.

PlayerRanking Date of maximumTournament
Mark Allen3rd12th January 2024Masters
Shaun Murphy6th7th December 2023Snooker Shoot Out
Ding Junhui7th8th January 2024Masters
John Higgins10th10th February 2024Championship League
Zhang Anda11th12th November 2023International Championship
Kyren Wilson12th6th February 2024Championship League
Gary Wilson13th17th February 2024Welsh Open
Ryan Day19th18th September 2023International Championship Qualifiers
Joe O’Connor30th29th February 2024Championship League
Xu Si56th19th November 2023UK Championship Qualifiers
Zak Surety73rd18th March 2024World Open
Sean O’Sullivan85th28th July 2023European Masters Qualifiers
List of maximum breaks made this season in order of world ranking – source: WST

“It was one of my favourite reactions… Just absolute delight.” – Maximum breaks are still special, just look at Neil Robertson in 2022

With the number of 147s soaring, do players still find making them as special as they once did?

“Its definitely still a special thing,” said Phil.

He pointed out even though maximums are made more often, they’re still relatively rare within the context of an individual player’s career, with only 34 players making more than one maximum and only 15 making more than three.

He said: “Even if you think of people who have hit a lot of maximums, its not a huge number.

PlayerNumber of maximumsMost recent
Ronnie O’Sullivan152018
John Higgins132024
Stephen Hendry112012
Stuart Bingham92022
Judd Trump82022
Shaun Murphy82023
Ding Junhui72024
Tom Ford52019
Neil Robertson52022
Marco Fu52022
Mark Selby52023
Kyren Wilson52024
Gary Wilson52024
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh42023
Ryan Day42023
List of players to have made four or more professional maximum breaks – source: WST

“Stuart Bingham’s made nine. That’s a lot for him but its still way less than one a season over his career.

“I think for them [the players] personally, you see how they celebrate, they absolutely love it, it is very special for those guys.”

Nick pointed to the reaction of Neil Robertson after his first ever 147 at the Crucible in 2022 as proof players still get a buzz from making them.

“There’s something about it,” says Nick enthusiastically. “When you’re at a tournament, the whole tournament becomes involved in the moment. There’s still a magic to the 147, there’s a luster.

“Look at Neil in 2022, it was one of my favourite reactions, certainly for ages, just absolute delight.”

“The pressure is so much higher… especially if you’re trying to pot balls for £147,000.” – Incentives for maximum breaks needed?

In years gone by, the importance of a 147 has often been reflected by the prize on offer for making one.

Steve Davis received a car for making the first televised maximum break at the Lada Classic and for many years, until 2011, £147,000 was on offer if one was made at the Crucible.

After a 12 year gap, the World Snooker Tour (WST) revived the £147,000 prize in 2023, but a player must make two maximum breaks at this season’s Triple Crown Series (UK Championships, Masters and World Championships) to receive it.

Also, there was the £365,000 that was up for grabs in Saudi Arabia for any player who could make a 167 break, comprised of a standard 147 break plus potting a newly introduced golden ball worth 20 points, at the inaugural World Masters of Snooker in Riyadh.

John Higgins went the closet in the Middle East, ultimately falling short whilst Mark Allen and Ding Junhui head to Sheffield in April knowing a 147 at the World Championships will see them claim the WST’s newest prize after each making a maximum break at this year’s Masters.

Nick said he didn’t mind the extra jeopardy the new WST prize brings to the game but ultimately for him, watching sport isn’t about the money.

Meanwhile, Phil reckoned the increase in prize money for the achievement has the potential to ramp up the pressure on players and see misses later on during breaks.

He said: “Its interesting with the incentive thing. I think you would naturally think more people would go for it but it may see more people miss later on because the pressure is so much higher, especially if you’re trying to pot balls for £147,000 rather than £5,000.”

“There were quite a lot of famous final black misses when there were quite big prize on offer. Ken Doherty in the Masters for example, but I spoke to Neil Robertson before the UK [Championship] and he sounded really excited about it. He said it was a really good incentive.”

“It was in the World Championships at the Crucible, and it was the fastest ever…” – Ronnie’s maximum break in 1997 hard to look past as best ever

Trying to decide the best maximum break is no mean feat, after all, there are 201 to choose from.

However, it took Phil merely seconds to pick what he though was the best.

“It’s a really boring answer but I don’t see how Ronnie’s is not number one,” he said.

O’Sulliavan’s 147 in the first round of the 1997 World Championships was made in a staggering five minutes and eight seconds, a record still held to this day, and something seven-time world snooker champion Stephen Hendry described as “the greatest thing I’ve seen in any sport.”

Phil continued: “The time he did it in alone gives it a really good argument to be number one, but the fact it was in the World Championships at the Crucible, and it was the fastest ever, really gives it an impenetrable argument.”

When Nick was asked what he thought was the best maximum break ever to be made, he found himself torn between O’Sullivan’s Crucible exploits in 1997 and Steve Davis’ in 1982.

After much consideration, Nick said: “They’re kind of equal for me, I know that’s a bit of a fudge, but Ronnie is just extraordinary, it’s hard to vote anything above it for the sheer ridiculousness of doing it that quickly.

“But Steve, for the historical nature of the achievement and the tough pots he pulled out, I’ve got to say, its hard to imagine many more difficult pots on the colours than that to do it, and bearing in mind we’d never seen it before, I’m going to make those two, for different reasons, kind of level.”

Featured image credit: DerHexer, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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