World Snooker has listened to reason and will stage the Betfred.com World Championship qualifiers in the Badminton Hall of the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.

They will therefore be open to the ticket buying public.

Originally, the qualifiers were due to be played in the academy situated in the same building, which does not have room for spectators.

This was because it costs a considerable sum of money to hire the Badminton Hall. As it is, World Snooker will lose money staging the qualifiers there but they have done the right thing.

They received many emails from disgruntled snooker fans and the odd word of caution from a few experienced hands about the backlash that was coming their way.

It’s refreshing that they have listened to what fans want, even if it will leave them out of pocket.

I can understand the governing body not providing seating for qualifying in general. Crowds are usually small and it doesn’t make economic sense.

But the World Championship is different. As anyone who has attended will know, it’s a hugely dramatic few days as players battle to reach the Crucible.

The drama of it all makes it one of the highlights of the year, though for the players it’s more of an ordeal to be endured.

While on the subject, I’ve had a few snooker fans contact me to complain there is no streaming of the qualifiers.

The reason for this is that the deal the previous board signed with 110sporttv is binding for three years – even if the qualifiers are not actually streamed by them.

To me, this is a ridiculous situation. It would be like selling the rights of the FA Cup to ITV and them not showing a single match.

Barry Hearn has much to untangle, and I’m sure he will.

Fans want to watch snooker and should be given as much opportunity to do so as possible.

Playing the world qualifiers in front of the public is the right decision: and I would recommend to anyone going along to watch.

Note: the final round of qualifying will now be on March 12 and 13.



Nigel Bond has had a long, varied career, more successful than most but at 45 knows that he is down to the colours.

It was therefore gratifying to see this genuinely nice man win the inaugural Caesarscasino.com World Snooker Shootout in Blackpool.

Bond made an immediate breakthrough on turning professional, reaching the semi-finals of his first ranking event, the 1989 International.

A year later he reached the Grand Prix final and soon became established as a regular face on TV in the era of Stephen Hendry, the player who most stopped him going on to be more successful.

It was Hendry who beat him in that Grand Prix final and for four successive years at the Crucible from 1993, including in the final in 1995.

In 1996, Bond got a snooker in the decider against John Higgins and ended up beating him 9-8 on the final black to win the British Open.

He also won the 1997 Scottish Masters and reached a career high ranking of fifth but his career was undoubtedly affected by the off-table pressure of having a son, Daniel, born with a heart defect.

A family man, Nigel would have given away every trophy in the world to make his son well again.

His form deteriorated and he eventually dropped out of the top 32.

There have still been highpoints in recent times. In 2006, he beat Hendry 10-9 on a re-spotted black in the first round of the World Championship.

A couple of years ago he won the gold medal in the World Games.

But his Shootout win marks a return to the big time and proves that a good snooker brain, born from experience, is useful for such a format.

Who won this new event barely mattered. This was all about showcasing snooker as a sport that can provide entertainment.

The players, to their credit, embraced it and most fans seem to have been won over.

It will return, of that I’ve no doubt, and hopefully a few of those who watched it believing snooker to be boring will tune into the German Masters this week.



“Better than Power Snooker” was my view of the new Caesarscasino.com Shootout after Friday’s evening session – not exactly the biggest compliment you could pay.

By this afternoon my opinion had been upgraded to “better than expected” but tonight’s session won me over. There was some genuine drama at a rocking Tower Circus in Blackpool.

Mike Dunn displayed a steely nerve to see off Alfie Burden on the black. Rory McLeod outrageously fluked the black to beat Tony Drago in the dying seconds. And then Neil Robertson, with one second to spare, struck the cue ball to pot the black and beat Alan McManus.

What we’ve also seen is how good these players are. I thought the super-fast shot clock may result in farce but, in fact, the players have adapted.

I’d argue it’s done the slow players a favour: there is no time to look for what can go wrong.

Ball in hand has cut out rolling up behind colours but it also puts pressure on the player who receives it: it’s up to them to make the most of it and not all have.

The Shootout has not replaced a tournament. It is a new addition to the circuit, designed to give Sky a distinct event.

Once upon a time they bid tens of millions for the World Championship but were turned down (the fact that the then WPBSA board included several BBC commentators was surely a coincidence).

Sky doesn’t want the scraps of the circuit and so it’s entirely understandable that if they are to show anything then they desire something out of leftfield, which Barry Hearn has dreamt up.

Sky’s first rate production values and varied commentary team have done a great job of bringing across the atmosphere.

And the venue is superb. It’s a bear-pit similar to Goffs, the long time venue of the Irish Masters and would make an ideal home for a tournament like the Masters.

There are elements of the Shootout I don’t like. By and large, the crowd add to the atmosphere but there are inevitably a few ‘comedians’ who, emboldened by drink, shout out all manner of boorish witticisms that add nothing whatsoever to the viewing experience. Hats off to referee Michaela Tabb for asking for a bit of decorum tonight.

I could quite cheerfully never hear that American voiceover guy again and the whole thing probably went on too long.

So I’ve enjoyed the Shootout on the whole but the one thing I hope is that there isn’t a kneejerk reaction from people within the game – particularly players – that this format should be flogged to death or even introduced for ranking events.

It works as a one off, a piece of entertainment to enjoy once a year, but that’s as far as it goes.

Naturally it’s not for everyone, although a number of those who took against the Shootout have nevertheless kept watching it, presumably so that they can be mortally offended all weekend.

There is a new ranking event starting on Wednesday and two new ones next season, so those lamenting the death of the game are well wide of the mark.

Opinions will differ, but Hearn looks like he’s unearthed another winner.

As Ali Carter put it: “It’s a bit of fun, that’s how the players are treating it.”

Bearing in mind what else is going on in the world, what is really wrong with that?


The WPBSA's new integrity unit has launched an investigation into the Marcus Campbell v Jimmy Michie match at the Caesarcasino.com Shootout in Blackpool last night after "an unusually high number of bets" were placed on Campbell to win. The Scot won the frame 32-21.

A WPBSA statement read:

The WPBSA has been made aware, by bookmakers, of suspicious betting patterns on the match between Jimmy Michie and Marcus Campbell at the Caesarscasino.com Snooker Shoot-Out on Friday evening.

The match in the one-frame knockout tournament in Blackpool was won by Campbell, 32 points to 21.

An unusually high number of bets had been placed on Campbell to win the match.The matter has been passed on to David Douglas, head of the WPBSA's Integrity Unit, for a thorough and immediate investigation.

WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: "We take the threat of corrupt activity very seriously and we are treating this matter with the utmost urgency. Having set up the Integrity Unit last year, we have the mechanisms in place to make a full investigation."



The new Caesarcasino.com Shootout in Blackpool is intended not to be a serious test but a bit of fun.

It may well be, but the format runs the risk of it turning into a farce.

Each match will be stopped after just ten minutes. There is a 20 second shot limit for the first five minutes and one of just 15 seconds for the next five.

This means there will not be time to play certain shots, such as ones needing the extended rest. Amid the panic, players may well end up just whacking the balls about.

Players will hopefully be fully appraised of the rules before they start, although these were still being refined yesterday after it became clear they were somewhat ambiguous.

In short, the players lag – or string – to see who breaks. The frame then continues as normal but players have to hit a cushion with either cue ball or object ball or pot a ball on every shot.

The rules state the opposing player will then have the cue ball ‘in hand’ after a foul. In the official rules of snooker, this means the cue ball in the D but, in the Shootout, it means the player can place it anywhere on the table. Hopefully this important distinction will be made clear.

If points are level at the end of the ten minutes, players will take part in a blue-ball shootout.

The whole of the top 64 is involved. Prize money starts at £500 in the first round and the winner will receive a cheque for £32,000.

One question I’d be interested in having answered is this: what happens if there is, say, ten seconds left in the match when a player comes to the table? Will he have to play his shot in this time or have the full 15 seconds?

I guess we’ll find out tomorrow night.

Despite a few reservations, I’m all for new innovations such as the Shootout which, unlike Power Snooker, is at least snooker in a recognisable form.

This is not the World Championship. It is supposed to be entertainment and I’m sure the players and fans will enjoy something a bit different.

The danger, though, with events such as this is that it gives those who enjoy sticking the knife into snooker the chance to claim it has dumbed down, sold its soul and generally become desperate.

Such people don’t mention the new German Masters, the two new ranking events next season or the general way in which the sport is going forward under Barry Hearn’s stewardship.

No doubt the Shootout will bring about great debate, which is actually one of its functions.

There is an option, though, for those who take against it: switch off.



A word on Shaun Murphy, the third qualifier for the winners' group of the Championship League last night.

Murphy trailed Mark King 2-0 but produced back-to-back total clearances of 139 and 137 to draw level.

King was in on 41 in the decider but was very unlucky to knock a red in while potting the black and going into the pack. From this, Murphy made 80 for victory.

There was no crowd and no ranking points on offer but the fact remains that snooker is an exceptionally difficult game to play and Murphy made it look ridiculously easy.

I see a lot of snooker during the season and probably get a little complacent about how good these players are.

And afterwards, Murphy and King conducted their own sporting post mortem in the tournament office, Murphy telling King how unlucky he had been, King admitting that he could have gone out of the tournament earlier that day and congratulating Murphy on his performance.

Murphy returns in the winners' group with Mark Selby, Mark Williams and the winners of the next four groups.

Stephen Hendry, Mark Allen and Matthew Stevens enter group 4 at Crondon Park today.



Ronnie O’Sullivan has withdrawn from the Championship League and will be replaced in group 3 this week by Stuart Bingham.

O’Sullivan finished runner-up to Mark Williams in group 2 but presumably has other commitments.

Group 3 thus features John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Bingham, Marco Fu, Peter Ebdon and Mark King.

King had been due to come into the event in group 4 but replaces Mark Allen, who was unavailable to play in group 3 but will play in group 4 alongside Stephen Hendry and Matthew Stevens.


You can follow the results on the official site or on Matchroom Sport’s twitter feed here.

I shall also tweet in between commentaries.

For betting tips and general hilarity there is also Snookerbacker’s blog.



The new Caesarscasino.com Shootout begins a week today.

I shall look at the merits – or otherwise – of this new event next week but regardless of the format, the tournament heralds a return to Blackpool, which for many professionals will bring back memories good and bad.

For a number of years Blackpool represented a dream factory for players and often ended in nightmares.

The Norbreck Castle Hotel became established as the venue for qualifiers shortly after the game was thrown open. Its huge main hall could accommodate up to 20 tables and, wherever you looked, cueists were potting balls, missing balls, winning, losing and, in some cases, imploding.

If it was Tuesday you were trying to qualify for the Dubai Classic. Thursday was the UK Championship. It barely mattered what the tournament was: as long as you were still there you had a chance to qualify for something.

The class of 1992 included three players who would become among the finest ever to have played the game.

Ronnie O’Sullivan breezed through his first 38 matches, eventually losing to Sean Storey, and won 74 out of 76 matches in total.

John Higgins and Mark Williams didn’t quite enjoy this success but did well enough to claw their way through to the odd final stage and provide enough evidence that they could also do great things in the game.

The snooker was non-stop and intensive. In 1992, the qualifiers for that season’s World Championship were played in September – closer to the previous Crucible event than the one they were trying to qualify for.

Blackpool in the winter, with the wind off the sea buffeting the front of the Norbreck, could be a forbidding place.

There was one occasion where the car of a referee ended up being blown onto that of another official.

It was at the nearby Marriner’s pub, a focal point for those celebrating victory, consoling themselves in defeat or merely marking time, where Alex Higgins emerged 6-3 down after the first session to Tony Knowles in the final qualifying round of the 1994 World Championship.

Higgins, who rarely favoured a soft drink, fell returning to the venue and cut his arm. Blood seeped on the table as he gamely battled back to win 10-9, a vignette symbolic of his chaotic life and steadfast will to win.

It was also at the Norbreck where the Hurricane told a referee to move because “you’re standing in my line of thought.”

When he made his highest ever break in the World Championship against Tai Pichit of Thailand, he unaccountably began to cry as he set about clearing the colours.

One day he turned up with a gun, carrying it as if it were merely a cue extension.

This bizarre behaviour may have been typical Alex Higgins but it was not out of place in Blackpool, where even the sanest of snooker players went a little bit mad over the many weeks of snooker.

Stories abound. There was the player reputed to have got ten snookers to win a frame.

One player won a match, went to their room because they were feeling ill and passed away.

The officials entertained themselves by emptying furniture out of one another’s rooms and, in one case, shaving an eyebrow off a member of the WPBSA team.

I heard one referee asked a player mid-match for a piece of chocolate because his energy levels were running low.

Some players, who turned professional purely because they had the money to do so, were so bad that they drew crowds of people who wanted a good laugh.

It was a tough system but fair: the survival of the fittest. Some found they weren’t as good as they thought, others fell by the wayside because they were too fond of the social aspect

Blackpool still hosted the qualifiers until eight or so years ago when the tropical environs of Prestatyn were favoured.

I dare say those players old enough to remember the Norbreck days will be thinking of these formative years when they return to Blackpool next week.



The death this week of Malcolm Thorne brought into sharp focus the fact that, though snooker players are engaged in an intensely individual sport, they nevertheless need some help along the way.

Malcolm organised countless junior tournaments and also guided Mark Selby when he first turned professional.

Many snooker players have benefited from having inspirational mentors.

Steve Davis first had his father, Bill, a student of the game who helped him with the playing side and then Barry Hearn, his manager who helped make him a millionaire off the table.

Stephen Hendry had Ian Doyle, another no-nonsense manager who instilled in his young charge the importance of hard work and all out commitment.

Hendry’s own game also evolved after he took part in an exhibition tour with Davis early in his career. Heavily beaten, Hendry realised that, though he was good, he wasn’t yet good enough for the level he aspired to.

Subsequently, Stephen Maguire practised with Hendry while a teenager and through the endless beatings not only learned first hand how to play top level tournament snooker but also developed a resolve to try and one day get to that standard.

John Higgins admits he was nothing particularly special until he met Alan McManus, who mentored him in Glasgow. Higgins would also later practise with Hendry.

Shaun Murphy was tutored by his father, Tony, and Ding Junhui was taken across China by his father to work with the best coaches the country had to offer.

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s prime mentor was also his father, who gave him every advantage he could in terms of practice facilities, opponents and an inner confidence.

When he was sent to jail, O’Sullivan’s sense of certainty was shaken and he was lucky to have Derek Hill in his corner. Hill was, indeed still is, a cheery, relentlessly upbeat character skilled in having his charges look at life as if the glass were half full and not half empty.

Now O’Sullivan is doing his bit for Riley’s Futurestars, now in its second year.

In 2010, Joel Walker, a 16 year-old from Sheffield, was chosen to be mentored by O’Sullivan from the 1,000+ youngsters who entered.

Riley’s are privately very pleased with the effort O’Sullivan has made for this scheme, which carries a £5,000 prize for career development and coaching with O’Sullivan.

Regional competitions held at Rileys clubs will find 120 winners who then go head-to-head until eight players are left standing.

The final eight will compete in Sheffield during the World Championship where they must compete in skills tasks designed by O’Sullivan to test their cue technique and ball control.

It is a worthy scheme, not least because it gives a top player the chance to help someone coming up.

There are few better candidates to pass on advice to new, young professionals than older players who have been there, seen it, done it, and had the t-shirt sponsored.

However, new pros receive no formal advice from anyone and never have. They just pitch up and play and have to navigate the treacherous waters of professional sport without much of an idea what it entails.

This is probably why so many have been ripped off by dodgy managers or allowed success, when it has come, to go to their heads.

Players such as Davis, Hendry and Ken Doherty are obvious examples of wise old heads and should perhaps be used in a formal capacity to counsel new players.

Just because snooker is not obviously a team sport, it doesn’t mean a player has to do it all alone.



The latest way of joining the professional circuit is Q School, World Snooker’s new qualifying competition that will take place just after the World Championship.

It features three tournaments and the semi-finalists in each will qualify for the 2011/12 pro tour.

Entries are trickling in already and are so far proving popular with players based outside the UK.

The first entry came from Jamie Clarke of Llanelli followed by Belgians Hans Blanckaert and Luca Brecel and Lasse Munstermann of Germany.

World Snooker has also received an entry from Dr. Mohammed Raoof of Hyderabad, India.

The governing body expects a flood of entries as the closing date, March 1, approaches. I know a couple of well known faces considering giving it a go.

There have, of course, been various ways of turning professional over the years. In the 1970s, in almost the definition of a ‘closed shop’, you had to be invited.

Later there was a Pro Ticket Series before the game was thrown open in 1991, where if you paid your money you could play in the qualifiers.

Eventually this became so unwieldy and time consuming that the circuit was cut down once more, but with a Challenge Tour, which evolved into the Pontin’s International Open Series.

Now it’s a case of pay your £1,000, take your chance and if you aren’t good enough, do something else, although with the PTCs there is still plenty of snooker for amateurs to play in.

The drawback with Q School is that it is so self-contained that, for instance, illness could wreck a player’s chances.

Harsh as it sounds, this is just tough. There are plusses and minuses in any system. At least Q School is a level playing field and everyone will know where they stand by early June.

The EASB, Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds and South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester have all set up Q School preparation events in readiness for May.

Mark Williams is among those who believes the new system is fair. Williams, like Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, was among those who spent weeks at a time in Blackpool in the early 1990s attempting to swim through the glue of endless qualifying rounds.

“You had to win ten or 12 matches just to qualify for a tournament,” Williams said.

“It seemed like you were in Blackpool forever. The way of doing it now with the Q School is much better and easier. The players will only have to be in Sheffield for three weeks and if they are good enough they will get on to the circuit.”


In an idle moment I found myself thinking about the 147 prize, or rather lack of one.

As you will know, this season World Snooker scrapped the bonus prize for a maximum because it was costing them fortunes to ensure against it.

All this culminated in Ronnie O'Sullivan not wanting to pot the final black at the World Open by way of protest.

So I had the following idea: World Snooker puts £1,000 into each event for a televised 147. If one is not made it gets rolled over to the next tournament where it would be worth £2,000. If nobody makes one there then at the next event it's worth £3,000 and so on.

Since no one has made a maximum since O'Sullivan's in Glasgow the maximum prize at the German Masters would be £3,000. If no one makes one in Berlin then at the Welsh Open it would be worth £4,000.

This is still not as much as the players used to get but is certainly better than nothing.

And there should be a financial reward for a 147. It remains a praise-worthy achievement that is still relatively rare.

Who knows, the rolling maximum jackpot could even attract a sponsor. Even if it doesn't it would cost World Snooker no more than around £12,000 a year.

Anyway, just a thought.



Malcolm Thorne, brother of Willie Thorne and one of snooker's unsung heroes, has died of cancer.

There are many leading players of today who owe Malcolm a debt of gratitude. He ran countless junior events that gave young players the chance to compete, improve and learn about tournament snooker.

Many of these were staged at Willie Thorne's Snooker Club in Leicester, which became a regular destination for young hopefuls and their parents for years.

In more recent times Malcolm was heavily involved with the English Association for Snooker and Billiards.

His love of snooker and dedication to the game amounted to a major contribution to the development of many great careers.

Everyone at Snooker Scene sends our condolences to Malcolm's family.



The measure of greatness in sport is quite simple: what have you won?

Ding Junhui, at 23, has won two UK Championship titles and now the game’s biggest invitation title, the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters.

It could all have been so different. His 6-2 first session lead over Marco Fu was reduced to 6-4 and looked certain to go 6-5 only for him to lay a brilliant snooker on the pink in the 11th frame.

Fu failed to make contact and Ding potted pink and black for 7-4 before swift breaks of 94, 83 and 85 completed his 10-4 victory.

After all the tears of his 2007 defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan, it was good to see Ding all smiles as he celebrated his victory.

Questions have been raised in the past as to his temperament but he seems to be maturing all the time, as a player and a person.

He’s been on the circuit seven years now and it’s easy to forget that he’s still a young man, and one who carries the hopes of a nation on his shoulders.

His English is improving but he remains shy, not always a bad way to be with the media.

“I lost my cue action for two frames but the snooker to make it 7-4 changed the match,” Ding said.

So can he now win the World Championship? He certainly has the talent. What remains to be seen is whether he can last the course for the full 17 days at the greatest snooker test there is.

“I need more experience for longer games and how to keep the same way of playing,” said Ding, whose Ladbrokes odds for Crucible success are now 8/1.

Ding is an important star in the game’s firmament. He led the Chinese revolution and if he won the world title it would further catapult him into the spotlight.

This may be an uncomfortable place for him to be but he will have to get used to it because on this week’s evidence, Ding has many years of high profile victories ahead of him.


It would be ironic if a tournament that threatened to turn into a damp squib after so many big names went out early ended up with a final that became the most watched match in snooker history.

When Ding Junhui beat Marco Fu 10-9 in the first round of the World Championship three years ago the estimated viewing audience in China was in excess of 100 million.

Even with the time difference, the first ever all-Asian major final is likely to attract huge figures in the Far East.

There are still fans - and even players - who would rather snooker stayed away from China. Piffling complaints about the time difference and culture ignore the fact that snooker peaked in the UK 25 years ago and needs to exploit new markets.

The levels of participation in China have sky-rocketed since Ding won the 2005 China Open. I've been to a Star factory out there which is a 24/7 operation, such is the demand.

Ordinary working Chinese are often priced out of buying tickets for tournaments but they tune in to TV coverage in considerable numbers.

They - and the rest of us - could be in for a treat today given how well Ding and Fu played to reach the final.

Fu produced three great frames, which would have been three centuries had he not missed the green on 97 in the middle frame, to come from 4-1 down to 4-4 with Mark Allen before scrapping through the last two.

Ding was relaxed, confident and polished in repelling the challenge of Jamie Cope, 6-3, to reach a second Masters final.

The first, famously, ended with him breaking down in tears but he starts favourite today to land the game's most prestigious invitation title.

It may well be very close. When Fu gets into his stride he is an awesome scorer - tenth on the all time list of century makers. This run has come out of nowhere. His form of late has been so erratic that he's dropped out of the top 16, but he will be inspired by the chance to play - and beat - Ding at Wembley Arena.

Ding has twice won the UK Championship and, at the age of 23, has the pedigree to win many more major titles.

So despite all the shocks and surprises this week, the stage is set for a historic meeting of China v Hong Kong in London, symbolic of the changing tides of snooker.



Peter Ebdon went from Force to Farce last night with his abject display against Marco Fu, who breezed through to the semi-finals of the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters a 6-0 winner after encountering little resistance.

While Ebdon struggled badly, Fu was fluent and will need to be again to beat Mark Allen, who has already knocked Ronnie O'Sullivan and Neil Robertson out of the tournament.

Allen was not quite a year old when his compatriots Dennis Taylor and Alex Higgins contested the 1987 Masters final.

The Antrim potter is the finest prospect Northern Ireland have had since. His amateur record included wins at every level and his professional career has been impressive. He reached the top 16 very quickly - proving it can be done - and has a number of wins over big names under his belt.

What Allen wants, though, is titles. He has already won the invitation Jiangsu Classic but has lost in five ranking event semi-finals.

His fearless style of play and ability to compete on the big stage means most of his fellow players regard him as a likely winner of a big title soon.

It could well be tomorrow at Wembley Arena, although Fu has played well this week and will be no pushover.

Ding Junhui endured an emotional meltdown at Wembley four years ago when he lost in the final to Ronnie O'Sullivan but that is all in the past now and his performance against Graeme Dott suggests he is in the right frame of mind.

Jamie Cope played poorly against Shaun Murphy but much better to beat Mark King and defeated Ding in the Shanghai Masters earlier this season.

A strange tournament doesn't mean it won't be an exciting weekend.

The Masters is one of snooker's showpiece events and the fight for the title over the next two days will be full of the usual twists and turns that make top level snooker so fascinating.



Neil Robertson v Mark Allen could be a cracker: a display of long potting and break-building from two of the most attacking players in the game.

Allen, though he's done well so far, is still waiting for his big breakthrough title win.

Robertson was once in this position but, since winning his first title in 2006, has not looked back.

The pace of tonight's match between Peter Ebdon and Marco Fu may be a little more sedate. They played a dramatic World Championship semi-final in 2006, which Ebdon finally won 17-16 having led 15-9.

Fu went a little negative after playing well to build a 5-1 lead over Stephen Maguire in the previous round and had to survive a tension filled last frame to win 6-4.

Ebbo is, of course, granite, as he proved in crawling past Ali Carter and don't be surprised if he prevails in another midnight finish.



Few players in the first round of the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters played better than Mark King, who was superb in knocking out defending champion Mark Selby.

King was certainly more impressive than his quarter-final opponent, Jamie Cope, who won a poor encounter against a shockingly below par Shaun Murphy last night.

So King should start favourite against Cope on form and the Romford man knows this is one of the best chances he has ever had to win a major title.

But this has been a strange tournament, probably the strangest Masters there has ever been in terms of the form players going out.

Only Neil Robertson survives from the top eight seeds and there are no former winners left in.

Ding Junhui, though, is a twice UK champion and current world no.4 so has to now count as the favourite to come through the top half.

His opponent this afternoon, Graeme Dott, is releasing an autobiography in March detailing his battle with depression, the loss of his manager and, of course, his world title victory in 2006.

Can Dotty write another chapter at Wembley Arena? Well, he certainly played well in defeating John Higgins in the opening round, only his third ever match win in the Masters.

Dott has the game and the tenacity to send Ding packing if the Chinese fails to hit top form.

Finally a word on Stephen Hendry, who turns 42 today.

It is distinctly possible that he won’t be in the top 16 next year but, if he is still playing, I see no reason not to give him a wildcard.

Not only has he won the title more than anyone else but he is still a huge name whose presence in a tournament enhances it.

Jimmy White, who won the Masters once, got several Wembley wildcards so Hendry should be afforded the same respect in the twilight of his career.



The BBC will screen snooker’s three biggest tournaments for the next three years as part of a new broadcast deal announced today.

The World Championship, UK Championship and Masters will continue on the BBC until at least 2014.

They have therefore dropped their fourth event, although those with long memories will recall they used to show five events, the World Team Cup as well as the Grand Prix.

The Welsh Open will still be screened by BBC Wales.

The BBC is having to make cuts and is also changing the nature of programming on BBC2 so it is good news they are sticking with snooker at all.

Terrestrial television is still the service most people receive. Many can’t get or afford satellite TV.

If snooker disappeared completely off terrestrial television then it would be further marginalised.

And snooker has much to thank the BBC for. It started showing action in the black and white days and when it launched the colour service at the end of the 1960s, Pot Black brought the game into living rooms the length and breadth of the UK, making household names of the players of the day.

Its popularity and the emergence of Alex Higgins persuaded producers to broadcast highlights of the World Championship in the 1970s before, in 1978, the decision was taken to undertake live daily coverage, which the BBC has done ever since.

Now, every ball is available somewhere on the digital platform and on the BBC website.

Snooker no longer delivers huge figures but it does well for the BBC and, in turn, their continued support of the sport is to be welcomed.

Many British people seem to think of snooker only in terms of the UK. In fact, there is more snooker on worldwide television now than there has ever been.

Eurosport broadcast all the major events across the continent, Chinese TV show much of them live and other territories take highlights.

Sky are dipping their toes in the water again and ITV4 broadcast the recent Power Snooker event, which hopefully hasn’t put them off the proper version of the game.

But the BBC and their financial support for snooker remains the key contract World Snooker holds and the game’s future is rosier for it having been renegotiated.


Based on what we’ve seen so far Stephen Hendry and Jamie Cope should win at the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters today.

Hendry was the king of Wembley two decades ago, winning his first 23 matches in the Masters. Like the Beatles, he did it all in his twenties and had nothing to prove thereafter.

The six times Masters champion has a cast of his hands on Wembley’s walk of fame, the only snooker player to be afforded such an honour.

But all that is in the past. Hendry turns 42 tomorrow and his recent form has been woeful.

His decline his been gradual. He was still playing world class snooker in 2003, was runner-up in the 2006 UK Championship and a semi-finalist in the World Championship three years ago.

Since then there has been little to write home about. Hendry was right at the bottom of the betting pre-tournament and, despite all the shocks, has done little of late to suggest he can beat world champion Neil Robertson today.

Then again, the same could be said of Steve Davis in 1997 and he won the title.

Jamie Cope is the only debutant in the Masters this year. He takes his Wembley Arena bow tonight against Shaun Murphy, who is yet to do much in the Masters.

Cope is capable of excellent snooker but his temperament doesn’t always match his talent and the Wembley venue is huge with no place to hide.

We’ve had six results and the higher ranked player in each match has lost but I can’t see that trend continuing today.



So after four results at the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters, four top eight seeds are out.

Ding Junhui potted a great green using the rest to shake off a below par Mark Williams 6-4 and Graeme Dott was very strong in seeing off John Higgins by the same score.

This afternoon Ronnie O’Sullivan enters the Wembley fray. This is a tournament that inspires O’Sullivan. He has won the title four times and been in nine finals.

But Mark Allen beat him at the Crucible two years ago and the feisty Northern Irishman tends to play well against the top players.

Last year Allen sent John Higgins packing in the first round but he knows he will have to make the most of every chance that comes his way to threaten an upset today.

One thing to look out for: O’Sullivan is poised on 49 Masters centuries. In this regard he is ahead of Stephen Hendry, who has made 43 in the tournament.

Tonight it’s Stephen Maguire against Marco Fu, who has actually dropped out of the elite top 16 but was in it when the Masters seedings were done.

Maguire is capable of top drawer performances but that little bit of inconsistency means that you never really know when they are going to come along.

Fu is a difficult player to play against when he’s in form. He plays to a solid rhythm and it’s hard to knock him out of it.

The decisive factor could be whether Maguire can keep a lid on any frustrations and just concentrate on the job in hand.

We’ve had a few shocks at Wembley Arena this week but I think this is in part because of recent changes in the game.

The top players now play each other so often that some of the fear factor has gone. More players are in form and more fancy their chances.

All of which makes it interesting, but hard to predict.



Mark King has admitted he was wrong to vote against Barry Hearn's proposals to transform snooker at the EGM last year.

King was a staunch supporter of a rival bid by John Davison.

But after beating Mark Selby in the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters, King told worldsnooker.com that his fears had proved unfounded.

"When all the Barry Hearn thing came about, I hold my hands up, I wasn't a fan of the idea," he said.

"I was for the other side and I didn't vote for Barry. To be honest, it's been fantastic. I hold my hands up and say I was wrong.

"We've been playing near enough every weekend before Christmas. You don't feel like you're having time off and it's good - thanks to Barry."

Like most players, King embraced the Players Tour Championship and played in as many events as he could. After all, this is what being a snooker professional should entail: playing.

Nobody would pretend the PTC series is yet perfect but with more tournaments on the way next season there is a genuine uplift for the sport and the players will be the ones who reap the benefits, or at least have the chance to do so.

King didn't have to so publicly backtrack so credit to him for doing so.


Mark King and Peter Ebdon upset the form book to record surprise first day victories over Mark Selby and Ali Carter respectively at the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters at Wembley Arena.

King played superbly, possibly his best in a big match since he beat Selby 10-8 in the first round of the 2008 World Championship.

I wrote yesterday that he doesn't usually score as heavily as the other top players but he certainly changed that against Selby and it was King who was the more poised towards the end.

Ebdon, as he so often has before, fought tooth and nail to scrape past Carter 6-5 in a midnight finish.

So what will happen today? And what's the point in making predictions anyway? The beauty of sport is that, even when you think you know what will happen, the unexpected takes over.

Mark Williams v Ding Junhui always had the look of being the closest match of the round. On this logic one of them will probably win 6-0.

Williams had a good snooker workout over four days at the Championship League last week, winning one of the groups, whereas Ding is coming in cold.

Also, Williams is clearly back to full confidence - only a great Ronnie O'Sullivan performance denied him a place in last year's final - and Ding will well remember the way the Welshman played to beat him in Beijing in the China Open final last season.

Tonight it's John Higgins v Graeme Dott. Higgins is of course the man in form after his UK Championship victory and Dott has won just two matches in eight previous Wembley appearances.

Logic, therefore, dictates that Higgins should win but logic and sport don't always go hand in hand - as we saw yesterday.



Mark Selby, the defending champion, is a big favourite to beat Mark King in the first round of the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters today, just as he was in the opening round of the 2008 World Championship when King beat him 10-8.

King’s continued presence in the top 16 proves that snooker is not just about scoring. It is also about getting stuck in for a scrap, as Mark Williams demonstrated at the UK Championship last month.

Selby has made 35 centuries in all tournaments this season; King has contributed just three.

But where King does excel is in frames where balls are on cushions and colours off their spots.

He’s a street-fighting snooker player: determined, pugnacious and fiercely competitive.

Witness his defeat of Ricky Walden in the deciding frame of their match in the 2009 Grand Prix, in which he needed three snookers on the brown.

Selby, though, is – to understate things a tad – at home at Wembley Arena.

From three appearances he has won the title twice and been runner-up on the other occasion.

Certain players have tournaments they always seem to do well in and this is Selby’s. It would be a shock if he lost this afternoon.

Peter Ebdon has never beaten Ali Carter in a match of any significance and the 2002 world champion, now 40, struggles for consistency these days.

In 17 previous Wembley appearances Ebdon has only appeared in two Masters semi-finals, a surprisingly low return.

I guess certain players also have tournaments in which they don’t do so well, the Masters for Ebdon being a case in point.

Carter, having won two ranking titles, will be targeting the sport’s ‘majors’ and his past record over Ebdon will make him confident when they clash tonight.

It will probably come down to whether Ebdon can publish any mistakes and make those clearances you need to make in matches of this profile.

The Masters began in 1975 and has a rich history. More chapters will be written this week – let’s hope the tournament matches up to its status.



Steve Davis had a love/hate relationship with the Masters.

As a London boy it was his home tournament but, due to his dominance of the sport and the British public’s peculiar dislike of success, he was rarely given the support he deserved at Wembley.

If he played Alex Higgins there he could be guaranteed to be booed. Davis won the Masters twice in the 1980s – 1982 and 1988 – but did not find the Conference Centre a happy hunting ground otherwise.

By 1997 he was widely perceived to be a spent force. The Stephen Hendry era was in full swing and younger talents such as John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams were emerging as world beaters.

Davis remained in the top 16 but was clearly on the slide. His last victory in a BBC network event had come eight years previously.

Still a proud competitor, Davis himself didn’t expect much from the 1997 Wembley Masters having endured a heavy cold in the run-in to the tournament.

Despite this he battled to two good wins over Alan McManus and Peter Ebdon – both top eight players – and hammered Ken Doherty, a few months before the Irishman would become world champion, 6-1 in the semi-finals.

Even so, he faced O’Sullivan in the final and this surely meant only one thing: defeat.

Ronnie was 21 and had the snooker world at his feet. He’d already won four ranking titles and was the sport’s new superstar.

Early in the final a female streaker provided some hilarity but the naked truth for Davis appeared to be that youth would triumph over experience. Trailing 8-4, his quest for an unlikely third Masters crown looked to be at an end.

Perhaps feeling he had nothing to lose – while O’Sullivan perhaps thought it was already in the bag – Davis relaxed and started going for his shots.

The old maxim that form is temporary but class is permanent seemed to apply as Davis produced an unlikely recovery and, at long last, found the Wembley crowd warming to him.

It had taken him to lose his aura of invincibility before he got them on his side but as he came back, it was clear that many in the audience wanted him to win.

Maybe this got to O’Sullivan. Whatever, Davis won six frames on the bounce to land the title 10-8.

It was his last significant title victory and served to underline his competitive spirit, which has come to the fore in unexpected and popular ways since, though well it ever will again on the big stage remains to be seen.



The WPBSA has tightened its disciplinary rules to cover a multitude of offences both big and small.

The new WPBSA players’ handbook includes specific fines for certain transgressions of the rules.

Conceding a frame before snookers are required, entering a tournament and then withdrawing from it without good reason and non attendance at tournament prize ceremonies, opening ceremonies, press conferences or other contracted events that are part and parcel of being a professional sportsmen will incur the following penalties:

First offence - £250 fine
Second offence - £500 fine
Third offence - £1,000 fine

After that players face suspension from tournaments.

However, the principle of ‘spent’ offences will apply for players with a poor disciplinary record who smarten up their acts. Therefore, if a reasonable amount of time has elapsed offences will be stricken from the record.

This is not draconian. Far from it, in fact. Other sports dole out harsher punishments than snooker.

Why shouldn’t players take part in official engagements for sponsors and those who put money into the tournaments they are competing in?

Why should they pull out of tournaments without notifying organisers?

Why should they give up in frames when there is still plenty on to win?

Players need to look at the bigger picture, that is the wider game and not just their own whims and moods.

However, there is no great discipline problem in general. And many of the problems that exist stem from the fact that the WPBSA has never really schooled its players into how to behave as a professional.

Yes there are written guidelines and rules but I’d like to see an induction day for all new professionals where they are sat down and have it explained to them exactly what being a snooker pro entails, what is expected of them and how they should conduct themselves.

Wise, experienced old heads such as Steve Davis and Ken Doherty would be perfect to lead such sessions.

In most cases, the flouting of the rules is done in genuine ignorance rather than through some malevolent desire for rebellion.

There was a general chat about this backstage at the Championship League this week where it became apparent that some players had just not thought through why the public would feel short-changed at them conceding early.

On this latter point, a little common sense is needed, though. There’s a world of difference between conceding with eight reds on and conceding while ten behind on the blue and leaving it over the pocket.

Punishment should apply for the former but not the latter, even though the strict etiquette of the game says that you should never concede when you are at the table, only after your opponent breaks down.

There are a couple of other general rules that have been clarified too.

Only the referee is allowed to clean the balls. Presumably there is an inference that players may try and polish the balls to make them react differently, although this raises the question of whether a player taking balls out of pockets at the end of a frame is classed as having ‘cleaned’ it.

Players also may not attempt to split prize money, something that has certainly happened before.

In a player’s head this makes sense. If the top prize is £100,000 and the runners-up prize £50,000 and they split it then they are each guaranteed £75,000.

It doesn’t mean they won’t still be trying but it is right that this is stamped out. If the public think players don’t care who wins and loses because they are getting the same money in any case then their confidence in snooker will decrease.

Ultimately, if you want to play professional snooker then you sign up to a certain code of conduct.

Nobody wants to see snooker players turned into automatons scared of doing anything that will land them in trouble but the sport is bigger than any of them and deserves to be treated with basic respect.


The Masters is a tournament that was always going to appeal to Ronnie O’Sullivan, a player who doesn’t always find motivation easy to come by.

It’s the sort of big occasion event that a player of his class relishes: huge crowds, great atmosphere and top quality opposition.

O’Sullivan remains the youngest ever Masters champion, winning the 1995 title at the age of 19.

He lost in the final a year later, then 10-8 from 8-4 up to Steve Davis in the 1997 final, 10-9 to Paul Hunter in 2004, won the 2005 title and then lost 10-9 on the black to John Higgns in 2006.

In 2007, he would deliver a performance that stands as one of the best ever seen in a major final. Davis, who has seen more snooker than most, described him as ‘unplayable.’

His opponent was Ding Junhui, China’s great star who had opened the tournament with a 147 on the first day.

A close match was predicted: Ding had beaten O’Sullivan in the Northern Ireland Trophy final earlier that season.

But Ding was not used to the unique, often oppressive, atmosphere of Wembley and as O’Sullivan made hay, the Chinese struggled.

The final actually began well for Ding. He went 2-0 up with two big breaks, including a century, but O’Sullivan then hit him hard with back-to-back centuries as he moved 4-2 ahead.

A third ton made it 5-3 at halfway and the evening session turned into a procession: breaks of 96, a 66 clearance and a fourth century, a 143 total clearance, made it 9-3.

At that point, a shell-shocked Ding offered his hand in concession. Later, a ridiculous story went round that he had believed the final was best of 17, not 19.

What actually happened was that Ding had simply had enough. And, frankly, who could blame him?

He was persuaded to continue but O’Sullivan swiftly wrapped up a 10-3 victory. Ding was in tears but O’Sullivan put his arms around him in consolation.

This was Ronnie at his best: he had genuine concern for his opponent. He took pleasure in winning the title but not in humiliating Ding, a player he respected.

His own career had been full of downs as well as ups and he knew such a high profile reverse could set Ding back, which indeed it did for a couple of years.

O’Sullivan smashed his cue days before the 2009 Masters but still won the title. At that tournament he also made an impassioned plea for snooker to embrace change, which set the ball rolling for what would eventually become the Barry Hearn takeover.

Last year he cracked a little under pressure as Mark Selby came from 9-6 down to beat him 10-9 in the final but while I wouldn't back him in the World or UK Championships which require great patience and application, I reckon Ronnie is still a fair bet for the Masters.

He has appeared in nine Masters finals, the same number as Stephen Hendry.

A record tenth for O'Sullivan would underscore his enduring relationship with snooker's leading invitation event.



In the 1980s, a triumvirate of Canadians played their part in the snooker boom that put the game front and centre in millions of British living rooms as a constant television presence.

They were three very different men: Cliff Thorburn, a Tom Selleck lookalike and arch grinder, Bill Werbeniuk, a gargantuan beer guzzler, and Kirk Stevens, a heart throb in a white suit.

Stevens was stylish, exciting and a great talent. His Saturday Night Fever attire, good looks and confidence made him a natural crowd favourite.

There had, by the time of the 1984 Masters, been only two televised maximums. Steve Davis made the first at the 1982 Lada Classic; Thorburn compiled the second at the 1983 World Championship.

Among the Wembley audience for the Jimmy White v Stevens semi-final was Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, in town and keen to see what the fuss surrounding snooker amounted to. Needless to say, he found out.

It had been an entertaining semi-final up to that point played in a great spirit between two close friends.

After eight frames, White led 5-3. Early in frame nine Stevens knocked in a mid range red, quickly developed a few more and went about taking reds with blacks until it became apparent the perfect run was on.

Down to the colours and the hard work began. Stevens needed the rest for the yellow and came wrong side of the green, meaning he needed to take the cue ball around the table for the brown.

He played the shot perfectly, or very nearly, but still finished wrong side of the blue, leaving himself the pink to the green pocket.

He potted it, running the cue ball off the baulk cushion the full length of the table before it bounced off the top cushion to leave Stevens nicely on the black.

And then, pandemonium. He hugged the referee, John Smyth, and then White before collapsing in his chair, the cheers of the capacity crowd ringing around Wembley Conference Centre.

He didn’t win the match – White made a century of his own in the next frame – but the break is forever etched into snooker memory and it took 23 years for there to be another 147 at the Masters, courtesy of Ding Junhui in 2007.

Sadly, Stevens would develop a cocaine habit that nearly killed him and brought his career to a premature end.

In terms of titles it was unfulfilled but his maximum is still fondly remembered as one of those great moments in a sport full of great moments.

Stevens was introduced to the Wembley crowd before the 1999 Masters final as the tournament celebrated its 25th anniversary. As he was warmly applauded into the arena he had to wipe away a tear.

No doubt he was thinking of that Saturday in 1984 and perhaps what might have been too.



One of the many sneering newspaper columnists who take great delight in running down snooker previewed the 2001 Masters by poking fun at tournament organisers’ choice of player for pre-event interviews.

His snidey piece ended with the words: ‘who is Paul Hunter?’

At the time, Paul Hunter was a rising star. Young, blonde, good looking and good fun, he had woken up to the fact that although partying was enjoyable, it wasn’t doing his career any favours.

His new manager, Brandon Parker, told him that he could be a top player for a long time if he knuckled down, and knuckle down he did without losing the effortless likeability that endeared him to so many.

Hunter was a player who didn’t seem to get flustered. He loved snooker and was an obvious talent.

Even so, he had to prove it and Wembley Conference Centre proved to be the perfect stage.

During the 2001 Masters he was hit by a major personal blow. Morrell Stevens, father of his best friend on the circuit, Matthew, died as the tournament was in progress. Still, Hunter reached the final and would have fancied his chances against Fergal O’Brien.

Yet it was the determined Dubliner who made the early running, winning the first session 6-2.

What to do during the mid session break? Hit the practice table? Talking tactics with an advisor?

No. Paul went to his hotel room with his girlfriend, Lyndsey, and did what a couple in love do. He would, famously, later refer to this as ‘putting plan B into operation.’

At 7-3 down he was still heading for a heavy defeat but he then started to play and the happy-go-lucky persona gave way to someone with genuine fighting qualities, reeling off centuries and producing a performance of the highest standard.

A couple of hours later he was the winner, 10-9. A remarkable comeback but, as the following years would prove, by no means a one-off.

A year later Hunter was in the final again against Mark Williams, who at the time was at his peak.

Williams led 5-0. Again, a big defeat loomed, again Hunter turned it round, winning 10-9.

And then in 2004 he reached a third Masters final, this time trailing Ronnie O’Sullivan 7-2 before hitting back to win 10-9: three finals, three comebacks, three victories in deciders.

I wonder sometimes if the key to Hunter’s victories was that, a little like Jimmy White, he loved snooker so much that the result was not always the be all and end all. Did that relax him when others would waver? (It didn’t, as it transpired, in the 2003 World Championship, when he lost from a long way ahead to Ken Doherty in the semi-finals).

Who knows how many more great moments Hunter would have featured in – at the Masters and elsewhere – had tragedy not intervened.

He did as much as anyone and more than most in the last decade to ensure the prestige of snooker’s top invitation tournament remained as high as it should be.

And he did it all with a smile. Who was Paul Hunter? That was Paul Hunter.



Over the next five days I will be building up to the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters by looking back at some of the tournament’s greatest moments. This is not necessarily a top five, just a personal recollection of some Wembley highlights. First up, the greatest ever comeback from 20 years ago...

The year was 1991 and the player was Stephen Hendry. 20 years on he is struggling badly for form and seriously contemplating his future. Back then, he was simply sensational: the best player the game had ever seen.

It wasn’t just Hendry’s obvious talent but also his attitude and will to win. He had an inner belief in himself, something you are born with or not. Most aren’t but Hendry, an introvert, was capable of producing his best snooker when the pressure was well and truly on.

A week or so before the 1991 Masters he partnered Mike Hallett to the doubles title at Barry Hearn’s World Masters in Birmingham.

Hallett was one of the world’s best at the time. He had reached the 1988 Masters final after getting four snookers in the deciding frame of his semi-final against John Parrott and won the 1989 Hong Kong Open, a ranking title.

In 1991 Hallett was playing the best snooker of his career. Even so, that he should win all seven frames of the opening session of his Wembley final against Hendry was a bolt from the blue.

Hendry, after all, had never lost in the Masters since his debut in 1989. He was world champion, UK champion and world no. l. Defeat was possible but surely not humiliation.

Yet that was the stark reality the Scot faced as he traipsed out of the arena following a debilitating first session.

Hallett arrived back at his hotel obviously fully confident that he was on the verge of his greatest moment as a professional. What could possibly go wrong?

His mistake turned out to be switching on the TV. The BBC coverage was still on and presenter Tony Gubba asked studio guest John Spencer, the first Masters champion in 1974, for his thoughts.

Spencer said that, of course, Hallett was a big favourite but that if Hendry could win the first two frames then the final was not necessarily over.

It might not seem much but that one small observation planted a slight seed of doubt in Hallett’s mind, which grew when Hendry indeed closed to 7-2.

Even so, at 8-2 the final was there for the taking. Hallett was clearing up. He potted the blue but, inexplicably, missed the pink. Hendry made it 8-3.

Then he made it 8-4. Then 8-5. Suddenly the early night everyone expected had vanished.

Hallett’s thinking was by now all over the place. Having been composing his victory speech in his head, he was now contemplating a defeat he could never forgive himself for.

I think he would have beaten anyone else, but he had practised often with Hendry and knew that if anyone could come back it would be him.

And he did. He won 9-8, an incredible reversal and proof not just of Hendry’s poise under pressure but also of his iron will to win. Even at 7-0 down he believed he could do it and he did.

It got worse for Hallett: when he returned home he found his house had been burgled, symbolic of a thoroughly miserable night.

It’s a myth that his career nose-dived immediately. In fact he won two major invitational titles the following season but he dropped out of the top 16 in 1992 and never returned.

Hendry would win the next two Masters titles and six in all, more than any other player.

Yes, he’s having a bad time of it and his career looks to be in serious trouble but, my word, when he was good he was very, very good.



January is the very definition of ‘something for everyone’ with the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters, eight days of the Championship League and the new Sky Shootout.

The Wembley Masters is now in its 37th year and stands as one of the ‘big three’ tournaments alongside the World and UK Championship.

Thank goodness all urgings to make it a fully fledged ranking event down the years were ignored. Its prestige comes from the fact that it is only open to the elite top 16: one table, big money, huge pressure and it all adds up to great drama.

From tomorrow I will start the build-up to the Masters by looking back at some of its best moments.

But right now I’m at Crondon Park in Essex for the Championship League.

Group one is a stellar line-up: John Higgins, Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Ali Carter, Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott. Group two will feature four of these plus Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Jamie Cope.

The Championship League is a typical Barry Hearn project: something that was widely derided by those resistant to innovation that became, very quickly, a success.

It’s a pretty simple business proposition: it makes money for all those involved, and the fact that all the top players are once again competing proves its worth, particularly when it acts as a warm-up for a major tournament as this week.

Full details of the websites streaming the CLS are available at the official site here.

The Shootout is not intended to be serious but does carry a first prize of £32,000.

It’s main function, apart from providing entertainment, could well be to tempt Sky back into the snooker fold on a more permanent basis.

Two decades ago the new year would start with the Mercantile Classic on ITV but those were the days when snooker had a regular set of tournaments, sponsors and dates.

The game is effectively being rebuilt right now, which is both exciting and challenging for administrators, players and fans alike.

The good news is, though, that there’ll be plenty of snooker to watch.