How Taom chalk is making kicks in snooker a thing of the past
Shaun Murphy says the chalk, made by Finland's Toni Ursin, is the best thing to happen to the sport. 'It's definitely up there,' agrees Mark Selby.
Kicks in snooker are random acts of awfulness.
For years, they have been altering the course of frames, matches and championships.
It has been known for a while that too much friction is what causes kicks. The issue was how to stop that friction from occurring.
"We were all looking at polishing the balls," says Shaun Murphy, who went on his own "quest" to solve the issue.
"No-one thought to check the chalk."
Except for one person: Toni Ursin, a Finnish product developer who made it his business – literally – to find a solution.
"He planned the invention about five years ago when Eurosport commentators said there was an impossible problem in snooker to get rid of those kicks," says Joonas Ohtonen, who is international sales manager of Taom Tips, where Ursin is CEO.
Taom have worked in American pool since 2014, but it wasn’t until last winter that the first prototype of their snooker chalk was ready for use.
Its impact has been remarkable.
"This Taom chalk hasn't eradicated kicks," says Murphy.
"What it has done is massively reduce them, because the chalk doesn't leave the tip.
"There's now no chalk on the ball, and there's now no chalk on the bed of the table, so there's now less friction."
Murphy says he has received just one kick since he started using Taom in the second round of the Indian Open in September.
Mark Selby, meanwhile, used it for the first time at the Yushan World Open in China, also in September, and has done so ever since.
"I can probably count on one hand the amounts of kicks I’ve had since then, which is great," says Selby.
So, how exactly does Taom differ from older chalk brands like Master or Green Triangle?
"Of course, I can’t reveal the recipe," says Ohtonen, laughing. "But, it’s made a totally different way than any other chalk.
"Other manufacturers, they don’t have the same kind of machinery that we do."
Nor the same price points. While a multipack of Master is less than a fiver, a single pack of Taom costs €15.
That, arguably, is money well spent if it means the removal of what Murphy refers to as snooker’s "joker card".
Both he and Selby were given their first piece of Taom chalk by fellow Englishman Matthew Selt, who himself had heard about it from Finnish player Robin Hull.
"Robin was the most important part when we made the breakthrough," says Ohtonen.
"He was the first pro to test our final version. He took it to the circuit and said to the other pros: 'How do you like it?'"
But it was after Murphy and Selby championed the chalk on Twitter that interest in the product rocketed.
"Those are the biggest names," says Ohtonen. "Of course, it’s a totally different market value."
The last couple of months, he says, have "been like a hurricane", with the company’s small team "working like 24/7".
They might just need more hours in the day, with Murphy believing that snooker would become "close to 100 per cent kick-free" were every player to use Taom.
Ohtonen says the company would be "delighted" to become World Snooker’s official chalk supplier, although that could create a problem for those who are yet to make the switch.
Dominic Dale is one of several players who believes Taom chalk increases the chances of miscuing.
"You know if you’ve hit a shot badly and you’ve miscued because of it," says Dale, who describes Taom chalk as "very gritty, much more cakey and powdery" compared to Master or Green Triangle.
Murphy, however, says miscuing is not an issue – as long as the instructions that accompany every pack of Taom are followed.
"None of the players, to my knowledge, have followed the instructions of Toni," says Murphy.
"They say you must make sure there is no residue of the previous chalk on your tip before you start using Taom, and you must give it every chance to bed into the leather of the tip.
"If you don't do that, you're going to have a problem."
The only problem Murphy has now has nothing to do with the equipment.
"Unfortunately, now I only have myself to blame," he says, smiling. "And as my Twitter followers will know, that is difficult for me to admit."
Yet honest self-assessment is presumably is a small price to pay for the confidence to play any shot.
Murphy says he would previously avoid "little run through shots for the black at all costs", especially if a match was at a crucial stage. The fear of getting a kick would play on Selby’s mind, too.
What Taom chalk provides, then, is peace of mind.
"It feels very honourable," says Ohtonen when asked about players' reaction to Ursin’s invention.
"We are so, so happy to hear those things. It’s a blessing."