STEVE PREST: 1966-2009

Steve Prest, a former professional and coach, has died suddenly at the age of 43.

Prest coached Shaun Murphy to victory at the 2005 World Championship and was in Neil Robertson and Ronnie O’Sullivan’s corner at the Crucible this year.

He worked with youngsters in his native Yorkshire and was an accredited World Snooker coach.

He was found dead at his home on Friday.

Steve was an affable bloke and well regarded as a coach. His death at such a young age has come as a terrible shock to his many friends in the snooker world.

We here at Snooker Scene send our sympathies to his family.



Snooker Scene's editor Clive Everton will be answering questions in the next Snooker Scene podcast.

If you have a question for him about players, snooker history or the game in general, email it to snookersceneblog@aol.com rather than posting it below.

We will be recording it next Tuesday so obviously need your questions by then.



Good luck to Ken Doherty who was on Sky News live from Rome this afternoon where he will tonight be watching his beloved Manchester United take on Barcelona in the Champions League final (or the European Cup in old money).

Here are clubs supported by some other players:

Ronnie O'Sullivan - Arsenal
Neil Robertson - Chelsea
Ding Junhui - Liverpool
Mark Selby - Leicester City
John Higgins - Celtic
Graeme Dott - Rangers
Joe Perry - Arsenal
Stephen Hendry - Hearts
John Parrott - Everton
Mark Williams - Manchester United
Dave Harold - Stoke City
Michael Holt - Nottingham Forest
Paul Davies - Ipswich Town
Nigel Bond - Manchester City
Ian McCulloch - Preston North End


It's easy to say 'there should be more sponsors' but not quite so easy to attain any, particularly in the current economic climate.

Last weekend's Independent on Sunday points out how all sports are struggling at the moment.

Snooker has enjoyed some recent success. Betfred.com has signed a four year deal to sponsor the World Championship while Sportingbet.com will back the World Series for the next three years.

But the golden days of snooker sponsorship are over. In the 1980s, companies were queueing up to have their brands associated with the sport. Not any more.

Snooker is no longer considered fashionable and has to fight its corner against sports where major firms believe they will get a better return: football, rugby union, tennis, golf, cricket.

Darts, perhaps snooker's closest competitor, has also been successful in attracting sponsorship because it has reinvented its image without changing the sport.

This is presumably why World Snooker has engaged Tim Darby, formerly Barry Hearn's right hand man at the PDC, to look at ways of changing the perception of snooker.

I wish him well. The sport can't afford to stand still and the complacent attitude that nothing can ever change has to end.

As we saw at the World Championship, professional snooker is still a first rate product and the game includes a fascinating cast of characters, including those younger players emerging into the limelight.

The challenge now is to harness the interest that is there and persuade potential sponsors that snooker is a sport worth supporting.

Not an easy task but not an impossible one either.



A few updates...

Jimmy Robertson has won the English Amateur Championship, snooker’s oldest title, with a 9-8 defeat of David Craggs in Sheffield.

Robertson, 24, is thus eligible to return to the main tour next season having played on the pro circuit during the 2002/03 season.

The amateur title was first contested in 1916. It was won in 1987 by Mark Rowing who last weekend defeated Colin Norton 6-4 to win the English seniors title.

The Irish national title has been won by Martin McCrudden, who beat David Hogan 8-6. However, Brendan O’Donoghue finished top of the RIBSA rankings and will therefore be nominated for a place on the ranking event circuit.

Mark Boyle (no relation, as far as I’m aware, to Susan) is also heading for the pro tour after winning the Scottish title with a 7-0 defeat of Ross Vallance.

Michael White is the new Welsh champion, Warren Horsley has retained his South African national title and Robin Hull, whose professional career ended because of illness, has won the Finnish Championship.

Meanwhile Ronnie O’Sullivan, for whom running has become an obsession, was in Derby today launching a new charity challenge.

Has this video been speeded up or is Ronnie the new Usain Bolt?


Continuing our series on ex-professionals...

Alain Robidoux followed in the footsteps of those great Canadian snooker players of the 1980s – Cliff Thorburn, Kirk Stevens and Bill Werbeniuk – and was his country’s no.1 player for a decade.

Robidoux was a French Canadian with an accent likened by one snooker journalist to Inspector Clouseau.

He was a friendly, laidback sort who reached ninth in the world rankings until his cue was broken beyond repair, which heralded a shockingly sudden decline and, ultimately, the end of his professional career.

Bizarrely, Robidoux joined the pro tour without winning a match. In the late 1980s, the WPBSA had a number of ‘non tournament’ professionals. They were on the ranking list but couldn’t play in most of the ranking events.

Robidoux could enter the 1988 World Championship but his first two opponents failed to show up and he amassed enough points to finish in the top 128 and thus join the tour full time.

He made an immediate impact by reaching the televised phase of his first tournament, the Fidelity International, and taking Steve Davis to a decider.

A month later, he reached the semi-finals of the Grand Prix, losing 9-7 to Alex Higgins and it was clear he would soon pose a threat to the game’s elite.

In September 1988, he became only the sixth player ever to record an officially ratified 147 maximum break in the qualifiers for the European Open.

It took only two full seasons for him to be promoted to the top 16 and in 1990 joined Thorburn and Bob Chaperon in winning the World Team Cup for Canada.

Like many players, Robidoux’s form came and went in spells but by 1996 he was on an upward curve once again.

He qualified for the Crucible and drew Ronnie O’Sullivan in a match that ended in bitterness and controversy. Well ahead, O’Sullivan played left-handed for the first time in a major tournament. Robidoux believed he was making fun of him and, at 9-3 and with many, many snookers required on the pink, played on to make his point.

O’Sullivan elected not to pot the pink and so viewers watching live on the BBC were treated to ten minutes of nonsense.

Neither player covered themselves in glory with some ill judged post-match comments but they had patched things up by the German Open the following season, where they fought out a high quality final which O’Sullivan won 9-7.

In 1997, Robidoux enjoyed a run to the semi-finals of the World Championship, where his bid to emulate Thorburn as champion was ended in a 17-7 defeat to Ken Doherty.

It saw Robidoux rise to ninth in the world and poised to enjoy perhaps the best spell of his career.

But it wasn’t to be. Robidoux needed repairs done to his cue and sent it back to the man who had originally made it.

However, the cue maker was, it would be fair to say, something of a traditionalist and objected to Robidoux having fixed a sponsor’s logo to the butt end.

He objected so much that he smashed the cue up into several pieces.

It could not be repaired and Robidoux was forced to start the following season with a new model. But it didn’t feel the same and he failed to win a single match the whole campaign.

“It was like losing my right arm,” he said.

His form gone, he plummeted down the rankings and considered quitting altogether after suffering from bouts of depression.

Several years later I asked him his views on the cue maker, thinking the passage of time may have eased his anger.

“I want to kill him,” was his heartfelt response.

Robidoux never recovered from the incident and eventually slipped off the tour.

He still plays in Canada and also commentates on pool in French for Canadian television.



Stephen Hendry is among the field for the second staging of the Jiangsu Classic, which takes place in Wuxi City from June 3-7.

The seven times world champion joins the 12 man field for the invitation tournament won last year by local hero Ding Junhui, who beat Mark Selby 6-5 in the final.

Ding and Selby return alonsgide Hendry, Ali Carter, Mark Allen, Marco Fu, Shaun Murphy, Joe Perry, Peter Ebdon, Ryan Day and local wildcards Li Hang and Jin Long.



Note that the above question asks who will be in not who should be.

There is no should be when it comes to the Premier League. It’s Barry Hearn’s event and he can invite whoever he likes. He shouldn’t have to adhere to any criteria other than what is best for Matchroom.

(I point this out only because it’s amazing how many people in snooker get caught up in the phoney concept of ‘fairness.’ A governing body has to be fair; an independent promoter does not.)

We know Ronnie O’Sullivan, as defending champion, and Judd Trump, winner of the qualifying tournament, the Championship League, will be among the seven man field.

Hearn knows that having the world champion in the event will give it credibility, so John Higgins will also take part.

To facilitate TV sales to Asia, one of Ding Junhui, Marco Fu and Liang Wenbo can expect a call up.

Ding has taken part the last few years but has not too well of late and Fu is now Asia’s top ranked player, which may enhance his chances.

Fu also has an excellent record against the likes of O’Sullivan and Higgins and is a former champion.

Liang would bring his entertaining brand of snooker to the Premier League and would not struggle with the 25-second shot clock.

So that’s four spots taken care of, what of the other three?

Steve Davis has already been told he won’t be in the field for the first time since the Premier League began – as the Matchroom League – in 1987.

However, I’d expect Hearn to invite Stephen Hendry once again as his presence adds prestige to the tournament.

I expect the remaining two spots to be filled by two of the following: Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson, Ali Carter and Mark Allen.

Robertson’s great plus is that he is Australian and so may bring in extra TV revenue down under.

Selby was runner-up to O’Sullivan last season and has become one of the modern game’s most popular players.

Murphy is UK champion and was World Championship runner-up and so would bring an extra edge of credibility to the event.

Carter had an excellent year, finishing runner-up to O’Sullivan at the Crucible in 2008 and winning his first ranking title, the Welsh Open, last February.

Allen brought his bustling, exciting, pumped up form of snooker to the World Championship and reached the semi-finals.

So some excellent candidates but only seven places.

One thing the Premier League could do is have two groups of five with the top two from each going through to the semi-finals, which would actually mean one less match.

This is unlikely to happen and I understand the final seven will be announced within the next few weeks for the competition which starts in September.

But to return to the first point I made: whatever Hearn decides, nobody can complain.

It’s his event and he can pick whoever he likes.


Each week I will be looking back at the career of a former professional, starting with a player who is now involved in running the professional circuit...

Martin Clark was a great talent who rose to no.12 in the world rankings but whose career was ended by illness.

From Sedgley in the West Midlands in England, a long time hotbed for snooker, Clark was a talented junior who came to the fore in the region's highly competitive local league.

Sporting one of snooker’s best ever perms, he turned professional in 1987 and enjoyed a sensational television debut, beating Dennis Taylor – world champion in 1985 and at the time one of snooker’s best and most recognisable players – 5-0 in the Fidelity International at Stoke.

At the 1989 Mercantile Classic, Clark reached his first ranking event quarter-final and appeared in two more that season.

He was certainly good enough to win a title but never made it to a ranking semi-final. His defeat in ten quarter-finals remains a record.

Clark was a semi-finalist in the 1992 World Matchplay – a major invitation tournament – and recorded plenty of encouraging results against top players but never quite broke through into the upper echelons of the rankings.

Given his talent, he seemed to be heading for the top eight but was in fact relegated from the top 16 after four seasons inside.

His career declined through no fault of his own. Clark suffered from worn vertebrae in his neck. He had to wear a brace and his form inevitably dipped to the extent that he decided to retire.

It was a difficult, dispiriting decision to make but he did so without any complaint.

Clark is still very much involved in snooker as one of the WPBSA’s tournament directors and he is a credit to the governing body. He works hard, he’s very helpful and he has the respect of the players because he was one himself and he understands tournament life from their point of view.

He is a passionate Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter and so has, for once, had a good year at the Molineux.



So the 2008/09 campaign recedes into memory but there is still plenty to talk about in the coming months and I will, of course, be keeping this blog going.

After all, who wants to be lying on a beach in some far off sundrenched paradise now that the season is over?

Me, obviously, but them’s the breaks as Joe Davis may have put it.

The Jiangsu Classic takes place from June 3-7, the PIOS tour starts at the end of June, there is a big six reds event in Thailand in July and the World Series is likely to return the same month.

Away from all of that, each week I shall be posting a piece on a player now retired. This is not some nostalgic whimsy but an attempt to honour some of those who have played their parts in the snooker story, which will hopefully prove interesting to those new to the sport.

If anyone has any other ideas for posts, please feel free to suggest them.



Shaun Murphy tries the same in every frame of every match of every tournament.

His professionalism has seen him bounce back from his Crucible final defeat to John Higgins two weeks ago to win two titles in the Sportingbet.com World Series.

Last week it was the grand finals of year one. Last night he beat Jimmy White 5-1 in Killarney to win the first event of year two.

Of course, Murphy would swap them both for the World Championship trophy but he genuinely enjoys playing and these tournaments did him a favour: he could have been sat at home mulling over why he didn't perform in the Sheffield final but instead got back to the table with a fresh challenge.

The weekend was fun as snooker always is in Ireland. The crowds were large and a good time was had by all.

The World Series has quietly become a success. It doesn't have the profile of the ranking event circuit but, so far, it has made good impressions in each of the cities it has visited.

Its strength is that the events only last a couple of days and so don't outstay their welcome.

This can only be good for snooker. The sport needs as many televised tournaments as possible to keep it in the public mind.

It used to be that when the World Championship ended, snooker disappeared from our screens for five or six months.

It can only be good that those days are over.



The latest Snooker Scene podcast features me talking to Pat Mooney, promoter of the World Series.

Click here to listen to him talking about the concept of the World Series, snooker's current fortunes and why he doesn't want to take over the game.


Day one of the Sportingbet.com World Series of Snooker in Killarney saw progress for each of the established names, although a couple were given scares by the invited Irish teenagers.

While Shaun Murphy (a 5-0 winner over Greg Casey) and John Higgins (who beat Andrew Gray 5-1) advanced with ease, Ken Doherty and Jimmy White were made to fight.

Indeed, Doherty, who trailed Tony Moore 4-2, could count himself fortunate after missing the pink in the decider and fluking a snooker.

Moore made contact but left the pink on and a relieved Doherty slotted it home for victory.

White was all at sea when he trailed Jason Delaney 3-0. He was guilty of some sloppy shot selections but won a tight fourth frame and the match turned round.

White made a century – not straightforward with only ten reds – and pounced when Delaney missed the black for 4-3, the Whirlwind going on to win 5-3.

So the semi-finals will pit Higgins v Murphy (again!) and Doherty v White.

Bad luck to the youngsters. At times, they each showed signs of great potential but it’s such a huge step up from the junior ranks to playing live on TV in front of a big audience against one of snooker’s best known names. If they felt nervous it was understandable.

The atmosphere backstage here is very relaxed and it was good to see such a sizeable crowd in as pro snooker returns to Ireland, always a stronghold for the game.

And hats off to Shaun for his interview skills. He has an ease in front of the camera that seems innate.

Higgins has his wife and three children here and Ken also has his wife and young son with him.

As it usually is in Ireland, this is a chance for a break as well as an opportunity to win a title.

The last Irish Masters was four years ago and many on the circuit still miss it.

Hopefully, this event can grow into a genuine replacement.



Alex Higgins has recorded an edition of the BBC quiz show The Weakest Link.

I think this may be the only time I've ever felt any sympathy for Anne Robinson.



There is more snooker on the TV this weekend with the next stage of the Sportingbet.com World Series in Killarney, Ireland.

John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Ken Doherty and Jimmy White will be joined by four Irish juniors.

There's live coverage on Eurosport from 8pm on Saturday and Sunday.

More information here.



Unlikely as it may seem, the Bahrain Championship could return to the calendar next season.

The event was not regarded as a success. The crowds were tiny, a scheduling clash with the Premier League kept some top stars away and it cost World Snooker a fortune.

However, Shaikh Abdulla bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa, president of the Bahrain Billiards and Snooker Association, has revealed he is putting together a bid to get the tournament on again in February of next year.

"We are currently working on getting our spot on the calendar and I'm very positive we can come to an agreement soon," he told the Gulf Daily News.

"We want to be a part of the World Snooker season and they want us to be there as well.

"Snooker is a very popular game around the world, especially here in the Middle East.

"Hopefully, we can get our deal done in the coming weeks and be included on next season's calendar, and hopefully we can begin our planning for a bigger and better tournament this time."

If Shaikh Abdulla can come up with the money to stage the event and it therefore doesn't cost World Snooker anything then the governing body should agree. The more tournaments the better.

However, I understand certain assurances were made last year that apparently failed to materialise.

If I were a betting man I'd say Neil Robertson will be holding on to his trophy for many years to come.



I congratulate Daniel Wells and Li Hang for keeping their places on the professional circuit for another year having made their debuts last season.

This is a much better achievement than it sounds. The rankings are worked out using two season’s points.

Wells and Li had only one year’s points, plus the starter points they were awarded at the beginning of the campaign.

These points are the number earned by the lowest ranked player on the list, so they change in amount from year to year.

Actually, both Wells and Li stayed on through the WPBSA’s sensible decision to allow eight places for players who have earned the most points in a single season that are not already in the top 64 on the two-year list.

Even this is much harder than many people realise.

New on the scene, players start in the very first round of qualifying for ranking events and the qualifiers are as competitive as they have ever been.

There are some tough match-players at Prestatyn who will never win major titles but are adept at halting the progress of rising stars.

Daniel kept his place as a result of winning three deciders in the Betfred.com World Championship before losing a fourth to Barry Hawkins to be denied a trip to the Crucible.

By doing so, he has something to work on next season rather than being relegated and spending another year on the PIOS.

Not everyone’s heart will bleed at such a plight. Sport is, after all, the survival of the fittest but I do think new players are unreasonably disadvantaged because starter points vary from year to year and, however you look it, they are still starting right at the bottom.

Here’s an idea: why not just say to the new players that however many points they earn in their first season will be doubled?

This would have seen Wells finish 60th and not 70th while Li would have been placed 64th not 71st.

Would anyone begrudge them this?

Yes, almost certainly, because people begrudge one another all manner of things.

But doubling up would at least reward success to some degree and give the new faces more of a chance.

It will be even harder for those promoted for the 2009/10 season.

Only six ranking tournaments have been announced. If the individual points tariffs are not amended then I expect almost all of them to be relegated.


Two stalwarts of the snooker scene died recently.

Mario Berni was a leading Welsh amateur who won the country's national title in 1964 and also played snooker on black and white TV in the 1960s before the boom heralded by the introduction of colour television.

Billy Telford was a long time administrator of Northern Irish amateur snooker and also former treasurer of the International Billiards and Snooker Federation, one of many positions he held in the amateur game.

They were linked by a deep love of snooker and the desire to be involved in it.

We here at Snooker Scene send our sympathies to their respective families.



And so it is time to unveil the winners of my coveted awards, which have a rich history running back a whole two years.

This is a kind of six reds version of the Oscars. There is no ceremony or long speeches. Indeed, there are no actual awards.

However, the following can bask in the glow of a season that has brought success...

Higgins was the only player to win two ranking titles and, of course, one of them was the World Championship. He also earned more ranking points than anyone else despite not receiving any for the Bahrain Championship, having been forced out by a scheduling clash.

Nobody dominates snooker like the days of Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry but Higgins’s consistency has been solid and he raised his game when it really mattered at the Crucible.

Walden has long been regarded as a genuine talent but ultimately you have to prove yourself by actually doing it. And he did in some style by winning the Shanghai Masters.

He beat Neil Robertson, Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan – proof that reputations don’t concern him.

MATCH OF THE SEASON – John Higgins 13, Mark Selby 12 (World Championship quarter-finals)
Selby constructed five centuries and still lost which was an indicator of how high the standard was for this Crucible classic.

He did little wrong but Higgins, already buoyed by a final frame escape in the previous round against Jamie Cope, produced a fine finish to win one of the best matches ever played at the home of snooker.

BREAK OF THE SEASON – Ronnie O’Sullivan
O’Sullivan’s 76 in the seventh frame of his Northern Ireland Trophy final against Dave Harold had to be seen to be believed.

With balls on cushions and awkwardly placed he artfully set about a clearance that was as sheer a demonstration as pure skill as witnessed all season.

Frame five of his Masters final against Ronnie O’Sullivan and Selby was faced with a choice: play safe on the brown or attempt a very difficult long pot, cushion first.

After giving it due consideration he powered it in and went on to take the frame. A pressure ball if ever there was one and perfectly executed.

For Trump to win the Championship League was a great achievement for the lowest ranked and youngest player in that competition.

He demonstrated his prodigious skill at Crondon Park and earned the right to do so again on a much bigger stage in next season’s Premier League.

The Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Selby battle at Wembley Arena was gripping stuff as big breaks shared centre stage with hard matchplay snooker.

O’Sullivan’s patience and ability to handle the pressure was key to his 10-8 victory, which he unsurprisingly regards as one of his greatest ever.

Brecel is a bona fide boy wonder. At 14, he became the youngest ever winner of the European Under 19 Championship and defeated Jimmy White and Ken Doherty at the World Series grand finals in Portugal.

A great future beckons if he can handle the pressure of expectation that will inevitably be placed on his shoulders.

QUOTE OF THE SEASON – Ronnie O’Sullivan
“The people who are running snooker seem to be going backwards. Nothing seems to be happening and it just feels boring and the sport is dying” – rarely has a single quote from a snooker player sparked such a debate as O’Sullivan’s heartfelt rant about the state of the game during the Masters.

World Snooker immediately went on the defensive by denying it all but have since accepted O’Sullivan had a point and engaged Tim Darby – Barry Hearn’s former right hand man at the PDC darts – to look at ways of injecting life and enthusiasm into the sport.



Congratulations to James Wattana, the former world no.3 from Thailand, who has won the Asian Championship and will thus be returning to the professional circuit as from next season.

Wattana is now 39 and had pretty much retired after being relegated last year.

Good luck to him as he obviously still enjoys competing, although he will find it hard coming into the qualifiers from the very first round.

He was a very good player in his day and his influence in popularising snooker in Thailand and Asia in general can't be underestimated.

He'll be back in action for the qualifying rounds of the Shanghai Masters, which start on August 3.



Shaun Murphy compiled two centuries in defeating John Higgins 6-2 to win the inaugural Sportingbet.com World Series grand finals at the Portimao Arena in Portugal tonight.

Murphy, beaten 18-9 by Higgins in the world final six days ago, appeared sharper from the off and highlighted his victory with runs of 122 and 100.

He receives a cheque for 50,000 euros for winning the grand finals following World Series events in Jersey, Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow.

“It’s always nice to win. I was disappointed to lose last week but the only tournament on my mind coming here was this one,” Murphy said.

“I’ve been playing well for weeks and weeks. If my safety game had been better I’d have competed more in last week’s final and I made an effort tonight not to try and go head to head with John in the safety department but to go for my shots and it worked.”

Higgins is co-promoter of the World Series. The first year has not been without its problems and mistakes but it has been effective in exploiting the growing European market and seven events are planned for 2009, the first of which takes place next weekend in Killarney, Ireland.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Hopefully this is just the start and we can look forward to taking snooker to more countries where it’s new.”

The first match in Portugal attracted around five spectators. The final had close to 350, many of whom queued up for autographs at the end, and their appreciation for the sport is a sign that something has been started here that can lead to expansion in the years to come.


The Portugese tourist board are apparently pleased with how the tournament has gone so far and things are therefore looking good for a return next year.

Certainly everyone has enjoyed the sunshine break after the long days at the World Championship.

Every credit to Ken Doherty who did two full lengths of the hotel swimming pool this morning, which is about as active as it gets backstage at a snooker tournament.

After the six and ten reds snooker, which received a mixed response from the players - some favourable, some not - we're back up to 15 reds for the semis and final.



"If he steers clear of girls and beer he'll be a great player" was Graeme Dott's assessment of Luca Brecel, the talented 14 year-old Belgian who beat Jimmy White and Ken Doherty at the World Series grand finals in Portugal.

Brecel's run ended in a 5-4 defeat to Dott at the quarter-final stage. He acquitted himself very well but Dott made a break of 100 in the eighth frame and dominated the decider.

The crowds still aren't great but snooker in Portugal is in its infancy.

I did meet two young lads who have travelled many hours and miles between them to get here. Luis Alves and Joao E. Silva run The Snooker Planet, a Portugese snooker blog.

Luis is a big John Higgins fan while Joao's favourite is Stephen Hendry.

They are both fascinated by the game but it is hard to play with so few tables in the country - yesterday's estimation of three proved to be a little on the low side. The precise figure is believed to be seven.

Brecel - and the two young fans - represent the future of snooker, which belongs outside British shores.

There's a lot of negativity around this sport but the enthusiasm of youngsters is a wake up call to everyone that snooker is a game many dream of playing and watching and that they will often make a big effort to do so.


Shaun Murphy can reasonably lay claim to having compiled the first ever century in Portugal (unless anyone knows different).

Shaun made a 105 to win the decider against Mark Selby and reach the semi-finals of the World Series grand finals.

This was not straight forward as the match was played using only ten reds, so the highest possible break is only 107.


Steve Davis has generally had the upper hand over Jimmy White and when I heard they were 4-4 in their match at the World Series grand finals this morning I said that he'd probably fluke the black to win.

Well, I wasn't far off as it was the blue.

(Incidentally, I wasn't slacking off. I was interviewing John and Denise Higgins for Eurosport's Hall of Frame magazine programme).

Meanwhile, Luca Brecel has beaten Ken Doherty 5-3 and so faces Graeme Dott in the quarter-finals.

Doherty was impressed. "He looks to be a very good player and very focused," he said.



Shaun Murphy and Stephen Maguire are the first men through to the quarter-finals of the World Series grand finals.

Murphy beat Ryan Day 5-1 while Maguire got past Gary Britton 5-2.

“Normally I’d be away on holiday the day after losing in the World Championship,” Maguire said.

“It feels odd to be playing straight away but the boys have been crying out for more tournaments so you can’t have it both ways.”

The draw for the quarter-finals is:
Graeme Dott v Ken Doherty/Luca Brecel
Mark Selby v Shaun Murphy
John Higgins v Steve Davis/Jimmy White
Stephen Maguire v Ding Junhui


Luca Brecel defeated Jimmy White 4-3 in the grand finals of the World Series of Snooker tonight, the latest success for this rising star.

Earlier this year, Brecel became the youngest ever winner of the European Under 19 Championship at the age of 14.

His match against White was played under the six reds version of the game and Jimmy was clearly tired after doing an exhibition in the UK last night and having flown to Portugal early this morning.

Even so, Brecel seems remarkably composed around the table.

White was saying the youngster has been over to his house in Surrey to practice.

He certainly seems like one to watch.


A few things of interest from Portugal...

A sponsor has been announced in a new three-year deal. The World Series will be backed by Sportingbet.com.

The press turnout is encouraging. There are more journalists and photographers here than at some ranking tournaments this season.

One of them has come all the way from Belgium to report on Luca Brecel, whose popularity will help increase that of the game in that part of the world.

The crowds have been small so far although they are starting to slowly increase.

It's worth remembering that snooker is not a sport well known in Portugal. In fact, it's reckoned there are only three tables in the whole country.

But Eurosport's coverage can help it grow and, of course, having several of the world's best players here must be a plus.

Out on one of the main roads there is a huge billboard advertising the tournament with a picture of John Higgins - who'd have thought we'd ever see that in the Algarve?

One of the Portugese journalists told me Higgins is the third best known Scot in Portugal "after William Wallace and Sir Alex Ferguson."

As always he has been generous with his time, doing interviews and posing for pictures.

One Portugese newspaper has a two-page spread about the event in today's edition and, cleverly, printed the rules of the game for those new to it.

So there is a fair buzz around the place which organisers are hoping will translate into ticket sales, if not this year then next.

One slight change of plan: because the matches have been longer than anticipated, the games featuring Steve Davis and Ken Doherty will now take place tomorrow morning.


The WPBSA has revealed the results of its disciplinary hearings for the 2008/09 season.

These had previously been kept secret but will now be announced as in other sports after a meeting between WPBSA representatives and members of the Snooker Writers Association.

The results were as follows:

Frame concessions (2nd incident)
Dave Harold - fine £150
Mark Williams - fine £150
Ronnie O'Sullivan - fine £150
Lee Spick - £150 suspended for 12 months; £1,000 costs
Stephen Maguire - fine £150
Robert Milkins - fine £150
David Roe - fine £150
Jin Long - fine £150

Frame concessions (3rd incident)
Jin Long - no finding of breach

Other matters:
Declan Hughes - conduct at Prestatyn - fine of £500; £250 suspended for 12 months against future good conduct; £1,000 costs
Jimmy Michie - You Tube video - fine of £1,000; £1,000 costs

Two players that qualified for the 2008/2009 Tour had outstanding disciplinary matters dating back to 2005. These matters were revisited and the outcome of each hearing was as follows:

Declan Hughes - unacceptable behaviour - no penalty ordered on this occasion - reminder given as to future conduct
Kuldesh Johal - non attendance - no penalty ordered on this occasion - reminder given as to future conduct

The frame concessions are usually for when a player gives up when there is more than enough left on to win. I’m not sure why Lee Spick’s fine was suspended or how he could run up £1,000 in costs.

Jimmy Michie appeared in a Youtube video in which he was seen snorting a white powder. His punishment comes under the catch-all ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ category.

What’s apparent is that snooker does not have a big problem when it comes to the behaviour of the players, which makes the decision in recent years to keep all disciplinary findings covered up all the more absurd.

It is however good news that matters will be conducted in a more open fashion from now on.


These are the results so far:

Group 1: Ryan Day beat Gary Britton 4-0; Day beat Michal Zielinski 4-1; Lasse Munstermann beat Zielinski 4-1; Britton beat Munstermann 4-2; Day beat Munstermann 4-1; Britton beat Zielinksi 4-3

Qualifiers: Ryan Day and Gary Britton


If pool is your thing, you can watch an event live online this weekend.

For more details, click here.


The World Series grand finals opened last night with a well attended press conference in which representatives of the Portugese tourist board spoke along with John Higgins, Shaun Murphy and Steve Davis.

Players are practising on a table at the hotel that was originally donated by King Edward VII in 1903.

After an informal reception, it was off into town to relax before the start of the tournament.

This included a visit to a karaoke bar and special mentions must go to Higgins (Handbags and Gladrags) and Mark Selby (Your Song) for getting into the spirit of things.

I'm looking forward to seeing Jimmy White take on Luca Brecel - a legend of snooker's past against a star of the future.

Crowds are not expected to be great. There is no real history of snooker in Portugal but the idea is to try it out and hopefully build up interest.



Well we're here and it's hot.

No, really. I fear John Higgins may be mistaken for a lobster when he gets off the golf course.

I saw Luca Brecel studiously practising earlier. The boy seems to already have a very solid technique and a certain steely presence that suggests good things for the future.

I will be providing updates on the matches and from backstage over the next few days when time permits.

Look out for a few interviews I've recorded for Eurosport as well.


Snooker returns to our TV screens this weekend for the grand finals of the World Series, which are being played in the picturesque climes of the Algarve in Portugal.

It’s a great field, including world champion John Higgins, his Crucible final victim Shaun Murphy as well as Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui, Mark Selby, Steve Davis, Ryan Day, Graeme Dott, Ken Doherty and Jimmy White.

Also in action is Luca Brecel, the talented 14 year-old winner of the recent EBSA European under 19 title.

Here’s what Higgins told the press this week about the World Series:

“We’re doing something totally different, trying to take tournaments to countries that are crying out for snooker.

“I’ve been to Copenhagen, Israel, Prague, so many places where I didn't think snooker would have existed.

“These countries are buzzing for it. Portugal has not got any great history with snooker, but the Algarve Tourist Board came to our organisation and said, 'We would love to host the final'.
“It was meant to be held in Moscow but obviously things happened with the economy.

“We were going to play in the Kremlin which would have been an unbelievable experience, but we did go over to Moscow and experienced a crowd of 1,000 people there to watch me and Ding Junhui play.

“It would mean everything if one of these countries could produce a champion in the future. We’ve got a young Belgian boy Luca Brecel, we've put him in the series.

“He’s just won the European Under-19s so we gave him a wildcard into it, so it's all going to be about giving the cream of the talent wildcards into it.

“It would be as satisfying seeing one of them win something as it would me winning it. I was over in Israel playing a young chap, Shachar Ruberg, who's 14.

“For him to get the chance to play me, he had a whole apartment renovated, in match conditions, for me to go over there and play him for a few days."

“We’re not about creating a different world champion like in boxing. We spoke to World Snooker about that.

“World Snooker is like a big ship that can’t turn around as quickly as a smaller organisation.

“They’ll maybe take a wee while to turn the ship around whereas we're like in a dinghy bouncing from one wave to the other.

“But the countries are really loving it and if at the end of the day it makes snooker more popular in these countries, everybody wins.”

In my opinion, any attempt to increase interest in snooker outside the UK – particularly on mainland Europe where it is booming – should be applauded.

Here are the Eurosport transmission times:

(all times UK)
Friday, May 8: 6.45-10.15pm
Saturday, May 9: 8.45pm-12am
Sunday, May 10: 8.30pm-12am

There's more information here.



And the last last word on the final: the last session attracted an average viewing audience of 3m, which is impressive considering the match was all but over.

This was the number of people watching on BBC2 so does not include online, digital interactive or Eurosport viewers.

Last year's final, which was also over quickly, drew an average of 3.4m for its final session so it isn't unreasonable to assume the figure would have grown had either match been closer.

This is one of the quandries for BBC schedulers. They expect their best audience post 10pm so start the finals at 8pm hoping it will finish after around two hours.

But, of course, close finals can go on so long that they finish after midnight and millions turn off.

The press coverage this morning was healthy, which is a consequence of the early finish.


And so the Betfred.com World Championship recedes into memory but not before a little look back at the best and worst moments...

John Higgins v Mark Selby was a bona fide Crucible classic. It featured snooker of the highest quality. Selby made five centuries and still lost.

I don’t think many people will be ordering DVDs of the Mark King v Rory McLeod slog-a-thon.

The two that really stood out for me were a shot of Ricky Walden’s where he had to come off three cushions to roll up to a red and did so expertly and the screw back by Mark Allen on a long red in the semis.

Bearing in mind all the brouhaha that ensued as a result, it must be Graeme Dott’s in-off stopped with his fist.

This is an easy one. John Higgins.

Mark Allen proved he is a big occasion player and also that his passionate style of snooker is a great favourite with fans.

Peter Ebdon’s first round defeat to Nigel Bond was a big surprise given his form in winning the China Open.

Stephen Hendry’s second Crucible 147 – 14 years after his first – was marvellous to witness. Get that statue up now!

Betfred were enthusiastic sponsors who did much to build excitement backstage without disrespecting the championship – it’s good to have them on board.

The table fitters took stick over the pockets but they were the same size as before. The reason balls were sliding in was because the cushion cloths were changed more regularly. This made conditions better overall.

Jack Lisowski was remarkably self assured for a young lad thrust into the spotlight as recipient of the Paul Hunter Scholarship. Good luck to him for the next year.

Strictly speaking a heroine, but Michaela Tabb handled the final with great authority despite all the attention surrounding her.

The WPBSA ran the event efficiently without any kind of problems as far as I can tell.

Simon Hattenstone
and the many other sneering newspaper columnists who seem to make it an annual mission to do the sport down. Stick to football if you don’t like it.

The much-hyped Super 6 event didn’t exactly get the juices flowing, did it?


And so the Betfred.com World Championship is over and snooker can look back with pride over a very entertaining 17 days.

We have a top drawer world champion in John Higgins, someone who commands universal respect from his fellow players.

It is interesting that the last two world crowns of the decade were won by players who came to the fore in the 1990s. It seems unlikely that Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan will still be competing for titles in ten years time but they have shown their class to keep the new generation at bay.

And there is a new breed of player coming through: Mark Allen, Jamie Cope, Judd Trump et al. They are fierce potters and talented break builders but they could do with Higgins’s superior tactical game, something they will undoubtedly learn in the years to come.

It’s been a great championship and it’s something of an irony that it started to get really interesting when O’Sullivan went out.

If you believe some of the newspaper pundits, the whole sport rests on O’Sullivan’s shoulders. I’m sure Ronnie will be relieved to know that it doesn’t.

What we saw in the second week was a slew of players emerging from his shadow to stake their places in the limelight.

Snooker suffers from an overly nostalgic tendency to look back at the 1980s and think that nothing will ever be the same again, or that it was all so rosy it could never be topped.

This is counter-productive and unfair on the current players.

Alex Higgins once entered the Crucible arena wearing a hat. He doffed it to rapturous applause. Imagine if Shaun Murphy had done the same this year: it would have been presented as proof that he is somehow arrogant or above his station.

Similarly, Bill Werbeniuk was a big guy who guzzled lager to prodigious amounts. He was feted for it. Today, Stephen Lee is roundly abused for occupying the same sort of frame.

Eddie Charlton was a grinder who got involved in many seemingly endless wars of attrition but is fondly remembered. Peter Ebdon is nowhere near as slow but criticised nonetheless.

And can anyone explain to me how Cliff Thorburn – to use an example – was more of a 'character' than Neil Robertson?

The past is another country. In the present, we have a bunch of players as fascinating as have ever occupied the upper echelons of the rankings.

The challenge now will be to build on the momentum created by the World Championship.

This won’t be easy as there will be only six ranking tournaments next season. This means huge gaps between televised events.

It’s a shame that snooker’s period in the spotlight tends to be limited to 17 days per year.

But what a 17 days it has been: drama, excitement and high quality snooker by the bucketload.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Crucible extravaganza.



Before marriage, before fatherhood, before the stresses of everyday adult life became a reality, John Higgins was world champion.

He won the title for the first time on May 4, 1998, 11 years ago to this night.

It took him nine years to win it for a second time but only two more to win it for a third.

He could have lost in the second round when he trailed Jamie Cope 12-10, but brought his exceptional poise under pressure to the fore to fight through in a decider.

He could have lost in the quarter-finals but again survived a deciding frame finish to see off Mark Selby.

He played superbly in pulling away early against Mark Allen and demonstrated his superior all round game in exposing Murphy’s weaknesses in the final.

Higgins joins Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan in capturing at least three Crucible crowns. In the modern era, only Ray Reardon and John Spencer have also accomplished this feat.

On any roll of honour bearing the names of snooker’s all time greats, he would have earned a place before today.

But, were there any doubt, John Higgins tonight joined the pantheon of green baize legends.



John Higgins didn't just outplay Shaun Murphy at the Crucible tonight, he also out-thought him.

His superior safety play came to the fore and forced the mistakes from Murphy.

So Higgins leads 11-5.

But the final isn't over yet. After all, he led Mark Selby 12-4 in the final two years ago and saw this reduced to 14-13.

His 14-4 lead over Mark Allen in this year's semi-finals was also clawed back, although he of course came through in the end,

I expect Higgins to win but feel it may go a little closer before he gets his hands on the trophy for a third time.


It was hard to discern much about the potential of the ‘Super Sixes’ version of snooker by watching the Crucible final between veteran Tony Knowles and young Ross Muir but still possible to make a few general points.

The first would be that six reds snooker is invariably a faster form of the game but not necessarily that much faster. For instance, Stephen Maguire and Mark King spent something like 25 minutes on the green in their second round match last week. There’s no reason why this couldn’t happen in the six reds version.

Six reds snooker levels the playing field a little, but why is this a good thing? Top level sport is the survival of the fittest.

Six reds snooker may encourage attacking play but this negates much of the skill of the game, namely the tactical duels.

Of course, many people find these dull and it’s certainly true that snooker can’t stand still.

But I would argue that its chief problem is not a stuffy game or lack of ‘characters’ but more a lack of tournaments and the way the sport's media profile has declined, at least in the UK, so that TV viewers find it harder to relate to the players in the way they once did.

As I wrote last month, six reds may be the way to go for seniors tournaments as the old boys obviously aren’t as good as they were but plenty of people would still like to see them play.

Maybe it would also be a good way of getting kids into the sport.

But snooker, and in particular the World Championship, is popular largely because of the slow burning drama it provides.

Perhaps not everyone has the attention span for this but that doesn’t automatically mean that if you take away nine reds they will suddenly flock to the sport.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with trying something different. But why not be bolder?

If you really want to speed up snooker, you will have to change the rules.

You will have to introduce a shot clock or, as Steve Davis suggested on the BBC, introduce the rule used in 9-ball pool where players have ball in hand after every foul.

I think six reds snooker is fine if it remains in the background as a novelty variant of the established game.

But of all the things wrong with snooker, the game itself is not one of them.


John Higgins has trod a precarious path to his fourth world final but has the class to finish the job and land a third Crucible title on Monday night.

The Scot looked down and out when he trailed rising star Jamie Cope 12-10 in the second round but raised his game when it mattered to come through a 13-12 winner. His quarter-final against Mark Selby was, in terms of quality and drama, the match of the tournament and he prevailed by winning the decider in one visit.

And Higgins played sensationally well to lead Mark Allen 13-3 after two sessions of their semi-final, even if he let things slip before scrambling over the line 17-13. “I went out leading 13-3 with no nerves on me but you need nerves to play well here,” he said afterwards.

Nerves are guaranteed for the final and Higgins has responded when put under pressure so many times that he must be backed to keep the butterflies at bay sufficiently to produce his best during the best of 35 frames showpiece finale.

Now 33, he has long been regarded as one of the greatest all round players snooker has ever seen. He mixes deadly safety with accurate long potting and heavy scoring. At times this makes him unplayable.

It could all have been different had his father, John senior, not taken him to a snooker club at the age of nine. Higgins took to the game immediately and by 15 was one of the leading juniors in the country. His first breakthrough was winning the under 16 title at the 1991 World Masters in Birmingham, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams en route.

The three all turned professional the following year and it was Higgins who first got his hands on the famous World Championship trophy. The manner of his 1998 triumph suggested he could bestride the sport in the all conquering way Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry previously had but, with O’Sullivan and Williams having emerged as regular title winners, the era had become so competitive that no one player dominated.

In 2001, Higgins became a father for the first time (he now has three children) and found family life more enjoyable than relentless practice. Therefore, it took him until 2007 to win a second Crucible crown but is looking sharp enough to capture another over the course of the next two days. He would be the oldest winner since Dennis Taylor, at 36, sank that black to beat Steve Davis in 1985.

Standing in his way is Shaun Murphy, seven years his junior and a player who possesses a formidable technique and, just as crucially, a rock solid temperament, even if he let slip a seven frame lead over Neil Robertson in their semi-final. Murphy has the self belief to beat anyone from any position. On his way to landing the 2005 world title he beat Higgins 13-8 in the second round and seemed immune to the unique pressure the intimate Crucible arena generates.

Publicity surrounding the break-up of his marriage does not seem to have affected him and even the boos of some spectators have not prevented him from sticking to his task. Not everyone warms to his persona but surely no true snooker fan can deny his talent.

He led Robertson 14-7 before the pressure told as the Aussie started to find form. Caught at 14-14, many players would have capitulated but Murphy immediately stroked in a century then breaks of 81 and 94 to clinch victory. This was an awesome response when put under the cosh.

Murphy has had a strange season. He lost his opening match in the first four ranking events before winning the fifth, the UK Championship. A couple of quarter-finals since suggested his consistency had returned and he has improved dramatically since falling over the line 10-8 against Andrew Higginson in the first round, hammering Marco Fu 13-3 and fighting past maximum man Hendry 13-11.

Both Higgins and Murphy are capable of keeping cool in the heat of the Crucible cauldron. They have played five times before with Higgins holding a 4-1 advantage. Significantly, though, Murphy’s sole win was that success at the Crucible four years ago.

There will only be one man left standing on bank holiday Monday and my feeling is for Higgins. He has had such an eventful championship that he almost seems destined to win it, probably in very dramatic circumstances.

If he does, as if there was any lingering doubt, he will enter the pantheon of the greats. Only Davis, Hendry and O’Sullivan have won three or more Crucible titles.

Perhaps he should have done so earlier in his career but that is only a reflection of how good a player he was and, indeed, still is.



Mark Allen will not be the winner of this year's Betfred.com World Championship but he has been the tournament's star.

His fast, bustling style has been a breath of fresh air and the Crucible crowd has warmed to him.

My word, he gave John Higgins a scare this afternoon.

He decided to have a go from the off and looked like he might pull back to just 15-13 in arrears before missing a red early in frame 28, from which Higgins made a classy 116 break.

It could have been 16-14 but Allen missed the blue from the last red.

Nevertheless, he has proved he is a big occasion player and I'm sure will feature in plenty of big occasions in years to come.


Well done to Neil Robertson for digging in after a nightmare start to the third session of his semi-final against Shaun Murphy today.

Robertson won the last three frames to trail 14-10 when at one point it looked as if he might suffer defeat with a session to spare.

He should have won the 19th frame. Murphy went in-off the green but Robertson grossly misjudged position from brown to blue and ended up missing a long blue, from which Murphy potted three great balls for a 12-7 lead.

Robertson's normally rock solid confidence appeared to be destroyed by this and at 14-7 he was all at sea.

Perhaps by this point he felt he couldn't win the match and so started throwing his cue at the balls.

He ended up making a century in the last frame and although Murphy is still a heavy favourite, the Aussie has thrown himself a lifeline.

He will, however, need to make a good start when they return tonight to stand any chance of winning the match.


The Eurosport website is running a competition to win a VIP trip to the World Series event in Killarney featuring Ken Doherty, Jimmy White, John Higgins and Shaun Murphy.

You can enter here.



John Higgins seemed a little edgy at the Crucible tonight, possibly because he was keen to kill off his semi-final with Mark Allen in three sessions.

He failed to do so but let's keep a sense of perspective. If you'd have offered John a 15-9 lead after three sessions before the match began he'd have taken it.

I expect him to complete victory pretty quickly on Saturday.

I also expect Shaun Murphy to ultimately prevail against Neil Robertson, although he had a chance to take control at 9-5 and lost two frames to leave the semi-final poised at 9-7 and very much up for grabs.

Neil's mother, Alison, has been watching on an internet stream at horrible times of the day and night.

In Australia, they only get TV highlights several weeks after the event.

Neil will be hoping to provide those highlights programmes with more Aussie success but he will have to tighten up to reach the final.


I regard John Higgins as a class act.

The way he played to win his first world title in 1998 is as good as anyone has ever played. I thought then that he would dominate the game in the same way Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry did.

It didn't quite work out that way but there's no doubt that, as an all round player, he can claim to be as good as anyone who has ever picked up a cue.

John has perhaps struggled when it comes to applying himself. He's a family man and has enjoyed fatherhood. There was a telling quote from him in a recent interview: "When I'm on my deathbed I don't think I'll look back and wish I'd spent more time on a snooker table."

Even so, a third world title is honing into view and it will take some performance to deny him.

You could argue he should have won three, four or maybe even five world titles by now. This isn't a criticism of him, more an acknowledgment of how good a player he is.

He leads Mark Allen 6-2 overnight and I would expect him to come through.

Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson are tough opponents but Higgins seems to be getting better with every frame.

This makes him hard to beat as the Crucible marathon enters its final strait.


Further to my Horace Lindrum story a couple of days ago, Clive Everton and Phil Yates have more information in The Guardian and The Times respectively.


Shaun Murphy hardly endeared himself to the neutrals by refusing to allow Neil Robertson leave to get his extension from his dressing room during frame five tonight.

It was hard to hear in commentary, but I'm told by someone who was in the arena that when the referee, Eirian Williams, asked Murphy if he minded if Robertson went to retrieve the equipment, the 2005 world champion replied with a fair amount of sarcasm: "Why don't we go out for a cup of tea as well?" [note: this is second hand, I didn't hear him say it myself]

That said, it was Neil's own fault for not bringing it back into the arena after the interval.