The rules definition of a snooker is when all balls-on are fully or partially obstructed by a ball or balls not on. If a ball-on cannot be struck at both extreme edges in a direct straight line the Cue-Ball is said to be snookered.

This seems to be very different from the perception of quite a lot of snooker players who believe that to be snookered means that not even one finest edge of a ball-on should be accessible before the term is employed. The terms ‘fully snookered’ and ‘partially snookered’ are also often and erroneously used in place of ‘fully obscured’ and ‘partially obscured’. Just like being pregnant when you either are or are not with nothing in between, the Cue-Ball is either snookered or isn’t. This could lead to confusion as to when a Free Ball can or should be awarded. The rules state that a Fee Ball should be awarded if all balls on are snookered after a foul.

Now it might be the case that the full circumference of a ball-on could be struck after a foul has been committed, but if there is any obstruction to any part of such a ball, even the finest edge and there are no other balls-on able to be struck at both extreme edges in a straight line, then it is mandatory to award a Free Ball and that a Free Ball can only be awarded if the Cue-Ball is snookered by the definition in the rule book.

In a match recently viewed, John Higgins fouled by failing to strike the final Red of a frame, instead striking the Black. The referee quite correctly called ‘foul’ and awarded 7 points to John’s opponent. As the Red was now almost completely obscured, this referee, again quite rightly, awarded a Free Ball. The Pink was selected and an attempt to pot it into a centre pocket was made with the result that it was missed, bouncing off the far knuckle back towards the Cue-Ball. Its resting position ended up being very close to the Cue-Ball resulting in it marginally obscuring the Red. With the snookering ball being the selected Free Ball, the referee was again correct in calling this a foul and awarding 4 penalty points, as although Pink was the snookering ball, it had been taken as a Free Ball with a Red as the ball-on thus taking on the value of the Red. The call of Free Ball was also correctly made.

With great kudos for his sportsmanship but none for his knowledge of the relevant rule, John then protested that he could see the Red and was therefore at a loss as to why a Free Ball had been awarded to him. It must be said that confusion could also have been caused by the fact that the first language of the referee was Chinese, not English and certainly not English with a broad Scottish accent. That being said it was clear from the audio that the command of English this referee had was certainly adequate to make himself understood and that is was more on the part of John than the referee that a faster outcome could not be accomplished. In the end it was only the intervention of Head Referee Jan Verhaas which cleared up the problem and allowed play to continue.

This perfectly illustrates the point that this rule causes consternation and that even World Champions are sometimes confounded by it. It is however, simple in the extreme if the idea is fixed in the mind that being snookered does not mean that it is impossible to strike a ball on in a straight line and that only a very fine edge needs to be so obscured for the term ‘snookered’ to be valid.

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