Snooker Rule Changes Explained by Referee Andy Yates

A few of you will have noticed during the last couple of days, World Snooker have recently announced changes to the Official Rules of Snooker and Billiards effective immediately but in truth even to a snooker fan like me they made little sense when reading them…

That being the case, I got in touch with World Snooker referee and all round good guy Andy Yates who was more than happy to help clarify the situation and it certainly makes for interesting reading…

  • To view the full list of rule changes at World Snooker, please click here.

So addressing the rule changes number by number, the first is that at:

Section 2, point 5: Striker and Turn:


“The person about to play or in play is the striker and remains so until the final stroke, or foul, of his turn is complete and the referee is satisfied that he has finally left the table. If a non-striker comes to the table, out of turn, he shall be considered as the striker for any foul he may commit before leaving the table. When the referee is satisfied that the above conditions have been met, the incoming striker’s turn begins. His turn and his right to play another stroke ends when:

(a) he fails to score from a stroke; or
(b) he commits a foul; or
(c) he requests the opponent to play again after his opponent has committed a foul.”

So what does this mean and how has it changed? Andy explains by comparing and contrasting to the previous rule…

Under the previous rule

Imagine a scenario where I am playing you in a match and I play a shot and you come to the table while the balls are still moving. If you are then to play a stroke while the balls are still moving, it was not a foul stroke.

This is because the wording of the rule was that the stroke has not been completed until the balls have come to rest. In this scenario you would be the non-striker and therefore cannot commit a foul. In the past therefore if you were to play a shot in this scenario with the balls still moving, a foul would not be called because the non-striker cannot commit a foul. What would have had to happen then is that the referee would have to replace the balls but there would be no foul points.

One thing that I was always taught when the rule was still active is that a good referee will intervene and prevent a player from playing a shot in the interests of fair play and to avoid such a problem with the referee having to replace the balls.

Under the new rule

However, now the rule has been amended to say that in the above scenario, you would now be deemed to be the striker. Therefore if you were to come to the table and strike the cue ball while the balls are still moving, a foul would now be called.

As a result now if I were refereeing and this came up, I would no longer intervene because a referee cannot advise a player who is about to commit a foul stroke. I would now let him play the stroke, call a foul and the other player would come back to the table.

Also the referee (in the interests of fair play) could call a foul AND replace all balls.  Imagine a scenario where player A is 33 points ahead with one red left on the table.  He strikes the cue ball whilst balls are moving and pot the last red.  He would now be 29 ahead with only 27 remaining, thereby gaining an obvious advantage. I would call a foul, replace the balls and warn player A for ungentlemanly conduct.  Player B would now have the usual options after a foul.

Section 2, point 6: Stroke:

“(a) A stroke is made when the striker strikes the cue-ball with the tip of the cue.
(b) A stroke is fair when no infringement of Rule is made.
(c) A stroke is not completed until:
(i) all balls have come to rest;
(ii) the striker has stood up, in readiness for a succeeding stroke, or leaving the table;
(iii) any equipment being used by the striker has been removed from a hazardous position; and
(iv) the referee has called any score relevant to the stroke.
(d) A stroke may be made directly or indirectly, thus:
(i) a stroke is direct when the cue-ball strikes an object ball without first striking a cushion;
(ii) a stroke is indirect when the cue-ball strikes one or more cushions before striking an object ball.
(e) Following the final stroke of the opponent’s turn, if an incoming player plays a stroke/strikes the cue-ball before the balls have come to rest, he shall be penalised as if he were the striker, and his visit to the table shall end.”

Andy explains:

If you look at the previous rule book, all that is said under stroke was that ‘a stroke is not completed until all balls have come to rest’ and that was it.

This still stands however the amendment to this rule is that they have added some more sub-sections in, eg that the striker has stood up for the next shot or to leave the table, equipment removed or score called. Previously these weren’t in the book.

The reason for the change is that again, take the scenario that I am playing you, I am playing a shot with the rest, have played a shot and stayed down on it, missed the pot and all the balls have come to rest, meaning that my stroke has been completed and that I am no longer the striker. Then I am moving from the table and for example catch another ball with the rest or whatever, somehow moving another ball as I am getting up. Now bearing in mind that the non-striker cannot be penalised, I could effectively do that deliberately, move the balls and there would be a problem again. So that is why they have added those sub-sections.

In the past when a ball has been potted, a referee might have called the score before the other balls have come to rest. Now however the guideline is that if for example a player pots a red using the rest, that referees should wait until the rest has been put away before then calling the score so that all three of those new sub-sections have been adhered to.

So to summarise, now a player is at the table with the rest, misses the pot and gets up, catching a red with the rest. Now while that is happening, he is still the striker under the new rule and so would be penalised. The player will be the striker until he has stood up, the rest has been put away and the score has been called.

In reality there is no actual change to that, they have just added those sub-sections to the rule book so that everything is covered.

Section 3, point 8: Touching Ball:

(g) If a stationary object ball, not touching the cue-ball when examined by the referee, is later seen to be in contact with the cue-ball before a stroke has been made, the balls shall be repositioned by the referee to his satisfaction. This also applies to a touching ball which later, when examined by the referee is not touching, the balls shall be repositioned by the referee to his satisfaction.

Again this is not a change as such but more of an addition.

If the referee goes to look and it is not touching, he does not have to call anything. Then however if the player comes around and sees that it is now touching, the referee will remove the ball so that it is not touching.

There was however nothing in the rules about the opposite situation, eg if the ball is called as touching by the referee and is then later seen to be not touching. There was nothing in the rules previously to cover this situation so it has now been added for clarification. It has always been the case but technically a player could have queried it and said that it was not in the rule.

Just to add to this there is an important clarification and this is that this is only to apply where no stroke has been played. Once the stroke has been played, the striker has condoned the position of the balls.

I had an incident a couple of years ago at the UK Championship and the player potted the blue and there was a red right next to the blue spot. I got my ball marker out, saw that it did go on so spotted the blue and the player then got down, potted a red, screwed back for the blue and now from the vibration the red was now touching the blue! In that situation because he has played the shot there is nothing that I could do, he has condoned the position of those balls, even though it was not touching when I spotted it. As it happened he just shrugged his shoulders, got down and potted the blue anyway!

Section 3, point 13: Play Again:

Once a player has requested an opponent to play again after a foul or requested the replacement of ball(s) after a Foul and a Miss, such request cannot be withdrawn. The offender, having been asked to play again, is entitled to:

(a) change his mind as to:
(i) which stroke he will play; and
(ii) which ball on he will attempt to hit;
(b) score points for any ball or balls he may pot.

Here there is just one amendment that was not there before to cover the miss rule, adding in regarding the replacement of balls which was not previously included.

The foul and a miss is only covered on two pages in the A6 book and obviously now there is so much room for interpretation and loopholes which comes up next…

Section 3, point 14: Foul and a Miss:

Here there are three aspects to be covered separately.

The first is:

(d) After the cue-ball has been replaced under this Rule, and the striker fouls any ball, including the cue-ball while preparing to play a stroke, a miss will not be called if a stroke has not been played. In this case the appropriate penalty will be imposed; and the ball on shall be the same as prior to the last stroke made, namely:
(i) any Red, where Red was the ball on;
(ii) the colour on, where all Reds were off the table; or
(iii) a colour of the striker’s choice, where the ball on was a colour after a Red had been potted;
(iv) the next player may elect to play the stroke himself or ask the offender to play again from the position left; or
(v) the next player may ask the referee to replace all balls moved to their original position and have the offender play again from there; and
(vi) if the above situation arises during a sequence of miss calls, any warning concerning the possible awarding of the frame to his opponent shall remain in effect.

This is effectively to cover the O’Sullivan/Higgins incident that occured during the 2009 UK Championship where you may recall that Ronnie was attempting to escape from a difficult snooker and following a couple of missed attempts, then caught a red that he was cueing over with his cue and a miss could then not be given.

In that situation Jan Verhaas could not have called a miss because the stroke had not been played.

Under the new rule:

Now what the new rule is saying is that while a miss still cannot be called, the referee will now inform both players that if in that situation Ronnie was being put back in, he would still be on a colour, not a red as was previously the case.

While Ronnie did not do this deliberately, he did gain an advantage so in the interests of fair play it is now the case that if Ronnie was put back in, he would now still be on a colour. So effectively the miss rule is being applied but they are not calling it a miss. So the referee would now have to inform both players that if the player is put back in, he would still be on a colour.

The second part is:

(e) All other misses will be called at the discretion of the referee, unless, before or after the stroke, the points available on the table are equal to the points difference excluding the value of the re-spotted black.

Under the previous rule:

Using the scenario of me and you as players, imagine that the difference is 31 points with one red, 35 points remaining. I am 31 behind and fail to hit the ball on meaning that I am now 35 behind with 35 remaining.

Previously a miss would now be called because the rule states needing snookers, so technically you don’t need snookers because you can clear and then win on a re-spotted black.

Under the new rule:

This has now completely turned around, this is the only one that has changed entirely. If a player can tie, a miss would now not be called and so technically it is being said that you do need snookers in this scenario because you cannot win with all of the balls on the table.

This will also work the other way when a player who is 35 ahead commits a foul, a miss would now not be called where previously it would.

The third part is:

(b) If the striker, in making a stroke, fails to first hit a ball on when there is a clear path in a straight line from the cue-ball to any part of any ball that is or could be on, the referee shall call FOUL AND A MISS, unless:
(i) any player needed penalty points before, or as a result of, the stroke being played; (see (b) (ii)
(ii) before or after the stroke, the points available on the table are equal to the points difference excluding the value of the re-spotted black;
and the referee is satisfied that the miss was not intentional.

This relates to the issue of centre-ball contact and also links back to the point previously discussed at point (e) regarding the situation of being 35 points behind with 35 remaining.

By way of background, this covers the only time a miss can be called when there are snookers required. This is when they are in the sequence that the frame could be lost following three misses when centre-ball contact (not to be confused with having to hit both sides of the object ball, eg in a free ball situation), is available. Even if during that sequence points now mean that the player trailing needs a snooker, a miss must still be called because they are in that sequence.

For example, imagine I am 30 points behind with 35 remaining, and I can hit centre ball of the ball on (ie red). I then fail to hit the red. A miss would be called and my opponent has the ball(s) replaced. Then I miss again meaning that I am now 38 behind with only 35 remaining. Normally a miss would not be called in this case because I would need a snooker. Because of the centre-ball contact however, a miss would still be called. That rule has always been there, but has not always been in the book.

The Change

Not so much a change but an addition to the rulebook.
Previous rule only stated:
(b) If the striker, in making a stroke, fails to first hit a ball on when there is a clear path in a straight line from the cue-ball to any part of any ball that is or could be on, the referee shall call FOUL AND A MISS, unless either player needed SNOOKERS before or as a result of the stroke being played and the referee is satisfied that the miss was not intentional.

Thanks to Andy for taking time out to explain those changes and hopefully that makes things a little clearer for you all!