The German Masters was one of the great success stories of last season.

The tournament was typical of the Barry Hearn ethos: take snooker where people want to watch it.

This is hardly unique to Hearn but it’s amazing it took his arrival to prove what everyone already knew: that there was a huge untapped market in Germany for a major snooker event.

The scenes which greeted Mark Williams’s dramatic victory over Mark Selby, with more than 2,000 people on their feet applauding, were a magnificent end to a week in which the sport was supported by crowds respectful of the game and its players.

Much credit for this must go to Rolf Kalb, who will be MC again this week. Rolf is also German Eurosport’s lead commentator and a snooker evangelist. He laid much of the groundwork over the years by helping to nurture the interest.

I’m sure there will be large crowds again at the Tempodrom in Berlin for this year’s German Masters which, like every tournament, has a number of intriguing subplots.

Selby is world no.1 but his form in major tournaments seems to have gone walkabout. His defeats in the UK Championship and Masters were disappointing, not the fact that he lost but his performances.

Williams has not won a title since his Berlin triumph a year ago and people are beginning to say he is struggling to wrap matches up after some surrendering of big leads. I think Williams has a fine temperament but these notions tend to stick the more it happens.

John Higgins is not yet at the level of intensity this season that he produced in the last campaign. This is a sad time for him, though, as his father died during last year’s German Masters.

Ronnie O’Sullivan didn’t play in Berlin last year but can’t afford to skip this season’s event. He needs a good run in either or both the German Masters and Welsh Open to avoid having to qualify for the World Championship.

Peter Ebdon has all but fallen off the radar after a string of defeats this season but has qualified and will need to call on all those years of experience to arrest any further decline.

Neil Robertson has had a fine season but withdrew from the Shootout with a chest infection. Last year, of course, he nearly missed the trip altogether after mislaying his passport.

Judd Trump will doubtless be a hit with the fans but for the first time has been facing criticism. Actually this is final proof he has arrived in the big league.

Ding Junhui is yet to get going this season. I’d be surprised if he didn’t win a title at some point but it’s not bound to happen.

These are among the principal cast members in snooker’s latest drama. This is one of the great things about having so many tournaments: the storylines constantly change and the characters become more recognisable and identifiable to the audience.

So here’s to another successful and dramatic week in Berlin. Contrary to some listings magazines, Eurosport’s live coverage begins on Wednesday at 9am UK time.



Congratulations to Barry Hawkins, a nice guy and a quality player who is £32,000 richer tonight after winning the Partypoker.com Shootout in Blackpool.

Hawkins beat Graeme Dott in the final of the super-fast event, which gave 64 players a chance of scooping the loot over three days.

Barry was once ranked 12th in the world. He has appeared in four ranking event semi-finals without quite making a final.

He has been looking for a step forward for some time and maybe the confidence this will bring will herald a general improvement in fortunes.

The tournament is intended as a bit of fun, but there was pressure on the players in matches which lasted only ten minutes.

The two highlights came today. Martin Gould produced a 135 total clearance, a sensational break given the time pressures.

And Barry Pinches pulled off a dramatic last gasp win over Liang Wenbo, potting the winning ball with a second to spare.

Not everyone or every player is a fan of the Shootout by any means and it perhaps made less of an impact this year.

This is understandable. Last year it was a novelty but novelties soon wear off.

This is why Barry Hearn was right not to listen to those – including players – who called for more of these events or even to incorporate some of the rules into established tournaments.

But I don’t see the harm in the Shootout. It entertained those who enjoyed it, is not a serious threat to snooker as we know it and was a chance for players to get together, however briefly, and have some fun.

The crowds, who were nowhere near as boorish as at Power Snooker, seemed to have a good time too.

The players have been granted two days off before the German Masters – an altogether more serious and significant affair – gets underway on Wednesday.


Due to what may best be described as 'technical issues' the links on this blog have disappeared.

Sorry about this. I have started adding the links I can remember but if a link to your site was here before and you would like it restored, email me at snookersceneblog@aol.com.



The Shootout in Blackpool was great fun last year and there is every reason to expect more high jinks when it returns tomorrow, sponsored by Partypoker.com.

Tickets have gone like hot cakes (should that be hotpots?), indeed more have been released, and players are looking forward to another three days of frenetic and, with a top prize of £32,000, potentially lucrative speed snooker.

Unlike six reds (anyone remember that?) and Power Snooker, nobody is spinning that this is the future of the game. Nobody is cueing an imaginary revolution. It is what it is: three days of rapid fire snooker-based entertainment.

One of the great plus points is that you get to see so many players, including those down the rankings not used to a crowd and an atmosphere. Nobody outstays their welcome. Each match lasts just ten minutes.

Last year there was some genuine drama, including Neil Roberton’s last gasp win over Alan McManus and Rory McLeod outrageously fluking the final black against Tony Drago.

Blackpool Tower Circus is a terrific venue, although in time a bigger one may be required to meet demand.

Sky Sports, the great innovators of TV sport, are host broadcasters.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has not entered and Joe Jogia has reportedly withdrawn after sustaining a knee injury which he believes sparked the flurry of bets on him to lose to Matt Selt being investigated by the WPBSA disciplinary committee.

Frankly, the personalities involved are less important than the entertainment they provide. Anyone could win this event, although a cool head is required and was demonstrated last year by Nigel Bond.

The Shootout is about fun outside of all the serious tournaments. It’s about showcasing the game and its players in a different way.

It was a success last year and I have every expectation it will be this season too.

Good luck everyone!



There will be five ranking tournaments in China next season, beginning with the Wuxi Classic, upgraded from invitation event status, in July.

A new Chinese ranking event in October will carry a top prize of £125,000. In addition, the Shanghai Masters, Haikou World Open and China Open will return.

Players unenthusiastic about travelling to China can of course opt out but it will cost them precious ranking points, not to mention the chance to win big money. As a snooker territory it is here to stay.

China first staged a ranking event in 1990 but it wasn’t until 1999 that it held another.

I was there. It was the China International in Shanghai and featured an all Scottish semi-final line-up.

Billy Snaddon beat Stephen Hendry in one semi but then lost to John Higgins, who beat Alan McManus in the other.

There had been forays to China long before this, some involving Barry Hearn’s Matchroom stable. One time Hearn had been savvy and invited the then WPBSA chairman Rex Williams along, which led to Rex turning up for a photo-shoot on the Great Wall resplendent in a posh cashmere coat.

When Barry reminded him the dress code was supposed to be casual, Rex responded, “dear boy, this is casual.”

Anyway, by 1999 there was clear interest and tournaments were staged again later that year, in 2000 in Shenzhen and back in Shanghai in 2002.

All went quiet as the WPBSA’s resources dwindled but by 2005 the China Open had been revived in Beijing.

This is possibly the best snooker event I have ever attended. It is hard to explain exactly why to those who weren’t there but everything about it was an eye-opener, from seeing the sights of Beijing itself to the snooker and the emergence of a new national hero in Ding Junhui.

That we are now at the stage where there will be five ranking events in China is down to Ding.

He turned 18 that week and was a revelation, beating Peter Ebdon and Ken Doherty in whitewashes before his 9-5 defeat of Stephen Hendry in the final.

It was an incredible triumph and the nation immediately took him to their hearts. More significantly, major companies started to see snooker as a sport they wished to become involved in.

Here in the UK it is still seen as something of a working class pursuit, hence it mainly attracts sponsors associated with perceived working class activities (smoking, drinking and gambling).

In China snooker is regarded as a bit of a cut above, an activity that appeals to the moneyed. Actually, the truth is that is has always been a game enjoyed by all different types of people but China’s image of snooker has led to serious investment and fully funded, underwritten ranking events.

The TV viewing figures are huge and growing the more they show. This is a genuine boom. I have been to a Star table factory in China which runs 24/7 to meet the demand.

Snooker clubs are full and more and more youngsters are taking to the game.

There seems to be something in the national make-up which makes snooker a sport the Chinese take to.

The new Welsh Open sponsor, to be announced soon, has apparently come about due to moves from the company's Chinese office, due to viewing figures for this tournament being so strong.

However, ordinary Chinese people do not earn fortunes and ticket prices for tournaments are high, so when you turn on Eurosport to watch the China Open the hall seems half empty and the assumption is understandably drawn than not many people in China like snooker.

I can assure you this isn’t the case. I’ve seen unlikely players chased down corridors for their autograph as if caught up in Beatlemania.

It’s a little different to schlepping past the swimming pool at the Newport Centre unnoticed.

Chinese tournaments traditionally start with a red carpet parade. The media go nuts when snooker hits town. And sponsors are clearly willing to invest big money for more and more events.

Not all players like this. I have sympathy with those who dislike travelling full stop. Not everyone enjoys flying but the British players should see how lucky they are: Chinese players have to leave their home country for most of the year to come and live in the UK, away from their families, to play qualifiers and PTCs. This is far more of a sacrifice.

I’m afraid there is also a degree of cultural ignorance. More than once I’ve heard a player complain that ‘nobody speaks English over there’ or that ‘the food is all different.’

Actually, in the hotels in which the players stay almost everyone speaks English and you can get just about any sort of food you like.

I once heard a group of hangers-on complaining that the beer in the official hotel was too expensive – as if the thought of going outside and experiencing the varied and remarkable sights on the streets of Beijing was just too much of an adventure.

A more justifiable complaint is the cost of actually getting to China for all these tournaments, although prize money for the Chinese events is on the rise.

The bottom line is this: snooker’s growth and sustainability depends on it becoming a properly global sport. There is money in China, and company bosses want to spend it on snooker.

The circuit remains predominantly British in terms of player representation but it can’t remain this way in terms of the spread of tournaments.

Not everyone in snooker is happy with the fact, but it remains true: there is a whole world out there, and China’s green baize bubble shows no sign of bursting just yet.



Neil Robertson’s reputation as one of the hardest players in the game was further enhanced tonight by his capture of the BGC Masters in London.

The Aussie is now as tough as they come, an all-round match-player in the Steve Davis/John Higgins mould.

Shaun Murphy will be disappointed that he didn’t score more heavily but there is no disgrace in losing to Robertson, whose all round game has come on leaps and bounds in the last two years.

This is a guy who arrived in the UK for a final shot at the professional circuit with just £500 on him. You won’t hear Robertson moaning about all the travelling necessary to make snooker a proper international sport because he made a huge sacrifice by moving to the other side of the world, away from his family and friends to pursue his ambition to be a top player.

Well, the kid who learned his trade a stone’s throw from the sun-drenched beaches of Melbourne remained ice cool in the capital amid the chilly British winter and becomes the fourth non-British player, after Perrie Mans, Cliff Thorburn and Ding Junhui, to win the Masters.

The scenes afterwards with his partner, Mille, and their young son, Alexander, were wonderful...one for the family album.

That’s now nine TV finals and nine victories, some record for a player who seems most at home when the pressure is on.

Every facet of his game was working well. He has made 38 centuries this season – more than anyone else – and his safety game is rock hard. He is a brilliant potter and so finds ways into frames. It is some package.

I congratulate Neil, a genuinely nice bloke who treats the game with respect. The Masters is one of our majors and it’s been won by a player who has come a long way, both geographically and in terms of the way he has sharpened his game.

He is now one tough nut to crack.



Before the final, a word on the semis, in particular the fall-out from Neil Robertson’s victory over Judd Trump.

I personally have no problem with Robertson’s clenched-fist in potting frame and match ball. This was not a protracted celebration, just a release of emotion.

Equally, I have no problem with the supporters of players shouting out between shots. As long as they don’t put the players off when they are down at the table a bit of audience participation is fine.

Flukes have always been applauded and people who are partisan to begin with become more so as the match wears on.

Robertson had his say afterwards, not about Trump but some of his entourage. Said members of the Trump massive did themselves few favours with some unpleasant tweeting about Robertson in the aftermath. Trump, to his credit, wished the Australian well for the final.

One point that is absurd, though, is Robertson’s ‘slow’ play. Trump is lucky he never had to play the real grinders to grace the snooker stage.

The fact is this: Robertson has made more centuries this season than any other player. He is not a grinder but he is a great match-player who plays to his strengths, not his opponents (there is a difference).

Robertson also seems to enjoy riling his fellow players a little and good on him for that. It’s a game, yes, but also a profession. There’s no reason why everyone has to be friends.

This has been made out to be some great feud but the slightly disappointing truth is this: both Neil and Judd are too nice to get involved in anything as serious as that. All the surrounding blather on Twitter and elsewhere doesn’t change this.

And so to the final...

It’s a very difficult final to predict because it involves two proven winners both playing superbly and both good under pressure.

It is Robertson’s ninth TV final. He has never lost one. The Melbourne man also becomes the eighth non British player to appear in a Masters final.

Murphy, like Robertson, had done little of note in the Masters prior to this year but was superb again last night.

It would have been an injustice had he lost to John Higgins, even though the match was very close to going 5-5. Murphy scored heavily, making three centuries, and remained positive throughout.

He always has been ultra confident, but such self belief is understandable given his ability. His technique belongs in a textbook and his poise under pressure is why he’s one win away from becoming only the eighth player to complete the ‘triple crown’ of title successes in the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters.

Prediction: I’m going Murphy to win 10-8 but I really don’t know or, for that matter, care. I’ll just sit back enjoy what promises to be an enthralling encounter.



A repeat of their enthralling UK Championship semi-final, which Trump edged 9-7. He remarked afterwards that Robertson had been slow but it is naive to expect everyone to play the same game as him.

Actually, this is the worst mistake you can make playing Trump.

In the form he is in and with the confidence his success has brought it is going to be very hard to out-pot Trump, as Ronnie O'Sullivan discovered.

Robertson should instead play to his own strengths. He is a fine tactician but also a heavy scorer, a little like John Higgins.

Frustrate Trump if you can because, if you can't, he will take you apart.

That said, the fact Robertson has had to play in a new tip overnight doesn't add weight to the Australian's cause.

Prediction: Trump to win 6-4

Higgins has got it together for the first time in a big event this season. As professional snooker continues to evolve there are question marks over the three great players of the last 15 years, all 36, but Higgins remains a formidable match player.

Murphy has not been flawless in reaching his first masters semi-final but has at times been superb.

Martin Gould failed to press home his early advantage against him in the first round and Mark Selby made two key errors last night: a bungled safety on the black in frame two and a missed yellow in the sixth.

Murphy is exuding an air of great confidence. He is hitting the ball sweetly and scoring well when in.

The last player to complete the triple crown of world, UK and Masters titles was O'Sullivan by winning at the Crucible in 2001. Murphy has already won two and is closing in on a third.

Prediction: Murphy to win 6-3



Jan Verhaas made a *ghastly error when he stopped play in the John Higgins-Graeme Dott match last night to correct an error that had not, in fact, been made.

Verhaas had a brain freeze and believed that a foul in which Higgins had caught the brown and then hit the blue should have been worth five rather than four.

He eventually realised and play resumed but Dott, who had been waiting to play his shot, immediately missed.

Dott lost this frame and the match, but it would take a ludicrous stretch of the imagination to blame Verhaas for Dott’s eventual defeat.

The fact is this: Jan is only human and, like the rest of us human beings, is capable of making mistakes.

We all make them. I do, you do, referees do. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t.

In some jobs it is more serious than others. If Jan were a heart surgeon he would probably be feeling worse this morning than for briefly losing the plot in a snooker match.

Referees are unsung heroes (and heroines). They have to retain concentration for long periods of time and are usually only noticed if they get something wrong.

They are also not paid fortunes – far from it – and have to not only ensure the match is played within the rules but also keep the audience in check and deal with the unexpected.

Snooker has been fortunate to have had many top referees over the years. They have all, at one time or another, done something inexplicable in a match.

Jan is one of the best refs and has been for many years. A cheerful Dutchman, he is a popular figure on the snooker circuit. Friendly, courteous and well liked, he is rightly regarded as a safe pair of white gloves.

He will be embarrassed I’m sure by his mistake but when he walks out at the Ally Pally today he will do so as an official trusted by the players and respected by the game at large.

*EDIT: further investigation of the actual footage reveals that Verhaas's call was, in fact, correct. It should have been five away, not four so his mistake was actually in changing his mind.


It’s getting a bit repetitive to keep saying how impressive Judd Trump is but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

He demolished Ronnie O’Sullivan yesterday, as O’Sullivan was the first to admit. It was another big performance on the big stage by the 22 year-old.

It seems absurd now to think that just a year ago people were questioning his talent and his ability to deliver.

Today’s two matches again feature proven winners...

These two let me down in my first round predictions by winning. Williams probably should have won more easily against Stephen Maguire but got the job done in the end. Robertson was superb against Mark Allen, whose claim to have ‘lost interest’ was surely a reaction to losing. He actually competed very well.

Williams has always been able to win matches in tournaments where he hasn’t been playing at his best. He has been there, done it, worn the t-shirt and tweeted about it afterwards.

Robertson is yet to reach the Masters semi-finals but against Allen once again proved how strong he is under pressure.

These two left-handed winners of the World Championship invariably come good when the stakes are high. The standard is likely to be, too, but I just feel the Australian will shade it based on what I saw in the first round.

Prediction: Robertson to win 6-4

Another tough one to call between two good friends. Murphy was brilliant against Martin Gould but Selby’s performance against Stephen Lee was hard to judge.

Lee was poor early on but when he started to come back Selby began to get a little edgy. However, he has won this tournament twice and that has to count for something.

He will also most likely raise his game against Murphy, a player he likes, respects and knows is playing well.

A close encounter is on the cards and Selby has won so many of these in the Masters that he would be favourite if it went all the way.

Prediction: Selby to win 6-5



This is a match to be savoured if their last two encounters are anything to go by. Trump beat O’Sullivan 6-5 in the recent UK Championship and 4-3 in the PTC final in Antwerp.

It’s a match which deserves an evening slot to reach the widest possible audience, but will be played this afternoon as this is when the BBC has its main live programme (Hairy Bikers permitting).

Trump is at ease with the big stage and playing the best snooker of his life but O’Sullivan proved against Ding Junhui that he is still a threat in these major tournaments, regardless of his world ranking.

The Masters has been a happy hunting ground for him: four titles and nine finals. 50 centuries in 19 appearances.

This is some record and O’Sullivan will be fully motivated to remind everyone that he is still a force.

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 6-4.

For some reason Dott is straight back on having played last night (I think it’s been three weeks since Mark Williams’s first round match). He won’t care. Dott proved once again against Ali Carter that he has the nerve to hold firm in these big events.

He has never been past the Masters quarter-finals but beat Higgins 6-4 in the first round last season.

Higgins looked pretty good I thought against Matthew Stevens, although the Welshman wasn’t really at the races.

The reigning world champion admitted to feeling overawed at Wembley but the Ally Pally feels like a more standard venue and this may be the time this season where Higgins starts to come good.

Prediction: Higgins to win 6-4.



Selby's record in the Masters is superb: two titles plus one runners-up spot in four appearances.

But he fell at the first fence to Mark King last year and went off the boil at the UK Championship against Marco Fu after a fine start in whitewashing Ryan Day.

Selby, though, has to be favourite today. His consistency has been rewarded by top spot in the world rankings and though Lee has made a creditable return to the top 16, the Trowbridge man has not done so with many extended runs in tournaments.

Lee's last match at the Masters was his 10-3 defeat to Selby in the final four years ago. He remains a fine cueist but this will be a test.

Prediction: Selby to win 6-3

Carter has been in the doldrums of late, unhappy with his snooker but talking of retirement.

The tenacious Dott is probably not the player he would have chosen to play in this scenario. The Glaswegian beat him at last year's World Championship, at one point underlining his poise under pressure by winning three successive frames on the black.

Dott is the sort of player who recognises the key psychological points in a match and invariably takes advantage of them. Carter can get frustrated and this is not the best recipe for an Essex victory.

Prediction: Dott to win 6-4



Yesterday in a nutshell: Judd Trump turned it on when he had to; Shaun Murphy was superb against Martin Gould.

And so to today...

Higgins regards this as his bogey tournament, despite winning the Masters twice and reaching two other finals.

It does seem to be an all or nothing event for him. From the other 13 times he has played in the Masters and not reached the final he has lost nine times in the opening round.

Higgins has yet to really hit his stride this season. We all know he can, and indeed that he probably will, but it isn't bound to happen today.

Stevens was Masters champion in 2000 but has only won one match in the event since. He is playing in the tournament for the first time since 2007.

The Welshman has done well to get back in the top 16 but is lacking wins over the top players of late.

I think it'll be a close match and, if it is, that Higgins will win.

Prediction: Higgins to win 6-4

This could be a classic. Allen is riding high after reaching his first major final at last month's UK Championship. Robertson has emerged as a fiercely competitive big occasion player.

It's a clash of styles: Allen is fast and attacking; Robertson is attacking but has slowed down and is now as dogged and determined as his late compatriot Eddie Charlton.

They played in the quarter-finals last year and Allen won 6-4. He will be full of confidence after his York exploits and is yet to lose his first match at the Masters in three previous appearances.

His strength is his scoring power but he is also great in adversity, a trait he shares with fellow Northern Irishmen Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor and Joe Swail.

Robertson took a good break over Christmas, visiting Norway from where his partner hails. When he came back to Cambridge he was unable to practise with Joe Perry as he was in Germany for the PTC.

Robertson had two days of Championship League snooker last week. He was clearly rusty at first but soon hit his stride.

I don't see either player running away with it.

Prediction: Allen to win 6-5



It was a great start to the BGC Masters yesterday: a packed house for an absorbing contest between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ding Junhui.

O'Sullivan's long potting was at times sensational and he responded well after Ding launched his fightback.

Afterwards, there were nice scenes in the BBC studio as Ronnie's son, Ronnie junior, joined his dad for some post match analysis.

O'Sullivan spoke thoughtfully about the future of his career, explaining that he still wanted to play but not to the extent that it becomes an endless slog which he doesn't enjoy.

I thought this made perfect sense. Snooker players tend to be more persuasive when they are speaking cogently and politely rather than indulging in boorish swearing or crass metaphors.

The evening match was a more protracted affair but still dramatic. Mark Williams was coasting at 4-0 up against Stephen Maguire but failed to clinch what seemed a likely comfortable victory and Maguire dug in well to put him under all sorts before the Welshman came through 6-4.

And so to today...

There's no real logical reason not to back Trump. He is riding the crest of a wave of confidence and success. He's a big occasion player, cueing superbly - as he proved once again at the Championship League last week - and, perhaps most importantly, hasn't let it all go to his head.

After his talent, the most impressive thing about Judd is his composure. He remains a quiet lad who enjoys what he does and despite receiving bags of publicity, hasn't started believing it all.

Bingham of course beat him 5-1 at this season's Shanghai Masters and is a fine break-builder no doubt relishing his third Masters appearance and first as a member of the top 16.

But he knows this is a very tough draw, although Trump did start his UK Championship campaign slowly before getting better as the event wore on.

Prediction: Trump to win 6-2

Gould becomes the 82nd player to compete in the Masters since it was first staged in 1975. What a proud moment for the Londoner, who loves playing snooker and has improved rapidly over the last few years.

He's never beaten Murphy but Murphy has never done well in the Masters, failing to make it past the quarter-finals in seven previous appearances.

But as with most things there are historical parallels. Dennis Taylor had won only one match in the tournament before he won the title in 1987. Murphy is always going to be a threat in any tournament and had four solid days hard match practice in the Championship League last week.

Prediction: Murphy to win 6-3



So the BGC Masters is here at its new home, the Alexandra Palace in London.

The top 16 are fighting for one of snooker’s most sought after trophies. Let’s have a look at today’s two matches…

Their last Masters meeting ended with O’Sullivan sportingly consoling a tearful Ding following a 10-3 rout which included some sensational snooker.

O’Sullivan has struggled for form, motivation and results of late but he has a fine record in this tournament: nine finals and four titles.

Ding I thought was superb last year. He has matured as a player and a person since that Wembley horror show five years ago and was assured in winning the title 12 months ago.

He is yet to really set the baize alight this season but is a class act, capable of turning it on with the best of them.

In most tournaments I would fancy him to come through but this is O’Sullivan’s territory. He usually gets himself up for the Masters and tends to revel in the great atmosphere the packed house is bound to provide.

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 6-4

Williams won the title in 1998 and 2003 and has recently returned to the top of the game after a spell in the doldrums.

Maguire has been consistent since winning the 2008 China Open but it wasn’t until last week at PTC12 that he won another televised title.

This is not the reason I am plumping for a Scottish win. Maguire has a good record against Williams; he always seems to play well against him.

I recall they once played in the Welsh Open and Maguire produced a masterclass in foot-on-the-throat snooker, not eye-catching centuries but 50-odd followed by a good safety, keeping the Welshman on the back foot.

I would never write Mark off. He’s one of the all time greats but he is experimenting with a new cue, and that could be a factor either in his favour or not.

Either way, Maguire is full of confidence right now.

Prediction: Maguire to win 6-3



The 1995 Masters marked the 21st staging of the tournament but the final was contested by two players not born when the event began.

Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, both 19, were two outstanding juniors from different ends of the UK who along with Mark Williams had emerged as players most likely to threaten Stephen Hendry’s dominance of the game.

More than a decade later they would serve up one of the most dramatic of all the Masters finals but in 1995 O’Sullivan cruised to victory, 9-3.

He was in the final again the following year but lost 10-5 to Hendry, who thus secured a sixth and final Masters title.

Steve Davis suffered from flu prior to the 1997 event. He felt rotten and turned up at Wembley not expecting very much but battled past Alan McManus and Peter Ebdon before a 6-1 defeat of Ken Doherty sent him through to the final nine years after his second capture of the trophy.

He faced O’Sullivan, a red hot favourite in a final interrupted early on by a female streaker. It was O’Sullivna who appeared to be streaking away with the match, building an 8-4 lead before it all turned round.

For so many years the villain of the piece in his own backyard, Davis found the crowd increasingly warming to him as he mounted an unlikely comeback and secured one of the most satisfying wins of his career, coming as it did long after his peak. His 10-8 victory was his last major success in a final.

As if the drama of this finish was not enough, Williams and Hendry managed to supersede it a year later. 23 years after John Spencer had edged ray Reardon on a re-spotted black, the tournament once again came down to an extra ball.

Hendry had led 9-6 but Williams rallied to equalise. Hendry had first poke at the additional black, a tricky pot to the left middle which stayed out, leaving Williams a much easier black for victory.

The WPBSA sent his £145,000 winner’s cheque to a different Mark Williams, a Londoner who was also a member. Thankfully, he returned it uncashed.

Ken Doherty featured in the next two finals. He lost 10-8 to Higgins in 1999 but the disappointment of this defeat was nothing compared to what happened a year later against Matthew Stevens.

He was well behind in the match but had a chance to emulate Kirk Stevens by making a 147 at Wembley. Doherty, though, felt his whole body shaking as he approached the final black and it stayed out, denying him the keys to a sports car worth £90,000. It is a shot which still haunts him.

Stevens went on to win 10-8 and a year later was replaced as champion by his great friend Paul Hunter, who breathed new life into the tournament with a series of remarkable recoveries in finals.

He was 6-2 down to Fergal O’Brien in 2001 when he returned to the tournament hotel and, as he put it, ‘put plan B into operation’ with his girlfriend, Lyndsey.

Hunter played great stuff in that final session, a brand of fearless snooker which made him an instant star. He won 10-9 and a year later rallied from 5-0 down to beat Williams also in a decider.

Williams beat Hendry 10-4 to land the final Masters to be sponsored by Benson and Hedges in 2003 but Hunter was back on the comeback trail in 2004, roaring back from 7-2 adrift to edge O’Sullivan 10-9.

Three finals, three comebacks, three deciding frame victories. Hunter gave the crowd their money’s worth, injected drama and style into the tournament and did it all with the grace for which he was renowned. How the game still misses him.

A decade on from their first Wembley final, O’Sullivan beat Higgins again, this time 10-3, to win the 2005 title before their epic 2006 battle.

This was the last match played at the Conference Centre before it made way for a redevelopment but it was a fitting finale: two great players at the top of their games and the final going its full distance.

O’Sullivan led 60-0 in the decider before Higgins produced one of the great pressure clearances, 64 to win it on the black.

2007 brought yet another Masters final for O’Sullivan, this time at Wembley Arena. It was a performance Davis would describe as ‘unplayable,’ an awesome display of snooker which demoralised Ding Junhui, who had begun the event with a 147 and would end it walking off the stage in tears, trying to concede at 9-3 down.

Mark Selby’s run to the 2007 world final helped him secure a top 16 place and therefore a Masters berth. His debut was sensational, three deciding frame finishes before a 10-3 defeat of Stephen Lee in the final, Selby thus becoming the first player since Hendry 19 years earlier to win the title on his debut.

He lost 10-8 to O’Sullivan the following year but then edged him 10-9 in yet another Wembley thriller to regain the title in 2010.

Last year the final featured two Asian players as China’s Ding Junhui beat Marco Fu of Hong Kong 10-4. For Ding it was an exorcising of the demons of four years earlier and further proof of how he has become a big occasion player.

This season’s Masters, sponsored by BGC Partners, will be held at the Alexandra Palace in London. It marks a new chapter for a tournament with a rich history.

The Masters remains a test of the elite, a fascinating duel between the very best the green baize has to offer.

Here’s to more drama, more great snooker and many more fabulous memories…



My Masters history stuff has had to be curtailed due to other commitments (namely all the snooker happening) but this is the first part of a two-part look back at the players who have won the game’s oldest and most prestigious invitation tournament.

When I first began covering the Masters over a decade ago it was clear that the top players of the time regarded it as second only to the World Championship.

In the B&H years it was an event awash with money, and as it was only for the top 16 it felt like an achievement just to be playing in it.

Thankfully any thoughts of opening up into yet another ranking tournament were resisted, and the Masters has maintained its prestige through a long and distinguished history.

The first Masters was staged at the West Centre Hotel in Fulham in 1975 and contested by just ten players. The top prize was £2,000.

It provided a thrilling finish as John Spencer beat his great adversary Ray Reardon 9-8 on a re-spotted black, proving that the game’s best players could serve up drama to compete with the best that other sport has to offer. It was finals such as this which persuaded TV companies that the sport could pull in viewers, which it has certainly done in the 37 years since.

Reardon won the title the following year at its new home, the New London Theatre, but was beaten 7-6 by Doug Mountjoy in the 1977 final, a remarkable achievement by a player new on the pro scene.

Mountjoy had beaten two multi-world champions, John Pulman and Fred Davis, before a 5-3 semi-final defeat of crowd favourite Alex Higgins.

There was something about London that suited Higgins: the big city brashness which attracted loud and enthusiastic audiences, who took the Northern Irishman to their hearts.

They cheered him all the way to victory in 1978 and shared his disappointment in losing to Perrie Mans in the 1979 final.

The ‘78 event had been played under a best of seven format (by no means a modern innovation) but it went up to best of nines and moved to the Wembley Conference Centre the following year.

It was a cavernous arena and the players were reminded that they really were alone out there. It would be the scene of many dramatic battles over the next 27 years.

By 1979 there still had not been a century break in the Masters. Higgins in fact won the high break prize that year with his 132 but lost the final to Mans, who failed to make a 50 all week.

But Mans was a very talented potter, able to knock them in from anywhere and then battle it out in the safety stakes, and this unorthodox style had got him to the world final the previous year.

The Reardon-Spencer era was coming to an end, as a new breed of players swept in led by Steve Davis. But the Masters was one tournament the new king of snooker would fail to dominate.

It was perhaps because, as a Londoner, the hostile atmosphere among fans who should logically have been supporting him was hard to stomach, a typically British reaction against anyone ‘too’ good.

Davis did win the title in 1982 but had to wait six years for his second success and another nine for his third, long after his heyday was over. Needless to say, the crowd loved him by then because he was no longer winning regularly.

Higgins, the darling of the Wembley crowd, lost 9-5 to Terry Griffiths, the reigning world champion, in the 1980 final but won the title for a second time in 1981, beating Griffiths 9-6.

The first three time champion was Cliff Thorburn, winner in 1983, 1985 and 1986, a run of success broken by Jimmy White in a memorable 1984 tournament.

White’s semi-final against Kirk Stevens remains one of snooker’s most fondly remembered matches in terms of atmosphere and drama. Stevens, the man in the white suit, made one of the most stylish maximum breaks ever seen but was beaten 6-4. White would beat Griffiths 9-5 to win the title, his only Wembley triumph.

Higgins was in the final again in 1987, against Dennis Taylor, his compatriot and long time adversary, who had never done much in the Masters before.

Higgins led 8-5. Taylor left the arena and heard that the Higgins camp had already started opening the champagne. A great battler, as stubborn as they came, Taylor dug deep to pull off a dramatic late night 9-8 victory, his biggest since his famous world title triumph two years earlier.

Davis’s second title was also a first: a whitewash in a Masters final, 9-0 over Mike Hallett.

Stephen Hendry joined the top 16 at the start of the 1988/89 season and arrived at Wembley as an authentic title challenger. It was a step into the unknown, a large arena and big, noisy crowd, but it made no difference to Hendry. His self-belief was unshakable and he beat Davis in the semi-finals and John Parrott in the final to win one of snooker’s ‘big three’ titles for the first time.

And so the Hendry years began. A decade later he had won 18 ‘big three’ crowns, including five Masters titles.

He beat Parrott again in 1990 and 1992 but far more memorable was his 1991 success against Hallett, who led the first session 7-0 and had the pink at 8-2 for victory.

He missed, though, and Hendry clawed his way back to win 9-8, a remarkable comeback and further cementing of his reputation as the man to beat.

Hendry beat James Wattana to win in 1993 and arrived in the 1994 final having won 23 successive matches at Wembley.

His opponent was Alan McManus, a fellow Scot who had established himself as one of the hardest players in the game without quite winning the titles to support this status.

It was a closely fought affair and Hendry’s run finally ended with a 9-8 defeat.

It wasn’t the end of his spell of success – far from it – but at around this time a new generation of players were coming through.

The game was changing again and the Masters was set for a new era of thrilling finals and spellbinding snooker.



Barry Hearn has secured BGC Partners, a major money brokerage firm, as the new sponsor for the Masters, which gets underway at Alexandra Palace in London on Sunday.

Hearn was visibly buzzing when he imparted this news to the players at the Championship League at Crondon Park this week after doing the deal himself.

A company from the financial sector backing a major tournament in the UK marks a move away from recent reliance on the betting industry, which has been the main source of sponsorship income for the sport in recent times.

The bookies’ money is as welcome as anyone’s, not least because it is a vote of confidence in the integrity of snooker after several high profile match fix stories.

But by branching out into a different sector, it will hopefully prove snooker can appeal to a far wider range of industries.

Hearn and his team seem to have no problem obtaining sponsors. The challenge is to keep them beyond their initial year.

Hopefully BGC will see the benefits of their association with one of snooker’s oldest and most prestigious events.

It’s a new sponsor, new home and new start for the Masters...let’s hope the players put on a show worthy of snooker’s new era.



Oldham Civic Centre seems an unlikely venue to play host to sporting history but 30 years ago today it staged a notable snooker first.

Steve Davis, who would dominate the decade, compiled snooker’s first officially ratified 147 break on January 11, 1982 during the Lada Classic.

His opponent was John Spencer, who had himself made a maximum in a televised tournament three years earlier. There were, however, two reasons why the break was not a TV first.

The most obvious was that the TV cameramen had decamped to McDonalds for a break of their own and so did not record it.

Also, the pockets were judged not to be of regulation size and so the 147 was ruled unofficial.

But Spencer himself knew the importance of what he was doing. After potting the pink, he staged a mock faint before getting back up to slot home the final black.

By 1982, Davis and his manager, Barry Hearn, were cleaning up on the table and through myriad off table activities.

Snooker was big TV business in Britain and Hearn exploited the many earning opportunities and began to open up new markets around the world.

Hearn said recently that he made so much money by 1982 that he was considering retirement, indeed briefly tried it until realising that a life of leisure is no match for the thrill of the business world.

So it was that Davis arrived in Oldham off the back of an exhausting overseas promotional trip and was so tired that he was said to be falling asleep at the venue between matches.

His maximum remains a great watch and by no means straight forward. The importance of the occasion is obvious from the commentary, not the solemn punditry of the mellifluous John Pulman but in the over-excited tones of David Taylor, not a regular ITV commentator but drafted in to help out.

To be fair, you could hardly blame him. This was an historic moment and there were to be further iconic 147s from Cliff Thorburn at the 1983 World Championship and Kirk Stevens at the 1984 Masters.

There were eight maximums recorded in the 1980s but the hike in standard, number of players and number of tournaments has seen them become much more common. There have been eight this season alone among the 85 on the official list.

And there have been many, many near misses, none more famous than when Ken Doherty missed the final black during the 2000 Masters final.

Davis is of course still going strong. He was an apt figure to construct snooker’s first official 147 and remains a player so many others still look up to.

It was a slice of history, of snooker magic, and despite the passing of 30 years, remains timeless.

Watch it here.



The Championship League returns today for its fifth staging with a Premier League place once again up for grabs at the end of the eight groups at Crondon Park golf club in Essex.

I can’t improve on pro Snooker Blog’s excellent preview of the event so will lazily link to it here.

However, a word on the competition as a whole. I’ve heard people question the point of it. Well, the point of it is that it makes money, and there is no reason to axe a profitable event. It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of other tournaments.

It makes money for the players, the organisers, the bookies, the production company, the referees, the venue, the commentators, the table fitters and anyone else I’ve forgotten.

Most top 16 players have once again entered. Why wouldn’t they? What else would they be doing the week before the Masters than practising for it?

Better to get good solid match practice against other top players and be paid for it.

John Higgins, Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott have not entered but can of course all practice together.

The players are invited according to their rankings but can defer until a later group, as Mark Williams and Neil Robertson have by choosing to play in group 2 rather than 1.

The Championship League has a strange atmosphere because it has no atmosphere: there is no room for spectators and, as it’s set up to be bet on, there could be machinations if there was a crowd as streams are typically 10-15 second behind live action.

Also this week, the Hainan World Open qualifiers take place in Sheffield with 16 spots available for the 32-man final stages in February.

A long term deal to stage the tournament in China is expected to be announced today.



The final Players Tour Championship event at Furstenfeldbruck in Germany from Friday will decide the final 24 places for the grand finals in Galway in March.

For the first time, the field has been played down to 16 for the three day tournament and it’s an intriguing collection of cueists.

There are three members of the top 16 – Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire and Martin Gould – plus five players who have at one time been top 16 members – Stephen Hendry, Marco Fu, Ricky Walden, Joe Perry and David Gray.

In addition, two players – Andrew Higginson and Michael Holt – are PTC winners this season and another – Marcus Campbell – won one last season.

Of the remaining five players there’s Mike Dunn, a maximum maker this season, Kurt Maflin, a Londoner based in Norway, Xiao Guodong, one of a number of improving Chinese players, and two players who secured main tour spots this campaign through the Q School, Dave Gilbert and David Grace.

Allen would probably start favourite for the title. His run to the UK Championship final last month – and his performance in recovering against Judd Trump – must have left him full of confidence, not a commodity he was lacking in the first place.

All the PTCs are wide open but there is an additional factor in this one in that all matches will be played in front of the TV cameras, where the more experienced players tend to thrive.

The final stages carry big money and big ranking points so those players not already qualified will be busting a gut to do so.

And there is another subplot: if Walden wins the title he relegates Ronnie O’Sullivan from the top 16 at the seedings cut-off for the next three ranking events.

It’s live on Eurosport from 1pm (UK time) on Friday.

Here’s the last 16 draw:

Mike Dunn v Mark Allen
David Grace v Martin Gould
Ricky Walden v Xiao Guodong
Dave Gilbert v Joe Perry
Marcus Campbell v Michael Holt
Stephen Hendry v Marco Fu
Stephen Maguire v David Gray
Kurt Maflin v Andrew Higginson



Some snooker players become household names, big stars outside of the sport. In the 1980s you didn’t even have to win anything to achieve this status in the UK.

Some players achieve notoriety for what they say or their activities off the table, even if they aren’t big tournament winners.

And others, the majority in fact, are the foot-soldiers of the professional circuit. They knuckle down, play, try their best and don’t make a fuss.

Many people assume they must be boring, presumably because they haven’t chinned anyone in a nightclub or sworn at someone on Twitter. But they’re not. Everyone is interesting if you look hard enough.

PTC12 this weekend offers the chance for a few of these bit part players to emerge from the wings and take their place in the spotlight

There are only three members of the top 16 in the 16-man draw, although there are also five other players who have at one time or another been part of this elite group.

But it’s an opportunity for a title for those not usually in that position.

One such is Andrew Higginson, in my experience one of the most decent and hard working players around.

Andrew of course won a PTC earlier this season but is still best known for his extraordinary run to the Welsh Open final five years ago.

For once the word ‘extraordinary’ is apt here. Higginson started out in the first qualifying round having pulled up very few trees in a decade on the main tour up to this point.

I remember interviewing him years and years ago at some anonymous qualifier or another. This was before blogs, before streaming, when these events passed off without anyone outside of those playing giving much of a damn about them.

He told me he had recently stopped practising at a snooker club in St. Helens. When I asked him why he replied, deadpan, “because it’s just burned down.” I’ve liked him ever since.

All those years of striving to do well and not really getting anywhere must have sapped his confidence but, for whatever reason, having qualified for Newport in 2007 he found the form of his life.

It was always in there and, that week, it exploded like a bottle of champagne shaken up by an F1 driver.

Higginson beat Marco Fu. He beat John Higgins. He beat Michael Judge. He was in the quarter-finals.

Most observers, no doubt myself among them, patronisingly assumed he had had a good tournament but that Ali Carter would prove a match too far.

Higginson beat him 5-1 and made a maximum in the process. He then defeated Stephen Maguire to reach the final.

What had seemed improbable was now a fairytale demanding only the perfect finish, and it almost came. Andrew fought back from 6-2 down at halfway to lead Neil Robertson 8-6 before the Aussie won the last three frames to win 9-8.

The Snooker Writers Association gave Higginson our Achievement of the Year award for all this and he survived a particularly boozy night in London at our annual dinner (another player ran up a large bill wrongly thinking it was a free bar, but that’s another story).

Since then Higginson has qualified for the Crucible, appeared on TV here and there and worked his way up to 19th in the latest world rankings.

This has not been as dramatic as his Welsh Open adventure but he is now firmly embedded in the top 32 and closing in on the top 16.

Good for him. He’s worked for it. And it rather proves what I’ve long suspected: most players are capable of great things, they just need a mixture of self belief, luck and inspiration to make it happen.

Higginson plays Kurt Maflin in the last 16 of the PTC in Furstenfeldbruck on Friday and whatever happens will be in group 1 of the Championship League next Monday. Later that week he has World Open qualifiers with the Shootout in Blackpool at the end of the month.

A busy time, then, which is how he likes it. Higginson is typical of most of snooker’s foot-soldiers: he loves the game, he wants to play it, he wants to win but losing isn’t everything.

Just as long as there is always another match, another tournament.



The answer to my own question is almost certainly yes, it does, but with some qualifiers.

There’s been a lot more snooker of late and a lot more to come before the betfred.com World Championship in April.

You’ll hear talk of burnout and players too exhausted to seriously compete at the Crucible, but what is the actual evidence for this?

Last season John Higgins played in everything he could and was in such good form that he went all the way to a fourth world title.

Ronnie O’Sullivan opted out of quite a few events and was clearly rusty in the run-in to Sheffield.

OK, this is not the most scientific example. Higgins is a great player and could win the world title any year regardless of how much he has played. O’Sullivan was low on motivation and wanted out of the game for good.

However, if you are looking for a likely winner come May 7 surely a player who has been playing a great deal would be a better bet than someone who has been losing early?

Momentum is important in sport because it is linked to confidence. Mark Selby started the season with this very commodity. He won the Wuxi Classic and shortly afterwards the Paul Hunter Classic and then the Shanghai Masters.

But runs come to an end and Selby was a disappointment against Marco Fu at the recent UK Championship. The good news is that players experience peaks and troughs and I’m sure the world no.1 will get going again soon.

Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were the dominant players of their respective eras and the more they played, the more they won. In Hendry’s case he won five successive ranking events during one particularly purple patch.

But when they weren’t playing in tournaments they were on the exhibition circuit making serious money and, in the case of Davis, conquering new horizons with his manager, Barry Hearn.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Davis’s 147 at the 1982 Lada Classic, the first in professional competition.

He had in fact just returned from a round-the-world trip so tiring that he was falling asleep between matches.

Later that year he was signing copies of his book in a newsagent’s in Sheffield a few hours before playing Tony Knowles in the World Championship. We all know how that played out.

Hendry, like Davis, was no slouch but he was a young man and had the bloody-minded professionalism to grind it out, understanding that this was his time to cash in on his success. Not many players since have had that same attitude.

But it isn’t really the amount of snooker being played that could lead to burnout – the more you play, the tougher you should in theory be – it’s the travelling.

Flying back and forth to places like China does take a toll. I’m sure many people will feel this is part of sport and, frankly, tough if you don’t like it, but a long season of planes, trains and automobiles can be physically demanding, especially as the calendar isn’t structured like golf and tennis where events in a particular part of the world come one after another.

This year there will be two new ranking events in China, further increasing the air miles top players will rack up.

I know a few players who love all this, and they are the ones prospering, but there will come a time, particularly for older players, where the prospect of another flight, another hotel becomes irksome to the point where it will negatively affect mental attitude.

It’s easy to say they are only playing snooker but not true. They are also investing huge mental reserves into their profession and travelling here, there and everywhere to play.

So burnout is a risk but as more tournaments crop up, there will be more choice and players can better manage their schedules.

And I’d still back a player with momentum come the Crucible than those who have hardly played at all.



Happy new year everyone.

The great thing about a new year is that it’s a time for looking forward, not back and there is much to look forward to in 2012, indeed in January alone.

From Friday there will be 24 consecutive days of snooker to watch either on television or through internet streaming, a smorgasbord of green baize action with something for everyone.

It starts with PTC 12 in Germany after which the final 24 for the grand finals in Galway in March will be decided.

Then from January 9-12 the Championship League returns for its fifth year at one of snooker’s most unlikely venues, Crondon Park Golf Club in Essex.

There has been much more snooker to play recently but I’m not surprised that most top players have once again entered the Championship League. It’s regular match practice against top quality players and carries good financial reward.

The World Open (which will be best of nines this year, by the way) has its qualifiers from January 11-14. There will be commentary on the final two rounds on liveworldsnooker.tv and the betting sites that carry coverage.

The jewel in the crown this month is of course the Masters, at its new home of Alexandra Palace in London, from January 15-22.

This is one of snooker’s most prestigious titles, a tournament with a rich history and a huge first prize (£150,000).

The next two groups of Championship League are from January 23-26 and then the Sky Shootout, which I thought was a lot of fun last year, rounds things off in Blackpool from January 27-29.

So that’s a jam-packed month of snooker to kick off 2012 and there is plenty more where that came from in the run up to the Betfred.com World Championship in April.

This blog will remain pretty much as it has always been: a mix of news, opinion and historical reflections, a few interviews and thoughts about tournament action. If you have any other suggestions for content feel free to offer them.

It will be a busy year and that can only be good, although players will want to arrive at the Crucible three months from now match sharp but not exhausted.

Like any other year there will be drama aplenty: great matches, shocks, spellbinding breaks, stunning shot-making, nerve-wracking close finishes, twitch-ups, heartbreak, joy and glory.

People will say things in the heat of the moment that they later regret. There will be controversy. There will be arguments. There will be cock-ups. There will be complaints.

In short, there will be snooker, and lots of it.

The battles on the baize will be a rollercoaster of emotions for players, fans and everyone else associated with this great game.

So strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride.