It has been reported by another referee that Rory McLeod refused to shake hands with the referee at the end of his match in the Australian Open qualifiers today.

The speculation is that this is because Ivy Zhu is a woman and McLeod is a Muslim and that it would have somehow compromised his religious beliefs.

I wasn't there and know nothing more about this incident than has been reported on Twitter.

Also, I have no intention in straying into the murky waters of religion. I am pretty tolerant of most beliefs, no matter how barmy they may seem to others. After all, in the Britpop era I believed Shed Seven were a better band than Blur or Oasis.

But if this story is true - and it seems a strange thing for another referee to make up - then it is troubling.

Refereeing snooker matches is not a glamorous job. They certainly aren't paid fortunes and spend long periods away from home.

This woman has come all the way from China to pursue her ambition to referee regularly on the circuit and she surely deserves to be treated with the appropriate respect.

Michaela Tabb has become established as a favourite with players and fans. The fact she is a woman has long since become an irrelevance: the point is she is good at her job.

If a referee is deemed worthy of picking balls out of a pocket and passing a player the rest then they are equally deserving of a courteous handshake at the end of the match.



“Time for the deadwood to go, new generation coming through,” was how one young player put it on Twitter last night.

This may appear somewhat tactless but seems to encapsulate a gathering feeling that something is changing in snooker and that younger faces have every right to fancy their chance to establish themselves.

The reason is quite simple: greater opportunity. With more tournaments there is more chance to play your way into the circuit.

This opportunity also exists for those players who have been on the tour for two decades or longer but these old stagers know that they also have their cards marked by the younger generation.

As players get older they tend to lose consistency and, indeed, some of the hunger they had when they were starting out.

This is inevitable. Do any job for 20 years and, however exciting it may seem to an outsider, it becomes just that: a job.

That’s why you have to admire Jimmy White, who still seems to love snooker as much now as when he started out on the circuit 30 years ago.

But there is an army of young talent now believing that this time is theirs. They take strength in numbers and are full of determination.

There’s Liam Highfield, a black ball winner over Xiao Guodong in the Australian Open qualifiers last night, Jack Lisowski, Anthony McGill, Daniel Wells and Adam Duffy for starters.

And, of course, it’s not just the Brits who are hungry. Young players from China are staking their claim. There’s Luca Brecel, too, from Belgium and Poland’s Kacper Filipiak, both of whom are just 16.

Behind them in the amateur ranks there are players who look now at snooker and feel it could be a career.

And right at the head of this army is its 21 year-old general: Judd Trump, a snooker protégé who has inspired so many to dream that they too can share the limelight in the sport’s showpiece occasions.

We’ve been here before. As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, many of the much loved cast of characters that had built snooker’s reputation in the television age were one by one forced off the stage by new, younger players who had watched spellbound in living rooms far and wide, ambitious and determined.

In the 1980s, as now, snooker looked like a game going places, something worth being part of.

Stephen Hendry summed up the fearless new brand of player, unconcerned by reputation or the supposed way to play.

James Wattana, Alan McManus, Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon were among those to follow. Each are still on the circuit but now desperate to keep their feet above the surface as the young pretenders snap at their heels.

The biggest agent for bringing through young blood was opening the game up to anyone with a cue and the money to enter tournaments.

So it was in 1992 that the outstanding trinity of teenagers John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams began their professional careers.

Others came through, too, including Stephen Lee and, a few years later, Graeme Dott, Matthew Stevens and Paul Hunter.

Since then the intake of new talent has slowed. We’ve had some brilliant young players reach the top – Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson for instance – but not all in a rush.

Maybe the environment is now better suited to this being rectified than at any time since the open era.

There are more playing opportunities and a chance for young players to learn on the job as it were, playing the big boys in the PTCs and gaining experience and confidence in the process.

It’s impossible to say just how many of the young hopefuls playing in the qualifiers and PTCs right now will become top players but it stands to reason that several will.

All sports renew themselves. That’s how they survive.

How many of the current top 16 will be there ten years from now?

A glance back a decade reveals that seven of the top 16 from the 2001/02 season are in the elite group as the 2011/12 campaign begins: Hendry, Williams, Higgins, O’Sullivan, Ebdon, Stevens and Dott.

Of these, only Hendry, Higgins and O’Sullivan have had unbroken spells in the top 16 in this ten year period.

As good as they may be, are we to suppose Higgins, Williams and O’Sullivan will all still be there ten years from now, in their mid 40s?

Maybe they will be, but there will also be players who are now teenagers, perhaps some yet to even turn professional.

It’s good news. We need new faces and we need new rivalries too.

But, as ever, it will be a survival of the fittest. For every young talent who makes it, there are always those promising players who never quite did.

As to which of the new generation break through, only time - and results - will tell.



Luca Brecel, the 16 year-old Belgian earmarked by many as a star of the future, was beaten 5-1 by Sam Baird today in the Australian Open qualifiers.

This is Brecel's first season as a professional. There is not only expectation from others but also from himself.

We've been here before: Ding Junhui, Judd Trump and many others before them have appeared on the pro scene after outstanding amateur careers but found it initially very difficult.

And, of course, it doesn't take long for people to get on their backs and start questioning whether they were much cop to start with.

This season will be a learning process for Brecel. If he keeps his tour card he has done well.

I thought I would re-run a profile I wrote about him in Snooker Scene two years ago when he played in the World Series grand finals, for those who hadn't read it or had long forgotten it.

This was first published in June 2009. Since then Brecel has won the European amateur title. Indeed, he would have qualified for the main tour last year but was, at 15, a year too old (that age restriction has now been withdrawn).

He also played in Power Snooker and various PTCs and has undertaken exhibitions with the likes of Stephen Hendry.

Brecel will represent Belgium alongside Bjorn Haneveer in the forthcoming World Cup in Bangkok.


Luca Brecel’s capture of the EBSA European Under 19 Championship at the age of just 14, making him the youngest ever winner of this highy competitive event, was evidence of a growing talent.

His performances in the World Series grand finals in Portimao, Portugal provided further proof of a snooker prodigy with the potential to go a long way in the sport.

He beat Jimmy White 4-3, albeit in a six reds contest, and Ken Doherty 5-3 in a match using ten reds.

Brecel then led Graeme Dott 4-2 in the quarter-finals before losing 5-4 but more than impressed the 2006 world champion.

“He’s a million times better than me when I was 14,” said Dott.

“I didn’t realise he was quite as good as people had said. I never saw Ding play at that age but Luca is the best 14 year old talent I have seen by a mile.

“He seemed very calm and I think the key thing is that he hits the ball like an adult. You get a lot of kids who kind of slap the white but he hits it with authority without hitting it hard. He cues really well.

“There’s no doubt he’ll be a player, unless he gets familiar with girls and beer.”

There seems little likelihood that Brecel will go off the rails. He is a snooker obsessive. He recorded every match from this year’s World Championship and has watched them all.

“His three hobbies are snooker, snooker and snooker,” said Marnik Geukens, a journalist with the Het Belang Van Limburg newspaper who travelled to the Algarve to report on Brecel’s progress, a sign of the interest he is already generating in his home country.

“He was really disappointed when he lost to Graeme because he genuinely thought he could win the tournament. When he loses, you have to leave him alone for five minutes.

“Luca has a feeling for the game. He played football as a kid and was very good at it but he has asthmatic problems so he couldn’t really run about. He found a new challenge in snooker.”

Brecel’s introduction to snooker was accidental. At the age of nine he was on holiday with his family and he and his father found a pool table and started playing.

Some sort of bug caught, they found a snooker club when they returned home and Brecel’s obsession with the game began.

“At first Luca didn’t know how to hold the cue because he’d never seen the game before. He would hold it with both of his hands,” said Danny Moermans, who has been coaching him for the last four and a half years.

“It was clear he was fascinated with snooker from the beginning.

“He can play all the shots but has to learn about the tactical aspect of the game, about shot selection and matchplay. He needs experience and the World Series has helped with that.

“He practises four to six hours a day. He loves it. When he wakes up the first thing he thinks about is snooker and when he goes to bed the last thing he thinks about is snooker.”

Brecel won the European under 19 title in St. Petersburg in March when he cleared the colours to edge Michael Wasley 6-5.

Ordinarily, this would have earned him a ticket for the professional circuit but the age limit for joining the main tour or the Pontin’s International Open Series, the game’s secondary tour, is 16.

“We didn’t expect him to win it,” Moermans said. “Last year, he reached the last 32 and this year we just wanted him to do better.

“I’ve spoken to other coaches about him and they have said not to rush things just because he’s won it. He still has time to improve.

“I want him to carry on playing and enjoying it. He needs to play good players but there is no hurry.”

Brecel’s 27 year-old sister, Jessica, is autistic and lives in an institution. The siblings are close. Jessica has covered her walls with newspaper cuttings documenting her brother’s fledgling career.

Brecel shares some of the traits associated with autism. He is quiet and can be uneasy around strangers.

In the arena, though, such single mindedness is a plus as he is able to shut out the distractions and pressures around him.

“As a snooker player, he is in his own world. He doesn’t get overawed by a big audience,” said Geukens.

“He understands English but he doesn’t like speaking that much.

“He does like being around a tournament like the grand finals, though, and being around the players.

“Mark Selby walked up to him and was fooling around, pretending to throw a punch, and Luca has been talking about it ever since. He was so excited to have that interaction.

“He is becoming more open as a person. He is only 14 and it is not uncommon that at that age a boy doesn’t speak that much to people he doesn’t know.”

His parents support his career and travel everywhere with him. His father works as a hail hunter – following hail storms and repairing the damage caused by them.

Brecel has a table at home where he is also tutored, having been taken out of school.

His early achievements have caught the attention of the media and have helped raise the profile of the sport in a country where it has declined in recent years.

“He’s getting big in Belgium” Geukens said. “He’s from the same region as the tennis player Kim Clisters and for us he’s the new Kim, one to follow.

“He’s been on national television and he has a lot of requests of interviews. He’s also had some approaches from managers.

“It’s what snooker in Belgium needs. I went to the Crucible for my newspaper in 1992. The game was big at that time. We had tournaments like the European Open and Humo Masters.

“We had players coming through as well but we never got one who reached the very top and the interest in snooker faded.

“With Eurosport’s coverage and Luca and also Bjorn Haneveer getting back on the main tour we can go forward.”

Certainly, Brecel is a promising prospect. His love for snooker was clear to see in Portugal where he spent most of his time after getting knocked out playing on the spare table.

He plays with a half smile on his face. This is not arrogance but a sign of contentment. He is never more at ease than when he is playing.

How far he can go depends on more than just his talent. He must steer clear of those who wish to exploit him or overburden him with the weight of expectation.

At 14, he seems immune to all of this. The years ahead will prove whether he can remain so.



To get to Oz, Dorothy and pals had to follow the yellow brick road. In retrospect this was a doddle compared to the minefield that is the qualifying event for the Australian Goldfields Open.

The Dorothy entourage variously required a brain, a heart and the nerve as they went on their way. Snooker players will need all three and even that might not be enough in the carnage about to ensue in Sheffield.

It was clear from the first PTC that not all players have been locked indoors practising during the close season.

But the Australian Open is a fully fledged ranking tournament and competition for the 16 qualifying places in Bendigo will be fierce.

There are 99 players on the main tour as it stands but neither Marco Fu nor Igor Figueiredo have entered this tournament so there is only one extra match to play tonight before the last 96 begins tomorrow.

At least the qualifiers are properly broken up these days rather than being played in blocks as used to happen.

The qualifying system has a factory feel to it, supplying players for the final stages on a production line. But how else is it supposed to be played?

You occasionally hear the odd lunatic suggestion, such as every player on the tour should start in the first qualifying round (as happens in the PTCs).

Well, they have done. And the ones who were good enough rose up the rankings and joined the top 16 to earn their exemptions into the final stages, which guarantees the broadcasters who pump fortunes into the game the star names on screen. Every player on the circuit has the same chance to do this, more so now with the extra tournaments and more fluid ranking system.

Meanwhile, Steve and James Mifsud, who are brothers, have been awarded wildcards for the final stages in Bendigo, although the worth of these is questionable bearing in mind their matches will not be televised and will be played at 10am local time on the Monday morning.

If Steve Mifsud and Neil Robertson reach the World Cup final for Australia in Bangkok the previous day there will obviously have to be some rescheduling.

Good luck to all involved in Sheffield. With Glastonbury and Wimbledon in full flow it doesn’t feel like the snooker season but this is just as important a time in the calendar as the cold, dark winter months to come.



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s capture of the first of this season’s PTC titles gives his army of fans hope that he is in good shape mentally for the campaign to come as well as reminding the snooker world that he remains a considerable talent.

O’Sullivan beat Joe Perry 4-0 in the final in just 52 minutes and compiled eight century breaks during the event.

Last season was largely one to forget for O’Sullivan. He played in only two PTCs, did not win a ranking title and slipped to 11th in the world rankings.

But he made what could well prove to be a key step in going to see Dr. Steve Peters, a psychiatrist, to work through his problems and that bodes well for the year ahead.

The test, of course, will come when the pressure is properly on. In Sheffield, there was no audience, no press buzzing around and O’Sullivan was left to get on with what he does best, namely playing.

That will obviously not be the case for most of the rest of the season but even this perfectionist will surely be buoyed by this fine start to the 2011/12 campaign.

Some say the PTCs are a lottery but I don’t agree. There is no skill required to win a lottery but snooker, whatever the title up for grabs, requires considerable skill and few players in the game’s history have possessed as much as Ronnie O’Sullivan.

So well done to him after what was another gruelling few days for the players. These PTC schedules are punishing but the reward is there at the end of it – O’Sullivan goes home £10,000 better off and playing in a way which suggests he can once again be a major force this season.


Amateur snooker players are being given the chance to play in next year’s Q School for free through a new event, the Snookerbacker Classic.

Snookerbacker runs a snooker and betting website and once forced me to drink copious amounts of alcohol against my will at Wembley.

He has decided to give a budding star a leg up by running four qualifying events later this year leading up to an overall final.

The winner of this will have their £1,000 entry fee to Q School paid and also receive free entry to four PTCs. The overall runner-up will also receive free entry to Q School. Full details on how it works and how to enter are here.

It seems to me it isn’t a bad time to be an amateur, although of course everybody wants to be a professional.

Twenty years ago there was a thriving pro-am scene in the UK but this was effectively killed off when the pro game went open.

But now amateurs can play alongside the pros in the PTCs, gaining valuable experience and the possibility of qualifying for the main tour.

There’s also the Q School and various other events although, of course, almost all of this is based in the UK.

Still, if you have a cue and the ambition then give it a go. It’s what every player you’ve seen winning tournaments on TV do over the years.

And maybe one day we’ll be watching you on our screens.



So, the first Players Tour Championship event of the new season begins today with the start of the amateur qualifying rounds in Sheffield.

There has been a record entry for the first PTC with 206 players chancing their arms, including 93 professionals.

The first year of the PTC series was by no means perfect but it remains a welcome addition to the calendar. £10,000 is a good first prize for a few days of snooker and it gets the players active and thus sharper than they would be having to wait for weeks in between playing opportunities.

Last season there were 12 different winners of the 12 PTC titles. It really is a chance for anyone, wherever they are in the rankings, to shine.

John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Mark Williams and Stephen Hendry are among the stars rubbing shoulders with complete unknowns.

Some players are only just back from the close season break and it will be interesting to see where their games are at so early in the campaign.

At present it is impossible to watch the PTCs (outside of live scoring), but that could well change very soon.

In the meantime, spare a thought in particular for Mike Ganley and Martin Clark, World Snooker’s hard working tournament directors, who have to ensure the whole thing runs smoothly.

These are long, long days. It’s like a snooker factory and it’s become an important part of the campaign as a whole.

Williams won the very first PTC event staged last year and ended the season as world no.1.

Good luck to one and all cueing off for the new campaign in Shefield over the next few days.



Today’s news that the UK Championship will be best of 11 frames until the semi-finals is the third change inflicted on the tournament that has diminished its status.

The first came back in 1993 when the final was reduced from best of 31 frames played over two days to best of 19.

This made it feel like any other final instead of closely resembling the showpiece conclusion to the World Championship.

Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis never played in a Crucible final but their 1990 UK final was virtually as good as. It was not only hugely significant in terms of the balance of power in the sport but also a bone fide classic, which Hendry edged 16-15.

Going down to 19 frames reduced the UK’s prestige in the eyes of many, even though we have had many great champions and many great finals since.

The second came in 1998 when the UK Championship was moved from its long established home at Preston Guild Hall, a first rate venue that was synonymous with the tournament.

It has since been moved around various locations – Bournemouth, York, Telford and now back to York.

Now, we have the number of frames reduced from best of 17 to best of 11 up until the semi-final stage.

All of these decisions have been taken for perfectly understandable commercial reasons and mainly for television.

TV didn’t want to risk runaway finals, although you can of course still have them in a best of 19. The move from Preston was to placate a sponsor based elsewhere.

Best of 11s means every match from the last 32 onwards will now be televised. During the last couple of years only half of the last 16 has been played before the TV cameras, effectively creating two separate tournaments.

Years ago, when the top 16 came in at the last 64 stage, they had to win two matches to get on TV as the BBC began their coverage at the last 16.

I always thought this was odd because quite obviously some of the star names would fall by the wayside, but the public’s thirst for snooker in the 1980s was such that it didn’t seem to matter.

This situation was addressed just over a decade ago when it was decided to hold over four last 32 matches (the top 16 now playing a round fewer) for the TV stage.

This precipitated a row about which four players they would be, because the top four in the world are not necessarily the four most popular.

Eventually, to end these arguments, the top four were held over, which meant star names still playing in the pre-TV section.

All of which led us to the rather unsatisfactory scenario of the last few years.

Snooker is snooker. I’d rather watch a 6-5 than a 9-1 but the UK Championship’s best of 17s made the tournament a cut above the norm.

Over longer matches, the narrative has time to shift. Some of the great nights I’ve had at the snooker have been watching comebacks at the UK Championship. I remember two in the same night one year at York: Mark Williams against Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan against Peter Ebdon.

A longer match is a greater test, which is why there have been very few shock winners of the UK title.

And let’s not kid ourselves, here. The real reason for the change is cost cutting, for both the BBC and World Snooker.

The BBC will have four sessions per day to staff rather than six in the early rounds and World Snooker will have two tables to staff rather than four.

Each organisation finds itself, as so many do, in difficult economic times so this decision is perfectly understandable for them both.

Many snooker fans would prefer to live in a fantasy land where nothing ever changes but those who run and broadcast snooker have to live in the real world, where money talks. The BBC has less to spend on sport generally, hence they’ve gone from four snooker tournaments to three. World Snooker has more events to stage and saving a few quid in York will help them do that.

I'm certainly not stuck in the past and recognise that, sometimes, difficult decisions have to be taken.

Nevertheless, the UK Championship has taken another knock. It’s still a big title to win but the various facets that have made it so special have been gradually eroded and it’s hard, for me anyway, not to conclude that its stature has declined as a result.


There could be as many as 30 titles big and small to be contested this season so it’s reasonable to imagine there will be a fair few players collecting silverware (or glassware for that matter).

The usual suspects will surely feature strongly but who else could break through the pack and win something big or small?

When it comes to the PTCs, the answer is anything up to half of the tour, maybe more. On their day, and in the less forbidding environment of a cubicle in Sheffield, players down the list are capable of excellent performances.

Last season, the PTCs played a vital role in building confidence. This was certainly true for Jack Lisowski, who lost his first three matches on the tour and then reached a PTC final. After that, he had a really good campaign, reaching three venues and joining the top 64.

Lisowski shares a house with Judd Trump. My advice is that if they invite you round to dinner, suggest a takeaway as, judging from their tweets, they are still grappling with cooking.

Snooker, though, is no problem for either and Lisowski, voted rookie of the year at the World Snooker awards, is clearly one to watch.

Anthony McGill is another young player who made a good start to his career and will now be looking to press on.

Mark Allen, hopefully now in a better frame of mind after treatment for depression and making a fresh start by signing to OnQ Promotions, is a player who will surely land a significant title soon.

Matthew Stevens is back in the top 16 after a great finish to last season. Can he keep that form going?

Can players such as Pink Ribbon winner Mark Joyce make an impact?

How will the non-British contingent, particularly those new to the circuit like Luca Brecel, fare?

Other questions are to be answered. Can Jamie Cope make that next step and win a tournament? Cope revealed to worldsnooker.com yesterday that he has been receiving treatment for an hereditary shake. It shows that you never really know what lies behind a player's lack of form. Cope is a terrific talent, his commitment has been questioned but his thinking must have been affected by the condition.

What else? Can Stuart Bingham finally join the top 16? Can the likes of Ken Doherty and Jimmy White stave off decline? Can any of the Q School qualifiers make an impact?

One player less likely to feature in any prominent way is Steve Davis, but I couldn’t let this series of pieces on the new season end without mentioning the great man.

Steve is now 44th in the rankings but though his passion for snooker remains undimmed, getting himself up for soulless qualifiers, of which there will be many this season, is going to be difficult.

It seems the Davis career doesn’t have long to run, though he will be on our screens at the Brazilian Masters because the organisers well remember an exhibition he gave in Brazil in the 1980s and want him there.

If this is to be Davis’s last season he can be proud of playing such a key role in getting his best mate Barry Hearn involved again.

In some ways this has hastened the end of his own playing career but it has also created the exciting campaign that lies before us.

It all starts tomorrow with the amateur qualifying rounds of the first PTC and goes pretty much full pelt all the way to the world final next May.

So strap yourselves in for what’s bound to be a rollercoaster season of snooker.



As that great green baize expert Rocky Balboa put it: “it’s not about hard you hit, it’s about how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.”

John Higgins epitomised this spirit last season. He was hit with all sorts: some his own fault, some the fault of others and some nobody’s fault but sheer fate.

And he came through it all to win a fourth world title, third UK title and produce some snooker so tough, so admirable that it led Steve Davis to describe him on BBC television as ‘the greatest ever.’

I assumed Steve, who as we know has a deep, pure, genuine love of snooker, had got a little carried away but he repeated the same statement a few days later at the World Snooker awards.

This post isn’t a debate about who the greatest of all time is (although, for me, it’s Stephen Hendry) but I can understand what Davis is saying because Higgins plays the sort of game he himself played so well for so long.

The Scot isn’t a go-for-anything type. He has a snooker knowledge so strong it is almost innate. He knows what the right shot is in pretty much every scenario and has the clarity of thought to play it.

In this, Higgins is in the Davis line but has taken this particular game to a whole new level.

His fighting qualities at the Crucible were remarkable, almost as if he resolved simply not to lose.

Michael Holt and Shaun Murphy were the only players to beat him in a tournament that carried ranking points last season, although missing early tournaments meant Higgins is second behind Mark Williams in the world rankings.

Indisputably, though, he is the best player in the world right now and it’s hard to imagine his general approach changing during the new campaign.

He didn’t have to go down to Gloucester for three days to play in the Pink Ribbon tournament but did so and, having been denied the chance to play snooker for a few months last year, is obviously relishing it again.

This makes him very dangerous because among the acres of stuff written about him, nobody has ever disputed his abilities on the table.

He’s good for a few years yet and who is to say he can’t get close to Hendry’s haul of seven world titles? Interestingly, he is playing to a higher standard in his 30s than Hendry managed so it is not inconceivable.

I don’t agree with Davis that Higgins is the greatest of all time...but there is still time for that change.



All told, the 2010/11 season was a pretty good one for Ding Junhui, China’s standard bearer on the green baize.

His World Championship semi-final with Judd Trump was a terrific battle, which he just lost, 17-15. That was an obvious disappointment but having never previously been past the last 16 at the Crucible he proved that he can handle the pressure of snooker’s most forbidding arena.

That was certainly true when he came back from 12-9 down to beat Stuart Bingham 13-12 in the second round and again in the quarter-finals when he won the last three frames to beat Mark Selby 13-10 after Selby had rallied from 6-10 to 10-10.

In the other six major ranking events Ding reached a semi-final, three quarter-finals and two last 16s, not outstanding but certainly consistent and all those points helped him finish fourth in the rankings, almost 8,000 points ahead of Neil Robertson in fifth.

Most importantly, he won the Masters, triumphing in an all-Asian final against Hong Kong’s Marco Fu.

Again in this match Ding displayed an admirable temperament. He led 6-2 going into the final session before Fu reduced this to just 6-4. Fu looked certain to bring up 6-5 when Ding was left requiring a snooker on the pink in frame 11 but he got it and Fu’s failed escape turned the match back in the young man’s favour.

From there, Ding didn’t lose another frame and ran out a 10-4 winner. The Masters forms part of snooker’s ‘big three’ titles. Ding already has two UK Championship crowns and will be among the favourites to become world champion next year.

And he still has time on his side. He seems to have been around a long time. Indeed, I first saw him play at the 2002 China Open in Beijing where, as a 14 year-old wildcard, he took two frames off Selby.

Ding is still only 24 and therefore possibly yet to hit his peak. When he is John Higgins’s age, Higgins will be 48 and no doubt cleaning up in the World Seniors Championship.

Ding’s talent has never been an issue, it’s been controlling his temperament or, rather, dealing with things when they go wrong.

He was disciplined for smashing the pack at an EPTC (or actually for that well known crime of failing to report an illness) but when he had to dig in last season – as at the Crucible – he generally did.

It’s worth remembering as well that Ding is also a long, long way from home, although he seems nicely settled in the UK now.

There’s no doubt that Ding is one of a handful of players capable of sustained spells of really sublime snooker at the very highest level.

His break-building is, at times, a joy to watch. He’s averaged just over 26 centuries per season so far, a rate of scoring behind only Ronnie O’Sullivan (33) and Stephen Hendry (29).

There’s surely much more to come from him. The final session of his match with Trump at the Crucible was the most watched sporting event in China this year up to that point.

If he wins the thing next year he really will lift off into the sporting stratosphere.



One of the reasons I enjoy watching Ali Carter play, aside from his talent, is that it’s clear he really cares. A bit of fun it is not.

And poker-faced Ali is not. Winning or losing, in the moment, matters, as it should because far from being ‘just a game’ it’s actually a profession.

Carter has always been a feisty campaigner. I remember how impressed I was with him when he broke through at the 1999 Grand Prix, beating Stephen Hendry and reaching the semi-finals.

He was a young lad of about 20 then and he had a real burning passion for the game, perhaps born out of his Essex background where snooker has always been highly competitive and full of bullish characters.

Largely as a result of that tournament, Carter was made a member of the inaugural Young Players of Distinction programme (or Young Players of Extinction as cruel journalists christened it when it was scrapped two years later).

Also on that scheme were the likes of Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire and Ryan Day.

By 2005 Murphy was world champion, Maguire UK champion but Carter yet to appear in a ranking final.

He didn’t consider his contemporaries to be any better than him and maybe their success spurred him on. Players aren’t necessarily jealous when a rival wins a tournament but many of them look at another player and think, ‘I can do that.’

Of course, Carter had something to contend with that the others didn’t: illness.

He suffered from Crohn’s disease, a cause of concern and detrimental to his career, and required hospital treatment. At the end of last year, just after he won the Shanghai Masters, problems resurfaced.

But Carter has always been an energetic sort and has just got on with it. Not content to sit around waiting for tournaments to magically spring up, he wisely invested in a snooker club and even completed training to be an airline pilot when the game wasn’t going anywhere.

Then in 2008, the Championship League came along. Happily for Carter it was played a few miles from where he lives. He played in every group and was so match fit by the time he went to the Crucible that he made the World Championship final, making a 147 en route.

Since then he has won the Welsh Open, playing superbly in the final session of the final, and the Shanghai Masters.

So Carter is now among that group of eight or nine players from which the winner of most of snooker’s main titles will most likely come.

A heavy scorer, his strength also comes from his competitive spirit, although players who wear their hearts on their sleeves also run the risk of not being able to remain calm when things are going wrong.

I expect more of the same from Carter but am particularly interested now to see if he can land one of the ‘big three’ titles from which really good careers become great ones.

Last season I tipped him for the Masters, which is possibly why he didn’t win it. To triumph in these tournaments, consistency is key because you are certain to be facing world class players in almost every round.

Carter is good enough, I believe, to win any of these titles but the game at the top level remains highly competitive, so nothing is guaranteed for even the most talented.



A humble snooker blogger writes about Ronnie O’Sullivan at their peril.

Whatever one writes, the accusation of bias is never far away. Compliment O’Sullivan and you are accused of being a cheerleader; make a slight criticism and you are accused of a vendetta.

Despite all this, I shall not be leaving Ronnie out of my new season preview because he is bound to feature in the headlines again.

I just hope it’s for the one thing he fell short on last season: namely playing.

O’Sullivan’s appetite for snooker had clearly waned during the 2010/11 campaign. There were some tournaments he missed and others where he was merely going through the motions.

After considerable prompting from those around him, he took the decision to go and consult with Dr. Steve Peters, a psychiatrist with a history of working with sports stars.

O’Sullivan came to decide this after going to the brink, ringing World Snooker not just to pull out of the World Championship but to retire from the game completely, although it’s fair to say the jury is out as to whether this was just an idle threat or a serious proposition.

I’m not sure Twitter should be used as the benchmark for assessing a person’s character but anyone following O’Sullivan’s tweets will have noticed he seems rather chipper at the moment.

The question is whether he can remain that way when the heat of battle resumes. There is a lot of snooker to come in the next year and it will be interesting to see if O’Sullivan can maintain his enthusiasm for the whole of the campaign.

He is down to 11th in the world rankings, his lowest position for 17 years, but is still obviously capable of winning tournaments and arresting any further slide.

Another season like the one he’s just had and he could be out of the top 16 but he could just as easily end up back in the top four.

However, when the very best start to struggle, when cracks appear in their otherwise invincible auras, other players begin to sense their chance.

It’s happened to other great sportsmen when they’ve started losing unexpectedly – Roger Federer, Phil Taylor and, for different reasons, Tiger Woods. The fear factor in the minds of their rivals starts to dissipate.

O’Sullivan has quite extraordinary charisma. When he walks into a room all eyes invariably turn to him. I think this is something you are born with. No other player has it to quite the same degree.

This presence, and of course his remarkable talent, has more than once done in an opponent before a match has begun, but there were times last season when drawing O’Sullivan in a tournament was seen as a plus.

Can he turn the tide? The simple answer is yes. His two great contemporaries, Mark Williams and John Higgins, occupy the top two positions in the rankings and should be a source of inspiration.

There were parts of O’Sullivan’s game that were clearly below par last season but this was a symptom of not playing as much as the other players. He was rusty and at times it showed.

So don’t write him off yet but O’Sullivan, instinctive not just in his approach to snooker but to life itself, needs to really want it.

At the moment the signs are that he does. Whether he can maintain that mindset for the long snooker year to come, well, we shall see.



Today Snooker Scene Blog celebrates its fifth birthday. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having what may loosely be described as fun?

And haven’t things changed in the lifetime of this blog?

Back in 2006 we’d just had a frankly poor world final and the game, though still as fascinating as ever, had fallen off the radar due to fewer tournaments.

We’re now poised for what will be the busiest season in a generation and there is a great mood of optimism around the sport.

The blog was never intended to be political but I could hardly keep quiet about some of the things that were happening in the game.

With Barry Hearn’s arrival and the instant progress he has made we have now gone from thorns in the side of the establishment to broadly supporting them.

As long as Hearn continues to unlock snooker’s potential then he can count on that support.

This was the first snooker blog, as far as I know, which gave me the chance to describe it as ‘snooker’s no.1 blog.’

I don’t make that claim any more. There are now plenty of others, including many in languages other than English, and that is entirely as it should be.

It gives snooker fans wherever they are in the world a range of opinions, outlooks and viewpoints.

I think the importance of blogs is overstated, usually by bloggers. The internet is crawling with them on all manner of subjects but they aren't going to replace newspapers any time soon.

But what is a blog for? To break news? Comment on the news? Provide and share opinion? To rant and rave? To entertain?

Answer: all and any of the above. The truth is, they can be for anything. All you need is a computer, some fingers and a few thoughts. Blogs are instant and they are interactive.

And find a blog that chimes with your interests and worldview and it can be a daily treat.

At the end of the day, you pays your money and takes your choice, except you don’t because blogs are free to access and, for that matter, free to ignore.

I have made no concessions whatsoever in terms of design over the years. I’d like to say this is because it’s ‘all about the words’ but basic laziness would be nearer the mark.

However, I enjoy blogging and shall continue to do so as long as that enjoyment remains.

And to all those who still read this blog, you have my sincere thanks.

When I started writing here in 2006 the game was going nowhere. I now look forward to providing comment on what promises to be a golden period for snooker.



Mark Selby may be third in the world rankings – his highest ever position – as he starts the new campaign but he must surely look back on last season with a degree of disappointment.

He failed to win a major title despite reaching the finals of the German Masters and China Open.

Being at the business end of tournaments is great for a player’s ranking position but it’s titles they are ultimately remembered for.

At the World Championship Selby set a new Crucible record against Stephen Hendry with six centuries in a single match.

But his challenge waned against Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals and he once again left Sheffield having played at times really well but without the title.

In his cheerful way, Selby took all this on the chin but underneath there must be some anxiety that he is going a long way in tournaments but still not winning them. Remember, he still has only one ranking title to his name.

It’s hardly a career crisis but it will surely rankle a little with Selby that when he turns on the Premier League he won’t be in it, having not won a title last season.

So what’s going on?

Tony Blair, whose snooker background appears to be limited to a victory at Chequers over Vladimir Putin, once claimed he was ‘best when boldest.’ The same applies to Selby.

His attacking game and, more importantly, positive frame of mind has seen him deliver some first rate performances, and have helped him get through to the latter stages of tournaments.

There have been times, though, when he’s tightened up in semi-finals and finals and by his own admission gone a little negative. This is an observation, not a criticism. A player plays the way he feels most comfortable and it’s inevitable that when the heat is really on, caution comes to the fore.

If Selby was going for everything in these finals he could still have lost and then we’d be calling him reckless.

The trick for a player is to know when to attack and when to defend. John Higgins, for instance, is masterful at this sort of game, but when he sees a chance to win he grabs it (just look at the end of the world final when he doubled that pink).

I usually fancy Selby when a match goes close (yes, I am going to call him a master of brinkmanship again) but maybe too many matches go close and this saps his mental energy.

He seems to me to be a pretty strong character and that’s a good reason to back him to bounce back this season and play with a little more freedom at crunch moments in tournaments.

One thing I certainly commend Selby for is supporting the game in a professional way. He played in all the PTCs and next month will be in the Wuxi Classic, World Cup and Australian Open.

We’ll see plenty of him in the campaign to come and with so many tournaments this season it seems unlikely this great talent won’t win one of them.

But I thought that last season too.



Of all the tournaments played last season the German Masters stood out as a real success story.

It attracted huge numbers of spectators who displayed a deep knowledge of - and healthy respect for - snooker.

And the title was won by a player returning to the peak of his powers. Mark Williams proved in Berlin and elsewhere last season that he is still a force to be reckoned with.

So much so, in fact, that the Welsh left-hander has returned to no.1 in the world after a gap of seven years.

Williams had dropped to 47th, but only in the provisional rankings. His lowest official ranking was 22nd.

Even this was too low for one of the finest talents the game has ever seen. At 36, he considers himself an “old man” in snooker terms but it’s clear he still has plenty left in the tank.

He could have won the World Championship too but went out in the semi-finals to John Higgins.

There were two reasons for this. The first was obviously how well Higgins played but in the third session the pressure got to Williams, due surely to the fact it had been eight years since he had last played in the one table set up at the Crucible.

Mark will never be everyone’s cup of tea (who is, for that matter?). I know some in the game feel he could be more professional off table but I have to say I have always found him to be nothing other than a perfect gent, and always true to who he is.

He doesn’t like doing interviews and loathes stuffy formality but look at how sporting he was to Higgins after the heckler incident in their world semi-final.

That says more about him than any number of press conferences or what he’s chosen to wear.

Because the truth is Mark has never really changed. Yes, snooker has given him a good lifestyle but he’s basically the same cheeky lad he was when he turned professional.

He doesn’t act the star because he doesn’t see himself as a star. To Williams, he’s just a bloke who plays snooker. It’s a job, a way of earning money.

Losing doesn’t leave him in the pits of despair. He turns up, gives it his best, hopes to have some fun and, win or lose, goes home in pretty much the same mood.

I’m sure there are many people reading this who would love to find that level of everyday contentment.

And Williams has a game that, when it’s working, is as good as anyone’s. A fantastic long potter, he is also a master at scrapping out those horrible frames so many other players don’t like being involved in.

The good news for Williams is that there will be more tournaments than ever before outside the UK this season. He has always been a good traveller, again because he has the right attitude about playing overseas.

As a boy growing up in a waning mining community in South Wales he could never have imagined he would one day be travelling to places like Bangkok, Beijing and Berlin to play snooker and be handsomely remunerated for it.

So Williams is back on top of the rankings, back in the winning groove and back where he belongs, as one of snooker’s authentic greats.

His will surely add to his trophy collection in the year to come.



Neil Robertson can relax again: he is no longer world champion. Somebody else can carry that burden.

That may sound like a strange statement but first time world champions have always played with the sure knowledge that they are the guy to be shot at and, as the season winds inexorably towards the Crucible, the moment of truth is approaching.

It was noticeable that Robertson played well in the early part of last season, winning the World Open, but not so well in the second half.

This was perhaps a subconscious reaction to the fact the World Championship was coming round again.

As Shakespeare wrote: ‘uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.’ Well, Robertson’s immaculately coiffeured head can rest more easily now.

Neil is one of my favourite players to watch. He’s a great talent and a great competitor too, which don’t always go together.

Remember, he has appeared in six ranking tournament finals and won them all, which is suggestive of a strong temperament and ability to cope with pressure.

He is particularly good at identifying the crucial part of a match and seizing upon an opponent’s weakness at the right time.

He is the only player to win a ranking title in each of the last five calendar years (2006-2010).

Robertson remains one of the eight or nine players most likely to win the big titles but I’m sure would rather be in an even smaller field than that.

He did, after all, become world no.1 last season but ended the campaign in fifth place.

So the possibility of him becoming the game’s dominant figure after his Crucible triumph didn’t really materialise, at least not yet.

One sure sign that he’s the real deal is that he’s not someone you hear other players questioning in terms of weaknesses in his game.

In fact, his only real weakness is in preparation. Last season this reached farcical levels when he lost his passport and arrived in Berlin not long before his first round match, which he of course lost.

Actually, this laidback persona is a good thing in a sportsman because it means they stay relaxed and don’t fret or let things get to them.

There’s a difference, though, between being laidback and flat out horizontal.

This isn’t a criticism of Neil because his life is (happily) complicated by having a young son and no family nearby to share the load with him and his partner.

How proud Robertson must be to have a fully fledged ranking tournament in Australia, something he must take some of the credit for due to his performances on the world stage.

Next month his home fans, family and friends will get the chance to watch him play close up as a professional. For many of them it will be for the first time.

What they will see is one of snooker’s modern greats. Beneath that laidback exterior is a tough as old boots competitor now freed from the shackles of expectation that come with being world champion.

And that makes him more dangerous than ever.



Stephen Hendry’s retirement hokey-cokey at the Crucible served to underline the fact that he is very much on the back nine of his career.

By even floating the idea of packing it in he demonstrated an unease with his current plight.

Hendry kept his top 16 place – just – but the next seedings cut off point is in October and he is by no means guaranteed therefore to be at the Masters.

Just as important as Hendry’s game this season will be his attitude. If he turns up at the PTCs in the same frame as mind as he did last year then he may as well not bother going at all.

Far be it from me to advise Stephen on anything, but my suggestion would be to treat the PTCs as a challenge because that’s where he’s always done his best.

In this way, the fact that he doesn’t like the sterile cubicle environment could work to his advantage.

The ‘I’ll show them’ attitude that has served him so well in the past is what he needs to rediscover.

And the best way to fall in love with the PTCs would be to win one of them.

I’m glad to hear him say that he will now be going to practise with some of the other Scottish players because playing at home on your own is no way to test your game.

Listening to him talk on the BBC in Sheffield it seemed to me that Hendry has finally reached the position it took Steve Davis a long time to come to: that he’s no longer the player he was.

When Davis came to terms with this he visibly relaxed and started to play well again, at least in bursts.

Unlike Davis, though, there’s no sign that Hendry will change his game, so if he is to be successful again he is going to have to produce a consistently high standard.

Hendry has nothing to prove but doesn’t regard snooker as a bit of fun. Turning up to get a nice round of applause because he’s a legend isn’t why he plays the game.

I heard a story – possibly an inaccurate one – that after floating the idea of retirement at the Crucible he asked backstage if the field for the Wuxi Classic had been set, the implication being he would like to play in it. That doesn’t sound like a man whose thirst for competition has been sated.

Even if this never happened, one thing Hendry has never been frightened of is hard work and he’s not one to turn his nose up at playing opportunities in far off lands. That needs to be his attitude with the PTCs as well.

Another thing that could work in his favour is that his former manager, Ian Doyle, has come out of retirement to take an active role in the new snooker division of International Sports Marketing, who will represent Hendry.

Doyle has never been one to keep an opinion to himself and one of his great skills was in knowing what to say, most of the time anyway, to motivate a player.

The old team is back together, then, and although they both know they won’t dominate the world as in the past, they will take some satisfaction from giving it a go.



The new pro season begins in a fortnight’s time with the first PTC tournament in Sheffield and, in the meantime, I will be focusing on some of the players likely to play starring roles in the campaign to come, starting with the player who lit up the conclusion of last season...

Judd Trump’s sensational performance at the Crucible gave snooker a shot in the arm.

This young player’s emergence as an authentic title contender was just what the game needed, not just because he was a new face but also because of the attractive, at times extraordinary, way he plays.

It was impossible not to marvel at Trump’s shot-making. This is the way everyone would like to be able to play snooker: fearlessly and loving every minute.

Very few have the talent, though, to play the way Trump does.

Of course he broke through shortly before the World Championship by winning the China Open, where he displayed great maturity and considerable poise under pressure.

This gave him the confidence he needed to go to the Crucible and take on all comers with both a ferocious attacking game and, just as important, bags of self belief.

Trump is snooker’s new star and I have no doubt we will see plenty of him in the media as he becomes the game’s latest standard bearer. His look and attitude is perfect for promotional appearances but the main place Trump must be seen is playing snooker.

It’s all very well bigging him up but when we get to Bendigo and Shanghai, will he be put on the TV table or will – with the greatest respect – the same old faces be favoured instead?

This is important because in Trump snooker has an asset who must be pushed to the foreground.

However, none of that will guarantee him further success. That’s all up to him and in this his mindset is crucial.

Judd doesn’t strike me as unduly arrogant, quite the opposite in fact, but it’s hard not to get a big head when everyone is raving about how good you are.

In this, his background is vital. His family have grounded him well and it was noticeable how level headed Trump was after his defeat in the world final.

“You’re only remembered when you win titles,” he said. “Nobody remembers the loser. Next year there’s going to be a lot of expectation on me. There’ll be a lot of players who’ll want to bring me back down to earth.”

By recognising that he needs to keep on working and look ahead and not back at his magical month in the spotlight, Trump again shows maturity. There will be players gunning for him but it sounds as if he’ll be ready for them.

I read somewhere that Trump was a hero for the Twitter generation and think this is an apt description. He is the most popular player on the social networking site and tweets during the intervals of his matches.

In this way he can bypass traditional media and connect directly with his growing army of fans.

And like the snooker world, these many thousands will be watching intently to see what this prodigiously talented young man does next.



It is a year to the day since Barry Hearn won his crunch vote to take control of snooker’s commercial rights.

The vote passed 34-27. If it were held again today, a year on, Hearn would surely win by a landslide.

His 12 months in charge have not been without difficulties or controversy but his energy, ideas and commitment have helped to turn snooker’s fortunes around.

But before I look at the various areas where he has been active, a history lesson...

Snooker rose to prominence in the UK as a frontline television sport in the late 1970s. The WPBSA was a players’ club but its management structure was less of an issue than today because sponsors and broadcasters were queuing up to throw money at the sport.

It looked like the sun would never set but this golden era began to wane in the mid 1990s and by the time the tobacco companies were given their marching orders at the end of the 90s a cash crisis loomed. There was no plan put in place to counter the loss of cigarette firms and the game started to struggle, with prize money dipping and tournaments being reduced.

This was the time someone like Hearn was badly needed but, instead, the players continued to vote for the old ways of doing things.

Why? Because they didn’t know any better. They had been conditioned to believe that they – the professional players – ‘owned’ the game and that they should therefore run it.

However, a year ago, with just six ranking events and whole months between tournaments, enough of them – just about – had had enough and took a step into the unknown under Hearn.

The promoter took a 51% share of the game’s commercial rights and the WPBSA reverted to a rules and regulatory body.

Hearn can afford to take a more assertive position because he can’t be voted out. He doesn’t believe in handouts and the ‘guarantees’ culture, where a player would be certain to earn a particular amount even if they didn’t win a single match.

Why? Because nobody gave Hearn anything. He built up Matchroom from scratch and it is now a multi-million pound empire. He did this through sheer hard work and by identifying gaps in the market and niches that nobody else realised was popular.

He realised before most that snooker was not just a sport but a soap opera, its leading lights ripe to be promoted and, in turn, enriched.

He went off to conquer other sporting worlds – boxing, darts, poker, ten pin bowling, even fishing – but snooker was his first love and he has thrown himself back into the green baize world with customary vigour.

But how has he done?

Here are my scores out of ten...

You could only sympathise with players complaining that there simply wasn’t enough snooker to play. Alan McManus – by no means a troublemaker – put it best. “When I put my waistcoat on it feels like a novelty. I’m a part time professional,” he said a few years ago (and was threatened with disciplinary action for doing so).

Hearn devised the Players Tour Championship as a way of keeping players busy while also using his vast network of contacts to set about putting on new tournaments.

Last season there was a ranking event in Germany. This season there will be one in Australia. There will be an invitation event in Brazil and a World Cup in Thailand. There’s talk of a tournament in India. In the space of a year, some players have gone from saying there are not enough tournaments to saying there are too many (expenses mounting up for entering and travelling to them). Hearn’s view is that the opportunity now exists for those who can make the most of it.

The fact is, there is now considerably more snooker than before, which is surely a cause for celebration.

The original stipulation for Hearn taking over was that he would raise prize money from £3.5m to £4m after a year. In fact, it has increased to around £6m.

On rebuilding the circuit and increasing playing opportunities, he can't be faulted.

VERDICT: 10/10

The PTC series got the players back doing what they do best: playing the game.

It wasn’t perfect. The British PTCs were played in sweltering conditions and some nights ended in the early hours. There was no room for spectators and some players felt it was all a bit undignified.

Those who won the £10,000 top prize probably felt differently and the European PTCs at least had room for crowds and have the potential to grow into bigger events.

The grand finals in Ireland drew huge crowds for the last two days and the whole PTC series at least gave players the chance to get themselves into form, gain some confidence and test their games.

It also gave amateurs the chance to play top players, gaining valuable experience.


The old system offered protection to players not doing well and no immediate benefit for players winning tournaments. However many they won they would have to wait until the following season to rise up the list.

It’s amazing it lasted as long as it did. The new rolling system more accurately reflects form and is in line with other sports.


This season, for the first time, there will be more tournaments held outside the UK than in Britain. This is good news. There are still events in the UK but any sport with serious pretensions to survive on the world stage has to actually be taken to the world.

Our World Championship is still British dominated but the best chance of producing top class players from other countries is for them to see the game, either on TV or up close. Eurosport’s coverage goes to 59 countries and millions watch in China. The game’s global reach is expanding and now tournaments are being taken to places like Australia, Brazil, Germany and back to Thailand, which can only help develop the next generation of top players.

There is still a bias towards the Brits in terms of the qualifiers, though, as they are all held in the UK.


All sorts of smears were thrown (anonymously) in Hearn’s direction before he took power, about how he would cheapen the game with gimmicks and dumb down the integrity of snooker.

I’d say that over the last 12 months the balance has been about right between protecting the dignity of the game and trying to grow a new audience and reach out to broadcasters who regard snooker as old fashioned and unwilling to change.

The best of fives at the World Open still produced a top class winner, as did the best of sevens in the early rounds of the Welsh Open. New things have to be tried, even though they will be immediately slated by those who think nothing should ever change – the same people who complain there aren’t enough tournaments to start with.

The best of nine format for ranking events remains the staple but it wasn’t handed down as a sacred, untouchable tablet by Joe Davis – it was dreamt up to suit TV companies a quarter of a century ago.

Well, TV has changed and so must snooker. Every other sport has.

It’s also worth remembering how Hearn’s predecessor pushed six reds snooker as an exciting new format that would bring in new fans. It didn’t and Hearn has jettisoned it completely.

His only major departure from ‘proper’ snooker was the Shootout, which was enjoyed by most who played in it and delivered to Sky one of their best ever audience figures. It was a bit of fun and worked on that level.

The World Championship wasn’t touched (although we finally got a 7pm start for the final) and was a ratings triumph.

I hope there’s more innovation to come and that it isn’t immediately shouted down purely because it’s different to what’s gone before.

One thing I do feel is a shame, though, is the axing of the 147 bonus prize because this devalues the achievement of making a maximum in the eyes of the public. The £1,000 per tournament rolling prize that myself and others have advocated is surely worth investigating, particularly as any sponsor of such a bonus pool would get considerable exposure.


There is now a genuine separation of the commercial body and the rules organisation and the two seem to be working well together.

Jason Ferguson, the WPBSA chairman, is an earnest, conscientious type, a former player himself, who has worked hard to put in place proper structures for the association.

The WPBSA staff are at long last getting some leadership and are also now able to actually get on with their jobs instead of being sidetracked by politics and infighting.

In Mike Ganley and Martin Clark, the WPBSA tournament directors, the association has two hard working, efficient officials who have put an enormous amount of effort into making the Hearn revolution happen.

The WPBSA, though, must take on board the concerns of players and not simply allow them to be batted away. In this way, the WPBSA has reverted to what it was originally supposed to be: a union for the players but leaving the important commercial decisions to people who actually know what they're doing.


This is one area where I think Hearn needs to take extra care.

When the John Higgins scandal broke, Hearn was superb as a spokesman for the game, despite those around him advising him to walk away from the sport. He wisely handed the case over to an independent tribunal and I commend him for setting up the new integrity unit, of which he is rightly proud.

However, the problem with talking tough – as politicians who say they are going to crack down on crime have discovered – is that you really have to deliver tangible results.

When I asked him about a lack of discipline in the game last November, he told me: “Punishments will be draconian because I don’t want to take prisoners. If I’m going to give as much time and commitment as I have been to the ongoing increase in tournaments and prize money, I have to expect a similar return from my top players, and some of them are not delivering. Over the next few weeks you’ll read certain things and say, ‘blimey, he was actually telling us the truth.’”

In fact, all we’ve had is Ding Junhui being fined for the hitherto unknown crime of failing to report an illness. Ding smashed the pack at an EPTC. His excuse was that he was feeling unwell. He should surely have been done for not trying or given leniency for being poorly. Being ill isn’t an offence.

Other players have pulled out of tournaments, sometimes not even notifying organisers. Hearn promised action over this but I’m not aware of any.

In Hearn’s defence, it is something World Snooker are determined to clamp down on this season but, again, talk has to be matched by action.

I think Hearn has to be careful in what he says around disciplinary issues. Take the Burnett-Maguire saga. It was recently reported that there was insufficient evidence to justify a criminal prosecution. Hearn stated in the media that “a cloud of suspicion has been lifted” but in fact the case will now be investigated by the WPBSA, for whom he doesn’t speak.

I’m not advocating the old ‘no comment’ approach favoured by previous regimes but it’s important not to in any way prejudice any disciplinary matters.


In his cheery way, Hearn usually wins over any audience. He talks in a down to earth manner and has infectious enthusiasm.

He is also a well known figure in the world of sport and dependable in interviews, which is exactly what snooker needs, not some stand-offish bloke in a suit mouthing epithets.

Hearn will always stand up for snooker because it was his first sporting love. His only problem as a frontman is that not everyone understands that his bigheadedness is an act – most of the time, anyway.

VERDICT: 10/10

Snooker dodged a bullet a year ago. A few players changed their minds on the day itself. You may recall a rival, though vague, bid was being touted by John Davison of Altium fame, who nevertheless failed to turn up to the meeting. It was supported by 110sport, whose fortunes nosedived after thinking they could take Hearn on and beat him.

I don’t know Hearn on a personal level but he strikes me as a personable lover of sport who derives genuine excitement from innovation. He regards sport as a business but also, crucially, as entertainment. He wants to have fun and for everyone else to have fun too.

But beneath all the bonhomie he is a hard businessman. You would have to be to get to where he is now.

He understands snooker people and has, in just a year, created a mood of optimism as well as tangible results.

I hope he has enjoyed the honeymoon, because it won’t last. They never do. Complacency will soon set in and snooker’s perilous recent past will be forgotten.

And in some ways that is understandable. Players, like anyone else in life, are just trying to make a living.

Every sport has its problems with governance - look at FIFA - and those who run organisations should be constantly monitored. They should expect criticism when things go wrong but deserve praise when it is going right.

So the game is in Hearn’s hands and it’s up to him – with the full co-operation of players – to take it forward.

In my opinion, in just one year, he has made an outstanding start.

I’m not giving him full marks, though, because I know how modest he is and wouldn’t want to cause him any undue embarrassment.




A busy July of snooker kicks off with the Wuxi Classic in China, the draw for which has been announced today.

Shaun Murphy will defend his title in a high quality field that includes Ding Junhui, Mark Selby and Ali Carter.

Former world champions Peter Ebdon and Graeme Dott are also in action, as is former UK champions Stephen Maguire and Matthew Stevens.

The full draw is available on worldsnooker.com.

The day after the tournament, the newly revived World Cup begins in Thailand and, the day after that, the Australian Goldfields Open starts in Bendigo.

So that's 19 days of continuous snooker - in July!