The season has made something of a false start. Now that the Northern Ireland Trophy is over, we have to wait until October 21 for the next event, the Grand Prix.

However, here is a rundown of what's been happening of late:

- Michael Holt has won the German Open, an enthusiatically attended pro-am in Furth. Holty beat Barry Hawkins in the final and Matthew Stevens, Ken Doherty and Joe Swail in the earlier rounds

- Royal London Watches will sponsor the Grand Prix in a three-year deal worth more than £1m

- World Snooker have confirmed that the Grand Prix will be played using a round robin format. At the qualifiers, there will be 224 matches in five days featuring eight groups of eight, with the top two from each advancing to the venue. In Aberdeen, there will be eight groups of six - 120 matches over four days - with the top two going through to the last 16

- More than £30,000 was raised at a testimonial evening for Chris Small, who retired last year because of the degenerative spinal disease ankylosing spondilytis

- World Snooker unveiled a new logo. It's red

- Ronnie O'Sullivan has elected not to play in this Saturday's Pot Black. He has instead entered the latest IPT pool event in Reno

- Judd Trump demonstrated his talent for golf as well as snooker by winning a junior stableford event in Bristol

- The England team of David Lilley, David Craggs and Michael Rhodes won the inaugural IBSF World Team Cup in San Jose, California

- 888.com, sponsors of the World Championship, launched a new stable of players who will wear their logo: John Higgins, Ding Jun Hui and Graeme Dott - the winners of the BBC televised tournaments last season



The Waterfront Hall in Belfast, where we have spent a very pleasant week, is a first class venue and we all hope that the Northern Ireland Trophy will grow into an established event.

The middle of August is probably too early for this tournament, not least because the next one isn’t until October. In the summer, people think cricket, tennis, golf and athletics. The media also think football, as they do at all other times of the year.

However, any tournament at any time is better than none at all and though the crowds have not been brilliant, they have not been terrible either.

What’s surprised me is how high the standard of snooker has been bearing in mind how nobody has played professionally for the best part of four months.

Leading the way has been Ronnie O’Sullivan, quite superb after stuttering to a 5-4 victory over Stuart Pettman in the opening round.

His final opponent, Ding Jun Hui, has once again demonstrated his formidable skills and their best of 17 frame meeting today could be a classic.

It may feel far too early to some, but snooker is back and, as this showdown proves, still as entertaining as ever.


In just 53 breathtaking minutes yesterday, Ronnie O’Sullivan demonstrated his extraordinary natural genius for snooker by completing the fastest ever best of 11 frame victory in defeating Dominic Dale 6-0 to reach the Northern Ireland Trophy final at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast.

The previous record was set by Stephen Hendry, who needed only 71 minutes to beat Dave Harold in the 1993 International Open semi-finals. O’Sullivan also beat his own personal best of 73 minutes, which he set at last year’s Premier League final against Mark Williams.

Against Dale, he oozed class from the start, accounting for the first frame with breaks of 65 and 64. At ten minutes, 42 seconds, this proved to be the longest of the contest.

Welshman Dale, ranked 40th in the world, had beaten last season’s 888.com World Championship finalists, Peter Ebdon and Graeme Dott, en route to the semi-finals but failed to put O’Sullivan under any sort of pressure. His highest break was just 12 in the second frame and when he broke down, O’Sullivan stepped in with an 84 for 2-0.

Just under nine minutes later it was 3-0 courtesy of a 75 and Dale failed to pot a ball in the fourth as O’Sullivan secured it through runs of 63 and 67. A fluid 106 made it 5-0 before he clinched the sixth in just five minutes with a 63, outpointing Dale 608-29.

If O’Sullivan played like this all the time he would never lose but throughout his career he has struggled intermittently with his state of mind. In years gone by he would frequently threaten retirement while the day before last year’s Grand Prix final he announced he would rather be at home gardening.

However, a recent excursion to America for an 8-ball pool tournament has opened his eyes to a different, more glitzy approach.

“I’m very conscious that snooker needs to be watched by people and I want to play a game that people want to watch and that’s by being open and entertaining so that they buy a ticket and come back,” O’Sullivan said.

There will certainly be a few takers for today’s best of 17 frames final when O’Sullivan plays Ding Jun Hui, the 19 year-old Chinese prodigy who won last season’s UK Championship.

Ding played sublimely on his way to defeating Stephen Lee 6-1 last night, although he enjoyed a huge slice of luck when he fluked the blue out of a snooker in the fifth frame, adding a difficult pink to lead 4-1. He closed out victory with breaks of 67 and 73, having earlier constructed efforts of 72 and 81.

A shy teenager, he knows more English than he is willing to speak at post match press conferences, but it was apparent he is looking forward to playing O’Sullivan, his snooker hero.

“I have to forget anything else about him and just play the match,” Ding said. “I like him. He’s a very good player.”

They have only previously played on two occasions. O’Sullivan won 6-1 in their 2005 Masters quarter-final while their meeting in last year’s Betfred Premier League ended in a 3-3 draw.



The August issue is out now and includes:

- A tribute to John Spencer, who died last month
- The latest on Clive Everton's battle with the WPBSA
- My interview with The Spinto Band
- News of turmoil in the amateur game
- All the other news and results from around the world

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I fear for Jimmy White’s professional future.

As many of you will know, Jimmy lost his qualifying match for the Northern Ireland Trophy at Prestatyn this week. It seemed odd that he should have to qualify at all, but having dropped from eighth in the world to 35th, he is set to become all too familiar with this corner of North Wales.

He didn’t play well. Jimmy Michie played better and won 5-3. What surprised me was White’s appearance. Despite having been around him a great deal for the last decade, I still picture him at his peak in all those Crucible finals against Stephen Hendry: a young, slim man with that mischievous grin.

The reality is, though, that Jimmy’s now 44 and his best days are behind him. His highest break against Michie was just 58 and he was a mere shadow of the player who thrilled audiences for two decades with his fast, exciting style of snooker.

Not that this stopped the tiny arena from selling out. The fans still love Jimmy, still will on his every shot in the hope that fortune will favour him. But even they must know the years are fast running out.

After the match, he asked myself and the WPBSA press officer – not much of a press turnout – where the Grand Prix would be staged, apparently oblivious to the fact he has to pre qualify.

Jimmy has been one of snooker’s greatest assets: a thrilling player and a fine sportsman.

But the end is nigh. In one interview last month he spoke of his intention to get back in the top 16. I’d suggest his chief priority should be to stay on the tour.