One player stands head and shoulders above all the rest when it comes to the number of World Snooker Championships they have won. The name is Davis… Joe Davis. English legend Joe Davis was the dominant force in snooker for over 20 years and he racked up(!) 15 World Championships between 1927 and 1946. That puts him well clear of another Davis, Fred Davis, who is joint second along with the less heralded John Pullman, both players boasting eight wins.
Joe Davis would have almost certainly won more titles too, had World War II not prevented the championships from being held between 1941 and 1945. Joe and his younger brother Fred are well known to snooker fans but the casual observer is not as familiar with them as one might expect given their titles. Moreover, even close followers of the sport may not have heard of Pullman, who has more titles than anyone not from the Davis family! But why is this?
Snooker’s Modern Era
As impressive as the feats of the abovementioned trio are, the reason they are not more widely acknowledged and feted is that snooker’s early years were very different to what is termed the modern era. Fred Davis took over from Joe, winning his eight titles between 1948 and 1956, whilst Pulman won his between 1957 and 1968.
However, most of Pulman’s titles (and Joe Davis’s second championship) were garnered in challenge matches, where the defending champion received a bye through to the final, or just played a one-off match against a selected opponent, rather than in knockout tournaments. In addition, his first, as with the last five won by Fred Davis, came in what was then known as the World Professional Match-play Championship.
The modern era of the sport began in 1969 when the World Snooker Championship was reintroduced as a full knockout tournament after a period where a lack of public and player interest had meant that only challenge matches had been contested. Pullman made the final in 1970, losing to Ray Reardon but none of the three early greats of the game won a world title in the modern era.
The event became far more competitive from this point, not least because it was always played as a proper knockout. It also boasted greater prize money, more players taking part and a higher standard of play and so when most people talk about which snooker player has won the most world titles, they usually mean in the modern era.
Multiple Titles in the Modern Era
Since John Spencer landed the first title of the modern era of the game (beating Welshman Gary Owen by the mammoth score of 37-24!), numerous players have lifted the famous trophy and been crowned world champion. However, only a magnificent nine have won multiple World Snooker Championships and of those, four in particular stand above the rest. Before we come to these fab four, let’s take a brief look at the not-quite-as-fabulous five to have won at least two world titles.
Alex Higgins – 2 Titles (1972, 1982)
Belfast boy Higgins was in many ways the George Best of snooker and the comparisons are obvious. Both were from Northern Ireland’s capital, both possessed super-human natural ability and neither fulfilled their true potential, in no small part due to issues with alcohol. Both were magnificent entertainers though and The Hurricane was loved by many fans, though, like Best, less popular with the authorities.
John Spencer – 3 Titles (1969, 1971, 1977)
Spencer was more of an establishment figure and was a pundit for many years after he stopped playing. A dominant force of the game’s early modern era, he also lost to Higgins in the final in 1972. The Lancastrian ace possessed incredible cue power and a fierce temperament, yet also the ability to remain calm and composed when it mattered.
Mark Williams – 3 Titles (2000, 2003 and 2018)
Welsh maestro Williams has been world number one on three occasions and in addition to his hat-trick of world titles he also lost the 1999 final to Stephen Hendry. His career has endured, and even at the age of 48, he remains competitive, some 26 years after first breaking into the world’s top 16. As well as his success at The Crucible, he also won the UK Championship and The Masters twice and we can’t rule out him adding to those tallies.
Mark Selby – 4 Titles (2014, 2016, 2017 and 2021)
Leicester’s Selby is another who will hope to add to his tally and edge higher up the list of the game’s all-time greats. A brilliant safety game, incredible mentality and ability to produce his best when it matters have made him a serial winner of the game’s biggest events.
John Higgins – 4 Titles (1998, 2007, 2009 and 2011)
Scot Higgins is one of the greatest all-round snooker players ever and would have won more titles had his career not crossed with so many other snooker legends. The Wizard of Wishaw turned pro in 1992, is still ranked inside the top 16 and has been number one on four separate occasions. He has won 31 ranking events and as well as his four wins in Sheffield he has lost in the final on four occasions too.
The Four Greatest Ever – Most Titles in the Modern Era
The players to have won six or more modern-era snooker titles are:
- Ronnie O’Sullivan – 7 Titles in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020 and 2022
- Stephen Hendry – 7 Titles in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999
- Ray Reardon – 6 Titles in 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1978
- Steve Davis – 6 Titles in 1981, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988 and 1989
So to simply answer the question as to which player has won the most Snooker World Championships in the modern era, the answer is it is a tie between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry. So much has been written about the four players listed above that we won’t add anything further, other than a brief comment on who is the best of the best.
Ronnie Tied for Titles but Our Number 1
Ronnie O’Sullivan may rub some people up the wrong way but in our opinion he is the greatest snooker player that has ever lived. He entertained in a similar way to greats like Higgins and Jimmy White, yet was able to win like the more metronomic, steady Hendry and Davis. In addition, his career at the very top has had greater longevity than any of his rivals, with his first and last (as of 2023) world titles coming some 21 years apart. In contrast, the other three were dominant over a shorter period, all winning their six or seven championships within 10-year periods.
Moreover, The Rocket leads on so many clear statistical metrics too. He has far more centuries and far more maximums than anyone to have ever played the game. In addition, Ronnie has been magnificent in the game’s other key tournaments too, landing 21 Triple Crown titles in total and having made 29 finals. Hendry is second on that list with 18 wins and 28 finals.