Defense Game: Trap vs Snooker


Hi readers. I’m starting this post both to share my thoughts and also to see what others think about the defense game in general. The discussion revolves around which is better (the snooker vs the trap) and when to play each during a frame. I walk you through a frame that I won tonight all because of a good defensive shot.

I had a session with a m8 tonight who more often than not will play the trapping game when playing defense positions into baulk or neutral areas. His theory is that few opponents can score frame winning breaks and so he opts to take that gamble on. In addition, because he knows my approach to the game (ie: if I’m not sure, I try to pot my way out), he will more often leave me in trap positions where I have to either pot a difficult red/color to get in and score, or find a safe route out (often even harder).

When in trapped positions, I have always taken Hendry’s approach to the game. Hendry stated in an interview some years back that safety was over-rated and that if he was trapped, he would pot a ball (and I guess often did). Hendry’s approach probably did work in an era when there were few century makers playing and when his reputation preceded him. Looking back on my own game now, I don’t think it’s the best match strategy any more. I still take on the odd low percentage shot to keep my opponents on their toes, but I think on balance, it’s not the best way to win because I allow my opponent to put me under pressure instead of dictating myself.

In the last few months, I have decided to take a more measured approach to the game (thanks in part to coaching from my m8). I’m starting to learn that traps and snookers can often leave you in excellent frame winning positions, when played at the right time. Yes, snooker is a game of scoring but you don’t have to be offense all the time.

This is how one frame in particular went tonight: 

I broke off, opening about 4 reds. After some minor scoring, and several missed shots and pack opening safety shots from each of us, he managed to trap me with the reds fairly wide open. During safety play, the pink and blue went out of play and the black was partially tied up near the cushion with reds near by. I was near the baulk line and had no easy pot to take on. I could see almost all the reds, but only one or two went, and both had no easy way out so there was no clear benefit gained from taking the shot on. I decided regardless of the risks, to take the marginal red on anyways and send the white crashing into more reds which further spread them open.

Predictably, I missed but was lucky to leave him little to shoot or break build from. A few more safety plays later and I managed to take the upper hand when he scratched the white. I had ball in hand and made a middle distance red stopping near the blue which was now on it’s spot. Instead of taking on the blue on the wrong angle, trying to maneuver tied up reds, and never using a black that didn’t go at the time, I decided to bring the pink into play instead which was on the side cushion 12 inches from the baulk line, I left him trapped on the baulk cushion with only a few 10 foot back cut reds to shoot into the far corner. These reds would open up the black to go into the same pocket later which was part of my plan also. I purposely left him those 2 reds even though the risk was high I could lose the frame or be behind in points with the pink now somewhat in play. It was either his frame to take or potentially mine if he missed.

Of course, under the pressure, and with the difficulty of making either red, he did miss and left me in close range with reds everywhere. I had at least 4 reds to shoot into the corner and middle pockets and a chance to get on pink, blue, and the black, which now went. I took a red, got on the blue, and then maneuvered and played some good cannons and positional shots to re-spot the black. In total, I made 1 blue, 5 blacks, and 1 brown scoring 51 before losing position from the brown back to a red. The score was now 60 to 8 and I was in a good position with 3 reds gone earlier in the frame, 7 reds gone from my break, and 5 reds on cushions and in odd positions. Of course, I eventually won the frame potting the last two reds and winning by a long margin. I kept the pressure on my opponent and I think he was pretty deflated by the break I made.

Post-frame thoughts:

Traditionally, if I made a red like the first one I tried, I would have tried to pot my way into a break using the blue and baulk colors to get into scoring. This time, however, I decided to play the odds, take a small risk, and open the pink which could help me score later on. It turned out to be a very good decision and left me in a good position after the 51 break.

I think because we see pros playing snookers at the very first opportunity if they can’t continue a break, we think we should do the same. Perhaps, at pro level playing the snooker is the better shot because the pros are such strong potters that a trap won’t bother them. At league and in local clubs, however, that’s not always the best approach. I believe most people (pros included) are actually better at coming out of snookers than they are potting in trapped positions. Why is this? Well for one, there is small sense of relief that you are snookered because you have options and potentially ways to play so you don’t leave much. That gives you some semblance of being in control and as snooker players, we like that. We like knowing we can still participate in the frame and have some choice. When trapped, however, the dynamics change and you feel the pressure of either potting the ball your opponent wants you try, or finding a safety way out. I think in most cases, traps lead opponents into playing the marginal shot anyways because their ego and mind tells them that’s the only reasonable way out of the situation. Their minds become so focused on potting that ball they don’t consider playing a 2 cushion or 3 cushion safety, dump or anything else – which of course is a shot they could always have played from that position.

There are, of course, times in a frame when playing a snooker actually is a better option. For one, if there are only a few reds and the points are close. Even when there is a big spread with only a few balls left, the odds become greater someone can string a run together. As long as you or the opponent is well ahead and not requiring snookers, a full on snooker is sometimes the right call. It all comes down to pressure and keeping your opponent tied down and on the ropes.

What you have to assess when deciding which type of defense shot to play is how you want the frame to proceed. Firstly, the table conditions. Do you need reds off cushions? Is it beneficial to leave the opponent trapped so some other balls may come into play? Are the colors in play and him likely to clear if he gets a chance? Are any colors tied up and out of play? Secondly, you need to assess your opponent’s state of mind and ability. Will he try an offensive shot if trapped? Does your opponent attack when cornered? How good is your opponent at hitting balls when snookered? Can they hit a ball and still get safe? What are they likely to do given the current situation at the moment? Are they behind frames and need to win? Lastly, you need to know your current level of play at the moment. Are you ready to score if you get in? Are your nerves under control? Are you tense? Can you win the frame at the next visit? Do you need only a few more to secure the frame? Are you prepared to score heavily?

Ultimately, defense creates opportunities for offense. You can’t have one without the other and if your defense is weak compared to your offense (for most younger players that’s the case), think about adding some strategy and tactics to your game. It really will allow you to score. I proved it tonight!

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2 replies
  1. Robert Mulhall
    Robert Mulhall says:

    Very good article ‘Defense Game: Trap vs Snooker’. Really enjoyed it. I was reading it in the hope of getting some advice for a competitive match that I have next week in my club. I am playing a player who is very very good and is capable of making 70-80 breaks without problem. I myself would be capable of 20-30 breaks when in form. I am just trying to come up with a game plan of how I can beat him. I have a +30 point head start (based on the handicap). I am in agreement with your thoughts in that if you can play a good defensive game you can make opportunities for yourself. My plan for the match would be to keep it tight early on in the frame, hopefully get some opportunities to pick off points here and there and then play safe again. A good idea in theory but it will require excellent safety play. Would be interested in hearing your views.

    • Mayur Jobanputra
      Mayur Jobanputra says:

      Hi Robert. I’m sorry I’m replying to this comment so late. I hope your match went well? In regards to your question. Firstly, I don’t believe it’s possible to hold fast to one approach to your match. You should expect your opponent to also be willing and able to change his match approach as well. So instead of playing the safety game, he might instead decide to open the reds up more, and play safe. So instead of pre-planning your approach to the game, just hold fast to some basic principles: score when you can, and play good safeties when you can’t. It’s very easy to get caught up in the idea that your opponent can make big breaks which then makes you change your approach to the game. This won’t work in the long run because you have changed your approach in response to your opponent.

      Instead, just focus on some basic alltruistic rules and principles you will follow in your game – regardless of who you play. Step 1, change your tactic in response to the score. Step 2, play safe when the odds dictate. Step 3, play offense when the odds dictate. Step 4, focus and concentrate.

      Its better to play your best game, and lose, then to play your b-game, and lose. The 30 point start is there to even the odds, so that you have a fighting chance to win. Your opponent is probably well aware of your capabilities as he was also once a 20/30 break player himself. Expect him to be prepared for whatever tactic or approach you are going to try as he probably did the same himself at one time. He will have a strategy to counteract yours.

      Let me know how that match went. Thanks for the comment!