Let’s start by nailing one snooker myth: that Ronnie O’Sullivan can’t be bothered in China.

He’s actually won three ranking tournaments there, which is more than anyone else.

However, it’s worth pointing out that the two China Opens he won were played in December, not a couple of weeks before the Crucible.

Ronnie could be forgiven for saving his best for the Betfred.com World Championship. The thing is, though, that he doesn’t have to play his best to win the tournament.

At the Shanghai Masters last September O’Sullivan was not at his awesome peak but still came home with the trophy. How much this pleased him I don’t know but his fans were happy and he has several million of them in China who will cheer for him even though he’s playing one of their own today.

Tian Pengfei was the best wildcard and duly came through at the expense of Mark Davis. I’d be amazed if he beat O’Sullivan but he can hopefully contribute to what should be a match played in a great atmosphere.

Yesterday, all eight top 16 ranked players who played first round matches were successful.

Can this hit rate continue? If it did it would surely be the first time ever (unless an anorak out there knows different).

Stephen Hendry will certainly hope so when he faces Andrew Higginson in the day’s first TV match.

Hendry won the first ranking event staged in China 20 years ago. He’s not lost a first round match in a ranking event this season and, though Higginson is a very solid campaigner, I’d expect that pattern to continue today.

Peter Ebdon was a surprise winner in Beijing last year based on his poor form leading up to the event. Judd Trump is a dangerous opponent but if he plays his normal go-for-everything game they’d better go in, because Ebdon played very well in the Championship League and will take advantage if he’s left in.

Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby will play their first matches for two months against Nigel Bond and Rod Lawler respectively.

All things being equal Murphy and Selby would be big favourites to progress but sluggishness as a result of the enforced lay off may mean that an upset or two is not impossible.



John Higgins may not have things all his own way today in the Sanyuan Foods China Open against Fergal O’Brien, who remains a fiercely determined snooker hard man.

O’Brien’s season began so badly – he lost his opening match in the first three ranking tournaments – that by Christmas he had thoughts of dropping off the circuit.

He has since qualified for the Welsh Open, the Crucible and beat Sam Baird 5-2 at Prestatyn to make the trip to Beijing.

The Dubliner joined a running club last year to work on his fitness. So many snooker players are following Ronnie O’Sullivan’s lead in this regard that it may be our sport’s best hope of getting into the Olympics.

“People might be surprised to hear that I’m quite fast,” the methodical Fergal told me.

Higgins won the 1999 China International in Shanghai and was runner-up to Peter Ebdon last year but, generally, he doesn’t fair that well in China.

With the Betfred.com World Championship just around the corner he can be forgiven for having his focus distracted by the defence of his Crucible crown.

All that said, if he plays the sort of snooker he’s produced for the last year then he’ll coast through.

If Higgins reaches the Beijing semi-finals and goes as far at Sheffield he will equal the record for eight successive ranking event semi-finals held jointly by Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.

Today’s first TV match pits Marco Fu against Bjorn Haneveer. They’ve never played as professionals but, in 1997, Fu beat the Belgian 11-7 to win the IBSF World Under 21 Championship.

The Hong Kong man has had a wretched season in ranking tournaments, winning just one match, in last September’s Shanghai Masters.

However, in the Championship League he was awesome and that’s the sort of form he needs to start producing in the game’s major events to restore some much needed confidence.



Barry Hearn is promising 11 televised tournaments plus 12 Pro Tour events each worth £10,000 to the winner and an increase in prize money of at least £1m next season.

The new WPBSA chairman wants control of the game’s commercial rights in exchange, although these will revert back to the players if he fails to hit his targets.

In a bullish, at times confrontational letter to the players, Hearn has set out his master plan to revive snooker’s fortunes.

At the centrepiece of this is the Pro Tour which will be open to all 96 players on the main tour.

It will include some established events, including the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany, and new ones and have its own order of merit. TV coverage and internet streaming of some events is a possibility.

The top 24 at the end of the season will go into a televised Players Championship worth £60,000 to the winner.

The players, with justification, have complained of not having enough tournaments to play in. The finances are not there to stage legions more ranking events. If they were, the previous WPBSA administration would have done it.

But a Pro Tour along the lines of the successful PDC darts model would provide significantly increased playing opportunities and the chance to earn more money.

These new events may also, in time, be built up into bigger ranking tournaments, just as many of Hearn’s overseas tournaments for Matchroom in places like China, Thailand and Dubai in the 1980s were.

However, one of the major differences between the Hearn chairmanship and those of the past is that he believes the association should reward achievement and not mediocrity. He has told the players as much.

As Hearn sees it, the players deserve only one thing: an opportunity. What they make of this is up to them but if they fail to make the grade they should do something else.

This will be hard to hear for some players, although in reality most of them will be no worse off than before. The pro circuit will still consist of 96 players. The top 64 will still be safe and those relegated will have an immediate chance to re-qualify through a new Cue School held after the 2011 Betfred.com World Championship.

New tournaments include a ranking event in Germany, a gloriously tacky one-frame shootout on Sky Sports which will have purists crying into their back issues of Snooker Scene, a World Seniors Championship and a World Open, featuring the 96 main tour players and amateurs, which will replace the Grand Prix.

This is because the BBC has stated they will drop the Grand Prix in any new contract renewal. Hearn has therefore immediately instituted the World Open in the hope the BBC will be sufficiently impressed with it to take it in 2011, which would be the first year of their new contract.

Hearn is not the sort to do things by committee. He likes to be in control and, as such, is proposing to purchase the game’s commercial rights for the nominal fee of £1. He will then issue share capital in this new company worth £500,000 and control 51% himself.

Players will be able to purchase shares with priority given to those who have won most based on a points system taking into account tournament wins, meaning Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins would have first chance to become shareholders.

Prize money would rise from £3.5m to a minimum of £4.5m next season and by more in the years that follow. If it does not, the rights would be ceded back to the WPBSA.

The new commercial body would pay an annual licence fee to finance the WPBSA’s rules and regulatory functions, still controlled by the players. Hearn describes this as a ‘win-win situation.’

The Hearn plan includes support for the Snooker Players Association and a new ranking system that will change during the season rather than at the end of it.

Not everyone will agree with all of it. Cost cutting has seen the end of CueZone – which was popular with many fans, although at some tournaments it was little more than a table in a foyer – and courtesy cars for the players.

Some players lower down the rankings will fear for their own futures but, in reality, they aren’t any better off now. Snooker Scene’s own player columnist Jordan Brown spent in the region of £8,000 in expenses in his debut season and earned less than £1,000. Had he turned pro under the new Hearn plan he would have had the chance to play more, to earn more and to improve, possibly even keep his tour place if the results started to come his way.

At its core, the Hearn plan is a major attempt to increase snooker’s profile, the players’ opportunities and end the stagnation in the qualifying system and ranking list. Even Hearn’s critics would be hard pushed to deny his enthusiasm and commitment to making it work.

So will it work?

Hearn is a great ideas man but some of the fine detail needs to be ironed out. Players should attempt to ascertain how all this will operate in practice and have the perfect chance to because, unusually for a WPBSA chairman, Hearn has given every player his mobile number and email address and invited them to contact him with any questions or concerns they have.

But he will resign the WPBSA chairmanship if they reject his proposals in May, which would most likely sink the entire plan and deal a possibly fatal blow to snooker’s credibility with the broadcasters and sponsors he has been negotiating with.

We’ve been here before. The Hearn plan shares many similarities with the Altium bid, which failed to attract enough player support in 2002.

They were promising significant investment into the sport in exchange for its commercial rights. The players clung to the rights themselves, after which prize money fell dramatically and the number of tournaments on the circuit were reduced.

Players should read Hearn’s plans and consider them carefully rather than asking their managers – or those who call themselves managers – what it says and what it means. If they have any queries, they should address them directly to Hearn instead of relying on rumour.

Black propaganda was what did for Altium in the main, with talk of hidden agendas and ‘taking over the game,’ as if the game belongs to anyone in the first place.

On May 5, the players will get their chance to decide their own futures – again.

They should ask themselves three simple questions:

1) Do we really want to play more?

If they do, as they have always said, then the Hearn plan is a no-brainer.

2) Why should we care who runs the game’s commercial rights?

Surely players should concentrate on playing and earning money from their sport. As long as the money is going up, why does it matter who is in charge?

3) What is the alternative?

Most of them aren’t happy with the way the game has been the last few years. Supporting Hearn may be a gamble but turning down this chance to reinvigorate the sport is a bigger one.



Eight invited Asian wildcards face the eight lowest ranked qualifiers on day one of the Sanyuan Foods China Open.

Gone are the days when this was an extended practice session for the main tour players. The Chinese invitees are very dangerous, not least Tian Pengfei, who faces Mark Davis in the first TV match.

Tian was on the pro circuit last season and beat Andrew Higginson in the campaign-opening Shanghai Masters.

For reasons unknown, Tony Drago's match with Shi Shuamgyang has not been put on one of the two main TV tables by the organisers so the fast potting Maltese won't feature in Eurosport's opening day coverage.

Drago has had an outstanding season and proven that though, yes, it is tough to survive as a first season professional it's not impossible.

He won four matches to qualify for the Welsh Open and another four to get to Beijing.

Another veteran campaigner, James Wattana (it doesn't seem that long since he was the young up-and-coming dangerman) has also qualified and tackles Au Chi Wai.

Bjorn Haneveer is Belgium's best ever player, although young Luca Brecel - currently defending his EBSA European under 19 crown in Malta - may in time assume that mantle.

Haneveer plays Yu Delu, a stalwart of the wildcard round, for the right to meet Marco Fu in the first round proper.

The wildcard day is not, let's be honest, one that is usually remembered fondly but it's still good to have snooker back on our screens and the top players get the tournament well and truly going on Tuesday.



The China Open deserves to be regarded as more than just a warm-up for the Betfred.com World Championship but its slot in the calendar hardly helps its cause.

There’s been two months between the Welsh Open and the Beijing event but only two weeks between China and the Crucible.

Playing well at the China Open is no guarantee of success in Sheffield. The last player to win the final ranking event before the World Championship was John Higgins in 1998. He captured the British Open and then the Big One a few weeks later.

This year’s China Open is sponsored by Sanyuan Foods, a huge company, and the players will be treated to a red carpet opening ceremony on Sunday.

Peter Ebdon defends the title he won against the formbook a year ago when he emerged from a serious slump to beat Higgins 10-8 in the final.

Some players in the field haven’t had a competitive game for over two months, Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby included.

Others, such as Tony Drago, have been enjoying success in the qualifiers while a number of players will end their seasons in Beijing rather than at the Crucible.

The first prize is a not inconsiderable £55,000.

Eurosport’s live coverage starts at 7.30am UK time on Monday with Mark Davis v Tian Pengfei in the wildcard round.



Marco Fu, who finished bottom in this season's Premier League, has earned another chance at the title after winning the Championship League at Crondon Park Golf Club, Essex tonight.

Fu (pictured with Matchroom boss and WPBSA chairman Barry Hearn) came from 2-0 down to beat Mark Allen 3-2 in the final of the winners' group.

Fu needed a snooker in the third frame, got it and forced the mistake from Allen. The Hong Kong potter then finished off with breaks of 94 and 134 to clinch the £10,000 first prize and pick up an invite to the Premier League, which he won seven years ago.

"Qualifying for the Premier League is a very special moment for me as everyone wants to play in the league. Only the top players can play in it and with it being live on television it is a very prestigious competition," Fu said.

The Premier League returns on September 2 and concludes at the end of November.



The winners' group of the Championship League is brimming with quality. Stephen Maguire, John Higgins, Judd Trump, Marco Fu, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and Jamie Cope will fight it out over the next two days for a place in the Premier League.

Of these, Higgins is the only one assured of an invite to the League, although Robertson must be a leading favourite for a call up as well.

Cope became the last player through to the winners' group by beating Peter Ebdon and Ding Junhui at Crondon Park last night.

The Shotgun from Stoke could certainly cause a few problems in the League itself were he to qualify, just as last year's winner Trump did.

And he has the advantage of having had two days on the tables while the rest of the field - Trump aside - haven't played competitively for up to two months.

For them, the next two days represents a chance to at the very least tune up their games for next week's China Open.

There's plenty of cash available too. Robertson has already earned £13,000 from the event and it's now £300 per frame and £10,000 to the eventual winner.



It’ll be a big week for one of 13 players taking part in the Championship League, with one of the seven from Group 7 going forward to join the other six in the winner’s group on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Baronial Hall of Crondon Park Golf Club in Essex has become an unlikely favourite for the top players, who get quality match practice, not inconsiderable prize money and the chance to get in the Premier League next season.

Already through to the winners’ group are Stephen Maguire, John Higgins, Judd Trump, Marco Fu, Neil Robertson and Mark Allen.

Of these, only Higgins can be sure of a Premier League place regardless of what happens this week, although Robertson must be a leading contender as well.

Group 7 features Ding Junhui – surely a cert for the PL too after his UK Championship win – plus Steve Davis, Michael Holt and the returning Jamie Cope, Peter Ebdon, Mark Williams and Joe Swail from group 6.

The action is all live online over the next four days and more information can be found at the official website.



The simple answer to that question would be ‘no’ but that doesn’t fill up half a page on the internet.

John Higgins recently told STV in Scotland that he thinks there is an argument for reducing the world final to a single day.

Ronnie O’Sullivan said this year that ‘if we can’t play for an hour and find out who is the best then there’s something wrong.’

When 110sport announced their breakaway tour ten years ago I remember Stephen Hendry saying he thought the World Championship should last 12 days and no longer.

These three great champions have more than earned their right to hold an opinion on this and are worth listening to but I suspect snooker fans may not agree with them.

Let’s take Higgins’s comments. If the world final were reduced then it logically follows that all the other matches would have to be as well, leading to a shorter World Championship.

Times change. Maybe people today prefer a ‘quick fix’ than to sit for hours following sport but the fact remains that snooker, and the World Championship in particular, pulls in viewers because it provides absorbing drama, and this by its very nature is slow burning.

Admittedly, it can sometimes be so slow burning that it almost gets extinguished altogether but the 17 day marathon provides exactly what it should: the ultimate test of a snooker player.

But is 17 days really that much more of a test than, say, 14 days? After all, the World Championship is longer than the Olympics and every major annual sporting event outside of the Tour de France.

Well, if the BBC wants to show 17 days of continuous snooker then I’m certainly not going to talk them out of it.

In truth, some of the matches are too long. The first round would be better as best of 17 frames because this would reduce pull-offs and late finishes. The semi-finals seem to go on forever.

But this format has basically worked for the last three decades and I wouldn’t advocate changing it.

The longer matches provide more subplots and greater drama. This is why six reds, shot clocks et al will never replace the traditional game, even if they do have their place on the fringes of the sport.

Of course, the old sweats from the 1940s and 50s would look down their noses at the notion that today’s World Championship is long at all. In 1948, Fred Davis won the title by beating Walter Donaldson 84-61.

These days you can afford to have a bad session. Back then you could afford to have a bad week.

Society changes and with it so does television. Snooker needs to change as well but its major event is fine as it is. It’s a showpiece occasion that puts snooker front and central for a fortnight every spring.

Snooker’s problem is not the World Championship, it’s the low profile most of the other tournaments have.

This is why I would go along with format alterations for other ranking events. I find it absurd that in finals players play for eight frames, everyone goes away for three hours with nothing to do and then they come back to finish off.

This doesn’t happen in any other sport I can think of.

The Premier League play best of 13 frames right through in one session. This would be better for the likes of the Grand Prix and Welsh Open. You could start at 5 or 6pm and there’s half a chance the audience could get home before turning into pumpkins.

Traditionalists will howl in protest and disbelief that anyone could conceive of changing anything.

Well, when it comes to the World Championship I would agree with them. When it comes to everything else I’d say there is a very strong case to look again, including getting rid of intervals.

All this doesn’t mean reducing every tournament to a lottery but snooker has to reach out to casual sports fans as well as its own diehard constituency. Balancing the needs of both isn’t easy but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try.

In any case, television will ultimately decide. What they want is what snooker will have to accept because, without TV, the professional game will be back to where it was in the 1950s.

Still, in that scenario we could always go back to three week world finals...



Snooker is a sport that has been blessed with many fascinating rivalries.

There was Ray Reardon and John Spencer in the 1970s, Steve Davis and Alex Higgins in the 1980s and, right now, John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

But, for me, the most enduring of them all was Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White, who kept snooker fans gripped by a series of world finals in the 1990s.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hendry’s capture of the 1990 world title, making him the youngest ever winner of the game’s biggest event, a record he still holds despite the influx of young talent in the last two decades.

He won it with an 18-12 defeat of White, although their first Crucible meeting had come two years earlier in 1988. White had already lost in the 1984 final to Davis but was widely expected to win the Big One at some stage. Hendry was just 19 but had already won two ranking titles and was regarded as highly dangerous.

Their second round encounter was a revelation, so much so that the BBC devoted the whole of its end of year snooker review programme – these were the days when it had one – to this match and this match alone.

Just as all today’s leading players modelled their games on Hendry’s playing style, so Hendry had adopted White’s ultra-attacking approach.

White won the match 13-12. In 25 frames there were 26 breaks over 40.

I dare say if it were shown today the match would not appear to be anything special but back then it was like a burst of excitement and it deserves to be remembered as an all time classic.

The 1990 final was another quickfire affair with an average frame time of just 12 minutes.

The 1992 Crucible final between Hendry and White is one everyone old enough to have seen it remembers, more particularly if they were supporting the Whirlwind.

When White went 12-6 up, Clive Everton, not a man given to overstatement, said on BBC commentary, ‘surely he’s going to win it now.’ Most people watching probably thought the same. Hendry, though, had other ideas.

At 14-8, the Scot won the last two frames of the third session, the last of which with the aid of a superb brown that, had he missed it, would have almost certainly made it 15-9.

White was still favourite at 14-10 but immediately lost a black ball frame and the wheels started to come off. Had he won the title before he may have had enough resilience to repel the Hendry comeback but it wasn’t to be. Hendry made three centuries, including two in the final two frames, to complete a winning streak of ten frames and win 18-14.

Hendry was never better than when under pressure, the precise time when most players start to falter.

Their 1993 final was a landslide to Hendry. He won it 18-5 with a session to spare having played some of the best snooker of his career during the tournament.

In 1994 it was Hendry v White again. The final session attracted a peak viewing audience of 13.4m to BBC2 and, in terms of quality, tension and excitement, remains one of the best matches ever played.

White trailed 17-16 but made a 75 break to force the decider. What followed will live long in the memory of his fans. Perfectly placed in the balls and not far from capturing the title he snatched at a black. Hendry, predictably, cleared up to win 18-17.

It was a crushing blow from which White never really recovered. And yet he didn’t sulk, he didn’t blame anyone but himself and, interviewed by David Vine just minutes after the end, he smiled, shrugged and said, ‘he’s beginning to annoy me.’

It was this sort of gesture that helped endear White to millions. Those who run him down now because his game is not of the same standard as it was then should remember the popular appeal he helped give snooker.

And it was part of another reason why the Hendry-White rivalry is worth celebrating. Their matches were always played in a sporting context. Indeed, in that 1994 final, very near the end, the referee awarded a free ball to Hendry but Hendry got down and said he didn’t think it was one, despite it being a clear advantage to him.

When Hendry appeared on This Is Your Life, White gave him a £1 note (it was a long time ago) on which he had written, ‘from Jimmy White to the next Jimmy White.’ Hendry returned it with the message, ‘there’s only one Jimmy White.’

They met again at the Crucible in 1995, this time in the semi-finals where Hendry made a 147 and won 16-12.

White was to take one very small measure of revenge in the first round in 1998. He’d had to qualify and drew Hendry, beating him 10-4.

By chance, I was stood next to him in the pressroom when he called home the night he went 8-1 up. ‘I bet he still comes back and wins,’ he said, deadpan, to whoever was on the other end.

Of course, White beat Hendry a number of times, including in finals. He nearly whitewashed him in the 1991 Classic final, leading 9-0 before winning 10-4. He also beat Hendry 18-9 in the 1990 World Matchplay final.

But their rivalry came to be defined by the Crucible and by Hendry’s relentlessness in the face of White’s failings.

The best rivalries are between opposites. Hendry was quiet, driven and utterly obsessed with winning; White was gregarious, Jack-the-lad and would admit now that his preparation for big events was not always what it should have been.

He wasn’t unlucky not to be world champion. He had his chance – more than one chance – but couldn’t quite seal the deal even though, in terms of pure talent, he was a better player than some of those who have won it.

His popularity has never wavered, but I’m sure he’d swap some of that for at least one world title. Similarly, Hendry – sometimes booed by sections of the crowd – would have loved some of White’s appeal.

But who they were as people and how they played created an enthralling rivalry, one that snooker fans still remember fondly even though they are unlikely to ever again play each other on a big occasion.



This always used to be the height of the season but there has been such a long lay-off for the top players that they must feel as if the campaign is already over.

John Higgins won the totesport.com Welsh Open on January 31. By the time he starts out in the winners’ group of the Championship League next week it will have been seven and a half weeks since he last hit a ball.

It will be interesting to see if this has halted the momentum he had in the early part of the season. Higgins has appeared in the last six ranking event semi-finals. If he gets that far at the China Open and Betfred.com World Championship he will equal the record held jointly by Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.

But I doubt he’s done much practising in recent weeks – what’s the point? – and may find it hard to pick up where he left off.

We are now entering the final furlong of what has been a disappointingly disjointed season. The Championship League returns on Monday, the China Open starts the following week and then the drama of the Crucible gets underway on April 17.

For some players – Ricky Walden among them – the season is already over. There’s nothing worse for a player than knowing the World Championship is on the TV when you’re not in it.

Even going abroad on holiday doesn’t make much difference these days because the championship is shown around the world.

The Championship League will be a help for the players involved next week in terms of fine tuning their games for a very important month ahead.

Group seven features the returning Peter Ebdon, Jamie Cope, Mark Williams and Joe Swail along with Ding Junhui, Steve Davis and Michael Holt.

The winners’ group features the group seven winner plus Higgins, Stephen Maguire, Judd Trump, Marco Fu, Neil Robertson and Mark Allen.



Consider the following players: Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Shaun Murphy.

All great names, all first round losers on their respective Crucible debuts.

The Sheffield theatre is like no other snooker venue. It has turned many a leg to jelly and quickened the heartbeat of even the most laid back players.

This is partly because it is the World Championship and therefore matters so much but there’s no doubt that the unique atmosphere the cramped arena creates adds to the pressure.

Nobody in a million years would choose the Crucible as a World Championship venue today. There’s barely room for the two tables and the audience can reach out and almost touch the players.

But this is precisely what makes it so special.

When Higgins made his debut in 1995 he said he hated the place. It felt strange and uncomfortable playing there. Three world titles later and it’s fair to say he’s changed his mind.

Of course, some players do get over the nerves to get through the first round at the first time of asking.

John Parrott did in 1984. Peter Ebdon shocked Davis in 1992. Mark Williams was successful in 1997.

And, most famously of all, Terry Griffiths went all the way to the title in 1979.

But newcomers are invariably like fish out of water, struggling to find the game that got them to the Crucible in the first place.

So what fate awaits this year’s two debutants, Tom Ford and Zhang Anda?

Ford is set to face a player in Mark Allen who himself made a fine debut appearance in 2007 when he beat Ken Doherty.

And Allen will be looking to exploit any signs of nerves or discomfort from his opponent, seizing on a slow start as he did last year against Martin Gould.

Zhang’s advantage is that he is not steeped in the folklore of the Crucible. Refreshingly, he’s one of the few people who neither knows nor cares about THAT black ball final.

But he will know about Hendry and what he has achieved in Sheffield over the last quarter of a century.

And as it’s the biggest match so far of the 18 year-old’s short career it’s fair to assume there will be a few nerves fluttering around.

Hendry’s disadvantage is that he will almost certainly never have seen Zhang play. I’ve only seen him play once and that was in coolly beating Ricky Walden to qualify.

I was impressed with him there but it’s impossible to say if he can repeat that performance next month when it really matters.

If Zhang does lose he should take heart from Hendry’s own debut in 1986 at the age of 17.

He was beaten 10-8 by Willie Thorne who, through a mixture of sporting goodwill and sheer relief, applauded him out of the arena.

Like everyone else Thorne knew that, even though the young Scot’s first appearance had ended in defeat, he would be back...



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first round tie with Liang Wenbo looks tough on paper but the match will be played on the green baize and I don’t think it’s the worst draw O’Sullivan could have got.

He’s never lost to Liang, has beaten him at the Crucible before and beat him in a final this season.

That’s not to say it’s an easy draw but at least Ronnie knows how he plays and is more than capable of taking him on again. He’d have been relieved to avoid the likes of Graeme Dott, who has a very good record against him in recent times.

Two matches stand out for me: Stephen Hendry v Zhang Anda and Mark Selby v Ken Doherty.

Like O’Sullivan v Liang, they both take place in what will from now on be known as ‘the quarter of death’.

Hendry will know hardly anything about his 18 year-old opponent and the unknown quantity could cause him problems. Zhang is the only player in the tournament who won’t fully comprehend how special the Crucible is.

However, few debutants ever do well and Hendry has played some good stuff in Sheffield for the last two years.

Neither Selby or Doherty would have wanted to draw each other. Doherty won their last meeting at this season’s Grand Prix and is back playing to a high standard.

Selby knows that if is to be world champion this year he will have to do it the hard way: Doherty then possibly Hendry and O’Sullivan just to get into the semi-finals.

John Higgins, the defending champion, is not a certainty to beat Barry Hawkins, one of those players well capable of causing an upset even though he’s yet to win a match at the Crucible.

Even so, Higgins fans will already be plotting his course through to the quarter-finals, where Neil Robertson looks his likely opponent.

All in all it’s an interesting draw that will take a bit more careful study before I for one make any clear predictions about who is going to win the thing.


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

John Higgins v Barry Hawkins

Mark King v Steve Davis

Neil Robertson v Fergal O'Brien

Marco Fu v Martin Gould

Ali Carter v Jamie Cope

Joe Perry v Michael Holt

Ding Junhui v Stuart Pettman

Shaun Murphy v Gerard Greene

Stephen Maguire v Stephen Lee

Peter Ebdon v Graeme Dott

Mark Allen v Tom Ford

Ryan Day v Mark Davis

Mark Selby v Ken Doherty

Stephen Hendry v Zhang Anda

Mark Williams v Marcus Campbell

Ronnie O'Sullivan v Liang Wenbo



OK, so here is the *plan...

I will be at the draw for the first round of the Betfred.com World Championship tomorrow.

I intend to update it on this blog as it is drawn, so start pressing refresh from 10.30am UK time.

Otherwise, you can watch it in any UK betting shop but it won't be on the TV, radio or internet.

*Surely nothing can go wrong.



Alan Chamberlain, the circuit's longest serving referee, has resigned with immediate effect.

Chamberlain, 67, has officiated on the professional circuit since 1983 but decided to hang up his white gloves on Monday a day before the end of the world qualifiers.

I understand he was exhausted by the long hours the refs were required to work for little financial reward.

Alan refereed the 1997 World Championship final, was a long time official at the Masters and took charge of many other big occasions.

Like many referees, there were moments of controversy too but he was regarded as a very safe pair of hands and his sudden resignation has shocked his fellow officials.

He will continue to referee at the Championship League.


Zhang Anda, nicknamed the ‘Mighty Mouse’, produced a sensational finish to beat Ricky Walden 10-8 and qualify for the final stages of the Betfred.com World Championship in Sheffield tonight.

The diminutive Zhang, just 18, ended the contest with successive breaks of 134 and 103 to cause a huge upset.

Last week, he was driven past the Crucible Theatre and had no idea what the building was. He’ll find out when the 17-day snooker marathon gets underway on April 17.

“I didn’t feel nervous at all. I was just concentrating so hard on the match,” said Zhang, who practises at the Grove in Romford, also the base for Ronnie O’Sullivan.

“I have practised with Ronnie and even watching him play can help you,” he said.

Zhang was heading for main tour relegation having started the qualifiers 79th in the provisional rankings. He may still fall off the circuit but has provided proof of his potential with victories over Craig Steadman, John Parrott, Andrew Higginson and now Walden, whose hopes of joining the elite top 16 were dashed by the defeat.

But Walden, who broke down on a break of 32 in the 18th frame, sportingly led the applause after Zhang’s grandstand finish.

The Chinese finds himself in the hat for Thursday’s draw alongside some of snooker’s all time greats, including Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, O’Sullivan and defending champion John Higgins as well as compatriots Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo.


Graeme Dott and Jimmy Michie have had to switch tables as the one they began their match on is currently unplayable.

Balls were rolling off and table fitters have so far spent over half an hour trying to rectify the problem, without success.

Michie was leading 3-1 at the interval but will now resume on the table used by Stuart Pettman and Stuart Bingham, who have finished their session.

The players were given the option of continuing the match in the World Snooker Academy but gave the idea short shrift.

The original table hasn’t been used since the previous round last week.

A WPBSA spokesman said: “After complaints from players the table was deemed unplayable and the decision was taken to continue on the first available table. A decision will then be taken to see whether the match can resume on the original table for the second session.”

If the table is still not up to scratch the players will have to hang around waiting for a table to become available later on tonight.

This is the last thing they needed for what many players regard as the most important match of the whole season.

UPDATE: Dott, who leads 6-3 after the first session, has said the table is "as bad as one can be."

The match will not resume until 6pm at the earliest and might possibly go on a third table.



What a difference a year makes for Ken Doherty.

12 months ago he was close to tears after he lost to Gerard Greene in the final qualifying round of the Betfred.com World Championship and was even contemplating retirement.

It says a lot about his character that instead of feeling sorry for himself he dusted himself down, put in the hard work and is now very likely to be back in the top 32 next season.

His 10-1 defeat of Joe Swail tonight underlined how he has turned things around.

"I’m just delighted to qualify. I’ve had to drag myself back up and it’s great to be at the Crucible again,” Doherty said.

“I was almost in tears last year when I failed to qualify. I didn’t know where my game was going and whether or not it was the end for me but everything has turned around this season."

Credit must also go to Tom Ford, who has qualified for the Crucible for the first time after a top drawer display against Judd Trump, who he beat 10-3.

Ford said he had been motivated to cut down his drinking and apply himself more after watching his fellow Leicester man Mark Selby's rise to the top.

"I see Mark on the TV all the time and it winds me up," he said. "That's nothing against Mark, who texted me to say good luck today, but it makes me realise I should be doing the same thing as well.

"Mark's very, very dedicated and doesn't drink that much. I took the wrong path when I was 18 and started going out too much while he concentrated on playing.

"You have to knuckle down but it's not easy to practise with a hangover. You can party in the summer when there are no tournaments."

David Morris won't be making his Crucible debut this year after losing 10-6 to Michael Holt, who won a big 15th frame on the black.

Barry Hawkins and Martin Gould are also heading back to the game's best known venue after respective wins over Ian McCulloch and Nigel Bond.



Steve Davis will make his 30th appearance at the Crucible Theatre next month after producing a highly determined performance to beat Adrian Gunnell 10-4 in the final qualifying round of the Betfred.com World Championship in Sheffield tonight.

The 52 year-old, who won the last of his six world titles in 1989, cued very nicely and retained a positive frame of mind to enhance his chances of remaining in the top 32 for another season.

And Davis admitted he is thinking of history as he prepares to play at the Crucible in a fifth decade.

He believes by defying the years he may set a record that even his great friend and rival Stephen Hendry will find hard to beat.

“There was a time in the 1980s when I thought I was unbeatable, a bit like Phil Taylor probably feels now in darts,” Davis said.

“I thought, nobody will ever come along and beat my standard. And then I quickly had that thought rammed down my throat by a young man from Scotland and plenty of others after that.

“From then on, you look at your career differently. It’s not been a case of clinging on but it has been tough against good opposition.

“So to still be doing it – wow. I’m chuffed that I can still compete at any level because in a way you’re not supposed to. To be at the Crucible in your 50s is hard to do.

“I was trying to think of my objective after I stayed in the top 16 at the age of 50. My long term ambition now is that Stephen Hendry doesn’t beat my record of playing at the Crucible. To beat me, he’ll have to play there at 53.

“He’s won more tournaments than anyone else and is the best player who ever lived but I’ve still got one record that he’ll find it hard to beat and I’ve just put another year on it.”


If Steve Davis beats Adrian Gunnell today he will make his 30th appearance at the Crucible and will appear there in a fifth different decade.

The good news for Davis fans is that the six-times world champion is 6-3 up although his 6-1 lead was trimmed by Gunnell making two successive centuries.

The first of those could have been a 147 but he missed the penultimate red with the rest on 104.

Davis looks very determined. He may have generally taken his foot off the gas but this is the one match of the year he really wants to win.

The 52 year-old has certainly brought in plenty of support. There's a huge crowd in watching, most of whom are watching him.

He needs four more frames from 4pm.



There are five players appearing in the final qualifying round of the Betfred.com World Championship who have never played at the Crucible.

They are Adrian Gunnell, Tom Ford, David Morris, Anda Zhang and Mark Joyce.

Two others, Jimmy Michie and Rod Lawler, have not played there since 1996 and either would set a new record for the longest amount of time between first and second appearances were they to qualify.

Three former champions – Steve Davis, Ken Doherty and Graeme Dott – will be action as will twice runner-up Matthew Stevens.

The next three days is where it gets really serious. The difference between winning and losing is the difference between taking part in the greatest snooker show on earth or having to watch it on TV at home.

It will also be vital to the various machinations of the provisional ranking list.

I’ll be blogging from the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, posting updates throughout the three days.

I will also be posting updates on Twitter.

It promises to be a nerve-wracking three days.



Jimmy White's reward for beating Mark Boyle 10-8 in the Betfred.com World Championship qualifiers last night to salvage his professional status is another 10am start today.

This is both unfair and unnecessary. His match finished at around midnight. I'd imagine with all the adrenalin coursing through him White did not get straight off to sleep.

There are six tables at the EISS so his match with Ken Doherty could easily have been played this afternoon to conclude tomorrow afternoon.

Jimmy is not, I think he would agree, a morning person. That said, he's always been the sort to just get on with it and as this is the World Championship I'm sure he'll do exactly that.

Now White's main tour place has been safeguarded the pressure transfers in part to Doherty, who will need to win to stand a chance of returning to the top 32 next season.

White's victory relegated John Parrott - who beat him in the 1991 world final - from the professional circuit after 27 years.

All good things must come to an end but I'm sure he would rather it had ended at the Crucible than down the road in the qualifying dogfight.

Pulling on the waistcoat week after week, month after month, year after year becomes more than a habit. It's a way of life. That's why people who say, 'well, he's had a good innings' should understand how difficult it is for players of longstanding to just stop playing.

Parrott is very unlikely to carry on as an amateur but is involved in the forthcoming snookerlegends exhibition tour and will, of course, be on the BBC sofa for the 17 day drama that is now - get this! - just six weeks away.



John Parrott's 10-6 defeat to Anda Zhang in the Betfred.com World Championship qualifiers this afternoon seems likely to herald the end of his professional career.

Parrott won the title at the Crucible in 1991 - a few months before his Chinese opponent was born.

But he will now struggle to remain in the top 64 and thus keep his place on the pro circuit after 27 years.

By my reckoning, if Jimmy White wins his match tonight then Parrott will be pushed down to 65th on the list.

This would be a considerable irony as it was White who the Liverpudlian beat 18-11 to win the title 19 years ago.

JP has long since become better known for his media work, in particular as a pundit alongside Steve Davis on the BBC's snooker coverage.

He hasn't been a title contender in over a decade but I'd imagine he'll still be sad if this is to be the end.


Professional snooker owes its rise to the TV big time to the BBC above anything else.

It was the BBC who showed black and white matches, usually featuring Joe Davis, as fillers between racing and other sports on Saturday afternoons in the 1950s.

It was the BBC that brought the viewing public Pot Black in colour, which made household names of the players of the 1970s.

And it was the BBC who took the decision to televise the 1978 World Championship at the Crucible from first ball to last, which led to the explosion of interest in the 1980s and the creation of the professional circuit as we know it today.

But what is the future for the sport on a BBC that now finds itself in a crowded broadcasting marketplace having to defend its use of the licence fee?

This week, it's director general, Mark Thompson, pledged to cut services to plough more money into programme making but also to cap the BBC's spend on sports rights to 9% of the licence fee.

Today's Daily Mirror newspaper claims Thompson "wants snooker and darts off BBC2."

They do not quote him directly but the BBC's Strategy Review document proposes to 'reduce the volume of sport on BBC2.' As snooker is currently broadcast for many hours on this channel there must be fears that it is one of the sports that will be shifted elsewhere - or even scrapped altogether.

This would seriously threaten snooker's future as a top level TV sport.

Of its sports rights strategy, the BBC document states: "[we will] Continue to provide a home for major sporting events, free-to-air, as well as a broad range of other sport. The strategy for sports rights will, however, prioritise the list of the most important events for free-to-air coverage followed by sports with particular public service potential (such as Olympic sports and the Commonwealth Games) and others that deliver significant value to licence fee payers, recognising that the BBC needs to set a clear limit on how much it can invest."

Snooker is, of course, not an Olympic or Commonwealth sport.

The current BBC contract runs out at the end of next season. Barry Hearn, the WPBSA chairman, has been to see the corporation but no new contract has yet been announced.

It would be a surprise to everyone if it wasn't agreed but snooker has few options if the worst did happen.

Sky has shown little interest in snooker in recent years. ITV hasn't screened a tournament for the best part of a decade.

I would expect the BBC to sign another contract but for a reduced fee and possibly for three rather than four tournaments.

Make no mistake, though: if they decide their love affair with the green baize game can no longer be justified in the current economic climate, or that it simply doesn't fit in with their view of what the BBC should be, snooker is going to find itself in very serious trouble.



The WPBSA has axed the Pro Challenge Series after only four of the seven scheduled events were staged.

They say this is because of “low entry levels for the first four events.”

Event four in January was cancelled and events six and seven will now not take place.

The Pro Challenge Series was conceived as a way of providing additional playing opportunities, particularly for lower ranked players.

This is to be applauded (and it was by me when it was announced) but I also pointed out that not linking it to the existing ranking structure would discourage participation.

And so it proved. The most recent event attracted only 39 entries from the 96-man main tour and four of them failed to turn up.

Also, a number of lower ranked players have jobs and can’t always take time off to play, however none of the Pro Challenge tournaments were held over weekends where it would have been easier for them.

Mixing six reds into the equation never made any sense either.

According to WPBSA chairman Barry Hearn, next season there is likely to be ten Pro Tour tournaments staged over weekends.

It will have its own order of merit and the top 16 or 32 players at the end of the tenth event will take part in a televised Players Championship, as happens in PDC darts.

This should be a more attractive proposal to players, and not just those in the lower reaches of the rankings.



The draw for the last 32 of the Betfred.com World Championship will be made at 11am on Thursday, March 11.

It will be broadcast in all Betfred betting shops. Hopefully, it will also be online.


All through the 1990s the perennial question asked every year before the World Championship was ‘can Jimmy White win it?’

For the last couple it has been ‘can he qualify?’

This year it’s ‘can he stay on the tour?’

That’s the stark scenario facing the popular Londoner, who reached six Crucible finals between 1984 and 1994.

White goes into the Betfred.com qualifiers this week placed a precarious 60th in the provisional rankings.

He may well have to win his first match to remain in the top 64. If he slips out he will be relegated from the professional circuit after 30 years.

The WPBSA do have at least one wildcard at their discretion. I would find it incredible if this didn’t go to White so that he could continue his career but he could not rely on it indefinitely.

And with the qualifying structure likely to change he might not be able to.

If White gets through a round he ought to be safe. If he loses, his fate with rest in the hands of the players below him on the list.

Either way, it’s a parlous state of affairs for a former world no.2 who, despite the vagaries of form, has never lost his love for the game.

Jimmy’s had some disappointing setbacks this season, losing 5-4 on a re-spotted black from 4-0 up to Ian McCulloch in the Welsh Open qualifiers and then 5-4 to Xiao Guodong in the China Open.

But it was his withdrawal from the UK Championship qualifiers to go on I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here which has proved most costly.

Nobody goes on forever but White’s vast army of supporters will hope their man can go on a little longer.

Regardless of his current fortunes, he’ll still attract plenty of support both at the qualifiers and from those glued to live scoring.