The scenes outside Beijing's University Students Gymnasium today resembled Oscar night as the red carpet was rolled out for snooker's great and good ahead of the China Open.

The popularity of the game in China seems to be growing all the time, as witnessed by the extraordinary reaction as players walked the short distance from car to venue.

Hundreds of fans cheered as photographers scrambled to take pictures.

There are photos on worldsnooker.com here: http://www.worldsnooker.com/interactive_photo_gallery.htm



There’s been much talk in the last week of the Crucible but before the 888.com World Championship next month the snooker circuit makes its annual trip to Beijing for the China Open.

The popularity of the game in China is rising all the time. One of Ding Jun Hui’s matches in January’s Saga Masters attracted 166 million TV viewers. If you wander around the Beijing University Student’s Gymnasium where the event is being held you will witness a kind of mania not usually seen in places like Newport or Aberdeen.

To the fans in China, snooker players are stars. Not just the big names but the rank and file too. Players can expect to be chased down corridors for their autographs and even local journalists want to pose for pictures with their heroes.

This isn’t something that naturally appeals to Ronnie O’Sullivan who, for all his flair and charisma, is actually rather shy.

He is uncomfortable with too much attention and perhaps this explains why he hasn’t won a frame of snooker in China for five years.

Ronnie lost 5-0 to James Wattana 12 months ago and pulled out of the Beijing tournament in 2005, which was the first in China since Mark Williams won in Shanghai in 2002.

Given all this, it perhaps seems odd that I’m tipping O’Sullivan to win the title, but I’m doing so on the law of averages: it’s two years since he last won a ranking title and something has to give.

More than that, because he has drawn Ding in the first round at the Crucible he knows his game has to be sharper than ever going to Sheffield and I expect him to have practised extra hard this last week.

Ronnie gets bored easily. The prospect of a 10-hour flight to China won’t have thrilled him and he won’t enjoy hanging around the hotel.

That said, he won this title in 1999 and 2000 and, at the end of the day, a snooker table is the same whether it's in China or Chigwell.

You can never really back Ronnie but it would equally be foolish to back against him. Part of his appeal is his unpredictability. Just this season he walked out of a match at the UK Championship – something I thought was an appalling thing for a professional sportsman to do. Then at the Masters he consoled Ding in one of the most gracious displays of sportsmanship you’re likely to see all year.

That’s the enigma, that’s why we’re all fascinated by him.

His last ranking title success was the Irish Masters in March 2005. Surely the wait for another will soon be over.

The China Open starts tomorrow and is live all week on CCTV in China and Eurosport in Europe



There is a scene in the US drama The West Wing in which C.J. Cregg, the embattled White House press secretary, is reassured by a colleague that they have nothing to worry about if they’d done nothing wrong.

C.J. replies: ‘You don’t get it, do you? It doesn’t matter what the truth is. What matters is how it looks.’

These are words World Snooker might like to reflect on following the curious way in which we finally got to find out the draw for the first round of next month’s 888.com World Championship.

The draw was made yesterday morning by the presenters of BBC One’s Breakfast, Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams.

An interesting draw it is too, pitting O’Sullivan v Ding, Davis v Parrott, Murphy v Trump among the highlights. The 17-day Crucible marathon is shaping up to be a vintage championship and I’m sure all snooker fans are looking forward to it with relish.

This tournament has an 80-year history and means a great deal to a great many people.

This is why it deserved better than what we saw this morning.

It didn’t take long for the general jokiness and faux hilarity of the presenters that they would have to do anything as absurd as conduct a snooker draw to become jarring and this was before the item had even begun.

The draw itself got off to an inauspicious start when sports presenter Chris Hollins linked into it only for film of four teenagers sitting on a wall discussing knife crime to appear instead.

Finally, the first graphic appeared and Hollins made a reference to Stephen Hamilton (who he?) and his match against Marco Fu.

There then followed a series of graphics that flashed up so quickly that viewers could be forgiven for thinking the BBC was indulging in subliminal advertising.

Dennis Taylor was on hand for his comments, but chat soon turned instead to Strictly Come Dancing, on which both he and Turnbull appeared.

The worst thing was that the one element that make these draws compelling viewing was missing, namely the few seconds in between the first name and the second being drawn.

‘Ronnie O’Sullivan…will play…Ding Jun Hui’ would have been exciting. Trying to catch sight of this match before the next graphic flashed up was not.

The draw did not leak out into the public domain on Monday, but more people than intended got to find out after Radio 5 Live and BBCi were tipped off.

Several bookmakers suspended betting amid fears that those in the know may attempt to take advantage before the odds changed.

A spokesman for Ladbrokes told me: “Our decision was taken to avoid any skulduggery. We remain perplexed as to why they did the draw this way.”

Some odds did change yesterday, though this is not to say there was anything untoward going on. It is somewhat fanciful to suggest that the fragrant Ms. Williams hot-footed it down to her local Corals with a roll of used £20 notes.

However, World Snooker have left the sport open to all sorts of allegations for those who wish to see it suffer – and there are plenty such people in the national press – by doing the draw this way.

I sympathise with them in as much as it is hard to persuade broadcasters to carry the draw: Radio 5 Live won’t touch it after last year’s fiasco in which the same name was read out twice and Grandstand has been axed so there is no general sports programme available to show it.

At least this morning the sponsors got plenty of mentions and the sport received some coverage.

But there is a very easy way of doing the draw live in a very short space of time (one of the reasons it was recorded was because there was felt to be insufficient time to do it in full). The top 16 are already seeded into the first round. All that is needed is one bag containing the qualifiers. Then it’s a case of ‘Graeme Dott will play…and so on down the draw.

Surely the draw for such an important event should be conducted in an open, transparent and above all ‘live’ situation.

Anything else just looks bad. And it’s how it looks that matters.


Here is the draw for the first round of the 888.com World Championship:

Graeme Dott v Ian McCulloch
Anthony Hamilton v Marco Fu
Stephen Maguire v Joe Perry
Mark Williams v Joe Swail
John Higgins v Michael Holt
Barry Hawkins v Fergal O’Brien
Neil Robertson v Ryan Day
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui
Ken Doherty v Mark Allen
Matthew Stevens v Joe Delaney
Steve Davis v John Parrott
Shaun Murphy v Judd Trump
Peter Ebdon v Nigel Bond
Stephen Lee v Mark Selby
Ali Carter v Andy Hicks
Stephen Hendry v Dave Gilbert

The stand out tie is, of course, Ronnie O'Sullivan v Ding Junhui



Tonight on BBC1, sometime after 11.30pm, the comedians Mitchell and Webb will perform a parody of Chris De Burgh's Lady in Red for Comic Relief as the snooker commentators from their sketch show.

They will be joined by, among others, Shaun Murphy, Dominic Dale, Michael Holt, Tony Knowles, Joe Johnson and Hazel Irvine.

If that isn't the very definition of unmissable TV then I don't know what is.



Further to a previous post, the draw for the first round of this year's 888.com World Championship will be made next Monday, as I reported.

However, it won't actually be revealed until the following day because the BBC don't want to show it live (you may remember the fiasco on Radio 5 Live a year ago).

The draw details will be unveiled on BBC One's Breakfast programme at 7.30am on Tuesday, March 20.

Unless, this is, they get leaked beforehand.


John Parrott has achieved more than most snooker players can dream of.

A world champion, UK champion, winner of nine ranking events and for 14 years a member of the elite top 16: he's undoubtedly one of the sport's all time greats.

These days, at 42 and outside the top 32 in the world rankings, he's fully aware that he is no longer the force he was.

Pride, though, plays its part in such a successful sporting career and so Parrott was understandably delighted to have secured a 23rd appearance at the Crucible in his 24 years on the circuit after coming from 6-3 down to beat David Gray 10-7 at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield on Monday.

“It’s great to be going back to the Crucible. It’s the home of Snooker and you really miss it if you’re not part of it," he said.

"I was clearing up in the last frame and missed a straight green because in my head I was saying, ‘you’re going back to the Crucible.’ Luckily he didn’t clear up.

“I had to fall over the line in the end. I kept getting chances and not putting them away but that’s because of the prize of being in the draw.

"I'm not going to be world champion again. I'm not like Steve Davis - he's just a freak. What he's doing is unbelievable.

"But's it great to be part of it."



I first saw Judd Trump play when he was 10. It was in an English national junior final and he made a couple of 50 breaks as if he were a seasoned pro.

It was obvious then that he had bags of potential, which he further proved through his various junior title triumphs.

In 2003, he became the youngest ever winner at 13 of the annual Pontin’s Spring Open at Prestatyn, beating former top 16 player Mike Hallett 4-1 in the final.

There are no definitive stats for this, but I’d guess Trump was the first winner ever to celebrate by going on the swings.

He was given a wildcard for the main tour for the 2005/06 season in recognition of his junior accomplishments but it is, of course, a huge step up to the professional ranks.

His first match as a pro was against Fergal O’Brien, a vastly experienced former British Open champion, Masters finalist and ex-top 16 member.

His second was against Ding Jun Hui, already the winner of one ranking event who has gone on to win two more.

But Trump did qualify for the final stages of the Welsh Open and did enough to keep his place on the circuit – no mean feat in the dog-eat-dog scramble of Prestatyn.

At 14, he superseded Ronnie O’Sullivan by becoming the youngest person to compile a competitive 147 break.

Trump has been constantly compared to O’Sullivan, but to me he is more reminiscent of Stephen Hendry at the same age: shy, quietly driven and possessing bundles of talent.

Next week, Trump tackles James Wattana in the final qualifying round of the 888.com World Championship. If he wins he will become the third youngest player to compete at the Crucible when the Big One kicks off in Sheffield next month.

Hendry was the first 17 year-old to play there in 1986; O’Sullivan became the second in 1993.

Trump has already beaten Jamie Cope in the qualifiers and has every chance of beating Wattana, who has endured a poor campaign.

He will certainly add something to the final stages, representing as he does a bright future for the game. His prodigious talent suggests he will be around for many years to come.

The draw for the Crucible will be made live on BBC1’s Breakfast programme on Monday, March 19.

Will Trump be in it? If not this year then at some time very soon.


Lionel Shriver, author of the award winning We Need To Talk About Kevin, has made one of the main characters in her new novel a professional snooker player.

The Post Birthday World, published in May, centres on Irina, an illustrator, torn between her husband and the snooker champion, Ramsay.

"One reason I chose snooker is that it is very, very British," said Shriver. "There are not many things left that are, but last time I checked, snooker hadn't spread to the United States. It was a way of making Ramsay exotic and alien. When you go for the exotic, you have that kind of energy difference generates. It expands your world.

"But if you go for familiarity, you have comfort, companionship that comes perhaps a little more naturally. You have the prospect of both understanding and being understood."

By the way, Shriver changed her name to Lionel when she was 15 because she felt men had it easier.



5.51pm was the time that Jimmy White finally offered his hand to Jamie Burnett having failed to extricate himself from a snooker he had inadvertently laid on the yellow.

Burnett won 10-4 and White failed to secure a place in the televised phase of the 888.com World Championship for only the second time in 27 years as a professional.

It was a miserable way to end a miserable day for the most popular player in snooker history. Jimmy was visibly dejected afterwards as he faced the prospect of having to watch the game’s showpiece event on television.

The Pontin’s qualifying venue in Prestatyn is a difficult place to have to go and get results for the rank and file but for Jimmy, who has played most of his snooker in big arenas, it’s akin to having the Rolling Stones play the back room of the Dog and Duck.

He was tense from the start and failed to find any sort of rhythm as Burnett did enough to pull away.

Farcically, a fire alarm caused a half hour hiatus late on in frame 2 as players, spectators and officials were ordered out of the building. It transpired that there was no fire, merely a safe had been opened incorrectly and triggered an alarm.

It was hard not to surmise that Jimmy’s career was slowly being extinguished as he fell 6-3 adrift after the first session, despite a 130 total clearance in the fifth frame.

There was to be no comeback and for the first time since 2001 this six times Crucible runner-up failed to reach the home of snooker.

Even the post match press conference seemed hopelessly small scale, conducted as it was in the tournament director’s office with only myself, Phil Yates of The Times, Peter Ferguson of the Daily Mail, Peter Higgs of the Mail on Sunday and World Snooker press officer Ivan Hirschowitz in attendance.

Jimmy was honest in assessing his performance: “I’m devastated that I couldn’t produce the form I’ve been showing in practice.

“I was 3-2 up and had two good chances in the balls but lost position and Jamie played quite well after that. He punished me but I struggled all day. It’s very disappointing.

“The championship will be hard to watch. I’ve not thought about what I’m going to do when it comes round because I wanted to be there but it’s just a game of snooker. I’ve lost before and I’ll be back to try again.”

Burnett, whose only Crucible appearance was back in 1996, could not have been warmer in his appreciation of White’s contribution to the sport and its leading event.

He said: “Jimmy has one of the best records at Sheffield even though he’s not won it. He’s more than a world champion. He’s different class and there’s a reason everyone loves him.

“He doesn’t need his name on a piece of silverware. People love him to death.”

Genuine those these words were, Jamie’s wrong: it is the name engraved on silverware that ultimately matters in sport and White, now 44, must surely acknowledge that his will never appear on the World Championship trophy.

It’s sad to see Jimmy in this state, clinging on to his place on the main tour, yet anyone seeking to pour scorn on him for carrying on in such a lowly position should understand one simple truth: Jimmy White loves snooker, as a game and a lifestyle, as a career and an all consuming passion.

He will not turn his back on it and in turn his vast army of supporters will never turn their backs on him.

Snooker owes him a great debt of gratitude. Never mind what happens to him now, Jimmy White has more than earned his place in the green baize hall of fame.