I watched a lot of snooker with my dad when I was young. I recently came upon this video of a very quick maximum break, and it brought back a lot of happy memories of watching the game with family.
For those of you not familiar with the game, in snooker, there are 7 colours of balls that you can pot. 15 are red, and the others are collectively known as the “coloured” balls. Reds are worth 1, then Yellow, Green, Brown, Blue, Pink and Black are 2 through 7.
Barring any fouls/penalties, when you approach the table, you must hit the cue ball so it strikes a red. If you successfully pot a red, you then attempt to pot a colour, and the colour is returned to its spot if you were successful. If you fail to pot a ball (but the cue ball strikes a legal ball, either red, or colour, depending on if you had previously potted a red), then your turn is over and the other person gets a turn. The score on your turn is referred to as the break. So if you potted a red, a black, a red, and a pink, your break would be 15. The person who scores the higher score for the frame, wins the frame. The numbers in the middle of the score show that it’s a best of 19 frames contest, and O’Sullivan is leading Price 8 frames to 5.
The difficulty is that the reds are closely packed together, and if you open them up too widely too early, if you miss a pot, you give your opponent a chance to make a good score for the frame, possibly enough to beat you.
So you have to open the pack of reds up a little bit, pot those reds (with a coloured ball between), and then carefully open up the reds again, leaving them open for you to pot one. Hopefully.
Once all the reds are gone, the coloureds are potted in turn, and this time, remain potted.
Usually on a high break, if the difference between your score and your opponent’s score is larger than the number of points available on the table, then when you’ve completed your turn the opponent will concede the frame. This is why the commentator referred to the frame as being “safe” partway through.
If you pot Red then Black, 15 times, then all six coloured balls in sequence, you get 147 points, the maximum break. It’s a very rare occurrence.
It is theoretically possible to score more than 147 if your opponent fouls (either by sinking the cue ball, or striking a coloured ball before striking a red). If the position of the cue ball subsequent to such a foul means that the cue ball cannot see both sides of any single red, then the referee declares that the player has a free ball. That means he can strike and pot a colour as if it were a red. It will score 1 point, but because it is actually a colour, it will get replaced on its spot. The player could then pot the black, and then go on to pot the 15 reds as in a regular maximum break. The theoretical maximum break is thus 155. However, in professional play, to have a foul before a single red has been potted, leaving the reds closed enough for there to be a free ball, but open enough to follow through for a maximum break is much, much rarer. There are some video clips that include such a situation on youtube, but they were exhibition play – the foul a deliberate set up to see if the player could succeed in doing the 155 break. The pressure is much less than in tournament play where there are often high valued prizes for the highest breaks of the tournament. In the clip above, £147,000 was referenced as the prize for a maximum break, a considerable sum, particularly when you adjust for inflation since 1997.