The Perfect Player 2009: Safety

With the Grand Prix now completed, today we bring you the third part of our quest to identify the ‘Perfect Player’ from the current field. Today we look at the finest tacticians in the game right now…

When the BBC panel considered who was the best safety player that the game had ever seen back in 2000, understandably their choice was six-times world champion and tactical genius Steve Davis. Many players have come and gone in the past nine years but I think it is fair to say that should the panel convene to answer the same question again, there would not be too many arguments if they reached the same conclusion.

But is he still the best in 2009? Perhaps not. But despite the other areas of the 52-year-old’s game now beginning to seriously decline, his safety is at a high level and good enough to give even the very best players a headache. Unfortunately for him however his scoring is no longer strong enough to take advantage of the opportunities that his safety can create on a consistent basis.

So who are the other candidates in this category? The obvious choice is of course reigning world-champion John Higgins who despite being third on the all-time list of century breaks, is as well known for his tremendous tactical game as his scoring. This was a view once again reinforced during his run to this year’s world crown when not only did he make 11 centuries, but he completely outplayed final opponent Shaun Murphy in the safety department. Shaun after the match commented:

“John’s tactical and safety play is just the best I have ever played against,”

“He had me in all sorts of trouble and all credit to the guy – he is the best tactical player I have ever seen.


Also in the mix has to be the man who Higgins stopped in the quarter-finals of the same tournament, Leicester’s world number 7 Mark Selby. Like John, Mark is a player who can both score well and play some strong safety, though ultimately I don’t think that he is quite as strong as the world champion in either department just yet.

One man who possibly is however is world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan who despite not being a player renowned for his tactical game in his youth, has undoubtedly improved in this area significantly during the last 4/5 years.

His recent capture of the Shanghai Masters was a great demonstration of this as although his scoring was ok, it was his excellent safety that really impressed me and helped him overcome the likes of Higgins, Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo without too much trouble. Similarly at the Masters his tactical game proved decisive against Mark Selby at a time when O’Sullivan was struggling to adapt to a new cue.

I do not get the impression that he particularly likes the safety side of the game, but he does now appear to understand the importance of it and this has helped him become a much more consistent player recently, being able to win even when not playing particularly well.

So who else in the top 16 deserves a mention here? Marco Fu is always a tough proposition, one who has one of the strongest B-games on the tour while Peter Ebdon is of course at home in a safety battle.

Even Neil Robertson is vastly improving in the safety department as demonstrated in Glasgow last week when not only did he compete with and defeat John Higgins, but to my surprise he managed to win the tactical battles against Ding Junhui who I had expected to succeed in that area.

Unlike some of the categories in this feature however, there are players further down the rankings who despite not being as strong overall, are very competitive in the tactical frames. Take for example ‘Crafty’ Ken Doherty who is beginning to move back up the rankings. Throughout his career he has always been one of the most tactically astute players and despite his mixed form recently, for me this still holds true. Graeme Dott too is still capable of producing some strong safety play and just three years ago won the World Championship thanks largely to his strength in the scrappy frames.


Again I do not claim that my list is exhaustive as there are some very strong tactical players such as Dave Harold and Fergal O’Brien further down the rankings who I have not previously mentioned, but ultimately I think that my mind is made up on this area.

There are a number of strong tactical players in the game but for me the very best of 2009 has to be John Higgins who has demonstrated time and time again over the last year that not only is he very strong in the area, but he is capable of producing his best under intense pressure and on the very biggest occasions.

Again however, you can have your say here: