January 21, 2013

What Makes a Great?

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 1:18 pm
Selby after his win last night with his judy.

Selby after his win last night with his judy.

Mark Selby clinched his third Masters title last night against Neil Robertson to add to the UK Championship crown he won in December. Some will feel that this achievement alone is enough to ensure his legacy as one of the greats of the modern game, others will argue that unless he adds a World Championship, his name will always be a rung down on the ladder of true snooker greatness.  

Possibly the best example in the modern game of someone who would split opinion on this matter is Jimmy White. Six-times he tried and six times he failed to win a final at the Crucible but with a Masters and a UK crown to his name, he, like Matthew Stevens and now Selby is a player that by a rule of thumb cannot truly be considered a great, if you are applying the letter of the law to this kind of thing.

There are undisputed greats, multiple champions of all three of snooker’s blue riband events; Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams are the only five players to have won each of these events more than once.

Then we have the likes of Ray Reardon and John Spencer, multiple world champions who have one Masters title each but who between them, with the undoubted added handicap of age, never won the UK Championship.

There is Alex Higgins, twice World and Masters Champion and once a UK champion, I don’t think you will find a snooker fan alive that would not class the Hurricane as a great of the game.

Or does simply winning a World Championship without ever grasping the two other prestige event titles automatically put you in the billiard hall of greatness? Graeme Dott, Joe Johnson and Ken Doherty fit the bill there.

Then there is the case of the late Paul Hunter, a three times Masters champion but with a career cut short and with it his chance to add to that tally gone. Would we class Paul as an honorary great who would surely have joined the ranks at some point in his life, had he been afforded the chance?

Other names that spring to mind are Terry Griffiths, who won all three titles just the once and Cliff Thorburn, who won the World Championship and three Masters crowns in four years. Peter Ebdon and John Parrott are world and UK champions, should they be considered greats of the game?

Well, here’s what the table looks like if we apply the formula of the number of ‘big three’ titles won. Unsurprisingly, Hendry comes out on top with Davis and O’Sullivan the only other two to reach double figures.

World Championship UK Championship Masters TOTAL
1 Stephen Hendry 7 5 6 18
2 Steve Davis 6 6 3 15
3 Ronnie O’Sullivan 4 4 4 12
4 John Higgins 4 3 2 9
5 Ray Reardon 6 0 1 7
6 Mark Williams 2 2 2 6
7 Alex Higgins 2 1 2 5
=8 John Spencer 3 0 1 4
=8 Cliff Thorburn 1 0 3 4
=8 Mark Selby 0 1 3 4
=9 Terry Griffiths 1 1 1 3
=9 Paul Hunter 0 0 3 3
=9 Ding Junhui 0 2 1 3
=9 Doug Mountjoy 0 2 1 3
=10 Jimmy White 0 1 1 2
=10 Dennis Taylor 1 0 1 2
=10 Matthew Stevens 0 1 1 2
=10 Neil Robertson 1 0 1 2
=10 Peter Ebdon 1 1 0 2
=10 Shaun Murphy 1 1 0 2
=10 John Parrott 1 1 0 2
=11 Graeme Dott 1 0 0 1
=11 Ken Doherty 1 0 0 1
=11 Joe Johnson 1 0 0 1

But to some the ‘ranking list’ above skews the achievement of winning a World Championship, which not only puts you further up the pecking order for a job at the BBC, but for some also ensures that the tag of ‘greatness’ is applied when looking back on a career. When the list is adjusted using the completely random equation that winning a World Championship is worth 5 times what a Masters and UK is worth, the ranking list of greatness alters a bit.

World Championship UK Championship Masters TOTAL
1 Stephen Hendry 35 5 6 46
2 Steve Davis 30 6 3 39
3 Ray Reardon 30 0 1 31
4 Ronnie O’Sullivan 20 4 4 28
5 John Higgins 20 3 2 25
6 John Spencer 15 0 1 16
7 Mark Williams 10 2 2 14
8 Alex Higgins 10 1 2 13
9 Cliff Thorburn 5 0 3 8
10 Terry Griffiths 5 1 1 7
=11 Dennis Taylor 5 0 1 6
=11 Neil Robertson 5 0 1 6
=11 Peter Ebdon 5 1 0 6
=11 Shaun Murphy 5 1 0 6
=11 John Parrott 5 1 0 6
=12 Graeme Dott 5 0 0 5
=12 Ken Doherty 5 0 0 5
=12 Joe Johnson 5 0 0 5
13 Mark Selby 0 1 3 4
=14 Paul Hunter 0 0 3 3
=14 Ding Junhui 0 2 1 3
=14 Doug Mountjoy 0 2 1 3
=15 Jimmy White 0 1 1 2
=15 Matthew Stevens 0 1 1 2

*the criteria used to select these players are either World Champions, someone who has won both the UK and the Masters, or someone who has won one of them more than once. Hence no mention of Judd Trump. 

So what do you think? Are there only really a handful of snooker greats? Indeed are there only three? Are either of the lists above tallying with the order you think the greatest players ever to grace the modern game should be ranked? Am I just a sad waste of space with nothing better to do?

You don’t have to answer the last one.

Anyway, well done to Selby. He’s had a lot of unfair stick this week and I thought he played the match yesterday very well indeed. There’s still this tiresome focus on the O’Sullivan ‘will he or won’t he’ saga. Steve Davis, when asked last night said that if someone had have asked him before Xmas if Ronnie would return to defend his Crucible crown he would have said ‘yes’, but now he doesn’t think he will. Either Steve is playing games with us or he knows something, as arguably he is the only person that will probably know what has been said between the two main protagonists Hearn and O’Sullivan.

Either way Ronnie has until 28th February to decide and then when he does we can all get on with looking forward to it.


  • Skullman

    Interesting discussion. I’ll have to say that winning at least three majors, one of which is the Worlds automatically classes you as a great. I think Jimmy has to be counted because he’s the only one outside of your undisputed greats to have won ten ranking events total.

    Also Reardon and Spencer have to counted. Hypothetically, let’s say the International Championship becomes a major. Should the likes of Hendry, Davis, Higgins etc be discounted as greats because they were too old? I’m also guessing you’re just talking about the modern era, otherwise the Davis brothers would be included.

    PS If I’m not mistaken haven’t Ding and Mountjoy won the UK twice?

  • noci

    Hi SB, just wanted to remind you that Ding won the UK championship twice. Great read!

  • I think…. when speaking about all-time greats, in any sport, you only really end up with 3 or 4 names. Reason being for only a small number of names, is that they are all time greats in their chosen profession. Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan & Ray Reardon would have to be the Top 4 for me. Why? Because they dominated the sport at a particular moment in time. After that, in my opinion, you would have legends of our game, Jimmy White & Alex Higgins would fall under that mantle. After that, you would have the greats, John Higgins, Mark Williams & John Spencer & then you would have the high achievers, John Parrot, Peter Ebdon, Terry Griffiths & Cliff Thorburn.
    I would add that anyone who has won anything in our game has all my respect. Trying to breakdown where they would sit in an all time table, is tough, however there is mine…..

    Always a good discussion point though SB, getting other peoples opinion on this & the rationale they use behind forming that opinion.

  • Anonymous

    Ding has won the uk twice.

    • snookerbacker

      So he has, updated! 🙂 cheers. Bit careless on Ding and Doug there…

  • TheBlueBoy

    Dunno if you caught the Nugget talking about betting on Selby last night, think he may have taken your advice SB, sounded like a subtle doff of his hat.

    • snookerbacker

      @The Blue Boy – ha yes I noticed that line, something about him becoming a favourite with the betting community? He knows the score does the Nugget.

  • Andy Spark

    One of the problems with these kind of tables is the years that constitute “modern” always change over time and the cut off point for them is a bit subjective. Rightly or wrongly there is an increasing devaluation of the titles a player has won as time goes by, until players like John Pullman and Fred Davis just fall off the edge of the cliff that is considered the “modern age”. Who decides when Stephen Hendry falls outside of the “modern age” when titles won by…say…Luca Brecel or Judd Trump will still be thought of as relevant? I like to include all the snooker players throughout history in the table of “greatness” to avoid this issue, from Joe Davis to today:)

  • ANON

    The Worlds is snooker’s greatest asset but in the minds of most people it is the only tournament that matters (the game might be better off if it had 4 grand slams but we are where we are). Selby is a year older than Paul Hunter was when he died (Hunter’s career effectively having ended a couple of years before when he was diagnosed) so for me Selby has to be behind Hunter. Don’t think he can be considered a great unless he wins the worlds a couple of times (FFS Ebdon has won the Worlds and UK but I don’t think anyone considers him a legend).

  • There is a point gap between the 8th and 9th player in your second list, and that’s where I’d draw the line between the greats and the rest.

  • Maja

    What about the strong field we have in these modern times? Shouldn’t it be considered that nowadays defending champions rare as white swallows. And so the times of Steve Davis and even Stephen Hendry are difficult to compare with the last 10-15 years. Mark Williams, John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan had their strongest periode alltogether and shared many titles which could Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry claim for herself as the single dominated theitr period. For me such list doesn’t make much sense. Sorry.

    • snookerbacker

      @Maja – it’s not meant to make sense and is just a way to get people talking – seems to have worked up to a point. There is nothing scientific about measuring who is the best/where they should be ranked and ultimately does it really matter? I actually think, if we talk about the modern game we are talking about when the Masters and the UK came into being, going any further back is for the real historians! For me, the top five/six on both lists speak for themselves and I agree with liggandestolen when it comes to the cut off point although I think he means 9th and 10th (careless).

  • roy142857

    I’d like to see John Pulman credited at least once for his seven title defenses between 1964 and 1968 when the world championship was played on a challenge basis (he’d been the 1957 Professional Matchplay Champion – effectively the World Championship, although the News of the World Championship was probably on a par with it).

  • @snookerbacker: Nopes, I meant between 8th and 9th on your 2nd list, since that’s where the big point gap is (13pts vs 8pts). Effectively, this means that if you win the WC twice, you are great.

  • ANON

    @roy142857: While we’re at it, Joe Davis’s 15 World titles surely merit a mention – so the second list should read:

    1 Joe Davis 75 0 0 75
    2 Stephen Hendry 35 5 6 46
    3 Steve Davis 30 6 3 39
    4 John Pulman 35 0 0 35
    5 Ray Reardon 30 0 1 31
    6 Ronnie O’Sull 20 4 4 28
    7 John Higgins 20 3 2 25
    8 John Spencer 15 0 1 16
    9 Fred Davis 15 0 0 15

    But yeah, I’d draw the line at Higgins in the second list – Cliff is just short of greatness…

  • Maja

    In the present time with so many great players it’s a great achievment to hold the no 1 spot for a while independend how many World- UK- or Masters titel are hold, I think. So Mark Selby has to count in any case. And concidering the dominance of Stephen Hendry in the 90s even John Parrott’s rank 2 for 2 (or more?) seasons is an achievment.
    The whole thing seems a bit subjective too. What do youexpect by a “great” player? Winning titels? Some style? Consistence? Or maybe all together? As I said difficult to compare and as you said just for fun. 🙂

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