Kevin Garside: The Ronnie O’Sullivan psyche is a puzzle for philosophers; when he masters it, the resulting play is a quickfire wonder for all to behold

I can’t tell you how many hours have bled from my life watching world championship snooker. The hypnotic tinkle of resin on resin, overlaid with the emotion and tension of human conflict, stops the clock. There is no sense of past or future when the boys are on the tables, only a present of endlessly unfolding geometry.

The game is fertile ground for the philosopher, the psychoanalyst and the crank. One of the greatest minds in the pantheon of western thought, 18th-century Scottish thinker David Hume, gave up his meditations on life at the age of 24, unable to resist the siren call of billiards and baize. 

His seminal work A Treatise of Human Nature is a core text for all philosophy undergraduates, and perhaps required reading for any who want to understand what is happening when snooker’s most gifted exponent, Ronnie O’Sullivan, is about his business and Terry Griffiths is on the mike.

“Lose control of your mind and you’ve got nothing,” was an early contribution to the sum of human understanding triggered on Saturday during O’Sullivan’s gripping struggle to overcome the infinitely mundane Joe Perry. “We all get wet in the rain,” and “we are all human, we all like to be loved”, were other examples from Terry’s book of homespun wisdom, presumably intended to group O’Sullivan with Perry as members of the same species. On a snooker table, at least, they emphatically are not. 

That velvet Valleys brogue makes Griffiths a gem of a pundit, more often than not deepening the mystery of what it is to be Ronnie O. The great man himself had the guru of the moment, Dr Steve Peters, close at hand in the Crucible audience to keep him pointed in the right direction. Peters has talked Liverpool to within an ace of a first Premier League title and is tasked with removing the mental shackles from Roy Hodgson’s England in Brazil.

Now that would be a result, but a doddle compared to the challenge of untangling the psyche of O’Sullivan in championship fortnight. A brace of century breaks eventually broke the resistance of Perry, whom he had never led until the 23rd frame of 25.

O’Sullivan is seeking a sixth world championship title on the same weekend that brings the undefeated welterweight world champion Floyd Mayweather Jnr to the ring and thousands to Imola to pay tribute to Ayrton Senna on the anniversary of his death at the San Marino Grand Prix.

Though 20 years dead, Senna has lost none of his hold on the motor-racing imagination. Mayweather and O’Sullivan walk the same ground Senna did, separated from the rest not only by a rare gift but by their own understanding of it and of the impact it has on others. With these boys you don’t remember the wins as much as the way they were fashioned. They leave not a number in our heads but impressions.

“Lurching between mediocrity and misery” was how Griffiths summarised O’Sullivan’s performance in that deciding third session on Saturday morning; “but when he is in the balls he’s absolutely brilliant. Even the pros tune in to watch him.”

The manner of his acceleration away from an opponent who for the best part of three sessions had him under the cosh was quintessential O’Sullivan, barely comprehensible even to those who have played the game. O’Sullivan goes about the table like a child running down the stairs on Christmas morning.  He is a car with no brakes, decisions made on the move, the spread of balls noted and considered in a glance before they disappear in a blizzard of hurried potting.

Poor Perry went to the final interval leading 11-9, thinking his time had come. The next thing he knew he was on his feet, O’Sullivan’s outstretched hand advancing towards him. See you next year.

He will be none the wiser then, of course. O’Sullivan is a greater danger to rivals now than he has ever been, and for that he can thank Peters, who has somehow managed to talk him into an alliance with imperfection, introducing a degree of tolerance of mistakes. No longer does he repair to his seat in despair when preternatural standards are not met. Genius is no protection against fallibility, merely the means by which the likes of O’Sullivan separate themselves from the rest when the force is with them.

Mayweather doesn’t blow them all away. Senna didn’t win every race. It’s just that some victories, some heights hit, are beyond the reach of others and the ken of mortal observers, timeless contributions to the great sporting tableau.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary General Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: We are looking for Primary School ...

ICT Teacher for Maternity cover

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job * This is a new post...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album