History of the World Snooker Championships

By Snooker Jim •  Updated: 04/15/23 •  21 min read

The history of the World Snooker Championships dates back to 1927, although back then it was known as the Professional Snooker Championship.

It was classed as the first ever professional snooker tournament. Billiards had been the most popular table sport, but there had been an increase in the popularity of snooker throughout the 1920s.

Billiards player Joe Davis and billiard hall manager Bill Camkin noticed this, and proposed the event to the World Billiards Council.

10 players took part in the initial tournament, which took place in four different venues; London, Nottingham, Liverpool and Birmingham. Most of the games, including the final, took place at Camkin’s Hall in Birmingham.

The tournament often rotated venues until it found its permanent home at The Crucible. There were venues up and down in the country.

Davis Dominance

It was Davis who won the competition, beating Tom Dennis 20-11 in the final. The trophy Davis received, is the same trophy players get today.

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The highest break went to Albert Cope, with 60. This would stay a record until 1929, when Davis would break that record in consecutive years with 61 and 79.

Davis won again in 1928,  This time, Davis beat Fred Lawrence in the final 16-13.

Davis claimed a third straight title, this time beating Tom Dennis 19-14. The tournament was also changed slightly, with only five players being part of the tournament.

He would continue his dominance into the 1930s, and claimed a fourth straight title, once again, beating Dennis in the final in London- this time 25-12.

Davis and Dennis would continue their rivalry in 1931, but once again it was Davis who came out on top in Nottingham 25-21, in what was the closest final between the two.

Only three players took part in the 1932 championship; Clark McConachy, Tom Dennis and Joe Davis. Davis went straight into the final, and McConachy, the New Zealander and first person to qualify outside of the British isles, beat Dennis 13-11 to end his run of qualifying for finals.

In the final, Davis broke his own record for highest break, as he managed 99 in a 30-19 victory at Thurston’s Hall in London.

The numbers went up again in 1933, as six players entered. But there was still no stopping Joe Davis. He beat debutant Willie Smith 25-18 in the final.

In 1934, only two players entered; Joe Davis and Tom Newman. They contested the only game in Nottingham- and Davis won again, but he was pushed hard by Newman, who had led 14-13. Davis won 25-22.

1935 saw the first tournament all held in one venue (that had more than one match). Thurston’s Hall in London was the venue, but it was once again a familiar feeling with Davis was again the champion, as he beat Smith once again in the final, but again he was pushed close at 25-20. He also made a 110 break.

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That break saw historian Clive Everton write that it made the tournament more financially viable, and that it was starting to replace billiards as the game of choice in halls.

That was shown a year later, when 13 players entered the competition in London. Both venues were in London- the Burroughes and Watts and Thurston Hall.

Australian Horace Lindrum became the first overseas player to make a century break, as he reached the final. But he ran into the seemingly immovable force that was Joe Davis. Davis won 34-27 in the final.

Davis and Lindrum went head-to-head again in 1937, and Davis came out on top again in a 32-29 victory, in another closely fought contest.

There were 10 entrants in 1938- and once again it was Joe Davis who won, beating Sidney Smith in the final 27-24. Davis continued his run in 1939, but there was a new threat, which came from his brother Fred.

Fred broke his brother’s break record, when he broke 113 in their semi-final. Joe eventually won the match 17-14.

In the final, Joe Davis played Sidney Smith and won the much-extended format 43-30.

Despite the outbreak of the Second World War, the championships went ahead and it was the Davis brothers who dominated again.

What followed was one of the closest finals of all time. There was just one frame in it, but it was Joe who claimed a 14th straight Professional Snooker championship.

Later that year, Thurston Hall was destroyed during The Blitz, after a parachute mine destroyed a corner of Leicester Square. The Championships were paused as a result.

Return to Leicester Square

The World Championships returned in 1946 across Shropshire, Blackpool, London and Oldham. 

Joe Davis once again broke records, as he recorded a 136 break, and he also resumed his rivalry with Horace Lindrum in the final, and he won again 78-67.

This was Davis’ final title before he decided not to compete anymore in October 1946. In total, he won 15 World Snooker Championships, and also had a decorated billiards career.

For the first time, there would be a new champion in 1947. It was the Scottish player Water Donaldson who picked up the title, but there was still a Davis in the final. Fred made it there, and also recorded a 135 break for good measure. Donaldson won 82-63 at Leicester Square Hall.

Leicester Square Hall was the new venue built to replace Thurston Hall.

Fred Davis would finally get his time in the spotlight, as he avenged his defeat to Walter Donaldson a year later. He won 84-61. Leicester Square Hall was now becoming the popular choice to host the final. It also hosted the semi-finals.

Davis would then defend his title in 1949, becoming the first player other than his brother to successfully defend the title. He beat Donaldson 80-65 at Leicester Square Hall.

As the world entered into a new decade in the 1950s, it was still Davis and Donaldson competing to be the top force in world snooker.

The tournament went back on the road this year, with games at Bradford, Scunthorpe, Bolton, Accrington, Newcastle, Oldham and the final in Blackpool.

This time, Donaldson came out on top, winning 51-46. The pair came to blows again in the 1951 final. Davis won it back from Donaldson, winning 58-39.

World Match-Play & Pay Dispute

That run was broken in 1952, when Horace Lindrum became the first overseas winner of the tournament. He beat Clark McConachy in the final. They were the only two players to compete in the tournament, due to a dispute between the Professional Billiards Players’ Association and the Billiards Association and Control Council over money.

The result was the World Snooker Championship becoming the World Professional Match-play Championships for five years.

The first edition of this tournament took place later that year, with Fred Davis claiming victory in Blackpool, as he beat Walter Donaldson once again, and also managed a 140 break, a new record.

Davis would have a hold over Donaldson, as they contested the next three finals, and he won them all, to continue the Davis family dominance.

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This would continue in 1955, but there was a new name in the final; John Pulman. Donaldson would not enter that year. It was a close game as well, with Davis only winning by three frames.

It was a case of deja vu a year later. Fred Davis beat Pulman again by the same scoreline in Blackpool.

The final Match-play tournament took place in Jersey in 1957. Davis decided to take a break from snooker, meaning there was a chance for a new champion. Having lost to Davis in a final, John Pulman got his moment in the spotlight- beating Northern Irishman Jackie Rea 39-34 in the final.

This would be the last tournament for seven years, as snooker started to decline across the country, and it left the tournament unviable.

Return as Challenge Event

In 1964, the tournament was revived on a challenge basis by player Rex Williams.

John Pulman won all of the challenge events, including two wins over Williams, two wins over Fred Davis and a win over Eddie Charlton and Fred van Rensburg.

The challenge format also saw the tournament go overseas for the first time, to South Africa. There were two tournaments there in 1965.

A new break record was also made during this time, as Williams managed a 142 break in 1965.

Return to Knock-out

Then in 1969, the tournament went back to a knockout format. The new era also produced another new champion; John Spencer.

He knocked out defending champion John Pulman in the quarter-finals, and went all the way to the final, beating Gary Owen in the final 37-24 in London.

This was also the first time the tournament had a title sponsor, with tobacco company Players No.6 sponsoring the tournament.

As a new decade dawned, another new champion was also crowned. Ray Reardon became the first Welshman to lift the title, after beating John Pulman in the final at Victoria Hall.

Later that year, the tournament headed to Australia to contest the 1971 championship. The tournament also had a round-robin stage in the beginning with each player playing four games, and the top four players progressed to the semi-finals.

Despite there being two homegrown players in the semi-finals, it would be a familiar face who won it. John Spencer won his second world title after beating Warren Simpson, one of the Australian players, in the final.

Another new champion was crowned in 1972, as the tournament returned to the UK. This time, the final was held in Birmingham.

Alex Higgins claimed his first title, beating John Spencer in the final. The Hurricane was only 22 years old at the time, and was the sport’s youngest champion until 1990.

It was the first time a qualifier had won the title as well, rather than an established name.

The tournament was now expanding like never before, with five rounds in place ahead of the 1973 tournament. There was also a new sponsor; Park Drive.

The final was contested by Ray Reardon and Eddie Charlton in Manchester, and it was Reardon who put himself back into the winners circle, winning 38-32. Reardon saw off Graham Miles in the final.

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The World Championships returned to Australia in 1975, but it did not stop Ray Reardon from retaining his title. He was the first to do it since John Pulman in the challenge matches, and Fred Davis in the knockout format. He defeated local favourite Eddie Charlton in the final.

Reardon then made it three straight titles upon returning to the UK. He was able to beat Alex Higgins 27-16 in what had been a factitious affair. Reardon complained several times about the table and the TV lighting, but he won regardless.

1976 also saw the start of the tournament’s sponsorship by Embassy, the UK cigarette brand. This stayed the same until 2005.

The Crucible

In 1977, snooker moved to its permanent home; The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. This was on the recommendation of player Mike Watterson, whose wife believed it would be the perfect venue to host snooker. He then managed to negotiate £6,600 rent for two weeks. He then went to the Snooker Association, and agreed the deal. The rest is history.

The first champion at the Crucible was John Spencer, who picked up his third title.  He beat Canadian Cliff Thorburn in the final, the first North American player to make it to the final.

For the tournament, Spencer ended up using a two-piece cue, as his original was destroyed in a car accident while travelling to the Norwich Open. He ended up making several century breaks with the replacement that he stuck with it for the World Championships. He was the first player to win with such a cue.

Ray Reardon claimed his sixth and final World Championship a year later, with victory over the South African qualifier Perrie Mans in the final. Mans had quite the run, knocking out former champions John Spencer and Fred Davis.

In winning the competition, Reardon became the oldest winner of the competition at 45 years and 203 days. Meanwhile, Fred Davis became the oldest semi-finalist at 64 years and 251 days.

Another qualifier claimed victory in 1979, as Welshman Terry Griffiths picked up his first and only title, beating Dennis Taylor in the final. 

Griffiths’ semi-final against Perrie Mans ended up finishing at 1.40am, the latest finish of any match in history.

A new decade saw another new winner, this time Cliff Thorburn, finalist back in 1969, got his moment, defeating Alex Higgins in the final in a closely fought match 18-16.

A new era

1981 then marked the dawn of a new era, as Steve Davis won his first championship, defeating Doug Mountjoy in the final. Mountjoy had set a new break record of 145, just short of the perfect break on the way.

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In the final, Davis was able to pull out in front early, and then was able to keep Mountjoy at arms length and close out an 18-12 victory.

A new tournament record was set in 1982, as 67 players entered, and the prize fund increased from £75,000 to £110,000.

The tournament itself was won by Alex Higgins, who claimed his second title. He beat six-time champion Ray Reardon 18-15 in the final.

Then in 1983, the first ever maximum break at the World Championships was achieved by Canadian Cliff Thorburn. He won £10,000 for making the break in his second round match against Terry Griffiths.

Thorburn would make it all the way to the final, but was beaten in the end by Steve Davis, who claimed his second title. Davis would then make it back-to-back titles after beating Jimmy White a year later.

Davis reached a third straight final in 1985, but was undone by Dennis Taylor. It still goes down as one of the most famous snooker matches of all time. It went down to the final frame, and the final ball.

Both players missed attempts to pot the black and win it, but Davis ended up setting up the shot for Taylor to win the World Championship, just months after previously stepping back from the sport following the death of his mother.

That final was also watched by 18.5 million people, which is still a record for a programme broadcasted on BBC 2.

Davis again reached the final in 1986, but couldn’t win it against Joe Johnson. The final finished 18-12, as Johnson won his first and only World Championship. He won £70,000 as part of a £350,000 prize pot.

After two straight final defeats, Davis got his hands on another world title, getting revenge on Johnson, winning 18-14. The prize fund had gone up again, with an extra £10,000 for the winner.

Davis then made it back-to-back titles again, this time getting the better of Terry Griffiths in the final. With this victory, he became the first player to complete the Triple Crown of the World Championships, the Masters and the UK Championship in the same year.

Steve Davis then became the first player to win over £100,000 in prize money, as he claimed a third straight title, beating John Parrott in the final 18-3. The prize pot had also surpassed half a million.

That run would be broken in 1990, as Davis lost in the semi-finals to Jimmy White 16-14. There would be another new name on the trophy, as Stephen Hendry became champion of the world with an 18-12 victory over White.

White reached the final again in 1991, but had to settle for the runners-up spot again, this time he was beaten by John Parrott. The prize pot had now hit £750,000.

A year later, the second ever 147 break was recorded at The Crucible. This time it was Jimmy White who did it, during his first round match against Tony Drago.

White reached a third straight final, but suffered a third straight defeat, this time at the hands of Stephen Hendry, who claimed his second title.

1993 saw the prize pot reach £1 million, as the tournament continued to soar in popularity. Hendry would seal back-to-back titles, beating Jimmy White for the second straight year 18-5. 

Hendry would end up winning the World Championships five years in a row, beating White in three of them. He also beat Nigel Bond and Peter Ebdon. Hendry would also hit a 147 against Jimmy White in a semi-final.

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By 1997, the prize for winning the championships had gone up to over £200,000, and headline moments were becoming more regular.

21-year-old Ronnie O’Sullivan hit a maximum break that is still a Guiness World Record done in the quickest time. He did it in five minutes and eight seconds during his first round match against Mick Price. O’Sullivan would end up going out in the second round to Darren Morgan.

Stephen Hendry reached another final, and seemed destined for a sixth straight title, in dominance not seen since the Davis brothers, but Irishman Ken Doherty did not read the script, producing an 18-12 victory for his only World Championship win.

Hendry’s run was well and truly broken in 1998, when he lost in the first round to Jimmy White. It was the first time in a decade he had failed to make the quarter-finals.

There was another new champion; John Higgins was the man to lift the trophy, defeating the defending champion Ken Doherty 18-12 in the final.

In the final event of the 20th century, Stephen Hendry was able to pick himself up and claim his seventh world title with victory over Mark Williams. Only John Pulman (mainly Challenge events), and the Davis brothers had won the title more times than him.

The new Millennium saw Mark Williams able to turn that around and claim his first title, as he beat Matthew Stevens in the final. It was the first time it had been an all-Welsh final, and still remains that to this day.

By 2001, the prize for winning the competition had now reached £250,000, and it was Ronnie O’Sullivan who was the lucky recipient of that, beating John Higgins 18-14 in the final.

That year also saw Steve Davis and Jimmy White both fail to qualify for the first time in 20 years.

A year later, having lost in a final already, Peter Ebdon could finally call himself a world champion. He edged out Stephen Hendry 18-17 in a thrilling final. This would go on to be Hendry’s final appearance at a world final.

Not to be content with one 147 break, Ronnie O’Sullivan grabbed his second at a World Championship in 2003 in his first round match against Marco Fu. Despite the break, O’Sullivan was beaten in this match by the man from Hong Kong.

It was in fact Mark Williams who picked up a second world title, as he beat Ken Doherty 18-16 in another closely-fought final.

Ronnie O’Sullivan returned to the winners’ circle a year later. Despite trailing 5-0 at one stage to Graeme Dott, the Rocket rallied and recorded one of the biggest winning margins in the history of the World Championships, winning 18-8.

New Sponsors

More history was made in 2005 for two reasons. The first saw Mark Williams hit a 147 break in his first round match over Robert Milkins. Although he would only reach the second round after losing in the last frame against Ian McCullough.

Also, Shaun Murphy became the first qualifier since Terry Griffiths to win the tournament. He beat world number six Matthew Stevens 18-16 in the final.

2005 would also be the final year the tournament would be sponsored by Embassy, following the EU and UK government’s decision to ban tobacco advertising. The casino 888.com was the new sponsor, although this caused a conflict of interest for certain players, who had rival firms as sponsors.

The 2006 final was contested by Graeme Dott, in his second final in three years, and Peter Ebdon, who had won it just a few years previously. It was Dott who was able to lift the trophy, just a few years after letting that lead slip against Ronnie O’Sullivan.

In 2007, it was John Higgins who claimed a second world title. He won the championship after defeating Mark Selby 18-13 in the final. Selby was a qualifier, and looked to be following the same footsteps as Shaun Murphy.

For the first time in the history of the World Championships, there were two 147 breaks in 2008. Both Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ali Carter managed the feat. O’Sullivan hit his during a second round match against Mark Williams, while Carter did it in his quarter-final win over Peter Ebdon.

Both players met in the final, and it was O’Sullivan who claimed his third World Championship title, winning 18-8, the same margin he beat Graeme Dott by.

The 147s kept on coming, this time it was Stephen Hendry who hit his second maximum break in his quarter-final against Shaun Murphy. Murphy ended up winning that match 13-11.

Meanwhile, the final was won by John Higgins, who claimed his third title, and joined an illustrious group of players to have won more than once. He beat Shaun Murphy in the final, it was the first time the match was contested between two former finalists since Mark WIlliams beat Ken Doherty six years ago.

There was a new sponsor for the 2009 tournament as well, as Betfred took over from 888 Casinos.

More history was made in 2010, when Neil Robertson became the first Australian to win the World Championships since Horace Lindstrum in 1952. Although this was disputed as it was during the pay dispute that saw the creation of the World Match-Play.

He beat former champion Graeme Dott in the final 18-13.

John Higgins then made it two titles in three years in 2011, beating Judd Trump in the final. Trump had knocked out champion Neil Robertson and runner-up Graeme Dott on his way to the final.

Stephen Hendry then broke Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record for 147 breaks at the World Championships, as he hit his third maximum break during a first round win over Stuart Bingham. In a quarter-final defeat against Stephen Maguire, announced his retirement from the sport.

It was Ronnie O’Sullivan who claimed a fourth world title, after beating Ali Carter for a second time in the final, 18-11.

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2013 saw another new sponsor come in, with Betfair taking over title sponsorship. Despite the new name, it didn’t stop O’Sullivan from registering back-to-back titles. He beat Barry Hawkins 18-12 in the final.

The Rocket’s run was ended a year later, with Mark Selby claiming his first world title in 2014. Selby also picked up the triple crown by doing this, and won 18-14 in the final. He won £300,000 for this, the largest winnings in the history of the Championships.

There was also a new sponsor with Dafabet, but a year later, it would revert to Betfred.

Meanwhile, there was yet another new champion in 2015, with Stuart Bingham lifting the famous trophy for the first time. He had odds of 50/1 on him before the tournament started, but went on an incredible run that saw him knock out both Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump.

He then went on to beat Shaun Murphy in the final 18-15, defeating the former world champion.

Mark Selby then became the latest name to win the title for a second time. He beat Ding Junhai in the final. Junhai became the first Chinese player to make the final. Selby won 18-14. Selby would then make it back-to-back championships after beating John Higgins 18-15 in 2017.

Selby’s run of consecutive titles ended in 2018, after he was knocked out in the first round by Joe Perry.

It was Mark Williams who came out victorious, claiming his first title for 15 years. The Welshman rolled back the years, defeating John Higgins in the final in another clash of former champions.

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Afterwards, it was Judd Trump who became the latest first time winner in 2019. He had been knocking on the door of winning a world championship for a few years, but finally did it in 2019, beating defending champion Higgins in the final. The prize pot continued to rise, and Trump won £500,000.

Covid years

The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the 2020 edition of the World Championships, but eventually took place later in the summer, and it was worth the wait.

John Higgins hit a 147 break in his second round match against Kurt Maflin to whet the appetite.

Then Ronnie O’Sullivan claimed a sixth world title, beating Kyren Wilson by his own record-equalling margin of 18-8.

Mark Selby then managed a third title in six years in 2021, as the world slowly returned to normal following the pandemic. He beat Shaun Murphy 18-15 in the final.

The last edition in 2022 saw a record-equalling two 147 breaks. First from Neil Robertson in his match against Jack Lisowski, and Graeme Dott also did it in qualifying.

In the first World Championship without restrictions since the pandemic, it was Ronnie O’Sullivan, who was now level with Stephen Hendry on seven world titles. He beat 2019 winner Judd Trump in the final.

Snooker Jim

Gone from a 6ft table in my dad's garage as a kid to a 9ft table at the office, with the full-size snooker club visits in between. Hoping one day to get the playing technique right.