Ronnie O’Sullivan is right when he says John Higgins could have won more in his career.

But of course the same is also true of O’Sullivan himself.

Both players are supremely talented and can hold their heads high in the pantheon of all time greats. They have won far more than most.

One of the simplest reasons they haven’t won even more is that they have played in the same era. They each turned pro in 1992 and have met in a number of finals, one stopping the other from winning.

But it is also true that neither Higgins nor O’Sullivan have had that relentless mindset shared by Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry to win all the time.

Both have admitted as much. Higgins openly confesses that he has at times preferred family life to practising while O’Sullivan told Gabby Logan on the BBC’s Inside Sport last year that, “I haven’t got the passion it takes to be a Michael Schumacher, a Hendry, a Phil Taylor.”

Most snooker players don’t. It takes an extraordinary act of will not to celebrate a major tournament victory but to simply forget about it, go back to the club, work hard and get ready to win the next one.

That’s what Davis and Hendry both did and that’s why they won so much.

None of this takes anything away from the achievements of Higgins and O’Sullivan.

They first won ranking titles as teenagers. Between them they have won the last three world titles, so are clearly still the men to beat.



The Grand Prix for many has always marked the true start of the season.

Even when ITV used to show a tournament in September, the first BBC event of the campaign was regarded as that extra bit more special.

It certainly used to be when Rothmans were the sponsors and it was held at the Hexagon in Reading.

When they pulled out, it did lose a bit of prestige and this was exacerbated by moving the event around the country. The Kelvin Hall in Glasgow is it's eighth venue since it left Reading (there will not be a prize for all those who can name the other seven).

For all this, the Grand Prix is the second longest running ranking event. (Before you call me every name under the sun, yes the UK Championship began in 1977 but it did not carry ranking points until 1984, a couple of months after Dennis Taylor won the first Grand Prix.)

The tournament has been responsible for a number of memorable moments - Stephen Hendry winning at 18, Rex Williams in the final at 53, Steve Davis whitewashing Dean Reynolds in the final, Chris Small capturing the title (when it was the LG Cup) against all odds and John Higgins making four successive centuries and amassing 494 points without reply against Ronnie O'Sullivan.

My personal highlight came at Preston Guild Hall six or seven years ago. As anyone who has been to the venue will know, you enter through a shopping centre and up some escalators where autograph hunters tend to hang out.

One day, I made my way towards the lift and realised that said autograph hunters were sizing me up, deciding if I was a player or not.

After a moment or two of deliberation one of them turned to his mate and said, 'nah, don't bother with him, he's a nobody.'

Written off in Preston. The poignancy of it all was almost too much to bear.

One year the Harold Shipman trial was taking place in the court over the road and we journalists, faced with some dirge dragging on into the early hours, speculated that the not so good doctor may be sentenced to spending a day at the snooker.

When the Grand Prix moved to Aberdeen, the crazy decision was taken to make it a round robin event. The format confused everyone, not least the players. Mark King booked a flight home believing he was out but discovered he was still in and went on to reach the semi-finals.

Thankfully, this was scrapped last year in favour of a random draw, which has added some spice to proceedings.

All the predictions of the big names crashing out early proved to be without substance: three of the four semi-finalists were ranked in the top eight.

Crowds were good at the SECC last year and will hopefully be strong again across the city for this season's staging.

Scotland has long been a snooker nation, even in the days when it didn't have any top players. Now, it has several and is hosting one of the green baize game's longest running events.

The Grand Prix has never been regarded in the same way as the big three - the world, UK and Masters - but has played its own part in the snooker story and, 25 years since it was first held, is still a much sought after prize.



Mark Joyce and Matt Selt are the two unfamiliar faces to have qualified for the Grand Prix.

So, who are they?

Joyce, 26, is a former grammar school boy who first rose to prominence by winning the 2001 European under 19 title.

He also won the English amateur open in 2005 and snooker’s oldest title, the English Amateur Championship, in 2006.

Having finished fifth on the PIOS tour, that year he was promoted to the ranking event circuit.

Like every other player, he found it tough but kept his place after the first season, although he was helped by his scheduled opponent in one round of the World Championship qualifiers, Robin Hull, pulling out.

Joyce made his TV debut at the 2007 Grand Prix but this year’s event sees his first appearance in the last 32 of a ranking tournament.

He has got himself up to 57th in the rankings but his best performance on the circuit to date was reaching the Masters qualifying final last year, where he lost 6-1 to Judd Trump.

Joyce has been consulting a psychologist in an attempt to get off his chest all the feelings he was hitherto internalising. Maybe that was a factor in his qualification for Glasgow.

He has one of the hardest possible draws in the shape of world champion John Higgins, who is defending the crown he won last season.

Even so, Joyce’s mates at the Masters Club in Walsall will be cheering him on when he tackles the Wishaw Wizard on Saturday.

Selt is 24 and has suddenly come to life this season. To qualify for the final stages of a ranking tournament from the very first round is an impressive achievement. To do it in two successive events is excellent.

Yet Selt has done so in both the Shanghai Masters and the Grand Prix, where he was 4-0 down to Jordan Brown in his first match.

He plays at the Grove Snooker Club in Romford and is a sometime practice partner of Ronnie O’Sullivan, which has obviously helped his game.

Selt qualified from the PIOS tour in 2007. A year later he was the subject of a WPBSA disciplinary inquiry as to whether he offered an opponent a bribe to lose a match on the game’s secondary circuit.

Selt was cleared of the charges.

The incident doesn’t seem to have affected his playing career. Quite the opposite, in fact.

However, Selt now needs to gain experience of playing on TV. Against John Higgins in Shanghai he looked ill at ease, which was entirely understandable.

He fancies his chances against Stephen Hendry as he says the seven times champion is “coming in cold.”

Actually, he isn’t. He’s been playing in the Premier League and even if he’s not at the top of his game still has more than enough experience to cope with a nervous newbie.

Both Joyce and Selt have earned showpiece ties against two legends of snooker from their hard work in the qualifiers.

Whether they can go any further in the game will depend to a large degree on how they acquit themselves in matches such as these.



This is a link to a painting done by Ronnie O'Sullivan.

And here is a link to one done by Stephen Hendry.

This one had input from a legion of world champions.

They were created using snooker cues as part of an exhibition by The Willow Foundation, which was set up by former Arsenal goalkeeper and TV sports presenter Bob Wilson and his wife.

'The Art of Sport' includes works by Sir Alex Ferguson, Thierry Henry, Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton. Each sportsman has used apparatus to paint that they would ordinarily use in their sporting life.

The artworks can be viewed on the website I've linked to and close up at the Catto Gallery, Hamstead, London from September 25 to 27.

You can even buy originals or prints of the paintings. Proceeds go to the Willow Foundation, which provides special days for young adults suffering from serious illnesses. Wilson and his wife set it up after their daughter died of cancer at the age of 31.

I wonder if Ronnie received any tips from his friend Damien Hirst? Good for him and Stephen for taking part in a worthwhile enterprise.

I can't claim to have any insight into the art world, but I recall the words of Mr. Burns when presented with a picture of himself painted by Marge in The Simpsons:

"I'm not an art expert but I know what I hate and I don't hate this."


Jimmy White is appearing in a new film called 'Jack Said,' which is described in The Times as "a dull, poorly acted affair that doesn’t deserve the brief release it’s getting" (actually one of its best reviews).

Apparently he plays a snooker player who gets his fingers chopped off by some villainous sort.

With the difficulties this will present for cueing, I'd say Jimmy's lingering chances of Crucible success have probably now gone.


Davy Morris is a player who could be about to make a breakthrough.

He won the Republic of Ireland national title at all age levels - just as Mark Allen did in Northern Ireland - and has kept his place on the main tour these last three years, edging up to 58th in the world rankings.

Davy is just 20 and represents the next wave of Irish snooker. He has practised with Ken Doherty, who rates him very highly.

Of course, it's tough at the qualifiers, particularly for young players coming up against hardened match players.

That said, Davy today plays Jamie Cope who is, like him, a young, attacking pro. This will be a hard match but its style will suit the young Irishman.

If he wins he will be through to the televised stages of a ranking event for the first time in his career.



So I spent the day in Prestatyn for the Grand Prix qualifiers.

To make it clear from the off, I was there for an interview and did not see a ball struck, in anger or for any other reason.

However, it was noticeable how upbeat the atmosphere was, which is not always the case at the dog-eat-dog environs of Pontin’s.

There’s no doubt that 110sport’s coverage of the qualifiers has created a buzz on site. Players are now getting recognition, either through match coverage or interviews, that they rarely receive elsewhere during the season.

And they deserve it. Most of these guys will not come close to becoming world champion but they are professionals and they play their part in keeping the circuit going.

They are all talented and it’s good to see them finally getting some exposure.

I was shown round 110’s operation and it is indeed impressive. There's a general feeling that a light has been shone on a part of the tour which hitherto existed in relative darkness.

It’s days like this that remind me why I like snooker so much after time spent with so many interesting folk – players, officials and others – that make up the travelling circus that is the professional circuit.

All those ignorant folk who say there are no characters in the game would do well to spend a day in North Wales.

There are characters here who you simply would not meet in any other walk of life.

Meanwhile, Ken Doherty’s resurgence continues apace. The 1997 world champion has now won five matches from six in ranking events this season – three more than he managed throughout the whole of the campaign just gone.

Any player rubbing their hands together at the thought that he is now an easy draw has been swiftly disabused of such a notion.

Some other well known faces struggled. There were defeats for Alan McManus (albeit after a five hour struggle with Rod Lawler), John Parrott (also 5-4, to Ian McCulloch) and Anthony Hamilton.

Prestatyn is a great leveller. Past reputations mean nothing. All that matters is grafting out a result.

Thursday is the big day when 16 players will earn their places in the main draw with the top 16.

I promise you, those who finally make it through will more than have deserved their place.



Both David Gray and David Roe lost 5-4 today from 4-0 up, just as Jordan Brown did against Matt Selt yesterday.

Gray must be absolutely sick, having won 5-0 yesterday. He was well ahead of Peter Lines in their sixth frame but eventually lost a 47 minute decider on the pink.

Roe was also edged on the pink in the deciding frame against Li Hang.

The long drive home just got even longer...


Of all the snooker players I have watched, few have been more entertaining than Tony Drago.

A bundle of nervous energy, Tony has mixed flair, emotion and the fastest cueing arm on the planet to great effect during the last 24 years.

He turned 44 today and celebrated with a 5-3 victory over Andy Hicks to reach the third qualifying round of the Grand Prix.

Drago is still lightning fast. Remember, he once won a frame in just three minutes and the passing of the years haven't brought about any appreciable taming of the 'Tornado.'

This is because he plays on instinct. When it works it is awesome to watch; when it doesn't it can be painful.

Tony has always worn his heart on his sleeve and this only adds to the entertainment value. When he wins, he is delighted. When he loses, move out of the way.

They call him the Star of Malta and, every now and again, he can still shine brightly.

Today was such a day.



Ronnie O'Sullivan finished 13th in the first of two races at the VW Cup at Brands Hatch this weekend.

However, the newly crowned Shanghai Masters champion spun his Jetta into a gravel trap two laps from the end of the second race, where he was set to take tenth place.

O'Sullivan made his motor racing debut last month.


James Wattana takes centre stage – if such a thing exists at Pontin’s – for the opening round of qualifying for the Grand Prix in Prestatyn today.

We thought we’d seen the last of Wattana when he was relegated from the circuit in 2008 but he won the Asian Championship to book a return.

In the early 1990s, many believed he would be Asia’s first world champion. The Thai was a terrific talent but despite a few near misses he failed to land any of the sport’s ‘big three’ titles (world, UK and Masters).

Wattana - real name Ratchapol Pu-Ob-Orm - first rose to prominence as a teenager in the 1980s when he captured the Thailand Masters, an invitation event featuring a number of top players and organised by Barry Hearn’s Matchroom.

He won the Asian Championship and then the world amateur title before, remarkably, reaching the final of one of his first tournaments as a professional, the 1989 Asian Open in his native Bangkok, where he lost out to Stephen Hendry.

It caused a sensation in Thailand and resulted in a boom that mirrors that happening now in China.

Wattana moved to Yorkshire and learned English, partly through playing Scrabble.

His laid back personality made him very popular with his fellow players and with those backstage at tournaments, journalists included.

Wattana would win his home title twice, in 1994 and 1995. He also won the 1992 Strachan Professional, a ranking event, the 1992 World Matchplay and rose as high as third in the world rankings.

He was a Crucible semi-finalist in 1993 and 1997 and famously made a 147 break at the 1992 British Open shortly after learning his father had been shot in Bangkok.

It wasn’t his first maximum. He made one at the 1991 World Masters but Sky were unable to get their cameras over to record any of it.

They got round this by simply not mentioning that the break had happened.

Wattana would decline during the late 1990s. In the qualifiers for the 2005 World Championship he was beaten 10-0 by Ali Carter and fell down the rankings.

He plays Stephen Rowlings at 4pm today, live on 110sport.tv.

Wattana is unlikely to ever again challenge for titles but if he enjoys playing he should continue for as long as he wants.

He’s earned the right to do that.



Mark Joyce has told his local newspaper that he is consulting a psychologist in an attempt to improve his fortunes this season.

World no.57 Mark, a former English amateur champion, reached the final of the Masters qualifying event last year but the rest of the season tailed off for him.

He’s wise to try something new in his approach to the campaign rather than just hoping his tried and tested formula will work.

Many sportsmen have consulted psychologists in an effort to give them an edge. The setting of goals and clearing of the mind can, in theory, have a positive effect.

Of course, there will be those who say it’s all nonsense and unnecessary but there are always people who are sceptical about things they don’t understand.

Visiting a psychologist won’t turn Mark into a world champion but it may keep some of the mental turmoil associated with snooker at bay and let him do what he does best: playing the game.



I am always pleased to receive emails from readers and will do my best to answer them but I get a number on the same subjects so will answer them here.

Q: When will the next Snooker Scene podcast be?
A: Not sure. They are rather time consuming to put together and I’m not sure how successful they were. However, hopefully they will return as the new season continues.

Q: What’s happening with the World Series?
A: The next event is in Prague on October 17/18 followed by one in Warsaw on November 14/15.

Q: How can I write to my favourite player?
A: The best thing is to send your letters to World Snooker and they will pass them on.

Q: I have a rules query. Can you help?
A: I’ll do my best but you can refer to the official rules on worldsnooker.com.

If you have any questions, you can contact me at snookersceneblog@aol.com


Ken Doherty turns 40 today.

He remains the only player to win the world title at junior, amateur and professional level and through two decades at the top has cemented his place in snooker’s pantheon of legends.

Like many of his age, Ken got into snooker through watching Pot Black on the BBC but his ambition to be a pro was formed when he sat, transfixed, as Alex Higgins won his second world title in 1982.

A successful junior career in Ireland was followed by a move to Ilford where he lived and practised for several years and played on the thriving pro-am circuit.

After winning the world under 21 and amateur crowns, Doherty turned professional in 1990.

In his first season he qualified for the Crucible where he ran Steve Davis very close before going down 10-8.

His first ranking final came at the 1992 Grand Prix and his first title at the 1993 Welsh Open.

He has won six ranking tournaments in total having reached 17 finals, 35 semi-finals and 61 quarter-finals.

Of course, his greatest success came at the 1997 World Championship when he ended Stephen Hendry’s run of five successive Crucible triumphs with an 18-12 defeat.

A year later he reached the final again but was beaten 18-12 by John Higgins.

In many ways, his best performance came at the 2003 World Championship where he proved to be the tournament’s star if not its winner.

Doherty survived a series of last gasp victories, none more dramatic than his 17-16 semi-final defeat of Paul Hunter from 15-9 down.

He trailed Mark Williams 11-4 in the final, levelled at 11-11 but eventually lost their gripping encounter 18-16.

Afterwards he was just as he has always been in victory or defeat: a model of graciousness.

In a career of considerable success, he has had his disappointments, not least missing the final black of what would have been a 147 in the 2000 Masters final.

Perhaps Ken could have won more, but he played during an era in which Hendry, Higgins, Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan, to name but four, were all at their best.

He has slipped to 44th in the world rankings this season but his run to the quarter-finals in Shanghai suggests he is far from finished.

He’s often referred to as a great tactician – which he is – but he’s also one of snooker’s best break-builders, having made over 260 career centuries, placing him sixth on the all time list.

Ken is also one of the game’s finest ambassadors. I’ve seen him bitterly disappointed by defeat but he has always taken his media responsibilities seriously and done the best for the game.

The only slip was when he was asked to leave the Air Malta flight the morning after he beat John Higgins to win the Malta Cup.

However, this was a case of overzealous officialdom as Ken was not drunk but merely sticking up for John.

Not that anybody cared anyway. Ken is one of those players almost everyone warms to because they empathise with his genuine, friendly persona.

Away from the table, he is married to a psychiatrist and the couple have a young son. He supports Manchester United and has a wide range of interests, including the painter Caravaggio. Earlier this year, he joined the BBC commentary team.

Ken could stop playing tomorrow and would be regarded as an all time great but there are still goals to be accomplished.

He is one of the organisers of the new Six Reds World Championship and, at 40, is eligible for the World Seniors Championship, should one be organised.

If he won them both he will have been world champion in five separate events, a record that may never be bettered.



John Dunning, a professional from 1971 to 1997, has died at the age of 82.

Dunning was 11 times Yorkshire amateur champion and won the 1964 CIU Championship.

He was in his 40s when the game went open but beat David Taylor and Eddie Charlton to reach the 1974 World Championship quarter-finals.

Dunning was also a quarter-finalist in the 1977 UK Championship and attained a highest ranking of 11th.

His finest hour came at the 1984 Yamaha Masters, which was played in three man groups all the way to the final.

Dunning beat Terry Griffiths on the way to reaching the final, where he finished third behind Steve Davis and Dave Martin.

At 56, he remains the oldest player to appear in a televised snooker final.

Dunning qualified for the Crucible in 1981 and 1982 and played his last match as a professional in 1997 at the age of 69.



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s capture of the Shanghai Masters title underlined the fact that he can win tournaments when not playing at his best.

It also provided further evidence that China is a snooker powerhouse. Crowds at the Grand Stage were strong and enthusiastic while the tournament attracted as many as 50 journalists a day, providing acres of coverage in the Chinese media.

Liang Wenbo has gone above Ding Junhui in the provisional rankings and the country now has two world class players. There are many more practising several hours a day who could break through in the next few years.

This is a market that has been well exploited so far but can still be used to drive the game forward.

But what is needed are different formats and ideas for events away from the mainstream to generate additional excitement.

Here are two:

Firstly, bring back the World Cup and play it in China. This event was a mainstay of the circuit for several years but was only once staged in a grand scale, in Bangkok in 1996.

Playing for one’s country would give the players a different focus and create extra interest in each of the nations represented.

Second, how about a Ryder Cup style competition pitting Asia versus Europe?

You could play singles and doubles matches and make it a regular annual event, alternating between China and European venues.

The WPBSA has enough on its plate with the world ranking circuit but this is an opportunity for independent promoters to cash in on the Chinese boom, which still needs to be nurtured if it is to last.



Ronnie O'Sullivan will start as a big favourite to beat Liang Wenbo and win the Shanghai Masters today.

He did, too, against Ricky Walden last season and was beaten 10-8.

However, Ronnie seems far more relaxed this year and willing to dig deep and be patient. He proved this in doing a job on John Higgins in the semi-finals.

This is a final featuring snooker's two leading mavericks so making predictions is futile.

What it does prove, though, as if anyone doubted it, is that China is fast becoming a powerhouse in the sport.

Liang has already overtaken Ding Junhui in the provisional rankings and his unique way of playing the game has been a breath of fresh air.

The great irony is that, had the strict rules of the sport been obeyed, he would have been scratched from the tournament having failed to obtain a visa to play his qualifying match at Prestatyn.

Liang has more than seized his second chance to make an impression on the tournament.

He needs to make a good start to the final. If he does, a shock result is not unthinkable.



The semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters feature three of the world’s top four plus a home grown talent making his debut in this stage of a ranking event.

Liang Wenbo may be the outsider in terms of ranking and record but he has noticeably reined in some of his more attacking instincts and has developed into a very tough opponent.

One of his strengths is that he remains a maverick and this makes him difficult to play.

Can he beat Shaun Murphy? It’s a possibility, but Murphy has been very solid so far this week, losing only one frame in three matches.

Ronnie O’Sullivan hasn’t beaten John Higgins in a ranking tournament since the 2003 Irish Masters final.

I’ll repeat that: Ronnie O’Sullivan hasn’t beaten John Higgins in a ranking tournament since the 2003 Irish Masters final.

Of course, it’s not as if they have played each other in every one since but it is still an anomaly that will surprise many.

I tipped Higgins for the title pre-tournament so will keep faith with the world champion, but as long as O’Sullivan remains in the field, he remains favourite.

Whoever wins this weekend, the snooker should be first class.



It’s a cracking line up for the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters and a terrific atmosphere is guaranteed for the encounter between Ronnie O’Sulivan and Ding Junhui.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the biggest match ever staged in China: the world no.1 versus China’s top dog.

O’Sullivan is a controversial figure in the UK and Europe. Many love him and may loathe him.

In China, they almost universally love him for the excitement he generates and entertainment he provides.

I tend to side with the Chinese on this. Although Ronnie sometimes does things that are not to be defended I find it impossible to dislike him.

The roof may come off the Grand Stage later today whoever wins their contest. Let’s hope the snooker matches the hype.

For the first time, there are two Chinese born players in the quarter-finals of a ranking event. Liang Wenbo faces Ricky Walden, who is aiming to become the first player to successfully defend a world ranking title since O’Sullivan won the 2005 Welsh Open.

That’s a tough match to call but the same applies to all of the quarter-finals.

Shaun Murphy will start favourite against Ken Doherty but the Irishman has enjoyed a resurgence so far this season and, oozing class as he does, is well capable of going even further.

John Higgins has beaten Ryan Day six times out of eight but will need to be close to the top of his game to contain the talented Welshman again.

It all adds up to a fascinating day of snooker as the new season cranks into life.

Picking a winner is nigh on impossible.



I still think snooker is poorly served by the internet in comparison to many other sports.

Yes, there’s the excellent global-snooker.com and the WPBSA’s site is better now than it’s been for a long time, there are snooker forums and blogs and various other sites as well but why don’t the top players have decent websites?

It seems to me to be a missed opportunity to project their personalities and, in doing so, further promote the sport.

Ten years ago, CueMasters – which were to become TSN and then 110sport – set up an all singing, all dancing website.

It was an excellent concept (although I’m biased because I worked on it) but they over-reached by trying to launch a rival tour and the original idea was overtaken and eventually scrapped.

Now, 110sport have re-hired the energetic Stewart Weir, the man behind the original site, in an attempt to launch a better, more interactive portal which will not only show live action but also give snooker fans the chance to interact with their favourite players.

“Having been asked back, I’d be a hypocrite to knock back the chance to do the sort of things online that I publicly said 110sport needed to be doing when I left two years ago. For me, it’s a great opportunity – not everyone is fortunate enough to get another crack at a project they believe in,” Weir told allscotlandmedia.com.

If he’s allowed to do the things that are needed, 110sport.tv will be a success and a significant step forward for the game on the internet, even if it’s come ten years after it should have.

Hopefully it will lead to a greater online presence for snooker, which in itself will give the sport a higher profile.


Derren Brown last night successfully predicted the UK national lottery results.

Therefore, me calling the last 16 of the Shanghai Masters is the smallest of beer...but here goes.

Ronnie O'Sullivan was not pressured by Graeme Dott yesterday but seems in good fettle and I think he will be too strong for Marco Fu.

Stephen Hendry will feel he should be out by now and will therefore be relaxed ahead of his match with Ricky Walden, which I feel the seven times world champion will come through.

Ken Doherty is producing some encouraging snooker this season, having fallen to 44th in the world rankings, and may have too much for Barry Hawkins.

Mark Williams, broken right wrist and all, did superbly well to get past Joe Swail but John Higgins may have too much for the former world no.1.

Shaun Murphy wasn't at his consistent best against Michael Holt but should be backed against Jamie Cope.

Ali Carter v Liang Wenbo is hard to call but I'd go for the Englishman.

Matthew Stevens impressed yesterday when he beat Mark Allen and now faces his fellow Welshman Ryan Day. This is hard to call but I'd just about go with Day.

Ding Junhui looked sharp against Stephen Lee and will be favourite to power past Stuart Bingham.



World no.2 Stephen Maguire has withdrawn from the Shanghai Masters because of a shoulder injury.

It means Barry Hawkins gets a walkover into the second round.


Graeme Dott to play Marco Fu is not the draw Ronnie O’Sullivan would have chosen for himself at the Shanghai Masters.

He hasn’t beaten Dott in over four years and is 8-8 on career meetings with Fu.

However, O’Sullivan is capable of sublime snooker anywhere against anyone and has already started the season in impressive fashion, making three straight centuries at the Premier League last week.

Ronnie injured his back on arriving in China but has been practising without any apparent problem.

It’s a myth to suggest O’Sullivan never does well in China. He’s won the China Open twice and was runner-up in Shanghai last season.

He starts the new campaign trailing John Higgins in the provisional rankings. Don’t be fooled into thinking he doesn’t have pride when it comes to the world no.1 spot: he’d love to keep it for another year.

First up it’s Shaun Murphy against Michael Holt.

Many people feel that Murphy is a good bet for a long run in most events. Then again, they say the same about Mark Selby and he was a first round loser yesterday.

Mark Allen against Matthew Stevens should be interesting although, alas, it is not on TV.

In fact, Selby, Allen and Ali Carter – who went to Shanghai early to promote the tournament – have all been put on non-TV tables.

If snooker really wants to foreground these players then they need to be in front of the cameras more.



It's the biggest day of Matt Selt's snooker career. The 24 year-old is appearing in the last 32 of a ranking event for the first time and faces world champion John Higgins at the Shanghai Masters.

Selt warmed up nicely yesterday, recording two centuries in beating wildcard Shi Hanqing 5-0.

He is the only player to have started in the very first qualifying round and made it to Shanghai.

Stephen Hendry is meeting Marcus Campbell for the first time since he was drubbed 9-0 by him in the first round of the 1998 UK Championship.

There have been few bigger shocks but it actually did Hendry a favour. He was in denial about the state of his game at the time and it provided a wake up call.

He went back to the drawing board and ended that season by winning a record seventh world title.

Ken Doherty will be looking to maintain his encouraging start to the season against Neil Robertson, who himself impressed in the Premier League last week.

And Ricky Walden starts the defence of his title. They'll be up early in Bagillt to watch his match against Mark King.

There's an excellent piece on Walden on worldsnooker.com here.



Ronnie O'Sullivan is expected to play in the Shanghai Masters on Wednesday despite injuring his back on arrival in China.

The world no.1 has received treatment but has also been practising at the venue ahead of his clash with Graeme Dott, who pulled out last year after breaking his wrist playing football.

Speaking of which, Mark Williams has had a new cast put on his broken right wrist and it is said to be causing him more pain than the previous one. However, he will still play Joe Swail in the first round.

Stephen Maguire has injured his shoulder and is resting up before he tackles Barry Hawkins.

My new shoes are rubbing my heels but I'm attempting to be stoic and tough it out.


Ken Doherty’s excellent start to the season suggests he has now adapted to life at the qualifiers and has managed to rediscover a positive frame of mind.

Wisely, Doherty played in just about everything he could in the run up to the Shanghai Masters and, nicely match fit, he eased through the wildcard round today with a 5-0 defeat of Adiyta Mehta.

The Dubliner began the new campaign 44th in the world rankings and a precarious 56th on the provisional list.

He won only two matches last season and just two frames in his four matches at Prestatyn.

For a player so used to the big arenas, Pontin’s was a come down but it looks like he’s over that now and that could spell trouble for some of the game’s top players.

Neil Robertson would not have chosen the ever tenacious Doherty as his first round opponent in Shanghai.

In short, Doherty has fallen about as far as he is going to – for now at least – and could be worth backing to turn a few of his younger rivals over in the season to come.



Indian ace Pankaj Advani denied Mike Russell a tenth world professional billiards title tonight with a 2,030-1,253 victory at the Northern Snooker Centre, Leeds.

Advani, 24, dominated the opening session, winning it 1,070-418.

The concluding session was closer but Advani also shaded it, 960-835, to capture the professional title for the first time.


Ricky Walden’s Shanghai Masters success was one of the highlights of last season.

Anyone who had seen him play knew how good he was but Walden seemed to be making slower progress than expected and, at 35th in the world rankings, looked as if he may not make the breakthrough many had predicted.

Up until Shanghai last year, his best showing was a solitary ranking event quarter-final.

However, Walden put all of this right. And how.

He edged Stephen Hendry 5-4, recovered from 4-1 down to scrape past Neil Robertson in a decider, survived a tactical mauling from Steve Davis to beat him 5-2, came from 4-1 down to beat Mark Selby 6-4 and then defeated Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-8 in the final.

Sometimes it is possible to say ‘the draw opened up’ for the winner of a ranking title. Not for Walden.

And he at no time faltered as the winning line approached - and indeed finished off with a century - which proves his mental attitude was right.

He can certainly win more titles, but that of course applies to many other players as well.

His Shanghai defence starts on Tuesday against Mark King. Back in happily familiar surroundings, Walden has every chance of going a long way again.



Here are the Eurosport transmission times for the Shanghai Masters...

Please note that most of the afternoon matches are on Eurosport 2, which will also show highlights in the evening.

(UK time, for Europe add an hour)
Monday, September 7: 7.45am and 1pm (Eurosport2)

Tuesday, September 8: 7.45am and 1pm (E2)

Wednesday, September 9: 7.45am and 1pm (E2)

Thursday, September 10: 7.30am and 12.30pm (E2)

Friday, September 11: 7.30am and 12.30pm (E2)

Saturday, September 12: 7.30am and 12.30pm (E2)

Sunday, September 13: 6.30am (E2) and 12.30pm

EDIT: it transpires that these are only the UK times. Eurosport International will show all the snooker on their main channel.



Rob Walker, master of ceremonies at all BBC snooker events, will replace Ray Stubbs as the corporation's face of darts.

Walker makes his debut at the World Masters this weekend and will also present coverage of the Lakeside World Championship in January.

Stubbs jumped ship to join ESPN after it won live rights to Premier League football games.

Walker will also be part of the BBC team at next February's Winter Olympics and must surely be favourite to replace Stubbs on the BBC snooker output as well, although whether he could MC in such a scenario remains to be seen.


Ricky Walden, who defends his Shanghai Masters title next week, will switch sports to run the New York marathon on November 1.

"I’ve been doing a lot of running because it gives me discipline outside snooker, and it improves my fitness,” Walden said.

“It can only help my game, especially in the long matches, and that will give me more chances to win trophies. I’ve done a couple of half marathons before but never a full one. It could finish me off.”

Good luck to Ricky.

I did a marathon once, although it's known as snickers now.


Ali Carter, Mark Allen and Mark Selby have been in China for the last week doing promotional work ahead of the Roewe Shanghai Masters.

This is an important part of being a professional in any sport and it also helps players to build their own profiles.

I wish more of it was done in the UK, although the Chinese media is rather more interested in snooker than their British counterparts.

At least Ali and the two Marks aren't going to have any problems with jetlag having got used to the time difference between the UK and China.



I would draw your attention to a couple of interviews with Stephen Hendry in his snooker room on 110sport.tv.

They find Hendry relaxed ahead of his 25th season as a professional and reflecting on his strong performance at the World Championship earlier this year.

Nobody likes being written off - least of all great champions - but it occurs to me that the best thing that can happen to Stephen is if everyone says he is past it.

With the pressure of expectation removed he could quietly find a bit of form and do some damage this season. Anyway, who cares what anyone thinks? It is only his own mental state that should matter to him.

The good news for Hendry's fans is that he seems to relish practising hard again, which has not always been the case in the last few years, and is up for yet another year on the circuit.

You can watch the interviews here.



I was interested in this story about Sir Anthony Hopkins, which states he got into theatre and acting when he saw a play at a working men's club that his father had sent him to in order to learn to play snooker.

If things had worked out differently, Hopkins could have been world champion.

By the same token, Ray Reardon could have been Hannibal Lecter (or more likely Dracula).


Mark Williams will play in the Shanghai Masters next week despite breaking his right wrist during a fall at home.

Williams, who is wearing a cast on the wrist, has been practising hard for the season's first ranking event and made a maximum yesterday.

He will wear the cast during the tournament as doctors have advised that premature removal could do long term damage.

Williams, who won the 2002 China Open in Shanghai, faces Northern Ireland's Joe Swail in the opening round.


The Partypoker.com Premier League, which begins again this week, is now one of snooker’s longest running events.

First held in 1987, it was the brainchild of Barry Hearn, the Matchroom supremo, who has taken snooker to parts of the UK not served by tournaments ever since.

The league’s current format is a series of live six frame matches featuring seven players under a 25 second per shot time limit.

Under this, Ronnie O’Sullivan has been unstoppable and starts favourite again this year.

It’s the perfect event for O’Sullivan, but the shot clock is only a small part of this. What he particularly likes about the league is that it is just a one night deal: he turns up, he plays, he goes home. It means the hanging around that you get at tournaments – and which he hates – doesn’t come into it.

There is also usually a great atmosphere because Premier League crowds are traditionally very strong and O’Sullivan, like most top players, revels in such an environment.

And don’t forget the not-so-small matter of £1,000 a frame and £1,000 for a century, making the league potentially more lucrative than a number of ranking tournaments, even though the top prize has been reduced by £20,000 this year.

Joining O’Sullivan in the 2009 line up are world champion John Higgins, world no.3 Shaun Murphy, Hong Kong’s Marco Fu, Aussie Neil Robertson, seven times Crucible king Stephen Hendry and Judd Trump, who won the qualifying tournament, the Championship League.

This isn’t the field everyone would have picked but Hearn is the promoter and he can choose whoever he wants. If it wasn’t for him, the league wouldn’t be taking place at all.

Which of these players can stop Ronnie this year?

Robertson, like quite a few players, did not adapt well to the shot clock on his debut a couple of years ago. If he can get used to it, he has every chance of success because this event favours attacking play.

The same therefore applies to Murphy, who I would expect to reach the play-offs.

Trump is still inexperienced on the big stage and this will be a big test for him. Will he sink or swim? Time will tell.

Hendry hasn’t impressed in the league in recent years and Higgins hasn’t won it since 1999, although both are obviously capable of doing the business.

For me, though, Fu is the dark horse. He won the league in 2003, albeit before the shot clock was introduced. He has a metronomic style but isn’t slow.

And, unlike most players, he has a superior head-to-head record against O’Sullivan.

But, the likeliest outcome is still victory for the world no.1.

No wonder Ronnie once described the league as his favourite event outside the World Championship.