Why has snooker gained popularity in China

Snooker: when bullets attract millions

In gentleman's sport, the world's best ball artists fight for the world title in Sheffield. The game of snooker is developing rapidly internationally.

Vienna. This green playing field and its balls have dominated the British for decades. For a long time, the superior inventors of snooker cast a shadow on the tables of Europe and the rest of the world, so that the game itself and its many facets remained in the dark for others. Even today, the British still make up the majority of the top players in gentleman's sport, in which table manners and dress code, but above all tactics and the millimeter-accurate potting of the balls, determine the action. The Scot John Higgins is the reigning world champion and the Englishman Mark Selby is number one in the snooker world. But it's no longer like it used to be.

Because the rest of the world is catching up in the game, in which fifteen red balls, each in combination with a different-colored scoring device, have to be transported from the three-and-a-half meter long table into the pockets. The uprising of the others culminated in the world title of the Australian Neil Robertson, who in 2010 was the first player outside the British Isles to win the most important title in snooker after more than 30 years. At this year's World Cup in Sheffield (until May 5th), other nations could shake the throne of the bulletproof British again.

In China in particular, the development of snooker is advancing rapidly. More and more Chinese players are establishing themselves in the top of the world, with the Shanghai Masters and the China Open two major tournaments have a fixed place in the calendar of the professional tour, and this year the World Open took place in Haikou, China. The enthusiasm of the Chinese knows hardly any boundaries: over a hundred million viewers watch the games of their idols on television. Ding Junhui, five-time tournament winner, number eight in the world and leading figure in the Chinese phalanx, has particularly high ratings. The 25-year-old is one of the ten most popular athletes in the People's Republic. The young star is usually supported by fan clubs from home at tournaments in Great Britain, sometimes too loudly: Some Chinese fans still have to get used to absolute silence when the actors at the table are pushed.


Big passion

Austria is still a bit away from the mass hype and a professional on the tour, but the increasing popularity of snooker far from the British Isles is also reflected in this country. “The passion of our amateur players is immense,” says Alexander Pichler, President of the Austrian Snooker and Billiards Association (ÖSBV). Pichler is also addressing the young guard who has taken over the helm, or the cue, at the top. Three of this new generation of players lead the Austrian ranking. Right at the front is 18-year-old Andreas Ploner from the CSC Innsbruck club. Ploner, who is about to graduate and can be described as a red-white-red shooting star. He only started snooker at the age of 14, and four years later he established himself as the national number one. The Tyrolean has already taken part in amateur world championships three times, twice in India and once in Syria. At the beginning of March 2012 he was the first Austrian to reach the round of 16 of a U21 European Championship in Sofia. Ploner became aware of snooker through TV broadcasts. Now “I try to train every day. But it also depends on the school. "

As number one, Ploner is also the team leader of the red-white-red national team, which is supervised by world-class coach PJ Nolan. The Irishman is working on their technology with the best local players. The basis is the exact meeting point on the white ball and a flowing push movement. In the mental area, Chris Henry, coach of several snooker world champions, supports the national team.

In addition to Andreas Ploner, Dominik Scherübl is also one of Austria's bearers of hope. The 15-year-old from Lower Austria, who trains in the Viennese snooker club "15reds" in the seventh district, began - like the professionals - to play snooker at the age of seven after his father recommended the mixture of strategy and precision games . “Back then I played billiards from time to time. I didn't even know snooker, ”says Scherübl. The Lower Austrian joined the table in Ireland with professional coach PJ Nolan, who trains every two months with the Austrian national team. “Two weeks of individual training, eight hours a day,” is how Scherübl describes the high intensity of the sessions. In Wales, too, in the snooker school of ex-world champion Terry Griffiths, Scherübl was already fine-tuning his cue action. What strikes him compared to Austria: "You are pushed a lot more there - until you don't make a single mistake in the exercise."


The magic brand

A perfect shot in one frame (set) earns 147 points in snooker: 15 reds, black for every red ball plus the end game on the six colored balls. The maximum break, which includes 36 strokes en suite, has only been achieved by one player in Austria: Hans Nirnberger from the HSEBC club in the fifth district of Vienna. The 35-year-old was even able to break the magic mark twice, the last time in 2008. “I was in full training there. I stood at the table for four to five hours every day, ”says Nirnberger. He is now a full-time nurse and works once or twice a week on his snooker hit rate.

Nirnberger, Ploner & Co. occasionally compete with the world's elite at invitation tournaments such as the Austrian Open in Wels (May 16 to 20), which is again top-class this year. The local amateurs have already been able to take off one or two frames from the multi-million dollar professionals. But the way to world class is long. Austria's number one, Andreas Ploner, would like to fight his way through the almost infinite qualification mill for the illustrious circle of actors on the Main Tour. "That is my goal." He would have to clear a lot of balls from the table.

("Die Presse", print edition, April 23, 2012)