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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will win in 2012?

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

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



It is 19 years to the day since Ronnie O’Sullivan won the first of his four UK Championship titles.

For many, this was the first chance to witness O’Sullivan’s unique brand of snooker genius which, once seen, is never forgotten.

He was still 17 and he beat a peak Stephen Hendry10-6 in the final. A whole world of possibility lay before him but it transpired to be a world full of pain as well as joy

O’Sullivan was a brash kid, naturally talented but also with advantages over other juniors. He had a full sized table at his home and his father would arrange for leading amateurs and some professionals to come and play him.

Young Ronnie practised hard and quickly became the best junior in the country. He turned professional at 16 and won his first 38 matches. In that first season he qualified for the final stages of the UK Championship but was beaten 9-8 by a maverick of a different generation, Cliff Wilson.

He nearly lost to Nigel Gilbert the following year, 1993, but came through 9-8 and beat Ken Doherty, Steve Davis and Darren Morgan to reach the final.

Hendry himself was only 24 but it was still a clash of generations. Hendry had been the game-changing exponent of all out attacking snooker which O’Sullivan and others were now employing to great effect. The stage was set at Preston Guild Hall for an intriguing battle.

There were three centuries in an exciting opening session – two for O’Sullivan and one for Hendry – as O’Sullivan, showing no signs of nerves or any awe for his celebrated opponent, opened a 6-2 lead.

In fact, he had lost 6-2 to Hendry in the semi-finals of the Dubai Classic earlier that season and felt that he had shown him too much respect, played the reputation rather than the man. Such experiences were to be learned from.

O’Sullivan had been groomed to be a winner in his own right and duly closed out a 10-6 victory.

It’s briefly tempting to ponder what would have happened had it been – as it was up to the previous year – a two day final, in which overnight uncertainty may have played its part. But it’s also pointless. Nobody could deny that a major star had arrived in style.

Hendry put it best: “Ronnie plays the game like I used to. He’s fearless and frightened of no one.”

O’Sullivan’s reaction was: “After getting a taste of this I want more.”

In fact, just a year later he was threatening retirement after losing to Ken Doherty in the quarter-finals.

O’Sullivan had taken the trophy to Gartree prison where his father was a year into his life sentence for murder. The UK win was a source of pride for both men but the separation triggered in O’Sullivan a battle with his own sense of certainty about the world: things could go wrong and they frequently did.

He repeated a 10-6 win over Hendry in the 1997 UK final but again the storm clouds were gathering.

I was a WPBSA lackey in 1998 and was charged with overseeing the launch for the UK Championship in Bournemouth. O’Sullivan came along as defending champion and behaved quite appallingly.

It was obvious he was edging dangerously close to some sort of psychological cliff and indeed withdrew from the tournament shortly before his first match.

These were years in which he enjoyed success but struggled to control his emotional problems. In 2000 in checked into the Priory Clinic, which did help him achieve an equilibrium. In the immediate aftermath he was back to the nice, unassuming lad he had always been deep down.

And he was still producing some spellbinding snooker. O’Sullivan won his first world title in 2001 and at the end of that year was in York, the new home for the UK Championship, where he produced some of the best snooker I’ve seen from him.

He was 8-4 down to Peter Ebdon, a well established rival, in the quarter-finals but swept back to win 9-8 and came into the pressroom determined to rub it in, saying “You look into Peter’s eyes and he looks like a psycho. He plays like an amateur. He’s got no class.”

And then, after the semi-finals, we predictably heard the polar opposite side of O’Sullivan, saying of the vanquished Mark Williams, “He’s a class act. I don’t fancy having to play him for the next five years. I hope he retires to Spain and spends all his time on the beach. I’ll even pay his expenses.”

In the final, O’Sullivan ran through Ken Doherty 10-1 in just two hours, 17 minutes, a devastating display. It was his third UK title. He won a fourth in 2007, overwhelming Stephen Maguire 10-2.

The key moment in this campaign had come the previous evening in the semi-finals against Mark Selby, who brought his toughness and tenacity to bear to take it the distance.

Needing to concentrate, O’Sullivan sat in his chair counting the bumps on a spoon. When he got his chance in the decider he made a 147 to win it.

This was another glorious chapter in the book of his life and career which had already had more plot twists than the average page-turner.

The previous year he had literally walked out of the tournament, trailing Hendry 4-1 in the quarter-finals. Some had sympathy, others contempt. O’Sullivan was by now used to both.

Throughout the drama, controversy and spells of brilliance, he remained as articulate and fascinating as he had been as a worldy-wise 17 year-old in 1993.

“It’s fine being the best player at 17 but I want to be the best player when I’m 21, when I’m the finished article,” he said after winning the title back then.

This year he was the best player at the Crucible at the age of 36 when he won his fourth world title. Aside from one PTC he hasn’t played professionally since and says he has no plans to do so this season. Perhaps he will never play again.

It’s certainly true that not everyone will miss him but his contribution to snooker in the 19 years since that first triumph is incalculable. As the game has expanded to horizons well beyond the shores of the UK, it is O’Sullivan more than any other player who has led people to the sport.



It was the UK Championship which provided Steve Davis with his first professional trophy, which launched him as a bona fide champion and first brought him to widespread attention.
It is the UK Championship where he still leads the way with six titles to Stephen Hendry’s five.

Davis won every UK title from 1980 to 1987 bar two. Terry Griffiths beat him in the 1982 quarter-finals and Alex Higgins recovered from 7-0 down to edge him 16-15 in the 1983 final.

This period encompassed an era of dominance so complete that it was hard to see how it could ever end.

It was often said that Davis spent more time on television in the 1980s than any other sportsperson and more even than the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

It was the money-making decade and Davis made plenty, but through it all the allure was always snooker: a challenge to be tackled, a problem to be solved.

Davis was a shy, awkward teenager who found an outlet in snooker. Fascinated by the game and coached by his father, Bill, his talent and potential became apparent to Barry Hearn, who ran a chain of snooker clubs and would manage him through a golden decade, indeed who still manages him to this day.

Griffiths opened the door for the new breed by winning the world title at his first attempt in 1979 and Davis was part of the mob of young players who dived through it in his wake.

They were glory years for snooker and for the man known as the Nugget.

It’s been written many times, by myself and others, that every sport needs an Alex Higgins or Ronnie O’Sullivan. Similarly, every sport needs a Steve Davis.

Every sport needs someone who plays it by the book, who is dedicated and professional, who represents the sport well, who is an ambassador and who sets new standards. Someone to look up to.

All players looked up to Davis and even today’s younger brigade, who don’t remember his era of domination, have nothing but respect for the now 55 year-old.

His first UK title came by way of a heavy 16-6 defeat of Higgins in 1980, his second through an even bigger demolition of Griffiths, 16-3. In 1984, he beat Higgins 16-8 and in 1986 was victorious 16-7 over Neal Foulds.

The first of the two close UK finals he won is remembered for one shot, a missed blue by Willie Thorne when leading 13-7. Davis won that frame and the match 16-14, the same score by which he defeated Jimmy White in the 1987 final. Six titles and seven finals in eight years.

The Davis years would have to end some time but he admits that he found it hard to accept that Stephen Hendry was even better.

The 1990 UK Championship saw them go toe-to-toe in the final for a second successive year. They were introduced into the Preston Guild Hall to Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’, an apposite choice for these formidable champions. It was a great match which Hendry eventually won 16-15 and marked the moment the crown was passed.

Davis soldiered on but his ranking position slipped and, with it, so did his aura. He lost his top 16 place and impertinent journalists, myself included, would start to ask him if he had any plans to retire.

He didn’t. Why should he? Why should anyone but him make that decision?

His argument at the time was that if the world no.23 retired it wouldn’t say much for the players ranked below him. In any case, he returned to the top 16 and then, in 2005, quite unexpectedly reached a tenth UK Championship final.

Look at who he beat to get there: Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry.

Against Maguire he made a break of 145. Afterwards the Scot came into the press room and said, “even God couldn’t have played that well.” The aura was back.

Davis had by now settled into a routine. His days were spent if not playing or working for the BBC then sat quietly in the press room playing online poker, his new obsession.

In the evenings he would visit the same York Indian restaurant and order the same meal. After years of relative obscurity he was back in the big time and loving every minute.

He lost the final, his 100th, 10-6 to Ding Junhui, no disgrace at all. Davis remains something of an enigma. The man beneath the legend is difficult to untangle but I hope he knows how much satisfaction that run in 2005 gave long time followers of snooker.

Because Davis has been a constant, a bridge between several eras. He turned pro just as snooker was becoming a big time television attraction and has held on during the rows and retirements, the controversies, the missteps, peaks and declines. He held on long enough to see his best friend take the reins of the game.

And the story isn’t over yet. Last week, Davis qualified for another UK Championship.

In his first match he was 4-0 down to Pankaj Advani but won 6-5. In the following round he finished off his 6-2 defeat of Jamie Burnett with a 141 total clearance.

That match came on the day Larry Hagman, another icon of the 1980s as Dallas's JR Ewing, died. Davis, though, just keeps going.

What is his secret? It is simple. Away from the everyday noise of the professional circuit - the moans and groans, the constant chatter - and away from the financial rewards, the trinkets, the honours, the recognition, Steve Davis just loves playing snooker. It fascinates him as much now as it did when he was a callow youth first introduced to  Hearn.

It’s in his blood. It's in his heart and soul. It always will be and long may he continue.



Judd Trump said before the start of tonight’s Premier League final that Stuart Bingham had been the best player in the competition. He was right and Bingham duly beat him 7-2 to win the title.

This will mean a lot to him, perhaps more even than winning the Australian Open last year.

Some players pay no attention to snooker if they aren’t in the tournament ongoing but Bingham is different. He genuinely loves the game and he’s always watched the Premier League. This year he made his debut in it.

It is the fourth longest running tournament on the circuit and he has joined some great names – O’Sullivan, Hendry, Davis, Higgins and White included – in winning it.

The key moment came a few weeks ago when Bingham beat both Mark Selby and Neil Robertson 6-0. He played superbly in both matches, marching round the table as if he owned the place.

After that, with confidence understandably high, he was always going to be a handful in the play-offs.

Bingham has adjusted better than most to the new era. He doesn’t mind playing every week because that is what he was doing anyway: seeking out pro-ams to keep himself sharp.

But you can’t beat doing it on the big stage. Last season he beat Mark Williams 9-8 to win the Australian title. He is firmly bedded into the elite top 16 and is tonight £78,000 better off for his Premier League exploits.

He won’t go mad in celebrating. He can’t. He’s playing again tomorrow afternoon in the qualifiers for the Munich Open.

Another day, another match, another chance to play snooker. And Stuart Bingham wouldn’t have it any other way.



Any sport would have been grateful for one Alex Higgins but there were times when snooker felt as if even a single Hurricane was one too many.

A combustible genius, Higgins lurched between brilliance and excess, leaving a trail of wreckage, both metaphorical and real, throughout his memorable life.

The UK Championship provided a stage for one of the greatest highs of his career as well as some regrettable lows.

On table, he was a leading contender for the early UK Championship titles. The tournament was first staged in 1977 when there was only a small number of professionals. Higgins had already been world champion and, though unpredictable, was at the peak of his playing powers.

He reached his first UK final in 1980, losing 16-6 to Steve Davis, and then another in 1982, a few months after he had triumphed at the Crucible. Terry Griffiths, as different a character as it would be possible to meet, edged him 16-15.

Higgins wrote in his autobiography that he practised ten hours a day for the 1983 UK Championship, sponsored by Coral.

He was pitted in the final against Davis once again. The first session went about as badly as it could for Higgins. He had the crowd support but mustered a highest break of only 34 and lost all seven frames played.

Higgins and Davis were opposites in every sense. Higgins was volatile and self destructive whereas Davis was dedicated and controlled. Ice cool, he would surely not lose from such a promising position.

But Higgins, for all his faults off table, was always a fighter in the arena and dug his heels into the second session, winning seven of the eight frames to trail only 8-7. Going into the final night they were level at 11-11.

This was now a battle for the line and the audience had to choose between the clean-cut and the flawed. Most, though by no means all, chose Higgins, who led 14-12, trailed 15-14 but dominated the last two frames.

As Clive Everton wrote in Snooker Scene at the time, “perhaps he was like a man drawing comfort from the fact that the firing squad could only kill him once. At that stage, pride of performance could only be all that realistically remained but, as he at first contained Davis and then accrued one frame after another, hope dawned like a new day.

“The death or glory finish for which he hungers stimulated one last surge which left him the only man standing when the shooting was done.”

In other words, this high profile, BBC televised victory over snooker’s top dog reinforced in Higgins the image of a champion against the odds. Though blessed with considerable talent, nothing seemed to come easy to him. If he was going to do it, it would have to be the hard way.

The two were not friends – far from it – and the words afterwards were not especially warm. Higgins wrote in his book: "I remember looking across at Steve during the presentation and thinking he looked like a little boy lost. He stood there, chalking his cue, bemused by the scenes of joy around him."

The rematch in the 1984 UK final petered out: Davis won 16-8. Normal service was resumed.

Higgins was the darling of the tabloids, though this is about a poisoned a chalice as can be imagined.

On the back pages, on the front pages, Higgins was public property and the pressure was building. Something had to give, and it did.

Even without the media, Higgins had always been a bustling, bristling fireball of nervous energy, anger and emotion. At the 1986 UK Championship it exploded like never before in one of the most infamous incidents in the history of the tournament.

Higgins had beaten a second season professional called Stephen Hendry 9-8 in the last 64. In the last 16 he defeated Mike Hallett 9-7 before launching into a scathing but obviously impassioned critique of the size of the pockets.

“We’re playing pool, not snooker,” said Higgins, giving the assembled press what they believed would be their story for the night.

He then went downstairs to his dressing room but was asked to give a urine sample as part of the WPBSA’s relatively new drugs testing policy.

And then it all kicked off. This was long before my time on the circuit but I’ve spoken to a WPBSA official who was present that night, who told me: “Higgins was snarling like a dog. There was a ball of foam coming out of his mouth. He started picking up plates and throwing them at anyone in his way, like he was in a Greek restaurant. He was mad as hell.”

This unpleasantness ended with Higgins head-butting Paul Hatherell, the tournament director.

Higgins, of course, recalled it all differently, writing in his book: "I went to find [David] Harrison (a WPBSA official) and as I walked out I lost my footing and tripped, spilling my pint over someone."

There was a media storm, as there always was with Higgins. And he was, as always, unrepentant, giving a press conference outside his house wearing a fur hat and ankle length coat and holding one of the earliest mobile phones in existence, which was the size of several house-bricks.

Asked by a reporter if he could survive without snooker, Higgins shot back: “can snooker survive without me?”

This was typical of many of Higgins’s comments: smart, self-important and with an uncomfortable underlying level of truth.

Higgins was beaten in the 1986 semi-finals by Davis. Snooker Scene’s account of this match was that Higgins was roundly cheered on the way in and out of the arena but that it was only 50% full, and this for a match featuring the self-styled ‘people’s champion.’

He was subsequently banned for six tournaments but would return to create excitement and trouble in almost equal measure.

One such incident came at the 1991 UK Championship when Higgins greeted Hendry before their first round match with the words, “hello, I’m the devil.”

Hendry won 9-3 after which there was a difference in recollection as to what Higgins had said at the contest’s conclusion.

The Northern Irishman claimed it had been, “well done, Stephen, you were a little bit lucky.” Hendry’s memory was of Higgins telling him, “up your a*** you c***.”

Higgins’s last great hurrah in the tournament came in 1994, when he was sliding down the rankings. He beat Nigel Bond and reached the last 16 but was beaten by Dave Harold. This was his last appearance in a BBC tournament.

He ended his professional career lying bleeding on the ground at the Plymouth qualifiers three years later after being stabbed by a girlfriend. His life ended in unbearably sad circumstances in 2010.

To answer Higgins’s own question when he bestrode the sport like a malevolent colossus a generation ago, snooker did survive without him. In fact it flourished with new stars setting new standards. The UK Championship would enjoy many great moments in which he did not feature.

But for all his faults, and he had many, there was something special about Alex Higgins which is impossible to manufacture or replicate.

In 1983 he had won snooker’s gunfight at the UK Coral and he kept the game in the news in the years which followed through a career best summed up as the good, the bad and the ugly.


But before all that, another day, another maximum...

Today’s 147 was made by Jack Lisowski in the first frame of his 6-2 victory over Chen Zhe.

Well done to Jack, one of the most likeable of the young professionals and certainly one of the best.

That’s two maximums in two days, then. These players are seriously good.

I think Lisowski has particularly benefited from all the PTCs. All that match practice and wins over top players have enabled him to build up form and confidence.

Had he turned pro just a year earlier than he did then he would have had just six ranking events to play in and would have found it very tough to bed in to life on the circuit.

So that’s 94 maximums now. Who will be next?


As the qualifiers continue, the UK Championship hoves into view and I shall build up to it with a series of three articles.

These are stories about three players who have contributed considerably to the rich history of the tournament: Alex Higgins, Steve Davis and Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The stories won't be new to everyone but for younger readers or those who have recently taken to snooker it will hopefully be informative. I will be drawing on personal reminiscence, the testimony of others and old fashioned research.

It isn’t a comprehensive history of the event, although I wrote an overview of the UK Championship last year which can of course still be read at the following links:





I’ll start this series later with Higgins.



With a trademark minimum of fuss, Andy Hicks today compiled snooker’s 93rd officially ratified maximum break at the UK Championship qualifiers.

147s are coming thick and fast these days. We’ll probably have the 100th this season.

But it remains a holy grail, a fine achievement. And when you consider the many, many thousands of frames that have been played in the history of the professional game it is still a rare feat.

If you disagree then ask yourself this: how many have you made?

Andy, 39, is a stalwart of the circuit, a professional for 21 years. Like many players of the same age he has had his ups and his downs. In the public mind, the ups tend to be remembered. Players, though, don’t so easily forget the downs.

Andy was certainly good enough to have been a top 16 player at his peak in the mid 1990s but in fact stalled at 17th.

This was indicative of a ‘nearly man’ tag he perhaps unfairly earned, chiefly as a result of losing in the semi-finals of all three of snooker’s big events: the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters.

There are of course many players who have never got this far in any of these tournaments.

The left-handed Devonian’s run to the Crucible semi-finals in 1995 included a controversial second round victory over Willie Thorne, in which one of the frames was re-racked with WT the best part of 50 points in front.

Thorne had been fighting back from 6-2 down at the time but the incident certainly didn’t help his mindset and Hicks beat him. Thorne complained about the call – by respected referee John Williams – but Hicks suggested “he would have been better off if he hadn’t been huffin’ and puffin’ around the table.”

Hicks’s run to the semis had started with victory over Steve Davis and he beat Peter Ebdon in the quarter-finals before losing to Nigel Bond.

The following season he reached the semi-finals of the UK Championship – beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarters – and the Masters. Hicks has lost in three other ranking tournament semi-finals.

He was managed for years by Bill Oliver who once drove home all the way from Tavistock to Aberdeen, a journey of some ten hours, for a match in the Scottish Open which Hicks lost. The drive home must have felt even longer.

Players are notorious for putting their trust in managers when it comes to snooker politics and Hicks was unwise to accompany Oliver to a WPBSA EGM in 1998 which was supposed to be opened and then closed purely for legal reasons.

It had been called as an attempt to extend voting rights from the top 32 to top 64 as a way of neutralising the power of CueMasters, run by Ian Doyle, who was attempting to remove the board.

Doyle called off his EGM with the agreement that the WPBSA would call off theirs. In fact, it went ahead and the vote passed 4-0.

But all this is a long time ago and much water has run under snooker’s bridge since.

Hicks won the 1997 Masters qualifier and appeared several more times at the Crucible. In 2004 he came close to beating O’Sullivan in the second round, holding him to 8-8 going into the final session but losing 13-11.

This seemed uneventful given the nature of Andy’s first round win over Quinten Hann, the maverick Australian who had a particular knack of riling his fellow players.

The odd word, the odd comment, here and there as the match progressed had rubbed Hicks up the wrong way, to such an extent that when he won 10-4 he couldn’t help but say to Hann, “that’s you out of the top 16,” which was certainly accurate.

Hann, though, did not like this. “You’re short and bald and always will be and I’ll fight you out in the street for £50,000 whenever you like,” was his riposte as the match referee, Lawrie Annandale, had to separate the two players.

Hicks, who did not deny being short or bald, passed up the chance to lock pugilistic horns with Hann, which is why Mark King stepped in for the three-round ‘Pot Whack’ extravaganza at York Hall, which Hann won on points.

Such frippery is never forgotten but in sport, achievements are what counts.

For Hicks to still be going when so many others have fallen by the wayside is in itself an achievement. His 147 proves he can still play to a high standard but his enemies are time, inconsistency and the standard of play now on the circuit.

But today he enjoyed a high point. It may have been made in a bare room but a competitive 147 is always worth celebrating.

It is said all sporting careers end in disappointment. This may be so, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride because some days are better than others.

Some days you never forget.



So Judd Trump won the fourth European Tour event of the season in Sofia, Bulgaria with a 4-0 victory over John Higgins.

I won’t wax lyrical about Trump any more on here because he will take out a restraining order against me. However, he demonstrated terrific confidence and poise to comprehensively outplay Higgins in the final.

It will be a satisfying win because Higgins has won all of their previous key meetings, including the 2011 world final and the finals this season in Shanghai and at PTC4 in Gloucester.

Higgins looked to be the one player who had the beating of Trump, the new world no.1. He still may in the future of course but he was simply blown away tonight.

It was a full house on Sofia and they clearly loved every minute. At the Masters last season I met Oleg Velinov, the chairman of Bulgarian snooker and the organiser of this tournament.

He told me then it was his dream to stage a professional event in his home country. Well, he did it and it was a success.

The question now is how big these European events can become. Or maybe it should be whether they should become any bigger.

There’s no law to say tournaments have to be a week long with the same old formats. These short PTCs with their best of sevens are refreshing to watch, although players will obviously hope prize money rises in time.

This week attention turns to the qualifiers for the UK Championship. This is an event with a great history and of course carries huge ranking points.

The defending champion in York will be Judd Trump. Qualifying for him is now a distant memory.



Many already take the Barry Hearn revolution for granted but to have a professional tournament in Bulgaria, as we do this week, is a remarkable thing indeed.

The previous WPBSA board did nothing whatsoever to take advantage of the European snooker boom caused by Eurosport’s coverage. This goes to 60 countries and that’s a lot of people.

The idea ten years ago that people in Bulgaria would even know what snooker was, let alone want to stage a tournament, was so remote as to be laughable.

But the great and the good are off to Sofia for the latest Betfair European Tour event as yet another new market is explored.

I met one of the high-ups from Bulgarian snooker last season. He looks exactly like Stephen Maguire, although that isn’t strictly relevant.

It takes enthusiastic people with a bit of something about them to pull these tournaments together. First efforts don’t always go without a hitch so I hope any teething problems are forgiven by the tsunami of opinion online which now accompanies every move in the snooker world. Without trying there is no hope of succeeding at anything.

It’s the usual mix of top stars, solid professionals, hopeful amateurs and complete unknowns.

There are now just three events left, including this one, which count towards the final order of merit.

It’s already a cracking line-up for the Grand Finals. Here’s the top five in that order of merit: Mark Selby, Stephen Maguire, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen, John Higgins. Judd Trump is eighth, Ali Carter 14th and Mark Williams 16th.

Ding Junhui, at 21st, and Shaun Murphy, who is 22nd, are currently in the top 25, which is the group which will qualify alongside the top seven in the Asian PTC order of merit.

If you win one of these you’re in, so players much further down the list still have a chance of qualifying.

In other news, Power Snooker will return next March with its first event in 16 months and the Shootout will have its shot-clock reduced from 20 seconds to 15 for the first five minutes, down to ten seconds for the second five.

I enjoyed the first Shootout, which was a fun novelty event but the second staging didn’t seem so entertaining, possibly because novelties soon wear off.

There was a lot of PR nonsense said about how both Power Snooker and the Shootout would revolutionise snooker but in fact neither has, or ever will.

The traditional game has gone from strength to strength in the last two years. There never was anything wrong with the game itself, just how it was being run.

So good luck to all in Bulgaria as snooker – real snooker – touches down in another new territory. I hope the local fans enjoy their first taste of the sport close up.



The fourth Players Tour Championship event, currently underway in Gloucester, will be played in pink t-shirts, as it was last year, to raise awareness for breast cancer.

This was the disease which killed Kay Suzanne, sister of South West Snooker Academy owner Paul Mount. The event is named in her honour.

Cancer does not discriminate. It has affected people of all ages in all walks of life and snooker is no different.

It killed Paul Hunter at the tragically early age of 27. It left Alex Higgins almost unable to speak. It left Doug Mountjoy with only one lung.

Jack Lisowski underwent chemotherapy at only 16. Jimmy White suffered from testicular cancer. John Spencer succumbed to stomach cancer.

It has affected many other players, officials and members of snooker’s travelling community.

This year, Tony Knowles received treatment for throat cancer that thankfully appears to have been successful.

Now Billy O’Connor, an up-and-coming talent who practises at the Grove in Romford, home to Judd Trump, is undergoing chemotherapy for germ cell tumours. Billy is 15.

First season professional Sean O’Sullivan, his friend, tweeted this photograph of Billy in hospital. All in snooker wish him well for his treatment.

Sport thrives on controversy and often fanatical support from the public. But we must remember that it is played by human beings. Talented they may be but they are still at the mercy of life's harsher realities.

The Kay Suzanne Memorial Trophy reminds us that though snooker is a game we love, it is only a game.



‘Have cue, will travel’ is pretty much Stuart Bingham’s motto and it is starting to pay serious dividends.

He didn’t have to go to Zhengzhou for the third Asian PTC, having already guaranteed a place in the grand finals by winning the first.

But Bingham loves playing. He always has. He has contributed one significant thing to snooker: himself. Never one to shy away from travelling, he is reaping the rewards.

Any sport needs superstars but its bedrock is the band of committed professionals dedicated to their craft.

Bingham doesn’t regard snooker as an imposition, getting in the way of golf or the gym or general leisure time.

It’s his profession and one he takes seriously. He has now earned more than £100,000 this season and it’s only November.

Stuart is a father. It’s hard being away from the family but harder still to provide for them if he’s sat at home rather than out earning.

This is all very admirable. It doesn’t gain big headlines but is an attitude younger professionals would do well to observe and adopt.

There’s no rest for the wicked. The final UK PTC starts this weekend with the next European PTC in Bulgaria next week. Bingham will also feature in the semi-finals of the Premier League at the end of this month.



Ronnie O'Sullivan has told World Snooker he will not play again this season, meaning he misses the UK Championship, Masters and, most importantly, the defence of his world title.

The closing date for the World Championship is actually next week so he could in theory change his mind but those close to him say this is unlikely [edit: this is wrong, it is in fact in the New Year, which gives him more time to change his mind].

We're used to various descriptions of O'Sullivan: the tortured genius, the mercurial star dogged by demons.

It's actually simpler than this: he suffers from depression. He has suffered from it since he was a teenager. It's a real condition which is why he has my sympathy.

I've seen him when he's been really down. I've seen him in tears.

Those who ask how a millionaire such as Ronnie can be depressed may as well ask how someone rich and famous can get a brain tumour. Mental illness afflicts people in every walk of life.

However it's also true that O'Sullivan has at various times in his career behaved petulantly and this means he has exhausted the patience of many, including some of his own fans.

He shares many characteristics with Alex Higgins: unconventional, uncompromising people who found an outlet in snooker and who produced exquisite skill and great theatre, bringing people to the game, but always with the flame of self destruction burning away in the background.

In terms of what he has been capable of doing on the snooker table I've never seen a better player than Ronnie. Snooker, though, is a sport unremitting in exposing mental frailties.

Even though he has won far more than most, many would feel he could have won more. He may still, but not this season.

Cod psychiatry at a time like this is unhelpful but it isn't hard to trace back the imprisonment of his father for murder in 1992 as the major turning point in O'Sullivan's life.

He seemed to have an ideal of what life would be like when he was released which has not been realised.

But these are personal matters and, away from snooker and the limelight, O'Sullivan has time now to work on his problems.

If he does come back it will be at a much lower ranking, potentially outside the top 32.

That would represent a challenge. It could be an effort too far.

Snooker isn't O'Sullivan's problem but he obviously feels it isn't a help either.

O'Sullivan is one of snooker's all time greats. A fascinating, complex, contradictory character who, like Higgins before him, delighted and maddened in almost equal measure.

Snooker goes on but it will miss him. Whether he misses it will determine whether he ever plays again.



Eurosport will show live and recorded coverage of the third and final Asian Players Tour Championship event from Zhengzhou City starting on Tuesday at 7.30am UK time.

Among the main tour players taking part are Ding Junhui, Matthew Stevens, Stuart Bingham, Marco Fu, Ken Doherty, Ricky Walden, Dominic Dale and Jimmy White.

The top seven placed players on the Asian PTC order of merit will qualify for the grand finals next March, which seem likely to return to Galway in Ireland.



Everything I wrote about Judd Trump when he became world no.1 the other day still stands so I'm not going to repeat it (the story is here).

But today he once again displayed just why he's such a star when he beat Neil Robertson 10-8 to win the International Championship in Chendgu.

This was a gripping final which Robertson seemed to take charge of when he went 8-6 up, pouncing three times on a Trump mistake to win three successive frames.

But Trump played his best snooker of the match right at the end. He scrapped through the 15th frame and made breaks of 96 and 119 before killing the final off a frame later.

He comes home £125,000 richer and top of the world rankings. Not bad for a week's work.

But, of course, the work was done before he went, unseen by the general public.

I hope Trump celebrates this success with his pals. He deserves to. What's the point otherwise?

And then it's back to work ahead of his UK Championship title defence in York next month, where he will be the man to beat.