When deciding who is the best ever snooker player, where do you start?
Is the greatest ever player the one who won the most world titles or do you count all ranking events?
Is the snooker GOAT (greatest of all time) the player with the most natural talent or the one that worked the hardest?
What’s more valuable, potting ability, tactical skill, positional play, or simply the mindset to win?
All of these different angles mean that people very rarely agree on who is the best ever snooker player.
Still, that doesn’t stop each and every one of us having our opinions!
With that in mind, we are going to present arguments for who is the greatest ever snooker player based on different factors.
Then, we’ll end by making a call on who we at Snooker Expert think is simply, the best ever.
Most Dominant Snooker Player – Joe Davis
The game of snooker looked entirely different back in the 1920’s and 30’s. It was often a side show to billiards and matches were played over several days or even weeks and frames were regularly played at different venues.
There was little depth to the game with only a handful of players competing. In fact, in 1934 there were only two entries to the Professional Snooker Championship (the equivalent of the World Snooker Championship today).
Whatever you think of the strength of the game, one thing is undeniable. Joe Davis dominated snooker like no other player has ever managed since.
He won every single championship that was held between 1927 and 1946. That’s 15 in total owing to World War II prevent any tournaments taking place between 1941 and 1945.
That’s impressive stuff and Joe David will forever be a true legend of the sport. However, it is undeniable that David competed at a time when there was little serious competition. That makes it hard to make a case for him being anything more than a fantastic player of his time, rather than the greatest ever player.
Most Naturally Gifted Snooker Player – Ronnie O’Sullivan
Few would argue against Ronnie O’Sullivan being given the title of snooker’s most naturally gifted player of all time.
Ronnie O’Sullivan can play better with his ‘weakest’ left hand than most people can play with their strongest hand.
While you cannot doubt the many hours Ronnie has worked on his game to become one of the game’s greats, there is a natural talent there that even players like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry are envious of.
His speed around the table is your first clue. He plays the game at 100mph, hence the nickname ‘The Rocket’.
He holds the record for the fastest ever 147 break and, in fact, several of the top 10 fastest maximum breaks in history.
You simply cannot play that fast if you do not have a supreme natural talent.
In fact, you could argue, the only thing that has held Ronnie back from winning more titles and completely dominating the game over the last few decades is Ronnie himself.
His weak spot is his temperament. A troubled past, coupled with an outspoken nature has led to him sometimes losing focus and form.
We have no doubt that without this flaw, the natural talent Ronnie possesses would have led him to achieving even more in the game. Making articles like this, completely unnecessary!
Best Ever Tactical Snooker Player – Steve Davis
Back in the 80’s, there was one player everyone needed to beat.
With the mental strength of a lion and one of the best understandings of the game, Steve Davis was a tactical genius with an almost unshakeable self-belief.
His focus was legendary, helping to win him the ironic nickname, Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis.
He was an immense all-round player. He had it all.
Still, what really stands out is his tactical play. He knew how to grind out wins, wear down his opponents, and out-think them around the table.
In his own words:
“My style of play was based on Ray Reardon. He’d slowly strangle them to death like a boa constrictor. And I did that, I slowly squeezed the life out of them.”Steve Davis
You could argue that he was ahead of his time when it came to understanding the tactical side of the game.
He rarely played the wrong shot. Even when he was refusing a shot, he was usually right to do so.
There have been other great tacticians since, but we still see Steve David as the greatest ever tactician.
Best Ever Snooker Break Builder – Ronnie O’Sullivan
He holds the records for both the fastest maximum break in professional competition (5 minutes, 8 seconds) and the most maximum breaks in professional competition (15).
It would take some argument to convince people that, purely on that basis, Ronnie O’Sullivan isn’t the games’ greatest ever break builder.
And we aren’t about to even try.
Stephen Hendry is up there for sure. His aggressive break-building style has paved the way for the way the game is played today. Before him, Alex Higgins practically invented the fast-paced, all-action style that Hendry built his own game on.
But no-one has been able to consistently put frame-winning breaks together over such a long period.
Ronnie’s natural talent is a big reason why he’s been able to make so many big breaks. Yet, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Ronnie is such a strong break builder because that’s how he chooses to play the game.
His safety play is top class. But, the first thing on his mind is always how we can knock in a break big enough to win the frame. Once in with a chance, his positional play rarely lets him down, and he can develop balls into potable positions with only a moment’s thought.
If you want to see how break building is done, Ronnie O’Sullivan is as close to perfection as you’ll find.
The Snooker Player With The Best Temperament – John Higgins
There are plenty of players you could make a case for having the best temperament. Steve Davis was Mr. Focus, Stephen Hendry rarely showed any emotion, and Mark Selby has a ‘never give up’ attitude that has seen him mount some impressive comebacks.
However, our vote here goes to John Higgins, a man who is renowned for some of the best matchplay snooker.
Even Ronnie O’Sullivan commented on the impressive temperament of John Higgins…
“He’s just a strong all-round player, a very good temperament, probably one of the best in the game. A fantastic player who still looks like he’s playing dream snooker at times, especially in this tournament.”Ronnie O’Sullivan talking about John Higgins
That’s not to say that John never loses focus or lets his emotions show. But even when losing his cool, he rarely lets it affect his shot choice.
What’s more, he’s made some impressive comebacks over the years (against some of the games best players, too) and, if anything, his temperament has improved with age.
He’s a dogged competitor that grinds out results when he needs to, a trait that’s served him well as he continues to play top-level snooker well into his late 40s.
Best Ever All-Round Snooker Player – Stephen Hendry
While many would make a good case for Ronnie O’Sullivan being the best ever all-round snooker player, our vote goes to Stephen Hendry.
For us, Ronnie’s temperament lets him down. Over the years, he’s found consistency hard to achieve. Like many geniuses, he has his flaws that he finds hard to control.
Stephen Hendry, on the other hand, was machine-like in his approach.
He dominated snooker in the early 1990’s and is still the only player to ever win the triple crown (World Championship, UK Championship, and Masters) in one season…. TWICE (Steve Davis and Mark Williams both managed it once).
He was known for being aggressive and taking on pots that his opponents would have refused. In fact, Hendry was ahead of his time and helped paved the way for the game’s faster, more aggressive players who we now take for granted.
A superb tactician, his safety play was up there with the best. He had a winning mentality and focus that few could match. Quite simply, he had it all and few would argue with that.
Most Snooker World Title Wins (Modern Era) – Stephen Hendry & Ronnie O’Sullivan
The World Championship is, without a doubt, the biggest event on the professional snooker tour. Every player wants to win it.
It’s logical, then, that we’d want to look at the most world title wins as a way to help determine the best players. However, there’s a caveat. Winning a world title is harder some years than others.
Don’t get us wrong. To win a world title you have to be a top player. That’s a given.
But the difficulty of winning a world title entirely depends on who you’re up against and the form they’re in.
It’s worth noting, we are also talking about world title wins in the ‘modern era’. That is, since the event reverted to a knockout tournament format in 1969. Prior to this, the event went through many format changes that make it unfair to compare to the format we know and love today.
With all the said, we still don’t think you can simply overlook the number of world title wins as a possible way of determining the best ever snooker player.
At the time of writing, both Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan jointly hold the record for the most World Championship titles with seven each.
It looks unlikely Hendry will be back to win any further titles and so Ronnie has an opportunity to set himself apart as the most successful player in the modern era, based world titles.
Most Snooker Ranking Event Wins -Ronnie O’Sullivan
It’s dangerous to start looking at the overall ranking event wins to try and judge who is the greatest ever snooker player. As well as it depending on the quality of the opponents of that era, the number of ranking events played over the years has changed significantly.
That makes it hard to use it as argument to determine the greatest ever to pick up a snooker cue. Still, it’s at least worth recording that Ronnie O’Sullivan owns the record for the most ranking event titles with 39 (correct as of August 2022).
That surpasses the 36 that Stephen Hendry won and the 31 won by John Higgins.
Most Popular Snooker Player – Jimmy White
Snooker is a game of entertainment. Without fans, snooker is nothing. Therefore, you could make a case to say the best ever snooker player has nothing to do with that player’s skill or success.
Instead, it’s all about which player has been most idolised by the people who watched it. Who wowed the crowds and put bums on seats in the audience?
While Ronnie O’Sullivan once again comes immediately to mind, we are going to opt for Jimmy White as the game’s most popular player ever.
Jimmy White was a top player in his own right, winning 10 ranking events yet agonisingly fell short of winning the World Championship after reaching the final SIX times.
In fact, for 12 consecutive seasons, White made at least the quarter-final of the World Championship.
He came closest to lifting the trophy after losing the 1994 final in a final frame decider to Stephen Hendry.
Never dull either on or off the table, Jimmy White was (and still is) loved by millions of snooker fans, earning him the tag of the ‘People’s Champion’.
Who Is Snooker’s GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)?
Our pick for snooker’s GOAT – and to finally answer the question ‘who is the best ever snooker player?’ is…
If we only looked at the name we’ve mentioned the most in this article, Ronnie O’Sullivan would be walking away with the title of the best ever snooker player.
Without a doubt, Ronnie is one of the greatest players to ever pick up a cue. He’ll most certainly go down as the best natural talent the game has ever seen and most likely will win more world titles than anyone else.
So, why haven’t we picked him as the best ever snooker player?
We have one simple reason. Despite all of that talent, he’s never dominated the game quite like players like Hendry and Davis did.
You could argue that’s because the game is much stronger today than it was even in the 90s. That’s true, but it also doesn’t escape from the fact that Ronnie has always had a love-hate relationship with the game.
He has regularly lost focus during games or simply looked like he’d rather be at home watching on TV. Despite all his success, there’s still a feeling he could have achieved so much more had he had the temperament of, say, John Higgins.
Stephen Hendry, on the other hand, took the game by the scruff of the neck and few would say he underachieved.
He’s broken records and had some of the best safety play in the business. That was complemented by his aggressive break-building game and a ruthless winning mentality.
Even Ronnie named Hendry as his pick for the best ever player…
“Stephen is an all-time legend for me, the greatest player. He was the Tiger Woods of snooker. Me and John [Higgins] have come along and done well, but when Stephen was flying in the 80s, he was a superstar. We’re not superstars.“Ronnie O’Sullivan on Stephen Hendry
Ronnie O’Sullivan is a genius, but Stephen Hendry was the complete package. Both men deserve all the praise they get, but for us, Stephen Hendry just edges it when deciding who the greatest ever player was.
And Now For Something Even More Controversial…
That’s the best ever snooker player taken care of, but how about the most overrated? The one many people will suggest as the greatest player, when in fact, rose-tinted glasses may be playing a part.
No matter who we pick here, it would likely be controversial. But we know this choice will rub a lot of people up the wrong way. Bear with us though… we think we can make a good case for…
The Most Overrated Snooker Player Ever – Alex Higgins
I know, I know. Alex Higgins was a fantastic player. So much so, I even have a framed signed photo of him in the very room I’m sat right now.
He’ll certainly go down as one of the game’s greatest ever. Yet I can’t help but feel, he’s also a little overrrated.
True, he pioneered the attacking play that the game is famous for today.
True, he was an absolutely genius, pulling off shots that other players wouldn’t even have dared to attempt.
And true, he was one of the most entertaining players on and off the table. He divised opinion but always attracted large crowds.
He was an incredibly talented snooker player, winning the World Championship in both 1972 and 1982.
Yet, he never reached a world ranking higher than 2 and most of his tournament victories came in non-ranking events (admittedly, at a time when ranking evens were few and far between).
For all his talent, his temperament was forever an issue. His off the table lifestyle and his self-destructive personality almost certainly stopped him fulfilling the potential he had.
He could have dominated the game through the 1970s and 80s. Instead that was left to Ray Reardon and Steve Davis.
When talking about Alex Higgins as one the best ever snooker players, people seem to be blinded by the reputation Higgins had.
Sure, he was a talent. Sure, he almost single-handedly changed the game like no other player has ever managed since. And sure, he’ll always be remembered as one of the greats.
But, he should have won more. Much more, in fact. And that’s what stops him being a contender for the best ever snooker player.