These summer months afford time to ponder the great concerns of our time: will Gordon Brown cut it as prime minister? Is global warming going to cause much of Britain to disappear under water? Why is Vernon Kay on the TV every time you turn it on?

It also allows time for cultural enrichment: reading the latest book by William Boyd, listening to the Calvin Harris album, watching The Wire on DVD. All very pleasant indeed and the sun has even come out today.

I’m sure, though, there’s something else happening soon. I can’t put my finger on it just now. No hang on I remember – there’s a snooker tournament next week.

Sadly, our sport isn’t like golf or tennis where there’s action somewhere in the world pretty much every week of the year. Hence, snooker tournaments tend to creep up on you without warning.

The magnificent Grand Place is the venue for the Shanghai Masters, the first ranking event of the new season which, like the China Open in Beijing, is guaranteed for at least five years under a deal with the Chinese Billiards and Snooker Association.

Nobody’s in much form as few have lifted a cue since the 888.com World Championship three months ago but John Higgins, the Crucible champion, has been kept busy, playing in a small event in Warsaw, winning the invitation Euro-Asia Challenge in Hong Kong and playing various exhibitions.

However, Higgins faces for my money the toughest of all the qualifiers in the first round, Jamie Cope, runner-up last season in Beijing and also in the Royal London Watches Grand Prix at Aberdeen.

It’s a vicious quarter of the draw that includes Mark Selby, who Higgins beat in their Sheffield final, and former world champions Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams, who have both won ranking titles in Shanghai.

Ding Junhui, who played in the last ranking tournament staged in Shanghai in 2002 as a 14 year-old wildcard, is in the other half of the draw, which includes Stephen Hendry, winner of the first ranking event staged in China in 1990, Shaun Murphy, the 2005 world champion, and Neil Robertson, winner of two ranking crowns last term.

Picking a winner is, as usual, impossible. Stick a pin in the draw – it’s quicker than trying to work out what will happen.

Looking at the season as a whole I’m going to predict one player in particular to watch: Stephen Maguire.

You’ll recall the manner of his semi-final defeat to Higgins at the Crucible. Entering the final session leading 14-10 – having played superbly – he was beaten 17-15, missing the pink in losing a crucial 30th frame which would have put him 16-14 up.

I well remember Maguire turning pro in 1999. I interviewed him after his very first match. He seemed far too polite and reserved for this game but they breed them pretty tough in Glasgow and his personality soon came to the fore.

He’ll have been gutted by his Sheffield exit with the sure knowledge that he let a gilt-edged chance to become world champion slip.

And he’ll be back fighting harder than ever to prove himself as one of the game’s best, which he is, as proved by the manner in which he won the 2004 UK Championship.

I suspect he feels like a wounded animal at the moment and will want to get stuck into the new season to cast off the disappointments of the last campaign.

Shanghai would be a good place to start.

- The Shanghai Masters is live on British Eurosport, Eurosport International and the Great Sports Channel in China from August 6-12



Regular Snooker Scene readers will be aware of the way the WPBSA has used its members money to pursue Clive Everton, our editor, under the technicality that he was a billiards only member.

They admitted that the 'truth or falsity' of what he wrote was not at issue.

Earlier this month, a court hearing found in Clive's favour, as the Mail on Sunday reported yesterday.

Here is their story:

Clive Everton may still be hobbling around after breaking his hip on the eve of the World Snooker Championship final, but he can walk tall after winning an important victory for free speech.

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association brought a disciplinary case against Everton because of his repeated criticism of the running of the sport in 'Snooker Scene', the magazine he edits.

Even after the case failed when Everton resigned his membership, the governing body sought to recover their legal costs.

But a bankruptcy court hearing in Stourbridge this month rejected the WPBSA claim, leaving them to explain to their members why they have spent more than £100,000 hounding the BBC commentator.



Michael Holt, the world no.24, defeated Rom Surin 5-1 to win the CAT-Telecom Chanthaburi Cup in Thailand.

The 'Hitman' from Nottingham knocked in breaks of 115 and 132 as he cruised to victory, having beaten Thai legend James Wattana 5-2 in the semi-finals.

It's the perfect warm up for Holt, with the Shanghai Masters just over a week away. He faces 2006 world champion Graeme Dott in the first round.

Well done to him not just for winning the title but also for going there in the first place. Players often complain - rightly - that there aren't enough tournaments so it's good to see one going halfway across the world to play.
Just one question: how is Holty going to get that massive trophy home?



Mike Russell won the world billiards title last week. Barely a word of this appeared in the press, of course, because billiards is even less visible as a sport than it was 20 years ago, when it was hardly visible at all.

Asked in the 1980s why the sport couldn't ever be as popular as snooker, Matchroom boss Barry Hearn said: 'there's not enough balls.'

Despite its lowly status (the professional game now has only one competition a year) it's good to know that the proud tradition of incompetence that cue sports can boast applies in the three-ball game.

Russell's name has been engraved on the trophy for a ninth time. Odd, this, as he's only won it eight times.

It transpires that although there was no World Championship in 2000, his name was put on the trophy in any case.

Why? Don't ask me. I sometimes wonder if our sport is just one elongated episode of 'Lost' in which nothing ever makes any sense.

Now that this precedent has been set, perhaps it's time to honour the late, great Joe Davis and add his name to the world snooker trophy for the five years from 1941-1945 that the championship was not held because of the war, thus making him a 20 times winner.



The Shanghai Masters, the first ranking event of the new season, will be sponsored by Roewe, the Chinese joint venture partner of Rover.

John Higgins, the reigning world champion, and China's own Ding Junhui attended a press conference in Shanghai yesterday as the deal was unveiled.

There's no doubt snooker in China is a boom industry and, with both ranking events there guaranteed for five years, this area represents the sport's immediate future.



World champion John Higgins recovered from 4-2 down to beat James Wattana 5-4 and win the Euro-Asia Challenge in Hong Kong.

Higgins, 32, launched his comeback with an 80 break in the seventh frame, won the next on the colours and comfortably clinched the decider to pocket the £25,000 top prize.

The world no.1, who lost his passport on a promotional tour last week, had performed poorly in the Europe v Asia team event but found his stride when the individual competition got underway.

“I didn’t start the week too well and I think that was down to the jet lag and all the hassle after losing my passport but I came good when it mattered,” Higgins said.

“The standard here was very good and James played really well through the event and again tonight. He probably could have been 4-0 up at one start so he’ll be disappointed."
The final was played in front of more than 3,000 spectators at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Wattana, Thailand's leading player for the last two decades, compiled breaks of 74, 40 and 86 in building a 3-1 lead, although Higgins pinched the second frame after Wattana missed the pink.

Higgins fashioned a run of 127 to win the fifth and although Wattana took the sixth the former world no.3 could not close out victory.

Higgins is top seed for the first ranking event of the season, the Shanghai Masters, which starts on August 6.



World champion John Higgins will face Thailand's James Wattana for the £25,000 first prize in the Euro-Asia Challenge in Hong Kong.

Higgins topped his group before completing a 2-0 victory over Dubliner Ken Doherty in the semi-finals of the first professional tournament of the new season.

Wattana finished second behind Higgins in the group phase and defeated Hong Kong's Marco Fu 2-0 to reach the final.

Fu had beaten Ronnie O'Sullivan 2-0 in the round robin section to deny the twice world champion a place in the semis.

Stephen Hendry, persevering with his new cue despite a poor showing at the Crucible, lost 2-1 to China's Ding Junhui to finish bottom of his group after three successive defeats.

The tournament is the first of three being staged in the Far East this season. The Shanghai Masters takes place next month and the China Open returns to Beijing next March.


John Higgins and James Wattana qualified for the semi-finals of the Euro-Asia Challenge after each winning two matches in the group phase at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Hong Kong today.

Higgins, the reigning world champion, beat his fellow Scot Stephen Hendry 2-0 and followed this with a 2-0 victory over China’s Ding Junhui.

Wattana, Thailand’s leading player for the last two decades, also beat Ding 2-0 and then edged Hendry 2-1.

The results mean neither Hendry or Ding can qualify for the semis of the tournament, which carries a first prize of £25,000.

In the other group, 1997 world champion Ken Doherty recovered from the loss of the opening frame to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 2-1.

However, Irishman Doherty was then beaten 2-1 by Hong Kong’s Marco Fu before O’Sullivan beat Supoj Saenla of Thailand 2-0 to leave the group finely balanced.

The event is one of three major tournaments to be staged in the Far East this season. The Shanghai Masters, the campaign’s first ranking event, takes place next month and the China Open returns to Bejing next March.



Peter Ebdon, the 2002 world champion and a WPBSA board member, wants the World Championship to be staged in Dubai, where he now lives with his wife and four children.

Ebdon told the Gulf News: "Long-term, I would love to see a top company … sponsor the World Snooker Championship and have it based in Dubai."

As pleasant as Dubai most certainly is, the last time the championship was held overseas was in the 1970s. The main reason that it remains in the UK - apart from the fact the Crucible is such a popular venue - is that the BBC costs would soar if they had to undertake their extensive 17-day outside broadcast from another country, where time differences would also complicate things.

Also, 888.com are putting millions into their five-year deal to sponsor the championship and would, presumably, class themselves as a 'top company.'



Europe beat Asia 5-3 in the team competition at the Euro-Asia Challenge in Hong Kong. The individual event, which carries a top prize of £25,000, starts on Friday.

Scores (Asia first):
Marco Fu beat John Higgins 71(70)–7
James Wattana lost to Ken Doherty 42–86(61)
Ding Junhui lost to Stephen Hendry 19-66(43)
Supoj Saenla lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-99(68)
Ding beat Higgins 56-39
Wattana beat Hendry 75(49)-38
Supoj lost to Doherty 31-65(41)
Fu lost to O’Sullivan 8-80(50)


John Higgins, the reigning 888.com world champion, has lost his passport during a night out before the Euro-Asia Challenge in Hong Kong.

Higgins was on a promotional tour of the city on a tram with fellow European players Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty and Asians Marco Fu, Ding Junhui. James Wattana and Supoj Saenla.

"I think I lost it somewhere between the hotel and the tram," said Higgins. "All I know is that I'll have to sort something out quick.

"If no one finds it, I'll have to go to the British consulate to have a new one issued."

The tournament, which carries a £25,000 top prize, ends on Sunday.



The build up to the Euro-Asia Challenge continues, with the players all smiles at the pre-tournament press conference...

Ronnie O'Sullivan looked relaxed...

It looks like John Higgins caught the red eye flight...


Four world champions - John Higgins, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty - and four Asian players - Ding Junhui, Marco Fu, James Wattana and Supoj Saenla - will contest the Euro-Asia Challenge at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Hong Kong from Thursday to Sunday.
Seven of the players (minus Ding) are pictured above on a promotional tour with Frankie Yick, director of Wharf Limited. The top prize is £25,000.



It's 100 years to the day since Tom Reece completed the highest break in the history of billiards - 499,135.

His break began on June 3, 1907. Spare a thought for his opponent, Joe Chapman, who merely turned up every day for five weeks to sit in the non-striker's chair and watch.

It led to the rules being changed so that 'cradle' cannons were outlawed.

You can learn more about all this here: http://eaba.co.uk/articles/tomReeceRecord/cradleCannonRecord.html



Steve Davis, the six times Crucible champion, will be among the hopefuls at the World Series fo Poker, which gets underway in Las Vegas.

With a top prize of $5,000,000 it is the richest sporting event anywhere in the world.

Davis, 49, is captaining the Ladbrokespoker.com team. You can follow his progress here: http://www.worldseriesofpoker.com/



Yes, it's time for a little shameless advertising.

The July issue of Snooker Scene is out now and includes:

- Clive Everton's review of Alex Higgins's autobiography
- Ted Lowe looks back
- Terry Griffiths appreciation
- Ronnie O'Sullivan disciplinary verdict
- Michael White denied place on circuit
- EBSA European Championships
- Pontin's Spring Festival
- New provisional rankings
- All the latest snooker, billiards and pool news

You can subscribe through our website: www.snookersceneonline.com



The latest news on Chris Small, forced to retire two years ago because of a degenerative spinal disease, is not good.

He has received nothing from the WPBSA benevolent fund, despite being probably the most obvious case for help in the game's history, and, according to today's Edinburgh Evening News, is not happy at learning that Alex Higgins received £20,000 from the fund to fix his teeth, even though a number of disciplinary offences against him are still outstanding.

Story here: http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1034912007


I was asked on another post about the relationship the snooker press has with the players.

I’d say it’s excellent. You don’t tend to find any of the game’s leading professionals being standoffish or unwilling to co-operate as a rule, although everyone has their off days.

When I started a decade ago, the press room seemed to be an extension of the players room: players, their managers, friends and assorted hangers on would congregate en masse.

This was handy for building relationships but the rooms tended to become crowded, noisy and not always ideal environments to work in.

The policy changed and, somewhat sadly, I think players felt discouraged from coming into the media centre at all. Certainly they seem to be less of a presence these days.

Steve Davis can usually be relied upon to pitch up at some point and play online poker at tournaments where he’s working for BBC TV. His colleague John Parrott invariably drops by for a chat and a laugh as well.

For years, Stephen Hendry was a semi-permanent fixture as well, but less so these days.

Ditto Mark Williams, although this may be a reflection of how his form has fallen away of late.

When Ronnie O’Sullivan’s in a good mood he is likely to come in; if he’s in a bad mood you won’t see him.

Ken Doherty and John Higgins – two of the real nice guys of the circuit – are likely to drop by at some point.

The lower ranked players tend to keep their distance. That said, you’ll normally get a visit from renowned diarist Michael Holt and Tony Drago seems to be a permanent presence whether he’s in the tournament or not.

It makes a snooker journalist’s job easier to have players around because it breaks down barriers between you and they hopefully realise you’re not trying to stitch them up.

Some would argue it’s all a bit cosy: they may have a point, but I’d rather it was this way than having to jump through hoops just to speak to a player, as happens in some other sports.



I saw an interview the other day during the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage with Maria Sharapova in which she was asked who her best friends were on the tour.

She explained that she didn’t really have any because, as it was so competitive, the players don’t get that close.

In snooker, it appears to be the exact opposite: the top players are unbelievably friendly towards each other. They practice together, they travel together, they play poker together.

It’s not always been this way. Stephen Hendry once said that in the 1980s, Steve Davis would often pass him in the corridor without exchanging so much as a word.

Hendry himself often remained aloof during his years on top and even now keeps his distance from close friend Mark Williams if they ever have to play each other.

The late John Spencer wrote in his autobiography that he was perplexed as to why modern day players would practice with each other. His point was that it gave your opponents an advantage in the match arena if they already knew all about your game.

Of course, in Spencer’s day there were far fewer professionals and snooker was very rarely on TV.

Today, if you want to analyse how, for example, Stephen Maguire plays the game you can simply refer to a few tapes of his various matches.

But are modern day players too friendly for their own good?

I think that once they get to the match table any friendship is genuinely set aside. All these guys want to win and, anyway, they are there to play the balls, not their opponent.

And when it’s all over, players can return to being friends. I recall a couple of years ago that Neil Robertson beat his friend and practice partner Joe Perry 5-4 in the final qualifying round of a tournament at Prestatyn and Perry then gave him a lift back to Cambridge!