Poland has for a number of years now been an area in which snooker has become increasingly popular.

As in Germany, new fans have been created by the exposure of the game on Eurosport and I’m sure there’s great excitement in Warsaw for PTC6, which began today, with the professionals coming in tomorrow.

For this reason it is a shame so many of the sport’s top players have decided to give it a miss.

Those who have gone have the chance to gain valuable ranking points ahead of the first seedings revision of the season.

The top 16 on Monday will be at the Masters, so it’s a big few days for players such as Martin Gould and Mark Davis, who are battling for a place in the elite group for the first time.

In the various other bands, too, the race for places is on. There is no material difference between being ranked 17th and 32nd but a world of difference if you are 33rd and not 32nd.

The value to snooker of the British PTCs, certainly in Sheffield, is open to question, although they do provide players with the playing opportunities they have been calling for.

But the European PTCs, which carry television coverage on Eurosport, are important. There may be a full blown ranking event in Warsaw one day but most events – the World Championship included – have started on a small scale and then grown.

Poland of course have their own players, including teenager Kacper Filipiak, who impressed in the World Cup.

Like all youngsters he has a lot to learn but there’s no better way than to be rubbing shoulders with the leading professionals.

A word of caution, though, when it comes to scheduling, and this links back to the World Series, which also visited Warsaw.

The best sport is competitive. A series of processions on the first couple of days do not provide drama or entertainment.

Therefore, matches chosen for the television should be competitive, not a series of slaps handed down by top players to plucky amateurs.

I would personally rather watch a couple of middle ranking pros playing each other than a member of the top 16 hammering an unknown 4-0.

Of course, that’s easy for me to write. In the real world, with commercial concerns, it isn’t so simple.

It’ll be interesting to see who comes through the pack this weekend. The likes of Judd Trump, Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter must be fancying their chances with many of their leading rivals not present.

But the most important thing that can happen is that Polish snooker fans have their emotional investment in the sport repaid so that they want to come back and watch again in the future.



What’s the biggest shock result of all time?

Many would argue Tony Knowles’s 10-1 demolition of Steve Davis in the first round of the 1982 World Championship remains hard to beat in this particular pub discussion.

Indeed, Davis’s surprise defeat of John Higgins in the 2010 World Championship would have to be up there, as would his reverse to Joe Johnson in the 1986 Crucible final.

A shock is so-called because nobody saw it coming. It can only feature a really big name.

For this reason, Stephen Hendry’s 9-0 defeat to Marcus Campbell in the first round of the 1998 UK Championship in Bournemouth has to rate very highly on the Richter scale of unfathomable results.

True, it was a pre-televised match, and thus more of a leveller. Also, Campbell had beaten Hendry at the Scottish Open the previous season.

And Hendry had been going through an unproductive period by his standards. He lost the 1997 world final to Ken Doherty and was bundled out of the first round in 1998 by his old foe, Jimmy White.

Even so, 9-0? Hendry losing to anyone 9-0? You could have named your own price at the start of the day.

I was there. The match was played over two afternoons. On the first of them, I can guarantee it took a while for anyone in the pressroom to even notice anything was happening.

Without wishing to shatter illusions, journalists tend not to be glued to the scoring monitors every waking moment.

By the time lunch has been eaten, the racing pages digested and all petty arguments got out of the way, usually about who has nicked whose chair or some such issue of great import, the matches are well underway.

I don’t remember much about that first afternoon but I’d imagine someone deigned to glance up at the monitor when Hendry was 3-0 down and remark that he’d have to pull his socks up.

It was best of 17. There was still plenty of time for him to get going.

At 5-0, the first mutterings of a shock result would start and at 8-0 at the end of the session the obituaries would be hammered out on every laptop in the room.

Hendry had staged many comebacks in his time but this would have been beyond the means of Lazarus.

He lost 9-0 the following day and we all piled into the press conference, fearing the worst.

This was a man who took to losing like Admiral Nelson took to arm wrestling.

However, he’d clearly had time overnight to accept his fate and think through the ramifications.

He spoke eloquently about the need to go back to the drawing board, to pull his game apart and rebuild it.

Looking back, losing 9-0 did him a favour. Had it been, say, 9-3 he may have been able to persuade himself that it was just one of those things, a bad day at the office.

But he was a proud man and to lose 9-0 to anyone was a humiliation.

It didn’t take long for Hendry to get it together again. In fact, he won a small tournament in Malta the following week.

By the time of the World Championship he had won the Scottish Open and Irish Masters. At the Crucible he would produce one of his best ever performances to land a seventh world title.

He was at his highest ever peak, but it started with one of his greatest ever lows.

It's arguable whether Hendry's defeat to Campbell ranks as the biggest shock of all time but, in terms of the effect it had on him and therefore the history of the game, it could well be the most significant.



Andrew Higginson’s capture of the fifth Players Tour Championship title of the season in Sheffield tonight was a good win for a good guy.

Higginson defeated the reigning world champion, John Higgins, 4-1 in the final to land the first title of his professional career.

These PTCs are of course tests of skill but also of stamina. Andrew can be very proud of his achievement.

After a decade on the fringes, he broke through at the 2007 Welsh Open by going all the way from the first qualifying round to within a frame of winning the title.

Higginson beat a series of top names and made a televised 147 en route before Neil Robertson denied him 9-8.

He hasn’t done anything as eye-catching since but has quietly worked his way into the top 32 and a top 16 place isn’t out of the question.

The next PTC will be in Warsaw this coming week, after which the ranking list will be used to determine seedings for the UK Championship.

I’m a defender of the PTCs. They have got the professionals doing what they should be doing: playing.

However, it remains to be seen how much longer they can be staged at the academy in Sheffield.

Play on Saturday night finished at something like 2.30am. There are no spare tables and earlier matches overran.

Players attract criticism for complaining about things but they are professional sportsmen and should not be expected to have to hang around for hours – until all hours – like this, especially as they have to be back playing at 10am the next morning.

The current World Snooker regime has been lumbered with the academy premises by the last one.

They want to utilise it, which is fair enough, but most people would agree the South West Academy in Gloucester, where PTC7 will be held, is a better venue for such tournaments.



Shaun Murphy's capture of the Brazil Masters title was an historic achievement for him as he became the first player to win a professional tournament in South America.

Murphy was awesome, whitewashing Graeme Dott 5-0 in just 64 minutes.

Dott did have a chance to win the second frame but missed the last red and, after that, weakened as Murphy grew stronger.

The 2005 world champion rounded off with a 139 total clearance, the highest break of this new event.

It's no great surprise that players such as Murphy and Mark Selby are flourishing in this new era. Apart from being great talents they also have the right attitude: embracing new events and playing as much as they can.

Murphy has a good record in these smaller events in foreign climes because he treats every tournament with the same respect.

I enjoyed this new tournament and hope it grows in the future. It wasn't perfect but new events never are.

The test will be whether the Brazilian promoters have made money and the strength of the TV figures, which will in turn determine sponsorship in the years to come.

There's no respite for the players. The Premier League pitches up in Motherwell this week and PTC5 gets going in Sheffield.

You can follow results, news and opinion on all this on worldsnooker.com, www.snooker.org and all the blogs and other sites which provide such good coverage of snooker online.

But not on this one as we are heading into annual hibernation for a week, after which we will return to the usual green baize matters of great pith and moment.



Stephen Hendry's 4-0 victory over Ali Carter to reach the Brazil Masters semi-finals proves that he can still play the game, it is just inconsistency and concentration that have been letting him down of late.

To 2-0, Hendry played really well. Carter's head went in the third when he potted a red, attempted to roll up to the brown, left it short and, put back in, got down and lashed the cue ball off the side cushion and into the reds. That was 3-0.

His poise didn't really return and Hendry gratefully took advantage to sail through by way of whitewash.

Apart from winning the 110sport Legends event in Glenrothes two years ago, Hendry has not been in a final since the 2006 UK Championship.

He needs to beat Shaun Murphy to remedy that, no easy task but not an impossibility either.

The other semi-final is a repeat of the 2006 world final between Graeme Dott and Peter Ebdon.

That was a right old grind of course and Ebdon seems to be in the mood for similar this week but Dott played well in beating Brazilian wildcard Igor Figueiredo in the previous round and can contend with whatever is thrown at him.



Igor Figueiredo is a man with a big heart and, as he demonstrated in beating Jamie Cope in the first round of the Brazil Masters, bags of talent.

The local fans are obviously looking to him for more success in today's quarter-final against Graeme Dott.

Igor first came to prominence when he ran Alfie Burden close in the IBSF world amateur final and last season he appeared in the final stages of the World Open.

Life on tour is difficult for all new professionals but particularly those from overseas.

The new tournaments are all very welcome but they come with additional expenses and, without a sponsor, it is tough for many players to keep going.

There are riches to be made for snooker players but most professionals are not rich or even close to it.

You don't have to go too far down the ranking list to find people struggling to make ends meet.

Of course, this is the same in most walks of life and certainly true in professional sport which is, and always has been, the survival of the fittest.

But snooker needs characters like Figueiredo, who has been unable to play in a single main tour event this season.

He must be very proud, though, to be representing his country in Brazil itself in the first professional tournament ever to be staged there.

Crowds improved yesterday and they saw victories for Shaun Murphy, Ricky Walden, Ali Carter and Stephen Hendry, who broke down on 113 as he attempted to equal Ronnie O'Sullivan's record of 11 maximum breaks.

So the quarter-finals feature seven ranking tournament winners...plus Igor, the local man hoping to spring an almighty upset this weekend.



The glass half empty brigade had a field day yesterday following a poor crowd turnout for the first session of the Brazil Masters.

Literally within minutes of the tournament starting the internet was telling us all the things that had been done wrong and all the places snooker should go to instead of Brazil.

In the age in which we live, perspective plays second place to opinion.

Not for me. I'd like to see the viewing figures at the end of the tournament before deciding whether it has been a success or not.

Ticket sales were never going to be high. This is a private promotion by a Brazilian company who had originally planned to stage the tournament in bustling Sao Paulo but moved it to Santa Catarina, an exclusive resort miles from anywhere.

It is safe to assume a shedload of tourism cash persuaded them this was a good idea.

You see, promoters like to make a return. It's this thing called business.

This was nothing to do with World Snooker but if you've read the September issue of Snooker Scene you will know that Barry Hearn is going to Brazil to "have a chat" with the promoters about a few aspects of the tournament.

It would certainly make more sense to play it in one of Brazil's big cities - if it is economically viable.

Clearly ticket prices are too high, although crowds improved for Igor Figueiredo's match against Jamie Cope last night.

However, as in most things, history tells us that all this is nothing new.

I was reminded that the first year of the first ranking event in Germany failed to bring out the crowds to such an extent that John Parrott was moved to comment: "I was put off by a crowd disturbance. She moved."

Similarly, the early Chinese events struggled to pull anyone through the door - not that that's ever been the sole indicator of the success of a tournament in any case.

We've had one day of professional snooker in Brazil. It's a bit early to write off an entire market just because it hasn't all been perfect so far.



What has been largely ignored in the shadow of the red or pink controversy is that by winning the Shanghai Masters, Mark Selby has become only the ninth player to be the official world no.1 since the rankings were introduced in 1976.

It is a formidable list to join: Ray Reardon, Cliff Thorburn, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson.

Selby will play his first match as the newly installed top dog against Stuart Bingham at the Brazilian Masters in Florianopolis today.

He was one of many young players who benefited from the dedication of Malcolm Thorne, the snooker club proprietor and organiser of junior tournaments for more than two decades, who very sadly died earlier this year.

It was in these weekend events that Selby tested his game against the country’s best juniors, including his good friend Shaun Murphy.

He has had his fair share of off table problems to be dealt with. He lost his father when still a teenager. Selby also got mixed up with a manager who later served him with a writ before a match at the Welsh Open.

Snooker players, particularly those who have a little success when young, tend to be a trusting bunch, often far too trusting.

Having turned professional in 1999, Selby’s first real breakthrough came in Shanghai in 2002 when he reached the semi-finals of the China Open.

He beat a 14 year-old Ding Junhui in the wildcard round and then Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan to reach the last four before losing to Anthony Hamilton.

Just 18, he was not worldly wise. This was the tournament where he tried to arrange transport for an afternoon match despite it being the early hours of the morning.

But it was also the tournament where I first saw the genuinely nice side of Selby. In Shanghai, there was a Cue Zone where the Chinese played on snooker and pool tables.

Selby went up there in his own time to play frames against the punters, something that would have meant a lot to them.

He has remained this way: likeable, reliable and professional, even though he often struggles in interviews to be as relaxed as he is behind the scenes.

The ‘Jester’ image is completely contrived and based, basically, on a rhyme but he is a young man who clearly enjoys life as a snooker professional, which is presumably why he plays in so many events.

Selby reached his first ranking final in 2003, losing a long, low quality Scottish Open dogfight with David Gray 9-7.

His form disappeared soon afterwards but returned by 2006 when he shocked Higgins in the first round of the World Championship.

A year later he recovered from 12-4 down against Higgins to only 12-10 heading into the last session of their world final before losing 18-13.

In 2008, Selby became the first player since Stephen Hendry in 1989 to win the Masters at his first attempt, winning three matches 6-5 to reach the final.

Several times since I have described him as a master of brinkmanship, winning close matches under pressure.

He did so at the 2008 Welsh Open, coming from three down with four to play to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan and repeating the same feat against O’Sullivan at the 2010 Masters.

Selby has, of course, lost many close matches too. Indeed, it may be because so many of his matches go close that he hasn’t won as many titles as he’d like.

I’ve read some appalling things about Selby from people who have never met him. It is fair enough not to like a player’s individual playing style but this should not reflect on them personally.

You won’t meet many better people in snooker than Terry Griffiths and he played – with all due respect to Griff – a somewhat methodical game.

Selby’s main problem seems to be he does everything right: he is dedicated, he is professional, he tries to treat people properly. And on the table he tries to win, which is the point of playing professional sport.

These should be attributes to be applauded, not derided.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a problem to people if he wasn’t so good. Last season he made 54 centuries, a record. At the Crucible he made six against Hendry, a record for the World Championship.

Who gets to decide how snooker should be played anyway? There are long established rules of the game. As long as a player keeps within them then it is their choice how to approach each frame, each shot.

Selby said last season that he thought he had become too negative in the latter stages of tournaments.

He has an excellent tactical game but the balance needs to be struck between attack and defence in the way John Higgins has accomplished to such great effect.

Selby has now won two ranking titles. His consistency over the last two years has been rewarded by his no.1 ranking.

A warning, though: when you are world no.1, the only way is down. The work shouldn’t stop. If anything it should increase.

And in Selby's case I suspect it will.



The new Brazilian Masters has been a long time coming.

It was Barry Hearn’s Matchroom that first took 15-red snooker to Brazil in 1985 when Steve Davis played a televised exhibition against the national champion, Rui Chapeu.

Brazil has a history of playing on smaller tables with ten reds so this was something of a novelty.

In the 1990s, it was rumoured that Brazil would stage the World Cup but this all fell through.

At the Wembley Masters in 2004 I attended a press conference in which two Brazilian promoters, as well as the then WPBSA chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, announced a new tournament in Recife.

Very exciting it sounded, too, the only snag being it never happened (leading to cruel pressroom wags to call it a Recife for disaster).

This time around, things have been done properly. The problem, though, has been securing a date in the increasingly over-crowded calendar.

Players just back from Shanghai are having to jet out again almost immediately, although the overriding reason for no-shows is financial. Snooker Scene knows of leading players who have asked for more money to go.

But it’s an invitation tournament. Players are free to either accept the invitation or not. It’s not as if they don’t have plenty of snooker to play elsewhere throughout the season.

Davis is going, indeed was requested by the Brazilians who remember his exhibition a quarter of a century ago.

Stephen Hendry will also be on the trip, as will Mark Selby, who has just won the Shanghai Masters.

Former world champions Peter Ebdon, Shaun Murphy and Graeme Dott have accepted their invitations.

The tournament also represents a good chance for players a little outside the elite to win a TV title.

It is being played in Florianopolis at an exclusive resort, the choice of the Brazilian promoters.

In this month’s issue of Snooker Scene we publish a letter of concern from a British ex-pat who lives in Brazil.

He believes the venue is too secluded and the ticket prices too high. Coupled with the lack of so many star names and the fear is the audience attendance will be low.

I hope not. This is a new market and an exciting step for snooker, albeit into the unknown.

It’s one of those events where the identity of the eventual winner is less important than the spectacle the players jointly put on.

Good luck to those involved.



The WPBSA are to launch an inquiry into the incident in frame 17 of the Shanghai Masters final which Mark Williams has blamed for him losing the match.

A statement read: "The match was stopped for several minutes while referee Eirian Williams had to make a difficult call as to whether Selby had hit a red or the pink first when escaping from a snooker.

WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson called for the inquiry following comments made by both players after the match.

The inquiry will be led by Ferguson and former referee Alan Chamberlain and will include statements from both players and the match referee.

Ferguson said: "I want to make very clear from the outset that this inquiry is not part of any disciplinary procedure and has no effect on the outcome of the match. Mark Selby is a deserving champion and won the match fair and square. Our rules state that any decision by the referee is final.

"However, through this inquiry we will look to establish tighter guidelines for referees when such difficult decisions need to be made.

"A further statement will be released once the inquiry is complete."

I'm pleased to hear no disciplinary charges will be brought against (Mark) Williams for what were heartfelt but heat of the moment comments immediately after the match.

Mark still believes it was pink first and still believes the incident cost him the title. Whether others agree with that or not, he is entitled to believe it.

Certainly, the incident did swing the momentum Selby's way but it was a very difficult decision for the referee, Eirian Williams, as indeed it would have been for any official in the same situation.

I also credit Ferguson for not just brushing all this under the carpet and for releasing a statement immediately, which certainly wouldn't have happened in days gone by.

However, whatever the result of the inquiry, it won't change the result.



Mark Williams has blamed referee Eirian Williams for his Shanghai Masters final defeat to Mark Selby.

Williams claimed the incident in the 17th frame (which I detail in the post below this one) had cost him the title.

He said: “I was robbed. The referee made such an appalling decision.

“I was right behind it and 100% it hit the pink first. He said it did then he turned around and said he didn’t see it.

“It’s an absolute joke. It cost me the tournament. The balls should have gone back. I don’t mind losing to anyone but the ref has cost me the title, no question.

“It was plain to see that he hit the pink. We didn't need to play it back. We should get Stevie Wonder to referee next time.”

Strong stuff, then. But if you watch the footage, (Eirian) Williams calls the miss after consulting with the players and walks over to (Mark) Williams to ask him if he will take it, which he could have done immediately. Selby, after all, had accepted the decision.

(Mark) Williams appears to ask for the freeze frame, only to be told that World Snooker do not have that facility at this tournament.

Selby then comes over, someone mentions a replay on an arena TV monitor and they turn to study it. At this point the earlier certainty it was pink first dissipates.

It was hard to tell on the replay but it looked like red first to me watching at home. However, Mark Williams was obviously a lot closer than I was and isn’t usually the sort to blame anything other than himself for defeat. TV replays are sometimes misleading.

I understand his frustration. Remember, these quotes were taken down literally minutes after the defeat.

There was no doubt his general demeanour changed dramatically after the incident and he was still seething at the end, which is very unlike him.

But it was a very difficult call for the referee to make, even after they had consulted the replays.

All a referee can do in that situation is give an honest opinion: which is what Eirian Williams did.

He also did his best to come to a decision that was agreed on by both players, although obviously Mark Williams sees things differently and, of course, the miss had been given and then retracted, which further confused matters.

I've known Eirian for a long time. Indeed, he had a cameo role in what remains one of the funniest things I've ever seen on the snooker circuit - in Shanghai nine years ago when Selby, jetlagged and confused, tried to hail a taxi to the venue at 1.30am, believing it was the afternoon. Eirian had to point out it was, in fact, pitch black outside.

He is a referee of integrity. Whether it was red or pink is a debate that, I suspect, will never be solved to the satisfaction of everyone.

If Eirian made a mistake it was perhaps in taking so much time but, again, all he was trying to do was come to the right decision.

However, he did actually originally call a miss, which (Mark) Williams could have taken without himself asking for further evidence.

I know (Mark) Williams doesn't see it that way and I respect that too because it was a strange, frustrating incident which had a huge bearing on the result, and the match arena at a key stage of a major final isn't always the best place for clear thinking.

Who is to say if they had put the balls back Selby wouldn't have fluked one and cleared up? Stranger things have happened.

This was an unfortunate incident at a vital time in the final. It reminded me a little of the John Higgins/Ronnie O'Sullivan UK Championship semi-final two years ago, which also threatened to turn on a difficult rules decision.

All in all a rather unedifying end to a gripping contest.


Another tournament, another incredibly dramatic final and, ultimately, another disappointment for Mark Williams.

Having lost 10-9 from 9-5 up to John Higgins in last season’s UK Championship final and 9-8 from 8-5 ahead to Stuart Bingham in the Australian Open final two months ago, Williams was beaten 10-9 having led Mark Selby 9-7 in the Shanghai Masters.

But those bald facts do not do justice to a tension-filled finale to the tournament, which ground on until 12.45am.

There were twists and turns right through the final but it turned on a bizarre incident in the 17th frame.

Williams looked set to win at this point. He was the more relaxed of the two and held a 47-5 lead and snookered Selby tight behind the brown, with the reds everywhere.

Selby, not knowing how to get the cue ball safe, played a hit and hope but it wasn’t immediately clear whether he had hit a red first or the pink.

Eirian Williams, the referee, thought red. Williams thought pink which Selby, in his sporting way, accepted, as did the referee.

But Williams [Eirian, that is] wanted to check the replay. This went on for several minutes as it was unclear to the naked eye which ball was contacted first. The referee, rightly in my opinion, insisted it was the red.

So Williams came back to the table and there was only a half chance waiting - Selby having been very lucky with his escape - which he missed.

Selby eventually won this frame and the whole psychology of the match swung in his favour, with Williams not quite the same again.

The Welshman still had chances to win, missing a green off its spot in the 18th frame after fluking a snooker from out of a snooker on the last red. It may have been a bad contact on the green, but by now it looked as if Williams was simply fated not to win.

In the decider, snookered while trailing 32-0, he took a wild swipe at the cue ball, a sign of his frustration and that even the most ‘laidback’ of characters feel pressure and disappointment.

He didn’t even let Selby finish his winning break, but snooker is a game that takes a heavy mental toll.

So a tough old match and ultimately a great victory for Selby, who once again went right to the brink.

It is only his second ranking title but everyone knows how good he is. It was surely inevitable that he would win another eventually.

As for Williams, the three close defeats are strange. This is a twice world champion and someone who once edged Stephen Hendry on a re-spotted black in a decider in the Masters.

His temperament is usually strong but snooker is an unforgiving sort of game, a curious mix of high skill and luck, where the unexpected can play its part in affecting a player’s thinking.

And it is this, particularly over a longer match where there is time for shifts in the psychological balance of power, that makes it such a fascinating, and often infuriating, sport to play and watch.


Well the engraver can at least start work early on the trophy after Mark Selby and Mark Williams made it through to the Shanghai Masters final yesterday.

Selby blitzed a badly below par Mark King 6-0 but Williams was forced to fight through a lengthy encounter with Neil Robertson 6-5.

This finished at gone midnight. After his press conference and factoring in the travelling time back to the hotel Williams would not have got to bed much before 2am, and of course there’s no guarantee what time he would have got to sleep ahead of a long and difficult final.

So Selby is certainly more refreshed for today’s best of 19 frames final but he is also under a little pressure, having won only one of his previous five ranking tournament finals.

And of course he lost 9-7 to Williams in last season’s German Masters final, a real tough battle in Berlin.

The added spice for today’s match is that these two players are duking it out to be world no.1, although for each the title will be far more important.

Williams was in the season’s first ranking final but lost 9-8 in the Australian Open to Stuart Bingham from 8-5 up.

Selby has been ultra consistent these past couple of years but the test of greatness in any sport comes down to what you have won.

He certainly has the talent to win a great deal but so far has just one ranking title to his name.

It seems likely to be a close final pitting Williams, perhaps the most laidback of all of snooker’s top guns, against Selby, a true professional who visibly works hard for every point.

A clash of styles, then, and hopefully a compelling finish to the week, although the table was a clear cause for concern in last night’s semi-final. Let’s hope it doesn’t wreck the showpiece finale.



Mark King hasn’t appeared in a ranking tournament semi-final since the 2006 Grand Prix but his dogged, determined style has paid dividends at the Shanghai Masters this week.

He kept his head yesterday while Anthony Hamilton lost his, clashing with a TV cameramen as King beat him 5-2.

It’s seven years since King reached his second ranking event final at the 2004 Irish Masters, which was seven years after his first at the 1997 Welsh Open.

He has beaten his opponent today, Mark Selby, at the 2008 World Championship and in last season’s Masters.

Selby will start favourite but like all the players this week has been affected by the sticky conditions that has made fluency difficult.

Nevertheless, his recovery from 4-2 down to Shaun Murphy yesterday was a trademark demonstration of his poise under pressure, growing stronger as the pressure came on and finishing off with a century.

Neil Robertson looked really up for his match with John Higgins and the Australian impressed with his general attitude and performance.

Higgins was loose, though, and his safety game wasn’t as strong as normal. China, for whatever reason, just doesn’t seem to inspire him.

Mark Williams has coasted through for the loss of only one frame but is yet to be put under any real pressure.

Robertson will do that for sure, but Williams has plenty left in the tank.



If Pottingham actually existed, they would be hanging out the bunting after their Sheriff, Anthony Hamilton, shot down Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Shanghai Masters yesterday.

And he played some terrific snooker to do so, an impressive win not least because he had only previously beaten O’Sullivan once in their nine previous meetings.

Anthony’s a good bloke. Dry and laconic, he doesn’t hesitate to hold forth on his own shortcomings.

I remember sitting in Shanghai listening to him admitting he’d ‘bottled it’ in losing 9-8 from 8-5 up to Mark Williams in the 2002 China Open final. He made it clear it was his fault: not the table, bad luck, an injury, a spectator or anything other than his own tightening up as the winning line approached.

Hamilton has always enjoyed playing snooker, even if there are aspects of the circuit he doesn’t like.

“I’m constantly thinking about life after I drop off the tour,” he told Snooker Scene earlier this year. “I’m worried about it but I’ve no idea what I would do.”

Victories like his yesterday will help stave off any such relegation for a while and are a reminder why he puts in all that effort. He is one of the best players never to win a ranking title. That may change this weekend but there are some real big hitters left in the draw.

The last two world champions – John Higgins and Neil Robertson – play each other while Mark Selby faces comeback king Shaun Murphy, who followed his victory from 4-1 down to Dominic Dale with one from 4-2 down to Mark Allen, aided by a 143 total clearance.

Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens, who contested the world final 11 years ago, will clash cues again for a semi-final place.

Conditions in Shanghai haven’t been the best but this is most likely down to atmospherics, and there’s nothing that can be done about that.



There was an extraordinary finish to Martin Gould’s comeback victory against Ding Junhui yesterday that served to underline the dramatically unpredictable nature of snooker.

Gould was snookered on the blue in the eighth frame but, coming off the side cushion, knocked it in and got a full ball contact on the black, which left him on the pink.

However, in doing so he pushed the black to the side cushion and was left with a really tough pot using the rest for victory.

And typically for Gould, he didn’t shrink from taking it on. There was nothing lucky about this winning pot. It was superb and capped an unexpected recovery after he had struggled so badly in trailing 3-0.

The packed house at the Grand Stage weren’t exactly delighted to see Ding go out but had witnessed the sort of theatre that has kept so many snooker fans coming back for more over the years.

Gould will now play Matthew Stevens for a quarter-final place after the Welshman beat Stephen Lee 5-2.

There was a time where Stephen Hendry playing on table three would have been regarded as sacrilege, but this is 2011 and the seven times world champion is struggling.

His 5-1 defeat to Robert Milkins effectively relegates him from the top 16 after 23 years.

Hendry doesn’t want any sympathy. He admitted that his game is nowhere at the moment and that he’ll have to qualify for the UK Championship.

(On a point of pedantry, he has had to qualify for various events overseas since joining the top 16 in 1988 because the elite group weren’t always seeded through to the venues.)

This will be tough for Hendry to take but maybe with the pressure of not trying to hold on to a top 16 place lifted he will find some form. Or maybe not. I don’t think the qualifying environment will provide him with much inspiration.

Anthony Hamilton has beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan only once in their nine previous meetings. He made three centuries against Stephen Maguire but he will have to beat O’Sullivan on a TV table in front of a partisan crowd, no easy task for the Sheriff of the well known mythical land of Pottingham.

One of the best matches of the day is likely to be John Higgins v Stuart Bingham. Higgins was efficient enough in dispatching Mark Davis but his concentration seemed to go walkabout midway through the match.

Bingham was superb in beating Judd Trump 5-1, making two centuries as he continues to ride the crest of a wave of confidence that has come his way since landing the Australian Open crown two months ago.

Neil Robertson, who beat Liang Wenbo, has never been past the last 16 of a ranking event in China, a strange anomaly he will be hoping to change when he tackles Michael Holt, who put away Graeme Dott in an encouraging result yesterday.



Let’s get the first complaint of the day out of the way good and early: it is wrong that Judd Trump’s match against Stuart Bingham hasn’t been given a TV table.

World Snooker have been handed a gift in the shape of Trump: an exciting young player who plays an attractive game but, crucially, someone who is also a winner.

That’s why he features on posters and advertising literature. But none of that is any use if he isn’t seen as widely as possible.

The governing body comes up with all manner of expensive marketing wheezes to promote the sport but there are much better ways of spreading the word...and many of them are free.

And Bingham won the last ranking title, so a case could be made for this being the tie of the round.

The reasons for the snub are two-fold. First, the hugely popular wildcard round took an entire day out of the schedule. Also, and needlessly, the top half of the draw was played yesterday and the bottom half today.

There’s no need for this. The best matches should be chosen for TV. One of the main functions of televised sport is to provide entertainment. That’s why it’s televised.

John Higgins, as world champion, and Mark Williams, as world no.1, have earned the right to play on TV, as has crowd pleaser Ronnie O’Sullivan and the two Chinese stars Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo. I’d put Trump in that list too. He’s a massive attraction in China after winning in Beijing and his Crucible exploits.

More thought needs to go into formats and schedules. Mind you, this is the tournament that four years ago put Higgins v Mark Selby – a rematch of that year’s world final – on an outside table.

And relax...

O’Sullivan certainly entertained yesterday but his victory over James Wattana was little more than an exhibition as the Thai struggled badly.

There was no sign of how O’Sullivan would respond if put under pressure, but he looks in good shape both on and off the table.

Selby’s match against Nigel Bond tested the patience of even hard core snooker fans. Selby scrapped through, although to be fair to the players they seemed to have a large amount of kicks, thunderous ones at that. This could be down to humidity and therefore little can be done about it.

Usually you only have to play better than the other guy to win. Shaun Murphy yesterday played worse than Dominic Dale for most of their match but still won.

This is a credit to Murphy’s attitude. He didn’t bang his cue or smack the table or generally allow frustration to overwhelm him.

He just stuck in there as Dale began to fade and it’s one of those matches players who win titles often scramble through before improving.

So to today...Higgins faces Mark Davis, who is now a top 16 player after 20 years on the tour (although he needs to stay there until the end of the month to be seeded through to tournaments).

Higgins won the first ranking event played in Shanghai 12 years ago but does not have a great record in China, although I’d still expect him to come through.

Mark Williams, who got stuck in a lift for 45 minutes on Sunday, will hopefully make it to the table in time to play Andrew Higginson.

I trust Ding Junhui and Martin Gould will produce some entertainment in the second session in what is likely to be an open match, in which Ding can expect plenty of chances.

Another interesting match features Neil Robertson against Liang Wenbo. Robertson has never done much in China while Liang is enigmatically difficult to predict. He was runner-up two years ago but has since struggled badly.

Oh, and there’s Trump v Bingham as well.



So there were no upsets in the wildcard round and we have a proper field of 32 to contest the Shanghai Masters.

First up is Ali Carter, who lives just a few miles from Mark King in Essex but will be playing him many thousands of miles away from home.

Ali played well last year to win the title and like many a tournament winner before him came through a match he probably should have lost, 5-4 against Matthew Stevens in the quarter-finals.

King is a tough match-player and Carter has an ongoing medical issue but the defending champion has to be favourite to come through.

Dominic Dale, the first winner of this title four years ago, had a long old battle with the grimly slow Cao Xin Long last night and his reward from the schedulers is to go straight back on against Shaun Murphy.

It hasn't been the best of starts to the PTC campaign for Murphy but he did reach the Australian Open semi-finals and will hope to exploit any tiredness from the Spaceman.

I'm going to stick my neck out now: Peter Ebdon v Fergal O'Brien on table four won't be quick.

Later, it's Ronnie O'Sullivan against James Wattana. The Thai has beaten O'Sullivan five times but most of those were in the mid 1990s when he was at his peak.

O'Sullivan's China adventures are well documented but it occurs to me, following Tweets and other online traffic, that he is getting as much from his tie-up with Judd Trump and Jack Lisowski as they are.

Judd and Jack, profiled yesterday by Matthew Syed in The Times, play at The Grove in Romford where O'Sullivan is also based.

They look up to him as one of the all time greats of the game but maybe their enthusiasm is helping him too.

Lisowski plays Jamie Cope in today's second session, where an upset is certainly a possibility.

Mark Selby, closing in on the world no.1 spot, will be expected to come past Nigel Bond.

Selby rarely loses in the first round, and this level of consistency has obviously helped him to stay near the top of the rankings.

He revealed on his blog last week how he had blown a fusebox at his house by cutting through the wire while trimming a hedge in his garden.

Thankfully he's a little more expert with a cue in his hand.



The Shanghai Masters, now in its fifth year, starts tomorrow at the Grand Stage, doubtlessly after the usual fevered opening ceremony.

Unlike tournaments in the UK, where players schlep to the venues often unnoticed, in China they like to make a bit of a fuss and treat them like the top sportsmen they are.

Players are often bemused by this because they aren’t used to it, but the Chinese like to make their events stand out.

Given this, it’s a shame they feel the need to persevere with the dreaded wildcard round, in which the eight lowest ranked qualifiers, who have already had to perform strongly just to make Shanghai, have to play invited players for no extra reward, with a genuine chance of losing.

By and large, Chinese fans are the same as snooker fans anywhere: they’d rather see the top players, those who can afford tickets anyway.

At the China Open, common sense prevailed to an extent as a couple of last 32 matches were at least scheduled for the first day so that big names were available for TV coverage.

That hasn’t happened in Shanghai and the knock-on effect means attractive matches have been shunted to the outside tables, including, ludicrously, Judd Trump v Stuart Bingham.

So that’ll be the China Open champion and World Championship runner-up against the winner of the last major ranking event on table three, then.

Eurosport’s coverage starts on Tuesday, after the wildcard round is over.

The eight qualifiers required to play in this round are an intriguing bunch, mainly experienced players plus young Jack Lisowski.

They include Dominic Dale, winner of the inaugural Shanghai Masters in 2007, and the archly determined Fergal O’Brien.

But the two players who may have problems are Anthony Hamilton, whose dodgy back will hardly have been helped by a long flight to Shanghai and who faces Li Hang, and Nigel Bond, who didn’t lose a frame in his two qualifying matches but who has to play the newly crowned world under 21 champion, Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon.

The top prize this week is £65,000 and Ali Carter will be defending the title he won a year ago.

And with the new seedings list looming at the end of the month, players will be looking for valuable ranking points as the various machinations of the list determine who falls into which bracket, and indeed who is world no.1.

There is no big favourite, but Mark Williams looks to me to be in the easiest quarter, if there is such a thing.



I was pleased to see James Wattana qualify for the Shanghai Masters, not least because a couple of years ago it looked like we had seen the last of him on the professional circuit.

James – or Ratchapol Pu-Ob-Orm to give him his full name – was relegated from the main tour but returned by winning the Asian Championship, a title he first won as a 16 year-old in 1986.

That same year a promoter called Barry Hearn took his stable of players to Thailand for a tournament and Wattana won it.

Two years later he was world amateur champion and qualified for the 1989/90 circuit through the old Pro-Ticket play-offs.

Wattana made an extraordinary start to his pro career by reaching the final of the 1989 Asian Open in his native Bangkok, beating vastly more experienced players to do so: Mike Hallett, Doug Mountjoy, Silvino Francisco and Terry Griffiths.

He acquitted himself well in the final but was beaten 9-6 by Stephen Hendry. Nevertheless, a star was born and so was a snooker boom in Thailand.

Wattana was to his home country in a snooker sense what Ding Junhui has been to China: a superstar and the catalyst for the various ranking events that have been staged in his home land.

In the first half of the 1990s, Wattana was one of the best four of five players in the world, constantly in contention for titles.

However, like Ding he had to make sacrifices that simply don’t apply to British players. He moved to the UK and based himself in Bradford, where he got good practice opposition but also had to contend with homesickness.

Determined to make the best of things, though, he learned English through games of Scrabble and became a great favourite with his fellow players for his even tempered manner and modest demeanour.

There was a time when he looked set to become the first Asian world champion but it didn’t quite happen. He reached two Crucible semi-finals but lost out first to Jimmy White (1993) and then to Hendry (1997).

He also reached the Masters final but, surprisingly looking back, failed to win one of snooker’s ‘big three’ titles.

Wattana did capture three ranking titles, though. The first was the long forgotten 1992 Strachan Open, a non-televised event which some top players didn’t enter.

His two biggest successes came on home soil. Wattana beat Steve Davis to win the 1994 Thailand Open, a victory which really did capture the imagination of the viewing public.

Bangkok's night life is legendary but even in the bars they had the TVs tuned to the snooker.

A year later he defeated Ronnie O’Sullivan to retain the title and confirm his reputation as one of Thailand’s favourite sporting sons.

Wattana also won the non-ranking but prestigious World Matchplay in 1992.

In the 1991 World Masters in Birmingham, Hearn's one-off Wimbledon style event, Wattana made a 147 break on his 21st birthday but Sky were unable to get their cameras to his table in time to record a ball of it and so got around this by simply not mentioning it.

There was no special prize for the feat, either. Wattana, in his then broken English, confessed: “I had been thinking of a big money.”

But it was Wattana’s 147 at the 1992 British Open for which many remember him.

Maximum breaks in those days really were a big deal. His was only the fourth on television.

What was remarkable, though, was that Wattana made it just hours after hearing his father had been shot in Bangkok. When he finished his match he learned his dad had died of his injuries.

Wattana is now 41 and though not the player he was, is clearly still capable of good performances. To qualify for the final stages of a ranking event from the first round is an achievement in itself.

If he wins his wildcard match he will play O’Sullivan, who he beat 5-0 at the same stage of the 2006 China Open in Beijing.

Wattana’s decline was mirrored by a slipping away of interest in Thailand, where the game’s popularity was always pinned to his.

But he remains Thailand’s top player more than two decades after first bursting on to the scene.

And he remains a player worthy of much respect for the way he has conducted his career.

I remember being in Thailand when Wattana received a death threat along the lines of “if you don’t lose this match, we’ll kill you.”

He shrugged it off with a smile: “I’m thankful they didn’t say I’d have to win. Then I would be in trouble.”

Good luck to James next week.