The snooker calendar has considerably filled up in the last two years but the UK Championship – or the United Kingdom Championship as David Vine never failed to call it – has something special going for it: a history which stretches back four decades.

It’s been won by so many greats of the game since it was first staged in 1977 and has built up a store of memories to relish for players and fans alike.

For instance, the UK Championship saw one of the best and most significant snooker matches ever played when Stephen Hendry beat Steve Davis 16-15 in their 1990 final. This was a symbolic passing of the torch from one king of the green baize to another.

That torch has continued to be passed on, as it will long after me or anyone reading this blog is still walking the earth.

Players come and go but snooker goes on and hopefully the UK Championship itself still has many years left to run.

Starting on Saturday, this is the first tournament of the season to be televised by the BBC, which is significant in the UK as the terrestrial broadcaster reaches more viewers than its satellite rivals.

But only in the UK. The tournament will be screened live in 68 countries, not one.

York is a beautiful city, though flood-hit of late. 32 players will brave the elements to contest a top prize of £125,000 and the chance to win an event with genuine heritage.

It’ll probably be one of the usual suspects but the fun is in finding out which.

Judd Trump is defending champion. He has played superbly this season, although all players, even Davis and Hendry at their best, experience peaks and troughs in form.

John Higgins, three times the UK champion, has returned to form with a vengeance this season and has the experience and table-craft to go all the way to yet another major success.

Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy and last year’s runner-up, Mark Allen, are other clear title contenders.

We know all about these fine players but, as ever, it’s the qualifiers who help make the event a more interesting affair.

Leading them out is Davis, 55 years old and 32 years on from his first UK Championship success.

At the other end of the age scale is Luca Brecel, just 17, a precociously talented Belgian who also qualified for the Crucible earlier this year.

Cao Yupeng, one of three Chinese players in the draw, has also done the world/UK qualifying double.

Jack Lisowski, improving all the time, heads to York having made a 147 in the qualifiers.

Michael White, from that great snooker land of Wales, has really pushed on in the last year.

Then there is the dangerous band of experienced players capable of causing problems: Marco Fu, Dominic Dale, Robert Milkins, Ryan Day and Mark King.

One to watch could be Liang Wenbo. I commentated on his 6-0 qualifying win over Andrew Higginson and thought he was very sharp and looked supremely confident.

These qualifiers are match fit to say the least. They’ve been playing solidly for the last fortnight with the UK qualifiers, Munich PTC prelims and German Masters qualifying.

So they can be expected to give the 16 seeded players plenty of problems, especially as it is of course a best of 11 format rather than the best of 17 of UK Championships of old.

I was against this reduction, and still regret it, but last year’s tournament was a great event. The one upside of the change is that every match is now televised. The crowds flocked to York in 2011 and the atmosphere certainly helped make the tournament a success.

Who will win in 2012?

No idea. With a (metaphorical) gun to my head I would plump for Higgins because he has the various strengths you need to win a major.

As ever, though, it’ll come down to who does what when the talking stops and the action in one of snooker’s great events finally begins on Saturday morning.


Josef said...

I think Stuart Bingham is also worth mentioning as a pretty hot contender for the title, in particular given that he recently won the Premier League.

Anonymous said...

Josef I was just going on to make exactly the same point.

Anonymous said...

Bingham will never win one of the meaningfull events, except when half of the top players is absent.

Robertson for the title, to complete his deserved triple!

Anonymous said...

I fancy a punt on Graeme dott this week could be great value.

3 said...

Mark Williams with a quite good draw here.

Normal said...

And also, Barry Hawkins-Liang Wenbo at the Last-32 will be such a thriller. It will be the best of the first round, I suppose.

Thank you for the preview, Dave.

The Fish said...

I like the price of Mark Allen at 14/1,got to the final last year and always seems to get himself up for the "big" tournaments.

Anonymous said...

I think I'll back Robbo in this one. He's one of those players who doesn't seem to go more than a few months between winning big televised tournaments and he nearly won the International Championship so is obviously in form.

jamie brannon said...

Yeah, I've got to say Bingham should be in the top five or six contenders, but he hasn't come close to winning a 'big three' event so that is a question mark.

The BBC showing it matters a lot to the UK players as they often mention how they like to do well on the BBC events due to the wider showcase.

My tip is Ding to finally emerge this season and play some of his best stuff. A player of his class, is bound to come to the boil at some point, and the UK Championship has proved to be an ideal event for him.

Bingham to go close.

Snooker Trader said...

I was taken by Mark Selby’s performance this week – three centuries in his four frames against Donaldson. He is in the opposite half of the draw to Trump and has an easyish quarter with Ding and Robertson both a bit in and out. You know you’ll get application from him whatever happens and this could be his week. I also like the chances of Liang Wenbo at a price. By all accounts he is flying (in patches) – destroyed Murphy the other day (Murphy said he was buzzing) and beat Ding easily yesterday. So my two against the field are:

Mark Selby @ 12/1
Liang Wenbo @ 100/1

Anonymous said...

Has anyone actually looked at Bingham's draw? He has the toughest draw in the top half. He has a tricky opener against a player obviously cueing well, then most likely Maguire who has UK form, and then probably Trump or this year's world finalist, and that's just to reach the semis where he will probably face Murphy or Williams. Ding has an even tougher draw: he will potentially have to go through Day (former top 8), Selby, Robertson and Higgins to reach the final, and will no doubt face a top player there. Bingham, Ding and Selby all have incredibly tough draws, I certainly wouldn't put money on them.

Anonymous said...

i make ronnie favourite to win

Anonymous said...

sense from 735