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Mind games: The battle of wits that unites snooker and Hearthstone


It’s hard to imagine two more polarised moments in snooker’s history. Back in 1997, Ronnie O’Sullivan – arguably the most talented player of all time, and alongside Jimmy White and Alex Higgins certainly one of the most popular – completes a maximum break of 147 in an unprecedented five minutes and 20 seconds.

A man so adept at the task before him that he appears almost bored by his own capabilities, O’Sullivan moves from shot to shot, sizing up each problem, divining the solution, and then executing it with almost reckless speed. He seems to almost dare himself to fail – and no one watching can quite bring themselves to believe he will.

Fast forward less than a decade, and O’Sullivan – now cutting an almost Syd Barrett-like figure with his closely shaven head and tired eyes – is playing against Peter Ebdon, a man who could charitably be called a master of the waiting game. Every angle before him is scrutinised, and every possibility is weighed, considered and checked against the rest. If O’Sullivan’s a gambler, Ebdon is an accountant.

By the time the clock has ticked slowly beyond the five or so minutes it once took O’Sullivan to perform that record-breaking clearance, Ebdon has achieved a break of 12. Even worse, he finishes his turn by fumbling a red into the jaws of the pocket. As Ebdon settles into his chair – and in a rare break from snooker’s gentlemanly code of conduct – Ronnie grins on behalf of the nation. As he leers at the back of Ebdon’s head, I can almost hear it: “Sorry that happened…”