I don’t know much about snooker, I don’t even know the rules. But it’s a game played one-on-one, just like chess, and when two players come head-to-head a lot of the rules and principles are the same.
Some time ago I noticed that Ronnie O’Sullivan has a blog that is published on Yahoo Sports, a page which I frequently visit. I quite liked the way he wrote and the way he thought about his game and ways to improve it. From the writing I could sense a true professional who has delved deeply into the secrets of his trade. All elite sportsmen sense the secrets of their trade, but very few of them can really put them into words.
I recently read a profile on O’Sullivan in the New Yorker (you can read it in full here, I fully recommend it) and it completed the picture I had of him. I never had a clue he was an errant genius, a rude (!) and problematic character prone to severe ups and downs – definitely not the impression I had from the tranquil and balanced flow of the words in his writings.
Here are some quotes of the profile which I found particularly applicable to chess:
My arsehole had gone. My fight. I had nothing in me. – on the period when he couldn’t win anything, when he was left without motivation. But then at 36 he started winning again…
Take his head off. Don’t get beat. Fuck ’em son. – his father’s words of support. His father adored him, and showed infinite support. This support from at least one parent is crucial to become a World Champion – Carlsen is only the last example, and quite a sane one, with Fischer’s and Kasparov’s mothers the more aggressive and extreme versions. As opposed to this, Kamsky’s example of an abusive father led him only to the match, but not the title.
O’Sullivan spends a lot of time thinking about the white ball. He has come to believe that the quality of the initial contact between his chalked […] cue tip and the phenolic-resin sphere – the momentary grip, the transfer of energy and intent (emphasis mine) – is what decides everything else. If the white responds, he will not lose. “You’re using force. You are using your hands. You’re creating. You’re making that white dance.” – I love this. This kind of metaphysically-philosophical thinking is the only way to talk about the deep secrets of any sport or art. And it resonates so deeply to how chess works deep down on that inexplicable level that can only be sensed.
When the connection isn’t there, O’Sullivan feels it right away. “It’s invisible, but it’s night and day to me.” – This is another great one. I know exactly what he means, he talks about those days when you know that something is wrong and you cannot pinpoint it. And I know I have tried everything I possibly can to try to change things on those days – different openings, states of mind, routines, meals, whatnot. The results? Almost always non-existent.
This game can fuck your head up like no other game. – Ronnie obviously doesn’t play chess.
I have told my son he ain’t fucking playing snooker, because I love him too much. – I don’t know of a professional chess player who doesn’t have exactly the same feelings when it comes to his/her children and chess!
I won’t start following snooked after discovering O’Sullivan, but I will certainly follow him!