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Snooker is a cue sport that originated among British Army officers stationed in India in the second half of the 19th century. It is played on a rectangular table covered with a green cloth (or "baize"), with pockets at each of the four corners and in the middle of each long side. Using a cue stick and 21 coloured balls, players must strike the white ball (or "cue ball") to pot the remaining balls in the correct sequence, accumulating points for each pot. An individual game (or frame), is won by the player scoring the most points. A match is won when a player wins a predetermined number of frames.
Snooker gained its identity in 1884 when army officer Sir Neville Chamberlain, stationed in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, devised a set of rules that combined pyramid and black pool. The word snooker was a long-used military term for inexperienced or first-year personnel. The game grew in popularity in the United Kingdom, and the Billiards Association and Control Club was formed in 1919. It is now governed by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).
The World Snooker Championship has taken place since 1927. Joe Davis, a key figure in the early growth of the sport, won the championship 15 straight times between 1927 and 1946. The "modern era" began in 1969 after the broadcaster BBC commissioned the snooker television show Pot Black and later began to air the World Championship in 1978. Key figures in the game were Ray Reardon in the 1970s, Steve Davis in the 1980s, and Stephen Hendry in the 1990s, each winning six or more World championships. Since 2000, Ronnie O'Sullivan has won the most world titles, with five. Top professional players now compete regularly around the world and earn millions of pounds on the World Snooker Tour, which features players from across the world.
The origin of snooker dates back to the latter half of the 19th century. In the 1870s, billiards was a popular activity among British Army officers stationed in India, and several variations of the game were devised during this time. One variation that originated at the officers' mess of the 11th Devonshire Regiment in 1875 combined the rules of two pocket billiards games: pyramid and black pool. The former was played with fifteen red coloured balls positioned in a triangle, while the latter involved the potting of designated balls. The game was developed in 1884 when its first set of rules was finalised by Sir Neville Chamberlain, an English army officer who helped develop and popularise the game at Stone House in Ooty on a table built by Burroughes & Watts that was brought over by boat.
The word snooker was a slang term for first-year cadets and inexperienced military personnel, but Chamberlain would often use it for the performance of one of his fellow officers at the table. In 1887, snooker was given its first definite reference in England in a copy of Sporting Life which caused a growth in popularity. Chamberlain came out as the game's inventor in a letter to The Field published on 19 March 1938, 63 years after the fact.
Snooker grew in popularity across the Indian colonies and the United Kingdom, but it remained a game mainly for the gentry, and many gentlemen's clubs that had a billiards table would not allow non-members inside to play. To accommodate the growing interest, smaller and more open snooker-specific clubs were formed. In 1919, the Billiards Association and the Billiards Control Board merged to form the Billiards Association and Control Club (BA&CC) and a new, standard set of rules for snooker first became official.
In 1927 the first World Snooker Championship was organised by Joe Davis. Davis, as a professional English billiards and snooker player, moved the game from a pastime activity to a professional activity. Davis won every world championship until 1946, when he retired from the championships. The game went into a decline through the 1950s and 1960s with little interest generated outside of those who played. In 1959, Davis introduced a variation of the game known as "Snooker Plus" to try to improve the game's popularity by adding two extra colours, but this failed to gain interest.
The objective of the game is to score more points than one's opponent by potting object balls in the correct order. At the start of a frame, the balls are positioned as shown in Figure A, and the players then take turns hitting shots by striking the cue ball with the tip of the cue, their aim being to pot one of the red balls into a pocket and thereby score a point. Failure to make contact with the red ball constitutes a foul shot. If the striker pots a red ball, he or she must then pot one of the six "colours". If the player successfully pots a colour, the value of that ball is added to the player's score, and the ball is returned to its starting position on the table. After that, the player must pot another red ball, then another colour, in sequence. This process continues until the striker fails to pot the desired ball, at which point the opponent comes to the table to play the next shot. The act of scoring sequentially in this manner is to make a break (see scoring below).
The game continues in this manner until all the reds are potted and only the six colours are left on the table. At this point the colours must be potted in the order from least to most valuable ball, as per the table to the right. The shots are: yellow first (two points), then green (three points), brown (four points), blue (five points), pink (six points) and black (seven points), the balls not being returned to play. When the final ball is potted, the player with more points wins. If the scores are equal when all the balls have been potted, the black is placed back on its spot as a tiebreaker. In this situation, called re-spotted black, the black ball is placed on its designated spot and the cue ball is played as ball in hand. The referee then tosses a coin and the winner decides which player goes first. The frame continues until one of the players pots the black ball or commits a foul. A player may also concede a frame while on strike if he or she thinks there are not enough points available on the table to beat the opponent's score. In professional snooker this is a common occurrence. Professional and competitive amateur matches are officiated by a referee. The referee also replaces the colours on the table when necessary and calls out how many points the player has scored during a break. Professional players usually play the game in a sporting manner, declaring fouls which they have committed but the referee has missed, acknowledging good shots from their opponent, and holding up a hand to apologise for fortunate shots, known as "flukes".
The playing surface, 356.9 cm (11 feet 8.5 inches) by 177.8 cm (5 feet 10 inches) for a standard full-size table, with six pocket holes, one at each corner and one at the centre of each of the longer side cushions.