30.8.12

THE RANK ORGANISATION

First, a disclaimer: I find the rankings and chat about the ranking structure to be the most boring subject in snooker.

However the rankings are devised, be it points or, as it will be from 2014/15, prize money, the best players are always at the top and the worst players (on the professional circuit) are always at the bottom.

This is nothing to do with ‘protection’ for the top players. They all started at the bottom. They got to the top because they are better than the players they overtook.

A player’s ranking position matters less in snooker than ranking bands. There is no material difference in being ranked 20th or 32nd but there is a huge difference between being ranked 20th and 33rd.

I don’t think any less of, say, Shaun Murphy if he falls from fifth to sixth. Neither should he: it makes no difference whatsoever.

Similarly, Ronnie O’Sullivan is down in 16th place in the latest list but this is down largely to him not playing in a number of tournaments. When players play him they don’t think they are playing the world no.16. They know they are playing Ronnie O’Sullivan. His ranking is irrelevant other than as a guide as to where he should be placed in the draw.

The world ranking list was instituted in 1976 when the circuit had sufficiently grown to a level where it needed to rank the players.

The World Championship was the only open event of the time and the list was devised by retrospectively awarding points to the previous three World Championships.

This system was in place until 1982, when it was replaced by incorporating other tournaments. Players received six points for winning a tournament, five for finishing runner-up, four for the semis and so on. Anyone who lost before the last 32 received ‘merit’ points, which was a sort of ‘nearly’ ranking point, or 'A' points, which was a nearly-nearly ranking point. The World Championship was worth almost double the other events.

This system seems quaintly old fashioned now but, in fact, it left an entirely accurate set of ranking lists.

In the early 1990s, it was decided to replace it with a system worked out not by world renowned mathematicians at MIT but by the then WPBSA chairman on the back of a fag packet.

Points were now awarded in thousands. Crucially, both systems used a rigid two-year structure, which meant much talk of ‘provisional’ rankings but undoubted protection for players on a losing run.

We often hear it said that Mark Williams dropped to 47th and got back to no.1. He didn’t. He was only ever outside the top 32 provisionally, which was a guide to form but did not affect seedings.

Barry Hearn’s arrival at the helm of World Snooker two years ago heralded the rolling system which has made it much easier for successful players to move up more quickly.

Now, it’ll be a money list. Some players are for this, others are against it. Many don’t seem to understand it.

The new system will apply for all ranking tournaments, including PTCs. Invitation tournaments such as the Masters and Premier League will not count towards the rankings. Why? Because they are not ranking tournaments.

As usual there has been much frothing at the mouth about the announcement but it has also been argued that the money list better reflects the worth of tournaments.

If an event attracts, say, £500,000 in sponsorship then it is by definition more prestigious than one which attracts £200,000. Therefore, the winner should be better rewarded by winning it.

The huge problem with the new system, though, is that currently a third of the tour doesn’t earn a penny from each ranking event. Prize money does not come in until the last 64 of most tournaments.

If this continues then how are they to be ranked? By ‘merit’ pounds?

Hearn’s long term ambition is to have everyone start in round one, much like the PTCs. Opposition from broadcasters who may be robbed big name players for the events they cover still makes this difficult to push through.

Another problem is the obvious bias towards winning one of the really big tournaments. Winning the world title means it is hard not to finish very high up the list, even if you don’t do much in the other events.

Does this matter? To many it will. Others will feel winning the world title is the biggest achievement in the sport and should be rewarded thus.

What is striking about the prototype list issued by World Snooker today is that there are actually not that many differences to the current list.

Why? Because the best players are always going to win the biggest tournaments. This will remain the case if they start in round one.

It will remain the case if they are awarded points, pounds or gold stars.

The key thing to watch out for in the new system will be the distribution of prize money. If it’s still slim pickings down towards the lower reaches (too slim, I would say) then it will be tougher than ever to climb up.

But if, eventually, everyone starts out together in the first round then it’s a level playing field and may the best man win.

Which he always does.

28.8.12

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

How many professional snooker players have there been down the years?

It must be a few thousand. More to the point, what are they all doing now?

Very few hit the heights of course. This is true of any sport. There are several household names but many more whose names resonate only in their own households.

I was thinking about this earlier today because I found an old notebook from the late 1990s covered in my scrawled transcripts of press conferences from long forgotten matches.

One such was with Nick Walker. Nick was a good player and a very nice lad. He got in the top 64 but never the top 32.

In 1999, he qualified for the Crucible and beat Alain Robidoux – mired in a horrible slump of defeats. But the match I will always remember was in the qualifiers.

Nick was 9-0 up on Rod Lawler. The evening session was to be a coronation.

Rod won a couple of frames but there was no need for undue panic. At 9-4, though, Nick was spending the interval perhaps a little less relaxed than he had begun the session.

At 9-8, he had every right to be in bits. It would surely be the most incredible comeback the game had ever seen if Lawler duly completed the win.

He didn’t. Nick won 10-8. You’d have thought he’d won the title, such was his relief.

So Nick Walker reached the last 16 of the World Championship but, just a few years later, he retired. He accepted that he couldn’t make the sort of living he desired from snooker and so went and did something else (I believe as a recruitment consultant, or some such).

I understand he has been very successful at this. It can’t have been easy putting the cue away – and so his boyhood passion – but he did not believe snooker owed him a living. He accepted he was never going to be world champion and sought out something which would give him the life he wanted.

However, if you’ve played snooker all your life, and don’t have academic qualifications, then the alternatives are unclear.

It’s never too late to be educated or to train to do something else but when snooker is all you have ever wanted to do it can be hard to even think about anything other than a green baize life.

Every month in Snooker Scene we run a questionnaire in which players are asked what they would be doing if they weren’t a snooker professional. Most months they struggle to think of anything.

Of course, years ago players had had jobs before turning professional. Terry Griffiths was a postman. Ray Reardon was a policeman. Joe Johnson was a gas fitter. Dennis Taylor worked in a paper mill.

It gave this generation of players a gratitude for the sudden riches they were able to earn from a sport they loved.

For the more recent crop of players, life after snooker is often uncertain. Some drive taxis. Some run pubs. Like anyone else they do what they can to make a living.

Silvino Francisco, the 1985 British Open champion, ended up working in a fish 'n' chip shop.

Danny Fowler, a top 32 player in the late 80s/early 90s, was famously a bin-man. I heard that after he dropped off the circuit he spent some time driving a delivery van for a maggot farm.

Life in the margins of the snooker world is nothing if not varied. There was one player from Singapore who was even said to be a gigolo.

Graham Cripsey eventually found professional snooker to be too precarious a profession and so went back to his old job, as a wall of death rider.

Kirk Stevens, his life and career severely affected by drug addiction, drifted into employment as a car salesman and, for a time, a lumberjack, a job he gave up, not unreasonably, after discovering he was scared of heights.

Ian McCulloch, a good friend of Nick Walker’s, has set up a new events company, North West Sports Events, to promote exhibitions and corporate dinners featuring sportsmen.

Good on him. Ian always was industrious, never one to sit around expecting things to happen but going out and making the best of himself. He also works for William Hill’s radio service.

Michael Holt is doing a business degree through the Open University. Others, such as Ali Carter, have business interests (and in Ali’s case a pilot’s licence).

There are of course ways to stay intimately involved in snooker once your playing days are over. Some players open clubs. Some becomes coaches. None ever seem to become referees.

Some turn to broadcasting. Neal Foulds has been one of the most successful at this because of his versatility (he knows a lot more than just snooker) and the fact that he is clearly very good.

Sporting careers can be short. They can also be relatively undistinguished. Only the hardcore will even have heard of some of the names in this piece.

But I suspect many of the pros who have drifted away from the circuit would come back in an ideal world.

Snooker is a passion which cannot easily be banished.

26.8.12

SWAIL STARS AS SELBY WINS TITLE

Mark Selby was, for the second year running, the winner of the Paul Hunter Classic but Joe Swail was its star.

The Belfast man has a long history of remarkable performances in the face of adversity but to reach the final from the amateur qualifying rounds proves what a real battler Swail remains.

He reached his first major ranking final at the Welsh Open just three years ago but dropped out of the top 64 at the end of last season and was thus relegated from the professional circuit.

He couldn’t face Q School. It must have seemed like an indignity after so many years as a well known name.

But, as the weeks ticked by, Swail realised snooker was still in his blood and, though not practising, entered the PTCs.

In Furth, he beat Jimmy White and Shaun Murphy and survived an extraordinary finish to his semi-final with Barry Hawkins, doubling the final black to win 4-3.

Just 20 minutes later he was back out against Selby, which looked like a match too far.

Still, Swail’s great run proves that in this new age of opportunity it is possible to do the unthinkable: if you are good enough.

He should now have done enough to secure a main tour return next year, which is good news because he is much liked and a proper character. I wrote of his Crucible heroics earlier this year.

Selby was very solid in the final, although he struggled to put away Robbie Williams in the last 16, eventually winning 4-3.

He had his own concerns coming into this season with the neck injury which ruined the end of the last campaign. This seems to have gone away, which is an obvious relief for the world no.1.

Once again the German snooker public played their full part. What enthusiasts they are and what respect they show the players. They are a credit and make for a terrific atmosphere.

It was fitting for a tournament played under Paul Hunter’s name: two nice blokes contesting a final watched by a full house, fully involved with the snooker and thoroughly entertained throughout.

23.8.12

FURTH AMONG EQUALS

Paul Hunter was among the first players to support the German Open, a pro-am which has now become a PTC and which will be staged once again this week as the Paul Hunter Classic.

Paul was a favourite in Germany just as he was everywhere else. It’s six years now since he died but over the next few days he will once again be remembered.

The EPTCs are now branded as the Betfair European Tour, with an overall sponsor but still part of the Players Tour Championship and with a slightly increased prize fund.

The venue in Furth usually attracts many spectators. Germany has taken snooker to its heart with enthusiastic but respectful crowds.

Stephen Maguire, already a winner and runner-up in PTCs this season, has not entered and neither, of course, has Ronnie O’Sullivan but it is otherwise a high quality line-up.

The PTCs feature star names, experienced professionals, newcomers and amateurs so there is a real mix of both achievement and standard.

Michael Leslie, a young Scot newly qualified for the professional circuit after winning the European under 21 title, will play John Higgins, a player he has long looked up to, in the first round.

Another new pro, Sean O’Sullivan, faces Mark Selby and, for the amateurs, there is the chance for TV exposure against other well known faces.

There is only one TV table but this alone has in the past meant that a top player usually wins the title. Last year in Furth it was Selby. Judd Trump won in Antwerp and Neil Robertson in Killarney and Warsaw.

The German snooker public, as anywhere, have their favourites but they seem to love the game first and foremost and I’m sure they’ll be treated to some high quality snooker over the next few days.

Eurosport’s live coverage starts on Friday morning.

22.8.12

WPBSA QUESTION SPA'S CLAIM TO REPRESENT PLAYERS

The WPBSA has written to its membership (the players) to openly question the credibility of the Snooker Players Association and ascertain how many players feel this body should be representing them.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson has acted after concern as to the SPA’s role raised by its recent statements.

Ferguson wrote: “I am sure you are aware that in recent weeks there have been a number of statements made by the Snooker Players Association (SPA) regarding their view on the needs of members. Whilst it is useful to have this debate, it is harmful to the sport if it is conducted in public through sometimes inaccurate statements and comments. It is for this reason that the WPBSA board do not intend to engage publicly in this debate, but seek to obtain an accurate view from the membership.”

He continued: “In conducting our business openly the WPBSA board is looking to gain an understanding of whether you feel the need for individual support for players and if so, what form such representation should take. The SPA do offer this form of representation and we are looking to gain an understanding as to whether the SPA could fill this role, whether they have the support of the membership and to what extent.

“The board have asked the SPA for information to establish the extent to which they represent the membership. Unfortunately they have chosen not to provide this information, making it difficult for the board to form a view on their membership representation. The board will therefore take the matter into our own hands.”

This comes in the form of a questionnaire in which players are asked if they are a member of the SPA, if they think the SPA is credible enough to represent them and whether a separate independent body should be established.

The fact that the WPBSA has to undertake this process at all does not reflect well on the SPA. However, it may not be game over for them because, behind the scenes, they have been effective for certain players on certain issues.

Their overwhelming problem is one of public presentation.

The irony of all this is that the WPBSA is supposed to be the players’ union but when snooker grew from folk sport to major TV entertainment the lines of administration started to get blurred and have never really been satisfactorily untangled, even since Barry Hearn took charge of World Snooker Ltd.

For instance, the WPBSA still disciplines players. It surely can’t both represent and punish them.

Players are left wondering who exactly they should turn to if they have an issue which needs raising and, indeed, how seriously their complaints will be taken.

21.8.12

THE INDIANS ARE COMING

Snooker was invented in India in 1875. It was the rainy season and British army officers were indoors mucking about with the rules of existing cue sports.

The invention of snooker is credited to Colonel Neville Chamberlain, who was in fact only 19 and not a colonel in 1875. With just a few minor tweaks here and there the rules he instituted are still the rules by which the game is played today. They have more than stood the test of time.

This is not leading up to me making the old gag about snooker starting in an officer’s mess and ending up in a total mess but a way of drawing attention to the exploits this week of the professional circuit’s two Indian players, Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta.

Advani is a former world professional billiards champion, his main sport. Just 27, he is much admired at home where billiards remains a popular sport.

Advani has received many national honours, including the Khel Ratna, which I suppose is a bit like the BBC Sports Personality of the Year but an award which recognises that cue sports exist and are popular (although Steve Davis did win SPOTY in 1988).

Mehta is a double Asian Games medallist and has already this season appeared in the final qualifying round of two ranking events.

He has just won the Arjuna Award, another national accolade for sporting achievement.

On Sunday, both Advani and Mehta made back-to-back centuries in winning their matches in the first qualifying round of the International Championship.

Advani then made two more today in beating Alan McManus in the third qualifying round, where Mehta is playing Jimmy White at the time of writing.

Advani must beat Michael Holt tomorrow to qualify, which would be a significant achievement.

India has a proud cue sports history but has never really had a top player at snooker.

There was O. B. Agrawal, who beat Stephen Hendry in his first ever match in the UK Championship, Yasin Merchant and Geet Sethi, a former world billiards champion, a great bloke and also a journalist for the Hindu.

It was Geet who pretty much killed off the press tournament due to the fact that he kept winning it.

He was usually accompanied to tournaments by Michael Ferreira, another billiards player who wrote for The Times of India.

Michael was always great company but would usually spend a good ten minutes shouting at the fax machine when the time came to send his copy home, the vagaries of technology often defeating him.

Now, India has Advani and Mehta: two young men starting to make strides on the other side of the world.

I don’t know either personally but on Twitter they come across as polite, professional and dedicated and the results are starting to come.

There was talk last year of a ranking event in India (there have been invitation tournaments in the past).

This will surely be made more likely if Advani and Mehta can continue their encouraging progress.

19.8.12

THE MAJORS

The new International Championship, for which the qualifiers started today, carries a first prize of £125,000 and is played over a best of 11 format with semi-finals best of 17, essentially the same as the UK Championship.

So does this new event new qualify as the fourth ‘major’?

The big three titles are generally accepted to be the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters.

Their prestige is proven over decades. They are tournaments every snooker player wants to win.

However, there are no actual grand slams as in tennis or official majors as in golf. In snooker, the ‘majors’ are merely tournaments which have developed into the biggest on the calendar.

This was relatively easy for the big three as for a time they were pretty much the only tournaments on the calendar.

Crucially, they are also televised by the BBC. This means that, in the UK, they reach the biggest possible audience.

There’s no doubt that winning one of these three titles is a significant achievement. Paul Hunter, whose name adorns the European Tour event in Germany this week, won the Masters three times, which is often mentioned in relation to him. Far less often mentioned are his three world ranking titles.

It’s unlikely Dennis Taylor’s black ball defeat of Steve Davis would have been so celebrated had it been in the deciding frame of, say, the British Open final.

However, the Grand Prix, the BBC’s fourth tournament until they dropped it, was never really considered to be any bigger than the other British ranking events, though it was much more prestigious when sponsored by Rothmans and held in Reading than in its later, peripatetic years.

Can the International Championship have major status conferred on it so early in its life?

Probably not, although it is clearly now the biggest Chinese event.

And what does it matter anyway? The truly competitive players try and win every tournament they enter.

When you hear a player say at the start of the season that they are ‘targeting the majors’ it’s a sure sign that they will have a poor campaign.

You’ll have better chance of success in a ‘major’ if you win other titles because your confidence and form will be sky high.

A Davis or a Stephen Hendry tried to win everything and pretty much did. Barry Hearn once said that Davis never even used to ask what the first prize was in tournaments he played in. It didn’t matter. He just wanted to win.

Then again, if he hadn’t won six world titles, six UK titles and three Masters (seven, five and six for Hendry) then he wouldn’t be thought of as such a legend.

This new Chinese event certainly is prestigious and it’s nice to see in an era where short formats are the fashion that a (slightly) longer format has been introduced.

Personally I’d like to see a return to the old ITV finals played over 25 frames, but something tells me that isn’t going to happen.

17.8.12

RESPONSE TO THE SPA

From time to time, someone involved in the snooker world will contact me privately to take issue with something I have written on this blog. These conversations are usually amicable, occasionally not.

I welcome them. If you run a blog then you should be accountable for what you write.

Today, the Snooker Players Association chose not to contact me privately but publish on their website and circulate a diatribe against this piece I wrote about Paul Mount’s decision not to stage any further World Snooker events.

Therefore, I shall publically respond.

The SPA’s Les Barton wrote: “Your early comment in this article regarding the meeting between bewteen [sic] SWSA and SPA intimates that the SPA meeting played a significant part in the fall out.”

In fact, I did not. What I actually said was that the main point of conflict is with World Snooker.

The clue was when I wrote this:

“The main point of conflict is with World Snooker.”

I did reference the SPA’s letter of complaint about players having to pay for practice facilities and other issues because I had already written about them and some readers may have felt that Mount’s decision was based on his reaction to them (he did, after all, issue his own statement about the SPA’s criticisms).

So, actually, I was trying to make clear the SPA were not to blame and that Mount’s displeasure had been based on contractual issues with World Snooker, which I then laid out based on the best available evidence.

Barton states that: “You have skillfully avoided confronting the true protagonists and attempted to deflect some of the blame towards the SPA. For what reason only you and you alone know, where as we can but guess.

Actually, he doesn’t have to guess why there is no quote from World Snooker. If he’d read the piece properly he would have known.

As I made clear, I contacted World Snooker and asked them to comment. They decided not to. That’s up to them, but it is untrue to say I had not put Mount’s points to them because I did. World Snooker’s press officer will verify this if Barton would like to check with him.

The irony of all this is that two days ago someone high up at World Snooker did contact me to question the SWSA’s reasoning, but he did not want to go on the record because he felt doing so may drag World Snooker’s other commercial partners into a public spat.

With a flourish, Barton concludes:

“We are extremely disappointed that once again someone prepared to invest in not only the top level of snooker but also supporting both youth development and charities alike finds himself a victim of the Snooker Regime which in years past your blog and publication would have objectively persued [sic] and informed the snooker world of the real story. I have to say on this occassion [sic] it is my opinion you have let them down.”

Well, that’s his opinion. Mine is that he should have read the original piece more carefully before choosing to mouth off.

To reiterate: the purpose of my story was not to criticise the SPA, or anyone else for that matter, but to try to find out the reasons for Mount’s decision.

I am not part of the ‘snooker regime.’ I am self-employed and have been for the last 15 years. This blog is a small part of what I do (and I don’t receive a penny for writing it).

Those who don’t like its contents are free not to read it.

As for the SPA, I don’t doubt that those behind it are well intentioned but they have gradually made themselves into a laughing stock: literally – people are openly laughing at them.

A few weeks ago they came up with a deal for players with a bookmaker offering a 10% refund for losing bets. In the biggest about-turn since Elton John got married, they then demanded an inquiry into the effects of gambling sponsorship on snooker players.

Is this really a body which will cogently articulate the real and pressing concerns of professional snooker players?

Do we suppose Barry Hearn is quaking in his boots at the prospect of receiving one of their communiqu├ęs?

The SPA seems to spend a great deal of time hitting out at those it perceives to be in opposition to it. In the main part these are only perceptions.

It should concentrate on persuading players that it is a credible body which can represent their interests in a professional manner.

It should also be sure of its ground in future before it starts making wild accusations.

15.8.12

PREMIER LEAGUE RETURNS

The Premier League without Ronnie O’Sullivan is a bit like getting  tickets to see The Beatles (back in the day) and discovering there was no John Lennon. Or Paul McCartney.

Since the introduction of the shot-clock, O’Sullivan has dominated this event like no other. He has won the Premier League ten times in total but, this year, has not entered.

So, like George (who was always my favourite Beatle anyway) and Ringo going it alone, the tournament, which starts tomorrow, will not feel the same.

But, it does include ten top players, including League debuts for Mark Allen, Stuart Bingham and Stephen Lee, who all won ranking titles last season.

The Premier League format has once again changed. There are ten players split into two groups of five, the top two in each progressing to the semi-finals.

Group A: Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Bingham
Group B: Judd Trump, Allen, Lee, John Higgins and Peter Ebdon

The shot-clock is fixed at 25 seconds with players permitted two time extensions per frame.

This should be no problem for Trump, among the favourites for the title, or Allen (even if the event if a new experience for him).

Some others will surely struggle, though, which brings us to Ebdon.

Of the top players there is none more methodical, but Ebdon is still a heavy scorer who can play to a high standard and it may be that when he is forced to play quickly, with no time for nerves and doubts to set in, he will do so perfectly ably.

I have a feeling Allen will do well in this. He enjoys the big stage and seems a natural for this sort of format.

The Premier League has been running since 1987. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea by any means but it is a good night out and takes the game to various parts of the UK increasingly ill-served by live snooker.

Sky Sports will once again be covering the tournament live in the UK.

14.8.12

WORLD SNOOKER AND THE SWSA: WHAT WENT WRONG?

“Some serious jobsworths at Gloucester academy, back to Sheffield please,” tweeted Judd Trump at the recent PTC.

Well, Trump and others have their wish. Paul Mount, owner of the South West Snooker Academy, has made it known he will not be staging any more World Snooker events after PTC4 later this year, a decision which will disappoint many in the game, especially spectators.

His statement can be read in full here. It follows complaints by the Snooker Players Association discussed here.

This did not go down well with Mount and his team but the main point of conflict is with World Snooker.

The SWSA statement did not state specific reasons for the decision but the relationship between the two parties seems to have soured over several issues.

One is over the unlikely topic of cloths. Last season, the contract between World Snooker and the SWSA provided for the governing body to re-cloth all tables at the academy for both matches and practice. This season, practice tables were not included in the re-clothing.

Mount raises much money for breast cancer charities but professional snooker itself is not a charity so players were charged £4 an hour (one of the SPA’s criticisms) for practice facilities.

Mount understood he could retain cloths for later re-covering but these were in fact removed from the academy.

It certainly did not help the SWSA/World Snooker relationship that Mount was ordered to pull his live streaming of the Pink Ribbon charity pro-am in June due to a concern over breach of the governing body’s own streaming contract.

I understand Mount was also unhappy with the result of a recent WPBSA disciplinary hearing against Stephen Lee, a former client of his against whom Mount took out county court judgements to recover money he was owed, and at the way the result was presented.

Lee will apparently pay back the £23,000 he owes Mount by a 5% deduction from each prize money cheque, which will be a slow process.

Mount felt that Lee’s relatively lenient treatment by the disciplinary committee was in contrast to that of another of his clients, Mark Allen.

Relationships such as this often founder on what appear to be relatively minor issues but the main problem seems to have been a breakdown of goodwill and, indeed, trust.

The truth is, the snooker world has a proud tradition of kicking gift horses in the teeth, which seems to continue in this bright new era.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, it cannot be good that the owner of the largest snooker facility in the country has fallen out so badly with the governing body.

For their part, World Snooker is a business and has to operate on solid business grounds, but they will lose out on £40,000 next season as a result of this.

They would doubtless contend some of Mount’s criticisms but I have so far had no response to my request for official comment, made 24 hours ago.

What it all adds up to is that, for the PTCs, it could well be back to Sheffield, where there is hardly any room for spectators and where a generally sterile atmosphere looms heavy in the air.

This will feel to many within the sport to be a backwards step.

13.8.12

GOULD MEDALS

Martin Gould was the winner of the second UK Players Tour Championship title after winning a dramatic final, 4-3 against Stephen Maguire, who won the first a few weeks ago.

This is Gould’s first title carrying ranking points and helps him to retain his top 16 seeding.

It was the 2011 PTC series which was crucial in Gould joining the top 16 in the first place. He reached the Grand Finals but, by the time he knew what was happening, he’d lost 4-0 to Shaun Murphy.

Gould worked hard and played well to join the top 16 but, once there, his form collapsed.

He perhaps struggled to make the mental adjustment. Having spent so long trying to become a member of the elite, his mindset changed to being worried he would drop out again.

Gould is popular with snooker fans because he is down to earth. He is a fan of the game and loves being part of the circuit.

His deadpan demeanour is not reflected in his playing style. He has plenty of flair and is a fiercely talented potter.

Last season, he won Power Snooker, a breakthrough of sorts. It is unclear if he will ever defend this title. Power Snooker organisers told anyone who would listen that there would be a press launch for its new season in May. It is now August and nothing has happened. Their official website isn’t encouraging.

But Gould has now made a significant breakthrough in proper snooker, because hopefully this win will give him that edge of confidence he was seeking and he will start to believe that he deserves to belong in the top 16.

Gould has been working with Steve Feeney of SightRight, a coaching method which has paid dividends for several other players.

With greater confidence on his own technique and a tournament win under his belt, it seems likely he will return to his former role of dangerman.

In the midst of Gould’s success it was announced yesterday that the SWSA in Gloucester will not be hosting World Snooker events following the conclusion of PTC4 this season after what appears to be quite a big fall-out. I will blog about this, but only after finding out what actually lies behind it.

9.8.12

BACK TO THE BAIZE

The Olympic Games have provided a welcome antidote to the moans and groans of the snooker world.

The Olympics have seen many sports with a lower media profile than snooker come to the fore with inspirational stories of those who have pushed themselves to the limits to achieve their dreams.

Instead of complaining about this, that and everything, these athletes have made sacrifices and worked hard to succeed.

Very soon the (UK) TV schedules will return to the staple mind-numbing cretiny of the likes of TOWIE and the X-Factor. But hopefully the Games will have inspired young kids to take up sport and aim for something higher in life than getting a retweet from a member of JLS.

Sport is genuine reality television which can deliver drama, excitement and magic in equal measure. It can also change lives for the better.

Some snooker players have made a career out of complaining about ‘the system’ but the truth is this: whatever ‘the system’, the best players always get to the top.

Why? Because they are the best players – and they all started at the bottom.

There has never been anyone in the television era quite like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.

Nothing was ever enough for these two titans of the baize: turning pro wasn’t enough; winning a tournament wasn’t enough; winning one world title wasn’t enough.

Hendry finally had enough of losing. Davis, who turns 55 later this month, has a new cue on board and is fully committed to continuing.

The Players Tour Championship throws all the pros in at the first round stage and it’s a fight to the finish.

Stephen Maguire edged Jack Lisowski 4-3 on the black to win PTC1 and kicks off the professional rounds of PTC2 against his pal Graeme Dott in Gloucester tomorrow.

Snooker does not require much physical effort but does demand stamina, particularly mental stamina.

It is one of the loneliest sports there is. You are out in the middle for long periods and, at the table, it is all down to you.

Perhaps that is the most frustrating part of the game: the fact that you will have a chance. Indeed, Lisowski had a very good one in the decider against Maguire and missed the yellow from its spot.

The good news these days is that there are many more opportunities and chances to bounce back from disappointment.

Liveworldsnooker.tv and affiliated betting sites have streaming coverage of the PTC.

6.8.12

O'SULLIVAN TO RETURN

Ronnie O’Sullivan will return to action in October after signing the World Snooker players’ contract which had been a bone of contention all summer.

O’Sullivan has not played competitively since he won a fourth world title last May, claiming the contract was ‘too onerous.’

World Snooker refused to offer any money for promotional activities and a stalemate ensured.

However, O’Sullivan’s management has tonight reported that O’Sullivan has entered the International Championship, a new ranking event in China, and the UK Championship.

I don’t have any insight into what has changed but Clive Everton got it spot on in his Snooker Scene editorial this month: O’Sullivan should abide by his professional responsibilities but at the same time World Snooker should be reasonable with the amount of things it expects him to do in the name of promotion.

The best way for any top player to promote the game is to play it. When O’Sullivan plays it a full house is guaranteed.

O’Sullivan said he wanted a rest after the Crucible and he has had one. Perhaps not playing has reminded him of how much he enjoyed snooker in the first place.

1.8.12

FINE TIME

Nigel Mawer is a former chief superintendent in the specialist crime directorate of the Metropolitan Police and therefore carries great credibility as the WPBSA’s disciplinary regulator.

Mawer has been busy of late. Last week he banned Joe Jogia from playing for two years and also deliberated on four other cases.

Stephen Lee was given a warning after “two breaches of contract that directly related to his role as a professional snooker player that led to two County Court Judgements against him.

Lee escaped punishment because he has put together a plan to settle these Judgements.

Mark Allen was fined £2,000 and £1,000 costs for failing to attend five promotional events (presumably in China) as part of his contract to play on the professional circuit.

These breaches of contract occurred before his £10,000 fine for comments he made at the Crucible so the six month suspended ban is not activated.

I have sympathy for World Snooker over this. Way back when I was (briefly) WPBSA press officer and there was a promotional evening organised in which Chinese snooker bigwigs would be in attendance. This was at a time when China was emerging as a new market for snooker.

I was given the task of ensuring a (very) well known player came along. He said he would.

At the appointed hour he failed to show. I phoned his room and asked him if he was coming down to the reception. He answered, “nah, mate, I’m watching the boxing.”

In those days when the players ran the game there wasn’t much you could do but times have changed.

Snooker has a choice. If it wants to be taken seriously as a professional sport then its players should be just that: professional.

Frankly, it doesn’t take much to spend a couple of hours meeting and greeting, listening to speeches and eating nibbles. I’m not a great one for stuffy formality either but such events in China are taken seriously by the organisers, and they are putting in the money which the players are going home with.

One caveat to that: the new WSL contracts stipulate all players must attend the pre-tournament reception on the Sunday, even if they are not playing until the Wednesday.

I can understand why players feel this is too much because they are, after all, racking up expenses going out to China earlier than they may wish to.

To no great surprise Mawer found that Jimmy White had no case to answer after a story in the Daily Star on Sunday reported that his aide, John Callaghan, had bet on him to lose a number of matches.

Callaghan had also bet on White to win several matches and his success was decidedly mixed.

There was never any suggestion – let alone evidence – that White knew of the bets or benefited from them.

I understand the case of Ronnie O’Sullivan, facing action over a number of tournaments he has entered and not shown up to, has been adjourned pending the further investigation of medical evidence.

For years players were disciplined for this and that without a word being released to the media so I commend the WPBSA for its more enlightened approach.

The fines, incidentally, go to Haven House hospice. I think anyone who saw their video at the World Snooker Awards will be hoping there are several more cases for Mawer to act on this season.