NEIL Robertson believes that a recent survey focusing on significantly differing performance levels depending on personal body clock rings very true for snooker.

Like many snooker players the former world champion feels he would naturally come in what the scientists categorise as an ‘owl’, that is someone who might produce their best later in the day or at night.

Increasingly with up to 128 players at venues, and every year at the Crucible, that is no longer enough. At the World Championship you could be playing at 10am, or into the small hours late at night, and to win you must cope with all start times.

The University of Birmingham survey, published a week ago in science journal ‘Current Biology’ and featured on the BBC, suggested that in their sample of 20 elite women athletes there was up to a 26 per cent swing in performance for ‘owl’ types in bleep tests done at different times of the day.

They identified three different body clock types of the owl, the ‘lark’ who performs well early in the day, and the ‘intermediate’ who is at their best in the afternoon.

There will be plenty of snooker fans who have chewed the fat over whether Ding Junhui is quite the same player in the mornings, or maybe Jimmy White before him – but clearly players have to cope to win the biggest prizes, just as they do in tennis where there is a huge variance in start times.

Robertson said: “It is something I have often wondered about when I watch tennis players, whether the scheduled start times benefit particular people because in that sport in can be almost any time of day from 10am to midnight at some events.

“And it is very interesting there has been research into performance at elite level and how people have different body clocks. That certainly rings true with snooker.

“I can usually tell with certain players what they are going to be like, some always seem to get beaten if they play in the morning, and that is more the case the more players you have at the venue when the starts are earlier. Obviously I can’t bet – but if I could, I might!

“I am probably by nature what they are calling an ‘owl’, on a non-tournament day I would sleep in until midday, then roll down to the club. I would practice, but it didn’t matter what time – though having my son Alexander to look out for has changed that quite a bit.

“I always played late at night from the age of 15 to 21, I did all my practice at night-time maybe until 3am or 4am. I think a lot of players would say the same, and have that body clock, but I have had to try and change it after having kids.

“But you know how fine the margins are in say a big final against another top player, you are looking for the extra couple of per cent to win, so up to a 26 per cent difference in performance is massive if you are better or worse at a particular time.

“Some of the players that do not seem to be affected by playing in the morning do tend to be the healthy ones in my opinion – Ronnie is very good at all times of the day, Peter Ebdon, Mark Selby maybe…and you have to be able to play at all hours of the day at the Crucible for the World Championship.”


Photograph by Monique Limbos