It's ten years since John Higgins won the Welsh Open for the first time and today he is poised to win it for the second, just as his namesake Alex did at the World Championship in 1982.

The Scottish Higgins has re-emerged as the game's leading force having occupied that same position a decade ago.

This says more about him than it does the chasing pack. As a big occasion match player he is Mr. Dependable. This is his fourth ranking final from the last six events and he has the class to win his 21st ranking title tonight.

But Ali Carter will not be a pushover. Newport is obviously a venue he likes and if he scores heavily today he has every chance of winning.

Carter doesn't lack self belief and has the game to win frames in one visit and leave Higgins cold.

Oddly, the pair haven't met in a TV tournament for six years. Today, they will hopefully serve up a final to remember.



Stephen Maguire today criticised the miss rule after he was called for ten successive misses - four off the record - when snookered on all the colours in his totesport.com Welsh Open semi-final against Ali Carter.

"It's a stupid rule and could have cost me the match," said Maguire, who trailed 5-2 at the time but ultimately won the frame despite giving away 40 points in fouls.

He did not criticise the match referee, Pete Williamson, who correctly applied the rule. Maguire could easily have hit the black off the top cushion but would have left a red on to a corner pocket had he done so.

Instead, he nine times attempted the green and had a go at the yellow as well. His attempts weren't helped by the fact that the side cushion was sliding.

The miss rule as it now stands was never intended to illicit 30 or 40 points from a single snooker.

However, before it was changed players were guilty of not making good enough attempts to get out of snookers.

The way out of all this would be the bold move of simply allowing players to put the cue ball where they liked after a foul. It would also considerably speed up play.

I don't believe this should ever happen in a ranking event because it would negate much of the skill - and drama - associated with top level match snooker.

But you could bring it into a new event as a novelty. I'm sure the new regime running snooker have already considered it.


So the totesport.com Welsh Open semi-finals will feature four of the world's top five ranked players - this for the supposed poor relation of the world ranking tournament circuit.

Ronnie O'Sullivan was sensational in putting away Mark Allen 5-2 yesterday. He must have been: even he was happy with how he played.

But John Higgins represents a different challenge altogether. I don't need to remind anyone of their finger-nail shredding UK Championship semi-final just last month.

If today's clash produces anything close to that sort of excitement it should be a great spectacle.

First up are defending champion Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire, who was very impressive last night in beating Mark Williams 5-1.

Maguire did a proper job on him. Conscious of how well Williams was playing, he was properly focused throughout, mixed attack and defence with deadly efficiency and outplayed the in form Welshman.

It was a reminder of how well the world no.2 can play when he's in the right frame of mind.

Carter hasn't had to play his very best stuff yet but he's still going. The Welsh Open trophy - a piece of slate - is aesthetically unpleasing but he obviously likes the way it looks on his mantelpiece.

Carter may need to up his game against Maguire but if the O'Sullivan v Higgins match proves to be another epic the winner of the first semi-final could benefit, just as Ding Junhui did in Telford.



Mark Allen should today put Ronnie O’Sullivan under more pressure than either Stuart Bingham or Jamie Cope did and – as we know from the Masters final – even great players feel pressure.

Allen has the advantage of having beaten O’Sullivan at last year’s World Championship and knows that if he can beat him at the Crucible, he can beat him anywhere.

Much will depend on O’Sullivan cutting out the odd unforced error. These were not pounced on by Bingham or Cope but Allen is more likely to punish an errant Rocket.

If John Higgins beats Mark Selby he will advance to his sixth successive ranking event semi-final. The record is eight, held by, yeah, you guessed it, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.

Higgins once again demonstrated how good his all round game is last night by repelling the challenge of Graeme Dott.

He hasn’t won the Welsh Open in ten years but is playing every bit as good now as he was a decade ago.

The same can be said of Mark Williams, who was brilliant last night in whitewashing Andrew Higginson. In doing so, Williams reminded everyone of why he was the game’s top player for a period in the 2000s.

Stephen Maguire has been getting results this season but seems to be blowing hot and cold, which he can ill afford to do against an in form Williams.

It’s the first time since 1997 that two Welshmen have reached the quarter-finals. Ryan Day will also be shouldering home hopes against defending champion Ali Carter.



It’s unlikely but not impossible that Ronnie O’Sullivan can overhaul John Higgins at the top of the provisional rankings by the end of the season.

Ronnie could do with Graeme Dott beating Higgins tonight but, whatever happens in Newport, he could go into the Betfred.com World Championship within striking distance of the Wishaw Wizard.

O’Sullivan’s 5-0 demolition of a very poor Jamie Cope today means he is now 7,105 points behind Higgins.

The winner of the Totesport.com Welsh Open picks up 5,000 points, the China Open 7,000 and the World Championship 10,000.

O’Sullivan can therefore still collect 19,500 more points this season – if he wins the last three titles.

This is unlikely to happen but he should at least ensure he finishes second in the end of season list.

Third placed Neil Robertson’s defeat to Ali Carter last night means Carter will overtake him if he reaches the final.

More interesting, though, is the battle for the top 16. As ever, this will come down to the Crucible but there are a few players with things to think about right now.

Chief among them are Joe Perry and Peter Ebdon, whose places are under threat without strong finishes to the campaign.

Perry looks low on confidence and is stationed a precarious 21st. Ebdon occupies 18th spot with Dott in with a chance of pushing him down a further space.

Liang Wenbo (14th) and Ricky Walden (16th) have fallen back after failing to qualify last week.

You can follow the latest moves in the ranking list on Global Snooker here.


Jamie Cope. There’s a conundrum.

Terrific potter, heavy scorer, but he hasn’t kicked on since reaching two ranking finals in the 2006/07 season.

Given that early promise a top 16 place beckoned but he is yet to get there, although had John Higgins not beaten him 13-12 from 12-10 down at the World Championship last year he would have got in.

Does Cope go for too many low percentage pots? Possibly, but he struggles more often than not against less attacking players so at least he’ll know today’s last 16 match in Newport with Ronnie O’Sullivan will be an open affair.

It’s not unfair to say O’Sullivan doesn’t regard the Welsh Open as a major priority. He wasn’t pressured against Stuart Bingham and could conceivably coast to the title but there will surely come a time when someone will play against him and he will have to decide whether to dig deep or surrender.

He buried Cope 9-2 last time they played at the 2007 UK Championship. It may be closer today but that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a shock.

Matthew Stevens made what could, in the context of his future career, be a crucial 75 clearance to pink to see off Shaun Murphy in the deciding frame of their first round match.

He faces Mark Allen this afternoon full of confidence. One ranking title is too poor a return for a player of Matthew’s class. At 32, there is still time to make amends.

John Higgins holds a 9-5 career advantage over Graeme Dott but has lost their last four meetings.

He said Dott is better than half of the current top 16 and is well placed to comment as he practises with his fellow Glaswegian.

Higgins looked very good yesterday but obviously expects a tough battle and he may well get one.

Can Andrew Higginson continue another Newport fairytale? Mark Williams will be hoping not and the form the Welshman is showing right now suggests a third Welsh Open success is entirely possible this weekend.



What a fine performance from Stephen Hendry last night. Heavy scoring, strong concentration and bags of determination: it couldn’t have been more of a contrast from his disappointing 5-3 reverse to martin Gould at the same stage last year.

I’m sure Stephen won’t be getting carried away by this but I’m equally sure he will be very satisfied. His challenge now is to keep it going.

Tonight, he faces Ryan Day in the second round. Day scraped through 5-4 against Tony Drago last night in a nerve jangling encounter that had to be watched, in the Doctor Who tradition, from behind a sofa.

Drago is snooker’s version of a high wire walker: you watch him full of dread thinking he’ll fall off at any moment but also know there’s half a chance he will actually make it to the other side.

I was disappointed for Tony because he did so well to come through four qualifying rounds and reach Newport and also there are few players who love the game as much as him.

At least he has given himself every chance of remaining on the tour for another season.

The other second round match tonight pits defending champion Ali Carter against Neil Robertson.

They met at the same stage of last year’s World Championship where Robertson made a succession of steely clearances to win 13-8.

In the first round this afternoon, newly crowned Masters champion Mark Selby will be setting out on his bid to emulate his feat of two years ago and immediately win the Welsh Open.

Judd Trump could cause him a few difficulties but Selby is in the ascendancy and will be favourite to progress.

Ding Junhui wasn’t sharp at Wembley but he’s had a fortnight to get ready for Newport. Jamie Cope is a dangerous player but has not really kicked on since reaching two ranking finals in the 2006/07 season.

John Higgins won the Welsh Open title ten years ago. It’s never been his favourite tournament but he’ll be expected to come past Michael Judge.

Mark Williams’s record breaking run of 48 consecutive opening round victories in ranking events was ended by Fergal O’Brien at the 2003 UK Championship.

O’Brien has won only one match all season – to qualify last week – and Williams was flying at Wembley so a home victory appears likely.

The quality of the play has not been matched by crowd turnout. Also, table two is such a tight set up that it reminds me of the old Steptoe and Son episode where they install a snooker table without any room to play, so have to cue through the windows.

Harold, you’ll recall, is already out.



The first day of the Totesport.com Welsh Open was a rather flat affair due to a low crowd turnout and some uninspiring snooker.

Andrew Higginson played very well to lead Marco Fu 4-0 and both Neil Robertson and Ali Carter showed glimpses of their best form but, overall, it wasn’t great stuff.

This happens at every tournament, indeed in every sport.

Today, Ronnie O’Sullivan returns to action after losing his epic Masters final to Mark Selby at Wembley nine days ago.

It seems if you so much as mention Ronnie you upset someone, so I’ll just say I hope he produces a performance he is satisfied with.

Dave Harold has beaten Stephen Hendry four times but his last win came just over a decade ago.

It was Harold who Hendry beat shortly after fracturing a bone in his elbow (or breaking his arm as the headlines screamed at the time) at the 1994 World Championship.

Hendry has declined as a force but is still a big draw. Next month, he will face Ding Junhui in a best of 25 frames televised match in Beijing – no short formats for them, they prefer proper matches – to be screened on 110sport.tv.

But the legendary Scot doesn’t want to be merely applauded as one of the game’s elder statesmen. He wants to win and, after a disappointing defeat to Martin Gould at Newport last year, will be highly focused against the Stoke potter.

Shaun Murphy has dealt Matthew Stevens two massive blows, both at the Crucible.

In 2005, he beat him 18-16 in the final. Three years ago he came from 12-7 down to edge the Welshman 13-12 in the quarter-finals and relegate him from the top 16.

Stevens scrapped over the line against Barry Pinches but there needn’t be much read into this. First rounds are often about falling over the line.

However, Stevens has a poor record in his home event. He hasn’t reached the last 16 of the Welsh Open since 2006 and will need to produce something to see off Murphy, who finished runner-up in Newport that same year.



It was victory over Liu Song that set Neil Robertson on the road to the big time.

They met in the final of the 2003 IBSF World Under 21 Championship in New Zealand. Robertson won 11-5 and was given a wild card for the main tour.

The Australian had played on the professional circuit prior to this but found life on tour hard, not least because of the financial strain associated with flying to the other side of the world to try his hand at a highly competitive sport.

However, there was never any doubting his talent and, settled in Cambridge, he has turned into one of the best players in the world.

The Melbourne man has already won four ranking titles - including the 2007 Welsh Open - and starts out against Liu in Newport today in arguably the right side of the draw, avoiding Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui until the final.

Liu has done nothing of note since his appearance in the quarter-finals of the 2007 Grand Prix.

Last season, he won only two matches and his form has collapsed to such an extent that he currently lies 89th in the provisional rankings.

So his three victories in Prestatyn to qualify for Newport have been a real boost and the Chinese needs a strong finish to the season to remain on the circuit.

This afternoon's other match is held over from the final qualifying round so that Matthew Stevens plays in front of his home crowd.

He faces the experienced and often dangerous Barry Pinches, who ended his title defence of the UK Championship with a 9-4 opening round defeat in 2004.

Peter Ebdon, whose form is currently a little patchy, could be in trouble against twice Welsh semi-finalist Barry Hawkins.

Tonight, defending Welsh Open champion Ali Carter takes on Mark Davis, the recently crowned six reds world champion.

And Andrew Higginson, beaten 9-8 by Robertson in the 2007 Welsh Open final after a memorable, heart warming week, faces Marco Fu, who he beat in the first round three years ago to launch his remarkable run.



The Welsh Open – through no real fault of its own – has become the poor relation of the world ranking circuit, so much so that it’s now worth less in points and money than all the other tournaments.

This is a shame because when it was held at the Cardiff International Arena it was one of the best events on the pro tour.

It had moved from Newport in 1999 in what proved to be a successful attempt to upgrade its image but returned there in 2005 – via the Welsh Institute of Sport – to cut costs.

The irony is that some of the snooker we’ve seen there over the last few seasons has been excellent. The O’Sullivan v Hendry final of 2005 was superb, we had Andrew Higginson’s great run in 2007 and Selby v O’Sullivan in 2008.

Last year, Ali Carter produced a terrific final session display to beat Joe Swail 9-5 in a match played before a packed Newport crowd.

Wales is a snooker country. It has produced many a fine player, from Ray Reardon to Doug Mountjoy, Terry Griffiths to Darren Morgan, Mark Williams to Matthew Stevens and several others too, including current Welsh no.1 Ryan Day.

The announcement that totesport.com will sponsor the tournament – the first it has had in seven years – is a boost to an event that currently loses money and is in danger of being axed.

The draw this year seems lopsided to say the least. Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui are all in the bottom half.

Neil Robertson, Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire are among those in the top half which, on paper, looks easier.

Of course, snooker isn’t played on paper and predicting a likely winner come January 31 remains as fraught as ever.

It’s good to see Tony Drago qualifying right from the first round, a tremendous effort by the veteran Maltese cueman.

Judd Trump was among those who came through from Prestatyn and he tackles Selby, who will be hoping history can repeat itself and he can win the Welsh title fresh from capturing the Masters, as he did two years ago.

For all the innovations and talk of different events, snooker’s bedrock remains the ranking tournament circuit.

With only six events this season, any player regarding the Welsh Open as unimportant should think again.

The tournament will be shown on BBC Wales, the BBC website and Eurosport.



Rivalry is the stuff of sport, certainly in the newspapers where slanging matches, particularly in the football world, fill many a column inch.

Neil Robertson commented last year that he thought snooker players were too friendly with each other. Of course, some are more friendly than others.

It’s 20 years now since Alex Higgins threatened – within earshot of the then WPBSA chairman John Spencer – to have Dennis Taylor shot if he ever went back to Northern Ireland.

They were team mates in the World Cup at the time.

More recently, we’ve had Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy opting not to become Facebook friends and Graeme Dott and Ian McCulloch not exactly planning to team up for the World Doubles.

Much has been made this week of the rivalry between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby in the wake of their Pokerstars.com Masters final.

I think O’Sullivan was mainly down on himself, not Selby, but he did appear to get wound up towards the end.

In the penultimate frame, O’Sullivan fluked a snooker. The camera did not pan to Selby but he presumably smiled, as if to say, ‘that was lucky.’ O’Sullivan’s response was, ‘How can you moan?’ as if Selby was the luckiest player who ever lived.

In the heat of battle – and it was some battle – such things do, from time to time, get said, although Selby wasn’t overly impressed.

Answering questions on the Eurosport website today, he said: “I suppose it is true that there were times in the match when we both had the run of the balls, but I didn’t think it was the right time for him to be making such a statement.”

However, Selby isn’t the sort to lose his rag and seeing O’Sullivan begin to crack probably gave him confidence rather than put him under pressure.

Not everyone thought O’Sullivan conducted himself well at the post match interview but this was mere seconds after a very disappointing defeat and I believe he should be cut some slack.

It wasn’t a bit of fun, it was a major final. Steve Davis could memorably barely utter a word after losing to Dennis Taylor in the 1985 world final. It’s hard to say the right things when you are completely devastated.

O’Sullivan left the arena before Selby received his trophy. This was wrong. He should have stayed for a few more minutes.

“I’d like to think I would have shown a little bit more respect at the end. We are paid to play in these events, that's our job, and if Ronnie had won I would have stayed to applaud him,” Selby told Eurosport.

In the press conference that followed O’Sullivan suggested Selby would struggle to win the world title because of his inconsistency, which he compared to his own game.

“I think I'll take what he said as compliment,” was Selby’s verdict on this.

“For me Ronnie is among the top two or three greatest players to have played the game, I have massive respect for him as a player, and if he is putting me in a similar position to him, then, as I said, I'll take it as a big compliment. When it comes to my game, I don't mind having the same problems as him.”

I’m not sure it was meant as a compliment but Selby is right not to dwell on it.

Such is the stuff of sport. I remember Stephen Hendry losing to Mark Johnston-Allen (who beat him three times out of three) and then saying he shouldn’t even have been in the same room as him.

He later apologised to Mark, who found the whole thing hilarious.

The fact is, things get said in the heat of the moment, usually after a disappointing defeat.

If we want our sportsmen and women to be human, we should accept that they will, at times, be brutally honest and just say what is on their mind.

Surely this is better than bland PR epithets, even if their comments do sometimes leave a sour taste in the mouth.



The Welsh Open will be sponsored by Totesport.com in the latest positive move for the sport under Barry Hearn's chairmanship of the WPBSA.

The tournament has not been sponsored since 2003 when Regal were forced out through the UK government's anti-tobacco legislation.

“This is a further boost for snooker and it proves we are definitely moving in the right direction for our sport," Hearn said.

"Having Totesport.com, one of the biggest betting brands in the World, sponsor the Welsh Open demonstrates the appeal of snooker. We’ve now got sponsors on board for four of our five UK tournaments and I’m sure that there are more to come.

"We look forward to working closely with the team at Totesport.com to make this tournament a great success.”

Trevor Beaumont, Chief Executive of Totesport said: “We are delighted to again be associated with World Snooker after a break of 5 years. As one of the premier tournaments in the calendar the totesport.com Welsh Open is a great opportunity for us to remind our audience of customers that totesport.com is relevant for them across all major sports betting events.”

Hopefully this new deal will give the Welsh Open a bit of a lift because it currently seems to be regarded as the poor relation of the world ranking circuit.

Ali Carter starts his title defence next Monday and the tournament will be broadcast on BBC Wales and Eurosport.


There was agony for Jimmy White today when he lost 5-4 on a re-spotted black to Ian McCulloch having led 4-0 in their third qualifying round clash in the Welsh Open.

Unlike at Wembley, there was now showbiz atmosphere in chilly Prestatyn but White's army of supporters - many of them glued to live scoring - must have been cheered when they saw their man open a 4-0 lead.

But McCulloch fought his way back into contention and set up a nervy decider in which both players had chances before White sank the black to force a re-spot.

But it was McCulloch who potted the extra black to consign White to a disappointing defeat.

He leaves Pontin's having won one match yesterday but still not guaranteed his main tour place for next season, having come into the event 62nd in the provisional rankings.



Barry Hearn has appointed Pat Mooney and Brandon Parker to the WPBSA board and accepted the resignation of Dr Hamish McInnes.

Mooney is manager of John Higgins and promoter of the World Series. Parker looks after Shaun Murphy and promotes the annual Paul Hunter Classic in Germany.

Having player managers on the board - 110sport's Lee Doyle is also there - is not always a welcome idea as it leads to the suspicion, whether true or not, that they might be more alive to their own clients' concerns than the rest of the players.

However, under Hearn there seems to be a genuine desire for everyone to work together and there's no doubt that Doyle, Mooney and Parker all have something to offer the sport.

No reason was given for the resignation of McInnes but he was associated with the previous board, which was rejected by the majority of the players at last month's AGM.

Hearn is meeting the BBC tomorrow to discuss the future, with the contract up for renewal at the end of next season.

He has also had discussions with other broadcasters about possible future tournaments.


For a sport apparently in trouble, there seems to be an awful lot of snooker being played.

After the Masters it's groups 3 and 4 of the Championship League this week as well as the Welsh Open qualifiers before the final stages next week.

Judd Trump was the star of yesterday's CLS. He won all four of his matches and is guaranteed a play-off spot.

"I'd better win this group," he said, mindful that he's due in Prestatyn on Friday for his final qualifying round match in the Welsh.

Stephen Hendry has come into group 3 but had a frustrating first day, losing all three of his matches 3-2.

He and Ali Carter look set for relegation unless they turn things round today.



Mark Selby never dropped his shoulders, he never stopped believing and he never gave up.

And, in the end, he got his reward: a second Pokerstars.com Masters title amid high drama at Wembley Arena tonight.

From 9-6 down he displayed great tenacity to claw back the deficit and edge Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-9.

The early part of the match was littered with big breaks and fine play but it was not surprising that proceedings slowed up towards the end as the tension rose.

O'Sullivan played some magnificent snooker but ultimately came wrong side of the blue off the last red in the 18th frame and missed a more difficult yellow than he would have liked. He later missed the green but this was a very tough pot playing left-handed.

Selby won that frame on the black and kept his composure to clinch the match in the decider, emulating his comeback from 8-5 down to O'Sullivan in the 2008 Welsh Open final.

But this was a better performance, the best of his career.

To win the Masters in the bearpit of Wembley in such circumstances underlines what a big occasion player he is.

This is the first final of the new decade. It is hard to see how it won't be remembered in time as one of its best.



So it’s a repeat of last year’s Pokerstars.com Masters final and another interesting clash of styles and personalities as Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby go toe-to-toe once again.

Last year, O’Sullivan dug deep to win 10-8. He played so well even he was happy.

He’s played superbly at times this year while Selby has been rock solid. The Leicester man is appearing in his third final in as many Wembley Arena appearances.

Ronnie can today become the first player to win the masters title in three different decades. It’s remarkable to think he first captured the title 15 years ago and was still favourite before a ball was potted this year.

Selby has the right mix of attack and defence to frustrate a misfiring Rocket but also far ore even tempered.

Put simply, he enjoys his snooker and his life and nothing much phases him.

Such characteristics will certainly be a help today but it ultimately comes down to who plays the best.

If O’Sullivan can produce his A game, he will win. If not, it could be another close battle.



Mark Williams hasn’t beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan for eight years but has a chance to do so today.

The Welshman trails O’Sullivan 16-7 in previous career meetings with his most recent win coming in the semi-finals of the 2002 Thailand Masters.

Steve Davis said on the BBC earlier this week that the standard has risen since Williams was world no.1 but I think that if he today regularly produced the form he showed back then he would be winning tournaments.

In various reviews of the decade – though not on this blog – Williams was almost the forgotten man.

True, his game faded away as the 2000s went on but, for the first half, he was brilliant.

Indeed, Williams is one of only three players, along with Davis and Stephen Hendry, to win the game’s big three titles in the same season.

Today marks his first appearance in a Pokerstars.com Masters semi-final since he won the Wembley title for a second time in 2003. He hasn’t been in a final of any sort since he won the China Open in 2006.

O’Sullivan has played very well indeed, although he doesn’t seem to think so. He once said he would gladly pay for Williams to go on holiday so he wouldn’t have to play him again.

It promises to be a very interesting match featuring two of snooker’s all time greats.

Meanwhile, some more details are emerging about WPBSA chairman Barry Hearn’s future plans.

The calendar for next season will be announced next month, rather than trickling out in the summer as in previous years.

The WPBSA will give support to the World Series – another major change – and, as Hearn put it, “use it as a battering ram to get into countries not yet ready for a ranking event.”

There will also be a televised short form event designed to showcase the players’ personalities, details of which will be in the press on Monday.

Hearn, with trademark irreverence, describes the WPBSA chairmanship as an “easy” job.

In truth, it’s a lot of hard work but he has achieved the most important aspect of this: bringing together various promoters to work together.

This will mean more tournaments, more snooker on TV and a higher media profile for the game.

It needs the players to do their bit too, so let’s hope for a vintage final weekend at Wembley.



Germany will host a world ranking event next season according to new WPBSA chairman Barry Hearn, who briefed the media at the Pokerstars.com Masters at Wembley today.

Snooker is high in popularity in Germany and continental Europe is likely to be one of Hearn's main areas of interest as he attempts to breathe new life into the sport.

More details in Clive Everton's Guardian story here.



Luca Brecel, the oustanding Belgian teenager who won the European under 19 title last year, has signed for 110sport, snooker's leading management group.

Brecel, 14, joins the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Stephen Maguire, Ali Carter and Peter Ebdon, who are all represented by 110.

"Luca is a prodigious talent and has the potential to become a really top player in a few years. It goes without saying that we will do everything to give Luca every opportunity to progress in his career," said Lee Doyle, chairman of 110sport group.

Young Brecel certainly is a very promising talent. If you read my feature on him in last June's Snooker Scene you will know that he suffers from a form of autism, but this seems to leave him clear-minded at the table.

Graeme Dott beat him 5-4 in the World Series grand finals last year and was very impressed, saying: "He seemed very calm and I think the key thing is that he hits the ball like an adult. You get a lot of kids who kind of slap the white but he hits it with authority without hitting it hard. He cues really well."

Brecel is also a snooker obsessive. He recorded every match from last season's World Championship and has watched them all.

Signing for 110sport will give him the opportunity to hone his skills alongside some of the game's leading professionals and also to take part in any tournaments they organise.

It's futile making predicitons about his future but it's also exciting to have a young talent emerging from mainland Europe where snooker's popularity has increased in recent years due to Eurosport's coverage.

Brecel is also excited to be in such exulted company. "Just to see my name alongside some of the most famous names in snooker gives me a real thrill," he said.

“This is just a fantastic opportunity for me. With all of 110’s history and achievements, it’s like joining Manchester United!

“Naturally I want to go as far as I can in the game and I have many ambitions; to become a regular on the Main Tour, to become the first player from mainland Europe to break into the top 16, and to win titles."


Only seven players have won snooker's 'Big Three' titles: the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters.

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

Shaun Murphy and Peter Ebdon each have a chance to join that elite list this week but they have their work cut out today against two of the players who have already completed the hat-trick.

Ebdon is up against O'Sullivan, who hammered him 9-3 in the last 16 of last month's UK Championship.

The 2002 world champion started poorly against Marco Fu before growing stronger to beat him 6-2 in his opening match.

He will have to play much better to stand a chance against O'Sullivan, who currently leads him 18-11 in past meetings.

Murphy played very well to see off Hendry 6-4 and will be looking to reach the Masters semi-finals for the first time in six Wembley appearances.

He tackles Williams, who produced a typically wily performance in beating Ali Carter despite his car accident.

It's a tough match for Shaun but he cued superbly against Hendry and must start out as the more likely to complete the triple crown than Ebdon, whose form has become more erratic over the last couple of seasons.



It seems absurd to many that Ronnie O’Sullivan could be so down on himself despite what looked to most of us like an excellent performance in battling back from 3-0 down to beat Neil Robertson 6-4 in the Pokerstars.com Masters yesterday.

Ronnie said that he was playing his best snooker at 15 or 16. Can this really be true? My colleague Phil Yates, who spent many a week at the qualifiers in Blackpool when O’Sullivan turned professional in 1992, certainly believes he was every bit as good then as he is now.

But you do not have to be a trained psychologist to recognise that Ronnie’s life was happier then as well because this was just before his father, Ronnie senior, was jailed for murder.

Ronnie’s entire character was shaped by his father. He gave him his confidence, his self belief and provided him with everything he needed to become a top snooker player.

So at 15/16, O’Sullivan played snooker without a care in the world before his world came crashing down around him.

It’s impossible to say whether he would have suffered from depression regardless of his father’s incarceration but he seems to find it hard to derive joy from the way he plays, even if many others love watching him.

How will he change when his father is permanently released from prison this year?

It could go one of two ways: he could either raise his game or may feel the pressure of having to perform more acutely than before.

Ronnie doesn’t ask for sympathy - and some would doubtless argue he doesn’t deserve any - but it’s important to understand the man and his background before merely slamming what he says after apparently playing very well indeed.



Mark Williams will play in the Pokerstars.com Masters at Wembley tonight despite sustaining whiplash when his car was rammed from behind in London last night.

Stephen Hendry was also slightly injured in the incident.

Williams said today that "you'd have to cut my head off to stop me playing."

Carter's odds to win the match have shortened since news of the injury spread but punters should beware.

Pressure has now transferred to Carter, who will do well to shut out thoughts that the twice former Masters champion is operating below par.

I recall the shock news at the 1994 World Championship that Hendry had slipped in the bathroom and broken his elbow.

I also recall who ended up winning that tournament.


Ronnie O'Sullivan has never won the Pokerstars.com Masters and World Championship in the same year. The sponsors of the latter, Betfred.com, are offering 16/1 on him doing so in 2010.

Ronnie seems to play well in spells. Last year he played some great stuff to win a fourth Masters crown. At the Crucible he failed to reproduce this form.

So the good news for his many fans is that if he fails to land a fifth Wembley title this week, he could be a racing certainty to become world champion for a fourth time in May. Only once in the last six years has he failed to win either title.

He faces a very tough opening round encounter in the shape of Australian Neil Robertson, who lies a place behind him at third in the current provisional rankings.

One concern I would have for O'Sullivan is his constant chopping and changing of cues. Even for a talent such as he is, this doesn't seem like the most sensible policy.

Yes, he won the Masters last year with a brand new model - a remarkable feat - but it should also be remembered that Joe Perry had the pink to beat him 6-4 in the first round.

O'Sullivan's record in the Masters is second only to Stephen Hendry's and if he wins the title on Sunday he will have won in excess of £1m in prize money at Wembley.

It's 15 years since he first scooped the trophy and he remains the favourite to do so again this season.

Robertson beat O'Sullivan in the quarter-finals of the first two ranking events he won and is a confident, attacking player in much the same style as his opponent.

He played very well at Wembley last year but lost 6-3 to Stephen Maguire in the quarter-finals, a match which ended with five successive centuries.

Neil went home for Christmas and said it was extremely hot, not a problem he has encountered since returning to the UK.

But will he manage to freeze O'Sullivan out?



David Taylor, a semi-finalist in the 1980 World Championship, has entered the qualifiers for snooker's showpiece event some 30 years on.

Taylor, 66, will face Bournemouth's Paul Wykes in the first preliminary round at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield on February 26.

Known as 'The Silver Fox', Taylor was a mainstay of TV snooker in the boom years of the 1980s.

He turned professional in 1965 and competed on the circuit until 1997, spending ten seasons in the elite top 16 and attaining a highest ranking of seventh in the 1981/82 season.

His only ranking final appearance came at the 1982 Jameson International, where he lost 9-6 to Tony Knowles.

He is also the reason it says Dennis Taylor and not D. Taylor on the World Championship trophy.

In addition, Taylor was commentating - very excitedly - with John Pulman when Steve Davis compiled the first televised 147 break at the 1982 Lada Classic.

Since retiring, Taylor has run a guest house in Cheshire. He also had a brief spell on the WPBSA board.



Peter Ebdon's 6-2 victory over Marco Fu in the Pokerstars.com Masters today proved that experience in sport is invaluable.

This is Ebdon's 17th appearance in the Wembley tournament. He was poor at the start and could have been 4-0 or certainly 3-1 down at the interval.

By the end of frame three his pot success was in the 50s and his highest break was just 27.

But winning that frame with a colours clearance settled him down and, his iron will to win much in evidence, he started to find some form.

As he did, Fu's game collapsed. The man from Hong Kong got worse and worse as Ebdon grew stronger.

Ebdon is sometimes written off as a grinder but he plays some shots no other player would attempt - and often gets them.

He'll have to improve against Ronnie O'Sullivan or Neil Robertson but the main thing for him is that he's through to the quarter-finals with a tenacious performance that encapsulated his character.


The downside to big snooker events is the seemingly endless stream of nonsense written about the sport in newspapers by people who know little and care even less about it.

Step forward Barney Ronay in today's Observer. Were spectacularly missing the point an Olympic sport, Mr. Ronay would give Steve Redgrave a run for his money.

He makes the assertion that "snooker could be an amateur sport by 2020" without any solid evidence to support this.

He then grossly misrepresents Ronnie O'Sullivan by claiming he had said as much. He didn't. Ronnie did say the game was dying last year and that something needed to be done.

His fellow players agreed and have brought in Barry Hearn, a fact Ronay appears not to have noticed, such was the extent of his research.

Also, Ronnie didn't say he wanted Simon Cowell to run snooker. He said he wanted someone who possessed Cowell's entrepreneurial skills to take it on. Hearn fits that bill.

"The everyday circuit takes in half-empty exhibition halls in Bahrain and its results rarely trouble the mainstream media," Ronay continues.

The circuit played one event in Bahrain in 2008. It also goes to China twice every year where the sport is hugely popular, something Ronay doesn't mention anywhere.

Perhaps the game would get more newspaper coverage if the Observer and others didn't fill space with columnists writing about sports they don't understand.

Actually, the results always get in the papers and over the last week there have been a large number of stories in the run in to the Masters, including two big pieces in the Guardian, for whom Ronay also writes.

Ronay writes of snooker: "It already has a resigned look, slumped glassily in its chair, and looking like its thoughts have turned to the white-gloved handshake and the scattered sound of exit applause."

What rubbish, although it may have set a new world record for throwing most cliches into a single sentence.

There is actually a newly found buzz around the players - as I witnessed at Crondon Park last week because, unlike Ronay, I've actually spoken to the players and asked them their views about the future.

My challenge to him is simple: go to Wembley this week. Sample the atmosphere. Watch the matches. Talk to Barry Hearn. Talk to the players.

I'm not denying snooker has its problems but the professional game dead by 2020?

I'd say there's more chance of the Observer - which has already axed two of its magazines to save money - being out of business first.



The Masters is indisputably one of snooker’s great events.

Its prestige comes from the fact that it isn’t a ranking event but is open only to the elite of the game.

First held in 1975, in its early years it was for only 12 players before becoming a tournament just for the top 16.

In 1990, Alex Higgins was given a wildcard after dropping out of this elite bracket. A qualifying event was then established to provide lower ranked players with a chance to take part.

In the tournament’s heyday, when it was held at Wembley Conference Centre and sponsored by Benson and Hedges, most players regarded it as second only to the World Championship.

It was a big money ‘major’ and was played in a bearpit atmosphere thanks to the cavernous arena and notoriously vociferous Wembley crowd.

Many great names have won the title, with Stephen Hendry doing so in each of his first five visits to Wembley.

Steve Davis memorably won it for the third time at the age of 39 in 1997.

In more recent years, Paul Hunter won three 10-9 thrillers in four years while last season Ronnie O’Sullivan captured his fourth title.

The Masters lost B&H by government decree seven years ago and had to move to Wembley Arena in 2007.

But it remains a highlight of the calendar and, with £150,000 to the winner, will be eagerly contested.

There is a new sponsor – PokerStars.com – and a buzz around the sport after Barry Hearn’s elevation to WPBSA chairman.

The opening day kicks off with Ding Junhui, the newly crowned UK champion, up against Mark Selby, who won the title on his Wembley debut two years ago and was runner-up last year, losing 10-8 to O’Sullivan.

This one is hard to call. Ding is in form, Selby showed signs at Telford that he was returning to form.

Two players out of form are Marco Fu and Peter Ebdon, who meet in Sunday’s second match.

Fu played well last week at the Championship League but suffers from inconsistency to such an extent that he can be either brilliant or average, with little middle ground.

Ebdon has played at Wembley on 16 previous occasions but has reached just two semi-finals, a surprisingly disappointing return for a former world and UK champion.

Although he appears to be on the decline, Ebdon tends to come good once every season. Who is to say it won’t be this week?

The evening will be a showbiz affair as Jimmy White takes on Mark King watched by some of his jungle buddies from I’m a Celeb – including winner Gino D’Acampo.

King defeated White 6-5 on the pink at the corresponding stage of the 1999 Masters and starts favourite, but White has often punched above his weight in Wembley, where the London crowd will roar in every pot.

The treacherous winter weather is likely to have a negative affect on attendances, although if people are off school and work next week the TV ratings may receive a boost.

There’s been loads in the newspapers in the run in to the tournament, proving the media is interested in snooker if they feel there is something to write.

A year ago, O’Sullivan memorably lamented the state of the game, claiming it was ‘dying.’

This year, there is a sense of excitement around the Masters, not least from O’Sullivan himself, and it will hopefully herald the first step on the long road back to the sporting big time.

The players themselves have to realise that this is their responsibility as much as anyone else’s. Not just to play well – they always want to do that – but to try and project their personalities also.

A small part of this will be intro music but much more needs to be done to prove that the sport does have characters and can hold its own against competing sporting attractions...although with the UK weather as it is, snooker may, for once, have the stage to itself for the next eight days.

What a chance to prove the patient is still alive and kicking.



World champion John Higgins is the second man through to the winners' group of the Championship League after a 3-1 victory over Ali Carter in the group 2 final at Crondon Park Golf Club in Essex tonight.

Higgins finished the match just in time to watch the tail end of his appearance on BBC's Celebrity Mastermind, where he finished joint third with former Tory leader Michael Howard.

After a promising start answering questions on US soap Dallas, Higgins struggled in the general knowledge round.

But on the table he had no such problems. He was in trouble when he trailed Judd Trump 2-0 in the semi-finals but fought back to beat him 3-2 before beatng Carter to join his fellow Scot Stephen Maguire in the final group in March.

"Stephen was giving me a bit of stick as he had already made it through and he was relaxing at the spa in the hotel enjoying himself so it's good to get through," Higgins said.

"The Championship is a great tournament and one of the main reasons why I won the World Championship last year. It's great match practise for all the boys and the practise you get against the best players in the world is invaluable.

"There's a real buzz about snooker at the moment with Barry Hearn coming in and we're hoping he could bring his skills of promotion to the game.

"It's been a real kick up the backside for the sport and hopefully we can grow as a sport and have people talking about us in good terms instead of negative ones as snooker is still obviously a good sport."



Barry Hearn, who has been WPBSA chairman for three weeks, has secured a one-year sponsorship deal with PokerStars, the world's largest online poker room, to back next week's Wembley Masters.

Hearn says the level of financial support being offered by the company is "acceptable" for a last minute deal and that it was "very difficult" to secure a three year arrangement so close to the event.

The online gaming industry is one of the few doing well in the current economic climate, so their interest in snooker is most welcome.

It also proves that Hearn has the contacts to bring some much needed money into the sport.



A highly focused Stephen Maguire won the first group of this year's Championship League with a 3-0 defeat of Mark Selby at Crondon Park Golf Club, Essex tonight.

Maguire, making his debut in the event, was 2-0 down to Ali Carter in the semi-finals but produced back-to-back centuries of 140 and 101 and fought back to win 3-2.

He returns for the winners' group in March. Selby, Carter, Judd Trump and John Higgins return for group two tomorrow alongside Ronnie O'Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Marco Fu.

If you're wondering what happened to the O'Sullivan story I posted earlier, I had, while kneedeep in the CLS if not snow, not read the link properly. It didn't say he would use the purple cue at the Masters, only that he had been practising with it, and I have thus deleted it.

In other news, the players will have music playing as they are introduced at the Masters.

The powers that be read this blog so feel free to suggest what the various players should have as their tracks.


Former top eight star Dean Reynolds is playing snooker again nine months after suffering a stroke.

The former Grand Prix and British Open runner-up is featured in the Grimsby Telegraph.

You can read the story here.



One of the reasons Barry Hearn attracted support before the WPBSA AGM last month was because of the Championship League, an event he promotes that has proved to be very popular with players.

Now in its third year, this qualifying event for the Premier League is shown on various betting websites.

This year’s field at Crondon Park Golf Club in Essex is the best yet. For the first time, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Maguire will compete.

Maguire joins world champion John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Ryan Day, Ali Carter and last year’s winner Judd Trump in the first group tomorrow.

O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Marco Fu join the fray on Wednesday for group two.

There has been a slight tweak to the rules this year with matches now best of five frames as opposed to being of four frames duration. This means there can no longer be draws.

Players receive £100 per frame won. It is a little like being paid to practise, albeit against some of the best players in the world, and will toughen these guys up ahead of the Masters.

Full details can be found at Matchroom Sport.

Meanwhile for those of you who follow me on Twitter, I will be attempting to post photos from various points of the snooker circuit, starting this week.

I know. Exciting, isn't it?



Happy New Year – and what an interesting year it promises to be for the snooker world.

Out of the darkness cometh light, or rather cometh Barry Hearn, the man now charged with restoring the professional game to something approaching its former glory.

This won’t be easy. The governance of the sport has been a scandal for decades (as painstakingly chronicled in Clive Everton’s book ‘Black Farce and Cueball Wizards’) but at long last there is some hope that better times may be around the corner.

Cards on the table: I like Barry Hearn. I like his attitude and his refreshing honesty. I admire his record of achievement in identifying niche markets and developing them into great successes.

He’s an ideas man. Some are good, some not so good (ITV’s Tenball anyone?) but at least he has ideas and the nous to try them out.

There’s nothing wrong with snooker as a game. Witness the John Higgins v Ronnie O’Sullivan match at the UK Championship last month or Higgins’s clash with Neil Robertson in the Grand Prix or the second half of last season’s World Championship. On its day, our sport is capable of providing absorbing, exciting sporting drama.

But snooker does have an image problem. To many it’s stale and samey. The players are interchangeable and the tournaments hard to distinguish.

This is where Hearn ought to come into his own. He has the passion and energy to set about changing these perceptions. The previous regime merely pretended there wasn’t a problem.

Snooker needs to appeal to casual sports fans, not just its own diehard community of followers. For this reason, let me predict right now that Hearn is likely to do a number of things ‘traditionalists’ may not agree with.

Shorter formats may be introduced. The look of tournaments may change.

However, this is all conjecture. I don’t have the inside track on Hearn’s plans. This would be difficult as he is yet to formulate them.

But what’s clear is that the WPBSA now has a chairman who recognises the sport does have problems and wants to sort them out.

Hearn has been involved in snooker since 1974. It has been the catalyst for all the success he has enjoyed in boxing, pool, poker and, perhaps most significantly, darts.

As he himself has said, he is a benevolent dictator. He will do things his way but for the benefit of the sport as a whole.

My advice to Barry is very simple: ringfence the ‘majors’ – the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters – because there’s nothing wrong with them but regard everything else as being up for grabs. I am particularly keen that he makes snooker tournaments feel more like ‘events’ for those attending and watching at home.

Remember this: all the tournaments that appear on TV have been either directly created or modified for television. However, most formats were created for TV as it was 25 years ago and have not changed as TV and society has changed over the years.

We must end the perception of snooker – which many casual sports fans hold – that it is slow, meandering and never ending. Having finals finishing after midnight hardly helps persuade people otherwise.

I understand Hearn’s main priority is to renegotiate the BBC contract. After this he wants to set up a new Pro Tour of small events, which will give all players, but particularly those lower down the rankings, more playing opportunities. I’m also told he will invite independent promoters to a meeting to thrash out a calendar that doesn’t involve clashes.

This is not an act of genius, merely a sensible move but his predecessor stubbornly refused to do it. His regime regarded all other tournaments with disdain and even refused to mention them on worldsnooker.com – an absurd policy that has now changed thanks to Hearn and his more open minded attitude. Expect many more changes on that website.

In 2004, Snooker Scene was prevented by the WPBSA from being sold at tournament venues. This was shortly after one of its then executives rather theatrically threw a copy into a bin at the Players Championship in Glasgow. This dramatic gesture was spoiled only by him then returning to the room to fish it back out as he realised it was his only copy.

Well, we’ll be back on sale at the Masters. Hearn will also meet the snooker media for a friendly chat and try to generate coverage that is sadly lacking in the newspapers.

I believe that all of snooker should support Hearn, even those who were against his appointment. It is in their interests to: if he is successful, the sport will be as well.

As I wrote earlier, there will be decisions that will alarm the sport’s closest followers – and I suspect it will be revealed that the true financial position is parlous – but I genuinely believe snooker will start to turn a corner this year if everyone pulls together.

Enough already. If you didn’t have a headache from last night’s festivities you’ll probably have one now.

So for some light relief, head on over to 110sport.tv, which has resurrected, Lazarus like, it’s online magazine On Q, which features interviews and irreverent musings on the game.

You can also watch myself and Stewart Weir interview the eight players who comprised the recent Legends event – when Alex Higgins allowed us to.

These included some of the names who played leading roles in the extraordinary boom years of the 1980s.

Let us all hope that, in 2010, snooker can take steps to once again scale the summit of popularity and thus arrest its slide into decline.