Here's a chance to find out as I put my head on the block by predicting who will come through the Royal London Watches Grand Prix qualifiers at Prestatyn next week...

Group A: Ricky Walden and Tian Pengfei
Group B: Sean Storey and Michael Judge
Group C: Jamie Cope and Rory McLeod
Group D: Judd Trump and Dave Gilbert
Group E: Gerard Greene and David Morris
Group F: Adrian Gunnell and Stuart Pettman
Group G: Paul Davies and Ben Woollaston
Group H: Mark Allen and Tom Ford

Fingers crossed!



Watching Stephen Fry’s programme on manic depression on BBC2 the other day I couldn’t help thinking of Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Fry explored the bipolar condition that causes sufferers to experience both extreme highs and crushing lows.

Ronnie has been treated for depression and his moods seem to swing between the two ends of the spectrum with alarming unpredictability.

Of course, this has affected his career to the extent that he hasn’t won as many tournaments as his talent deserves.

However, it has also helped fashion him as an enigma, whose curious statements and behaviour add to the excitement of how he plays.

In his autobiography, O’Sullivan talked of how Prozac helped him to control the problem but it clearly persists.

Watching Fry’s programme, you wouldn’t wish it on anyone.



Stephen Hendry once vowed to retire at 30. He’s now 37 and still going strong.

Then again, he was in his early 20s when he made his claim and 30 must have seemed a long way off.

Hendry, the most successful player in snooker history, is back as world no.1 in the rankings eight years after relinquishing pole position. Remarkably, it is 16 years since he first secured top spot.

The Scot has won seven Crucible titles, five UK Championships, six Wembley Masters crowns and a total of 36 ranking event trophies – eight more than nearest challenger Steve Davis.

He has compiled more centuries than any other player – close to 700 – and has amassed over £8m in prize money.

On the face of it, he’s done it all and could, in theory, retire happily. But what would be the point if he still believes he can provide a significant challenge to his younger rivals?

I don’t think Hendry is the player he was in the early to mid 1990s, when he was quite simply the best the game has ever seen. He took snooker to a different level and his commitment and total self belief were to be admired.

There’s few in the game who didn’t wish Jimmy White had won at least one of their four world finals but Hendry was there to do his job and did so with considerable authority.

Not everyone took to him. They mistook his innate shyness for aloofness and contrasted his quiet determination with White's natural ebullience.

An edge has gone from Hendry’s game, though on his day he is still a force to be reckoned with. I think it is chiefly his concentration that is the problem. He never enjoyed safety, preferring to attack, but now seems completely unwilling to engage in the tactical side of the game.

He misses the odd pot here and there that would have been unthinkable 10-15 years ago and is a less frequent visitor to the game’s winner’s circle as a result.

All this is inevitable. It happened to Steve Davis as he got older. It happens to all players.

However, I wouldn’t back against Hendry collecting further silverware. All he needs is a week in which everything goes right again. At his best, he is still one of the very best.

Retirement at 30 didn’t happen. I’d bet on him being around long after he turns 40.



The big money Betfred Premier League kicks off for another year tonight, with the first match featuring the two favourites for the title.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has won the event for the last two years and is as short as evens with the Tote to complete a hat-trick.

It’s an ideal competition for O’Sullivan. Uniquely, there is a 25 seconds per shot time limit in operation, which means players have to get on with it, limiting the amount of safety play.

Also, O’Sullivan is known to hate having to hang around at week long tournaments, where there may be two or three days between matches. In the League, he merely has to breeze in, play his match and then breeze out again.

There is a huge financial incentive on offer as well. The top prize is £50,000 – more than most ranking events – and players receive £1,000 for every frame won plus another £1,000 for every century.

O’Sullivan scooped £87,000 from the event last year and will be highly motivated to top up his bank balance still further.

However, his opponent in Carlisle tonight, China’s Ding Jun Hui, comes into the event having beaten O’Sullivan 9-6 in the season’s first tournament, last month’s Northern Ireland Trophy.

Ding, still only 19, plays the same flowing sort of game as O’Sullivan and is his main rival to League success this season.

The League line-up is determined by promoters Matchroom and their decision to exclude John Higgins, the only player to win more than one major title last season, has raised eyebrows.

Instead, Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty, world champion Graeme Dott and veterans Steve Davis and Jimmy White have been given the nod.

Hendry, six times the champion, is in action tonight against Dott, who will surely struggle at first with the shot-clock.

Dott’s style is resolutely methodical – he battled against Peter Ebdon for 14 hours in their world final – and he will have to change his entire game if he’s to make any impact on the League.

Hendry, though back to no.1 in the world, has not produced consistently good form for a couple of years but his fast, attacking style of play is tailor made for success in the League, which is why he’s only once failed to qualify for the semi-finals in the 14 years since play-offs were introduced.



Two men who deserve your sympathy in the coming weeks are Mike Ganley and Martin Clark, World Snooker's excellent tournament directors.

Mike and Martin well be especially tested at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen, and before that at the qualifiers in Prestatyn, because the tournament is being played under a new round robin format.

Put simply, at Prestatyn this means 224 matches in just five days. There are eight groups of eight players with the top two from each going forward to the final stages. All matches are best of five frames and there will be as many as six sessions a day.

What a logistical nightmare this could prove to be. A couple of slow matches could throw a serious spanner into the works.

However, there are more worrying possibilities with this new format, namely collusion.

If player A has lost his first five matches and can no longer qualify, why should he try especially hard to beat player B? Equally, why should player C, already assured of qualification, be bothered about beating player D?

Perhaps player E would rather play in group 1 than 2 at Aberdeen and so conspires to finish second rather than first in his group.

Perhaps player F has lost six matches already and simply drives home rather than play match seven, skewing the group by handing someone a walkover.

In the final stages, faced with a choice of playing Ronnie O'Sullivan in the last 16 or the world no.80 if he lost, what would player G realistically choose?

I'm not suggesting any of this will happen, or that the players aren't honest (they are, almost universally) but this is the very real danger of such a bold new format.

That said, there is a general - though misinformed, I'd argue - notion that snooker is staid and desperately in need of changes.

At least by trying something new World Snooker have got people talking, which is no bad thing.

My main worry is that a best of five is far too short a test in a ranking event, even if players will play a number of matches.

The format favours lower ranked players. The world no.80 (I'll have to look up who this is...according to the ranking list on worldsnooker.com there isn't one!) would be very unlikely to beat O'Sullivan in a best of 19 frame match but would have every chance over a much shorter distance.

So it will be interesting to see what happens. Most top players appear to welcome the change, however cautiously, although one of them - a member of the top 16 - told me he thought it was "a shambles."

Fingers crossed it will prove to be a good decision, but spare a thought for Mike and Martin when it all begins on September 30.



The September issue of Snooker Scene is out now.

It includes:

- A full report of Ding Jun Hui's capture of the Northern Ireland Trophy
- The new Cue Factor project launched by Peter Bainbridge
- An analysis of the ranking system
- The latest in the Everton v WPBSA conflict
- A report of the IPT pool event in Las Vegas
- All the other news from the world of cue sports


I spoke to Jimmy White yesterday after he was disqualified from a match in the IPT World 8 Ball Pool Championship in Reno, Nevada because his tip did not meet the requirements laid out by the organisers.

Jimmy was using a phonelic tip on his break cue. At the players meeting before the tournament it was stated that players must only use leather tips.

However, Jimmy was delayed in Los Angeles and so couldn't attend. Therefore, his mistake was an innocent one.

It didn't make much difference in the end as he lost all his other matches in any case.

Ronnie O'Sullivan's last minute withdrawal is reportedly because he was suffering from an ear infection and was advised not to fly.

At the time of writing, Tony Drago was still going strong, as was Quinten Hann, banned from snooker for agreeing to throw a match for £50,000.

What a two fingers up to snooker it would be if he won the title.



When Ronnie O'Sullivan elected not to enter Pot Black, won yesterday by Mark Williams, it was widely assumed to be because he was heading to Reno for the latest IPT pool tournament.

However, O'Sullivan is not listed among the entrants for the big money World 8-Ball Championship, which starts today.

I would suggest it is not a good sign if he has given up on the IPT circuit already, having played in only one event.



Peter Dyke, one of the most important figures in snooker's rise to the big time, has died.

Peter appeared in the presentation party of every World Championship final at the Crucible under Embassy's sponsorship through his various roles with Imperial Tobacco.

He helped bring in millions for the players and was an enthusiastic supporter of the sport.

Peter's gregarious nature ensured his after dinner speeches were full of outrageous jokes and lots of laughs. He never took himself too seriously and will be sadly missed.



Pot Black this Saturday is primarily a bit of fun and a way of filling the BBC's Grandstand with something popular but the importance of the competition to snooker's development as a major television sport should not be underestimated.

The year was 1969 and colour TV was being introduced. The controller of new channel BBC2, David Attenborough, now a widely respected presenter of natural history programmes, wanted something to showcase the new invention and snooker - with its various coloured balls and cloth - fitted the bill perfectly.

The first edition of Pot Black was transmitted in the same week as man first walked on the moon. It proved to be one giant leap for the sport. Soon, the players, who had all been merely scratching out a living on the exhibition circuit, were household names: Ray Reardon, John Spencer, Eddie Charlton among them.

The popularity of the weekly Pot Black programme led to the BBC - and later ITV - broadcasting whole tournaments, leading to the extraordinary snooker boom of the 1980s.

No honeymoon lasts forever, but snooker today is still attracting healthy TV audiences in the UK, is enjoying a huge following in Europe thanks to Eurosport's extensive coverage and is also booming in China, helped of course by Ding Jun Hui's success.

All of this is down in no small way to Pot Black, which is reason enough to cheer its return this weekend.