The Shanghai Masters qualifiers start tonight with two preliminary round matches before the bulk of the action gets underway tomorrow.

Qualifying from round one is like swimming through glue: long, difficult and improbable.

However, Dave Gilbert proved it can be done by making it to the final stages of the Australian Goldfields Open.

Every player on the circuit has started in the first qualifying round at the beginning of their careers. The best make it to the top 16 so that they don’t have to qualify – whatever the system.

But I think it’s true to say that the circuit is much more competitive now because the increase in playing opportunities has led to more players who are match sharp. You have to play well from pretty much frame one of each match to make it out of the Sheffield quagmire.

And make no mistake: players this week will play really well and still not qualify.

Most of the qualifiers for the Australian Open were experienced players of several years standing. The young guns barely got a look in.

I’ve found over the years that the new, young players very often – whether they realise it or not – underestimate the older guard.

Maybe this is natural youthful arrogance: that old bloke can’t be much good, certainly not as good as me.

But the players often dismissed rather disparagingly as ‘journeymen’ are in fact hard as nails competitors, skilled in survival.

They may not necessarily excel in the main arenas but have the table-craft and experience to teach some of these young whippersnappers a green baize lesson.

The qualifiers are a kind of snooker apprenticeship. It’s where you really learn the game at the professional level, not just on the table but the psychological dimensions that affect your thinking and confidence.

Learning takes time, however much skill you have. But the cream will eventually rise to the top.

You can follow the qualifiers on worldsnooker.com and on the excellent WWWsnooker.



World Snooker has written to the players asking them to moderate their language and behaviour on social networking sites after receiving complaints from members of the public.

“We understand that use of these technologies to communicate to the public and sporting fans are becoming common practice and play an important role in the promotion of individual players and our sport in general. However, members do need to remember that they are at all times ambassadors for the sport and as such have an obligation to maintain its profile and image within the public eye when using this media,” said Jason Ferguson, WPBSA chairman, in a letter to players.

This is an issue affecting all sports, namely what players do when they are unleashed from corporate PR shackles and left to their own devices.

Just yesterday golfer Rory McIlroy got into an online spat on Twitter with a commentator who had criticised him.

Football chiefs have warned players they will be disciplined for inappropriate behaviour online. Liverpool’s Ryan Babel was fined £10,000 for posting a mocked-up picture of a referee wearing a Manchester United shirt on Twitter.

But before people start foaming at the mouth about ‘political correctness gone mad’ and other such nonsense, consider the governing body’s position.

World Snooker is constantly on the look-out for sponsorship revenue to fund tournaments. Snooker is not top of the list for businesses and the economic situation makes finding backers even harder.

The players therefore need to be mindful that there is a difference between being yourself and causing unnecessary offence which may deter a firm from associating itself with our sport.

The point about ‘freedom of speech’ is that there is also a wider responsibility for what you say, and not always just to yourself.

The vast majority of what players write on social networking sites is standard stuff and no reason to get vexed about.

It is an outlet for them to bypass traditional media and just say what’s on their mind and, even more importantly, communicate directly with fans.

Snooker players are not intellectuals and academics discussing matters of great pith and moment. They don’t need to be.

Most of them are just down to earth blokes trying to earn a living playing a game they love (most of the time). They engage in healthy banter because this has been part of the environment of snooker clubs ever since they started playing - and it's one of the best things about the sport, the lack of pomposity or snobbery.

But snooker players are also public figures whose words are closely monitored and Twitter in particular is now used as the basis for news stories, even when the original comments were throwaway or tongue in cheek.

It would be a shame if players felt they should retreat from social networking in case they land themselves in trouble.

Equally, it would be a shame if they damaged their own reputations with some ill-timed, ill-thought out comments that would perhaps best be limited to their private lives.



The Mark Allen-Stuart Bingham fall-out at the recent Australian Goldfields Open was a reminder that snooker players have not always been best of friends.

There have been many bust-ups and arguments over the years, adding spice and interest to the rivalries and match-ups that have kept so many snooker fans coming back for more.

Here is my rundown of some of the best: snooker's dirty dozen...

Snooker was developed in part from billiards and indeed learned much of its aggro from the noble three-ball game.

Though said to be friends, Inman and Reece were fierce rivals on the table at the turn of the 20th century and this boiled over one evening at Thurston’s where the Championship Cup was to be presented to Inman by Lord Alvertson, the judge who had not so long previously ordered the hanging of the murderer Dr. Crippen.

Unable to keep quiet, Reece told his Lordship, ‘if you knew as much about Inman as I do you’d have hanged him and given Crippen the cup.’

These two great champions of the 1970s enjoyed a healthy respect for one another but, different sorts of characters, were not bosom buddies.

In his autobiography, Spencer said of Reardon: ‘he would laugh all day long if he thought it was of benefit to him.’

Reardon’s recollection of Spencer was that, ‘He sometimes beat me but I always beat him in the important matches.’

These two enjoyed a love-hate relationship in that each loved to hate the other. ‘You’re a Canadian c*** and you can’t f***ing play, either,’ was one cheery Higgins greeting when they found themselves in the same bar. At this, Thorburn, hard as nails on and off the table, floored the Belfast man with a well aimed punch.

Thorburn recalled that this fight was broken up by others and a reconciliation attempted. ‘Eventually, as we went to shake hands, I kicked him right in the nuts,’ he said.

After losing to Thorburn in the 1986 Scottish Masters final, the clean-living Higgins alleged the Canadian had been helped by ‘little bags of white powder’ (although Thorburn was fined and suspended for cocaine use in 1988).

Francisco and Stevens contested the 1985 British Open final but the South African, who had lived in a flat opposite Stevens, was convinced his opponent had been using a substance somewhat different to the still water players glug so freely nowadays.

An angry confrontation ensued in the toilets, which was somehow recorded and used as the basis of a front page story (written by Neil Wallis, who was recently arrested in the News International phone hacking controversy), for which Francisco was fined.

Soon afterwards Stevens admitted to being addicted to cocaine, which nearly killed him. A decade later Francisco was jailed for trying to import cannabis into Britain.

Taylor was skipper for the Northern Ireland team at the 1990 World Cup but the usually shy Higgins decided to tell him how to do his job.

This disagreement culminated in a foul mouthed, deeply personal diatribe from Higgins, the conclusion of which was, ‘if you ever come back to Northern Ireland I’ll have you shot.’

They played a few weeks later in the first round of the Irish Masters in what remains the biggest grudge match snooker has ever seen. Taylor won 5-2. Higgins was banned for a year after electing to add to his litany of offences by punching a press officer at that season's World Championship.

Hendry was a callow youth of 22 with a mere single world title under his belt when he met a fading Higgins in the first round of the 1991 UK Championship.

The omens for a friendly encounter were not good. Higgins offered his hand before the first frame with the words, ‘shake hands with the devil.’

Hendry won 9-4, after which there was a difference in recollection about what Higgins said afterwards. The Northern Irishman claimed it was, ‘well done, Stephen, you were a little bit lucky.’ Hendry’s memory was that Higgins had said, ‘up your a*** you c***.’

Ebdon’s dramatic 13-12 defeat of Lee in the second round of the 2001 World Championship culminated in a triumphant celebration akin to scenes from a documentary on Amazonian tribal dancing.

Lee, if it fair to say, was not impressed, not least because these celebrations began when he could still win with snookers.

The upshot was that Lee vowed not to play in the same England World Cup team as his compatriot unless an apology was forthcoming, which it wasn’t. Shortly afterwards Lee had the satisfaction of beating Ebdon 9-4 to win the LG Cup. The problem of their team arrangement was solved when the World Cup was scrapped.

Like a demented arsonist on bonfire night, O’Sullivan hurled a verbal petrol bomb in the direction of snooker’s greatest ever player on the eve of their 2002 World Championship semi-final.

Among his nuggets of wisdom was the wish to send Hendry – a multi-millionaire with a nice family – ‘back to his sad little life’ and, surely in contravention of the gentlemanly conduct rules, ‘to do a moonie in front of him.’

Hendry said nothing and promptly won 17-12. He commented a year later: ‘Ronnie has been in the Priory being treated for depression. Why would I want his life?’

O’Sullivan’s autobiography was being serialised during the 2003 Irish Masters and included some not too kind comments about Williams. ‘He won’t have a book written about him, he’s too boring,’ O’Sullivan explained.

‘If you’re an arsehole, you say stupid things,’ was Williams’s considered view in a row which rumbled on for a day, to the delight of a press room fearful they would actually have to report the snooker.

Late in the evening BBC 5Live phoned up asking O’Sullivan to go on air and explain himself. Ronnie thought it was a wind-up. This was understandable as the name of the producer on the end of the line was, er, Mark Williams.

After Maguire broke off for his last 64 encounter against Murphy in the 2004 Grand Prix, he realised he had forgotten his chalk and asked the referee if he could pop to his dressing room to get some. No problem, said the ref.

In the meantime, Murphy intervened – although he denies ever asking for a frame to be docked.

By this point, though, tournament director Mike Ganley had appeared and duly docked Maguire by the time he returned to the table, although the Scot still won 5-1. The Murphy-Maguire rivalry has been keen ever since.

McCulloch was so delighted by his defeat of Dott in the first round of the 2005 World Championship that he danced off the stage.

But it was McCulloch’s comment that beating Anthony Hamilton in the second round was a better win that rubbed Dotty up the wrong way. ‘McCulloch has done nothing, and will do nothing in the game, so I find his attitude astonishing,’ the Pocket Dynamo said.

Dott was forced to attend a farcical WPBSA disciplinary hearing, where the charges were eventually dropped. The pair remain the best of enemies.

Ebdon’s glacial pace of play during his 2005 World Championship quarter-final against O’Sullivan led his opponent to visibly implode in the arena but, in fact, Ronnie offered not a word of criticism after the match.

This had not always been the case, though. At the 2001 UK Championship O’Sullivan produced a fine quarter-final comeback from 8-4 down to beat Ebdon 9-8, after which he was a little less tight-lipped.

‘He looks like a psycho. He plays like an amateur and has no class around the table,’ O’Sullivan said. Perhaps by the time of their Crucible meeting Ebdon had not quite forgotten this.



So Stuart Bingham has taken his place in snooker’s ranking event winners’ circle...who else might join him as a first time champion this season?

The usual nine of ten players will in all likelihood dominate but the difference now to a few years ago is that more players are sharp because they are playing all the time.

The confidence that a good PTC run can bring feeds into the big events and there will be a number of players looking at Bingham’s win at the weekend and thinking, ‘I could do that’

Ironically, the name at the top of this list is Bingham’s chief critic at the Australian Open, Mark Allen.

He has taken a lot of stick for his comments but remains a fine talent who has reached the quarter-finals of the last two ranking tournaments despite hardly practising.

Maybe sometimes he needs to tighten up a little but he certainly has the attacking game that pays dividends in this ultra-competitive era for snooker.

Who else?

Jamie Cope has long been regarded as a talent who hasn’t quite stepped up to the next level, but it emerged recently that he has in fact been suffering from an hereditary condition that caused him to shake on the shot, for which he has now received treatment.

Hopefully this will help him make some progress now, although I think sometimes Jamie’s head drops a little too early in matches when things are going wrong and this is perhaps another issue he needs to address.

Bingham is 35 and his victory will give heart to the likes of Mark King and Joe Perry, two players who have been on the fringes of winning big titles without quite doing it.

Martin Gould is one of the most improved players on the circuit in recent times, but it remains to be seen if his open game can yield silverware.

What of the young stars? Could, say, Jack Lisowski or Anthony McGill conceivably come through the pack in the way, for instance, Paul Hunter did at the 1998 Welsh Open?

These are all questions. I don’t know the answers, but I’d be interested in your thoughts.



Stuart Bingham’s dramatic capture of the Australian Goldfields Open title was the fulfilment of years of effort and dedication to the game.

A professional for 16 years, ‘Ballrun’ Bingham has always shown snooker every respect, entering tournaments big and small wherever he can find them.

He has enthusiastically embraced the new opportunities that exist under Barry Hearn and has seen only positives where several others look only for negatives.

He got his reward today and it is well deserved for a well liked professional in every sense of the word.

Level at 4-4 at halfway, Bingham looked edgy at the start of the evening session as Mark Williams began to take control.

At 8-5 down and snookered on the last red, it looked over but Bingham enjoyed a huge slice of luck – fluking a snooker back – and it effectively turned the match.

Reprieved, he produced some brilliant snooker to draw level at 8-8. The decider was full of tension, with chances on both sides until Bingham got over the line.

You could see what it meant to him afterwards. I hope the champagne is flowing freely in Bendigo as I write this.

And Stuart should perhaps send a glass over in the direction of Mark Allen, because there’s no doubt that the Northern Irishman’s ungracious comments had an effect, whether consciously or not, and spurred Bingham on.

He proved that when the pressure was on he isn’t a bottler. How sweet this day must be for him.

It also gives hope to those many professionals who have spent a long time as part of the sport’s supporting cast, dreaming of one day playing a leading role.

Bingham has proved it can be done if you believe in yourself and produce the goods on the day.

Well done to him. He deserves to enjoy his moment in the sun.

The terrific final brought the curtain down on a hugely successful week, supported by large and appreciative crowds.

The Australian Open is another winner: gimmick free, it proved that tournament snooker is still a big draw.

As Williams graciously said afterwards, long may the game return to Australia, where the snooker public in this long neglected outpost played their full part in making it a memorable week.



Mark Williams will play Stuart Bingham in the final of the Australian Goldfields Open tomorrow, a match which pits one of snooker's greatest champions against a player finally getting his reward after many years of effort.

Bingham was appearing in his first ranking tournament semi-final but fought past Shaun Murphy 6-2 to take his place in the final.

Williams at times played very well but was not put under sufficient pressure as he beat Ken Doherty 6-2.

I'm sure Williams will start as big favourite for the title but, as ever, it's all on the day. Both players will have chances and it'll come down to who takes them.

Williams certainly has the experience, the class and the confidence as world no.1 to come through for what would be his 19th world ranking title.

He's won ranking titles in the UK, China, Thailand, Ireland and Germany and has clearly enjoyed Bendigo.

His game is obviously rock solid but his attitude is also spot on. Jetlag, headaches and sundry other piffling concerns can go hang as far as the Welshman is concerned. He just gets on with it.

Bingham knows that underdogs often do come through but that he will need to start well. One thing on his side is that he is well used to winning titles on the pro-am circuit and certainly has no reason to be tentative and do anything other than play his natural game.

He's landed some good scalps this week but Williams is an altogether different prospect. It's over 15 years since he won his first ranking title and the problems of a few years ago must now feel like a distant memory.

A fine atmosphere is guaranteed. The Australian snooker public have taken this new event to their hearts.

Let's hope the final rewards their commitment to this welcome new addition to the tournament calendar.



For a second night running the Bendigo crowd were treated to some great entertainment as Mark Williams showed just why he is world no.1 with the way he finished off against Dominic Dale.

Displaying a trademark steely nerve, Williams drew level at 4-4 before compiling a 142 total clearance in the decider, his third century of the match.

Floating around the table as if he was down the club, Williams provided a masterclass in how to hold your nerve in a high pressure situation.

Dale had won his own thriller against Neil Robertson on Thursday and couldn’t have done much more to get himself into the semis.

Williams really is as he seems: laconic, carefree and composed, but you don’t get to the top of the world in your chosen sport without also possessing an iron will to win.

He’s the favourite to land the title this weekend.

Shaun Murphy stuttered a little before playing a good final frame to put away Matt Selt 5-3.

Selt fell 3-0 adrift but produced a 137 total clearance in the fourth frame and fought well before Murphy’s class told.

Stuart Bingham won the ‘grudge match’ with Mark Allen, who ill advisedly repeated his attack on the Basildon man afterwards rather than choosing contrition.

Allen’s comments only make himself look bad, not Bingham. Indeed, they backfired in a pretty big way as Bingham showed plenty of bottle, making back-to-back centuries and finishing off with a 96.

As I wrote yesterday, I defend the players for speaking their minds but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with what they say.

Not that Stuart could care less. He’s through to his first ranking event semi-final, a reward for a good guy who loves his snooker and has always made an effort to find tournaments to play in, big and small.

This one is pretty big and he has every reason to feel confident ahead of his clash with Murphy.

Meanwhile Ken Doherty’s resurgence continues with his 5-3 defeat of Mark Selby. This vein of good form is somewhat unexpected given that Doherty struggled at the World Cup.

But it’s good to see because Ken is another of snooker’s good guys, someone who has put in many years of service, and not just playing. He’s a fine ambassador for the sport and it didn’t surprise me that he apologised in public for his comments about Liang Wenbo last week, which stemmed from the disappointment of defeat.

Doherty knows Williams will be a handful in the semis because he always has been but I’m sure he’s just delighted to be through to the last four of a ranking event for the first time since the 2006 China Open.



Judging by the respective comments from Mark Allen and Stuart Bingham after each won through to the quarter-finals of the Australian Goldfields Open their encounter tomorrow could accurately be described as a grudge match.

I'll leave it to them. Allen first:

"There's a bit of history between us. We don't get on.

"He said about getting revenge on Ding for his Crucible defeat but it would be nice to send him back where he belongs.

"He doesn't like me because I told the truth in a press conference that he has no bottle, no balls, and as he threw away a match after leading 12-9. I think that showed it.

"It was great he did because that let the legend that is Stephen Hendry stay in the top 16 and I would rather see Hendry in the top 16 than Bingham."

The match Allen is referring to there is their UK Championship quarter-final last season, which he won 9-7.

On being told of what Allen said, Bingham responded:

"I can't wait to play this match. He said a few words after the UK Championship which were a bit out of order and I've been waiting for this match for a while.

"He said I've got no bottle and he thought he was never going to lose. I will definitely be up for it.

"I don't know what happened. With the game I was gutted I lost as I would've got into the semi-finals. I remember I shook his hand and didn't say anything. He took that to heart.

"But I don't care what he thinks. We're here to do a job and hopefully I will win. It will give me more pleasure to beat him.

"It's all mind games and I'm better player now than I was. He's an idiot."

Historically players who engage in this sort of talk are on a hiding to nothing. They fire up their opponent and set themselves up for a fall.

Ronnie O'Sullivan famously did this at the 2002 World Championship with some ill advised, and untrue, remarks about Stephen Hendry.

Hendry beat him 17-13, although this spat was eventually patched up.

I've no doubt Allen, and possibly Bingham, will draw criticism for their comments but I'd much rather the players were honest than simply mouth platitudes that they don't mean.

In the past they were threatened with disciplinary action purely for speaking their minds.

But the stuff of sport is rivalry. Why should the players all be friends? Why shouldn't they have opinions on one another?

It happens at every other work place.

Still, the pre and post match handshakes should be interesting tomorrow.



The great thing about sport is the opportunity it affords for redemption for past follies.

Take Rory McIlroy. He collapsed during the final round of the US Masters earlier this year but then won the next major, the US Open.

Stuart Pearce missed a penalty for England against West Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-finals but scored one against Spain in the quarter-finals of Euro ’96 six years later.

Stuart Bingham today gained a small measure of revenge for his 13-12 defeat to Ding Junhui from 12-9 up in last season’s World Championship.

Leading 4-1, Bingham sat out a Ding century, the second the Chinese had made, but, when the chance came in the next, the Essex man took it in style, running out with 86 to record a win that would have given him more satisfaction than most.

Bingham is now a top 16 player. In the latest official list he is 15th but of course needs to remain there at the next seedings cut-off point to reap the benefits.

Another player heading in the right direction is Matt Selt, who followed up his first round victory over John Higgins with a swift 5-1 dismissal of another legend, Stephen Hendry.

Selt’s game must have been brought on by not only the practice opponents but the general atmosphere of The Grove in Romford, also the base for the likes of Judd Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jack Lisowski.

People often take inspiration from those in the world who have achieved against the odds but we are also more often than not inspired by those around us. Selt has seen the success his pals are having and thought, right, I’ll have some of that.

Mark Selby’s highest break was only 46 but his aptitude for the fight could not be faulted as he recovered from 3-0 down to beat Joe Perry 5-3.

Perry was brilliant early on but the whole match turned on a single shot, his botched safety when leading by 41 with 43 on in the fourth.

Selby cleared up to win it on the black, leaving Perry to rue the missed opportunity to lead 4-0 at the interval. You really don’t want 15 minutes to allow negative thoughts to creep in when something like happens.

But they did, Selby won another black ball frame and after that looked like the only player in the match. It was another fine triumph in adversity.

Mark Williams roundly rubbished his performance against Barry Pinches but it would be a big shock if he went out to Dave Gilbert.

Of interest tomorrow is Ken Doherty, who played well to beat Stephen Maguire, against Liang Wenbo, who was on for a maximum until the super-fast table caught him out from 15th black to yellow, where he snookered himself behind the green.

Of course, Doherty had a go last week in Thailand because Liang didn’t wear a bowtie in one frame. Ken said this wasn’t sour grapes. Obviously it was and such comments are understandable in defeat, but it adds a little extra spice for their last 16 encounter.



John Higgins has won 24 ranking titles but only four outside the UK and would admit himself that he is not the best traveller.

His defeat to Matt Selt was unexpected, particularly as he had been 4-1 up, but Higgins, who had flown from Thailand to Australia the night before the afternoon match, looked exhausted.

Still, credit to Selt who is through to the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time in his career. His reward is a meeting with Stephen Hendry tonight.

Ali Carter joined Higgins on the plane home after losing 5-3 to Marcus Campbell and sounded pretty pleased about it.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s great we have all these tournaments but I can’t wait to get home to be honest,” said Carter, who had also played in the Wuxi Classic in China and World Cup in Bangkok.

“I’ve a boy who is 18 months old and I've not seen him for three weeks so that's more important to me to get home and be with my family.

“It’s been a long time away and by the time I got here my heart wasn’t in it and that showed in my performance. If I had just come here and not done the other two then it would’ve been different.”

Neil Robertson spends up to nine months of the year away from his family and Aussie friends but, for once, gets to play in front of them this week.

He made a good start, beating Nigel Bond 5-2 on a table as fast as an ice rink. It wasn’t world beating stuff from Robertson but there were certainly no signs of him feeling any pressure of being the local favourite.

Some more big guns enter the fray today: Mark Williams, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui.

Ding’s match against Stuart Bingham will be the live TV attraction in the evening session and is of course a rematch of their last 16 encounter at last season’s World Championship, in which Ding came from 12-9 down to win 13-12.

Meanwhile, some good news for those – I suspect the majority – who mourned the loss of the 147 bonus prize.

It’s back, but with a twist: £5,000 per ranking tournament rolled over if nobody makes one.

This was an idea myself and others floated and one used by Barry Hearn’s PDC in darts for nine dart checkouts.

Common sense appears to have prevailed. Making a 147 remains a special achievement and a financial prize helps to recognise that.


Be honest, it's good to have ranking event snooker back, isn't it?

That's not to disparage either the Wuxi Classic or the World Cup but the first day of the Australian Goldfields Open was a return to what snooker does best.

Like a US TV drama, everywhere you looked there were subplots and intrigue, even before a ball was struck: how would Judd Trump fare on his first TV appearance since the Crucible? Would Stephen Hendry find any form? Would anyone turn up to watch?

Trump lost 5-3 to Mark Davis. If you've been following his tweets during the summer you'll know he's been enjoying himself since the end of last season.

Good for him. Otherwise, what's the point of all that effort?

But it's now back to school time and, for Trump, back to reality. The game is as hard as it ever was and Mark Davis started brilliantly, with three sizeable breaks to lead 3-0.

Davis, with all his experience, wasn't going to let the Juddernaut's reputation get to him and went on to complete the win.

It's a long season and Trump will have many titles to contest, but not in Bendigo this week.

Hendry always seems to start well, even after floating the idea of retirement at the World Championship.

From watching his match against Martin Gould yesterday it's clear that his game hasn't gone but it does go walkabout.

He lost the sixth frame on the black, which made it 3-3 rather than 4-2 in his favour, but instead of capitulating found his best form of the match, knocking in a brilliant 120 break and then clearing stylishly for his 5-3 win. There's life in this old snooker dog yet.

The crowds were encouraging for this brand new tournament and they will surely be out in force later today for the local hero, Neil Robertson.



Bendigo's history is steeped in gold mining and World Snooker will be hoping to strike green baize gold, if such a thing existed, with the new Australian Open.

It can only be good news that a new ranking event is being staged down under and let's hope it's a successful first event (it will be on for three years).

Only two of the world's top 16 have failed to make the trip. Ronnie O'Sullivan, as we know, made it to Bangkok and then turned around again.

"We're a long way past the situation where the game revolves round one player. There are several exceptional players that snooker fans and viewers all over the world want to see," is Barry Hearn's view on that.

Graeme Dott was suffering from neck trouble at the Wuxi Classic, where he lost 5-0 to Mark Selby. Those speculating that Dotty withdrew for financial reasons obviously don't know that players in the Wuxi Classic had their business class flights to Australia paid in full.

Thankfully everyone else has made it and the stage is set fair for what is still the game's biggest draw: ranking event snooker, something that palpably matters.

It's not only the locals hoping that Neil Robertson has a good run. For the sake of the event, the 2010 world champion needs to do well and I suspect he will step up to the plate.

He has every right to be proud that his Crucible triumph last year was the catalyst for the Australian Open happening at all.

There are some interesting first round matches, not least the first TV game on Eurosport tomorrow, Stephen Hendry v Martin Gould.

Hendry said last week that he thinks he can return to the top eight. Actually, he comes into the event outside the top 16 in the latest rankings and desperately needing to find a consistent vein of form.

It's not like his game has completely gone, it just goes walkabout too much. Gould has beaten him before and doesn't seem to fear anyone. This is a tough starter for the former Winfield Australian Masters champion.

Judd Trump is also in action on the opening day, against Mark Davis. Judd was the star of the last part of last season but that's all in the past now and he knows he will be under more scrutiny than ever.

Wherever tournaments are staged, one of the usual suspects invariably wins, but as at last season's German Masters the identity of the eventual champion scarcely matters when set against what a week like this can do for snooker.

It's a venture into a new territory and hopefully all involved can play their part in making it a significant one.



Even by Ronnie O'Sullivan's standards, his withdrawal from the Australian Goldfields Open is bizarre.

O'Sullivan actually flew to Bangkok for the connecting flight to Australia but refused to board the plane, citing back and neck problems.

If he had not intended to play from the off it is fair to assume he wouldn't have gone to Thailand.

However, snooker fans can hardly be blamed for treating his reasoning with scepticism because this is far from the first time this has happened for an event outside the UK.

Dominic Dale will now play Steve Mifsud, who will be excused the wildcard round.

Why? Surely Dale should receive a bye in the usual manner.



Before the World Cup began, I mentioned that the team with the biggest disparity of achievement was Australia, so congratulations to Neil Robertson and Steve Mifsud for qualifying for the quarter-finals.

Mifsud, a very experienced amateur, has played his part to the full in what has been a true team effort.

Like many Australian cueists, he has been inspired by the performances of his celebrated compatriot.

"What Neil has done for Australian snooker over the last six years has really inspired a lot of people back home," Mifsud said.

"The feeling for snooker in Melbourne is really good and there are lots of people playing and it's down to what Neil has done.

"All of the overseas players respect what he has done as they know how hard it is. But it's been a magnificent achievement to go to the UK and break through."

Of course, both Aussies will be heading to Bendigo next week for the Australian Goldfields Open, where Mifsud and his brother, James, have won wildcards.

A proud sporting nation, Australia's favourable climate has generally meant outdoor sport has taken precedence.

Robertson only began playing snooker because his father, Ian, ran a club in Melbourne.

But the more his fellow countrymen are aware of him and his achievements, the more will be inspired to give snooker a go.

The late Eddie Charlton was an industrious promoter who did his best to fly the flag for Australian snooker.

And Robertson, with his flair, personable nature and, most importantly, achievements on the table, can do the same.



Some interesting stuff at the World Cup yesterday, in particular the performance of Kacper Filipiak, a 15 year-old from Poland, who beat both John Higgins and Stephen Maguire in his singles matches against Scotland.

Filipiak is the reigning European junior champion. This was the first time I'd seen him play and his poise and general demeanour impressed me greatly.

He seemed remarkably composed for one so young and appears to be yet another talented left-hander.

Filipiak practises at the South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester, which should help his development. He is, of course, already on the professional circuit.

OK, so it was only one frame but he made a 69 break to beat Higgins and another half century against Maguire before making a good pressure clearance.

Many times in the past the BBC have delved out footage of a young Stephen Hendry and John Parrott from their Junior Pot Black days and who is to say in a few years time we won't be doing similar for Filipiak from this World Cup.

Poland start the day joint top of group D and have a good chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals alongside Scotland.

The other highlight of the day's play in Bangkok was the 61 clearance by the Brazilian pair of Fabio Luersen and Noel Rodrigues against England.

If anything was going to win me over to the alternate shot doubles format, this was the frame.

To put it into context, Mark Selby and Ali Carter are two of the top six ranked players in the world. Luersen and Rodrigues grew up playing ten-red snooker and have very little experience on the international stage.

But they worked well together, kept things simple and held their nerve under pressure to produce one of the highlights of the World Cup so far.

Because of the format, with points not awarded for winning matches but for frames won, the qualification places remain up in the air, but Wales signalled their intent yesterday with a 5-0 demolition of Egypt.

The usual suspects will surely be through by the time the group phase finally comes to an end on Friday.



So the World Cup is underway in Bangkok and need not apologise if not all of yesterday’s snooker was of the standard we are used to seeing on our television screens.

This happens in World Cups in every sport. You get top teams but also minnows and that is part of the fascination. I’d rather it this way than the cosy closed shop of the World Team Cup of the 1980s.

The five frame format is about right for the group phase but day one didn’t convince me that the alternate shot doubles is a good idea.

It’s very stop-start. Snooker players depend on getting into a rhythm and keeping it to play well, but this is impossible under the doubles format.

It will be interesting to see how the big hitters – England, Scotland and Wales – fare with it today.

The other thing I find odd is the fact that teams don’t receive any points for actually winning a match.

All they get is a point for each frame won, which is a little like basing the football World Cup purely on goals scored.

But whatever the format of any event you will never get everyone to agree it’s the right one.

The main thing is that the World Cup has returned with players for once representing not themselves but their countries.

There was a good win yesterday for Australia over the Thailand A side and surprise victories for Brazil over Belgium, Pakistan over Ireland and Poland over Hong Kong.

Northern Ireland could go a long way too, with Mark Allen and Gerard Greene comfortably beating India.

Today’s matches include England v Brazil in a World Cup match that, for once, England are hot favourites.



The World Team Cup was first held in 1979 and was an innovation of Mike Watterson, the Barry Hearn of his day, who introduced several tournaments to the circuit before being kicked out by the players for that well known business crime of ‘making money.’

In its original form, it was a three man event, although the first staging every so slightly misjudged the schedule as the tournament finished a day earlier than planned.

The World Cup became part of the BBC’s portfolio of snooker events, usually running for four days a few weeks before the World Championship.

In the mid 1980s, its dominant team was the all-Ireland side of Dennis Taylor, Alex Higgins and Eugene Hughes, who won the title three years running.

Alex and Dennis were two of the game’s top players and Eugene was both a good player and, more importantly, a team man.

The format in those days was best of nine frame matches. Player A would play two frames, player B two and so on until a result was found.

In 1988, England (Steve Davis, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds) won the final 9-8 on a re-spotted black against the rather patronisingly titled ‘Rest of the World’ team of Dene O’Kane (New Zealand), Silvino Francisco (South Africa) and Tony Drago (Malta).

In those days Scotland struggled badly. They had Stephen Hendry and, er, well that was it really in terms of world beaters. This would, of course, change.

Other countries could rely on holy trinities such as Terry Griffiths, Ray Reardon and Doug Mountjoy (Wales) and Cliff Thorburn, Bill Werbeniuk and Kirk Stevens (Canada).

The last World Team Cup under this format was held in 1990 when the Canadian team (by now Thorburn, Alain Robidoux and Bob Chaperon) beat Northern Ireland, represented by Taylor, Higgins and Tommy Murphy.

All anyone remembers now about that year’s event was the row between Higgins and his captain, Taylor, in which Higgins let rip with a stream of nasty verbal abuse as he attempted to tell his skipper who he should be putting out when.

For this and many other transgressions, Higgins was banned for a season.

The World Cup resurfaced on a much grander scale in Bangkok in 1996 for a truly international version featuring all manner of countries.

In the final, the Scottish ‘dream team’ of Hendry, John Higgins and Alan McManus beat the Republic of Ireland side represented by Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien and Stephen Murphy.

Team spirit was an important factor in Ireland reaching the final. They had it in spades whereas the England team of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Peter Ebdon and Nigel Bond had very little.

The 1996 World Cup was a great event but very costly to stage and quickly disappeared by the schedule.

In 1999, ITV came back into the snooker fold with the Nations Cup, held first in a freezing cold Newcastle in January.

Wales – Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens, Dominic Dale and Darren Morgan – won the title.

The Nations Cup moved to Reading the following season, where England triumphed and in 2001 Scotland beat Ireland in the final.

This was the infamous occasion where O’Brien was told to hurry up by a referee at a vital moment as ‘the TV coverage goes off in 15 minutes.’

Now, the World Cup is back with 19 nations and 20 teams (hosts Thailand have two).

Matches in the group stage have a Davis Cup feel with two singles frames, doubles and then reverse singles.

Interestingly, the doubles is alternate shot, which is surely going to act against the less fancied teams.

Take Australia: you could back Neil Robertson to crack in a long red and make a frame winning break but, under this format, the second shot will go to Steve Mifsud, a good player but not a professional.

In truth it is hard to look beyond the British home nations, Ireland and China as the most likely winners.

The good news is that the leading teams all get on: Williams and Stevens for Wales, Higgins and Stephen Maguire for Scotland, Selby and Carter for England, Doherty and O’Brien for Ireland and Mark Allen and Gerard Greene for Northern Ireland.

The lesser lights have an opportunity to show the world what they can do. Belgium, whose team is Bjorn Haneveer and Luca Brecel, could be dark horses.

I notice that the bookies don’t much rate the chances of Afghanistan but, in fact, Saleh Mohammad once reached the world amateur final for Pakistan, who he represented before returning to Afghanistan to help build up snooker in that country.

Thailand has an outside chance through both of their teams, not just because they are on home soil but because all four players – James Wattana, Passakorn Suwannawat, Thepchaiya Un Nooh and Dechawat Poomjaeng – are capable of doing the business under this format.

By the way, if you’re wondering how all these teams ended up in the event when, for instance, Canada did not, then here are the reasons:

The eight seeded teams are decided by the world rankings (based on the highest ranked player). Wildcards were awarded to Brazil and Germany as they are hosting tournaments later in the season.

The remaining places were in the gift of the European, Asian and African associations, who nominated the teams. Poland and Malta won qualifying events to take their places.

It promises to be an interesting week on the baize with a parade of many faces, some well known, others completely unknown and players for once playing as part of a team for national pride rather than purely for themselves.

It’s a departure from the standard snooker format and marks a return to Thailand, which was for so many years a popular destination for the circuit.

It starts live on Eurosport at 7am UK time tomorrow morning.


Tomorrow, Mark Selby and Ali Carter fly to Bangkok as team-mates for England in the revived World Cup. Today, though, they are rivals in the final of the Wuxi Classic.

Selby was the villain of the piece yesterday, beating hometown hero Ding Junhui 6-5 in the semi-finals.

Carter, the reigning Shanghai Masters champion, triumphed 6-3 over Shaun Murphy in the other semi-final.

These two last played in Beijing last season where Selby turned on the style, making three centuries to win their quarter-final 5-1.

When players of this quality meet it’s all on the day, but Selby will probably start as slight favourite in the best of 17 frames clash for which the winner will pocket a cheque for £20,000.

Selby’s 134 against Ding was his 200th career century and he thus becomes only the 14th player in the game’s history to have made 200 or more in professional competition. Last season he set a new record of 54 centuries for a single campaign.

This may not be a ranking event but Selby was short on silverware last season and victory today would be a great boost ahead of a long campaign.

The first session is live on Eurosport but the second session will be shown in highlights form this evening, although it is all live on the Eurosport Player.



It wasn't a vintage first day at the Wuxi Classic with some players still clearly, and understandably, a little rusty as the season limbers into life.

Peter Ebdon bookended his 5-3 defeat of Rouzi Maimaiti with two centuries but, in between, it wasn't particularly pretty.

Stephen Maguire beat Liang Wenbo 5-2 and proved that you only have to play better than the other guy. Maguire never really left first gear but Liang was very poor.

I thought it was a shame to see him struggling quite so badly. It's only two years since the Chinese reached the Shanghai Masters final and was threatening to take over from Ding Junhui as his country's no.1 player.

He doesn't seem to have much of a B game, so if he's not firing on all cylinders, potting the long balls and scoring, he doesn't have much to fall back on.

Matthew Stevens surprisingly lost to Yu Delu but Graeme Dott appeared to play quite tidily in putting away Cao Yupeng.

The four top seeds come into the fray today. Ding has appeared in the final of this tournament in each of its three previous stagings.

He trails Maguire 6-3 in career meetings but has won the last three and, in hie hometown, will fancy the job again today.

The first TV match pits Ebdon against Shaun Murphy, the defending champion.

Ali Carter faces Yu and Dott is up against Mark Selby.



The new five-year broadcast deal with Eurosport, announced today, is another important step towards making snooker a truly global sport.

There will be people reading this now who, but for Eurosport, would never have heard of snooker, let alone actually seen the game.

As an agent for the popularisation of snooker across Europe, the channel has been just as significant as the BBC was in the UK in the 1970s and 80s.

For instance, the success of the German Masters came off the back of the interest built up by screening tournaments regularly for the last few years.

Eurosport is available in 125 million homes in 59 countries and snooker is one of its most popular sports. It rates particularly well in Eastern Europe

The new contract will include not just the established tournaments but new ones as well plus coverage of all six EPTCs.

Put simply: there will be more snooker on TV this season than there has ever been.

The Eurosport deal increases the amount of tournaments the channel broadcasts from ten to 19.

Years ago, the only way to find out results from tournaments played in places like China was to check Ceefax or get the next day’s newspapers. Now, they are shown live.

There could be as many as 100 days of snooker broadcast by Eurosport in the next year.

The best way to promote the sport is to have people able to watch it. It’s going to be hard to avoid during the next few seasons.



The Wuxi Classic, formerly the Jiangsu Classic, is now in its fourth year and marks the start of the televised snooker season.

Shaun Murphy staged a remarkable comeback last year, coming from 8-2 down to beat Ding Junhui 9-8 in the final.

This was a great performance from Murphy but it didn’t exactly make him Mr. Popular in Wuxi City, which just happens to be Ding’s home town.

The tournament begins on Thursday with four matches, two of them played on the TV table: Peter Ebdon v Rouzi Maimiati and Stephen Maguire v Liang Wenbo.

This is Ebdon’s 21st season as a professional and he started it as a member of the top 16 having regained his place last year with a run to the semi-finals of the World Open.

Younger readers may not believe this but he wasn’t always regarded as methodical. He used to fly round the table, his pony tail flying with him.

Ebdon, though, has always been one for introspection and even as he was climbing the rankings became fixated on his technique.

This eventually led to a slowing down, but it didn’t stop his success and his victory at the Crucible in 2002 was one of the hardest earned of any World Championship triumph.

He came from 16-14 down in the semi-finals against Matthew Stevens and made a miracle half century break in the decider.

In the final against Stephen Hendry, Ebdon seemed to have gone at 17-16 but, in the decider, got himself together and completed the victory.

It meant the world to him but was especially sweet to have beaten Hendry, the Crucible’s greatest ever player who had made a record 16 centuries during the tournament.

Now 40, Ebdon is at that stage in his career where he would be regarded as clinging on to the coat tails of younger players, but his appetite for playing doesn’t seem to have been diminished by the passing of the years.

Liang had a shocker last season, losing all eight matches he played in major ranking events and only just remaining in the top 32 having started it in the top 16.

But so far this season he has qualified for the Australian Goldfields Open and must surely feel the campaign can’t possibly be as bad as last year’s was.

He beat Maguire 7-6 in the final of the BTV Challenge in 2009 and home soil may be a factor this week, although of course Maguire is a former China Open champion.

The Scot is also very consistent, with sundry semi-finals and the odd final under his belt in recent years.

But he is a top player and top players want titles. There are more to be won now but that doesn’t make it any easier.

The other two matches on Thursday pit Stevens against Yu Delu and Graeme Dott against Cao Yupeng.

Yu impressed by winning three matches in his first tournament as a professional to reach the final qualifying round of the Australian Open.

He is a veteran of playing wild card matches in Chinese ranking events but if Stevens can maintain the form with which he ended last season the Welshman will obviously be a heavy favourite.

Dott, like Ebdon, burns with determination and has long since got over his problems with playing in China.

This is the first round, best of nine frames, to reach the quarter-finals, where Murphy, Ding, Mark Selby and Ali Carter await.

Eurosport’s live coverage begins at 6am UK time on Thursday.



Professional snooker embarks on the kind of round the world trip this month that would make Michael Palin look like a stay-at-home.

It starts in Wuxi City in China on Thursday, heads to Bangkok in Thailand and finishes in Bendigo, Australia.

That’s 18 days of continuous snooker and it’s only July.

Some players are competing in all three events. If Ding Junhui, Mark Selby, Ali Carter, Stephen Maguire, Matthew Stevens or Liang Wenbo win the Wuxi Classic, World Cup and Australian Goldfields Open they will come back home enriched by over £100,000, all this at a time when snooker players are normally out on the fairways or taking family holidays.

All 18 days of action will be broadcast by Eurosport.

There’s no reason why snooker shouldn’t be a year-round sport or as good as, just as golf and tennis are.

Most people reading this who are in employment (in the UK anyway) will get no more than six weeks holiday a year. Professional snooker is just that: a profession. I suppose if you don’t need the money then taking four or five months off from work is fair enough but that only applies to a tiny minority of snooker players.

And players are not going to be at the top forever, so they should make hay while the sun shines and support as many new events as they can because one day they will find they’ve been replaced.

Look at Stephen Hendry: he skippered the Scottish dream team to glory in the last World Cup in 1996 but such is the strength of Scottish snooker – due in no small part to the inspiration he provided so many juniors – that he is ranked fourth now for his country and too low in the world rankings to get in the Wuxi Classic.

Perhaps the best thing about this July snooker bonanza, apart from its global reach, is the mix it offers: an invitation tournament, a revived team event and then a world ranking event.

Each tournament thus has its own identity and, in the case of the World Cup, we will see on our screens players who, to most of us, are completely new.

I suppose some people, if they were looking for negatives, would argue that you can have too much of a good thing, but I know Eurosport’s figures tend to rise when they show tournaments consecutively, possibly because viewing becomes habitual.

It’s the same with tennis and cycling and it’s basic economics: supply and demand. People want to watch something so they are given many hours of it to watch.

And there will be many hours coming your way in this super July for snooker.

Enjoy it!



For all the talk about the ‘new generation’ earlier this week, the list of qualifiers for the Australian Goldfields Open has a defiantly established sheen to it.

Among them are ranking event winners Ken Doherty, who has Australian in-laws, and Dominic Dale, who beat one of the young players, Liam Highfield, 5-3 last night.

Also through are former top 16 players Joe Perry, Ryan Day and Liang Wenbo, who lost all eight matches played in major ranking events last season as his form completely deserted him.

Marcus Campbell, Stuart Bingham, Tom Ford, Martin Gould, Andrew Higginson, Barry Pinches, Rory McLeod, Mark Davis...all players well used to the final stages of ranking events.

But through too is Dave Gilbert, who twice lost in the final round of Q School before qualifying in the third event.

Dave sums up what this entire tour is about: talking the knocks and still coming back for more.

By now, it must have gone through his mind more than once that snooker isn’t for him and he should work full time for his father’s business or in some other field.

But snooker players, despite all the knocks and setbacks, really love the game. They often say they don’t but it’s in their blood.

However many times they convince themselves the love has gone, it declares itself again – witness the return of Scott MacKenzie, who just two years ago stated he had had enough of snooker.

And Dave, like so many before him, has picked himself up off the floor, dusted himself down and, in this tournament anyway, got his reward.

So too did Nigel Bond, albeit in a match that finished at just gone midnight.

The 45 year-old survived a lengthy battle on the pink in the decider before sinking it and the black to edge Barry Hawkins 5-4.

Bond has been a professional for more than 20 years. It's 16 years since he was in the World Championship final.

But, again, he loves it and demonstrated an iron will his namesake James would have been proud of to finally come through.

Snooker is one of the loneliest of all sports. That is certainly true in the anonymous cubicles in Sheffield.

So players who are assured of a moment in the sun – Australian winter or not – should feel proud that they are making the long, long flight down under.