A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MAXIMUM
ACHTUNG: FOR SNOOKER BOFFINS ONLY
As any fule kno, the highest possible break in snooker is not 147, but 155. If no balls have been potted, and a player commits a foul which obstructs the other player from hitting a red with the cue ball, a free ball would be offered. The other player could pot any colour (which, as a free ball, would count as one point), followed by the black, followed by all 15 reds with blacks, followed by the six remaining colours in sequence.
However, the hallowed 147 is generally considered to be the maximum break a player can score in a frame. Steve Davis made the first televised 147 in 1982. It followed a thick break-off shot from John Spencer, but Davis's maximum is a far more relaxed and flamboyant affair than Cliff Thorburn's better known but rather laborious effort at the World Championships the following year (check out the cheekily doubled fifth red, and the exhibition-style blue-to-pink-to-black).
Davis was knocked out of the World Championships in the first round in 1982, but this maximum and his victories in '81 and '83 sent out a double warning - not only was Davis to dominate the 1980s, but he embodied the middle-class, professional, Thatcherite style that snooker was to embrace during that decade.
Nine years later, in 1992, the Crucible audience saw a second tournament maximum. Jimmy White, the previous year's runner-up, scored 147 in a frame against the "Maltese Whippet" (I kid you not) Tony Drago in a match he won 10-4. He reached the final again that year, losing 18-14 to Stephen Hendry, and was never quite the same again.
The five quickest maximums have all been scored by White's protege, Ronnie O'Sullivan. The quickest of all - 36 balls potted in the correct order in five minutes and ten seconds - was scored in 1997, against the now-forgotten Mick Price. It is a hypnotic break of free association snooker. O'Sullivan is an ethereal presence, gliding from one side of the table to the other, lacing each shot with blistering back and top-spin. And yet, for all its speed, its "smear of madness", it is a curiously old-fashioned sort of break - he waits until the last minute to split the reds, picking off the first seven reds and trusting to luck on the eighth. Whatever - it is, along with Alex Higgins's famous semi-final frame against Jimmy White, the creme de la creme of natural snooker genius.
Until today, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry had each scored eight 147s in competition. This afternoon, O'Sullivan notched up his ninth with a deadly (and match-winning break). Watch this and weep - the 13th red and 13th black are two of the best positional shots you will ever see.
Marcel Duchamp gave up art for many years to represent his country in international chess tournaments. Lenin, on the other hand, had to quit playing chess to concentrate on leading the revolution. Is there not a place for snooker in radical politics? Will somebody cleverer than me use the rational strategies and careful, reactive positions of snooker to create a new game of war?