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Fouls in Snooker

by John Welford about a year ago in culture
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An essential part of the game

Committing fouls in snooker does not do you any good, but the game would be virtually impossible without them! Inducing your opponent to commit a foul is an important part of the game, and it has nothing like the opprobrium associated with, say, diving in the soccer penalty area with a view to getting a cheap goal and a possible sending-off for an opposing player.

A fair shot in snooker consists of the cue ball being hit cleanly with the tip of the cue, and the cue ball then striking the correct object ball without itself going into a pocket. If any of these things fails to happen, the shot is foul.

Firstly, the cue ball must not be “pushed” with the cue, in other words the cue must part company with the ball as soon as the ball is hit. This is not always easy when only a small movement of the cue ball is needed, and fouls are often committed under such circumstances.

Secondly, there is a fixed order in which the object balls must be played in a break. You always start with a red, but you can then play any other colour, followed by another red, and so on. When pocketed, red balls are out of play, but the other colours come back on the table, so a point is reached when only the non-red balls are available for play. These must be played in the order yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black. If a player hits a ball that is not the one determined by the rules, a foul will be called by the referee, and the same applies if no ball is hit at all.

It is usually obvious which ball is the object ball, but not always. When this is the case, the player must state which ball he/she is aiming for, and if the ball they hit is not the one nominated, a foul will be called.

Thirdly, the white cue ball must stay on the table at all times. If it should itself go in a pocket, this is known as an “in off”, and is a foul shot.

There are other ways of committing fouls. If two or more balls of different colours are pocketed with one shot, that is a foul, except when more than one red go in, assuming that a red was being aimed for. In this case, all the reds pocketed will count on the score.

If a ball falls on the floor, probably when a forcing shot has gone wrong, that is a foul. If the player touches the cue ball when addressing the shot prior to playing it, or if his/her clothing touches a ball, or if any ball in motion touches a player’s hand or a rest being used for a difficult shot, again, a foul has been committed. The same applies if a player - as in the above photo - drops his cue chalk on the table while playing a shot!

If a ball has to be re-spotted (i.e. placed on its designated spot on the table after having been potted), the player must wait for this to be done before playing the next red. Also, the player must have at least one foot in contact with the floor when playing a shot.

The standard penalty for a foul shot is four points being added to the opponent’s score. However, if the blue ball is involved in the foul (either because it was missed when it should have been hit, or hit when it should have been missed) the penalty is five points. Likewise, a foul involving the pink ball incurs a penalty of six points, and seven points is the penalty for fouling with the black. In all cases, the highest possible penalty for a particular foul is what is awarded.

A further penalty occurs when a foul shot makes it impossible for the opponent to play their next shot, because all the available reds have been blocked. In this case, the referee may call “free ball”, which means that the player may nominate any coloured ball as being a temporary red and play for it on that basis. That ball would only score one point (as for all other reds), but it would be replaced on its nominated spot on the table and could be pocketed again for its full points value, should that player so choose.

Following a foul shot, the other player might find that his/her shot, as left by the balls on the table, is not to their liking. They then have the option of asking the offending player to take the next shot, which is a good choice to make if this is likely to give the “innocent” player a better chance of pocketing a ball next time.

A recent innovation has been the “miss” rule. Without it, it was open to a player to commit a deliberate foul, or to make no genuine attempt to escape from a snooker, if this would give him/her an advantage. However, the rule allows the referee to call “foul and a miss”, which gives the other player the option of asking the offending player to retake the shot. The miss rule is often applied when a player has been snookered and fails to hit the object ball, especially when there is an easier shot that he/she has chosen not to play. In the latter case, the referee has the option of allowing only two attempts at the shot and awarding the whole frame to the opponent if the shot is missed on the third occasion.

When a player asks his/her opponent to replay a shot under these circumstances, all the balls must be replaced exactly as they were before the foul shot was played, including any balls that might have been moved by the shot. This can sometimes lead to problems, because determining exactly how the balls were located before being hit in various directions is often far from easy. Both players and the referee must agree that the situation has been returned to what it was before the shot can be taken again.

A referee carefully replacing the cue ball

The miss rule has been controversial in some quarters, particularly as it depends on the judgment of the referee as to whether the player has made a good enough attempt to play the shot. In cases where an easier alternative is available (for example if there are open reds that the player cannot hit without leaving an easy opening for his/her opponent), the referee has no choice but to call the miss, but this is not always so. However, the general opinion is that the miss rule has been a good innovation for the game.

As mentioned earlier, snooker would not be as fascinating a game as it is without fouls, and frames get really interesting when a player is in the “snookers required” stage. This is when the difference between the scores is greater than the points available from potting all the balls still on the table. The player who is behind can only win by inducing his/her opponent to commit fouls, which is done by placing the cue ball in positions from which it is impossible to hit the object ball with a direct shot, this being known as snookering. When a player is snookered, he/she must play by bouncing the cue ball off one or more cushions, or swerving the cue ball around an intervening ball, to avoid giving points away by committing fouls. At this stage of the frame, the “miss” rule does not apply, so there is no chance of having balls replaced after a foul shot. The player who is behind can catch up from a long way back by making the other player commit foul after foul.

It may sound strange to say, but the existence of fouls in snooker shows that it is a game played at the highest level of sportsmanship. On many occasions you will see a player declare a foul on him/herself when he/she is aware that they have committed a foul that the referee has not seen. This can happen, for example, if a player touches the cue ball when “feathering” the cue prior to making a shot, or touches another ball when they are half lying across the table to make a difficult shot. In the latter case, the referee may be watching to make sure that the player’s foot is still on the floor and therefore not have seen the foul on the table.

Without doubt, snooker fouls are a vital aspect of the game. Yes, players should do their best to avoid making them, but everyone knows that they will do so at various times. The winning player is usually the one who commits fewer than the loser!


About the author

John Welford

I am a retired librarian, having spent most of my career in academic and industrial libraries.

I write on a number of subjects and also write stories as a member of the "Hinckley Scribblers".

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