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.

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations should be regarded as an offensive act
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
people
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply teaching - A great w...

Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices