An Idea For Handicapping In Snooker

Snooker, like many or most other sports, games, pastimes, and athletic endeavors (herein
simply referred to as “games”) is played by a variety of individuals with widely varying levels
of skill. As a rule, these skill levels will often be categorized in a general sense, such as “this
person is an 'A' player, that person is a 'B' player”, etc. In reality, however, actual skill levels
are as individual as personalities and so such categorization is by necessity very broad,
meaning for instance that two players might appear to be at a similar skill level based on the
accepted grading system in place but may in fact be dissimilar players due to strengths in
completely different skill sets. In regards to snooker, this may mean a very good potter may
be a 'B' player despite a weakness in shot selection for a given situation. And a very good
safety player may also be considered a 'B' player although he may have trouble potting any
but the simplest of shots.
For competitive events between players, the ideal circumstance would be to only allow
competition between similarly skilled players, i.e., 'A' players against other 'A' players, 'B'
players against other 'B' players, etc. despite the potential problems of any grading system as
stated above. An obvious and perfect example of this would be Major League Baseball in
which specific criteria allow a player to compete at the “professional” level, somewhat lower
level players compete at the “Triple A” level, or “Double A” level, etc. This of course would
require a large enough pool of players that they may be grouped together accordingly. There
are three major problems with this concept for many games from a practical standpoint.
1) Unless a game is long established among a large group of players and has a
universally accepted method of defining skill level criteria (as in the example of Major
League Baseball), any categorization of the players is simply subjective, prone to error,
and not likely to be agreed upon by the participants.
2) If the pool of available players is not large enough, each skill level may have
inadequate participation for meaningful competition. For example, in a bowling league
with 40 participants, based on average scores, 30 are labeled as 'C' players, 8 as 'B'
players, and 2 as 'A' players. The 'A' players obviously have very limited competition
available.
3) Since personal skill improvement is often one of the primary goals of game
participants, yet another subjective method must be established to allow the
participants to “migrate” between the skill levels as their relative skill levels change.
People play the game for different reasons. One player may remain a 'B' player for a
decade playing once a week, while another may devote 4 hours a day every day to
honing his craft to go from 'C' level up to 'A' in a single season, but who and how to
judge such a transition?
In social, local game leagues with low participation rates then, it is likely necessary to make
allowance for players of varying ability levels to play against each other using some sort of
“handicap” system. This is certainly not a new idea and probably comes as no surprise to
anyone reading this white paper that the main purpose of this writing is to propose and justify
a system of handicapping to be used specifically for the game of snooker unlike any other
system used in the past. As this new system, to be referred to as “Handicap Colours”, is so
different than currently accepted norms, a detailed explanation is required as to why
Handicap Colours is beneficial to all the players of the game, of high, middle, or low level
abilities.
Handicapping may be accomplished in a variety of ways for various games, but historically,
snooker handicap systems have essentially been to give the acknowledged weaker of the two
players a “head start” of some essentially arbitrary number of points which would need to be
made up for by the stronger player in order to win, the theory being that the stronger player is
more adept at scoring points anyway and so may or may not then be able to overcome the
score differential to win the frame. This is akin to a 50 yard dash foot race between a fast
runner and a slow runner and simply giving the slow runner a 20 yard head start. The slow
runner may cross the finish line first, he may rightfully claim, “I won!”, but he will have
accomplished nothing toward the goal of learning what to do in order to be able to run faster
than his current slow pace. I will strive to demonstrate that this commonly accepted handicap
system for snooker is inferior, is counterproductive to its intended purpose, and in fact is
detrimental to a player who is striving to improve his performance and thereby improve upon
his handicap rating. I will propose instead a system which, while not quite as simple as a
“head start”, is still easy to understand and incorporate, provides definitive feedback as to
performance improvement, and can also be made to self adjust based on easily verifiable
data as players' abilities improve.
The real purpose of using handicaps
To begin, I believe that it is necessary to actually define “What is the purpose of any handicap
system in particular regarding a snooker match between two individual players?” If asked this
question, I believe that most snooker players would respond with what I believe to be the
wrong answer, and that is, “To make things even between the players,” or, “To level the
playing field,” or possibly, “To be fair.” Instead, my personal answer to this question would be,
“The purpose of a handicap system in snooker should be to make the match interesting.” A
secondary, also correct answer would be, “To allow an individual player a grading system to
compare his abilities against others and to provide a 'yardstick' with which to measure his
improvement.”
If one is under the impression that a handicapping system should make things “even”, then in
its very simplest form, the handicap will essentially relegate the match to an outcome with no
more meaning than the flip of a coin. Why play a snooker match at all? If the handicap
number is at perfection, then each player would have exactly a 50/50 chance of winning or
losing the frame at hand and eventually the match. And if the handicap number is too high or
too low, then one of the players may possibly win every frame of the match by being on the
right side of the “mistake” that was made in the handicap number the first place.
Using the “head start” number as a handicap is basically just an arbitrary guess based on
some acknowledged “expert's” opinion as to the strength of any given player. Then, later, this
number will likely be adjusted based on the outcome of matches and the fact of whether the
frame score results were relatively even (such as the frames won on pink or black) or the
frame scores were lopsided (such as frames won with reds still remaining on the table). I
contend that while this line of reasoning seems intuitive, it is absolutely incorrect and
backwards for players striving to improve their performance and skill level.
Instead of being “even”, I believe both players would prefer for the game to instead be
“interesting” as viewed from their own perspective. For the stronger (lower or nonhandicapped)
player, a “head start” handicapped snooker match with a weaker player may
well be uninteresting because the opponent's weaker potting skills and lack of strategic
knowledge can make the game tedious. Unlike a true individual sport, (for instance consider
golf,) snooker is a game in which your opponent's every action has a direct effect on your own
game. Which ball or balls your opponent chooses to play at or moves about the table
(whether accidentally or on purpose) will require for you to constantly alter your own game
strategy based upon whatever the current lie of the balls happens to be at your every visit to
the table. On the golf course, other than blatant unsportsmanlike conduct, nothing that one's
opponent can do will have any effect on one's own performance. On the green baize, on the
other hand, if a low skilled player simply bangs the balls around without a good perception of
what the intent should be, many balls will end up in difficult positions against the cushions or
tied up with other balls, and the frame will advance in a slow and boring manner for the
stronger player who may well get no chance to showcase his talents compiling breaks. The
“head start” handicapped match may be uninteresting for the weaker (high handicapped)
player because the stronger player, recognizing that the handicap has left him a large deficit
in score to recoup, is likely to play strong safety unless a good pot is nearly certain to start a
good break. He will need to avoid attempting risky pots instead choosing caution to avoid the
potential of an even larger deficit, and more importantly, fewer reds available with which to
overcome that deficit. The weaker player may well constantly find himself in extremely difficult
positions with virtually no chance of a pot in sight. The “head start” handicap method does
nothing to avert these unappealing aspects of the frame. Even if in the end, the frame comes
down to the final pot of the black, neither player is likely to be happier or wiser for the
experience.
The Professional Game versus The Amateur Game
Completely ignoring the concept of handicaps for a moment, let us examine an average
professional frame of snooker as it develops as compared to the amateur equivalent. It is
assumed that anyone who has shown the interest to read this white paper has surely
witnessed snooker at a professional level, whether live, on television, or any other media, and
it is also assumed that the reader is an avid, though amateur snooker player in his own right.
It is my contention that there are three primary differences between an average frame of
snooker at the professional level versus an average frame of snooker at the common amateur
level (herein referred to as “amateur” and not to include high level amateur competition which
may be considered to be nearly the same as professional):
1) Time – While there are certainly frames that may require significantly longer,
professional frames of snooker will commonly complete in about fifteen minutes or so.
On the other hand, there is no real average frame time for amateur level as this will
depend entirely on the actual individuals playing. It can be said though that amateur
frames are rarely shorter in duration than 30 minutes and can often extend to nearly an
hour or even longer. The seemingly obvious reason for this would be that professionals
tend to score higher and faster, potting balls much quicker to bring the game to its
conclusion. However, upon closer examination, that is only a small part of the reason
for the time difference. I contend that professionals clear the table faster than amateurs
because their pots are very often much easier to make than the pots of the amateur so
the professional will make more pots and faster. How can that be? Of course,
professionals have the skill to make the occasional very difficult pot when necessary,
but the real strength of a professional snooker player is in his positional play which
means that following a difficult “starter” pot to get going, the professional follows up
with pot after pot always leaving himself a simple shot to follow. And thus the table is
cleared quickly. The amateur by contrast may start with a difficult red as well (we have
all made “amazing” shots that we are very proud of, and in fact we do so on a fairly
regular basis), but with poor positional ability, will have little in the way of a colour to
continue. Even if the opening colour is made, the next red is often difficult, and so, very
quickly into the frame, the balls become scattered, colours off their spots, and pots
become fewer and farther between leading to a long, drawn out, low scoring frame.
2) Score – To elaborate on a point made above, the amateur mindset generally seems to
be that if a frame is decided on the pink or black ball, it must have been a “good
game”. After all, it came all the way down to the end, could have gone either way,
right? In fact, a professional frame rarely ends with one of the last remaining balls on
the table. Much more common is a concession of frame either with reds remaining or
after a partial or full colour clearance left snookers required a long while ago. Of
course, one player score in professional play will quite often go to triple digits and it is
not at all uncommon for one of the players to be whitewashed with zero points on the
board. Contrary to the popular amateur myth, a frame won on the pink or black is
probably not indicative of a good game. Instead, it is much more likely indicative of a
couple of snooker players who tend to have difficulty potting more than just a couple of
balls in a row. And that results in one player leading by a few points, then the other
player taking a narrow lead, then the first recaptures the lead, etc. And so it goes to the
end. A common progression of a professional match scoreline will be Player A winning
a frame by several dozen points, then Player B coming back to win one or more frames
by several dozen points, then Player A again, etc. with the occasional “scrappy” frame
in the mix as well that may come down to the final colours when neither player could
get in with an opportunity to score. The amateur game is virtually always “scrappy”--not
because there was no chance to score, but because when there was opportunity to
score, the amateur was unable to do so. So for amateur play, winning or losing frames
on the pink or black regularly should not be considered as a badge of honor. Instead,
such a circumstance should be viewed as a very strong signal the players' average
PPV (points per visit) is in dire need of improvement. The professional mindset
understands that the underlying strategy of snooker should focus on winning the
MATCH; there is no dishonor in losing an individual frame even by a score of a
hundred or more points to zero. Congratulate the opponent for a frame well played and
move on to the next one.
3) Strategy (and Spots) – It is common fantasy among amateur players to survey the lie
of the table before them and think or say, “Okay, so what would (insert professional
player's name) do in this situation?” The truth of the matter is that the professional in all
likelihood would never find themselves in that situation to begin with. The professional
game progresses in a very controlled manner, generally, only with balls moving when
they are intended to be moved. In a circumstance where control slips away and a
scoring ball, say black, gets tied up with reds or goes tight against a cushion, the
professional will actively look for any opportunity to bring that ball back into play
(unless doing so would be greater benefit to the opponent). Aggressive offensive shots
such as cannoning into a trouble ball when potting red to bring it out, or aggressive
safety shots such as specifically playing a red toward that black while bringing white
back to baulk, whatever it may take to bring that scoring ball back into play so that it
may be utilized later in the frame. On the other hand, the amateur game tends to slip
into chaos, and usually very quickly. We have all been in a frame where blue is
knocked to the side cushion on the opening shot, then doesn't move again until the
frame is near completion. Have you ever seen that happen professionally? The
amateur, with limited control of the white ball position after a pot, will tend to take a red,
then select whatever colour happens to be the easiest and most readily available from
whatever table position is left. And if that colour is not a simple, straightaway pot, it
may well also end up in some unfortunate position like the blue following the break off.
Amateurs tend to not develop difficult balls to better positions either through ignorance
(not understanding how to, nor even realizing that they should do so) or fear (that in
the attempt, they will leave open shots for the opponent to steal away the ball thus
developed). To watch a professional frame, more often than not, the colours will be on
their spots when the reds are cleared. This is critical to the success of a high break full
clearance as the professional has practiced clearing colours from spots thousands if
not tens of thousands of times in the past. If the colours are scattered around the table,
even in relatively open positions, the full clearance is much less likely. In the amateur
frame, finding all the colours still on their spots after the reds are cleared is about as
rare as finding a four leaf clover. During the course of the frame, colours on their spots
(or at least near, due to occasional nudging) is an absolute critical component to the
higher average frame speed of the professional game as seen in bullet point 1) and the
higher frame scores of bullet point 2). Colours continuously off spots lead to long,
tedious, low scoring frames. Often in the amateur frame, when the colour clearance
portion of the frame begins, the frame may still continue for another 15 to 30 minutes
while the players have to chase down and play safe on every ball.
Learning to view the frame through the eyes of the professional
So to simply sum up the above three major points, the professional player has painstakingly
learned how the cue ball will travel when it contacts the object at any given angle, the
professional player has learned to manipulate that travel line to position the cue ball such that
the next pot will be a simple shot, and the professional player is particularly strong at potting
colours directly off their spots meaning, by extension, that the colours remain on their spots
throughout most of the frame. Not mentioned above is the fact that, if a professional runs a
century break, nearly every colour of that break was potted off its spot (the break may have
required several “sloppy” colours around the table that needed to be cleaned up in
preparation for the full table clearance). Amateurs, on the other hand, tend to pot a large
percentage, perhaps even most, of the colours of the frame from not on spot, i.e., from
whatever position they happened to end up when they were either missed in a pot attempt, or
else knocked about from uncontrolled play.
Let there be no mistake: every professional player has in the past and continues in the
present to put in countless hours of practice to keep at the top of his game. Snooker is what
they do to earn a living so the tedious hours of practice are in essence how their paycheck is
earned. Amateurs, on the other hand, are not looking to turn the game into a job. They may
put in some short practice time with a few drills on occasion, but mostly they are looking for
friendly competition to ply their skills against others.
So can there be a way to simulate professional game play even between two mediocre
amateurs? The short answer of course is no, that is why they are professionals, but, with
certain concessions, two amateur players may have a frame against each other that will
contain many of the elements that are described in detail above. Specifically, yes, it is
possible for amateurs to 1) complete frames in as little as 15 to 20 minutes 2) have one of the
two players scoring 60, 70, even 80 points for the win (while the opponent may well score 20
or less), and 3) regularly reach the end game with colors on or near their spots and so
perhaps run the occasional full table clearance.
The “Handicap Colours” System
With this concept, a viable handicap system may also be developed to create interesting play
between players of vastly different abilities. Methods of handicaps in various games can take
on whatever form the players of the game wish. It need not be limited to awarding numerical
point values. Remember, the purpose of the handicap is not to make things even between the
players (because that simply cannot happen when players have different skill levels); the
handicap is to make things interesting. So let your imagination run wild with methods of
handicapping various games......
If I wished to throw darts against Phil Taylor, how could we make the match interesting for
both of us? I think that Phil and I would agree that if I were to play him straight up, it would not
be very interesting for either of us. Even if he gave me a hundred to start, I still would not
stand a chance. So what “number” handicap would actually make it interesting? The true
answer is that there is none. If he gave me 499 to start and all I needed was a double ace to
finish, he would probably still win the game virtually every time. We have to look at other
avenues to handicap besides just giving a certain number of points.
Perhaps, I could stand the usual distance of a bit under 8 feet from the board, but he will
surely be off his game if his line is 11 or 12 feet from the board so that might be interesting to
see how he deals with that handicap. Or perhaps, we could throw our darts at two entirely
different boards: his could be professional standard, but I can have a special dart board that is
exactly double in size so my target zones are much bigger. This might actually give me a
chance of managing to double out. Maybe I could even be out in nine darts on occasion. The
point is, despite our tremendous difference in skill level, we can play a game that may not
exactly be Darts as it is played at the professional level, but it does have the look and feel of
darts, especially in the case that Phil is throwing at a standard board. And as my skill level
increases over time, my board size can shrink in response until maybe one day my board will
properly become standard size and I can give Phil a fair game without any handicap at all.
In a nutshell, this is the idea behind Handicap Colours; a game that is not exactly snooker, but
in many ways, it has the look and feel of the professional game. And as players'
performances improve, the handicaps can be automatically adjusted (like reducing the size of
the dart board) in order to bring the players closer and closer to scratch (no handicap at all)
which should of course be the ultimate goal.
To begin using Handicap Colours, each player is first assigned a handicap number which will
fall in the range between 0 and 7. Of course the best player will be the benchmark and
assigned 0, but as will be seen later, if 0 is not appropriate for this individual, the number will
work its way upward automatically. To initially calculate other players' handicaps, they may be
approximated by adding one Handicap Colour for about every 7 points that would be in the
common handicap system (i.e., if a stronger player rated “0” will be giving 20 points to a
weaker player in common handicaps, then in Handicap Colours, the weaker player is a 3; if
the stronger player carries a rating of “1” and is giving 20 points, the weaker player should be
a “4”). Within league play, all players will retain their numbers, NOT subtract out the difference
between them for their match. So if a Handicap Colours 3 plays a 2, they will both be entitled
to those Handicap Colour numbers during the match, DO NOT subtract down to “1” and “0”.
With Handicap Colours, both players begin the frame from zero points as in a proper frame of
snooker, rather than a “head start” at the beginning of the frame for the weaker player. As the
frame progresses, the players may have opportunity to claim handicap points to be added to
their scores in certain circumstances. Whether these points are added to the score will
depend on the player's game play decisions and shot execution. So the player must verbally
declare prior to a particular shot, “Handicap (fill in the name of the colour)”. If the player pots
the colour, then the handicap remains unclaimed and the player simply receives points for
potting that colour and continues the break without the loss of one of his handicap colour
values. BUT...if the player declared “Handicap (colour)” then attempts but MISSES the pot,
then he will continue his break and he may be able to claim those handicap points based on
the outcome of the next shot, for which RED will again be the ball on. If the player shot the
Handicap Colour (say, black) wisely and made specific effort to properly leave himself on the
next red, then the next shot should be simple. To claim the handicap points, that red MUST be
potted at which time the previous colour (in this case, black) and the just potted red are then
added to the break score and the break continues on another colour. Another Handicap
Colour may then be declared if there are still any available. The third and final possibility
when a player declares a handicap colour intention is that the pot of the colour is missed, but
then the player also misses the following red, so that the handicap points still remain
unclaimed, the break is finished, and player receives any break points acquired up to, but not
including, the handicap colour declaration.
Upon first reading, the above paragraph likely seems complicated so following are examples
of the only three possible outcomes when a “handicap colour” declaration is made:
1) Player A pots red, break is at 1, then declares, “handicap black”. Player A pots black,
break is at 8, no handicap has been claimed (Player A retains whatever his Handicap
Colour value had been before this sequence). Player A continues break as normal now
playing for another red. This is absolutely unchanged from normal snooker.
2) Player A pots red, break is at 1, then declares, “handicap black”. Player A misses the
pot with the black rattling the jaws of the pocket, but in attempting the shot, the striker
interpreted the roll of the cue ball perfectly leaving himself very well set up to pot a
following red. The proper score call at this point is, “Handicap. Break is at 1.” Because
“handicap black” was declared prior to the shot, Player A may have the opportunity to
claim the point value of the black (7 points) toward his score. However, this handicap
point value claim is not automatic; it is dependent on the outcome of the next shot.
Player A then attempts to pot the next red exactly as he would if he had actually potted
black on the previous shot. Player A pots the red and the break continues, break score
is at 9 (1 plus handicap 7 plus 1), and the player's Handicap Colour value is decreased
by one for this frame (if Player A started the frame as a “3”, he now has 2 more
handicap colours available for this frame).
3) Player A pots red, break is at 1, then declares, “handicap black”. Player A misses the
pot with the black rattling the jaws of the pocket, but in attempting the shot, the striker
interpreted the roll of the cue ball poorly so that there is not a good, simple shot at red
to follow. The score call is, “Handicap. Break is at 1.” and Player A continues his break.
At this point, with poor position, the striker may abandon his effort to claim his declared
handicap points and simply play a safety off the next red. On the other hand, he may, if
he wishes to attempt to pot some difficult red anyway in an effort to claim those
declared handicap points. In any case, if the following red is potted, whether on
purpose or by fluke, the situation is that of bullet point 2) above, but if the following red
is NOT potted, the break ends with score being as last called (in this case, break is 1).
There are a few more specifics to be noted. As can be seen in the above examples, handicap
point values can only be claimed by the action of actually potting a following red. Therefore, it
follows that when there are no reds remaining on the table, no handicap colours can be
claimed. A “handicap” declaration may not be made during the final colour sequence near the
end of the game. Also, after potting the last red, a handicap colour declaration may not be
made even if the player has handicap values remaining as there is no red to follow; yellow will
be the next ball on. However, if there is one red remaining, but then a foul and “free ball”
situation arises, the incoming striker (assuming that he still has handicap values available,)
may pot a free ball, declare a handicap colour, and if he misses the pot of that colour, he may
still claim the handicap points IF he pots the following last red.
It is possible that a player may declare a handicap colour with literally every single colour that
he attempts to pot throughout the course of a frame. For instance, if a player is rated as a “3”,
and in a particular frame, he happens to pot a total of 7 out of the fifteen red balls, after every
single one of those seven reds, he may have declared “handicap (colour)” but then after the
declaration, he proceeded to pot those colours, not a single one of those handicap
declarations were claimed; in fact, he finished the frame still retaining 3 possible handicap
colors. The “claiming” of (and thereby, reduction of the available) handicap colours will only
occur when the striker declares a handicap colour, misses the following pot of that colour, but
proceeds to pot the following red (the situation in bullet point 2) above).
A player is certainly not required to declare a handicap colour after potting a red if he doesn't
wish to in a given circumstance. For instance, following the pot of a long “shot to nothing”
where the white returns to the baulk area in no useful position to continue the break, the
striker may simply nominate a colour as usual and play a roll up safety behind a baulk colour
if he believes that is the more appropriate shot for the situation. Or perhaps the player does
not want to “waste” a handicap colour call on a low value baulk colour, instead preferring to
save the handicap declarations for higher value blues, pinks, and/or blacks so he may prefer
to simply attempt to pot, say, a green without declaring it as “handicap green”.
When the striker verbally declares a handicap colour after he pots a red, what that truly
means is that he is GUARANTEEING that his break will continue after this shot (unless he
commits a foul), whether the pot is made or not, although he may or may not be rewarded
with the point value of the colour. What end that will accomplish is that it will relieve the
pressure of the pot from the mind of the striker so that he can be freed to fully devote his
concentration to how the cue ball will move during the course of the shot, and so the player
will ultimately gain a much better understanding of how to leave himself better on the next
red, gradually learning to leave simple shots for himself in a professional manner. In many
cases, an amateur attempting to pot a colour is so focused on trying to be certain of the pot
that he may devote little effort or concentration on positional aspect of the shot for the
following red. Or on the other hand, he may be so worried that the pot is difficult so he will
purposely NOT leave himself with a good red just in case he does miss that colour. The
Handicap Colours System allows the amateur player to free himself of the pressure of an
individual pot in order to learn how to string simple pots together for a sustained, high value
break.
The Big Dart Board: How Handicap Colours is similar to, but not exactly, Professional
Snooker
Remember that, at the end of it all, Handicap Colours is a handicap system. It is not meant to
allow players to play the game exactly like professionals because the only way to accomplish
that would be for the players to actually be professionals. So for amateur players to have
game play resembling that of professionals, concessions (such as the “big dart board”
example) must be accepted. In the case of snooker, the concession that is required of
amateurs is to humbly admit that we do not have the control of cue and object ball positions
that the professionals do. Therefore, if we incorporate that concession into our handicap
system, the amateur game will begin to resemble the professional game, the amateur player
will begin to think like the professional player, and, over time, the amateur player's skills will
improve allowing any individual's handicap level to gradually be lowered and eventually
eliminated completely. To accomplish this lofty goal is a lengthy process, not something that
can be accomplished overnight.
In order to simulate the ball control of the professional snooker player, it is required that the
amateur players in a frame also display such control. Of course, this would best be done with
amazing talent and incredible skill, but until we amateurs reach that level, we will have to be
content with a little bit of assistance in this area. That assistance will come through the
Handicap Colour System. When a handicap colour is nominated, the player will take the shot
at the colour with every honest intention of potting the ball, but his greater focus will be
leaving the cue ball on the next red. Therefore, by the handicap system, if he does miss the
pot of that colour, we will concede him those handicap points AS LONG AS he is able to pot
the following red and thereby continue the break. However, when he attempted that pot of the
colour, he had every intention of actually potting it, therefore, we will also concede that the
colour (after allowing for it to fully come to rest,) will also be respotted to its proper position
exactly as if it had been actually potted in the first place. By this action, the colours will remain
under good control of the players and not find themselves so frequently in the difficult
positions as demonstrated in the “Professional versus Amateur Game” section. By having the
colours routinely available on their spots, the lower handicap player will now have opportunity
to make significant breaks rather than spending so much time chasing after the bad colours
trying to bring them back into play. And now in a positionally controlled environment, the high
handicap player will begin to understand what it is like to truly “compile” a break rather than
just haphazardly stringing several pots together as is the usual case for high handicap
players.
Player development and the reduction of handicaps
Professionals tend to play snooker with emphasis on potting balls, scoring high breaks, and
having very high confidence in their ability to accomplish these things. Amateurs tend to play
the game timidly, with much greater emphasis on safety play. Generally, amateurs are more
fearful that poor safety will give away higher scoring potential to the opponent than they are
confident in their own ability to score. Normally, to fully take on a pot of a colour is an
inherently risky shot because, not only does the striker wish to pot the colour, but also to
leave an easy red next meaning that if he misses the pot, but gets the desired position, he is
automatically handing a good scoring opportunity to his opponent. If he lacks confidence in
the pot of the colour, he will very likely play poor position as well or might decide to play a
safety off the color, thereby pushing yet another colour to the cushion and out of active play.
By encouraging offensive strategy over safety by lowering inherent risk in the shot on a
colour, Handicap Colours will put the high handicap player frequently in the position of playing
for that professional leave on the next red even when he is not perfectly placed for a high
confidence shot on the colour. The colours remain in the game and the high handicap player
gradually becomes comfortable with the offensive minded strategy. Even if the “handicap
(colour)” shot goes awry and there is no good leave on the next red, the player can still
choose to play a safety with no harm, but at least now, that safety will be off of a red, helping
to keep the scoring colours in play for a continuing offensive minded frame.
Adjustment of the handicap numbers becomes a very simple matter based on the scoring
level of the handicapped player. Put very simply, the Handicap Colour player should find
himself scoring breaks in at least the twenties and thirties with some regularity by claiming
handicap points as required. Occasionally, these breaks will be made with no claim of
handicap points (i.e., the “handicap” verbal declaration was made, but the colour was potted
naturally anyway); this would be termed a “natural break” as opposed to a “handicap break”.
To automatically adjust handicap values, plateaus will need to be established to trigger either
addition or subtraction of the Handicap Colour value for a player for a frame as required
(bearing in mind that each new frame will reset the Handicap Colour value for each player
back to its current start point). For instance, in the ACES Snooker League, participants play
matches of five full frames against a scheduled opponent (not a “best of...” or “race to...”
format). It is expected that every player in the league should be capable of compiling breaks
of 21 points or better in one or two out of each of those five frames. (21 is chosen as a
plateau because that is a simple average of three reds and three pinks whether a natural or
handicap break.) If a player compiles such breaks in three separate frames, that is considered
a signal that his Handicap Colour value may be too high and will thereby be reduced by one.
To gain a handicap point value is not as easy as losing one however; to have a Handicap
Colour added to your value will require going the course of two matches (ten frames) with less
than two frames scoring breaks of 21 or better. These plateaus will be subject to change as
more data about the Handicap Colours System is learned. In this way, it is expected that
every player's proper handicap value will evolve naturally so that the benchmark handicap
zero player may rise to a one or higher over the course of time. Note that these plateaus are
based on FRAMES with breaks of 21 or better. Snooker is a game of momentum, whether
positive or negative. It is very common for a player to score a break of, say, 25 or 30, be very
comfortable with his position in the frame and so rattle off another break of 25 or more before
the frame is completed. This will only count as a single instance of “21 or better” for the
purpose of handicap adjustment.
Using Handicap Colours, you will find that frame scores will swing dramatically from one
player to the other, and oftentimes, a player (or players) will finish the frame not having
actually claimed any handicap points anyway, either because he potted the declared
handicap colour or because with the other player dominating the frame, he never had much
opportunity to score. As an example of the possible score swing, myself personally, I was in a
match in which I lost one frame by a score of 84 to 2, then returned the favor the following
frame by winning the next with the margin of 65 to 24. This type of situation is to be expected,
as referenced in the Professional Game versus Amateur Game section.
Requirements and Restrictions of the Handicap Colours System
Common practice in snooker is that, after a red is potted, if the intended colour to be played at
is clear and obvious, often the player will make no audible nomination. However, with
Handicap Colours, it is imperative that the player make a verbal, audible “handicap (colour)”
call (of course, replace (colour) with the actual intended colour name). The player is not
required to play the colour as a handicap so if no audible call is made, it is assumed that he is
playing the colour natural, therefore, if the pot is missed, the striker's visit to the table is over
and all balls will remain in the position at which they come to rest.
When replacing a missed pot handicap colour to its spot, it is required to let all balls come to
rest before retrieving the handicap colour and returning it to its spot (or the designated spot if
its own spot is occupied). This process may be expedited if it is perfectly clear that there will
be no more possible collisions with other balls so the handicap colour may be retrieved while
it is still in slow motion if desired. There will be times when the striker plays the handicap
colours with intention of leaving on a specific red, the missed pot may rebound from the
pocket and strike that red, thereby changing the table position in an unexpected way and
perhaps causing the following red to become unpottable. Such a circumstance is unfortunate,
but it should simply be considered as “part of the game” in the same way as when a fluke pot
occurs. In a similar vein, if the nominated handicap colour ball is not potted in the intended
pocket, but rebounds and flukes into another pocket, it is exactly the same as a natural pot
with points scored so that the handicap points remain unclaimed and the break continues.
The specific colour that may be nominated as a handicap colour is restricted. The
nominated colour must be available in a clear, straight line contact with the cue ball. The
nominated colour must be available to pot in a clear, straight line to a pocket. The striker must
endeavor to actually pot the nominated colour. The striker may not play a double, a cushion
first, an in-off, or any other unusual shot with a nominated handicap colour. If such a shot is
the only shot available to the striker (for instance, if the cue ball is snookered on every
colour), then a normal colour nomination must be made, but it may not be played as a
handicap colour. The Handicap Colours System is intended to allow the striker to devote
attention to the positional aspect of a shot. However, by the rules of Handicap Colours, the
striker must make an honest and reasonable effort to pot the nominated ball. The nomination
may well be a very difficult pot; for instance, if the cue ball is near yellow spot, the striker may
nominate “handicap blue” which is on spot and attempt to pot it in a top pocket (near black),
while at the same time, leaving the cue in the middle of the table for a red near a middle
pocket. This is admittedly a very difficult shot and the striker may well miss by quite a
distance, but it is a perfectly reasonable shot and as an honest effort was made, it is allowed.
As to judging this “honest effort”, ideally, a referee would be required. Without a referee, the
“honest effort” judgment is then left to the opponent who is expected to treat the situation as a
gentleman and consider his own experience with such shots. In general, when a handicap
colour is played, it is expected that the power of the shot will be such that, if not potted, the
intended colour is at least driven to one of the adjacent cushions of the intended pocket, and
within perhaps one or two ball diameters of the pot. (“Ball diameters” is a better unit of
measure for this purpose than “inches” because, for instance, if the object ball is, say, one
inch from the cushion but four feet away from the intended pocket, in the pot attempt, the
object ball may strike the cushion a distant two feet away from the pocket, but it may have
been within a quarter ball diameter of being potted because of the very narrow angle of
approach.)
Another potential controversial circumstance in which intent must be judged is in the speed of
a handicap colour shot. As stated above, it is expected that the object ball will be driven to a
cushion if not actually potted, but, as we all know, there are times when a soft stroke is
required so judgment again must be made. For instance, if the situation calls for a “soft pot” of
the black, and the striker rolls the black ball within several inches of the pocket, this should be
accepted by the opponent as an “honest effort” although the cushion was not reached. On the
other hand, if the striker wants to be sure he leaves himself without covering the next red
hanging on the jaws of a pocket so he strikes the black such that it only rolls twelve or fifteen
inches off its spot, then that was quite clearly not an honest effort to pot the black ball.
Likewise, if a miscue occurs during the course of the handicap colour stroke, this will be
treated as failure to make an honest effort, or a foul if proper contact is not made (unless of
course the miscue is minor so that the handicap colour actually travels a reasonable line and
distance to the intended pocket). Another possibility is that the handicap colour in traveling the
general line toward the intended pocket may also contact some other ball that may have been
near to (but not directly) interfering with the intended line. Again, this may well alter the
anticipated lie of the table afterward for the striker (similar to the unfortunate handicap colour
rebound example above), but, as a reasonably attempted shot, it should be accepted.
In a refereed match, the referee shall keep a running tally of the current break score,
indicating handicaps as required. For instance, a typical break may be called by the referee,
“One.... handicap black...” (the referee repeats any verbal nomination of the player for
absolute clarity), “...handicap, break is one...” (this is the indication that the break will
continue as the missed pot black is spotted), “...eight, nine...” (next red has been potted, if a
marker is keeping score, one Handicap Colour value is subtracted from those available to the
player; note the referee should call both the score “eight” to indicate that seven has been
added for the handicap black, then “nine” to indicate the legal pot of the red; this is similar to a
referee call of “one, two” when two reds have been potted on a single stroke), “...handicap
black...sixteen...”, (the black was potted naturally; the marker does not reduce handicaps
remaining), etc. If the referee judges that an honest effort to pot was not made, he will call the
final break score as soon as he makes that judgment (for instance, as soon as he judges that
black ball to have been purposely understruck, or the instant the object ball strikes the
cushion an extraordinary distance from the intended pocket). So to continue the break above,
but if the next attempted black is judged to have NOT been an honest effort:
“...seventeen...handicap black...Player A seventeen”. The final call indicates that the
referee has judged that the player has not made an honest effort to pot and the black ball will
remain where it has come to rest. Player A's turn at the table is over and Player B is now the
striker. The “honest effort” rule for Handicap Colours is not a case where a foul is committed,
it simply ends the striker's visit. The referee shall not call “foul” and the opponent will not
receive penalty points.
A final note about the “honest effort” requirement of Handicap Colours: as in all things related
to snooker, the players are expected to conduct themselves as gentlemen and not wait for the
referee to call or for the opponent to challenge if a breach of the rules is committed. As in
committing a “push stroke” or some similar situation, when the player has done something
wrong, the player knows he has done something wrong and it certainly should not be
necessary for someone else to tell the player he has done something wrong.
If a foul occurs during a shot in which a handicap colour was nominated, penalties will be
assessed as usual with the difference that the handicap colour thus nominated will be
returned to its own or the required designated spot prior to the next stroke. The situation is to
be treated as if the handicap colour was potted, then the foul occurred. For instance,
handicap black is nominated, the pot is missed, but the cue ball falls into a pocket for a foul.
The referee will call foul, any points from the striker's visit to the table will be awarded, and the
black will be returned to its spot prior to the next stroke. Another example would be if the
nominated colour is very close to another ball, say red, and the red ball is struck first before
the handicap colour. Foul, assessment of points, and the colour is returned to its spot after
coming to rest and prior to the next stroke.
Handicap Colours allows for a player to attempt shots that he otherwise would not such as the
object ball one inch from the cushion and four feet from the pocket in the example above. It
encourages offensive strategy, as it encourages regularly bringing the scoring balls back into
play whereas with normal snooker, scoring balls knocked into bad positions will have a
tendency to remain out of play for most of if not the entire frame.
Summary
Snooker is a pastime enjoyed by millions. We watch in amazement the game at the
professional level and imagine that we may one day reach such a pinnacle. Then, in
attempting to put into practice that which we have seen, we are regularly faced with
disappointment and begin thinking that there is no way that we will ever play the game even
remotely like a professional. And yet they make it seem to be so easy. I believe that before we
can learn how to play this game like a professional, we need to learn how to approach this
game like a professional.
The Handicap Colours System allows us to completely change our approach to the game. It is
a work in progress and subject to change, but with the primary goal of allowing players the
freedom to develop the strategies of the professional game early on while they still have lower
level skills. The ultimate evidence of the success of the Handicap Colours System will be
when a handicap player returns to his seat after a good run and hearing the break call of over
50 points, as he has a number of times in the past thanks to the use of handicap colours, but
upon reflection, the player comes to realize that in fact every pot of the break was natural.
That will be the player's very first natural half-century break and he may not even recognize it
immediately as he has already become accustomed to seeing thirty, forty, even fifty points
added to his score at a single visit through use of the Handicap Colours System.
Any comments, questions, or other feedback regarding Handicap Colours may be directed to
snooker@acesmachinery.com.