Why January and snooker’s most memorable 147s go together like magic

By Annette Lord

Gary Wilson’s 147 break this week in the WST Pro Series continues snooker’s quite extraordinary tale between the joy of maximum breaks and the month of January.

If you explore the history of this wonderful sport, it is fair to say that January has some magic to it when it comes to snooker’s most famous achievement.

Stuart Bingham’s perfect frame against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the Championship League straight after Christmas is one of a long line of January 147s stretching back to the 1950s – some of them ground-breaking.

Obscure New Zealander Murt O’Donoghue would be more well known had his witnessed 147 in Australia been on a table with championship-size pockets and in front of a certified referee in 1934.

So instead it fell to Joe Davis 21 years later to make the first officially recognised maximum, on January 22 1955, during an exhibition match with old rival Willie Smith as they helped bring down the curtain on Leicester Square Hall.

The hall, known before the World War as Thurstons, had been the venue for numerous important snooker and billiards matches over the previous five decades but closed just a week after Joe’s historic feat.

Fast forward to January 1979 and it was John Spencer’s turn to be unlucky in the annals of 147 immortality. Not only was his maximum at the Holstein Lager International not counted as the first in a professional tournament because the table’s pockets were not to template but it didn’t appear on television either – as the TV crews had gone for a tea break!

Three years later, Spencer couldn’t have been too chuffed to sit and watch Steve Davis famously clear up and leave with a brand new Lada after making the illusive first TV 147 against him at the Classic in Oldham. The date? January 11 1982.

The Masters itself has added a few January maximums down the years, not least the one by Kirk Stevens against Jimmy White at Wembley in 1984 which is fondly remembered by snooker fans for its flamboyance – especially that shot on the final green. Only the third made in professional competition, it remained the only 147 at the Masters until Ding Junhui stroked one in against Anthony Hamilton in 2007. Eight years later and it was the turn of another player from the Far East, Marco Fu, to make a Masters maximum – 33 years to the day since Steve Davis’s first on TV.

David Gilbert made history when he compiled the 147th 147 in professional competition in the 2019 Championship League, the same tournament that garnered Stuart Bingham’s eighth maximum break to put him fourth on the all-time list behind some of the game’s giants – Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and John Higgins.

Gilbert’s historic maximum, his second, was on January 22 – the same day as Joe Davis’s first official 147 all those years before.

Other notable January 147s are Stephen Hendry’s fourth, against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 1997 Charity Challenge; Ronnie’s second in the 1999 Welsh Open against James Wattana; and John Higgins’s first, against Dennis Taylor in the Nations Cup in 2000.

We get so many maximum breaks now compared to what we used to.

In the whole of the 1980s there were just eight – the same number as has been made in just the last five months (before Gary Wilson’s break this week). There were 86 in the 2010s and there have been 11 since the start of 2020. But for both fans and players they’re still a bit special.

And January, while not being the most prolific for maximums over the years, has been the month for some significant groundbreaking ones.

Featured Image: Steve Davis celebrating snooker’s first televised 147 in the early 1980s – YouTube/
Łukasz Harc

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