But for the IBSF World Under 21 Championship Neil Robertson may never have had his moment in the sun at the Crucible this year.

The young Australian had already made two attempts at a professional career but made little progress by 2003.

However, Robertson's capture of the world junior title gave him a route back on to the main tour and he has never looked back since.

This year’s World Under 21 Championship begins tomorrow in Letterkenny, Republic of Ireland.

Will it be won by one of the stars of tomorrow?

Among those who have triumphed in the tournament, which was first staged in 1987, in past years are Ken Doherty, Peter Ebdon, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Marco Fu, Ricky Walden, Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo.

There have been others, too, who have failed to make the step up to the professional ranks with any success.

The draw for the event can be found on Global Snooker here.



The One Show will tonight include a feature on the late Alex Higgins, including an interview with Jimmy White.

The programme starts at 7pm on BBC1.

EDIT: Jimmy is now unable to take part but the feature will still be aired.



Further to yesterday's reports on the John Higgins case, the Guardian reports that the News of the World have in fact given its unedited video footage to David Douglas, the WPBSA board member heading up the governing body's new anti-corruption unit.

Full story here.

The view from Sporting Intelligence here.


World Snooker have released a very strange statement on behalf of Peter Ebdon, the 2002 world champion.

It reads: "I would like to make it known that I consider that I will not be in a position to play to the best of my ability in my Roewe Shanghai Masters qualifying match in Sheffield next week.

"This is down to personal circumstances, including the fact that I am getting re-married in Hungary this weekend. Since playing in a recent tournament in Thailand I have not been able to practise, and by the time the qualifiers come around I will not have played for ten days or more.

"I know just how bad I can be when I don't feel properly prepared as I am the type of player who needs to practise hard in order to play to a reasonable standard.

"As always, I will be doing my utmost to win what is a very important match for me but in truth, my levels of expectation will not be very high."

I've never - ever - known a snooker player issue a statement to tell everyone they aren't likely to win a match.

And I wouldn't encourage it either. It seems unfair on his eventual opponent, who is basically now under pressure to win the match as Ebdon apparently doesn't expect to.

What do odds compilers do now? Ebdon would ordinarily start favourite against any one of his four possible opponents: Michael White, Liu Chuang, Michael Judge or Dominic Dale.

My advice to the bookies is not to price the match up at all. It could create exactly the kind of stink the game doesn't need right now.

I'd have thought World Snooker would appreciate that more than anyone.


According to the bookies, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, the Irish actor who plays a young Henry VIII in The Tudors, is the favourite to portray the late Alex Higgins in a future biopic.

I remain sceptical as to whether such a film will ever be made. It will be hard to present Higgins in sufficiently sympathetic terms to make an audience warm to the central character. Alex relished life as an anti-hero and any sanitising of him would be doing the Hurricane a disservice.

There was once - about 20 years ago - a film version of his life touted with the excellent John Hurt suggested as the actor who could play him, but this never came off.

A few years ago I saw the one man play about Higgins by Richard Dormer, who also took the role of the twice world champion, at the studio theatre inside the Crucible.

It was superb. It didn't soft soap Higgins's worst traits but still managed to present him in heroic terms.

And there is also the 1984 film Number One, which is loosely based on Higgins.
Bob Geldof - before Band Aid - played a brilliant, rough and ready Irish player who didn't play by the rules in life or snooker.

Sound familiar?

Spoiler alert: at the end Geldof's character is chased around the Crucible arena by his opponent. Poor old Ted Lowe is not impressed.

John Williams referees in the early rounds but is replaced for the final by Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies.

The film was screened in Sheffield the night before the 1984 World Championship and attended by snooker journalists.

One who was there told me it was so bad that they laughed throughout and were too embarrassed to approach Geldof afterwards.

It's available on DVD for anyone brave enough to give it a go.

As for a Higgins film, I'm not sure even the finest minds of cinemaland could really capture the tortured genius.

Better to watch him at his best: at the table. As ever, Youtube is your friend.



There’s much talk about new formats in snooker, about speeding up play, about attracting a new, young audience.

I’ve got no problem with any of that. Outsiders look at snooker and see a sport that has barely changed in years.

The late, great Alex Higgins shook it up in the 1970s but it’ll take more than a single figure to do the same now. No sport can be that lucky twice.

But while I welcome innovation, I would warn those charged with leading this bright new era not to mess too much with the very ingredients that have created so many great memories for millions over the decades.

Snooker’s attractiveness is based on its capacity to author dramatic psychological sagas. It is not a physical sport but the mental strengths and weaknesses of players are laid bare for all to see and this leads to an emotional investment on behalf of the viewer.

Who will hold their nerve? Who will crack up completely? These are the fascinations through which audiences can become hooked for hours at a time.

In the August issue of Snooker Scene, out next week, we include an interview I have done with Martin Gould in which he speaks honestly about his 13-12 defeat to Neil Robertson from 11-5 up at the Crucible last season.

The only good news for Martin is that he wasn’t the first – and certainly won’t be the last – to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

So many careers are littered with regrets at having lost matches, and particularly finals, having held commanding, surely unimpeachable, leads.

But what makes these at times heartbreaking losses so compelling is the amount of time they took. Finals, especially at the Crucible, allow time for doubt to creep in, anxiety to take hold and seemingly unsurpassable leads to be overturned.

Snooker’s great appeal has always been the slow burning drama it generates.

Shortening the length of matches will dilute this drama.

The shot clock will do the same. A shot clock is not necessarily a bad idea but it should not be introduced to artificially speed play up. Rather, it should guard against players dragging the pace of play down.

That is why 20 seconds a shot is certainly too short and 25 almost certainly too short.

In the Premier League, where there are no ranking points up for grabs and which has in any case always been attacking, the players cope fine but in a ranking tournament, with more at stake, all a 25 second shot clock would do would be to drag the standard down.

Players would panic, rush and miss more. Balls would run scrappy and frames could well take longer to complete than normal.

But a 40 second per shot limit would be a different matter entirely. It would stop players taking a minute or more to consider reasonably straightforward shots but should not cause rushing and the errors that brings either.

I remain unconvinced about the need for a shot clock at all, but it is almost inevitable it will feature at some point during the season.

And, as I said at the start, there’s nothing wrong with trying new ideas. Snooker should move with the times and take a look at itself instead of arrogantly assuming all is rosy in the garden.

But drama in snooker comes from the possibility that exists for whole matches to turn round, and these have to be of a certain length for that to happen.

Snooker is a sport of many facets. A scrap on the colours can be as enjoyable as a flawless century break.

But the best matches tend to be the close ones and the most memorable of these tend to be where one player has held a big lead only to see it reduced: think Taylor v Davis in 1985, Higgins v Davis in the 1983 UK Championship, Davis v Thorne in the same event in 1985, Paul Hunter's three Masters comebacks, Hendry v White in 1992 and so on, and so on.

Alex Higgins’s 69 break against Jimmy White at 15-14 down in their 1982 semi-final would have been considered a great contribution at any time in any match.

But what makes it so iconic and so well remembered is the point at which he made it: with his back to the wall at the end of a four session match. It was appreciated all the more because the audience, like Higgins, had come through the battle and were into the endgame.

How a player stands up in such a scenario, after so many hours, so many frames, is what makes top level snooker such a gripping sport.

Jimmy White would probably have been world champion had the final been best of 11. But it wasn't and he wasn't and that's the point.

Shorter formats, though fun, do not have the same appeal because they cannot generate the same drama.

Barry Hearn understands this. Some characterise him as a populist who cares little about the history of the sport but this is nonsense. In fact, he is steeped in the history of the sport. He was there in the 1980s. He knows what made snooker great in the first place.

And that is why he has pledged to 'ring fence' the majors and leave them free of gimmickry.

At the same time he has to work on snooker's staid image and find a way of marketing it to bring in new fans.

That's why shorter formats and events aimed more at entertainment than pure sport have their place - as long as they augment the traditional game and do not encroach so far into it that people no longer believe it's worth watching.

The challenge for Hearn and snooker as a whole is to recognise what makes the green baize game special and safeguard that while at the same time still embracing the age in which we live.

Its success at balancing the two will to a large degree decide the fate of the sport over the next decade.



The John Higgins case has taken a dramatic new twist.

The Sporting Intelligence website has reported that the News of the World, which ran edited footage on its website in May purporting to show Higgins agreeing to lose frames for money, will not hand over the full unedited tapes unless the three times world champion agrees not to sue them at any point in the future.

Higgins, who remains suspended from all tournaments, is likely to hear his fate at a tribunal in early September.

The full story is on the Sporting Intelligence website.


BBC Radio 5 Live will broadcast a special programme at 9pm tonight looking back on the life and career of Alex Higgins.

Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton is among the guests.


Jimmy White has paid tribute to his friend Alex Higgins, who died on Saturday.

White told the Daily Mirror: "I was crying all yesterday. I'm absolutely devastated.

"I was in awe of him. I didn't always agree with what he did but I loved him. I have lost a friend and I will remember him forever.

"Alex took snooker in the 1970s to the heights which it reached in the 80s - that was all down to him."

White is on his way back from the Six Reds World Championship in Thailand to attend Higgins's funeral.

A book of condolence will be opened at Belfast City Hall this morning.



Clive Everton reported on Alex Higgins's 1972 world title triumph and all the highs and lows that followed.

Here is his obituary of Higgins, as printed in The Observer.


Among the many things that will be said about Alex Higgins, many good and many bad, he was responsible for one of snooker's most memorable moments, which is worth reflecting on tonight.

Trailing Jimmy White 15-14 in their 1982 World Championship semi-final, he was a frame - in fact a couple of balls - from defeat.

And then this happened...



Alex Higgins brought one thing to snooker that above all else cemented his place as one of the game's most important figures: the public.

He won the World Championship in 1972 at his first attempt when snooker barely registered with the British sporting public. By the time he captured the title again in 1982 it had been transformed into a frontline television attraction, largely due to the Northern Irishman’s intoxicating playing style and vividly dramatic personal life.

Higgins’s 1982 success at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre remains among snooker’s most iconic moments. As the trophy was presented he tearfully beckoned his wife, Lynn, and baby daughter, Lauren, on to the stage to share in the glory.

There were to be many more emotional moments in a life lived without compromise. Higgins could have accumulated more silverware than he did were it not for his volcanic temperament but his capacity to find trouble ensured he retained a huge fascination and, therefore, a sizeable following. His last playing engagement came in a Snooker Legends night at the Crucible in April where he received a rapturous ovation.

Higgins was born in Belfast in 1949 and learned his snooker trade at the Jampot Billiard Hall. He won the Northern Ireland amateur title at the age of 18 and moved to Blackburn to pursue a career on the green baize. Snooker at this time was in the doldrums with just a handful of professionals, little media coverage and television exposure limited only to the weekly Pot Black series. At his first attempt, Higgins won the world professional title. At 23, he was the youngest ever winner until Stephen Hendry captured the crown in 1990 at 21.

Higgins’s 37-31 defeat of John Spencer, the defending champion, in the final signified a changing of the guard. The polite, staid world of snooker had never seen anything like the player nicknamed ‘The Hurricane.’ He would go on to revel in his status as ‘people’s champion,’ packing venues even after his game had declined to the point he could no longer compete at the top level.

Yet for all the controversy, Higgins deserves to be remembered as one of snooker’s greatest ever players. He won the Masters, the game’s premier invitation title, in 1978 and 1981 and recovered from 7-0 down to beat Steve Davis 16-15 in the final of the 1983 UK Championship.

In 1984, he won the World Doubles title with Jimmy White, his protégé who remained a close friend to the end, digging him out of many holes, particularly financial. The remarkable 69 break Higgins made when a frame from defeat to White in the 1982 Crucible semi-finals has been constantly replayed and is still regarded as the finest match saving contribution ever produced under pressure, consisting of a series of difficult pots each executed with the unique Higgins swagger.

Higgins finished runner-up to Ray Reardon in the 1976 World Championship and lost 18-16 to Cliff Thorburn in the 1980 final, coverage of which was interrupted by live news reports from the Iranian embassy in London, which was being stormed by the SAS. So engrossed were millions in the snooker that the BBC was deluged with calls demanding they return to the Crucible.

Higgins’s tumultuous private life kept him in the public eye but snooker’s administrators grew tired of his behaviour, which often crossed the line from the merely rebellious to plain unacceptable. In 1986 he was suspended for five tournaments after headbutting Paul Hatherall, the tournament director at the UK Championship in Preston, who had asked him to undergo a drugs test.

Four years later Higgins was banned for an entire season for a litany of offences, including threatening to have his compatriot and fellow former world champion Dennis Taylor shot and punching a tournament press officer. The subsequent loss of ranking points meant he had to enter tournaments at the qualifying stage and, with his game already in decline, Higgins began a slide that would ultimately end his career.

His death had been predicted many times over the last three decades but Higgins was renowned as a fighter. In 1989, he won the Irish Masters despite having to limp around the table after falling 25 foot after a row with his then girlfriend. He survived throat cancer in 1998 and returned to smoking, despite having attempted to sue the tobacco companies who had bankrolled the sport during his heyday.

Higgins last played in the televised stage of the World Championship in 1994, when he became involved in an argument with the referee, John Williams, about where the official was standing. His last match on the circuit came three years later at the qualifying school in Plymouth where he was escorted from the venue for being abusive and eventually found lying on the ground in the early hours, the victim of an attack with an iron bar.

He attempted various comebacks, none of them successful, and in more recent times cut a sad figure, bitterly deriding the players who now dominate the circuit he helped to build. Last October, he played Thorburn again in a Legends tournament in Glenrothes. His frail frame and inability to talk in anything but a whisper reduced his notoriously tough Canadian opponent to tears.

Right to the end Higgins relished his role as one of sport’s great anti-heroes. He was uncompromising and could be impossible to be around, even for his friends, but was the key figure in snooker’s rise from obscurity to the television big time.

He divorced Lynn in 1985 and is survived by her, Lauren and his son, Jordan.


Tributes are starting to pour in for Alex Higgins, who died today at the age of 61.

Among those remembering him are his fellow players.

Ronnie O’Sullivan said: “Alex Higgins was one of the real inspirations behind me getting into snooker. He is a true legend and should be forever remembered as being the finest ever snooker player.”

Higgins's compatriot and fellow former world champion Dennis Taylor commented: “I had so many terrific battles with Alex, particularly in Belfast. Towards the end it was sad but I prefer to remember him as he was when he first came on the scene.”

Willie Thorne said: “He made the game what it is today. I knew him well. He used to stay with me. My mother would do his ironing. It’s very sad news. Snooker fans will miss him greatly.”

Barry Hearn: "He was the major reason for snooker's popularity in the early days. He was controversial at times, but he always played the game in the right spirit. We will miss him – he was the original people's champion."

John Parrott: “We knew his health wasn’t great. When he played in the Legends in April he was very poorly. It’s really sad and he will be missed. You’ll never meet another human being like him. He was mercurial. One minute he was charming, intelligent and witty and the next he could turn and have a nasty side to him but he puts bums on seats. I used to tune in to Pot Black to watch him. I went to watch him in exhibitions, He was totally different. I’ve seen him play shots nobody else has ever played.”

Steve Davis: "To people in the game he was a constant source of argument, he was a rebel. But to the wider public he was a breath of fresh air that drew them in to the game.
"He was an inspiration to my generation to take the game up. I do not think his contribution to snooker can be underestimated. He was quite a fierce competitor, he lived and breathed the game, very much a fighter on the table."

ALEX HIGGINS: 1949-2010

Alex Higgins has died at the age of 61.

More follows...


Mark Selby today defeated Ricky Walden 8-6 to win the Sangsom Six Reds World Championship in Bangkok, Thailand.

This is Selby's second title in a matter of weeks having also won the second PTC event in Sheffield.

Momentum is important in any sport and once you get on a roll you want to have as much to play in as possible.

Selby will certainly be busy this season. I've no doubt he'll play in all or certainly most of the PTC and EPTC tournaments, he's back in the Premier League, the new Power Snooker innovation and of course has the main tour events as well.

Not only busy but also potentially very lucrative. The top prize in the six reds event was £40,000.

So with the Wuxi Classic as well that's £51,850 in his back pocket for the season and it's not even August yet.



Stephen Maguire has missed out on a 147 for the second successive day at the BTV International in Beijing.

The world no.6 missed the yellow on a maximum yesterday and today failed on the 14th black.

But Maguire, who two years ago became the first player to make a 147 in a ranking event in China, went on to beat Marco Fu 5-2 to reach the semi-finals.

Also through are Ryan Day, who beat Xiao Guodong 5-2, Liang Wenbo, a 5-3 winner over Mark Allen, and Jin Long, who defeated Tian Pengfei 5-1.



In terms of the professionalism of the launch, Power Snooker today made a promising start.

Journalists gathered at the Courtyard Hotel in the heart of central London were treated to a video presentation of the new concept by Ronnie O’Sullivan plus a press conference featuring O’Sullivan, Power Snooker promoter Rod Gunner, Barry Hearn, ITV head of sport Niall Sloane and Maurice Kelly of Rileys Clubs.

Power Snooker consists of matches of 30 minutes duration where points count rather than frames. There are nine reds racked in a diamond formation. The middle red is a ‘powerball’ and if it is potted all points scored in the next two minutes are worth double.

Any balls potted from the ‘powerzone’ – baulk – are worth double. A century is worth 50 bonus points.

There is a 20 second limit per shot and the audience at the O2 arena are required to make noise, rather than remain silent.

Power Snooker is designed to appeal to a more youthful audience than the traditional game. Players will wear microphones to catch their reactions.

The field is expected to consist of O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Ali Carter, Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Jimmy White and Luca Brecel.

It will be screened live on October 30 in two four programmes on ITV4, marking ITV’s return to snooker after nine years.

Trevor East, a former ITV head of sport, is in charge of international television distribution.

Gunner said that the plan was to stage a launch event and, if all goes well, have a global series taking in China, Europe, the Middle East and the USA with a grand finals in the UK.

So what do we make of all this, then?

It wasn’t Hearn’s idea but he is supporting it. “When Rod came to me with Power Snooker I was very receptive, as we should be to anything new,” he said.

“I was excited that this could help bring a new, young audience to snooker, which the game needs.”

However, Hearn stressed several times that Power Snooker was not designed to threaten the established form of snooker.

He said he had ring-fenced the ‘crown jewels’ – the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters – and left them immune to format changes.

O’Sullivan was less diplomatic. “I find the World Championship a bore,” he said.

“I know it’s the pinnacle of the sport and I’ve won it three times but 17 days in Sheffield is draining.

“People want to turn up, have a buzz and move on.

“Power Snooker is a challenge. It’s the future of snooker. People have to realise it’s the year 2010. We’re not stuck in the 1970s any more.”

Actually, Power Snooker is not intended to be the future of the game. It’s a standalone concept that nevertheless dovetails with Hearn’s ambitions to globalise the sport and better project the personalities of the players.

The truth is, Ronnie gets bored easily. Most things seem to bore him in the end. If he was playing Power Snooker every week it would bore him eventually.

That’s just how he is. If I were promoting a tournament he’d be the first name on my list of players but PR isn’t his thing.

I like Ronnie’s honesty and willingness to just speak his mind but I don’t agree with him. The World Championship remains a hugely popular sporting event because of the slow burning drama it generates.

As Hearn said, “it has created moments you couldn’t buy. It isn’t boring, it’s just different to Power Snooker.”

He added: “Ronnie’s not out of leftfield. He’s from somewhere else entirely. That’s why I love him so much.”

The first line of O’Sullivan’s obituary will mention the number of world titles he has won. This remains the ultimate achievement of any player.

His glib comments may have overshadowed the launch, which is a shame because Gunner, who has a very successful background in the entertainment and marketing sector, is clearly a man with bags of enthusiasm and the resources to back it up.

“We want people to get into snooker through Power Snooker,” Gunner said. “Twenty/20 cricket has encouraged people to watch Test matches and we hope to do similar.”

Perhaps the most significant part of this whole enterprise is the return of ITV to the fold.

Sloane has worked with Hearn through the PDC Grand Slam of Darts, which brought a large audience to ITV4.

“I didn’t need too much persuading,” Sloane said. “Every sport needs to look at itself on a regular basis.

“The trick with reinvention is not to destroy what made it popular in the first place. We don’t want to destroy the traditional game.”

15 red snooker will always be my preferred version of snooker but I am not against any form of innovation if it gives the players more opportunities and raises the overall profile of the sport.

Not everyone will agree – and they are perfectly entitled not to – but I think people should at least watch Power Snooker and give it a chance.

And it’s worth remembering that snooker only exists because other cue sports were changed and adapted.

100 years ago, billiard players regarded snooker as a fad that wouldn’t last.

Well, the ‘fad’ has done pretty well for itself and it should be relaxed about genuine attempts such as this to expand its reach.

I’ll leave the last word to Hearn, because he invariably has it.

“We live in a sh*t world,” he said. “It’s depressing. But every now and again you can do something to put the smiles back on people’s faces. And life’s always better when you smile.”


Snooker will return to ITV for the first time in nine years with a new event to be announced today.

I will post details of Power Snooker after the official launch - happening right now and attended by Ronnie O’Sullivan and Barry Hearn.

ITV’s last involvement in snooker ended in 2001 with the third and final staging of the Champions Cup. They also screened the Nations Cup in this period.

Prior to this the ITV network broadcast four tournaments a season during the boom years of the 1980s: the International, World Doubles (later the World Matchplay), Mercantile Classic and British Open.

These latter two tournaments had best of 25 frame finals played over Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon.

The climaxes to these finals frequently drew high audiences, several of which were in excess of ten million.

Then two things happened which heralded the beginning of the end of snooker on ITV.

They used to share coverage with Channel 4 but when Michael Grade arrived as chief executive of C4 in 1987 he declared he wanted ‘a channel for people who don’t like snooker.’

In attempting to make the channel unique, this was perfectly fair enough but it meant ITV had to try and find the hours to properly show their events, not easy in the days before digital with so many other programmes competing for space.

Then in 1988 ITV won the rights to show a live first division football match every Sunday afternoon, eating up the slot traditionally taken by snooker.

ITV gradually scaled down to three tournaments, then two and then finally none at all.

The broadcasting landscape has changed, though. ITV now has four channels with ITV4 showing several hours of sport, particularly PDC darts – also headed by Hearn, football, boxing, tennis, motor sport and, currently, the Tour de France.

ITV4 will show eight hours live coverage of the new event, which will be held over a single day.

As I say, I will post details after it has been officially launched. I suspect it will attract a fair amount of comment as it involves changes to the standard rules.

The good news, though, is that ITV are back on board which must be a good sign going forward, particularly as Sky Sports are dipping their toes into the water with World Snooker once again after seven years with their new Shootout.



Jamie Cope has been seeded through to the final stages of the Shanghai Masters in place of the suspended John Higgins.

Cope is ranked 17th in the world. Mike Dunn, as world no.33, will be seeded through to the final qualifying round.

David Douglas has submitted a report on behalf of the WPBSA to Sports Resolutions UK, who will form a verdict based on their evidence and that of Higgins.

That verdict is expected within the next month but by then the closing date for entries to the World Open will also have passed so Higgins will be unable to play in that, even if he is cleared.

Liu Song has been given a discretionary place on the main tour to make up the 96th player in the season's first two ranking events.


Stephen Hendry will face his teenage compatriot Anthony McGill in the opening round of the fourth Players Tour Championship event of the season next month.

Hendry is making his debut in the series having sat out the first three tournaments.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, a quarter-finalist in the first PTC event, also returns and will meet world no.12 Ryan Day in the last 128.

But Ding Junhui has once again not entered and is thus ineligible for the grand finals next March.

Players have to have competed in a minumum of three UK PTC events and three in Europe to be able to qualify for the big money finals.

In the standout ties in PTC4, world champion Neil Robertson faces Malta's Tony Drago, PTC2 winner Mark Selby takes on Zhang Anda, who qualified for the Crucible last season, and Matthew Stevens tackles James Wattana.

I counted 92 professionals in the field, meaning only three - John Higgins is still suspended - have opted out.



Hopefully the Barry Hearn revolution will result in some new faces appearing on our TV screens over the coming season.

A television debut is still a huge deal. Players are used to having friends and family supporting them at venues but the chance for wider exposure somehow makes all the hours and hours spent practising worthwhile.

It is proof that what they tell hairdressers, opticians and folk down the pub is actually true: they really are professional snooker players and, to prove it, you can tune in and watch them.

It can, of course, go one of two ways.

Martin Clark made his TV debut at the 1987 International against Dennis Taylor, winner of the World Championship two years earlier and the reigning Wembley Masters champion.

The result: Clark beat Taylor 5-0.

All too common, though, the debutant freezes. And it’s understandable. They’re not used to the cameras, the crowds or the increased pressure placed upon them.

This is particularly true of players who have spent almost all of their careers mired in the qualifiers in claustrophobic cubicles in front of the proverbial one man and his dog (and not always the dog).

The TV arenas take some getting used to, nowhere more than the forbidding Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

I recall a Scottish professional, John Lardner, playing there one year and remarking afterwards that the TV cameras were so close that they ‘felt like Daleks.’

I seem to remember he was actually exterminated by Stephen Lee.

Ken Doherty told me that the first time he played at the Crucible he spent the first four frames in a daze, looking around the arena, not believing he was there.

Needless to say he went to the interval 4-0 down.

Some players have to wait many years into their professional careers before appearing before the cameras and it hasn’t always been the experience they were hoping for.

In the case of Ken Owers, a journeyman pro of the 1980s, his debut on ITV consisted of one frame in the recorded highlights.

Owers appeared on screen only once: a cutaway of him sat in his chair before the cameras panned back to show his opponent, Neal Foulds, clearing up to beat him.

There’s a good crop of new young professionals who have joined the tour this year. The qualifying set up is a jungle but it was ever thus.

I hope some of them make it through and show the world what they are made of.

Appearing on TV is a source of great pride for players and something that you can always look back on.

That said, Joe Johnson’s kids taped over much of his 1986 world title triumph with ‘He-Man: Masters of the Universe’ so it’s advisable to be careful where you store the recording.



Stephen Hendry is among around 70 professionals who have entered the Paul Hunter Classic, the first of six events that comprise the European Players Tour Championship.

The tournament will be staged in Furth, Germany from August 27-29.

Also on the starting list are world champion Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Ali Carter, Steve Davis, Mark Allen, Mark Williams, Stephen Maguire and Jimmy White.

Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ding Junhui do not feature in the list of entrants but the closing date is not until a week today.

Like the PTC events, the EPTC carries ranking points.



Steve Davis was only saying what everyone in the snooker world already knew when he revealed in the Daily Star on Sunday that players have for years bet on themselves to lose and bet on high breaks being beaten.

It's called insurance betting. It also happens to be against the rules.

There was a minor scandal in the 1990s when John Spencer, the then WPBSA chairman, was revealed to have done it.

As Davis says, it doesn't mean players were trying to lose. They were just covering themselves against defeat.

Nevertheless, it remains a shady practice open to misinterpretation and Barry Hearn quite rightly wants it stamped out.

Hearn has raised prize money on the circuit by £1m. There is now an opportunity to play more and earn more money.

Players unable to make a living from the game should get another job, not top up their incomes with money won from bookies through losing.

It does not do anything for snooker's image to have players found to be indulging in side bets on their matches - even though most of it has been done in all innocence.

In the last few years a culture has grown up in which a blind eye has been turned to all this. It started when the round robins were introduced for the Grand Prix - something bookies hated - and has ended with the world no.1 being suspended.

Players need to realise that the sport now largely depends on the financial support of the betting industry - just as it once did on tobacco companies.

It does nothing for snooker's prospects to have players dragged into stories about betting.

I know some people find the involvement of betting companies distasteful and would argue it encourages a culture of gambling. Perhaps it's therefore hypocritical to try and clobber players for betting.

Well, the game has been so badly run in the past that snooker has few other options right now.

And the fact is, snooker is one of the most honest sports out there. Players routinely own up to fouls - and not just on TV - and generally maintain an etiquette that has existed for over a century.

As in any sport there are rotten apples - and they must be dealt with.

This is why the culture of small scale betting that goes on behind the scenes has to stop.

Like so many other areas of our sport, the old way of doing things has to change.



Reigning Betfred.com world champion Neil Robertson and snooker legend Steve Davis will make their debuts in the Players Tour Championship in event 3 next month.

Robertson and Davis are among 88 of 95 eligible professionals to have entered, an increase on the second event.

The Australian plays Liverpool's Allan Taylor in the first round while Davis tackles Kurt Maflin, a Londoner now resident in Norway.

Among the intriguing ties are Jamie Cope v Ken Doherty, Judd Trump v Michael Holt and Dave Harold v Reanne Evans.

Event 3 runs from August 5-7.


This season is Stephen Hendry’s 26th as a professional and his 23rd in succession as a member of the elite top 16.

It could also be the campaign that tells us whether his career in the top flight is set to continue or whether his days are numbered.

There is certainly no disgrace in being ranked 11th at the age of 41 but I suspect Stephen doesn’t derive much pleasure from now being a member of the supporting cast after so many years in the starring role.

He is snooker’s greatest ever champion and, like all born winners, wants to keep on winning.

In fact, it’s now five years since his last ranking title and almost four since his last ranking final.

Hendry’s essential problem is that all of the players above him in the rankings have copied how he played in his heyday but they are now playing it better than him.

When Steve Davis began to drop down the list he changed his game and became much more tactical, happy to scrape wins rather than try and pot his opponents off the table.

Hendry has never been a fan of safety play and frames that get drawn out and is still playing the same game as he always did, just with less success.

I know he hates people saying he isn’t as good as he once was but the evidence of the last two years suggests that this is the case.

It is hard for any player to accept this but especially difficult for an all time great.

It took Davis a number of years to come to terms with the fact that Hendry had overtaken him as snooker’s dominant force. When he did he relaxed and did not put himself under pressure trying to force results.

And then, out of nowhere and with little personal expectation, he won the Wembley Masters in 1997.

Since then Davis has put together several memorable performances, defying Old Father Time. He reached the 2004 Welsh Open final, the 2005 UK Championship final and, of course, beat John Higgins in the second round of last season’s Betfred.com World Championship.

In the same tournament Hendry struggled past young Zhang Anda before suffering a heavy defeat to Mark Selby.

His aura of invincibility is now gone. His performances of late have even seen him dropped from the Premier League.

But I think it’s dangerous to write him off completely. Truly great players in any sport have a tendency to, as the old cliché puts it, roll back the years every now and again.

It’s entirely conceivable Hendry could win tournaments in the future but I don’t think he will until he accepts he is no longer as strong a player as he was at his remarkable peak.

What he needs is an injection of self belief. I don’t know if Hendry feels the new Players Tour Championship is beneath him but it is actually an ideal chance to rebuild confidence.

There’s nobody watching, if he loses he can point to the short format but it’s matches against good players and will toughen up his game more than by playing alone in his snooker room.

Furthermore, if he misses many more PTC events his ranking position will suffer and it may be that he will have to go to the Academy in Sheffield – to qualify for tournaments.

In such a scenario, Hendry may prefer a dignified retirement. If that happens he will hang up his cue safe in the knowledge that his career has been more successful than any other player in the modern age.

But I sense he isn’t ready to give up just yet.



Neil Robertson will parade the Betfred.com World Championship trophy at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday before the AFL football match between Collingwood and St. Kilda.

The match is expected to attract a crowd of more than 80,000 spectators.

Robertson, a Collingwood fan, has been busy promoting the game down under off the back of his Crucible triumph, raising hopes of a professional event in Australia.

His appearance on the pitch before the match - as well as a live TV interview at quarter time - will further boost snooker's profile.

Robertson has also met with Bob Hawke, the former Australian prime minister (pictured), who is supporting his nomination for the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame.

Hawke is a patron of the Australia Billiards and Snooker Council.


Barry Hearn will appear on BBC Radio 5 Live tonight from 9.30pm to talk about his ongoing plans for snooker.

He has already teased the possibility of a World Cup, which is long overdue.

The old World Team Cup was played over four days featuring just eight teams but the World Cup staged in Bangkok in 1996 was a proper international event.

Needless to say it hasn't been staged since.

The Nations Cup was a poor imitation in comparison and has not been staged since 2001.

Snooker is an individual sport but team snooker is a staple of leagues and would create a different atmosphere.

The four UK home nations could be joined by the Republic of Ireland, China, Thailand, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Brazil and various other outposts. The game is played by amateurs in more countries than ever.

Hearn has a number of announcements to come, including broadcast deals and new innovations.

They won't all be introduced this season but the game is now going forward after many years of stagnation.


One of the most welcome things to happen last season was the return to form of Mark Williams.

Having returned to the elite top 16 in 2009 he is now back in the top eight and has already won the campaign’s first PTC title.

Only a stellar Ronnie O’Sullivan performance could deny him a place in last season’s Wembley Masters final and it was another superb O’Sullivan display that cost him a place in the Crucible quarter-finals.

In between Williams reminded everyone just how good he can be by winning the China Open, his first ranking title since 2006.

The key to Mark’s success has always been his laid back attitude. He gives the impression that nothing much bothers him most of the time.

In his period in the doldrums he had various off table pressures that meant he was no longer happy-go-lucky.

There was also, perhaps subconsciously, the notion that after completing the grand slam of all four BBC tournaments and occupying the world no.1 position in 2003 he no longer had anything to achieve.

Williams won’t have enjoyed having to qualify during the 2008/09 season but in the long run it has done him good.

He also now has his own snooker club and seems to be back in the groove generally.

Time is against him. At 35 he is now considered to be on the back nine of his career but, as he proved last season, he is still capable of deadly performances.

His strength was always his single ball potting, forcing his way into frames. He can scrap it out and his temperament is rock solid. It makes for a highly effective game when it all comes together.

I spoke to Mark briefly at PTC 2 and he seems to be as enthusiastic as ever about his snooker. He was a big supporter of Barry Hearn prior to the EGM and is relishing the increased playing opportunities that are ahead of the players, not just this season but in the years to come.

Williams, at his best, was the sort of player you would pick to play a frame if your life depended on it.

Regardless of the problems he’s had in recent times, he is getting back to that sort of level and there’s no obvious reason why more silverware shouldn’t be heading his way this season.



Mark Williams, Mark Selby, Jamie Cope, Ken Doherty, Peter Ebdon and former winners Ricky Walden and Jimmy White are among the players taking part in the Sangsom Six Reds World Championship in Bangkok, Thailand next week.

Hang on, I hear you holler. Wasn’t there a World Championship in Killarney just before Christmas?

Yes, there was, but this is a different event. It was called the World Grand Prix last year but is now being billed as a World Championship.

There is no governing body for six reds snooker so they can call it what they want but it seems to be unnecessarily confusing.

Thailand was once a hotbed of snooker. Its popularity declined along with the career of its best ever player, one time world no.3 James Wattana.

Any event featuring top players should be welcomed and the Six Reds tournament will be covered on national TV.

The truth is, though, that six reds snooker has not taken off in any meaningful way. It doesn’t feature at all in Barry Hearn’s future plans and has no profile outside of these two World Championships (I understand the Irish one is returning later this year).

My view of it remains unchanged: it’s fine as a sideshow but will never overtake the established form of the game. Then again, it was never meant to. It’s just a variant of snooker.

Events such as this give the players more opportunities and I’m all for that as well as the coverage the game will get in Asia.

Having two world champions is a little daft, though.

There's more information on the Thai event on the tournament website here.



Ding Junhui’s season was one of much improvement after a couple of disappointing years.

Of the six world ranking titles contested he appeared in three finals, winning a gripping UK Championship battle against John Higgins.

However, the campaign ended in a second round defeat at the Crucible to Shaun Murphy. This in itself was no disgrace but Ding is still yet to appear in a World Championship quarter-final.

He did little wrong against an inspired Mark Williams in the second session of the China Open final and, from what I’m told, hardly made a mistake from 8-2 up to Murphy in the Wuxi Classic final, which he eventually lost 9-8.

Ding has defied the dire predictions that he had peaked as a teenager and would not settle down as a top player. It was easy – and forgivable – to expect much more of him considering his golden 18-month spell from March 2005 when he won the China Open, UK Championship and Northern Ireland Trophy.

Back then, he looked like a certain top four player and possible world champion. Neither of these has happened yet but, at 23, he still has plenty of time to add to his achievements.

Of course, he suffered that confidence-sapping drubbing to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2007 Masters final and had to deal with the expectations heaped on him by the largest country on the planet.

These have been eased by the emergence of Liang Wenbo, whose rise up the rankings may also have created a rivalry that has helped spur Ding on.

He seemed happier last season in general. Moving from his home to live in the UK was not easy but he appears to have settled now.

One change this season is his practice base. The World Snooker Academy is now a qualifying centre so Ding has had to find somewhere else, but I understand his manager is setting up a new facility in Sheffield so this won’t be such a seismic shift.

Ding starts the new season fifth in the rankings, his highest ever position. He started the campaign just gone struggling to stay in the top 16 so this represents a vast effort.

He remains a rather shy young man not entirely comfortable with the spotlight. People are made differently. It’s easy to say a sportsman should be this, that or the other but ultimately people are who they are.

Ding gets criticised because often in the arena he looks thoroughly fed up.

So what if he does? I’ve never understood the juvenile demand that players should ‘smile more.’ What if there’s nothing to smile about?

And how many top sportsmen or women go about with fixed rictus grins on their faces when they are trying to concentrate on playing their chosen game to the best of their ability?

He inevitably has people fussing around him trying to market him in a certain way or telling him how to behave. My advice is simple: let Ding be Ding.

Let him concentrate primarily on what he has loved doing since he first came across the game as a ten year-old on the table outside his family home: playing snooker.

This is what fascinates him. This is what inspires him. This is what he is really good at.



Mark Selby won one of the matches of last season when he once again demonstrated his ability to deal with pressure in high stakes situations.

Selby’s recovery from 9-6 down to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9 and land a second Wembley Masters title was proof of his big match temperament.

A second comeback against O’Sullivan in the Crucible quarter-finals a couple of months later further enhanced this reputation.

Selby’s problem isn’t the big occasions. Quite the opposite, in fact: he seems to struggle in earlier rounds, which helps to explain why, for a second successive season, he went down the rankings.

Two years ago the Leicester man was the world no.4. He slipped to seventh and is now ninth.

The new rankings system affords him the chance to rise up quicker than before but if he endures the same start to the current campaign as he did to the one just gone he’ll continue his slide.

Then again, here are the six players he lost to in ranking events last season: Stuart Bingham, Ken Doherty, O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Ding Junhui and Graeme Dott. No shame in any of those defeats.

Also, he suffered from the Bahrain Championship fiasco of 2008 but – and isn’t it funny how things turn out? – he will end up benefiting from it because when the points come to be dropped later in the year he won’t have any to lose.

But why is it he still only has one ranking title to his name? Well, the obvious reason is that there have been so few of late and the standard is such that winning one is an achievement in itself.

Even so, there is currently a gap between his reputation with his fellow players – they regard him as one of the very best of the current era – and his record of achievement in ranking events.

I’m certain this will change and it will probably change this season. I believe Selby is a good enough player to be world champion.

Furthermore, I don’t believe he merits the criticism he sometimes gets for being slow. He isn’t slow. If you think he is, dig out a video of some of snooker’s proper grinders from years gone by.

He was perfectly comfortable with the 25 second per shot time limit in the Premier League two years ago, where he reached the final, and was unlucky not to be invited back last season. He’s in it this year and must be a big favourite to reach the play-offs because, again, the tournament has a big match feel to it due to the crowds and general atmosphere.

Selby may have employed a tactical game to his benefit at times. So what? Why shouldn’t he? It’s a perfectly acceptable game plan to play to your own strengths rather than those of your opponent.

The point is, he can switch between attack and defence with deadly effect in a similar vein to Higgins.

His break-building skills are evident for all to see. He has twice compiled five centuries in a match at the Crucible. The only others players to do this more than once are Stephen Hendry, Higgins and O’Sullivan.

In winning the PTC event yesterday he made a total of eight century breaks.

Off table, Mark is a normal, down to earth guy without pretensions. As far as I’m aware he is obliging with fans when it comes to autographs and pictures.

He makes an effort to promote himself and is - unbelievably - the only top player who regularly writes a blog for his official website (although O'Sullivan has started one in Chinese for Sohu.com).

Like most players, Selby just wants to play and, despite all the ‘Jester from Leicester’ stuff, wants to win.

I’d be amazed if he wasn’t winning major silverware this season.



Mark Selby (pictured left with WPBSA Tournament Director Mike Ganley) came from 3-1 down to beat Barry Pinches 4-3 and win the second Players Tour Championship title of the season in Sheffield tonight.

Selby, the world no.9, won the opening frame but sat out breaks of 72, 79 and 95 as Pinches threatened an upset.

But Pinches scored only eight further points in the match and Selby finished off with back-to-back centuries of 133 and 116.

I'll be profiling Selby and his prospects this season tomorrow.



So I’ve been at the second event of the Players Tour Championship in Sheffield today.

The first thing I saw walking into the English Institute of Sport was a youth in a comedy fat suit wearing a bright red wig and oversized glasses that made Dennis Taylor look like Martin Gould.

I wondered idly if Barry Hearn’s critics had it right and snooker’s new boss really was dumbing down the game.

But it turned out to be part of a school sports day which, for reasons unknown, was conducted largely in fancy dress.

Away from the blaring music and a starting pistol so loud it made me briefly wonder if an unhappy blog reader had decided to take their revenge, snooker’s great, good, not quite so good and downright unknown were locked in endless battle.

Play started at 9am, proof that such a time does exist for snooker players. It’s the sort of event where egos should be left at the door. If your table isn’t free you have to wait. No point complaining, no point remonstrating.

This is a roll up your sleeves and get on with the job era, very much in Hearn’s own image.

The opportunity to play has been created, it’s up to the players whether to embrace it or not.

Most of them have – 81 out of 95 professionals entered this event – and seem to be enjoying the chance to play for more money, ranking points and opportunities to keep their games sharp.

And it’s relentless. Pretty much the moment a table becomes free it is brushed and then the next match is on.

These events would soon collapse into chaos were it not for the experienced hand of the WPBSA’s ground staff, in particular tournament directors Mike Ganley and Martin Clark.

They need to be across everything and are – MBEs have been handed out for less.

This series will develop and grow. I suspect different venues will be found in time so that players don’t need to have their post redirected to Sheffield.

The new worldsnooker.com live scoring system, when it is launched, will be a vast improvement on the old version and help fans follow matches ball by ball. Streaming is also on the cards but these things don’t happen overnight.

It’s nice to come to a tournament and find so many people in a good mood. Most here seem to be looking to the future, even those players who were sceptical of Hearn’s plans.

As Fergal O’Brien put it: “It’s a clean slate. We’re starting again. Snooker players are supposed to play snooker and that’s what we’re doing now.”

And there’s plenty of snooker to play as the season unfolds.


Love him or hate him – and plenty seem to do either – Ronnie O’Sullivan is snooker’s greatest gift.

He is the only player who can regularly command a full house and the only one outside of those associated with the ‘golden era’ of the 1980s who attracts the interest of the wider media.

At 34, O’Sullivan is approaching veteran status but it would take an extraordinary collapse in form to see him end the season much below where he is now.

Last season he won only one title, the Shanghai Masters. He was beaten by John Higgins in three other ranking events and by Mark Selby in the Masters final and World Championship quarter-finals. Shaun Murphy beat him in the Premier League final while the manner of his exit from the China Open was not exactly his finest hour.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad campaign but Ronnie is no longer world no.1, neither is he world champion.

His future fortunes may well depend on the extent to which he embraces the Barry Hearn revolution.

It was O’Sullivan who set the ball rolling at the 2009 Masters with his very public appeal for snooker to open itself up to entrepreneurship and shake some life into a sport may felt had gone stale.

O’Sullivan has a very good relationship with Hearn. He has said the promoter ‘was like a dad to me’ when he managed him as a teenager.

When Hearn called him a ‘miserable bastard’ he took it as it was meant: as a bit of banter between a couple of mates.

The new formats for the World Open and Sky Shootout are likely to excite Ronnie more than the run of the mill ranking events he’s been playing in for nearly two decades. They will be something different, a new experience, something he usually likes.

He has already played in one Players Tour Championship event – although he hasn’t entered the second one – and has a full calendar of tournaments to keep him going if he wants them.

But analysing O’Sullivan is not a job I or most others are qualified to do. He remains a complex soul: a mass of contradictions who tests the patience even of those who idolise him.

His search for perfection on the table is fruitless. He will never find it, at least not over a sustained period.

Snooker, to put it crudely, is a bloody hard game and even a player blessed with the mercurial talents of O’Sullivan can’t win everything, neither can they play brilliantly all the time.

It seems that Ronnie’s performances these days depend largely on who he is playing.

Two of his best displays last season came against Mark Williams, first at the Masters and then at the World Championship. Williams is a player he grew up with and one who he greatly respects.

In both events he then lost to Selby, whose reliance on defence as well as attack – a perfectly reasonable approach – seems to frustrate him greatly.

I think most players would still regard O’Sullivan as the best player on the circuit. He probably wouldn’t and therein lies the central paradox of his career.

Everyone can see how frighteningly good he is apart from Ronnie O’Sullivan himself.

Maybe he’s right and we’re all wrong. Or maybe he should stop chasing perfection and just be satisfied with being, at his best, the best.



New world champions have much to get used to.

There’s the higher profile, the increased expectation – from media, fans, fellow players and, perhaps most crucially, themselves – and a greater number of off table commitments.

Joe Johnson once told me that after he won the world title in 1986 he would have photographers waiting for him when he got off the plane on his holiday.

Snooker doesn’t command such an interest in the media now but Neil Robertson is still going to have to adjust to the various demands on his time and scrutiny of his performances.

You can just imagine some of the comments if he makes a bad start to the new season.

What will stand him in good stead is his inner steel, which he has demonstrated time and time again.

Robertson has appeared in five ranking tournament finals and won them all, an admirable record. The way to silence any doubters there may be is to keep on winning: no player can do more than that.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at a pro career while still very young, Robertson returned to the circuit in 2003, set up camp in Cambridge and has impressed ever since.

Winning the world title was reward for all the sacrifices he has made and will have to continue to make. Fatherhood complicates the issue too – albeit in a happy way – and it will be interesting to see what sort of Neil Robertson returns to the UK for the new campaign.

How hungry will he be for further silverware? How determined will he be to press on from this and cement a place among the all time greats?

Snooker has a low media profile in Australia but it has risen considerably since his Crucible triumph and he has been doing his his bit with media appearances. Fingers crossed it can translate into a professional event there.

Neil is good for the game. Having an Australian world champion is a boost to snooker’s global aspirations, he has a clean cut image and plays in an attractive way. He shows his personality in the arena and is honest and direct in media interviews. His charisma is real, not constructed.

His victory in Sheffield was partly overshadowed by the John Higgins scandal and what became a poor final but all that matters is that his name is on the one trophy that means more than all the rest put together.

It will always be there. He will always have the memories of his celebrations in the arena with his mother who had flown from the other side of the world to share the moment.

But it is to the future to which Robertson should now look.

Some world champions have enjoyed continual success in the season that followed their win – Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Higgins and John Parrott being examples.

Others – Johnson, Peter Ebdon and Shaun Murphy – found it harder going.

Much will depend on how much time Robertson actually has to get his head down and work on his game. I’d imagine he hasn’t spent much – if any time – practising since winning the world title but any rustiness will soon be exposed when he returns to action.

Then there’s the question of what he himself is expecting to happen this year. What goals will he set himself – the top the rankings? To win a certain number of tournaments? To retain the world title?

It might be better not to set targets at all. Few wanted to draw him before, even fewer will want to do so now.

Robertson is a positive sort of guy and will almost certainly look not at the pitfalls and what can go wrong in his year as world champion but just revel in the experience of being introduced as such.

What better feeling can there be in snooker?

He may go on to win more world titles, he may never win another.

In the meantime, he should enjoy the feeling while it lasts.



Shaun Murphy has been world champion, UK champion and is a player often tipped to win titles based on his professional approach to tournaments as well as his rock solid game.

All this said, it’s worth pointing out that he only has three ranking titles to his name.

I say ‘only’ – this is a little unfair. It’s not as if they come along every week. He has also won three invitation titles. Even so, it’s a lower return than might have been expected after Murphy’s sensational capture of the world title in 2005.

To come through the pack like he did was a surprise but that he would make it at the top level was not for anyone who had known Shaun since he was young.

His entire focus as a boy was to make it as a professional. When he first appeared at the Crucible he said it was his ambition to one day be mentioned in the same breath as Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.

Some journalists – no doubt I was one of them – wondered if this teenager had ideas above his station. But although he hasn’t achieved the domination Davis and Hendry did in their respective heydays, Murphy is what all the many thousands of pros, wannabe pros and young amateurs have dreamt of being: world champion.

To produce the standard of snooker he did on the game’s greatest stage against much more experienced opponents was one of the great achievements of the last decade, indeed of any decade.

He lost 17-16 to Mark Selby in the semi-finals in 2007, 18-9 in the final to John Higgins in 2009 and 13-12 to Ali Carter in the quarter-finals last season.

I’d fancy Murphy to be there or there abouts at the Crucible for the next few years.

Last season, he dropped four places down the rankings to seventh.

In truth, though, there’s far too much focus on the rankings at the top end. What difference does it make whether a player is fifth or sixth or seventh? Who cares?

Of course, dropping out of the top four makes a difference in seedings but when the top players meet it’s all on the day. Murphy doesn’t suddenly become a heavy second favourite against, say, Neil Robertson just because he’s now below him on the list.

Dropping out of the top four may, however, be a psychological setback. Players want to keep on the up and up but Murphy has slipped back. The good news, though, is that with the new ranking system he can bounce back straightaway instead of having to wait a whole season.

And as he didn’t win a match in any of the 2008 Northern Ireland Trophy, Shanghai Masters and Grand Prix there won’t be many points to come off when the list is revised in October.

Murphy has always given the impression of being a wise head on young shoulders but off table pressures – the break up of his marriage and subsequent relocation to Sale – clearly had an impact on his form.

He isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (who is?) but from what I’ve seen he’s always been a good pro: signing autographs, chatting to fans, posing for photographs.

In his year as world champion he was always available for media interviews and willing to promote his sport.

There have been well documented (very well in some cases) incidents in the arena where his opponents have not always been enamoured by Murphy. He isn’t alone in this and, of course, there’s no taking back what has happened once it’s happened.

Some people still bang the drum that there are no ‘characters’ (without ever defining what they actually mean by that term) but I’d say Murphy is a fascinating character.

Socially, he is one of the easiest players to chat to. He’s friendly and laidback and yet seems to wind a lot of snooker fans up.

Perhaps they regard his persona is insincere. Knowing Shaun, I don’t believe it is but I also like a bit of tribalism in sport: heroes and villains, as in any drama, is what keeps people coming back for more.

Murphy turns 28 this year, not young in snooker terms but not old either.

The next five years or so is where you would expect him to enjoy the majority of his success.

He remains one of the few players in the game I would be wary of betting against but his consistency seems to have declined in the last couple of seasons – he has lost some matches in this period that few would have predicted – and that is what he will be looking to recapture in the new campaign.

That and titles: the ultimate measure of a snooker player.



Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing a series of posts about some of the game’s leading players, focusing on their careers, personalities and future prospects.

This first one looks at Ali Carter, a player who has realised his promise in recent seasons.

Carter first came to prominence at the 1999 Grand Prix when he beat Stephen Hendry en route to the semi-finals.

At the time this seemed like a significant breakthrough. It was a BBC event and Hendry was reigning world champion and had won the first two titles of the season.

Carter was a relative newbie but didn’t lack for self confidence and soon carved out a reputation for beating a string of established names.

But he would also develop one, whether fairly or not, for losing close matches. There was one glaring miss on a yellow against Hendry in the UK Championship and other tight contests that went against him.

However, he was also suffering from Crohn’s disease, a condition that obviously affected his performances and caused immeasurable concern for one so young.

All of the above combined to raise the question of whether he would ever live up to his early success.

Carter had been on the WPBSA’s Young Player of Distinction scheme with Shaun Murphy and Stephen Maguire but found that they were experiencing success while he had been slightly left behind.

I well recall asking Ali in a press conference at the 2005 UK Championship whether, in the light of Murphy’s world title success and Maguire’s UK triumph, he felt under pressure to emulate them.

He said that, as far as he was concerned, they weren’t better players than him and there was therefore no reason why he shouldn’t start lifting trophies.

I tended to agree that he had the game but it still remained to be seen whether he had the mental strength. In the season’s that followed he proved that he did.

Carter’s journey from the nearly man ranks to that of tournament winner began at the 2008 Championship League.

This is a popular event with the players as it affords top quality match practice with financial reward and the chance to get into the lucrative Premier League.

It was even more popular with Carter who lived only a couple of miles from the venue and he played dozens of matches without quite winning one of the groups. By appearing in all of them, though, he earned over £20,000.

More importantly, he toughened up his game on a circuit where playing opportunities seemed to be dwindling.

It was noticeable too, even in the prosaic surroundings of Crondon Park Golf Club, just how much Carter hated losing. More than once he would be berating himself as he sped away following another near failure to win a group.

But he went to the Crucible two years ago match fit and so it was that he carved out a path to the final.

It had been exhausting, especially as he wasn’t used to the rigours of the 17 day marathon. He battled long on the final Saturday to put away Joe Perry 17-15 whereas his opponent in the final, Ronnie O’Sullivan, had had the whole day off having beaten Hendry with a session to spare.

O’Sullivan would beat Carter 18-8 in the final. It was a disappointing end to the journey but there were many positives to take from the experience - not least his magnificent 147, complete with a less than straightforward final black under pressure - and take them he did, soon developing into a model of consistency.

He has appeared in at least the semi-finals eight times in the last 15 ranking tournaments, which has helped him join the top four.

In this period Carter won a maiden ranking title, the 2009 Welsh Open.

His performance in the last session against Joe Swail, when he won all six frames played, was simply superb. Carter proved he was capable of raising his game at the most important phase of the tournament.

He returned to the final last season but was blown away by an on form John Higgins. His challenge at the Crucible ultimately wilted in the semi-finals, partly because he was emotionally spent after his defeat of Shaun Murphy the previous evening and, of course, because of Neil Robertson’s superior play.

I’d be surprised if there weren’t more titles for Carter. After a few false starts he has managed to ally his self confidence to his game and find the winning formula.

I also think it helps him that he has off table interests that take up much of his time. He runs a snooker club in Chelmsford and is a qualified airline pilot. Such activities mean he is not constantly fretting about form, results and ranking.

Carter this week makes his debut in the Players Tour Championship. Like most players he will feel odd playing competitively in early July but he is the sort to grab at opportunities and make the best of them.

The challenge is to win more titles, no easy task with the game so competitive. I'm sure Ali himself would agree that while consistency is encouraging, you don't get put in the Hall of Fame (not that there is one) for reaching semi-finals. It's all about silverware and he'll be hungry for more.

It’s been a long road but Ali Carter is now one of the best players in the world, the result of dedication, self belief and, of course, his considerable talent.

And as the sport finally starts to sort itself out, he is well placed to capitalise.

*Note: as I have other commitments this week it may take several hours for your comments to appear



Watching snooker on TV is, of course, a productive use of anyone’s time but every fan should try – if only once – to experience the game live.

The first time I went to the Crucible I almost felt let down. I simply couldn’t believe that this tiny theatre could be the same venue I’d been watching on the goggle box all those years.

But there is no substitute for being there.

Although the cameras add to the claustrophobia and feeling that there’s no place to hide for the players, you are at the mercy of the TV director if watching at home.

Watching in the arena enables you to direct the pictures yourself. You can witness, up close, the talent, the great play and, most fun of all, the psychological breakdowns.

Years ago I saw John Virgo play. He lost all four frames before the interval and, shortly after he’d returned to his dressing room, a light bulb somewhere in the arena popped loudly, leading a spectator to call out ‘Virgo’s shot himself!’

All right, it’s not exactly the Parrot Sketch but this is how we made our entertainment before the internet.

Ah, yes, the internet. Humanity took its time but it finally discovered a new way of screwing even more money out of people.

There are various websites offering snooker tickets and almost all of them are rip-off merchants.

Here’s one already selling tickets for next year’s World Championship – which are yet to even go on sale.

World Snooker has a deal with See Tickets for UK-based tournaments. All the other sites claiming to sell tickets – usually for well over the odds – should be avoided.

Or to put it another way: do not, do not, DO NOT buy tickets from them.

Or from eBay for that matter. As World Snooker make clear: "tickets bought from unauthorised sources may not be valid and admission to the event will not be permitted."

Of course, even ‘official’ ticket sellers have to have their cut and so it is that ‘booking fees’ and ‘transaction fees’ apply.

I’ve had a number of emails from people who believe these are unfair as they are paying a fair whack for the tickets in the first place.

Most people don’t live next door to a snooker venue. They have to pay to travel. They have to pay to feed and water themselves. They may even wish to purchase a copy of Snooker Scene.

In these tough economic times, half empty arenas are not necessarily a comment in the health of snooker but a reflection on the fact that some people don’t regard the tournament experience as value for money.

And See Tickets may well be a reputable organisation but the fact is when you attempt to buy tickets for the World Open you are directed to a page advertising the format for a completely different tournament – the World Seniors Championship, played not in Glasgow but Bradford.

This strikes me as something that could confuse potential attendees of the new event.

And the game needs them. There’s nothing worse for a player than turning up to find a mere handful of spectators. It means there’s no atmosphere and doesn’t feel as important as it should.

It also looks horrible on the TV to see banks of seats with nobody in them.

In a way this is snooker’s own fault. It is such an easy, intimate sport to watch on TV that many people have no intention of ever going anywhere near a venue.

But it’s worth doing not least because TV doesn’t really capture the skill on show to anything like the same degree as being there does.

Plus you might get on the telly yourself.



Shaun Murphy will play Peter Ebdon in the first round of the second Players Tour Championship event on July 9.

There’s no protection for players in the PTC depending on where they’re officially ranked. Each tournament from now on is seeded based on the independent order of merit, hence Mark Williams is at the top of the draw where he faces Michael Holt, who is ranked 24th but lost in the first round of PTC event 1.

After the inevitable teething problems of the first event, the WPBSA has made some changes that should hopefully prevent a repetition of the 3am finish that occurred last week.

Four matches in the last 128 will be played on the qualifying day, scheduled sessions are now two hours long rather than 90 minutes and play will start an hour earlier at 9am.

But most crucially the tournament director now has it in his discretion to start matches earlier than the ‘not before’ time if a table is free and both players are happy to play.

This is eminently sensible and should ensure less of a logjam, although as I said the other day: the length of snooker matches can only ever be estimated.

This new tour was always going to be trial and error but it’s noticeable that entries are up on the first tournament, which proves that the players have welcomed Barry Hearn’s first significant innovation since taking control of World Snooker.

Event 1 attracted 73 members of the main tour. Event 2 has seen 81 enter plus 83 amateurs meaning a field of 164 compared to 148 for the inaugural tournament.

The players are getting what they asked for in the shape of more opportunities. In turn, most of them are embracing the chances they are being given.

It makes all the ballyhoo surrounding Hearn’s ascension seem even more ridiculous. What his tenure has so far delivered is what everyone wanted in the first place: more snooker.