Unless something extraordinary happens, this will be my last post of the year as I immerse myself in the Christmas spirit, several bottles of which are waiting close by.

Once again, the titles were shared around during a year in which snooker remained as open as it has ever been.

Mark Selby demonstrated a steely nerve to reach the Wembley Masters final courtesy of three deciding frame finishes and then made four centuries to see off Stephen Lee 10-3 and become the first debutant in 19 years to land the game’s top invitation event.

Selby showed us the other side of his game by scrapping back from 8-5 down to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan and win the Welsh Open, his first ranking title.

Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy fought out the year’s best final at the China Open in Beijing, which Maguire edged 10-9 after a duel full of quality.

Murphy’s 10-9 defeat of Marco Fu in the UK Championship was not of the same standard but still gripping.

John Higgins was not at the top of his game but still won the Grand Prix.

Ricky Walden beat five players with 88 ranking titles between them to win the Shanghai Masters as a qualifier.

Neil Robertson won the Bahrain Championship from a depleted field which nevertheless did not detract from the quality of his performance.

O’Sullivan won the one that really mattered and in some style. His 17-6 defeat of Stephen Hendry in the World Championship semi-finals was arguably the best single performance of the year.

He went on to win the Northern Ireland Trophy and was runner-up in two other finals but his lead at the top of the rankings has been eroded to the extent that it is not as inconceivable as it once seemed that he could be caught, although this is still unlikely as only Maguire can reasonably catch him.

As ever, O’Sullivan also starred in a few controversial moments – most notably at a press conference in Beijing – but he remains the game’s dominant figure.

Several established names showed signs of decline. Ken Doherty dropped out of the top 16 and looks unlikely to return.

Mark Williams will probably get back but Peter Ebdon is in danger of relegation.

Hendry proved what a great player he is by reaching the Crucible semi-finals without playing at his very best.

However, the seven times world champion faces a fight to stave off a slide down the rankings.

Davis is still enjoying himself and although he dropped out of the top 16, at 51 he remains a fierce and much respected competitor.

Ding Junhui failed to rediscover his best form as his fellow Chinese Liang Wenbo came to prominence with his entertaining, attacking style.

Judd Trump finally made a breakthrough but the dearth in younger talent remains.

The World Series and Championship League were welcome independent promotions which gave the players more opportunities (and money) and snooker fans more action to watch.

Ali Carter certainly benefited from the latter and I make his maximum at the Crucible my break of the year because it was a major turning point in his career.

Joe Perry and Ryan Day both impressed but, like Carter, they are yet to win a ranking title.

The WPBSA began the year with sponsors for each the four BBC tournaments. They end it without 888.com and Saga Insurance and with no official news as to whether Royal London Watches and Maplin are to renew their deals.

The global economic position does not bode well when it comes to getting replacement sponsors in 2009.

The worst thing that happened this year was the whispers surrounding matches which attracted unusual betting patterns, in particular Liang Wenbo v Peter Ebdon at the Northern Ireland Trophy and Stephen Maguire v Jamie Burnett in the UK Championship.

The governing body did little to reassure the world that snooker’s house is in order by announcing an investigation into one match but not the other.

There were the usual rows, controversies, great matches, wonderful breaks and a variety of winners in a sport that is increasingly difficult to predict.

We also had grumbles and complaints, flashpoints and differences of opinion.

But what keeps us all coming back is the game itself, which remains as fascinating as it has ever been.

I hope I have, in some small way, contributed to your enjoyment of it during 2008 and would like to thank all those of you who have read this blog and left comments.

Merry Christmas to everyone in the snooker world and I’ll see you in 2009.



Shaun Murphy began the Maplin UK Championship in a slump but his capture of the title means he will start 2009 in a confident frame of mind.

The final was a curious affair. Marco Fu didn’t play particularly well while Murphy produced his best form only in patches.

The match got bogged down with many mistakes but this made it all the more gripping. Around 2 million BBC2 viewers were still watching after midnight.

I have to say, though, that if snooker is to appeal to a younger audience then it has to start its major finals at an earlier hour. Don’t forget, in the burgeoning market in central Europe they are an hour ahead of the UK.

Murphy had the good grace to admit that the standard had not been great and Fu was, as ever, sporting in defeat.

Shaun becomes the 17th winner of the UK Championship and the tenth player to have won the world and UK titles.

It was about time he won another big tournament. He was very consistent last season but failed to capture a ranking event. I’d have to ask him but guess he would probably prefer losing in four first rounds and winning the UK Championship than, say, getting to five quarter-finals.

I admire his unshakable self-belief. This is an important asset in any sport but particularly in one like snooker where mental strength outweighs physical attributes.

With a major title under his belt he will be a real danger man for the rest of the season.



The last final of 2008 promises to be a close affair as Shaun Murphy and Marco Fu are evenly matched in terms of form, talent and temperament.

They are both level-headed sorts who keep their emotions to themselves.

But don't be deceived by this: they are also fiercely determined and heavy scorers.

Here's my preview for Betfair.


Inevitably, there is much in the Sunday newspapers about the investigation into the betting irregularities surrounding the Stephen Maguire v Jamie Burnett match at the Maplin UK Champion.

I profile Burnett in the Sunday Herald.

Clive Everton analyses some of the key shots in the Observer where Kevin Mitchell looks at the consequences of the case for snooker.

Steve Davis expresses his fears for the future of the game in the News of the World.

A bookmaker explains why they called for an investigation in the Sunday Mail.

The Scotland on Sunday and Sunday Telegraph are full of doom and gloom.

Snooker has an image problem, largely because it hasn't reached out to the media in the way it should have.

The events of last week haven't helped improve its image.



Marco Fu played solidly to reach the Maplin UK Championship final in Telford last night but Ali Carter must be very disappointed.

His missed pink in the eighth frame prevented him from building a 6-2 first session lead but is a bit of a red herring. If you'd have asked him at the start of play if he would accept a 5-3 advantage he would have taken it.

The key shot of the match actually came in frame 11. Carter was 35 behind with 35 on but, in potting the last red, cannoned into the brown and so was not on the black, which he needed to tie the frame.

The right shot was to pot the easy green and play for one snooker to tie. Instead, Carter went for a very difficult blue, which he missed.

He thus needed two snookers but, even though he didn't leave the yellow on, he conceded.

After this, the pressure seemed to get to him and Fu - whose temperament is very strong - held firm for victory.


The Malta Cup will not be on this season, even as an invitation event.

The WPBSA wrote to the players earlier this month to inform them it would not be on as a ranking tournament but could still be staged at the end of January on an invite only basis, as it was last season.

However, it is not happening, even though a venue, hotel and television coverage had been secured.



Ricky Walden has been given the remaining wildcard for next month's Wembley Masters.

He was the outstanding choice having won the Shanghai Masters last October.

Nobody could argue the draw opened up for him out in China. Ricky beat Stephen Hendry, Neil Robertson, Steve Davis, Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan to win the title.

Good luck to him at Wembley. He has earned his place.


Seven times world champion Stephen Hendry and Chinese star Ding Junhui are joining the Championship League for its second year.

The event - screened live on the internet - was won last season by Joe Perry and gets underway again next month.

Hendry and Ding will play in group one alongside Ryan Day, Mark Selby, Ali Carter, Shaun Murphy and Perry.

Carter and Perry put much of their good form this year down to the Matchroom-promoted event.

It has been a great success. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Hendry playing in it if it wasn't.

It affords players top class practice against tough opposition and the financial rewards are huge.

The eventual winner earns a place in the lucrative Premier League.

More info and fixtures here.


Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens and Dominic Dale will have their final qualifying round matches in the Welsh Open held over to the final stages.

This means there will be at least four Welshmen at the Newport Centre as Ryan Day is seeded through as world no.8.

This strikes me as a sensible move. If you want spectators to come along it helps if there are local players in action.

I suspect the players will agree - all three have had problems getting through from Prestatyn this season and are more at home in the TV set up.



In response to my post earlier today, the WPBSA has finally issued a statement about the betting irregularities surrounding the Stephen Maguire v Jamie Burnett first round match at the Maplin UK Championship in Telford.

It reads:

"The WPBSA is committed to taking all steps within its power to protect the integrity of the sport of snooker. To that end, the WPBSA has strict rules in place prohibiting its members from betting on matches or fixing any aspect of a match. It takes all of the steps available to it to police and enforce those rules, including working with its contacts at the Gambling Commission, as well as putting information-sharing arrangements in place with bookmakers.

"At approximately 4.50 pm on Friday 12 December, the WPBSA received a telephone call from a bookmaker, reporting an unusual pattern of bets on Stephen Maguire to beat Jamie Burnett by a frame score of 9 - 3 in a match due to take place on Sunday 14 December.

"The WPBSA immediately notified its other bookmaker contacts, so that the bookmakers could alert the industry and obtain feedback in relation to bets placed on the match. It also arranged for World Snooker officials to attend and observe the match in question, and secured tapes of the match afterwards for further study.

"Now that the match has been played, the WPBSA will move forward with a formal investigation. It has already instructed specialist external legal counsel to assist it in pursuing the investigation robustly and efficiently, so as to protect the integrity of the sport while at the same time respecting its obligation to treat those being investigated fairly.

"As part of the investigation, information will be gathered from all pertinent parties, including the players themselves, the match officials, the bookmakers, and others, in order to determine, based on the available evidence, whether or not there is a case to answer for breach of the WPBSA's rules. If it is determined that there is a case to answer, the WPBSA will pursue it vigorously.

"Once a decision has been reached, the WPBSA will announce it. Until that time, it will not comment further on the matter, so as to avoid prejudice to the process or the people involved. In the meantime, anyone with relevant information is invited to contact the WPBSA immediately."

This statement should have been issued earlier but I give credit to the governing body that it was issued at all and for the information contained within it.

I am encouraged that the WPBSA will announce the result of its investigation, as it does not normally release the findings of its disciplinary committee.

However, Maguire and Burnett will be entitled to contrast the scrutiny their match is receiving with that of Peter Ebdon's 5-0 defeat to Liang Wenbo at this season's Northern Ireland Trophy.

On this occasion, the WPBSA were notified of suspicious betting patterns on a 5-0 victory for Liang over Ebdon, a WPBSA board member.

Where is the investigation into this?



Back to the action and it's an interesting quarter-final line up at the Maplin UK Championship in Telford.

Ali Carter and Joe Perry have had such good years that it seems fitting they are still going.

However, Marco Fu - Perry's opponent - has already made four centuries and seems to be cueing very nicely.

I always expected Mark Williams to return to form and the twice champion is starting to look very good indeed.

Shaun Murphy has emerged from his recent slump and his opponent, Stephen Lee, has also rediscovered his touch.

John Higgins impressed yesterday against maximum man Ding Junhui while Stephen Maguire demonstrated a steely nerve to edge Neil Robertson.

So who is going to win?

Ask me another...


Sir Rodney Walker, the WPBSA chairman, has become unusually publicity shy.

Responding to a request by Phil Yates of The Times for a comment about the betting irregularities surrounding the Stephen Maguire v Jamie Burnett match at the Maplin UK Championship, he would not give one.

The governing body he chairs has not even stated whether they are investigating this match and refuse to answer questions about it.

It is pretty much the only topic of conversation backstage in Telford. When Burnett fluked the pink, a huge ironic cheer went up in a packed players’ room, followed by an even louder one when he missed the black.

Players scurried into the media centre to watch the press conferences.

What most people can’t believe – regardless of what actually happened in the match – is that the WPBSA are remaining silent.

It isn’t good enough.

Snooker’s integrity hangs by a thread. The governing body cannot merely bury its head in the sand and hope it all goes away.

Stephen Hendry has spoken out, and credit to him. He told the Daily Record: “If any player is caught match-fixing they deserve to be banned for life. It’s such a serious issue no player can go unpunished.”

Clive Everton has also called for an investigation and many commentators – players of the old school who came into the game when there was little money available and who were grateful to be able to make a living from snooker – are absolutely appalled by the whole affair.

The WPBSA needs to show leadership. They did so when Peter Francisco lost 10-2 to Jimmy White at the 1995 World Championship, another match with suspicious betting patterns.

A panel of former players was convened to watch the match back on tape and Francisco was swiftly found guilty and banned for five years.

This whole process was conducted openly and the WPBSA regime of the time actively encouraged the media to report it because they wanted to be seen to be getting their house in order.

How times change.

This defeaning silence over an affair that has seriously harmed snooker’s reputation has to end and it has to end before the tournament is over.


Worldsnooker.com described Ronnie O'Sullivan's concession in the 12th frame of his second round match of the Maplin UK Championship with Joe Perry trailing 23-0 as 'impetuous' and I for one am not going to disagree with the governing body.

It was unprofessional and O'Sullivan is likely to be fined.

Greatness in sport is not so much measured by how well you perform when things are going well but by how you respond when things are going badly.

O'Sullivan's answer to this was to throw his cue at the white and concede.

I prefer to focus on how well Perry played.

Here is a player who does not want 2008 to end. He began it as someone who seemed consigned to spend each season closely studying the provisional rankings to see if he would make the top 16.

He is now seventh and looks likely to end the campaign as a top eight player.

Good luck to Joe. He stuck to his task and his run in Telford follows his capture of the Championship League title, run to the Premier League semi-finals and appearance in the last four at the Crucible.

At the age of 34 he is a late developer. However, his development has not come too late and his professionalism tonight should be applauded.



Maximum breaks have become more common but making one, particularly on television, is still a fine achievement.

There have now been 67 in professional competition. When you consider the many thousands of frames that have been played, this still isn't all that much.

John Spencer would have made the first televised 147 in the 1979 International were in not for the fact the TV cameramen were in a nearby McDonalds at the time enjoying a meal break.

(As it transpired, the pockets were not ratified to tournament templates in any case.)

Spencer was Steve Davis's opponent at the 1982 Classic when Davis made the first TV 147 (and still one of the best).

Cliff Thorburn made the first of - so far - eight maxiums at the Crucible in 1983.

Kirk Stevens completed one at the Wembley Masters in 1984.

James Wattana made a maximum at the 1992 British Open shortly after hearing his father had been shot in Thailand.

Ronnie O'Sullivan's 147 in five minutes, 20 seconds at the 1997 World Championship remains the greatest exhibition of pure snooker skill I have ever seen.

There were eight maximums in the 1980s, 26 in the 1990s and 33 this decade with a year left to run.

Congratulations to Ding on a great personal moment.

After the events of yesterday it was also exactly what the tournament - and snooker itself - needed.


Ding Junhui has just made the eighth 147 break in the 31-year history of the UK Championship.

It was his second maximum having made one in the 2007 Wembley Masters.

It was the fourth of the season and the 67th in snooker history.

There have now been 36 televised maximums and 44 in ranking events.

Only 15 have been made by the loser of the match.

Ding's 147 came in the third frame of his last 16 clash with John Higgins, which reduced his arrears to 2-1.

He becomes the 11th player to have made more than one in competition.


Perhaps the saddest thing about the match fixing stories swirling around the Maplin UK Championship is that they have overshadowed what has so far been a really excellent tournament.

The last 16 line up is about as good as it gets. 13 members of the elite top 16 made it through. The three non-seeds - Matthew Stevens, Mark Williams and Stephen Lee - were all in the top 16 last season.

Ronnie O'Sullivan was, I thought, superb last night. He made three centuries in claiming a 5-3 lead over Joe Perry.

The first, a 127, was particularly sublime. In fact, it was a beautiful break.

There has been some top quality snooker played so far and it promises to be a vintage week.

This is another reason the investigation into the Maguire v Burnett match needs to be conducted openly and swiftly (the precedent was set in Peter Francisco's case, which was concluded within a month of his match in the 1995 World Championship).

The WPBSA should release a statement - today - to confirm that the match is under investigation. This would reassure everyone that they are taking it seriously. The general statement about betting they issued yesterday did not.

One last thing: a big thanks to globalcuesportscentre for their coverage. Worldsnooker.com does not work while play is on, which is absurd for a governing body's official website.

Were it not for GSC this tournament would be impossible for many people to follow.



Stephen Maguire’s 9-3 victory over Jamie Burnett in the Maplin UK Championship may be the subject of an official investigation after betting was suspended on this very scoreline ahead of the match.

“When you get new accounts opened from Glasgow addresses to bet frame scores, alarm bells go off,” said Cliff Wilds, Head of Sport at the bookmakers Victor Chandler.

“We took no money on Maguire to win 9-2 or 9-4, only 9-3. That sets the alarm bells off as well.”

Maguire the 2004 UK champion and an obvious favourite to win the match, led 6-2 overnight against Burnett, a friend, fellow Glaswegian and sometime practice partner who beat Jamie Cope 9-7 to qualify.

Burnett compiled a classy 113 break to win the tenth frame before Maguire made it 8-3.

The next was littered with errors on both sides. Eventually, Maguire left the green in the jaws and Burnett potted it.

He added the brown but massively overhit his positional shot for the blue, which he nevertheless stroked in from distance.

He missed a long pink but fluked it, leaving himself an awkward, missable cut-back black.

Burnett overcut this by such a margin that it did not even hit the pocket jaws.

Both players vehemently denied any part in a betting coup. Burnett said he was aware betting had been suspended and that this intensified the pressure he felt at 8-3.

"In the last frame I have never felt more pressure in my life," he said. "I didn't think I could have played the colours knowing people have been saying things.

"On the black I said to myself, 'I need to get this, I need to get this' in case some people start talking. I just felt so under pressure, probably the most pressure I have felt in my life. Then to come off was the lowest feeling. I felt terrible."

"People have been laughing and joking about things like that for years, but to my knowledge nobody has ever done anything. Snooker is too important. There is a career here."

The WPBSA issued a statement. It reads: “We have agreements in place with both Betfair and the Association of British Bookmakers who contact World Snooker confidentially if irregular betting patterns are reported.

“In such cases the match in question is carefully monitored by World Snooker and a thorough assessment of the players’ performance will be made.

“In past incidents, which are extremely rare, World Snooker have taken a particularly stringent line where players have been judged guilty of match fixing or intention to match fix.”

Peter Francisco was banned for five years in 1995 and Quinten Hann for eight in 2006.

Since then, there have been a few grumbles from bookmakers, particularly at the 2006 and 2007 Grand Prix and 2008 Malta Cup – all played under a round robin format.

Peter Ebdon’s 5-0 defeat to Liang Wenbo at this season’s Northern Ireland Trophy is still under investigation by the Gambling Commission.

Snooker, I believe, is mainly clean but any suspicious matches should be investigated in full.

This means taking evidence from bookmakers, the players themselves, the referee, commentators and anyone else with relevant information.

And it should not matter whether matches involve the world no.80, the world champion or a WPBSA board member – they should all be treated the same.

Regardless of what happens with this latest case - which may turn out to be entirely innocent - I believe that any player found guilty of match fixing should be banned from the sport for life.

If people don’t believe the sport is honest then it will not continue to attract sponsors, broadcasters or spectators.

That would mean the end of professional snooker as we know it.


Paul McCartney once released an album called 'Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.'

Maybe Stephen Hendry has a copy judging by his press conference in Telford yesterday.

The game's greatest ever player spoke about the 'chaos' in his head when he comes to the table in the aftermatch of his 9-7 defeat to Stephen Lee in the Maplin UK Championship.

It all sounds a bit cryptic but is actually very simple: Hendry plays well in practice because there is no pressure. In tournaments, he is struggling for consistency. His mind is clouded by self-doubt - can he still play to a high enough standard to compete?

Actually, the answer to that question is 'yes' because the standard at the top level is not quite as high as it was ten years ago.

If Hendry can get to the World Championship semi-finals and finish sixth in the rankings not playing at his best then suggestions he should retire are absurd.

The problem, though, is not first round exits or even poor performances.

No, the problem is this: will his best form ever return?

Or will he be consigned to several years of frustration as he fails to perform on the big stage?

Steve Davis reconciled this inner conflict and is now back competing well again, happy to still be able to turn up and chance his arm.

The only way Hendry will free himself of the 'chaos' in his mind is to accept - though it will be difficult - that he may not be a force for much longer.

If he can do so he may play with more freedom and, paradoxically, start to produce some form again.

You write off great players at your peril. Davis played some sensational snooker to reach the UK final just three years ago at a time where he wasn't expecting much. He wasn't trying to force anything or put unreasonable expectations on himself.

Hendry must face the fact that he is fighting the inevitable decline that comes when players get older.

If he can accept that his best days are behind him he may find that he still has plenty of good days to come.


Judd Trump's 9-8 defeat to Mark King in the Maplin UK Championship yesterday ended with the teenager accusing his opponent of excessive swearing.

"He was getting frustrated and swearing during the match," Trump said. "He shouldn't be doing that.

"He kept swearing every time he played a bad shot, every time someone said 'come on Judd'.

"It was silly of him. It didn't really put me off but it just made me want to beat him.

"He didn't get warned once. He should have lost the match really. He swore at least ten times."

Players can be warned for swearing under the 'ungentlemanly conduct' rule. They are warned that a further transgression will result in a frame being awarded to their opponent.

If they break this rule again the match is awarded against them.

I have no way of verifying if what Trump said is accurate. Equally, I have no reason to disbelieve him.



Joe Swail is a player who tends to go through streaks of either winning or losing.

He has yo-yoed up and down the rankings over the years and had he beaten Liang Wenbo at the Crucible last season would have been the first player to drop out of the top 16 and top 32 and then re-enter the top 16 on two occasions in his career.

Swail has an unconventional cue action but his fighting qualities are among the best of any player.

He has won a high proportion of deciding frame finishes and tends to be at his best when his back is to the wall.

Joe plays on inspiration and has made several great comebacks during an often emotional career.

Surprisingly, he’s never been in a ranking tournament final, having fallen at the semi-final stage a record nine times.

But you don’t get to two World Championship semi-finals in this decade without being a very good player indeed.

He’s failed to beat John Higgins in seven previous meetings so the omens aren’t good for him when they meet in the Maplin UK Championship at Telford today but he will have been boosted by his dramatic 9-8 victory over Liang in the final qualifying round last week.

Perhaps it’s time for the Belfast child to sing again...



Eagle eyed viewers may have noticed a new face at the Maplin UK Championship in Telford today - Olivier Marteel, the referee for the Ryan Day v Matthew Stevens match.

The 39 year-old Belgian has been a ref since 1994 but has only recently started officiating in the professional ranks and this was his first television appearance.

And he did very well. He was probably nervous beforehand but handled the occasion in a very professional manner.

Commentating for British Eurosport, Mike Hallett and myself each gave two thumbs up for the Gent from Ghent as Rob Walker will almost certainly start calling him.


The first steps towards the formation of the Snooker Players Association will be taken in Telford on Tuesday.

Here is the text of a letter the SPA has sent to players and other interested parties:

A meeting is to be held at 10.30 am on Tuesday 16th December in the Holiday Inn Telford/Ironbridge, St. Quentin Gate, Telford, TF3 4EH in the Rathbone Room.

The meeting will set out to establish the next steps to legally forming the Association and look towards appointing an interim group responsible for officially structuring and setting the objectives of the Association.

The meeting is also intended to be a follow up to the information sent to yourselves and available on the players association information page on

The meeting is being chaired by a development group and will be hosted by a legal advisor Gareth Williams, and attended by Pat Mooney, Steve Davis, John Higgins and Brandon Parker.

All other players and managers are invited and particularly welcome.

For those players or managers that cannot attend for whatever reason, you can give your thoughts and comments via the association page and they will be raised at the meeting and considered as part of the agenda.

We will also publish minutes of the meeting for comment to all registered players allowing ongoing feedback and where appropriate voting on any proposed resolutions.

It is important to note that this Association can and will only be formed with the express blessing and support of the players we would therefore ask for input where possible and direct involvement from as many stakeholders in the game of snooker as is practical.


Rory McLeod tells me he is looking forward to his match against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Maplin UK Championship at Telford today.

It’s the biggest match of his career thus far as he tackles the world champion live on television in one of snooker’s oldest and most prestigious events.

Rory recognises he is not expected to win. I certainly expect O’Sullivan to progress but sport is capable of throwing up all manner of shocks so Ronnie cannot afford complacency.

(By the way, there's an excellent profile of Ronnie by my colleague Phil Yates in today's Times.)

McLeod has been a professional for 17 years, although has not been on the circuit all that time.

It took him until 2002 to make his television debut. Today’s match is only his fourth appearance in the last 32 of a ranking tournament and he is yet to go further.

But he has been consistent in recent years, not losing many opening round matches, and is currently 44th in the world – his highest ever ranking.

He is Wellingborough born and bred but spends a fair amount of time in Qatar as he coaches their national team.

He has three children, the youngest just five months, and these take up much of his time.

Rory is also the only player of Afro Caribbean descent – his parents are from Jamaica – competing on the professional circuit.

Snooker is not elitist sport. Anyone can join a club so this anomaly is hard to explain.

It’s not something Rory has ever made an issue of and he was embarrassed a few years ago when the BBC put him on the trailer for the UK Championship even though he hadn’t qualified while ignoring Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams.

Players spend many often lonely hours practising and honing their skills for matches like these.

Whatever happens against O’Sullivan, Rory should enjoy his big day.

- Coverage starts at 1pm on BBC1 and 1.45pm on British Eurosport2.



Ronnie O'Sullivan is looking for footage of his appearance on the Cockney Classic in 1990 when he was 14.

It was broadcast on ITV.

Does anyone out there have a recording?

If so, drop me a line at snookersceneblog@aol.com


The Maplin UK Championship is one of snooker’s oldest and most prestigious tournaments.

It began in 1977 as an event for British and Irish players only and became a ranking tournament in 1984.

There have been many memorable moments over the years:

- Steve Davis winning in 1980, his first major title
- Alex Higgins’s comeback from 7-0 down to beat Davis 16-15 in 1983
- Doug Mountjoy’s remarkable victory at the age of 46 in 1988
- The Hendry-Davis final of 1990, the game’s two all time greats at the peak of their powers with Hendry winning 16-15
- Jimmy White’s 1992 triumph
- Ronnie O’Sullivan winning the 1993 title a week before his 18th birthday
- Hendry making seven centuries in the 1994 final – possibly the best anyone has ever played
- Marcus Campbell stunning Hendry 9-0 in the first round in 1998
- O’Sullivan’s 10-1 destruction of Ken Doherty in the 2001 final
- Jamie Burnett’s 148 in the 2004 qualifiers
- Davis reaching the final – his 100th as a pro – in 2005

Doubtless snooker fans will have many more memories. The tournament was particularly high profile when it was held at Preston Guild Hall from 1978 to 1997.

I used to enjoy the two day, best of 31 frame finals but these were discontinued in 1993.

The first round line up this year is one of the strongest I can remember.

It’s worth remembering that for all the issues affecting snooker off the table, on the table it is as fascinating as ever.



Here's Ronnie O'Sullivan, pictured shortly after learning I am tipping him to win the Maplin UK Championship.



Shaun Murphy has not won a match this season and therefore goes into the Maplin UK Championship off the back of four successive first round defeats.

This is surprising because last season he only lost once in an opening round and was invariably involved in the business end of most tournaments.

His consistency led me to put him in my Eurosport fantasy team.

Once again, I have managed to curse one of snooker’s biggest names.

I expect Shaun to pull himself out of this slump sooner rather than later. He has had personal issues to deal with of late but has always been a relentlessly positive person and was in good spirits at AFC Telford last weekend where he took part in a penalty shootout during a promotional day for the UK event (hence the photo).

He plays Martin Gould in the first round. Martin works as a croupier in a London casino and were he to hit the jackpot against Murphy it would arguably be the biggest shock of the year.

All players have these spells in the doldrums. During the 2005/06 season, Ronnie O’Sullivan failed to win a match in a ranking event from October until April’s World Championship.

Mark Williams and Graeme Dott are good examples of players who have endured lean periods in recent times.

The key to ending them is confidence. However, confidence only comes from winning so it’s a vicious circle.

One good performance against Gould and Murphy’s season could receive a whole new lease of life.

On the other side of the coin, defeat would spell a major crisis point in his career.

His 2005 world title triumph was a surprise but it would be even more of a shock were he to slide down the rankings having seemed the most likely player in recent times to challenge O’Sullivan as the game’s dominant force.


World Snooker has written to the players informing them that the Malta Cup will not be on as a ranking event this season.

“We remain in discussions about a possible invitation event at the end of January 2009 and as soon as there is any more information on this we will inform you,” the letter says.

Whether the invitation event is on or not – and let’s hope it is because the more tournaments the better – very few people have tried harder for snooker over the years than Richard Balani and Joe Zammit, the Maltese promoters, who this week are staging 9-ball pool’s Mosconi Cup in conjunction with Matchroom.



I found Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Inside Sport interview last night fascinating but was surprised to hear Dennis Taylor say he thought Ronnie could equal Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles.

In 16 years as a professional, O’Sullivan has won three world titles. Make no mistake, this is an impressive tally but it seems unlikely anyone will win the Crucible crown beyond the age of 40, which doesn’t leave Ronnie much time.

Furthermore, he actually said himself that it is unlikely because he doesn’t have the ‘drive’ to do so.

This is what people seem to ignore when debating who is the greatest or who would have done what had they been born at a different time.

It’s not all about talent. We all know how talented all the top players are. Ultimately, it comes down to temperament.

Ronnie said he does not have the temperament of Stephen Hendry and is therefore unlikely to be driven to try and win as much as he has.

This does not diminish his own achievements. The fact is, we are all made differently and motivated differently.

Ranking Ronnie in the all time list is a pointless exercise because the man is a complete one-off.

When those of us lucky enough to have seen him play remember him we shan’t do so by reeling off titles but by recalling great moments of inspirational play – his 147 in five minutes, 20 seconds an obvious example.

Hendry and Steve Davis stand out as the two all time greats because of their extraordinary periods of success.

O’Sullivan will be remembered for his genius and all that it entails.


Among the results from the final qualifying round of the Maplin UK Championship that may have passed you by was this one: Mark Davis beat Nigel Bond 9-2.

This was Bond’s fifth successive defeat in five ranking events this season.

There are only three left and he now faces a fight to keep his top 32 place.

Nobody goes on forever. Nigel is now 43 and so in the autumn of his career.

But I always find it slightly sad when big names start to slide down the rankings.

I well remember Dennis Taylor’s last ever match. It was in the World Championship qualifiers in 2000.

He fought back gamely from 8-4 down to 8-8 with Sean Lanigan before losing 10-8.

Dennis knew it was his swansong and was devastated. Memories of the glory days, of THAT black against Steve Davis, had long since receded.

All he cared about was that he had lost and would not be playing again.

Nigel reached a career high of fifth in the rankings and made the Crucible final in 1995, losing 18-9 to Stephen Hendry.

What a lot of people may not know is that his son, Daniel, was born with a rare heart defect.

When young, he needed a great deal of hospital treatment in what was obviously a very worrying time for Nigel and his wife, Caron.

He was born in 1997, at around the time Nigel was enjoying his best spell as a professional. His mind could quite clearly not focus entirely on snooker and his form was inevitably affected, although I know this pales into insignificance compared to the health of his family. Nigel’s most loyal supporter on the circuit for two decades has been his own father, Graham.

In 1996, he won one of the most dramatic of all finals in beating John Higgins 9-8 to win the British Open in Plymouth having got a snooker in the decider. He knocked in a terrific long black for victory.

Nigel has appeared in five ranking tournament finals in total, including the 1990 Grand Prix in only his second season on the circuit.

He won the invitation Scottish Masters in 1997 and invite tournaments in China and Malta.

And he clinched what was surely the most dramatic first round victory the Crucible has ever seen when he beat Stephen Hendry 10-9 on a re-spotted black in 2006.

Bond was seven ahead when he potted the last black of the decider. Hendry unscrewed his cue but they both watched as the cue ball found a pocket.

Nigel returned to eventually knock it in.

After dropping out of the top 32 in 2003 he returned two years later but it is becoming increasingly difficult to stave off decline.

I hope he finds some form again. You will not find a single person on the circuit with a bad word to say about him.

It would be nice if Bond could find a quantum of solace from an otherwise disappointing season.



Please do not rush to St. Pancras station tomorrow to take on Mark Selby because his Masters promotional day has been moved to Brent Cross shopping centre instead.

World Snooker say this due to 'unforeseen circumstances.'

The mind boggles...


Ronnie O'Sullivan's 7-2 victory over Mark Selby in the Partypoker.com Premier League last night was his eighth capture of this title and his fifth in succession since it reverted to the 25 second per shot time limit.

It is hard to see anyone else winning under this format.

Selby had played superbly to beat Stephen Hendry 5-0 in the semi-finals with the aid of three centuries but, for whatever reason, failed to fire in the final.

O'Sullivan won £75,000 - the biggest top prize in snooker outside of the 'big three' tournaments: the World Championship, UK Championship and Wembley Masters.

Potters Leisure Resort at Hopton-on-Sea proved to be a first class venue. Yesterday, 450 ticket applications had to be turned down because they were already sold out.

This came after a fortnight of heavy promotion in the local press - surely the way to ensure a large attendance.

A full house makes such a difference to the players. They respond to a good atmosphere.

O'Sullivan was, of course, a popular winner.

Who wants to back against him for next year?


You will recall that I recently bored on at great length about the arrangement the Press Association has come to with worldsnooker.com for news and information at the expense of the regular freelance journalists who have been providing this service for 44 years.

This arrangement or ‘enhanced relationship’ (as the PA described it) began last Friday, since when the PA has not written a single word on the Maplin UK Championship qualifiers.

Furthermore, it has not sent out a single result from the qualifiers to its hundreds of clients – newspapers, TV and radio – who all pay for the service.

Put simply, this means that not a solitary result has appeared in any newspaper anywhere in the world for the last three days unless those papers have themselves tracked them down.

This period includes John Parrott’s withdrawal, Jimmy White’s narrow defeat, Ricky Walden’s ’16-red’ total clearance and victories for Mark Williams and Ken Doherty – all good stories.

A small number of papers have carried reports here and there from freelancers but the PA has ignored the qualifiers of a ranking event for the first time ever.

Why carry results on the first two qualifying rounds but not the last two?

It goes against the PA’s promise that they would not be reducing their coverage.

When the ‘enhanced relationship’ with World Snooker was arranged the governing body did not seek any assurances as to the scope or nature of the coverage or even if there would be any at all.

What do Maplin make of this, bearing in mind they have been denied coverage in the national and regional press?

Before this ‘enhanced relationship’ started the game was struggling for coverage as it was. Now, there is even less.

Well done everybody.


Ray Reardon, six times the world champion in the 1970s, has been given a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year ceremony.

Reardon was one of the first stars of the TV snooker age. A former policeman, he was a superb tactician who dominated his era in the face of opponents such as John Spencer, Alex Higgins and Eddie Charlton.

In addition to his world titles, Reardon won the Masters in 1976 and was the first player ever to be ranked no.1.

In 1988, though well past his best, he stunned Steve Davis 5-0 in the first round of the British Open.

Reardon, now 76, retired from the pro circuit in 1991 but mentored Ronnie O'Sullivan during the 2004 World Championship, O'Sullivan's second Crucible triumph.

The main award was won by rugby ace Shane Williams.



Ronnie O'Sullivan is interviewed by Gabby Logan on Inside Sport to be shown on BBC1 tomorrow at 11.05pm.

As they say on the news when giving out football scores, if you don't want to know the results then look away now...

"Jo and I are trying to work back together. That’s my aim. It would be fantastic if we could live together and bring up our family together. I’m probably a difficult person to be with, yeah.

“It’s difficult for a wife to be married to a sportsman who’s trying to stay at the top of their game. You can’t just wake up when you like. You can’t just eat four cream cakes, you’ve got to be professional, you’ve got to be ruthless.

"And sometimes your partner doesn’t get to see you as much. I went to The Priory and learnt about addictions. I had a problem but I don’t drink and don’t take drugs anymore. I had my struggles and I got help. I’ve gone to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and I got support."

"I’m not a religious person. I looked into Buddhism because I wanted some sort of happiness.

“I joined a Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green. I used to have my lunch and listen to the geezer do his thing and it was great.

“I did it for six weeks but what ruined it for me was someone kidnapped me, hijacked me and kept saying ‘Come and do it with me’ and that’s what put me off.

“I was just coming to chill out and then I’ve got them in my face trying to be a control freak , ‘come, meet my wife’ and it put me off going there.”

"I was 3-0 up against Davis in the semi-finals of the Premier League, missed a ball and went to shake his hand.

“As I walked towards him I thought: ‘What am I doing? You can’t do that’ and I walked back to my chair.

"The next day I’m leading Jimmy 4-0 in the final, missed a ball and went to do the same thing. And it got to the point against Stephen when I’m sitting there thinking: ‘I don’t want to be here.’

“And I just missed the ball, shook his hand and went: ‘Right, I’m off.’ I got out and felt relieved I’d done it.

“It’s been horrible to have to get a perspective on something I used to have so much passion for.

"I still feel like it sometimes, but I can’t do it again, because snooker bosses will slap me with a heavy fine. So if I feel like that again, I will have to pull out of tournaments.

“Snooker is a very hard game when you’re sitting in your chair with your mind."

"I must admit I am nervous thinking about it. How is it going to be? Because my last memory of dad was when he was out on bail, driving me to a snooker tournament when I was 15.

“I didn’t know whether he was going to go away or not, so it’s as if 18 years have gone. I have no memories other than a telephone conversation and a visit every two months, so you can’t make up for that.

“It’s going to be a different relationship now. I’m 33, I’ve got two kids and I’ve had my career but he’s done a good job with me, getting me to think in a certain way.

"He’s the most positive guy. That’s why I go for shots people think may be risky, but I believe they’re winners.

“It goes in, game over and I’ve always had that mentality.

“He loves snooker. And every time he sees me play on TV he’ll say it’s like a visit from me. He’s been such a proud man.

“He doesn’t want anything from me other than just, I’m his son.”

"I haven’t got the drive to win seven or eight world titles. I haven’t got the passion it takes to be a (Michael Schumacher), a Hendry, a Phil Taylor.

"You look at the hard facts of what I’ve won and I have definitely under-achieved.

“But I’m not going to be a slave to snooker. I don’t think I’ll be playing in five years, let alone winning another five world titles.

“I’ll leave a little legacy. I’ve done it my way, a waste of talent it might have been, but I’ve come out of it and I’m intact.

"I don’t want to be miserable when I’m 45 and think: ‘Well, what was that all about?’ It’s now that is important.”

Inside Sport is on BBC1 on Monday night at 11:05pm.



Ricky Walden, the reigning Shanghai Masters champion, has made a 141 total clearance using '16 reds' at the Maplin UK Championship qualifiers.

He got a free ball at the start of the frame from Mark Davis's foul. Of course the free ball counts as an extra red.

Four years ago, Jamie Burnett made a 148 - the highest break in the history of professional snooker - in this way.

I recall Steve James made a '16-red' clearance at the Crucible against Alex Higgins in 1990. It's happened a number of times but is still relatively rare.


John Parrott, the 1991 UK champion, has withdrawn from the qualifiers of this year's event trailing Andy Hicks 7-1.

Parrott informed tournament organisers that he was unwell.



Mark Selby is one of the last snooker players you could imagine going off the rails and his career shows no signs of hitting the buffers.

All of which is a rather tortuous way of informing anyone interested that Selby will be at St. Pancras station in London next Tuesday to launch the Wembley Masters.

There will be a table on the concourse and he will be taking on all comers between 8am and 2pm.

Of course in years gone by the obvious choice for this would have been John Pulman...


The year was 1986. Steve Davis had lost the world final to Joe Johnson but was still the undisputed king of snooker.

One day he was having a meal in a Chinese restaurant. Another man came in with his 10 year-old son.

The father was full of enthusiasm about his boy’s talent on the green baize. A waiter informed him there was another snooker player in the restaurant by the name of ‘Dave Stevens.’

Realising the mistake, father and son headed over for an autograph and photo with the man who bestrode the snooker world.

The man assured Davis that his boy would one day be world champion. Steve had probably heard this 1,000 times before from other fathers and could be forgiven for taking it all with a large dollop of salt.

Fast forward 22 years and Ronnie O’Sullivan, who turns 33 today, is now a three times world champion and world no.1. His father has been incarcerated for all these triumphs but remains his son’s no. l supporter.

The picture above is the one they took that night.

Davis has not beaten the Rocket in ten years. O’Sullivan leads 18-6 in career meetings but I suspect he does not take much pleasure in beating him these days.

Davis was his boyhood hero. He recalled that when he watched the end of the 1985 world final in his local club, “all the others wanted Dennis Taylor to win. They were sat there saying ‘miss it ginger’ when Steve was on the black. I was the only one supporting him.”

It’s telling that Ronnie would cheer for Davis, a player so dominant than millions couldn’t wait for him to lose.

(How times change. He is now one of the most popular players on the circuit.)

O’Sullivan identified with him because he was a winner and young Ronnie wanted to be a winner as well.

Over time, Davis’s achievements would be eclipsed by Stephen Hendry, another player who has O’Sullivan’s total respect (notwithstanding an ill judged stream of invective about him at the 2002 World Championship for which Ronnie has subsequently apologised).

Kids need heroes. O’Sullivan’s were his own father and Davis.

And next time they cross cues a small part of Ronnie will still be that young boy looking up to his idol and dreaming of one day being the snooker player everyone else is in awe of.



Jimmy White loves snooker. He loves it now at the age of 46 every bit as much as he did when, as a kid, he used to bunk off school to play it in the afternoons when he should have been receiving an altogether different sort of education.

Snooker suffers from an overly nostalgic tendency to hark back to the ‘good old days’ but regardless of this it’s genuinely heartening to see Jimmy still in there fighting.

He came back from 8-6 down to beat David Grace in the first qualifying round of the Maplin UK Championship and last night edged Ian Preece 9-8 to reach the third.

If he makes it from the Sheffield qualifiers to the final stages at Telford he will play Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Jimmy’s career is usually talked about in terms of the six world finals he lost. These defeats came to define him as the game’s nearly man, although did nothing to reduce his status as ‘people’s champion.’

He certainly should have won in 1992 when he led Stephen Hendry 14-8 (although Hendry played some great stuff to come back) and had the title in his hands in 1994 only to miss a routine black in the decider, the pressure ultimately overcoming him.

Had Alex Higgins not conjured up his miraculous 69 break to stay in their 1982 semi-final Jimmy may well have been champion that year.

But let’s not forget this: he won ten ranking titles, including the 1992 UK Championship, and a clutch of invitation tournaments, not least the 1984 Wembley Masters.

He’s had a far better career than most and it’s still continuing, albeit in the relative obscurity of a chilly Sheffield.

There’s no webcam so Jimmy’s many fans who can’t attend the qualifiers are reduced to staring at live (or sometimes dead) scoring and cheering him on from afar.

There aren’t many players who would inspire such devotion.



The December issue of Snooker Scene, out now, includes a review of the Bahrain Championship, an interview with Neil Robertson, Clive Everton's analysis of payments made to Sir Rodney Walker, the World Series, the Premier League, amateur tournaments and news from the junior circuit, billiards, pool and much more.

Don't forget, you can subscribe through our website.



Ronnie O'Sullivan will be featured on BBC1's Inside Sport programme next Monday night at 11.05pm in what presenter Gabby Logan describes as a 'revealing interview.'


Snooker does not have grand slams like tennis or majors like golf but it does have three tournaments prized more highly than all the others.

They are the World Championship, UK Championship and Wembley Masters.

The qualifiers for the UK Championship are underway at Sheffield. The Masters is next month and, of course, the season will end with the annual 17-day Crucible event.

Only seven players have won the ‘big three.’

They are: Steve Davis, Terry Griffiths, Alex Higgins, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Let’s have a look at the cumulative number of titles players have won from these three events:

Stephen Hendry: 18
Steve Davis: 15
Ronnie O’Sullivan: 10
Ray Reardon: 7
John Higgins, Mark Williams: 6
Alex Higgins: 5
John Spencer, Cliff Thorburn: 4

And here are the number of finals players have been in from these three tournaments:

Stephen Hendry: 27
Steve Davis: 21
Ronnie O’Sullivan: 14
Alex Higgins: 13
Ray Reardon, Jimmy White: 11
John Higgins: 10
Mark Williams: 9
Terry Griffiths: 8

Behind the stats, here are my observations...

It’s no surprise that Hendry is top and the fact that he is reconfirms his reputation as the game’s greatest ever player.

However, he has not won one of the big three since 1999 when he captured his seventh world title. His last UK Championship success was 12 years ago and it will be 13 years since his last Masters victory when he goes to Wembley next month.

Davis appeared in his first big three final at the 1980 UK Championship and his 21st at the same tournament a remarkable 25 years later.

O’Sullivan is likely to win more and could possibly beat Hendry’s tally.

Alex Higgins enjoyed a good record in the big three and but for his showboating manner could have won more of them.

John Higgins and Williams, like O’Sullivan, could win more although the Welshman will this season have to qualify for the UK Championship and, wildcard aside, won’t be at the Masters.

Only three players have won the big three in the same season.

Davis did so in the 1987/88 campaign, Hendry in 1989/90 and again in 1994/95 and Williams in 2002/03.

There is no prize for winning all three in a single season (perhaps there should be) but doing so is, for me, the ultimate sign of how dominant a player is because they are easily the three most important tournaments in the game.



“World Snooker has done some good work in Asia in recent years but Europe is definitely a market that they could be exploiting more. I think the interest is equal, if not bigger, in Europe than it is in China.”

So said Mark Selby on his new blog on the Eurosport website.

Anyone who knows Mark will know that he’s not a trouble maker or nursing a hidden agenda. He’s simply saying what everyone who has witnessed the European snooker boom also believes.

Take a look at this clip. It is Ronnie O’Sullivan being introduced to the crowd in Hamm, Germany this weekend.

What an extraordinary reaction, one that I know would have touched Ronnie.

The fans at the Berlin leg of the World Series in July were just as enthusiastic. Stephen Maguire said it was the biggest crowd he had ever played in front of.

The crowds were also huge at the World Series events in Warsaw and Russia. Not only that but they were genuinely excited to see live snooker.

John Higgins recently did an exhibition in Copenhagen that was sold out. O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson did one in Prague last week that also attracted a huge audience.

By signing its broadcast deal with Eurosport, World Snooker has created a huge booming market.

So why aren’t they exploiting it?

Why aren’t there any major tournaments promoted by the governing body in mainland Europe?

The fans are clearly there. You could have three ranking events in Germany and tickets would sell out within hours.

Contrast that with the recent Bahrain Championship, where audiences were embarrassing and which cost World Snooker fortunes.

Credit goes to Higgins and his manager, Pat Mooney, for setting up the World Series which has taken top class snooker to a continent crying out for it.

Next week, Mooney will meet with Eurosport to discuss venues for 2009. In the running are Ireland (possibly Goffs, former home of the Irish Masters and one of the best arenas snooker has ever had), Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland, Russia, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Pat and the team have been in discussions with all of the countries above, having received applications from each to host an event,” Higgins said.

“We would of course love to host many more, however it is down to ensuring there is no conflict with other events and promotions and also the available TV scheduling of Eursport.

“The success and momentum caused by the success of our first year has been staggering. When Pat first talked about the potential and popularity of the game in these locations I was a little sceptical to say the least, but now I am just buzzed about each and every new location.”

Mooney hopes the World Series will see the governing body following suit and investing in Europe.

“We see the ground work we have done paving the way for World Snooker to be able to react to the demands of the fans and come in and capitalise on the start we have made,” he said.

“Who knows that may even be a good model for the development of professional snooker and it reduces the risk of going into new territories blind and not knowing if the fans and the infrastructure is there.

“We always said we would ensure we compliment the main tour and share information with World Snooker and the lessons we have learned this year can only be a bonus, and are available to all.”

Snooker, contrary to what some people say, is not dead or dying.

Its popularity in the UK has declined and participation is affected by factors such as the smoking ban.

But on the continent of Europe there are millions – literally – of fans ready to support the game.

Apart from the obvious considerations of finances and sponsorship why are they not being given the chance to do so?