It isn't supposed to be the British way to crow about achievements but I have at last received that much longed for distinction of everyone in snooker: a mention in Michael Holt's diary on worldsnooker.com.

His scurrilous allegation that I forgot to bring home his shoes from the 1999 China International in Shanghai after he had left therm in his room is, of course, entirely true.

In my defence, I had imbibed well but not wisely at the post final reception and this important mission slipped out of my mind.

I hope Holty has got over this trauma and, indeed, bought some new shoes.

His diary is here: http://www.worldsnooker.com/news_editorial-18449.htm



The Malta Cup, which starts tomorrow, is the 200th ranking event ever staged.

The first, for those keeping score, was the 1974 World Championship, although nobody knew it at the time because the first ranking list, in 1976, was determined by the previous three stagings of the sport's biggest event.

It's now far harder to predict who will win the major tournaments than it was in the 1970s when Ray Reardon was dominant, or the 1980s when Steve Davis reigned supreme, or the 1990s when Stephen Hendry was the undisputed king of the green baize.

One man who may be worth backing at the Hilton Conference Centre, though, is Mark Williams. The Welshman has won six ranking titles outside the UK, earning him a deserved reputation as one of snooker's best travellers.

Williams, 31, has won three Thailand Masters titles, two China Opens - including last season's - and the Irish Open.

He's not won a title in Malta but has been in two finals on the Mediterranean island.

The left-hander generally shuns the limelight. He's not big on doing interviews or pushing himself forward. Neither is he worried about what others think - or how he'll be remembered.

He told me: “I don’t really care how people will remember me or what my legacy is. I’m just proud of what I’ve achieved.

“I’ve come from a little town in South Wales and didn’t even think I’d win one tournament when I started, let alone all the titles I’ve picked up.

“I’ll never be as motivated as I was when I was coming up through the ranks but my last ambition is to win one more World Championship. That’s what I’d really like to do. Apart from that, I’ll try as hard as I can in every tournament. I want to win as much as possible but if I don’t it won’t make that much difference.”

Williams starts out against Dubliner Fergal O'Brien, who brought his remarkable run of 48 straight opening round victories in ranking events to an end at the 2003 UK Championship.

The Malta Cup is live all week on Eurosport. You can follow live scoring on www.worldsnooker.com.



The scramble for places in the final stages of the China Open comes to a conclusion this afternoon.

Already through is Leicester pro Mark Selby, who edged Mark Davis 5-4 this afternoon.

Selby reached the semi-finals in Shanghai in 2002, beating Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan.

He also beat the then 14 year-old Ding Jun Hui 5-2 in the wildcard round - the Chinese prodigy's first outing in the major competitive arena.

Selby recalled: "It was the first big match Ding had ever played and he was only 14. He handled himself really well and I said to my friend afterwards that I thought he looked a bit special.

“He’s turned out to be very special. You certainly wouldn’t want to draw him these days."



Jimmy White, today competing in the qualifiers for the China Open, will face Peter Lines, Paul S. Davison or Jamie Burnett in his first qualifying match of the 888.com World Championship in March with the winner to face Nigel Bond in the round to get to the Crucible.

Burnett has enjoyed a productive season and must be viewed as a threat but Jimmy could have had tougher draws.

That said, his progress is entirely dependent on how he himself plays.



Mark Williams, today launching the Welsh Open in Newport, was so impressed by Ronnie O'Sullivan's performance in winning the Saga Insurance Masters last Sunday that he suggested it might be the greatest ever performance in a snooker final.

"He was incredible," Williams said. "It's probably as good as anyone's ever played. I think only Stephen Hendry beating Ken Doherty 10-5 [in the 1994 UK Championship final when Hendry compiled seven centuries] can match it."

I certainly think it's right up there too, although John Higgins's 9-2 destruction of O'Sullivan in the 2005 Grand Prix final ranks alongside it for me.



At York last month, we saw the worst of Ronnie O'Sullivan.

His walkout against Stephen Hendry was one of the lowest moments of his career and he himself admitted yesterday that he was 'disgusted' by it.

Last night, we saw the best of him, not only on the table but in his general conduct during the Saga Insurance Masters final.

He played superbly in beating Ding Jun Hui 10-3 and made the game look ridiculously easy. More than that, though, he displayed great compassion and professionalism when Ding himself imploded.

First, to clear up a misconception: there is no evidence of racist abuse. I understand that there was one spectator in particular who did shout out to Ding but that he was Chinese, so exactly what was said isn't clear.

Whatever you've read elsewhere, there's no doubt that Ding tried to concede the match trailing 9-3.

He was walking out of the arena at the time. Had he thought the match was best of 17, surely he would have remained for the trophy presentation.

He is only 19 and the occasion got to him, not least because of how well O'Sullivan was playing.

That is why it was so heartwarming - if not a little ironic - to see Ronnie put his arm around Ding, talk him round and do his best to look after him in the conclusion to the final, even asking photographers not to take pictures of the young Chinese in tears.

O'Sullivan can be so charming at times that it almost negates all the controversial stuff.

Regardless, his conduct last night deserves recognition.



Sir Rodney Walker, the chairman of World Snooker, has mounted a vigorous defence of his decision to grant Ronnie O’Sullivan an exemption from having to fulfil his media commitments at this week’s saga Insurance Masters.

Typically unpredictable, O’Sullivan actually appeared for a press conference after beating Stephen Maguire 6-4 on Saturday night.

He said he was doing so because, “I think the press are a good bunch of guys. I’ve never had a problem with them and I want to show I’m not avoiding them but if I’m pushed too far then I won’t be able to fulfil my commitments. "

O’Sullivan is, of course, mired in controversy having walked out mid-match against Stephen Hendry at last month’s Maplin UK Championship.

“I can’t cope with stuff,” he said. “Anything can push me over the edge.

“I don’t regret what I did but I can’t say too much as it’s still going on. I physically don’t feel able. My health has to come first. The last thing I want to do is crack up in front of tens of millions of people.”

Several players are unhappy at what they see as preferential treatment for O’Sullivan.

Shaun Murphy, the 2005 world champion, said: “Graeme Dott did his press conference after discovering his wife might have had cancer.

“Paul Hunter fulfilled his obligations at the World Championship last season when he was dying from cancer.

“How much more serious can it be? There have been plenty of times when I haven't wanted to talk to reporters but at the end of the day we are all entertainers and have a duty to promote the sport.

“What would happen if we all had the same attitude? World Snooker’s silence has done nothing to appease anyone. I cannot imagine any other sportsman doing what Ronnie did. Can you imagine Roger Federer walking off Centre Court at Wimbledon?
He shouldn’t come to events if he doesn’t intend to see them through.”

This cut no ice with Walker, who had a three hour meeting with O’Sullivan last week and criticised Murphy in surprisingly personal terms, referring to his religion.

He said: “I was saddened when I read Shaun’s remarks. He’s someone I have the utmost respect for.

“But I was surprised because as a devout Christian I would have thought he would have shown a little more compassion, particularly as he didn’t know the circumstances that led me to make the decision in the first place.”

Walker insisted O’Sullivan was only being excused media activities at the Masters, and added: “Ronnie doesn’t get preferential treatment but he has specifically made a request. I felt if I’d said there would be no exception that he might not have turned up or played but found himself in a very difficult emotional situation.

“It’s not a blanket exception. It’s for this tournament only. It’s clear for anyone to see that Ronnie is in a very emotional state. He’s shared with me the issues in his life causing the problems and I took the view that the right thing to do was help him.”

So where does this leave us?

Certainly no nearer to discovering what O’Sullivan’s ‘problems’ actually are.

Certainly no nearer to appeasing the game’s other top stars who feel he is being treated leniently.

And certainly no nearer to understanding the game’s troubled genius who, for all his off table turmoil, was magnificent in compiling three centuries to build a 5-3 first session lead over Ding Jun Hui in their Wembley Arena final.

One thing’s for sure: we haven’t heard the last of this.



Further to the post about the 888.com World Championship qualifiers and the question about how many tickets there are, please see the press release below.

It means that the qualifiers won't, after all, be played on the academy tables, which would have given certain players, Ding Jun Hui included, an advantage but will, instead, be played on four specially installed tables with seating for 300 spectators.

I think this is a good move, providing it's all set up correctly.

EIS-Sheffield selected to stage snooker world qualifier

Thirty two of the world’s top snooker players will be dreaming of Crucible glory when they play in the final qualifying round of the 888.com World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.

For the first time, the last hurdle of qualifiers for snooker’s most prestigious tournament will be held at the English Institute of Sport – Sheffield (EISS).

Ding Junhui, Marco Fu and Stuart Bingham are just some of the stars set to compete in the event, which runs from March 12 to15. Legends Jimmy White and John Parrott will also be in action if they make it through an earlier qualifying round.

The 16 winners will go through to the Crucible Theatre to compete for the famous World trophy and a prize pot of nearly £1 million from April 21 to May 7.

The EISS, a Sheffield International Venues (SIV) facility, has been selected to stage the tournament following the success of the Saga Insurance Masters qualifier at the EISS World Snooker Academy in November last year.

The qualifiers will take place in the EISS Badminton Hall where the organisers will set up four tables with room for up to 300 spectators. The recently opened World Snooker’s Academy, which is supported by Sheffield City Council and Yorkshire Forward, will house the practice facilities.All-day tickets will cost £5 and will be available from EISS reception from January 24.

Nineteen year old Chinese snooker sensation Ding, who is based at the EISS World Snooker Academy, recently became the youngest player to compile a maximum 147 televised break at the SAGA Insurance Masters at Wembley Arena.

Lorenzo Clark, General Manager of the English Institute of Sport – Sheffield, said: “We are delighted to attract yet another major sporting event to the EISS. It is one of the highlights of the snooker calendar and will be a great chance for fans of the sport to see some of the world’s leading players in action.

“Securing the qualifier at EISS cements our staging agreement with World Snooker and demonstrates Sheffield’s commitment to snooker and the importance of developing new professional talent.”

World Snooker’s Chief Operating Officer Nicky Fuller said: “We are confident that the EISS will prove an excellent venue to stage the final qualifying round of our most important tournament.

“It represents a great opportunity to further strengthen the relationship between World Snooker and Sheffield International Venues and enhances Sheffield’s reputation as the home of snooker.”

The EISS World Snooker Academy, which opened at the venue in 2006 provides training facilities for new and existing talent and acts as a centre of excellence for grassroots snooker.



For those of you wishing to watch the final qualifying round of the 888.com World Championship at the new World Snooker academy in Sheffield, tickets will cost £5 per day and will be available from reception at the English Institute of Sport from January 24.



To answer my earlier questions, Sir Rodney Walker has taken the quite extraordinary step of personally excusing Ronnie O'Sullivan from having to give media interviews at the Saga Insurance Masters.

A statement read: "Last week’s meeting between Sir Rodney Walker, Ronnie O’Sullivan and his manager has been well reported by the media.

"As a result of information conveyed to him by Ronnie at the meeting in connection with ongoing difficulties in his personal life, Sir Rodney agreed, in the exceptional circumstances in which Ronnie finds himself at this time, that for the SAGA Insurance Masters, he would be excused from fulfilling the normal contractual requirements with the media and sponsors which all players are required to undertake.

"Sir Rodney informed the chair of the sport’s disciplinary committee of his decision at the start of the tournament. Sir Rodney understands and accepts that his decision will be a disappointment to the media and the tournament sponsor SAGA Insurance.

"He is however convinced that to expose Ronnie to the added pressures of exposure to the media, at the moment, would not be in the interests of the player, the tournament and the sport and hopes that everyone would accept that his decision has not been taken lightly."

So it's now clear: O'Sullivan can do whatever he likes and the chairman of the game's governing body will protect him.

It will blow up in his face at some point and, when it does, you won't find a single journalist who has any sympathy whatsoever for him.


Ronnie O'Sullivan, sublime on the table in beating Ali Carter 6-1 in the Saga Insurance Masters at Wembley Arena yesterday, immediately courted more controversy by refusing to attend a mandatory post match press conference.

In the normal course of events, this would result in disciplinary action. However, he is yet to be punished for his shock mid match walkout at last month's Maplin UK Championship in York and, if World Snooker chairman Sir Rodney Walker has his way, will escape any censure.

Walker took O'Sullivan out to lunch last week and is writing a letter to World Snooker's disciplinary committee suggesting they let the errant star off.

What will he do after o'Sullivan's media no show? Take him out to dinner?



Ding Jun Hui has become only the second player to compile a 147 in the Wembley Masters, his maximum coming in the seventh frame of his match against Anthony Hamilton this afternoon.

It was the 55th professional maximum and follows Kirk Stevens's 147 in 1984.

It's Ding's first 147 and he becomes the first Chinese player to make on in a professional tournament.

It earns the 19 year-old £35,000, although he was completely impassive at the end of it.

It's also the first 147 to be refereed by a woman, Michaela Tabb.



Ronnie O'Sullivan's management team, 110sport, have issued a statement confirming that he will play in the Saga Insurance Masters at Wembley Arena.

In it, he is quoted as saying: “I can’t reverse (what happened in) York and what is done is done. Everything I did there felt right at the time. Unfortunately it caused grief for all concerned.

“But some - including former players -have had their say in the media and gone overboard which is a real disappointment to me. To be honest, it even made me question whether I want to be part of it.

“It also made me wonder whether they have got a problem with what happened, or whether they’ve just got a problem with me in general.

“But I am not going to go around brown-nosing and sucking up to certain individuals because they think differently from me and the majority of other people who might understand my situation.

“In York I had personal problems which upset me and my frame of mind. I have discussed those with Lee Doyle (his manager) and Sir Rodney Walker (Chairman of World Snooker) and no-one else – and I don’t intend saying anything else on the matter to anyone.

“What I will say is that if I ever feel the same way again, or I am ever in that position again, I would pull out of the match or the tournament in advance rather than be scrutinised the way I have been.”


And so to the Wembley Arena for the Saga Insurance Masters where there is to be no official commemoration of the late Paul Hunter, who won the title three times in four years.

As far as I’m concerned, World Snooker had an open goal here and has spectacularly missed it. Not only would renaming the Masters trophy after Paul – not the tournament, which was never a realistic proposition – been a nice gesture, supported as it is by all the top players, it would also have been the right thing to do.

World Snooker chairman Sir Rodney Walker completely missed the point when he went on BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday evening to answer claims that his organisation were snubbing Paul, who died of cancer in October aged 27.

Jimmy White had told the same station that Paul was “the only player to have won it three times.”

As Walker pointed out, Stephen Hendry won it six times while Steve Davis and Cliff Thorburn each won it three times apiece. The argument seemed to be that, because of their success, it wouldn’t be right to single Paul out.

However, there is a very simple difference between Paul and these players: they are still alive.

Paul was the first winner of the current trophy, which has only been presented since 2004.

Instead of naming it after him – which would ensure his name will be mentioned every time it is presented – World Snooker has announced a new scholarship for an up and coming young player.

A good idea perhaps but the problem with it is that it seems to depend largely on the fortunes of whoever is chosen: they can have all the practice facilities, advice and media training going but if they fail to perform on the table they will quickly fade into obscurity.

Lindsey Hunter, Paul’s widow, has today spoken of her sadness at World Snooker’s decision in an interview with Peter Ferguson in the Daily Mail.

She said: “"Paul’s name will never disappear, we’ll make sure of that. Whenever he's mentioned they either call him the Beckham of the Baize or the three-times Masters champion - he's promoting the event for them, even though he's no longer here.

“I’m going to the Kilkenny Masters in March to present a trophy in Paul's honour, and the German pro-am that he helped start and won will be named after him. It's just a shame there's nothing in England.

“I never expected them to call the actual tournament after Paul, that's where the sponsors' name should be. But family and friends were thinking it would be lovely if the winner received the Paul Hunter Trophy.

“I think everybody expected it. Every player I've spoken to, every fan, thought it would be 'a definite'.

“There are obviously five or six businessmen who run World Snooker and their decision goes, unfortunately. But if they were listening to the players and fans, it's what the people wanted.

“At the funeral, Sir Rodney asked if they could do a Paul Hunter Scholarship and you feel so honoured. I said, 'Of course, anything you like.' But nobody has said anything to me about the Masters.

“I don't know if there is a reason behind it. I can't understand why anybody wouldn't want it, it seems to be what everybody else wants. It seems odd when he was so closely linked to the Masters.

“Jimmy White thinks that whoever wins will say that it was for Paul, which is lovely. It will probably get World Snooker's backs up even more. But I can't think of a logical reason why they haven't done it.

“If World Snooker asked him to do anything to promote the game, he would do it. He rang one night from China, when he was out there with some top people. He said, 'I've only had to eat shark fin soup'.

“This is somebody who's so fussy about food. He'd have preferred tomato. But he said, 'I didn't want them to feel insulted.' They had him in a Viking costume in freezing weather in York. He'd do anything.”

I can attest to the way Paul helped World Snooker promote the game. He never turned down an interview and was always engaging with the media.

Interestingly, in the same Daily Mail piece, Andrew Goodsell, chief executive of Saga Insurance, makes it clear the sponsors were not the ones who scuppered the renaming of the trophy in Paul’s honour.

Goodsell said: “It is a tragedy for snooker to lose one of its finest champions in his prime, and Saga supports the view there should be an appropriate tribute to Paul.”

I don’t think Walker actually grasps the genuine ill feeling this has created or that his organisation is about to suffer an unprecedented amount of negative publicity in the media.

Can it really be that World Snooker is digging their heels in simply because the trophy renaming wasn’t their own idea?

My advice to them is to very quickly rethink their position on this.

Paul Hunter deserves proper recognition at the tournament he made his own.



Michael Judge has categorically denied any involvement in match fixing after two bookmakers in his native Ireland claimed there were suspicious betting patterns for his first round contest at last month’s Maplin UK Championship.

Celtic Bookmakers and Paddy Power contacted World Snooker, the game’s governing body, after claiming large amounts were placed on Judge to lose 9-0 or 9-1 to Joe Perry at York a month ago.

Perry duly won 9-1, which was a 40/1 shot, although the bets with Celtic were foiled because they were put in a double with James Wattana to beat Mike Dunn and Dunn prevailed 9-5.

Bets with Paddy Power were doubled with Black Jack Ketchum to win the 2007 World Hurdle and Teofilo to win the 2,000 Guineas .

Paddy Power spokesman John Hartnett said: “We saw some unusual activity on the Perry-Judge match and it has left us with liabilities of around EURO40,000 going on to Cheltenham and Newmarket .

“As we have seen unusual betting patterns in previous games involving one of these players, we have made the decision to no longer offer betting on matches involving this player for the foreseeable future.”

But world no.43 Judge, who on Monday qualified for the final stages of the Welsh Open after beating Malta ’s Tony Drago 5-2 at Prestatyn, insisted he knew nothing of any supposed betting coup.

He said: “What happened was nothing to do with me.

“Basically, I had a disastrous preparation for the tournament. My girlfriend was in hospital all week and on the night before I was supposed to play all the flights were cancelled, so I was lucky to get over at all the next day.

“I only just made it and by the time I got there I was a spent force after the week I’d had, having barely slept.

“It was terrible to get home and read a story like that after losing. People should look more into what’s happened before they go making allegations.

“A lot of people didn’t know the inside story but my conscience is clear. I haven’t done anything wrong and I’m just going to keep playing snooker.”

Perry, a UK Championship semi-finalist in 2004 and 2005, played superbly in the match, making a century and five half century breaks.

Judge, 31, has qualified for the final stages of this season’s first five ranking events, although he is yet to win a match at a main venue.

His best performance as a pro came at the 2004 Grand Prix in Preston where he reached the semi-finals.


Today marks the 25th anniversary of the first televised 147 break.

It was made by Steve Davis in the 1982 Lada Classic at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Oldham.

Davis’s maximum was broadcast by ITV, where commentator John Pulman managed to remain, how shall we say, rather more together than his colleague David Taylor, who could barely have been more excited if he had made the break himself.

Sadly, Davis’s opponent, John Spencer, passed away last July. He himself had completed a 147 in 1979 but the TV cameramen failed to capture it because they were on a tea break (as it transpired, the pockets were not templated to tournament standard in any case).

There have now been 54 maximum breaks with Jamie Cope compiling the most recent at last October’s Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen. They are more common now but still a great achievement.

You can watch Davis’s break here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8W5_3VlyuU



Mystery surrounds whether Ronnie O'Sullivan will today be disciplined for his extraordonary mid-match walkout at the Maplin UK Championship last month.

O'Sullivan was trailing Stephen Hendry 4-1 in their quarter-final match at York when he walked out.

Jimmy White told BBC Radio 5 Live last night that he had spoke to O'Sullivan, who told him he had been called before the disciplinary committee today but World Snooker could not confirm this.

Snooker Scene understands O'Sullivan may actually be meeting Sir Rodney Walker, the World Snooker chairman but not part of the disciplinary committee.

If true, this raises the suspsicion that some sort of deal will be struck where O'Sullivan will not be punished if he agrees to play ball in the future. Walker has, after all, already gone on record as saying he would rather "help" the errant player than "hit him with a stick."

Such a scenario would be, of course, entirely wrong. If there is a disciplinary system it should be properly adhered to without the intervention of third parties.

But as there is no official comment, we are left to speculate on all of this.

4PM UPDATE: World Snooker have confirmed that O'Sullivan met Sir Rodney Walker but say this was for "informal talks, not a disciplinary hearing."

8PM UPDATE: Sir Rodney Walker has just appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live and said this: "I had the pleasure of having lunch with Ronnie. He's in good form.

"There's a disciplinary process underway which is entirely independent of me but I wanted a personal discussion with Ronnie to understand his present thinking about his participation in snooker.

"I've come away very encouraged and have undertaken to him that I'll write to the disciplinary committee with my views and hope they take what I have to say into account when they decide what the appropriate action is that needs to be taken.

"As chairman of World Snooker I very much see Ronnie O'Sullivan as being an important part of the future."

It's nice to know O'Sullivan is "in good form" and it's little wonder: he was facing a possible ban for his conduct at York, now he's been wined and dined by snooker's leading official and got him to write a letter on his behalf pleading for leniency.

Would this happen in any other sport?



Time to stick my neck out…I predict Ricky Walden will make some sort of breakthrough during 2007.

Whether he reaches a semi-final, final or even wins a tournament I can’t say, but he’s clearly improving all the time, as evidenced by his superb performance in the Welsh Open qualifiers in Prestatyn yesterday.

Walden began his match against Stuart Pettman with three successive centuries – 110, 139 and 107 – before winning 5-1.

The secret of this was, apparently, going on the wagon for the New Year celebrations.

He told me: “I stayed off the drink at New Year. It was a deliberate thing because I wanted to be right for this. I made a good start and it put the pressure on Stuart.”

Walden ended 2006 in disappointing fashion when some bad luck cost him the victory of his career over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Maplin UK Championship at York.

Leading 8-7 and by 56 points in the next frame, Walden suffered a bad bounce off the side cushion just one ball from victory and eventually lost 9-8.

“I was devastated to lose,” he said. “I went to Las Vegas the next day to get away because I was so disappointed.

“It hurt me but I took some positives out of it. I just wanted to get back out there and play again. That might be why I played so well because I was trying so hard.

“If I can stay consistent for the rest of the season then I’ve got a chance to push for a top 16 place.”

I think he will achieve this sooner rather than later. In many ways, he resembles O’Sullivan and he has the sort of attacking game that Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy have brought to the fore in title successes during the few couple of years.

Whether he has the all round game to survive at the top level yet isn’t clear but he doesn’t lack for self-belief and is starting to get some good results.

He’s 43rd in the world rankings but up to 35th provisionally and has qualified for Malta as well as Wales, with the Beijing Open and 888.com World Championship still to come.

Ricky was keen to mention his website – www.rickywalden.co.uk – so please check it out.


Some good news - the China Open has been secured for at least the next five years

Story here:



When even your opponents feel sorry for you it must be clear that you are in trouble.

That fate has now befallen Jimmy White, who, for the fifth time in as many ranking tournaments this season, failed to qualify for the final stages of the Welsh Open.

He was beaten 5-4 by Mark Allen in front of just 21 spectators (I counted) which included Terry Griffiths (Allen's coach), women's world champion Reanne Evans (Allen's partner) and yours truly.

Afterwards, Allen, who wasn't even born when White reached his first world final in 1984, had this to say:

“It’s sad to see Jimmy not performing the way he used to. He must be a bit embarrassed the way he’s playing.

“There’s a lot at stake for all of us and it’s hard to get motivated when there’s only two or three people watching.

“I don’t know what it must be like for Jimmy because he’s played in front of packed houses and millions on TV for many years.

“You have to take your hat off to him that he’s even coming here.”

White is likely to be 59th in the provisional rankings after the Malta Cup and is now in grave danger of dropping off the circuit.

When he goes to play in the 888.com World Championship qualifiers next month he may need to win a match just to keep his tour card.

I find his rapid decline very sad. Whatever anyone thinks of all the wildcards and invites he's received over the years there's no doubting his mass appeal and genuine popularity.

I think we're all hoping for a turnaround in fortunes but, frankly, that seems unlikely.

Jimmy seemed very edgy out there - visibly rattled at times, even telling one of his associates to stop fidgeting.

How much longer can he go on? On today's evidence, time is running out.



Still on Prestatyn...anyone thinking of coming here for the final qualifying round of the 888.com World Championship - don't bother.

It's going to be played at the new World Snooker Academy in Sheffield on four tables, so will now last from March 12-15 as opposed to 13-14.

The earlier rounds, which begin on February 22, will be played at Pontin's.

(Needless to say none of this is detailed on worldsnooker.com but it's listed on globalsnookercentre.co.uk and they tend to be right about, well, everything).

This is, of course, a barmy decision, not least because players such as Ding Jun Hui who practice at the Academy full time will be well acquainted with the tables (unless new ones are put in, which would be even more barmy).

Also, the Prestatyn holiday camp is free to use for the governing body and has reasonable - though not huge - amounts of space for spectators, unlike Sheffield which has virtually none.

Logic, though, has never been a pre-requisite when it comes to making decisions in the snooker world.


Prestatyn, North Wales in the first week of January is not, perhaps, the glamour snooker reporting gig of the year but here I am at the Welsh Open qualifiers where the circuit has swung into life again after the Christmas recess.

This is at least part of the same country as where the final stages will be played unlike, say, Malta which, with its Mediterranean climate and opulent hotel/exhibition centre venue is about as far from a Welsh holiday camp as would be a snooker tournament on Saturn.

So far today, Andrew Higginson has impressed by completing a 5-0 victory over Drew Henry.

Andy had to wait ten years into his professional career to qualify for the final stages of a ranking event before doing so in the Malta Cup in November. That he has now done so again proves just how important a factor confidence is in snooker.

He made 72 in the first before snatching the second on the black after getting a snooker on the pink.

This appeared to break Henry’s resolve and he scored only one further point in the match as Higginson finished off with runs of 50 and 80.

Also through by way of a whitewash is Jamie Cope, a 5-0 winner over Mike Dunn, who thus won his first match since reaching the final of last October’s Royal London Watches Grand Prix.

Adrian Gunnell similarly beat Alex Borg 5-0 and it was double disappointment for Malta when Tony Drago lost 5-2 to Michael Judge, although I did have the pleasure of witnessing a quite sublime Drago century – a tremendous 111 in something like six minutes – which served to showcase just how natural a talent he is.

China will be represented in Newport next month not only by Ding Jun Hui but also by Liang Wenbo, who beat Mark Davis 5-4 despite the Englishman compiling two centuries.

Dominic Dale will be disappointed not to qualify for his home event. He fought back from 4-2 down against Jamie Burnett but was beaten 5-4.

The qualifiers don’t receive much coverage and crowds are sparse but watching some of the snooker this morning I was struck by two things:

1) How high the standard is across the board
2) How much it means to the players involved

It will, of course, mean a lot to Jimmy White if he can beat Mark Allen later and qualify for a ranking event venue for the first time this season.



Stephen Hendry today hit out over the WPBSA's decision not to award Chris Small any money through its benevolent fund.

The fund was set up in 1983 to help players and their families in the event of "disablement, superannuation, death or otherwise".

Small, the 2002 LG Cup champion, was forced to retire because of the debilitating effects of the disease ankylosing spondalytis.

But, astonishingly, the benevolent fund did not come to his rescue even though, in the 1990s, it paid the mortgage of then WPBSA board member Jim Meadowcroft despite the fact he wasn't suffering from any illness.

Hendry said: "The benevolent fund is supposed to be in place to help snooker players who are in need of assistance.

"If Chris doesn't qualify for help given his sad circumstances, then I don't know who would."

Small, a father of three, cannot now work because of his condition. In 2005, he applied to the benevolent fund for assistance but, six months ago, received a letter informing him he'd been turned down.

He said: "Even before I gave up many players said to me that I deserved three or four years wages to set me up after I stopped playing.

"Any other industry in the world would have done it, but World Snooker's not like that.

"It's annoying, as I was a top player for 10 years. It's not often a snooker player has to retire through ill-health but I knew I wasn't going to get anything as my face doesn't fit with World Snooker."

Questions will now be asked as to why Small was turned down. Inevitably, the WPBSA are making no comment (when do they ever?) but some will wonder if the reason is that the benevolent fund does not have sufficient money to pay out and, if indeed this is the case, where it has gone.

JOHN SMYTH: 1928-2007

John Smyth, one of snooker's leading referees in the 1970s and 80s, has died of cancer at the age of 78.

Smyth was the first man to referee a Crucible final in 1977 and also donned the white gloves when Alex Higgins won his second world title in 1982.

He was famously in charge when Kirk Stevens compiled his 147 break at the 1984 Wembley Masters.

Smyth worked as an Underground driver, where he was Picadilly line snooker champion six times, before becoming a referee in 1978. He retired from the circuit in 1996.

Shortly afterwards, he looked back on his career. "I spent 28 years on the Underground but gave it all up when snooker began to get big on television," he said.

"John Street, John Williams and myself got more and more work as the circuit grew. In the end, my employers saw more of me on TV than they did at work.

"People told me it was daft to give up the Tube and that I'd never earn a living from snooker. They said it would never last on TV, but they were wrong."

In 1977, Smyth formed the Professional Referees Association and was PRA president at the time of his death.

He officiated at the first 13 Masters events in London, with Stevens' maximum against Jimmy White one of his career highlights.

"I'd got to know Kirk when he first came over," Smyth remembered in 1998. "He didn't have much money so I used to drive him to the exhibitions around the country for about 18 months while he got himself settled.

"There were something like 2,500 people packed into the arena, some of them standing. Kirk and Jimmy were such popular players that the atmosphere was incredible. It was like nothing else."

Smyth was a regular visitor to the Crucible after his retirement and was a well respected figure in the game who will be sadly missed.

He died on Thursday in Chesterfield, where he lived with his wife, Val.



The annual German Open pro-am is being renamed The Paul Hunter Classic in memory of the former Masters champion, who died of cancer last October.

Hunter, who passed away five days before his 28th birthday, competed in the event in 2005 despite his ilness and was a popular player in Germany.

A press release from the tournament organisers said:

"We acknowledge the important role Paul Hunter played in establishing the biggest and most prestigeous snooker event in the German speaking countries.

"Between Christmas and New Year Thomas Cesal, organiser of the event from the SSC Fürth, was in touch with Lindsey Hunter to get her approval of re-naming the event after Paul. She not only agreed but also underlined that the new official name is an honour to Paul.

"She also remebered that Paul Hunter always enjoyed this event and the unique atmosphere.

"The 2007 Paul Hunter Classic will take place from August 23rd until August 26th in the city hall of Fürth. Because the city of Fürth is celebrating its 1.000th anniversary the event is running over four days for the first time.

"Among the lineup in Fürth also will be top professionals like Ronnie O’Sullivan, Matthew Stevens, Neil Robertson, Barry Hawkins and others from the pro ranks."


Congratulations to Michael Wasley, a 16 year-old from Gloucester who has won the grand finals of both the under 21 and under 16 events at Potters, Coalville.

Tournaments were played all through 2006 before the top 32 in the rankings of each age section competed in two straight knock-out tournaments, both of which Wasley won.

Well done also to Stephen Craigie, who topped the rankings in both the under 21 and under 16 series.



Further proof of Germany's growing love affair with snooker comes with the news that Steve Davis, Matthew Stevens and Neil Robertson are to undertake an exhibition tour of the country in March.

The pros will play in a four-man tournament alongside Patrick Einsle, Germany's representative on the world ranking event circuit, in Landsberg on March 4 and in another exhibition event featuring reigning German champion Lasse Munstermann in Berlin on March 6.

There will be a qualifying event for the fourth place spot in a third exhibition tournament in Russelheim on March 7.

Davis, Stevens and Robertson will also play in poker events in Germany during the trip.

Germany is experiencing a snooker boom, aided by extensive coverage of all the game's leading tournaments on Eurosport. It gets bigger ratings than any other sport on the network.

The annual pro-am in August is always sold out and there are hopes to stage a ranking tournament there in the near future.

Michael Holt, the winner of this season's German Open, was so impressed by the enthusiam of local spectators that he said: 'If we can't put on a major event here, we can't put one on anywhere.'

The last professional tournament staged in Germany was the 1998 German Masters, won by John Parrott.


Ding Jun Hui today defeated Xiao Guodong 6-2 to win the China National Championship in Yixing, Jiangsu Province.

Ding, 19, survived some anxious moments en route to the final, edging Abu Laijing 5-4 on the black in the quarter-finals and Cao Xinlong, also 5-4, in the semi-finals.

China's leading player was beaten in the first round of last year's event, played only a few days after he won the UK Championship in York.

Ding, the reigning Northern Ireland Trophy champion, will be among the 19-man field for the Saga Insurance Masters at Wembley Arena later this month.

He won three gold medals at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar last month.


Happy New Year.

The professional circuit is entering a busy period with three major tournaments to be staged in the space of five weeks.

The Saga Insurance Masters kicks off on January 14 at its new home, the Wembley Arena, round the corner from the now demolished Conference Centre.

A quick stop off at Prestatyn to whittle down the field for the Beijing Open and it’s off to Portomaso for the Malta Cup, the 200th world ranking tournament ever staged, which gets underway on January 28.

Then it’s back to the UK for the Welsh Open in Newport, starting on February 12.

Bearing in mind there was a nine-week gap between the season’s first two tournaments – the Northern Ireland Trophy and Royal London Watches Grand Prix – such a productive January/February will be welcomed by the game’s leading players.

After the 888.com World Championship prelims have produced 16 qualifiers for Sheffield, it’s off to China for the newly named Beijing Open at the end of March.

And then, of course, in April comes the Big One at the Crucible. How soon it comes round!

The following are the known dates for professional snooker events this coming year. There will be more to be added later.

The dates and venues are provisional and could change. For dates of all amateur events, go to http://www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk/.

2006/07 season:
January 6-8: Welsh Open qualifiers (Prestatyn)
January 14-21: Saga Insurance Masters (Wembley)
January 23-26: Beijing Open qualifiers (Prestatyn)
January 28-February 4: Malta Cup (Portomaso)
February 12-18: Welsh Open (Newport)
February 22-March 4: 888.com World Championship qualifiers (Prestatyn)
March 13-14: 888.com World Championship final qualifying round (Prestatyn)
March 25-April 1: Beijing Open (Beijing)
April 21-May 7: 888.com World Championship (Sheffield)

2007/08 season:
October 6: Pot Black Cup (London)
October 13-21: Royal London Watches Grand Prix (Aberdeen)
December 3-16: Maplin UK Championship (York)