I was lucky enough to spend the weekend watching the semi-finals and final of the Bendigo Goldfields Open snooker tournament. This world-ranking event is relatively new on the snooker calendar and I’ve taken the opportunity to attend each year, with the “finals” weekend now becoming an annual event for me. Coverage of snooker is sadly almost non-existent in Australia so this is my one chance each year to watch the sport I love, up close and personal. (I will use some snooker terminology in what follows, so if you’re not too familiar with the game, it might be worth a look at some basic rules and terms first.)
As I watched the deft skills of the players, it occurred to me that there are parallels between how they go about constructing a break (with the aim of scoring enough points to win the frame) and how we as exploratory testers go about testing a feature or product.
Break building is all about strategy and planning, with good players working out several shots ahead so that they maneuver the cue ball into the right place after each shot in order to make the next shot (and subsequent ones) as straightforward as possible. These plans don’t look too far ahead though and the actual outcome of each shot will often mean their plan for subsequent shots is no longer valid, so they need to adjust. Sometimes this will leave the player with a choice between deliberately ending the break now with a safety shot or taking on a more difficult or risky shot in order to continue the break. These risk assessments seem to improve with player experience (“match fitness”) and are also heavily influenced by the timing within the game (e.g. whether this player has a large advantage in terms of frames won over the opponent).
This is similar to test planning when we’re using exploratory testing – planning just enough ahead so we know where we’re heading, but being mindful that we will probably need to adjust as we go along, depending on what happens along the way. It is this ability to course adjust that gives power to exploratory testing and also allows the professional snooker player to deal with the flow of the balls during play.
The snooker player also has black swan events to worry about. One of the most notable of these events is the so-called kick – this is where either the cue ball or the object ball literally jumps in the air slightly after receiving contact from the cue or the cue ball respectively. This is almost always bad news for the player, since the angle on either ball is disturbed and contact is rarely clean. Many a seemingly simple shot has been scuppered by a kick. (This is why you will see players requesting balls – particularly the cue ball which becomes dirty with residual chalk from the tip of the cue – be cleaned frequently especially at critical points in a break.)
We can take a few cues (forgive the pun) from snooker when we’re thinking about our test execution/planning – consider your options just a few moves ahead, take considered risks, and be patient when you need to be. And those black swans are always lurking…
Oh, and for the sake of completeness, the tournament was won by Englishman Judd Trump (world number 6) who defeated Aussie Neil Robertson (world number 1). That’s right, the world number 1 snooker player is from Melbourne, surely the most under-rated sports professional in this country with zero media coverage (even when he won the World Championship!).