2011 will feature more televised snooker than we’ve seen in a decade with an increased number of tournaments and a greater global reach for the sport.

Territories long since discarded will be revisited with a ranking event in Germany and the World Cup in Thailand.

There will be the first professional event ever staged in Brazil, a revamped Welsh Open, a One-Frame Shootout and much, much more.

2010 was in many ways a year of transition as Barry Hearn took over the reins of power at World Snooker Ltd. In 2011 we will see his influence come to the fore.

He says he is about to sign new broadcast deals with the BBC and Eurosport to screen the major events in the years to come.

There is a feeling of a new start after years in which the game went backwards but it’s a tribute to snooker, and in particular the top players, that the game has survived in relatively good health.

I’ve no doubt I won’t agree with every decision Hearn makes but he deserves support. He has the contacts, the influence and, above all, the skill to take the game forward.

He respects the traditional aspects of snooker – which is why the majors remain unchanged – but has the imagination to come up with different formats and try and stir up interest where it was previously lacking.

Snooker can’t rely on the ‘if we build it they will come’ principle. It’s a sport that is no longer fashionable to many but fashions come and go and it can have its time again.

The UK will always be the game’s traditional home but its future lies in markets far way, in Asia, continental Europe and elsewhere.

The recent IBSF World Amateur Championship featured players from over 40 countries. That tells you the interest that exists across the globe and this must now be harnessed.

I feel enthusiastic about the year ahead. On table I have no doubt it will be as exciting as ever. Off table it is, for once, secure.

Snooker in 2011? Bring it on!



Away from the TV cameras, the newspapers and the general limelight, the snooker circuit is full of unsung heroes performing important tasks that help tournaments to run properly.

Jimmy Furlong, who has died at the age of 62, was such a man.

His was a name not known to most snooker fans but for 20 years Jimmy was a familiar backstage presence, working as a WPBSA security officer and in other all purpose roles.

He was well liked by players, his fellow officials and was a particularly good friend to the snooker the press. He was cheerful, helpful and kind.

Like his good friend Frank Baker, who is still the WPBSA’s head of security, he would do anything for anyone.

In 2002, he was saddened to be dismissed by the WPBSA because of cost-cutting. What grated was that he had received a letter suggesting he would continue to be employed despite the fact the decision had already been made to get rid of him.

He took the governing body to a tribunal and received a payout but it wasn’t about money, he just missed being part of the snooker scene.

It was the mark of Jimmy that, despite a heart condition, he rescued his 16 year-old neighbour from a fire at her home at Christmas 2002, battling through smoke and putting his own life in danger.

I send my condolences to his family.



They (whoever 'they' are) say that if you fail to prepare then you should prepare to fail.

Ronnie O'Sullivan would seem to agree with this assessment after his disappointing first round exit at the 12bet.com UK Championship earlier this month.

O'Sullivan puts his 9-6 defeat to Stuart Bingham down to a lack of preparation, in particular his snubbing of all but two of the Players Tour Championship events.

“I was disappointed with my performance in Telford, which was due to lack of match practice," he said.

"I always practice really hard but I need to play in more of the smaller tournaments to improve my sharpness. I go into every tournament wanting to win, but on the day it's down to the hard work you've done in advance”

This is true, even for a player as talented as Ronnie. Part of his preparation for next month's Ladbrokes Mobile Masters will thus be two days play in the Championship League against some of the very best players in the game, including world champion Neil Robertson.

The standard this season has been extremely high due to the fact that so many players are match sharp.

Hours in the club are important but what really toughens a player up is playing in a match that actually means something: that has money and/or ranking points attached.

The PTCs and Championship League may pass below the radar for many but they have a vital part to play, which is why so many top players have embraced them.


A new sponsor will be unveiled for the Masters today. I understand it will be a major bookmaker [now confirmed as Ladbrokes Mobile].

I dare say some will be critical that snooker is leaning so heavily on the betting industry for financial support, just as it once depended on the tobacco firms, but I won’t be one of them.

Bearing in mind the John Higgins affair and other high profile negative stories of recent times the fact that betting companies want to put money into the sport is a vote of confidence in snooker, its integrity and the integrity of those running it.

Look around. We are not in the position we were in 25 years ago where obtaining sponsorship for snooker was easy.

In fact, it was so easy that the WPBSA could afford to behave in a manner so unprofessional it made you wonder how they got any sponsors at all.

The following is a true story, passed on by someone who would know: there was a tournament in the 1980s sponsored by a particular firm who wished to renew the deal.

The person charged with negotiating this invited the chief executive of said company to his hotel room to sign. For reasons best known to himself he decided to have his wife wait naked in a wardrobe. Shortly after the chief exec arrived she jumped out to surprise him.

It was supposed to be a moment of great hilarity but the chief exec was appalled and immediately scrapped any plan to continue in snooker.

But it didn’t matter. Someone else gladly stepped in and the good times continued to roll.

Except the sun eventually set on the boom years and then snooker sponsorship became tough.

Barry Hearn will always get sponsors because of his contacts and the professional way he does business.

But what snooker needs is to snare these companies for the long haul. A sponsor adds value to a tournament, and not just financial. Over time, it becomes synonymous with the event (for years people would talk of ‘the Bensons’ in relation to the Masters and, indeed, some still do).

The Masters deserves a sponsor who will help maintain its prestige, just as Betfred have for the World Championship. And if major companies are seen to be supporting the game, others may follow.

Reasons, then, to be cheerful as we head into 2011.



With any luck I will soon be off to sunnier climes (although Siberia would probably be sunnier than the UK right now).

So I’d like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very Merry Christmas.

2010 has been full of incident and intrigue, drama and controversy, great matches and performances.

From John Higgins to Alex Higgins, Barry Hearn to Neil Robertson, there have been big stories and talking points, memorable moments and a few things I’m sure everyone would rather forget.

Thanks for your comments and support throughout the year. It is much appreciated.

For those of you in Britain who still want a fix of snooker over the festive period, Sky Sports4 is showing highlights of the Word Seniors Championship each day at 6pm and 12am.

It'll all kick off again with a busy few months from the New Year into the World Championship as more chapters in the game's rich and compelling history are written. I look forward to following it all here on snookersceneblog.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone – be safe, be happy and, most of all, be warm!



Amid all the drama on the table this year, it should also be remembered that snooker lost one of its key figures during 2010.

Alex Higgins died in July at the age of 61. His final years were sad but his reputation as the most remarkable player of the boom years remains undimmed.

There has never been anyone quite like Alex. This is probably a good thing.

When he died there were the usual tributes but even they were tinged with raw honesty: Higgins was often a nightmare to be around and at times could be deeply unpleasant.

But Snooker Scene also received letters from those who had witnessed his kindness: ranging from visits to hospitals to spend time with sick children that had never been publicised to a few drinks in the pub with fans.

The Hurricane was a mass of contradictions but, to the end, he was uncompromisingly his own man. He died from malnutrition due to not eating properly. Jimmy White and others had tried to tell him...but they knew you couldn’t tell Alex anything. He always did things his own way.

What he brought to snooker, more than anything, was the people. His electrifying style of play, his addiction to controversy and trouble and the sense of the unexpected saw the public come to snooker in droves.

The BBC only began covering the World Championship in the mid 1970s because he was in it. A few years later they began covering it live and still do so to this day.

I know many people in the snooker world who loathed Higgins but none of them would argue with his importance to the sport and its development.

White and Ronnie O’Sullivan are, to an extent, cut from the same cloth as Higgins in terms of their natural talent and vivid private lives but neither trod the path of self destruction like he did.

White is gracious, friendly and always puts on a show for his fans.

O’Sullivan, though prone to extreme mood swings, lives quietly and has won far more than Higgins, who seemed to relish snooker most when it became a high wire act where the line between death or glory was as fine as it could be.

Even in death Higgins is said to be causing trouble: the woman who moved into his flat has claimed to newspapers that he is haunting her.

But he should be remembered not for all the aggro, though that was an intrinsic part of his character, but for his achievements on the table.

Nobody knew what had hit them when he won the 1972 World Championship at his first attempt at a time in which professional snooker was bouncing along the bottom of the sporting ocean.

When he won it for a second time ten years later it was a major television attraction, largely due to him.

Alex Higgins may never have set out to change snooker forever but he did and for that the game should be eternally grateful.



There surely can’t be a commentator or referee in the land who doesn’t hope to be doing the match featuring Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon at the German Masters next February.

The Thai teenager is one of three first season professionals who have qualified for the final stages in Berlin.

Hearty congratulations to him, Jack Lisowski and Anthony McGill.

It’s about time a few new, young faces started appearing on the TV. This is one of the by-products of the new pro circuit, with its extra playing opportunities giving younger players more chances to bed in to life on the main tour and more confidence if they get a few results.

Lisowski has already qualified for the PTC grand finals and so is on a roll while McGill has also started his rookie season in useful fashion.

Tirapongpaiboon looks like one to watch. Earlier this season he became the youngest professional to compile a maximum break in competition and as Barry Hearn takes top level snooker back to Thailand he could prove to be a very important part of its rebirth there.

Several established names also made it through – Marco Fu, Stephen Lee, Ryan Day, Matthew Stevens and Anthony Hamilton – but Ken Doherty was beaten 5-4 by Liu Song, who was sensibly given a place on the circuit by the WPBSA after Patrick Einsle’s resignation.

One mystery remains, though: why wasn’t the draw made for the final stages when it was made for the qualifiers?



John Higgins will play Mark Williams in the first match of the 2011 Championship League, which begins on January 3.

Higgins recovered from 9-5 down to beat Williams 10-9 in the final of the 12bet.com UK Championship last Sunday.

Their match at Crondon Park Golf Club in Essex will be over a shorter distance - five frames.

Higgins and Williams are part of a high quality line-up for group one, which also includes Ali Carter, Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott, Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy.

The top four in the group will contest the play-offs with the winner through to the final winners' group in March.

The bottom two players will be relegated while the remaining four players go into group two on January 5 and 6, where they will be joined by Neil Robertson, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Jamie Cope.

Stephen Hendry, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen, Peter Ebdon and Marco Fu are among the well known names who will play in later groups.

The seven group winners contest the final group, the winner of which receives an invite into the Premier League.

The Championship League, now in its fourth year, is shown live on the internet on various betting websites.

Players receive £100 for every frame won, plus bonuses in the play-offs and a £10,000 eventual first prize.



The German Masters qualifiers kick off tomorrow but last night’s thrilling UK Championship final was the last live TV snooker of the year.

So what were your favourite memories of 2010? What were the best matches? What were the most memorable moments?

For me, the best commentary experience was doing the final session of Steve Davis’s dramatic defeat of John Higgins in the second round of the World Championship.

This was a match that resonated on many levels. It was a little like a Hollywood film in which an apparently washed up old stager gives it one last go and somehow triumphs against the best in the world.

2010 began with the Masters, which once again featured a close final and confirmed Mark Selby’s status as a master of brinkmanship.

In the end he held his nerve better than Ronnie O’Sullivan and his 10-9 win proved he can produce the goods on the big stage, even though he did not go on to win a ranking title.

The Masters final had been preceded by a match which still stands out nearly a year on – O’Sullivan’s 6-5 semi-final defeat of Mark Williams.

I was heartened by Williams’s general return to form, which he underlined by winning the China Open.

In terms of poise under pressure, one of the matches that comes to mind was an untelevised clash. Level at 8-8 with Ricky Walden in the final qualifying round of the World Championship, played in something of a bear-pit atmosphere at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, Zhang Anda finished off coolly with two successive centuries.

At the Crucible itself he was beaten 10-9 by Stephen Hendry, who found inspiration at just the right time.

One of the best matches of the Crucible jamboree was the quarter-final between Graeme Dott and Mark Allen, which Dotty won 13-12 after a high quality duel.

And of course the eventual champion Neil Robertson rallied from 11-5 down to beat Martin Gould 13-12 in the second round. The scenes that followed his victory over Dott in the final were wonderful to observe given the sacrifices he had made to pursue a professional career.

Robertson also won the World Open over a sprint format that made a refreshing change from the norm.

Two matches at the end of the year proved that top level snooker’s capacity to produce sporting theatre over a longer distance endures.

The drama of Williams’s 9-8 defeat of Shaun Murphy in the semi-finals of the UK Championship was superseded by Higgins’s recovery from 9-5 down to beat him 10-9 in the final.

One of my other highlights was the World Seniors Championship where I got to commentate with some cold stone snooker legends such as Jimmy White and Dennis Taylor (highlights start on Sky Sports4 from December 20).

I’m sure many of you have happy memories of various other matches and moments. Please feel free to share them.


What a night, what a match and what a great player John Higgins has once again proved himself to be.

His recovery from 9-5 down to beat Mark Williams 10-9 in the final of the 12bet.com UK Championship completes his own miracle of Christmas.

The worst year of his life has ended with one of his greatest ever victories.

I thought early on today he looked nervous, almost as if he was trying too hard. His father, gravely ill with cancer, could not be with him in Telford and Higgins knew what eventual victory would mean to the man who first got him into snooker at the age of nine.

This looked unlikely when Williams held a four frame advantage, needing just one for victory, but Higgins dug deeper than perhaps anyone has ever dug in a major final and somehow got over the winning line.

You could see at the end what it meant to him and his family. An unbelievable return from the wilderness and proof that, despite the constant conjecture about events earlier this year, his status as one of the all time greats is not in doubt.

Credit as well to Williams, too, for the way he battled all through the tournament and in particular for his deadpan response to defeat. He was as gracious as Higgins was dignified.

These two can stand in the pantheon of legends alongside Hendry and Davis, O'Sullivan and Reardon, the other Higgins too.

The climax proved that big time snooker can still deliver great drama: without the gimmickry of shot clocks, music and all the other peripheral stuff.

It was two greats going toe-to-toe and it was brilliant viewing.



An incredible finish to last night’s semi-final has set up a 12bet.com UK Championship semi-final between two of snooker’s all time greats.

Mark Williams must be wondering how he has made it this far. When Shaun Murphy upped his game to move from 6-3 down to lead 8-6 the Welshman looked set for defeat.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Williams suddenly started knocking in the long balls and drew level.

The last red of the decider, potted from distance, was a worthy ball to win any match and for Williams to keep his cool in such a situation proves just what a great player he is.

So it’s Higgins v Williams for the UK title, just as it was ten years ago when Higgins prevailed 10-4.

What does it say about snooker that the same two players could make the final a decade on?

Well, the real question should be what does it say about these two? And the answer is that they are still, on their day, ahead of the pack, as that other member of the class of 1992, Ronnie O’Sullivan can also be.

What these three have is not just the skill and experience but also the class to kill matches off.

Like any major final, today’s Telford burn-up will be a test of skill, heart and nerve. Higgins and Williams have all three in spades.

They are each gunning for a third UK title. Higgins won the tournament in 1998 and 2000, Williams in 1999 and 2002.

For Williams it would be his first ranking title in the UK since the 2003 LG Cup.

For Higgins it would bring the curtain down on the most tumultuous year of his life in upbeat fashion and restore him to top spot in the rankings.

For snooker fans it should be a real treat.



One of Mark Williams's great skills is finding a way to win when he's not at the top of his game.

He has an old fashioned, stubborn, never-say-die attitude and it's served him well in many tournaments where he's only hit form at the business end.

And we're now at the business end of the 12bet.com UK Championship, where today the Welshman faces Shaun Murphy in the semi-finals.

Murphy has played the better snooker of the two in the tournament but that does not guarantee a thumping win for the 2008 champion today.

It's worth remembering that, for all his obvious class, he still has only three ranking titles to his name.

His form worryingly collapsed between his superb Premier League semi-final victory over Marco Fu and his defeat to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final.

Nevertheless, Murphy's fine quarter-final victory over Neil Robertson certainly means he enters today's match as favourite.

John Higgins awaits in the final after his masterclass in big match snooker against Mark Allen last night.



Mark Allen displayed poise and purpose in beating John Higgins in the opening round of last season's Wembley Masters but will have to play even better to beat him in Telford today.

Higgins is a man on a mission: back on TV and playing every bit as well as he was prior to his suspension.

He has come through two tough games against fellow Scots Graeme Dott and Stephen Maguire, raising his game at the end of each.

It's ten years since Higgins won the UK Championship title but he is clearly focused on ending that drought.

A word on Neil Robertson. Although it probably had no bearing on his defeat, he was still in bed 15 minutes before the match was due to start because he believed it began an hour later, at 1.30pm.

Nobody in the sport needs a proper manager more than Neil right now. Even if it had been a 1.30 start, this was hardly the ideal preparation.

There's no disputing his talents on the table but somebody needs to ensure he is where he's supposed to be at the appropriate time because this has happened too often.

He's less John Spencer, more Frank Spencer.

Speaking of farce, there was a delay last night when the arena scoreboard failed when Murphy was on a break leading 8-7.

When they finally resumed he immediately missed but still went on to win 9-7.

Mark Joyce gave a very good account of himself but Mark Williams, as he so often has in the past when he's not playing his best, found a way to win.



What a day for Mark Joyce, who after slogging through four qualifying rounds and winning two matches in Telford will be appearing in the quarter-finals of the 12bet.com UK Championship against Mark Williams.

Joyce has enjoyed the best week of his career, proof again that many of the so-called ‘journeymen’ are capable of producing the goods.

Ali Carter did not play well against him but Joyce was strong in dispatching Judd Trump and is now guaranteed £16,450 – by far his biggest ever single cheque. Not bad for someone who earned around £21,000 during the whole of last season.

Part of Joyce’s success comes from his ability to think clearly. He has been consulting a sports psychologist to talk through some of the feelings and anxieties he has while playing.

Snooker is a game played over long periods and while it’s relatively easy to go into a match feeling positive, things can very quickly go wrong and players often beat themselves when dejection sets in.

Joyce always was a clever chap. He went to a grammar school in his native Walsall. I attended a comprehensive just down the road from it, which is probably why I’m writing a snooker blog at 8.30 in the morning.

We used to hate their school but I wish Mark all the best today. I hope he enjoys the experience and, if Williams plays anything like he did against Stephen Hendry, he has every chance of progressing even further.

The other quarter-final has the potential to be a great match, pitting as it does world champion Neil Robertson against Shaun Murphy, the 2008 UK champion.

Murphy came through 9-8 on the pink against Ryan Day after a typically poised clearance in the deciding frame.

Robertson has played superbly so far but hasn’t been pushed yet. That should change today.



Stephen Hendry doesn't need me or anyone else to tell him that he has serious problems with his game.

Whether the problems are of technique, confidence, concentration or a mixture of all three, he clearly needs to address them urgently to prevent his relegation from the top 16.

His defeat to Mark Williams in Telford last night was painful to watch. Neither played well but while Williams, laidback sort as he is, was able to make a joke of it, Hendry was obviously dejected.

This, after all, is a player who once recorded seven centuries in a UK Championship final and whose remarkable list of achievements could conceivably never be bettered.

One thing that surprises me is that Hendry practises on his own. There are some very good Scottish professionals against whom he would be able to test himself and gauge where his game is.

I would much prefer to think of Hendry as the great player he was rather than witnessing too many more performances like the one we saw yesterday.

On to the quarter-finals, and today pits John Higgins against Stephen Maguire, who has quietly been knocking the breaks in - five centuries so far - on the non-TV tables against Ken Doherty and Mark Selby.

For whatever reason, this is one event Maguire always seems to come good in and indeed beat Higgins 9-7 at the same stage two years ago.

Higgins produced a typically steely finish to see off Graeme Dott 9-8 and is playing as well post-suspension as he was prior to it. It could be very close.

Stuart Bingham will join the top 16 for the first time in his career if he beats Mark Allen.

A good point made by Ronnie O'Sullivan after losing to Bingham is that Stuart has played in all the PTCs and is match sharp.

This is only his fifth ranking event quarter-final appearance and he has a great chance to reach his first semi-final.

But Allen has rediscovered a bit of form and held off defending champion Ding Junhui 9-8 to reach the last eight.

Allen is an all-out attacking player and a very good one when his game is firing. He's capable of reeling frames off in no time at all.

What he will also need, though, is discipline, particularly over such a lengthy distance.



Neil Robertson's sensational display of break building last night was a joy to behold - unless, of course, you were Andrew Higginson.

Completely in the zone, Robertson continued to play in the fashion that has seen him ascend to the twin peaks of snooker achievement: world champion and world no.1.

Yes, Higginson let him in several times but he didn't make the breaks for him. They were all Robertson, who is expending minimum mental energy in coasting to the quarter-finals.

In cricket parlance he is winning by an innings. (These are strange times we live in when Australia is rubbish at cricket but brilliant at snooker.)

A few people got rather excited by Ronnie O'Sullivan's capture of the Premier League ten days ago but, as he himself said afterwards, the UK Championship is a different ball game completely.

While they may have been fillips off the table, neither the League nor the release of his father had any beneficial effect on O'Sullivan in the arena as he lost to Stuart Bingham.

Why? Because, love him or loathe him, Ronnie is not going to change. He will remain what he has always been: a complex mix of instinctive brilliance, inspiration and talent but also prone to maddening bouts of frustration and petulance.

That's the man and that's also why he's the biggest draw in the game.

Credit should go to Bingham who took the game to O'Sullivan in the opening session and put him under pressure in the second.

Ballrun is a player who actively seeks out snooker competitions and has a terrific record in pro-ams. He hasn't really done himself justice much on TV but maybe this will be his week to shine.

His defeat of O'Sullivan is his best win since he beat Stephen Hendry in the first round of the World Championship a decade ago.

Stephen Hendry was embarrassed by his performance against Jimmy White. He knows a vast improvement is required if he is to stay with Mark Williams.

Shaun Murphy played as well as he had to in defeating Patrick Wallace and is now up against Ryan Day, who came through 9-8 on the black against Mark King, a result which could revive his flagging fortunes.

John Higgins and Graeme Dott played a high quality first session to be poised at 4-4 coming back this afternoon.

Mark Allen leads defending champion Ding Junhui 6-2 in a match not favoured by the cameras.

Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby were also unlucky not to get a TV table. Maguire, who has a solid record in this event, leads there 5-3 as another no doubt dramatic day gets underway.



Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White both have free passes to snooker's hall of fame but after an electrifying start to their first round match in Telford yesterday, the standard plummeted.

Hendry looked embarrassed at the end to have lost the eighth frame, which he seemed certain to win.

At least at 4-4 the match is close, which should provide some excitement this afternoon. Indeed there are several matches poised nicely at the 12bet.com UK Championship.

Ronnie O'Sullivan had to win the last two frames last night to achieve parity with Stuart Bingham, who played very nicely and with great confidence but needs to do similar today to stand a chance of causing an upset.

Ali Carter did not produce the goods against Mark Joyce yesterday. I wondered if he felt the pressure of being such a big favourite or maybe he was unwell.

He will still be favourite to come through today but it could depend on whether Joyce can hold himself together if he gets close to the winning line.

Patrick Wallace also had chances against Shaun Murphy before ending the day trailing him 5-3 but, again, it's close.

The format means that only half of the last 16 matches can be played on the TV tables and, with so many top players through, this means a number of big names will be relegated to the outside tables.

This is a far from ideal situation and of course leads to fans of particular players complaining that they can't watch their matches.

The second round matches favoured tonight are Neil Robertson v Andrew Higginson and John Higgins v Graeme Dott.

Therefore, Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui v Mark Allen will not be televised.

I wonder if it might be time to start a day earlier and play the last 32 matches that are not particularly attractive on the Friday so as to free up space to put more of the last 16 on TV.



It’s easy to see the Stephen Hendry-Jimmy White rivalry defined by their meetings at the Crucible but these matches only comprise seven of the 56 they have played as professionals.

Their first contest came at the 1986 Scottish Masters, when Hendry was just 17. White won 5-1 but it wasn’t long before his young opponent improved to such a level that he became the man to beat.

Surprisingly, they’ve only met in two finals outside of the World Championship, and White won them both.

The first of these was over the best of 35 distance used at the Crucible. Barry Hearn promoted a World Matchplay Championship screened on ITV shortly before Christmas and White beat Hendry 18-9 to win the title in 1990.

A few weeks later he stormed 9-0 ahead of Hendry in the final of the Mercantile Classic, eventually beating him 10-4.

They’ve played seven times at the Wembley Masters with Hendry enjoying the clear edge, winning six of them.

He also has a handsome lead in ranking events, winning 12 meetings to White’s six.

Hendry leads 33-18 overall with five draws in the Premier League, but to have beaten the game’s greatest ever player 18 times is no mean feat and White comes into their latest meeting at the 12bet.com UK Championship today full of confidence after three good qualifying wins and victory in the World Seniors Championship.

If White wins there’s a chance Hendry will drop out of the elite top 16, although this is unlikely.

Neither player is as good as they once were and they will have to play very well indeed to match the remarkable standard seen yesterday in which there were 17 century breaks recorded.

There was a brilliant session of snooker between John Higgins and Stephen Lee, which ended 4-4. It was the best I’ve seen Lee play on TV for years.

Ding Junhui was very solid in pulling away from Matthew Stevens, even if he did stutter a little before getting over the winning line.

Mark Selby, Stephen Maguire and Mark Allen all performed strongly in coming through their respective matches.

Neil Robertson made two centuries during a lengthy first session against the methodical Rory Mcleod, opening a 7-1 advantage overnight.

So already after just one day the cream is rising to the top in Telford.

And what all this proves is that if the players play regularly they remain sharp and standards thus rise, a point missed by those who have derided the PTC series, which has proved to be a positive for the game as a whole.

All the smaller events have also done the majors a favour because their prestige is even more apparent, hence the huge anticipation within the sport that there has been for this year’s UK Championship.

The only disappointing note was the low crowds, although this is in large part due to the adverse weather conditions afflicting the UK.

I’d expect them to pick up today for Ronnie O’Sullivan’s entrance against Stuart Bingham and, of course, Hendry v White.



Ken Doherty has appeared in three UK Championship finals without winning the title, although it was his misfortune to run into three of the greatest players of all time all at the top of their games.

Doherty’s first final came in 1994 against Stephen Hendry, who was still very much in his pomp.

Hendry made seven centuries in that final, a record for any match and one of the most remarkable performances ever seen on a snooker table.

Almost as remarkable was the fact he only led 6-5 at one point, which says a lot about Doherty’s resilience.

Hendry went on to win 10-5. The Dubliner’s next final came in 2001 when he was overwhelmed by an in form Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Again, the snooker produced here was simply sublime and Doherty seemed genuinely relived just to have won a frame.

His third UK final, a year later, was much closer and would serve as a portent for that season’s Crucible finale.

Doherty slugged it out with Mark Williams, who eventually prevailed 10-9.

In recent seasons Doherty’s ranking his slipped, although it’s to his great credit that he got himself back into the top 32 this season following a nightmare 2008/09 campaign in which his career looked to be seriously under threat.

These days he’s carving his way as a genial TV pundit and commentator for the BBC but Doherty still wants to be known primarily as a player and could cause Stephen Maguire a few problems in Telford today.

Maguire has a good record in the UK Championship. In the last six years he’s been champion, runner-up and a semi-finalist twice. He was also consistent in the PTC series and will be in the grand finals in Dublin next March.

But today he knows he is playing someone with vast experience and at home in the TV arena, although their match will actually be played away from the cameras.

Of the other matches, Neil Robertson needs to be careful he isn’t drawn into a grind against the methodical Rory McLeod.

Robertson has himself slowed down in recent years, finding a nice tempo, but must try and dictate the style of match. If he does he will surely win comfortably.

Defending champion Ding Junhui may find things a little trickier against Matthew Stevens, who has the carrot of a top 16 place up for grabs if he does well this week.

Stephen Lee hasn’t beaten John Higgins for nine years but, of course, the Scot is playing on TV for the first time since the World Championship and may be a little nervous, though his strength of character is such that this shouldn’t make much difference.

Ricky Walden needs to start beating the top players regularly if he is to climb the rankings and become a consistent force.

He lost to Mark Selby on his Crucible debut in 2009 but beat him on the way to winning the 2008 Shanghai Masters title.

Graeme Dott v Martin Gould has the potential to be a very entertaining match, but it isn't on TV.

The BBC will show both tables on the red button (one on Freeview) and on their website.

Eurosport will have coverage of both tables most days on its two channels and will also show the tournament on the Eurosport Player.

TV matches:
12.30pm and 7pm: Ding Junhui v Matthew Stevens; Mark Selby v Ricky Walden
After 2pm: Neil Robertson v Rory McLeod; John Higgins v Stephen Lee

TV times (UK time)
BBC1: 1-4.30pm
BBC2: 4.30-5.55pm, 00.55-3.45am

Eurosport2: 1.30-6.30pm, 7-10pm



The 12bet.com UK Championship is one of snooker’s great events, a glittering jewel in the crown that comprises the sport’s major events.

What’s interesting about it is that, unlike the World Championship, there have been very few shock winners.

Patsy Fagan won the inaugural staging ahead of the likes of John Spencer, Alex Higgins and Ray Reardon. John Virgo was not expected to triumph in 1979. Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 1993 capture of the title was remarkable given that he was still 17, although most already knew what a talent he was.

The biggest surprise came in 1988 when Doug Mountjoy, 46 years old, sliding down the rankings and ten years on from his initial UK victory, stunned Stephen Hendry in the final.

But the trophy usually goes to one of the very top players.

Jimmy White and Matthew Stevens may have failed to find success at the Crucible but are both UK champions.

Steve Davis has six titles to his name, Hendry five and O’Sullivan four.

I welcome innovation. Snooker has stood still for too long. We need different formats and a mix of tournaments.

But the UK Championship’s two session matches are a proper test, hence the cream always rises to the top.

There are no gimmicks, rule changes or assorted messing about: it’s a pure event and long may that continue.

Over best of 17, there is time for things to turn round, time for the momentum to shift and the drama to intensify.

And what great memories over the years: Alex Higgins’s comeback from 7-0 down to Davis in the 1983 final...Willie Thorne’s missed blue in 1985...the Hendry v Davis final in 1990...White’s triumph in 1992...Hendry’s extraordinary seven centuries in the 1994 final...Davis’s run to the final in 2005...

This year the standard is likely to be extremely high because the players are so sharp having played in the PTCs and qualifiers.

Hopefully the players can conjure some snooker magic that befits the tournament’s status.

The weather is terrible in Britain, with snow causing chaos.

What better way to shelter from the cold than to put your feet up, turn on the telly and enjoy another staging of one of snooker’s best events?



The board of the WPBSA has been given a vote of confidence by players at the AGM in Sheffield today.

The chairman, Jason Ferguson, received 31 votes for with just three against.

He was officially confirmed as a WPBSA board member alongside the other co-opted directors, Alan Chamberlain, Steve Davis, David Douglas and Zhang Xiaoning.

Former directors Lee Doyle and Jim McMahon received just six and four 'yes' votes respectively.

Fewer than half of the WPBSA membership voted in the AGM.


Jason Ferguson. Votes for: 31 Votes against: 3
Alan Chamberlain. Votes for: 21 Votes against: 11
Steve Davis. Votes for: 26 Votes against: 7
David Douglas. Votes for: 28 Votes against: 5
Zhang Xiaoning. Votes for: 31 Votes against: 3
Les Barton. Votes for: 6 Votes against: 25
Lee Doyle. Votes for: 6 Votes against: 28
Patrick Fagan. Votes for: 4 Votes against: 27
Tony Knowles. Votes for: 7 Votes against: 24
Jim McMahon. Votes for: 4 Votes against: 29
Neil Tomkins. Votes for: 3 Votes against: 28



So it's to be Stephen Hendry v Jimmy White in the first round of the 12bet.com UK Championship.

This is a rivalry that kept a generation of snooker fans enthralled for a decade. The latest twist is that if Hendry fails to win he could lose his place in the elite top 16 when the latest seedings list is compiled after the tournament.

Here's what I wrote about the Hendry v White rivalry earlier this year. I'm glad that the last line wasn't quite correct...


Perhaps the most improved player on the circuit these last couple of seasons is Martin Gould, a deceptively talented cueist who is now heading towards the top 16.

Gould is placed 22nd in the latest ranking list and has qualified for the final stages of the 12bet.com UK Championship.

He beat James Wattana 9-8 last night after a match in which there was never more than a frame in it.

It’s been a memorable year for Gould. Earlier this season he reached his first ranking event quarter-final at the World Open, where his attacking style paid dividends.

He was, of course, very close to a last eight berth at the Crucible but saw his 11-5 lead over Neil Robertson turn into a dispiriting 13-12 defeat.

For this to happen at the World Championship, as high profile as snooker gets, was embarrassing more than anything. By his own admission, Martin panicked: he knew Steve Davis had beaten John Higgins and that he thus had a very good chance to reach the semi-finals.

It was a lack of experience that caused this anxiety but he’s learned the hard way and pressed on this season. He will be in the PTC grand finals next March.

Gone are the days when he worked as a croupier in a casino. Snooker is becoming a full time job and the more players play, the sharper they are.

The standard at Telford is likely to be extremely high because the field will have had so much recent competitive snooker under their belts.

Gould faces Graeme Dott, a touch match but I’m sure the former world champion would agree that the Pinner potter isn’t someone you’d want to play in the first round.

There is one mystery that remains, though: how exactly does he play in those glasses?