From the 20 matches Mark Selby has now played in the Masters, nine have gone to deciding frames and he has won them all.

His latest narrow victory came yesterday in the first round, 6-5 over Mark Davis. The difference, though, between this last gasp win and most of the others was that, rather than coming from behind himself, Selby saw his lead wiped out before scrambling over the line.

He was 4-0 and 5-2 up. Selby has traditionally been a good front runner but it is possible that his failure to win the UK final last month having led Neil Robertson 5-1 was a factor in raising the anxiety levels with the winning line in sight yesterday.

Now he knows what it’s been like for all the players he has come back against over the years, at the Masters and elsewhere.

Psychological factors affect everything we do in life, and snooker certainly isn’t immune. A player with a big lead in a match experiences a range of emotions, from ‘I’m going to win this’ to ‘oh no, I’ll never forgive myself if I lose now’ when their opponent starts reducing the scores.

When determination to win gives way to fear of losing, that’s when players start to miss. That this has happened only rarely to Selby is testament to his mental strength and one of the reasons he stands second in the world rankings.

But, long term, are all these deciders damaging his snooker health?

One of the points many missed about the great burnout debate last season was that mental reserves are sapped not so much by the amount of snooker played but what sort of snooker it is.

There are many tournaments these days but some matter more than others. Selby drained his well of mental reserves to win both the UK Championship and the Masters last season and, by the time of the World Championship, he seemed to have nothing left.

Contrast this with the fresh, relaxed Ronnie O’Sullivan, who had barely played at all and was able to devote boundless mental energy to his Crucible triumph.

Winning so many deciders requires a strong temperament but, long term, perhaps take their toll in a sport which is so psychologically demanding. 


Photographs by Monique Limbos.