Consider the following players: Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Shaun Murphy.

All great names, all first round losers on their respective Crucible debuts.

The Sheffield theatre is like no other snooker venue. It has turned many a leg to jelly and quickened the heartbeat of even the most laid back players.

This is partly because it is the World Championship and therefore matters so much but there’s no doubt that the unique atmosphere the cramped arena creates adds to the pressure.

Nobody in a million years would choose the Crucible as a World Championship venue today. There’s barely room for the two tables and the audience can reach out and almost touch the players.

But this is precisely what makes it so special.

When Higgins made his debut in 1995 he said he hated the place. It felt strange and uncomfortable playing there. Three world titles later and it’s fair to say he’s changed his mind.

Of course, some players do get over the nerves to get through the first round at the first time of asking.

John Parrott did in 1984. Peter Ebdon shocked Davis in 1992. Mark Williams was successful in 1997.

And, most famously of all, Terry Griffiths went all the way to the title in 1979.

But newcomers are invariably like fish out of water, struggling to find the game that got them to the Crucible in the first place.

So what fate awaits this year’s two debutants, Tom Ford and Zhang Anda?

Ford is set to face a player in Mark Allen who himself made a fine debut appearance in 2007 when he beat Ken Doherty.

And Allen will be looking to exploit any signs of nerves or discomfort from his opponent, seizing on a slow start as he did last year against Martin Gould.

Zhang’s advantage is that he is not steeped in the folklore of the Crucible. Refreshingly, he’s one of the few people who neither knows nor cares about THAT black ball final.

But he will know about Hendry and what he has achieved in Sheffield over the last quarter of a century.

And as it’s the biggest match so far of the 18 year-old’s short career it’s fair to assume there will be a few nerves fluttering around.

Hendry’s disadvantage is that he will almost certainly never have seen Zhang play. I’ve only seen him play once and that was in coolly beating Ricky Walden to qualify.

I was impressed with him there but it’s impossible to say if he can repeat that performance next month when it really matters.

If Zhang does lose he should take heart from Hendry’s own debut in 1986 at the age of 17.

He was beaten 10-8 by Willie Thorne who, through a mixture of sporting goodwill and sheer relief, applauded him out of the arena.

Like everyone else Thorne knew that, even though the young Scot’s first appearance had ended in defeat, he would be back...


mathmo said...

Zhang impressed me against Parrott in the qualifiers. He seems to have composure beyond his years, and is lethal when in the balls.

Looking forward to watching him on the telly.


I've been a fan of both Ford and Allen for some time now.

I like their no nonsense style and how they try to win the game at every chance or half chance that comes their way.

Had they met in the qualifiers or a best of 9, I would probably have given Ford the nod but the famous Crucible nerves are likely to emerge, and I feel Allen is more naturally inclined to raise his game when the heat comes on, than is Ford, who is probably more synonymous with fine potting/breakbuilding rather than gritty scraps for survival.

Hendry/Zhang on the other hand, is trickier to call.

Unlike his peers in the all time greats club, Hendry does not have a great tactical game and finds it difficult to chip away and run for cover, so unless he approaches something like 70% of his best game, he will struggle. He needs to be making frame winning breaks or he's not comfortable.

Zhang can go one of two ways. He can surrender meekly and allow Hendry to get into his stride, or he can come out, as Wenbo did two years ago in beating Swail and Doherty, and just enjoy himself and play snooker.

There is probably more pressure on an unknown to perform and put on a good show than there is to win, particularly a chinese, for whom a good performance can provide enough earning opportunities at home throughout the summer, to remove all financial pressures for the following season.

For this reason, its vital for the mouse to have a decent start, which would enable him to relax and just play snooker.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how attitudes change. I remember John Higgins at the time saying he didn't like the venue. Three world titles later, beating his father's two titles, and who's to say he won't be adding to his tally this year?

Anonymous said...

I was hoping for a post about Hearn's latest plans Dave. What do you think about a one off qualifier?

Dave H said...

I'm waiting for them to be officially announced before commenting.

However, the one-off qualifying idea would certainly be better for the players. If you drop off the tour you have a chance to get straight back on. The only real down side is that if you're ill in the period of the qualifying school then your whole year is gone.

jamie brannon said...

Just out of interest Dave, did you watch the 1985 final? As you seem to not be so keen on the wallowing in nostalgia. I guess you are not impressed about another documentary being made about it.

Allen is my dark horse to win it this year.

finn said...

Do you think you will have a chance to post a Snooker Scene podcast previewing the tournament this year? Really enjoyed it last year.

Greg P said...

One-off qualifying at the beginning of the year?

Surely that would be done in round-robin fashion, right?

CHRISK5 said...

Yeah,Hendry must have been so 'chuffed' at Thorne's applauding gesture in his 1986 debut,that he 'thanked' him in his 'own unique way' by beating 'WT' 10-7 in their 1987 rematch & more heavily,13-4 at the 1989 Worlds!

Not sure about Tom Ford,but I think the pressure already being placed on Zhang is way over the top.

We shouldn't be looking for any miracles on his debut - Just,whether Zhang has any obvious potential to compete at the highest level in future years.

Ding has been a tour pro for seven seasons (with many ups & downs)& is only just nearing what should be the peak/prime of his career.

It takes time to develop & nurture their games & get use to the structures,the politics,the tournament formats,the venues,the travel,handling the fame,not to mention how their head-to head records develop against certain players & how they go about improving on them.

Even if Zhang is spectacular on his Crucible debut - all careers have a 'rollercoaster period' until eventually they find their balance & equilibrium.

Anonymous said...

it will be the shortest ever chairmanship in the history of the game,he will be voted off by a landslide ! completely mental idea ! dave you cant slag him off can ya because he gives you work.

Dave H said...

No he doesn't

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a good idea to me - get rid of the deadwood

God forbid failed snooker players will have to get a job like everyone else instead of clogging up the rankings and offering nothing in return

Dave H said...

'Deadwood' seems a bit unfair. The game needs a proper circuit of players. It will stay at 96 but players relegated will be able to get straight back on rather than spend a year in the amateur ranks, which is particularly frustrating for young players.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I do like the idea that has been proposed in earlier comments of a top 8 - rather than 16.

There is plenty of 'driftwood' in the 16 and there is no doubts about that.

Does anybody know which current top 16 player has bounced more times in and out the top 16?

And no doubt there will be some outside who will be inside come the end of Sheffield.

Also, Dave, can you pass judgement over what is being embargoed at the moment and say from what you have read, that world snooker is going to change big style?

Thanks, Joe

CHRISK5 said...

There are so many ways in which the ranking system can & SHOULD be modified.

If the tour stays at 96 pros,probably only the top 32 should be guaranteed a tour place the next season (instead of the current top 64)

If the tour expanded to 128 pros in total,then maybe the top 48 should be certain to maintain their 'card'.

Also,instead of the complex two season rollover points system - Just have every player starting from scratch (no points) at the start of each season!

After all,a player ranked 38th for example,would still have to win a couple more matches to get the same/equivalent amount of points that a Top 16 player would get before he had played a match anyway! - So the previous seasons ranking & performances would still count for something in that regard.

Most importantly,make it simpler for the casual fans to understand the points tallies - (ie)say 20 pts for winning the Worlds,15pts for UK,12.5pts for Grand Prix etc.

NOT 7,873.60 or some calculator malfunction that we have at present.

Anonymous said...

Overall I agree with most comments made, however, I would like to point out 1 thing in Kildare's post

He says "Hendry does not have a great tactical game". I can sort of see where this comes from yet I still disagree with it. If and when Hendry chooses to play a tactical game he's as good as any. And that's exactly his "flaw". As you probably know, Hendry has always maintained that he "would rather loose because of missing a pot than loose because of a failed safety". As such, this naturally means he's more attacking-minded, much like Mark Allen, Neil Robertson, and Tom Ford.

To say Hendry's tactical game isn't good wouldn't do justice to all those titles he's won. However, to put him at the same tactical aptitude as Higgins or Davis...that might be overshooting it :)

Just my thoughts of course,

Anonymous said...

Snooker © The Fine Art Method
A secret is wasted if not shared
Hello Dave
How are you! Thanks for the past posts Dave. It had to end lad you were getting out of hand. I presume lad that Barry and Steve have “Had a word” as well as Clive.

Take care of your job lad and thanks again. The “Transparency” and “Complete Honesty” from Barry and Steve were elections gimmicks well constructed to create doubts in gullible voters.

My best memory of the past Dave was getting 50/1 Jimmy White months before the 19-52 championship. The brave Alex saw Jimmy off with that wonderful “Lucky Break” that has become legend.

That break by Alex should be shown to youngsters on “How NOT to play Snooker”. The bold Alex played a series of successful shots without once “Managing to find Position”. Alex created the expression “The Single Ball Potter”.

That extremely lucky break by the “Hurricane Man” sent the value of coaching back some ten years but amazingly this series of poor positional shots are still praised instead of showing the importance that “Luck” plays in snooker. Mr hey you.


Mr Hey you;
Regarding Alex Higgins' break in 1982, I would agree with you that it was not an example of how to play snooker.

The balls were very invitingly placed and should have been comparatively easy to clear if he had got, and retained ideal position early on, so from a coaching p.o.v it would be considered a "bad" break in that he had to resort to dfficult pots as a result of losing the cueball.

It was, however, "under the cosh", and tremendously exciting to watch live.

It was also one of the rare occasions when Higgins, who had hitherto thrown away so many big matches by playing risky pots, actually knocked them all in.

There are wider implications to that clearance though, in that it was against Jimmy, and regular snooker watchers will be only too aware that a psychological wound like that can take a long time to heal.

Had White won that match he'd have been a heavy favourite to dispose of an ageing Reardon in the final.

Who knows how many world titles he'd have clocked up after that.

Just as Higgins is acredited with changing snooker history in 72, he may also have altered the course in 82, by denying The Whirlwind the innate confidence and nerve that can only be obtained by lifting THE trophy.

Anonymous said...

Snooker © The Fine Art Method
A secret is wasted if not shared
Hello Dave
How are you lad! Please note Dave the number of blogs you get onto the Date being wrong as opposed to the content or series of Trick Shots by Alex.
If snooker bloggers were as observant when a shot is played wrong, we would have some clever coaches instead of the “Watch Me” brigade and I’ll show you again.

To prove the value of Luck Dave! Ask any Lotto Winner to repeat it again. Ask Alex? The date wasn’t wrong Dave on my Face book Records. Mr hey you

Anonymous said...

what has daves blog got to do with the fine art rubbish?


i think im going to have to stop coming here as this guy just makes my blood boil, spoiling a very good blog!

Unknown said...

I just read Anon @ 12:34

"It's funny how attitudes change. I remember John Higgins at the time saying he didn't like the venue. Three world titles later, beating his father's two titles, and who's to say he won't be adding to his tally this year?"

"... his father's two titles...?? The Wizard of Wishaw won't like being called the offspring of The Hurricane!! Or maybe there was a tongue planted firmly in an anonymous cheek there...?

And Mister Hey You... "My best memory of the past Dave was getting 50/1 Jimmy White months before the 19-52 championship"

I'm surprised you got such bad odds on Jimmy, considering this was the price you got for a Championship taking place 10 years before Jimmy was born...!


CHRISK5 said...

Mr Hey You - Quite right you are that snooker technique is an important part of the game.

But,once you have a sound technique & ability to perform at the highest level.

Then,temprament,playing the correct shot,bottle & desire are bigger factors at the highest level when players are so evenly matched.

A perfect technique will get you only so far - but there is so much more to a player's DNA than just technique - After all,players like Mark Williams,Joe Swail & Mark Selby have done quite alright WITHOUT a textbook cue action,head positioning etc.

For what it's worth,I think Ali Carter has the best cue action & technique of the current top players - But,for him,winning close,tight matches is something he still has to clearly improve upon if he is to climb the rankings any further than he already has.

Again,NOT something that a copyright coaching manual can solve all by itself!

Anonymous said...

why are we discussing coaching and technique on this blog?


please dave, stop posting drivel that mentions the fine art so we can get back to reading comments about your individual blogs.


IanW said...

"Nurse...quick...Ho Hum's escaped to the computer room again"

Anonymous said...

I still recall Hendry being clapped out of the Crucible by Thorne wearing a diamante bow tie which spun around when WT was under pressure.

Anonymous said...

Snooker © The Fine Art Method
A secret is wasted if not shared
Dear Mr Kildare Cue man Hello Dave
Thanks 1:20PM for your understanding of the “Fine Art” post. The Hurricane man had what snooker is searching for “Entertaining Snooker”. Alex couldn’t play without attempting to entertain and actually thought that was the purpose of the game.

It is sad that Alex was lead astray like Jimmy White is with that silly “Naturally Ability” patter. The people around Alex confused his” Good Habits” and Snooker Form as a “Natural Ability”.

“Snooker Form” is like Lady Luck! It comes and goes! Can’t be recalled or practiced. Youngsters should make the word Form a dirty word and strive for the many branches of technique that makes the Form.

About the Higgins senior and the junior; they are not related as they positively Shop at different “Super markets”. Mr hey you

Anonymous said...

Dave has a decent,informative well written blog here,that I have only just started reading past few days,not sure why he posts the ramblings of Mr Hey You,they dont make any sense at all!

Embarassing nonsense some might say!

IanW said...

Re 8:59

Have you not heard of the government's "Care in the Community" scheme?...Dave has been nominated to help Mr Ho Hum into the snooker community.

CHRISK5 said...

Anon @ 6.44pm

Yeah,the 'spinny' tie was ANOTHER humourous part of that Thorne/Hendry 1986 match.

You gotta admire the 'great WT' though - all those big losses to Davis & Hendry through the years,all those Crucible campaigns in which he got the 'twitchy elbow' so many times & yet,usually maintains a wicked sense of humour.

I was in stitches when he was commentating at the Masters 2010,I think the match was Maguire v Day - the 'play' was getting beyond mediocre anyways - then he chirps ''Iv'e give these guys 10 years good grace,time to make a comeback'' - JP Parrott quipped ''It's not that bad''!

However,Thorne does get a bit carried away at serial-analysing almost every single shot on commentary.

I would suggest he relax a little on that & let Hawkeye get on with all the hard work!

Another thing the 'great WT' has shown the players is NEVER openly applaud a player you just beaten - He might just feel a little patronised! (eg) Hendry.

CHRISK5 said...

Like the Worlds 1986 - When Hendry made his Masters debut in 1989 - his opponent..........Willie Thorne! (again)

The result - Hendry wins 5-2

Ok,I admit that I don't recall that match at all.

But,I imagine WT was thinking .....I'm NOT gonna applaud you this time!!

Back to Crucible debuts,Peter Ebdon's in beating Steve Davis in 1992 is probably the best & most surprising of all.

Even more incredible was that Ebdon had to navigate EIGHT qualifying matches to get to the Crucible that year - even before his big breakthrough victory.

Onto 2010,if debutant Zhang is as good as some have suggested - Then,he might register a reasonable 6 or 7 frames against Hendry in their upcoming match.

jamie brannon said...

I may be wrong, but I think Alan McManus holds the distinction of having beaten both John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sulllivan on their debut.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the old i may be wrong.

At least 4 times on here i have read you make statements and when someone has corrected you, you then go on to blame the source of "your info".

you cant have it both ways. you either state what youve read somewhere and its right or wrong.

you cant just post things pretending to be a know-it-all and when it goes boobies up, say it was chris downer (or someone elses) fault.

grow a pair!

Dave H said...

From memory, Jamie's assertion is correct

Anonymous said...

from memory i thought so too Dave, but my post is still relevant as hes did this type of posts many times and when they are wrong he blames someone else, as if it mattered much

jamie brannon said...

I am only saying where I read the info from, I'm not blaming anyone, any internet site is liable to some mistakes. At that time I thought Alan was a real threat for any tournament he was in, but he never really kicked on after his 1994 Masters win as I thought he would.

I say may, as I was not entirely sure about the Ronnie match. If I was wrong I thought Dave, could correct me.

I feel the scorelines may have been 10-3 both times- but that is a tentative 'may' this time.