Among the qualifiers for next month’s China Open is Kurt Maflin, a Londoner now flying the flag for Norway.

Kurt won four matches to qualify for Beijing, a more than creditable performance, and compiled four centuries, including the highest of the qualifiers, 140.

He moved to Norway after entering into a relationship with Anita Rizzuti, a Norwegian women’s player. They have a son, Neon.

Maflin will hope his own name will shortly be up in lights after booking a meeting with Chinese hero Ding Junhui, if he can first beat a local wildcard.

Now 27, Maflin began playing at the age of four and honed his skills at New Cross in London.

Her enjoyed a fine junior career and turned professional in 2001 but, like so many, found it very difficult to stay on the tour.

In Norway, he ran a snooker club with Anita but returned to competitive action to win the 2006 IBSF world amateur title.

He got back on the tour, fell off again but returned through winning the European play-offs last year.

All this came after an accident a few months earlier in which he slipped on some ice and broke his collar bone, leaving him requiring a six inch plate and seven screws in his shoulder.

An even bigger break followed when he made a 147 in the first Players Tour Championship event in Sheffield.

Maflin can now look forward to an appearance in the final stages of a ranking tournament for the first time, rubbing shoulders (or maybe not, given his misfortune) with the game’s biggest names.



Reanne Evans will today attempt to win her first match on the main tour when she plays Ben Woollaston in the qualifiers for the China Open.

Evans, the women’s world champion, was given a discretionary wildcard by the WPBSA to play on the circuit this season. She has played 16 matches thus far and lost them all.

Today also marks Allison Fisher’s 43rd birthday. Fisher is regarded as the best women’s player of them all. As well as dominating the ladies game she beat Mike Hallett, Neal Foulds and Tony Drago in the Matchroom League and was respected by the top male players of the day as a genuine talent.

Fisher turned pro when the game went open but failed to climb above a ranking of 192nd. Given that there were 700 professionals this was respectable but not high enough to convince her that she could make serious waves on the circuit.

Instead, she headed to the USA to play on their lucrative pool circuit, where she has been a revelation.

The ‘Duchess of Doom’ has won scores of titles and is making a very good living.

Karen Corr and Kelly Fisher, two other women’s world snooker champions, have also followed Fisher to the states, although this does not appeal to Evans, for whom snooker is a passion. Her family also play and she was steeped in the game since birth.

Women’s snooker has a long history. Earlier this month, Agnes Davies died at the age of 90.

Agnes won the Welsh women’s title at the age of 17 in 1937 and the world title in 1949. She was still playing into her 70s.

But women players are inevitably compared to the men, usually in uncomplimentary fashion or by those who don’t actually understand that snooker is one of the least sexist sports around.

Around the time of the recent Richard Keys/Andy Gray/Sky Sports sexism row, BBC Radio 5 Live conducted a discussion in which some pundit whose name I forget stated that women are not allowed to play professional snooker and speculated that “perhaps the men are scared of losing to them.”

What patronising twaddle: for women and men. As far as I know the BBC is yet to correct this inaccuracy.

Firstly, there is no bar whatsoever to a woman playing on the professional circuit. If they are good enough, they can play – end of story.

Michaela Tabb is a well respected referee and Hazel Irvine presents the BBC coverage. Neither has encountered prejudice backstage because of their gender.

What is true is that fewer girls have traditionally played snooker in clubs than boys in the UK. Women have even been banned from working men’s clubs and perhaps too many feel that the environment in which the game is played is not for them, even though snooker is watched by large numbers of women.

Young Hannah Jones looks likely to be the next big thing in the women’s game and, outside Britain, other girls are taking up the sport.

But sponsorship and TV coverage will only follow if the standard is sufficient to make women’s tournaments a popular spectacle.

As for Evans, she is stuck in a kind of snooker limbo: too good for the women, not good enough for the men.

The women’s circuit keeps going because of the hard work of those who organise it but it is not hugely competitive and it is hard to see how Evans can improve playing the same women in every tournament.

She will be relegated from the pro circuit at the end of this season but I hope she keeps playing in the PTCs because that is the best way to bring her game on.

Oddly, her best performance this season was running Neil Robertson to 4-3 in EPTC6. Had she won it would undoubtedly have been put down to a bad day at the office for the (professional) world champion but Robertson himself commended the way she played.

Snooker is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on an equal footing, it’s just that it has rarely happened.

There’s no immediate sign that it will but, then again, forever is a long time.



It’s that time of the year again where snooker folk start to look ahead to the World Championship.

The seedings are now fixed for the Crucible and the qualifying draw has been made.

We’ll have the full Sheffield draw next month but it is possible to start making predictions based on where the top players feature.

Neil Robertson will be aiming to make history by becoming the first first-time world champion to defend the title.

Obviously this won’t be easy: it’s hard enough to win the thing once, let alone twice, let alone two years running.

Nobody has defended the world title full stop since Stephen Hendry in 1996.

All we know right now is that Robertson may play Marco Fu in the second round and then possibly Ali Carter or Graeme Dott in the quarter-finals.

But for first time winners, who they play is far from the whole picture. It cannot be overstated the amount of media work the world champion has to do leading up to the tournament and all that time talking about the title defence adds to the pressure of walking out on the Saturday morning.

Tiredness – emotional rather than physical – always seems to set in eventually. Only two first time champions – Joe Johnson and Ken Doherty – have gone on to reach the final again the following year.

Robertson has the talent, of course, to win it again but he also needs the mental strength to last the full 17 days.

The two favourites for the title, based on what we’ve seen so far this season, have to be John Higgins and Mark Williams.

Higgins has won two ranking titles this season, Williams has won one and come within a frame of winning the UK Championship. Also in their favour is that they’ve won it before.

Higgins finds himself in a quarter which includes Shaun Murphy and Ronnie O’Sullivan, who could meet in the second round.

This is a pretty tasty section and although he has been, to say the least, de-motivated this season, O’Sullivan can’t simply be written off.

One good performance at the Crucible would make the events of the previous few months a distant memory.

But does he really have the patience and desire for another 17-day marathon in Sheffield? At the moment, it appears not...but who knows how he will feel come April?

Williams, as the third seed, is scheduled to play Stephen Maguire in the quarter-finals, although the Scot may first have to get past Mark Allen.

Otherwise, the likes of Murphy, Carter, Dott, Ding Junhui and Mark Selby will all be among those challenging for the title, just as they are for every title.

Selby is seeded fourth and could face Ding in the quarter-finals – although the Chinese is yet to reach that stage in four Crucible appearances.

Who will join the top 16 for the final stages?

Steve Davis has a tough draw if he is to do so for a 31st time. The six times world champion may have to beat the fast rising Jack Lisowski and then Stephen Lee in the final round of qualifying.

Another former winner, Ken Doherty, may face Maltese veteran Tony Drago, who has made excellent progress since rejoining the circuit at the start of last season.

Jimmy White would most likely have to beat Liu Chuang, Tom Ford and then Ryan Day to return to the Crucible, where he was runner-up six times.

The overall picture will of course become clearer when the qualifiers begin on March 3.

But it’s good to know the Big One is getting closer and closer...



Jason Ferguson, the chairman of the WPBSA, has written to the players to ask their opinions on changing the miss rule.

At the recent Shootout event in Blackpool players had ball in hand (i.e. anywhere on the table) after every foul.

This meant there was no need for the miss rule and some players felt it made a refreshing change.

Ferguson has asked the players to consider the following:

1. Retain the miss rule as it is – YES / NO

2. Abolish the miss rule in place of the following:
For all fouls or failing to hit the ball on:
a. Ball in hand in the “D” Only
b. Ball in hand with a free table

3. Ball in hand with a free table after 3 misses have been called

4. I would be willing to trial amended rules for one ranking event.

5. Any other comments

The rule was introduced in its current form because players in years gone by were not making good enough attempts to make contact in escaping from snookers.

But the miss rule still sits uneasily with many. It was never intended to produce snookers that can be worth 30 or 40 points.

One of the main problems as I see it is that it is applied uniformly no matter what the position of the balls.

So the rule is the same if there is 15 reds on – where it is easier to make contact – just as when there is just one red on.

Make no mistake, though: laying snookers and getting out of them is one of the main skills in the game. To abandon that is to effectively negate a side of snooker that should be lauded.

For this reason, the ball in hand alternative seems a leap in the wrong direction but I would offer a couple of caveats to that.

Firstly, it would be far less draconian a rule than the current three misses and you lose the frame automatically. At least with ball in hand the opposing player would actually have to pot the balls they needed.

Second, ball in hand is no guarantee that the frame would be over. It would to a large degree depend on how many balls were left on the table (and where they were) but also on the ability of the player with ball in hand to clear up.

Given the option to put the cue ball where they like actually puts them under pressure: in their minds they’ll be thinking they really must make the most of this chance.

Having the cue ball in the D after a miss may not be any advantage at all. In fact, it may be a disincentive for the striker to make contact because cue ball in the D may not leave a pot on.

People say the referees should have more discretion when it comes to calling a miss but I’m not sure they want it.

At the moment they operate under the strict letter of the law. If they are given more wriggle room over what is a miss and what isn’t then they are laid open to much greater scrutiny – by players, TV commentators and the audience.

It could even lead to a situation as exists in football where referees are routinely accused of favouring one team over another.

Personally, I have no problem with the miss rule being scrapped for one tournament a year by way of giving that event a particular identity.

But should the miss rule be changed for all events?

It isn't perfect but at least right now everyone - players, referees and spectators - know where they stand and it protects a certain skillset required to play top level professional snooker.

So on balance, I would say that its current application is the worst possible solution.

Apart from all the others.


It was an emotional night in Newport as John Higgins moved to third in the all time list of ranking event winners with a terrific display of matchplay snooker to win the Welsh Open.

Higgins won seven of the last eight frames to beat Stephen Maguire 9-6 to land a 23rd ranking title.

It was the first event since the death of his father and, once again, he did his family proud.

Maguire was left to rue a few missed chances. He had got ahead in several frames but was unable to kill them off.

But Stephen need not beat himself up too much: Higgins had been a man on a mission all week and he eventually got the result.

I'm pleased for him. I knew John senior and he was a larger than life character, sociable and good fun, who acted as a guiding hand for his son.

Had he never taken John into a club when he was nine he may never have become a player at all.

It would take many years for him to overtake Stephen Hendry at the top of the all time winners list as he is still 13 titles ahead.

But Steve Davis's tally of 28 titles could be overtaken and, with Ronnie O'Sullivan currently demotivated, Higgins can pull away from his friend, contemporary and rival.

He reminded us today of how good he is. It's one thing to have skill but knowledge of the right shot to play and temperament are also so important.

John Higgins has it all in spades and in this form will go to the World Championship in two months time as the man to beat.



I’m sure John Higgins didn’t mind last night’s second semi-final going the distance, but the world no.1 is playing so well that he would still have been a clear favourite regardless.

After a wobble against Jack Lisowski in the first round, Higgins has imposed himself on the tournament. He is focused, composed and seemingly relaxed as he targets his 23rd ranking title.

It’s the first all-Scottish final in a ranking tournament since Stephen Hendry beat Graeme Dott to win the 2005 Malta Cup.

Higgins would become the first player to retain a ranking title since Ronnie O’Sullivan won the 2005 Welsh Open (Neil Robertson won the 2009 Grand Prix and then the 2010 World Open but they were different tournaments, even though he received the same trophy).

Stephen Maguire got his reward last night because he was positive and went for his shots against Mark Selby.

He pulled out several recovery pots at vital times and went on the attack, taking the game to Selby.

This is Maguire’s first ranking event final since he won the 2008 China Open. He had lost in six major semi-finals – four ranking and two Masters – since.

Maguire is a great competitor and fierce match-player who practises regularly with Higgins.

But he will have to produce his A-game and then some to win today.



Like the police in Casablanca, Newport has rounded up the usual suspects with four world class players contesting the semi-finals of the Wyldecrest Park Homes Welsh Open.

John Higgins continues to justify his status as world no.1 after coming through a tricky tie with Matthew Stevens last night with a trademark classy finish.

Higgins hasn't actually lost a ranking event match since Steve Davis beat him in the World Championship last year. His first ambition on returning from suspension was to win a tournament - which he did immediately - and then to return to top spot.

But Ali Carter clearly likes Newport. In the last four years he's been in two quarter-finals, then won the title and then finished runner-up to Higgins.

Last night in his match we saw the way intervals - hitherto missing this week - can affect a contest.

Carter was a little unlucky as his 2-0 lead over Ding Junui was cancelled out and frustration would have been understandable but Terry Griffiths had a calming word with him at the break and he came out and played great stuff for the rest of the match.

Mark Selby laboured before putting away Graeme Dott in a poor match by their high standards. Stephen Maguire upped his game at the right time to beat the in-form Mark Williams.

Maguire has had a bit of a psychological barrier at the semi-final stage of major tournaments of late but has every reason to believe he can do the job tonight.

Much will depend on whether Selby takes the match to him or once again tries to slug it out.



How do you explain someone making a maximum in the opening frame of the match and then playing poorly for the rest of it?

It wasn’t the excitement of the 147 that saw Stephen Hendry lose focus. It was a reversion to recent type.

Hendry has been struggling for a couple of years but he still seems to start matches well before losing his way. It’s as if he gets himself pumped up for games but can’t sustain that intensity much past the first frame.

The maximum suggested that his problem is not one of technique but mental approach. However, his long game seemed to completely disappear as the match wore on and his performance was well below one that the great man would deem acceptable.

In some ways, if he just played badly all the time it would be easier for Hendry to accept his decline. He’s had a good innings and he could retire to the commentary box satisfied with his lot.

But the fact that he can still play well – very well – in spells is the frustrating part: it’s in there somewhere but how to stave off the lapses into mediocrity?

I don’t know if Hendry has ever consulted a sports psychologist but it might not be a bad idea.

The eight players remaining in the Wyldecrest Welsh Open are all ranking event winners and six are ranked in the top eight.

John Higgins and Mark Williams seem to have played the best snooker so far but the event remains wide open.

Last year, Stephen Maguire did a proper job on Williams in the quarter-final stage. It was good, old fashioned foot-on-the-throat snooker: he never let him see a ball.

The Scot hardly ever loses a first round match and is regularly in quarter and semi-finals but like any top player wants silverware, and hasn’t won a title for three years.

Matthew Stevens stuttered when close to the winning line before eventually edging out Ryan Day 4-3 yesterday.

He will have to cut out the unforced errors to stand a chance of dispatching Higgins, who looks fully determined.

Ding Junhui beat Mark Allen 4-3 from 3-1 down, a match played in a flat atmosphere with very few spectators watching. The Chinese is a joy to watch when in and scoring, playing with the same fluency and natural style as the game’s great break-builders.

However, Ali Carter is clearly a fan of Newport, having won the title there two years ago and reached the final last season.

It will be interesting to see Mark Selby’s approach against Graeme Dott. He admitted after their German Masters semi-final that he had gone into the match with a negative attitude and should have attacked more.

I always think Dott is dangerous, not just because he is obviously such a good player but because of his iron will to win.

We’re back to best of nines now, although clearly the best of seven format didn’t stop the cream once again rising to the top.



Home players have had little to cheer at the Welsh Open over the years but they are guaranteed one quarter-finalist this year and Mark Williams is favourite to also reach the last eight.

Matthew Stevens and Ryan Day each impressed yesterday. Stevens blew away Shaun Murphy 4-0, making his 200th career century in the process. Day kicked off with two centuries and went on to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-2.

It was clear O’Sullivan was very rusty. He did make a century but there were shots he played that were indicators of someone not in the groove.

Not that Day cared and neither should he. He took the game to O’Sullivan and got his reward.

German Masters champion Williams coasted past Marco Fu 4-0 in the first round while his opponent today, Jamie Cope, struggled to put away Rory McLeod.

For Cope to rise further up the ranks he has to start beating the top players in big occasions such as this. Williams seems to be playing as well as he ever was, though, and that makes him very difficult to stop.

Stephen Maguire was mentored by Stephen Hendry as a teenager. This consisted largely of fishing out the balls for the seven times world champion but he will have learned a great deal and will be looking to apply all that when he faces Hendry today.

Hendry has played better in the last two events than he has all season. It may be subconscious, but perhaps the pressure of the world rankings has focused his mind. He always was reliable with his back to the wall.

It seems an age since Ding Junhui won his first match (it was Monday morning) but he finally gets another game today against Mark Allen, who beat him in the last 16 of the UK Championship earlier this season.

The last 16 featured 13 of the top 16. Already two members of the top eight have made the quarter-finals.

John Higgins looked determined and composed in beating Dave Harold 4-1; Mark Selby was still a little negative but put away Mark King 4-2.

Such is the quality of the field remaining that a case could be made for anyone of them to win the thing.



Ronnie O'Sullivan is in Newport and it wouldn't surprise me if he played well this week.

He's coming in at the latest possible stage and so there won't be much hanging around for him, something he loathes.

I'm not sure O'Sullivan rates the Welsh Open particularly highly but this may be a plus. He was certainly relaxed back in 2005 when he went to the cinema between sessions of the final, arrived back with about five minutes to spare and went out and beat Stephen Hendry 9-8 to retain the title.

Ryan Day played superbly to see off Jimmy White but I suspect he will have to do so again tonight.

Like the World Open, this shorter format event is not producing many shocks. In fact, just one top 16 player (Ricky Walden) has lost so far.

Mark Selby could easily have gone out but Stuart Bingham failed to put him away leading 52-0 in their decider and Selby produced a typically steely clearance to win it on the black.

From such first round great escapes have tournament winners been made.

Peter Ebdon represents perhaps the last bastion of resistance against snooker's new era, despite the fact he is personally benefiting from it.

The change in the ranking system - which Ebdon opposed - has allowed him to return to the top 16 and thus be seeded through to the Crucible. He will appear there for the 20th successive year - something he is justifiably proud of.

In Berlin earlier this month Eurosport recorded interviews with a host of players to ask them about their views on new formats and general changes to the circuit.

All were positive, willing to embrace change for the better good of the sport even if they didn't necessarily agree with every aspect of it.

Ebdon, though, took the opportunity to deride the new Welsh Open format, calling it a "huge leap in the wrong direction."

His chief bugbear is the lack of intervals. He said if the table is not brushed during this midsession break that "there will be a lots of finger marks on the table, a lot of chalk marks all over the table. It means there is more chance that the player will get kicks, big bounces off the cushions."

In fact, from 2-2 with Dominic Dale yesterday Ebdon finished off with breaks of 115 and 95, although this didn't stop him grabbing the brush from the table fitter and making a show of brushing it himself.

Ebdon is perfectly entitled to think whatever he likes but the groundswell in the game is that snooker is on the up and that format changes and fresh ideas are crucial to maintaining the momentum.

He reached the semi-finals of the World Open so, to his great surprise, Ebdon may actually be a short format specialist.



Mark Williams’s career at the top level has been defined by his long, consistent runs to latter stages of tournaments.

He was in four of the last seven finals of the 1998/99 season, winning three titles, and five of the last eight of the following season, winning three.

Williams was also in three of the last six finals of the 2002/03 season and has now appeared in the last two played in this campaign.

The twice world champion hasn’t won two ranking titles in the same season for eight years but was superb at the German Masters in Berlin and clearly a great favourite on home turf.

The Welsh Open provided him with his first ranking title in 1996. He edged a great final against Stephen Hendry in 1999 but like his fellow Welshmen has not enjoyed much success there since.

And Williams has a tough first round assignment in the shape of Marco Fu, who reached the semis in Berlin.

Fu will doubtless be aware of the top 16 calculations. He will be safe unless Stuart Bingham reaches the quarter-finals or there are a series of strange results.

Bingham has his own tough starter against Mark Selby, who will be looking to bounce back from his defeat to Williams in their Germany final.

Selby has a chance to be seeded in the top four for the World Championship. With the quality of the players at the top of the game this is not necessarily a big advantage but still an achievement.

There were five deciders on day one with all the seeds winning with the exception of Ricky Walden, beaten 4-3 by Dave Harold.

Walden needed only the green from the third last red to leave Harold needing a snooker but made the decision to play it with power to get on a red and duly missed. This gave Harold a chance to clear, which he took.

Matthew Stevens stopped playing on the other table to allow Harold to do this. With no partition, he didn’t want to put him off.

A lack of a dividing wall gives the audience a chance to watch both tables but not all the players will be for it.

In Germany, the arena was much bigger and the tables were not parallel to each other as in Newport.

For such an issue as this, the players really need to be listened to. If enough of them are uncomfortable with it then the partition should return. If most are fine with the open plan feel then there’s no problem.

In the past, players have had too much say in administrative matters but they should still be consulted on playing matters.



Jack Lisowski can be forgiven if he didn’t sleep last night. The 19 year-old makes his television debut today against the world’s no.1, John Higgins, at the Wyldecrest Welsh Open.

Lisowski is in his first season; Higgins is a three times world champion and all time great.

This is truly snooker’s version of David v Goliath. You’ll recall David was the winner of that one, although it wasn’t a best of seven.

Jack contributes a column in Snooker Scene each month detailing life on the circuit. He became a professional at the start of the season and has grabbed his opportunity with both hands – proof that it can be done, even though the qualifying system can be tough.

He didn’t start so well, losing his first three matches. At that stage, the wild-eyed wonder of being a snooker pro was replaced with harsh reality: it’s difficult.

Lisowski was worried at this point that he may lose his place on the tour but this is where the PTC series came into its own. Unlike recent seasons, there was plenty of snooker to be played and plenty of time to bed in.

Lo and behold, Lisowski reached the final of PTC 3, which lit the blue touch paper for what has been a highly productive season.

He knew it would virtually guarantee his tour card, which took some of the pressure off, and he will also be in the grand finals next month.

Lisowski qualified for the German Masters but, obviously, his match against Higgins will be the biggest of his career thus far.

I would wish any young player well in such circumstances but Jack is worthy of special mention. Three years ago, he was told he had Hodgkins Lymphoma, a form of cancer.

This is horrendous news at any age but for a 16 year-old it must have been a very painful experience.

It was especially hard that this frequent visitor to junior tournaments was unable to play snooker at this time.

But Jack didn’t feel sorry for himself. Instead he filled his time reading up on world events, subscribing to the Economist and scouring the pages of The Times.

Thankfully he has recovered and is now fully focused on his career. He shares a house in Romford with Judd Trump and practises at the Grove Snooker Club there, also a base for Ronnie O’Sullivan.

I’m impressed with his general attitude. He wants to learn all the time and though he will be understandably nervous today, he knows Higgins is a big favourite and that he should just enjoy it.

He is also articulate beyond his years and smart too: when he won a bit of prize money earlier in the season instead of going wild he invested it in a share portfolio, which made a profit.

Lisowski represents the future of the game. He is currently the outstanding choice for newcomer of the year in the revived WPBSA awards and has many years of playing ahead of him.

How well he does is up to him and the standard he can attain but he has clearly turned professional at an ideal time, with plenty of opportunities ahead of him.

He credits receiving the WPBSA's Paul Hunter Scholarship for him improving enough to become a professional. Hunter won the Welsh Open at the age of 19. It is asking a lot for Lisowski to do the same but, whatever else he does in his career, this is an important moment and one he will always remember.

I’m sure three years ago there must have been concern that a day like today would never come. Well, it has come and good luck to Jack this afternoon.



The Wyldecrest Welsh Open is now the third longest running ranking event on the circuit but despite its heritage has ended up the poor relation of the circuit.

Its top prize of £30,000 is the lowest of any of the seven ranking events and there are only 5,000 ranking points available to the winner.

But Wales is a snooker hotbed and has produced a number of world beating players down the years – Reardon, Mountjoy, Griffiths and, of course, Williams.

One of the problems with the perception of the Welsh Open is Newport itself, particularly in recent years with all the building work going on outside.

To walk into a venue and have to trek past a swimming pool full of kids and pensioners doesn’t exactly scream ‘classy.’

The Cardiff International Arena was a better venue but much more expensive. I used to enjoy it there when it was played over just five days because it gave the event great momentum, although this was only because a caravan exhibition had been booked into the venue earlier in the week.

But if you’re watching on TV, who cares where it’s held? And it’s all the same star names in this tournament as all the others.

There are two important changes that affect the profile of this year’s Welsh Open.

The first is due to the new ranking system. Newport represents a last chance for players to get in the top 16/32/48/64 ahead of the next revision of the list, which will decide the seedings for the China Open and, of course, the World Championship.

The other is the introduction of best of sevens in the first two rounds. This will mean that every match will be played on a televised table.

We saw at the World Open that, despite dire predictions to the contrary, the best players win regardless of the format.

Why? Because it’s still the same game with the same pressures and the best players handle them the best.

My only concern with the best of sevens is that the public may feel short changed in the evening session, which features just one match on each table.

These things are usually dictated by broadcasters but a couple of 4-0 results could mean just an hour’s play.

What is interesting about the best of sevens at the qualifiers is that it was veterans and old war horses that made it through, not young guns, with the exception of Jack Lisowski.

So we have Rod Lawler, Dave Harold, Marcus Campbell, Nigel Bond et al taking their places in the main draw.

The draw contains a brutal top quarter featuring John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Shaun Murphy, as well as Ricky Walden, Matthew Stevens, Ryan Day and, to the delight of many fans, Jimmy White.

Mark Williams is the man of the moment having just won the German Masters but Marco Fu, who he beat in the semi-finals in Berlin, is a tough first round opponent brimming with extra determination as he can secure his top 16 place in Newport this week.

Welsh players invariably falter on home turf, with the exception of the two years Williams won the title.

Hopefully Neil Robertson will avoid calamity and make it to Wales unscathed.

BBC Wales are host broadcasters and Eurosport have extensive coverage, at times of both tables.

The Welsh Open trophy - a piece of slate - is not the most aesthetically pleasing but this is a tournament with history and deserves respect.

It's true that snooker is now looking to new markets in Europe and beyond but Wales has an established base of players and fans, who will hopefully turn out to support their home event.



The next week will decide which players will be seeded directly through to the Crucible and which will have to sweat it out at the Betfred.com World Championship qualifiers.

The new rolling ranking system is fairer than the one previously in place. It rewards success, ensuring those players who do well rise up the list immediately rather than having to wait a whole year to see any improvement.

It looks like around 14 of the top 16 places are pretty much set but there are a number of players who can sneak in under the wire through good runs at the Wyldecrest Welsh Open.

Marco Fu played himself into contention by reaching the semi-finals of the German Masters last weekend, which meant he rose from 18th to 15th but he may have to qualify for Newport to remain on track to regain his top 16 place.

Ricky Walden is seeded directly through and a first round victory would probably see him secure.

There are then five players – Stuart Bingham, Stephen Lee, Mark Davis, Andrew Higginson and Mark King – separated by around 800 points.

Bingham would need Fu to lose in Sheffield today and qualify himself and he would grab 16th place – but that’s not factoring in what the players do behind him. He would have to do better than them to squeeze in.

Further down the list, the same calculations are being made for the top 32, 48 and 64.

Players who wish to go mad studying the various machinations should check out prosnookerblog’s excellent running ranking/seedings list, which provides daily updates as to where everyone stands.



With creditable candour, Mark Selby has admitted on his personal blog that he can be too negative in matches.

Selby lost 9-7 to Mark Williams in the final of the German Masters last weekend.

It was only his fourth ranking tournament final, his only title coming three years ago at the Welsh Open, although he has also won two Wembley Masters titles.

Selby said: “Other than the final, and against Graeme Dott in the semis, I had a good, quick start in all my matches and led from the front. But more often than not I am a slow starter, and sometimes that can cost me. I can be over-cautious, trying to be too careful and not make any errors. Sometimes I play not to lose, rather than play to win, and that stops me from performing to the best of my ability. You can’t lose a match in first two or three frames, so I need to start off more relaxed and get myself into a commanding position, rather than playing catch-up.”

I noticed this caution when Selby played Dott in the World Championship semi-finals last season. After experiencing the high of his comeback win over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals, Selby seemed too anxious not to lose to Dott rather than attempt to take command of the match.

He was playing well enough to have given Neil Robertson a tough test in the final but lost 17-14.

There is nothing wrong with Selby’s game. He is a heavy scorer – with 37 centuries this season, more than anyone else – and has a watertight tactical game.

The problem is knowing when to attack and when to defend or, more particularly, not being dragged into playing either game without due regard for the other.

Snooker is a sport that does not require sustained physical prowess but mental strength is a must.

A positive outlook is crucial and if doubts cloud the mind then players find it hard to think clearly. Even great players have made wrong shot choices under pressure.

Steve Davis was the ultimate all round player and John Higgins has assumed this mantle: knowing the right shot and playing it, assessing the wider picture of the match, the state of mind of the opponent and the percentages of playing in a particular way.

The other side of that coin can be painful to watch. How many times have you seen a player under pressure look at the right shot, then walk around the table and start considering other possibilities?

If you look long enough for problems you are sure to find them.

Davis’s mantra was that the key to being successful at top level professional snooker was to play as if it meant nothing when, in fact, it meant everything.

In other words: approach every frame the same way. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

Stephen Hendry at his peak always raised his game when he was under the cosh. His inner belief, whether innate or formed from his relentless reign of success, meant that he always felt positive, that he could do it, that he would do it.

I remember the 2003 Irish Masters final, an excellent contest between O’Sullivan and Higgins. It reached a decider. Early on, O’Sullivan potted a long red, playing the cue ball back to baulk.

Most players would have rolled up behind a baulk colour but O’Sullivan blasted the brown into a middle pocket, went down for the reds and won 10-9.

Was that the right shot? Some would argue not but the point is that, for O’Sullivan, it was because he absolutely believed he would get it. There wasn’t a flicker of doubt in his mind.

Selby’s problem is intensified by the feeling that he has underperformed in ranking events. It’s easy to say that he will start winning plenty of them soon but people said the same of Matthew Stevens after he captured the 2003 UK Championship and he is yet to add to his haul.

I sometimes describe Selby as a ‘master of brinkmanship’ – which he often has been – but this may not always be construed as a compliment.

Winning matches comfortably means there is more mental energy left in the tank. Against Dott in Berlin he got involved in a right old scrap while Mark Williams was chilling out, ready for the final.

My advice to Selby is to have a chat about it to an experienced hand who knows what he is going through, a former player.

In 2004, O’Sullivan’s game and general approach was galvanised through advice from Ray Reardon.

When he was at his best, John Parrott received advice from the late John Spencer, Reardon’s great rival of the 1970s.

Top level sport is a microcosm of life itself: it’s all about highs and lows, success and disappointment, taking your chance or letting it slip away.

Selby is a good lad, a professional on and off the table and if he can find the recipe to cut out the negativity he has every chance to become one of the sport’s greats.

The next few years will determine whether he can clear his mind of all the doubts often enough to do just that.



Wyldecrest Park Homes will sponsor the Welsh Open according to a story on their website.

The mobile home park operator also sponsored the World Seniors Championship in Bradford last November and the Premier League in Bowls.

The Welsh Open begins on Monday in Newport and is televised by BBC Wales and Eurosport.

Qualifiers are being staged in Sheffield this week. Live scoring is available on worldsnooker.com.



Stephen Hendry and John Higgins head the field for the revived Scottish Professional Championship, which will be staged at the Lucky Break club in Clydebank in April.

The tournament has been restored to the calendar by its last winner, John Rea, who captured the title in 1989.

Hendry and Higgins join fellow Scottish stars Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott as seeded players for the quarter-finals.

Due to huge interest from ex-professionals and amateurs the tournament has been opened up and qualifying rounds will precede the main event.

Former pros Billy Snaddon, Paul McPhillips, John Lardner, Murdo MacLeod and Scott MacKenzie are among those taking part.


Stevie Wylie or John Rea v Mark Boyle or Davy McLellan
Scott MacKenzie or Craig MacGillivary v Murdo MacLeod or Richy McDonald
Paul McPhilips or Giulio Rea v Billy Snaddon or John Lardner
James McBain

PRELIM 1 (Lucky Break)
Jamie Burnett v QUALIFIER 3 (6th April @ 2.15pm)
PRELIM 2 (Lucky Break)
Alan McManus v QUALIFIER 1 (6th April @ 7.30pm)
PRELIM 3 (Lucky Break)
Marcus Campbell v James McBain (8th April @ 2.15pm)
PRELIM 4 (Lucky Break)
Anthony McGill v QUALIFIER 2 (8th April @ 7.30pm)

(1) John Higgins OR PRELIM 1 (11th April @ 7.30pm)
(4) Stephen Hendry OR PRELIM 2 (11th April @ 2.15pm)
(3) Graeme Dott OR PRELIM 3 (12th April @ 2.15pm)
(2) Stephen Maguire OR PRELIM 4 (12th April @ 7.30pm)

Winners of Higgins and Hendry matches (13th April @ 2.15pm)
Winners of Dott and Maguire matches (13th April @ 7.30pm)

FINAL(Lucky Break)
(14th April @ 7.30pm)



Mark Williams was the champion at the German Masters and fair play to him for emerging victorious from a fascinating tactical duel with Mark Selby, 9-7 in Berlin this evening.

But the real winner was snooker. To see the capacity crowd at the Tempodrom standing as one to applaud the players was a wonderful sight.

Even Williams, generally an irreverent character with a deadpan sense of humour, was visibly moved by the ovation.

The German supporters were the real stars of this tournament. They turned out in huge numbers and were respectful throughout.

Yes, they have their favourite players but they are primarily fans of the game and Williams was entirely right to commend them after his victory.

What an exciting evening's snooker it was, full of twists and turns, drama and intrigue.

And it brought the curtain down on an excellent week for the sport. 2011 has started with the first all-Asian final at a major tournament, the fun of the Shootout and now this superb German event.

Clearly Germany's snooker boom was no myth. Without wishing to look backwards, it is astonishing this interest was not harnessed sooner.

Germany can sustain a couple of major events per season in the future and the interest extends across much of the rest of the continent, all of which bodes well for the game in the coming years.

The fact is this: snooker should be played where people want to watch it. Interest has declined in the UK since the boom years but there is a big world out there and continental Europe is a market yet to be properly tapped.

So thank you to the Berlin crowd for the way they proved that there is plenty of life left in this great sport.

It was dramatic, it was memorable and, in the end, it was surprisingly emotional.

After years of going nowhere the game is on the up again.



Who wins the German Masters scarcely matters when set against the main function of the week: to showcase the huge interest that exists in Germany and thus build on it in future years.

As it happens, though, the final could be a cracker. It pits Mark Williams v Mark Selby.

Williams is one of snooker's all time greats. An ex-world, UK and Masters champion and former world no.1, the left-hander is chasing his 18th ranking title.

Selby, though rightly regarded as a world class competitor, is appearing in only his fourth ranking final and his first since winning the 2008 Welsh Open, his only ranking title.

Williams once beat Selby 9-0 but that was many years ago and their Berlin final will surely be closer, although I'd make Williams favourite.

The Welshman has taken nonchalance to a new level this week. Watching Williams you'd think he was down the club and this very approach is one of the reasons he remains so dangerous.

A formidable potter, Williams seems to enter every frame with the same attitude, regardless of what has happened in the match.

His China Open victory last season proved he was back to something towards his best and he's been brilliant this week in Berlin, justifying his status as a returning member of the top four.

Selby's only real problem seems to be going too negative when, in fact, he's at his best when going for his shots. To win, he mustn't allow himself to get bogged down because Williams can scrap it out with the best of them.

The 2,500 capacity crowd surely deserve a classic final and these two are capable of producing one.

Let's hope they do just that.



Mark Williams reached the UK Championship final a few weeks ago without really hitting the heights until the end of his semi-final against Shaun Murphy but was superb last night in beating Dominic Dale 5-2.

A huge crowd witnessed the twice world champion run through the first two frames in 20 minutes, notch up his 250th career century and eventually ease to the line.

Williams's great run towards becoming world champion in some ways began in Germany. He was runner-up to John Parrott in the 1998 German Masters in Bingen, won the Irish Open the next week, then the Welsh and Thailand titles, was runner-up at the Crucible and the following year lifted the biggest snooker crown of them all.

His game is back, his confidence is back and that makes him very difficult to beat.

Two Joes have returned to form after failing to do much of late.

Joe Swail often does this: tumbles down the rankings and then pulls out a great performance to arrest his slide.

He only won one match in a ranking event last season and was heading into the 50s on the list when the 2009 Welsh Open points were taken off - the Northern Irishman was runner-up in that tournament.

From somewhere, he has found the game to beat Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy on successive days.

His quarter-final opponent Marco Fu built on the confidence gained from his run to the Masters final to beat Mark King before his walkover against John Higgins.

Joe Perry had fallen to 32nd in the rankings but a 5-1 defeat of Ali Carter is a real confidence booster. Williams, though, presents an altogether tougher challenge.

The main televised quarter-final is Ding Junhui v Mark Selby.

For all Selby's obvious qualities he has still only won one ranking title and that was three years ago, although his two Masters victories mean that this doesn't tell the full story of his recent career.

Still, it's a statistic he will want to change and beating in-form players like Ding is the key to converting consistency into silverware.



Despite winning this morning, John Higgins has withdrawn from the German Masters after learning his father's ill health worsened.

John Senior has sadly passed away today.

Family has always come first for Higgins. He walked out of the 2000 Grand Prix because of a date clash with his brother's wedding.

John Senior was too ill to travel to Telford to watch him win the UK Championship, having been told last September that his cancer was terminal.

It's worth remembering at times like these that snooker, though hugely important to many of us, is just a game.


It'll be interesting to hear from the players but I have to say I like the open plan arena at the Tempodrom in Berlin.

It gives the audience the chance to watch every match and creates a really good atmosphere in the room.

There wasn't much evidence yesterday that the players are distracted by it...time will tell whether it's judged a success.

The crowds were certainly very good and treated to an interesting day's play that culminated in the elimination of world champion Neil Robertson.

After all the passport trouble he arrived at the venue with little time to spare and was clearly sluggish early on.

Anthony Hamilton made hay, making a series of big breaks including two centuries to lead 4-2.

Then, the Aussie produced some typically fine back-to-the-wall snooker to draw level and the stage seemed set for his eventual scraping over the line.

However, Hamilton saved his best for last, making another century to clinch a 5-4 victory.

Perhaps the biggest shock of the day, though, was Joe Swail's 5-3 defeat of his fellow Northern Irishman Mark Allen.

Swail had no form whatsoever to speak of; Allen had been a semi-finalist in the UK Championship and the Masters.

It proves that it is basically all on the day on a circuit full of talent.

John Higgins was the last player to win a major ranking event staged in Germany and starts his berlin campaign against Robert Milkins, runner-up to Nigel Bond in the Shootout at the weekend.

The last 16 of the German Masters will also be played today, with Stephen Hendry hoping to follow up his encouraging win over Judd Trump yesterday by beating Mark Selby.



Neil Robertson has apparently found his passport and boarded a plane this afternoon. Let's hope it was to Berlin.

Invariably after scrapes such as this Robertson plays really well. Perhaps this is because he doesn't have time to stress about the actual match because of the pressure of actually getting there.

On the table today there was a big win for Stephen Hendry, which will go a long way towards safeguarding his top 16 place and automatic seeding through to the Crucible.

Hendry beat Judd Trump 5-2 and seemed to play pretty well. The test for him, though, is beating the players who have replaced him in the upper echelons of the ranking list.

Mark Selby is such a player and where Hendry's game is will become apparent when he plays the Leicester man in the last 16.



Neil Robertson, the reigning world champion, has lost his passport according to an interview with Barry Hearn in the Guardian.

The Australian is due to play Anthony Hamilton in the German Masters in Berlin on Thursday night.

The news follows the withdrawal today of Ronnie O'Sullivan.

"What with Ronnie and a world champion who's lost his passport, what chance have you got?" said a clearly exasperated Hearn.

Assuming the details are correct, this is the latest in a long line of scrapes Robertson has got himself into.

Yes, these things happen but they have happened too regularly to Robertson.

I have some sympathy for Neil. He is a new father and he and his partner do not have parents living nearby to share the load.

I hope he makes it to Germany, but surely he needs to take a serious look at his preparation because eventually all this will cost not just him but the game as well.


Ronnie O'Sullivan has withdrawn from the German Masters.

His decision not to travel to Berlin gives Dominic Dale a bye in to the last 16. It will also leave many who bought tickets specifically to see him play disappointed.

I can reveal that O'Sullivan recently told World Snooker he wanted to take a break from the game.

The sabbatical does not apparently include exhibitions. He has signed up for several nights on the Snooker Legends tour, indeed played Jimmy White in Blackburn last night.

This is almost on a par with Joe Davis in the 1950s, who retired from the World Championship but played in exhibitions.

Everyone knew he was still the best player and the fact he wasn't in the World Championship killed the tournament off, although it would be fanciful to suggest O'Sullivan's behaviour could do the same in 2011.

In exhibitions, there is little pressure. In a tournament, though, a player has his game tested. There is pressure. It is serious. Anyone who watched O'Sullivan in the UK Championship or the Masters will have observed that he was poorly motivated and unable to raise his game when he needed to.

Against White last night he contributed to an evening that included six centuries in eight frames.

Tournament snooker is perhaps boring to him now when set against the rush of a one night show - as in the Premier League - where he can pitch up, play and go home again - especially when the result doesn't really matter that much and he won't feel undue pressure.

But professional players have a responsibility to the game as well as their own whims.

O'Sullivan entered the tournament and so he should play in it unless there is a serious reason why he cannot.

The WPBSA's disciplinary arm recently instituted a series of punishments for players withdrawing from events they have entered.

The financial cost will not bother O'Sullivan. He has more than enough money to cover it.

The event will survive. German snooker fans have enthusiasm for the game, not just the top players.

But O'Sullivan is clearly at some sort of crossroads. He has threatened to retire many times and it has always been a rash, spur of the moment statement.

What is clear right now, though, is that he doesn't want to play tournament snooker.


From the carnage of the war torn Scottish amateur scene comes a survivor.

But only just. Anthony McGill, 20 this week, admits he almost quit snooker after the poisonous atmosphere at junior tournaments steadily sapped the youthful enjoyment of competition.

The ins and outs of the civil war north of the border are frankly too tedious to detail. But the long running struggle certainly did little to enhance the prospects of the next generation of Scotland’s snooker fraternity.

McGill was one of them. Like many a youngster he was entranced by snooker and just wanted to play. The arguments and petty squabbles were of no interest and, eventually, something had to give.

“There was a time when I thought it wasn’t worth carrying on,” McGill said.

“My dad was involved in it all. He was trying to sort it out, make it better, but it was taking its toll on the family and it wasn’t always a lot of fun in the house.

“Snooker is nothing compared to your family so I considered giving up. Just as I was thinking about doing that I won a PIOS event, so I knew I’d be on the main tour.

“But it was horrible turning up to those junior tournaments. Nobody seemed to like anyone and you couldn’t enjoy playing in them.

“I’m glad things seem to have been sorted out now and that the juniors today don’t have that going on. It wasn’t a nice few years.”

His apprenticeship may have been served amid much unpleasantness but McGill is now reaping the rewards of his decision not to hang up his cue.

He has enjoyed a highly productive debut season on the main tour, rising to 56th in the rankings and enjoying wins over fellow Scots Stephen Hendry, Stephen Maguire and Alan McManus in the Players Tour Championship.

“I’m delighted with the season I’ve had,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d do as well as this but I’ve beaten a few good players so I’ve exceeded my expectations.

“The PTCs were brilliant because I was playing pretty much every week, plus I was playing top players in less pressurised situations than you’d get at a main venue.

“Last season there were only six tournaments. I’d come close to qualifying but, looking at it now, I’m lucky that I didn’t.”

McGill’s first snooker memory was watching the TV, as a seven year-old, as John Higgins won his first world title in 1998.

Now he practises with the three times Crucible champion and other leading Scottish professionals, an invaluable chance to learn more about the unrelentingly difficult game of snooker.

“I usually get a game with Marcus Campbell once a week and also practise pretty regularly with John Higgins and Stephen Maguire," he said. "I’m dead lucky because they all live close by.

“It’s helped me do well on the tour because it’s such tough practice. My game has improved quite a bit over the last year.”

It was on a family holiday to Spain where McGill first took to playing: “There was a pool table in every bar and I went on one. I loved it and my parents had to decide whether to buy me a PlayStation or a small snooker table for Christmas that year. They got me the snooker table, so life could have been very different if they’d picked the PlayStation.

“I loved playing so I started going in the club every weekend and then every day after school.”

His ascent up the junior ranks was rapid and, in 2006, he appeared in the Junior Pot Black final, which was played at the Crucible during the World Championship.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I was only 15 and I was playing at the Crucible. I’ll never forget that.”

McGill certainly has the talent to accumulate a store of Sheffield memories. The qualifiers for this year’s World Championship are just a month away.

First up, it’s the German Masters this week, his first appearance in the final stages of a ranking event. If he beats Dutch wildcard Mario Wehrmann he will face Mark Williams in front of the television cameras.

Stephen Hendry’s success ushered in a golden era for Scottish snooker. In 1987 he became the fifth Scot to play at the Crucible. Since then, 13 more have competed there but the last Scottish debutant was Maguire in 2004.

“The last young Scottish player to break through was Stephen Maguire and that was ten years ago,” McGill said. “We’ve had a few barren years but I can hopefully break the pattern.

“I’d like to get into the top 48 next, that’s my goal, and keep qualifying for tournaments.

“I’ve learned so much in my short time on the circuit. I didn’t realise how attacking I was but in the first few tournaments I played a few old heads and they didn’t take anything on. They just tie you up, so I had to develop my safety.

“But you have to take your shots on as well. It’s tough to strike a balance.

“You have to have a good temperament as well. You can’t afford to let things get to you otherwise these guys will steamroller you.”

To this end, McGill has immersed himself in several books about the mind, encompassing strategies for keeping cool.

He’ll have plenty of opportunities to apply the theory in future tournaments due to the increased number of events scheduled for next season.

McGill has already experienced the rush of a big arena at the Shootout in Blackpool last weekend and is hungry for more – much more.

“The Shootout was awesome. It was a great experience,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to have turned pro when everything is all go.”

Just as wrangling administrators almost caused him to walk away from the game, so the elevation to the World Snooker chairmanship of one of UK’s sport's brightest promoters has given McGill the perfect chance to show the world what he can do.



The German Masters is a new tournament but not the first ranking event staged in Germany. In fact, it will be the fourth.

The first German Open was staged in Frankfurt in 1995 and won by John Higgins, who also captured the title in Bingen in 1997. Ronnie O’Sullivan won in Osnabruck in 1996.

In 1998, the German Masters reverted to invitation status and was won by John Parrott.

In recent years popularity in Germany has rocketed, due mainly to television coverage of the game’s major events on Eurosport.

German Eurosport’s chief commentator Rolf Kalb – who will be the MC in Berlin – has been the country’s leading snooker evangelist for many years, introducing and explaining the game to a multitude of new viewers.

Despite the interest, the previous WPBSA board were either unable or unwilling to get an event on in Germany.

The World Series went there and the atmosphere for their event was superb.

Tickets have sold well for this new event and it should be a terrific atmosphere at the Berlin Tempodrom, where the five tables are arranged in a unique circular arena.

It’s a great field of players featuring the top 16, several established qualifiers such as Matthew Stevens, Stephen Lee, Ryan Day, Marco Fu, Dominic Dale and Anthony Hamilton as well as first season professionals Jack Lisowski, Anthony McGill [the subject of the returning Big Interview feature on this blog tomorrow] and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon.

There are also eight European wildcards, including 15 year-old Belgian wonderkid Luca Brecel and Daniel Wells, who came within a frame of qualifying for the Crucible two years ago.

The German Masters lasts only five days and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. The only reason, say, the UK Championship is nine days long is so that the BBC can have live sport on consecutive weekends.

Years ago the Welsh Open was only five days long and it meant there was always something happening, wherever you looked.

Eurosport times vary depending on where you live. On British Eurosport coverage is wall-to-wall, starting with Wednesday evening’s session.

Germany is an important market for snooker. The popularity of the game there is apparent from the way exhibitions and small tournaments have been supported for the last few years.

But what German snooker fans want is a big tournament, and now they have one.