The final stages of the UK Championship has been played over best of 17 frames since its second staging in 1978 but this year is reduced to best of 11s.

Many observers have had their say about this, myself included, but what do the players think about it?

With the qualifiers getting underway next week in Gloucester I asked some of them to find out. It’s not really a representative sample, but their views are still interesting.

Mark Williams won the UK title in 1999 and 2002. He was runner-up last year to John Higgins.

He started out fiercely deriding the format change: “I think it’s terrible. There are a lot of tournaments now and there’s no reason to mess with the big ones. Will the World Championship be next?”

The change saves money on outside tables and allows the BBC to cover every match from the last 32 onwards.

Williams is glad the tournament will now be played entirely in a TV set-up, but is still against the reduction in frames.

“I think it’s right to play it on two tables because nobody wants to be in a cubicle,” he said. “It’s probably fairer the way they’ve done it but it should have been left as best of 17. Best of 11 is another sprint and there are enough sprints already.”

Dominic Dale, a student of snooker history, had no time whatsoever for the changes.

He said: “I think reducing the frames takes a lot of the prestige away. Maybe they should give the tournament fewer ranking points if there are fewer frames. All of the players will be against it because it makes the tournament more of a lottery, but as usual the players come second.”

In fact, not all of the players are against the alteration in the format. Stuart Bingham, this season’s Australian Open champion and a generally positive sort, had no problem with it.

He said: “It’s good because the last 32 will all be televised. I’ve heard a few other players talk, saying you shouldn’t change the UK and World Championship because it means anyone can win them, but the World Open was best of fives and the final was Neil Robertson and Ronnie O’Sullivan. The UK has always been the second biggest ranking event. Some think it’s harsh to change it but you have to get with the times and I think it’ll be good.”

In theory, a shorter format gives players outside the elite a better chance, although most tournaments are won by the best players regardless of the format.

Andrew Higginson, who won a PTC earlier this season, should, by this logic, be all for the changes. Except he isn’t.

“I understand why it’s been done, so that all the last 32 matches can be shown on television, but in my opinion the prestige of the tournament has gone down,” he said.

“There are certain tournaments you shouldn’t change and this is one of them. I say that even though under a shorter tournament you have a better chance against the top players because they have less time to settle.”

It’s seven years since Stephen Maguire won the UK title at York. The tournament returns there this season after a gap of five years but the Scot is aghast at the best of elevens.

Maguire said: “They’ve ruined it. I can understand it from a TV point of view but the UK Championship used to be the second biggest tournament on our calendar. Now it’s been reduced to 11 frames and the person running the game said he wouldn’t change the big events. A year in and he has.”

So there we are, a flavour of player feeling, albeit from a very small group of players. I agree that best of 17s gave the UK Championship a certain prestige that will be lost by making it more like a bog standard ranking event.

But regardless of whether players, pundits and fans agree with the format changes, I imagine everyone will just get on with it when the tournament starts on December 3 and if the quality of snooker is high, as it usually is, then there's no reason why it can't be an enjoyable week.



The Masters will start in mouth-watering fashion in January with defending champion Ding Junhui facing four times champion Ronnie O’Sullivan at the tournament’s new home, Alexandra Palace.

The pair famously met in the final at Wembley Arena in 2007, where O’Sullivan’s superb performance delivered a severe mental blow to Ding’s confidence.

But that was all forgotten last season as he became the first non-British player for 25 years to win the game’s most prestigious invitation title.

His 10-4 victory over Marco Fu in the all Asian final brought the curtain down on the Wembley era of the Masters. The Ally Pally is a bigger venue and, crucially, the event remains in London.

Other interesting first round matches include Neil Robertson v Mark Allen, John Higgins v Matthew Stevens and Shaun Murphy v Martin Gould, the only debutant this year.

I hope the Masters is never made into a ranking event. Its prestige comes from the fact that it is purely for the elite top 16, a reward for being the best players in the world, and long may that continue.

Ding Junhui v Ronnie O’Sullivan
Judd Trump v Stuart Bingham
Neil Robertson v Mark Allen
Mark Williams v Stephen Maguire
Mark Selby v Stephen Lee
Shaun Murphy v Martin Gould
Ali Carter v Graeme Dott
John Higgins v Matthew Stevens



Life in the Frame, out now, is the story of Ken Doherty and how he rose from humble beginnings to stand on top of the snooker world.

I shall declare an interest immediately: I helped Ken to write the book. He is a snooker player, not a journalist but all of the stories in the book are his; all of the opinions are his.

Some are surprising. He is critical of some players while at the same time staunchly defending Alex Higgins, whose behaviour was worse than anyone who has come along since.

But Ken’s back story explains why. His moment of revelation came when he was a 12 year-old sat with his dad watching the TV as Higgins won the 1982 world title.

Enraptured, it made the boy Doherty want to be a snooker player. The following year, his father died and it seemed to instil in Ken the notion that life is short and he should pursue his passion.

To this end he took the decision a few years later to leave Ireland, where he had emerged as the best amateur in the country, to live in the UK, leaving behind the family with whom he has always been close.

This was a sacrifice which paid off and has informed his general attitude since. He is grateful to snooker for the life it has given him.

Ken grew up with his parents and three siblings. They had to leave their first house due to a campaign of persecution by their landlord and ended up in a three room house shared between the six of them.

But it was a happy family and Ken found in Jason’s, the club in which he would perfect his snooker skills, a second home.

His autobiography does not follow the celebrity staple: a recitation of all the mistakes said celebrity has made while asking for understanding from the reader.

It is in part a diary, which Ken kept when he found himself back at the qualifiers, his playing career under threat.

He discusses his amateur days in Ilford, his early years on the professional circuit, his world title triumph, that missed black at the Masters, his epic 2003 Crucible adventure, what really happened when he was thrown off a Malta airlines flight for being drunk, the John Higgins affair and his views on other players.

But it isn’t just a snooker book. There’s the story of how he met his wife, Sarah, tales of hanging out with U2, what happened when he met the Manchester United team after his 1997 world title victory, his views on art and life in the spotlight.

Ken has never just been a snooker player. He is someone inquisitive about the world. He enjoys travelling and his spare time.

There is also a section in the book in which those who know him best – family, friends, former manager Ian Doyle among them – give their views on him.

Most coalesce around the view that he’s a good bloke, a bit lazy and should have won more.

Ken’s view is that, yes, he could have won more but, equally, he could have won less.

These days Ken lives in a very nice house in Dublin with Sarah and their young son, Christian. Having been out with him, it’s apparent how well known and liked he is in Ireland.

He hasn’t lived a blameless life (who has?) but as an ambassador for his country he has been exemplary.

That he hasn’t been a hell-raiser or had some Hollywood-like ‘journey’ of redemption doesn’t mean he isn’t interesting. Anyone who knows Ken knows he is by far one of snooker’s most interesting characters.

He has come a long way since sitting on that couch watching Alex Higgins win the world title. He dared to dream that one day he could do the same and, through his own efforts, that dream came true.

A couple of places where you can buy Life in the Frame:



The Mount Rushmore national memorial was carved into the South Dakotan mountain side 70 years ago to commemorate four legendary US presidents.

What if snooker were to have a similar monument to the players who have best served and represented the sport?

Of course, it isn’t going to happen unless some lunatic is let loose with a chisel on Snowdon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss who should appear on such a memorial.

The rules: there is only room for four players. In fact that’s the only rule.

So here are the main contenders, considered objectively, not based on personal favourites...

Joe Davis was the father of professional snooker. It was he who saw its potential in the age of billiards. It was he who began the World Championship, buying the trophy still presented to this day using half the original entry fees from the inaugural championship in 1927.

Davis won the world title 15 times in succession before retiring from the professional game in 1946. His style of play was the textbook followed by many who took up snooker in his wake.

Ray Reardon was the most successful player of the 1970s as the professional game was revived and started to receive TV attention.

He was six times a world champion, having not had the chance to play professionally at the early age modern players now do.

Alex Higgins was a firebrand and a rebel and these characteristics, coupled with his electrifying style of play, brought a new audience to snooker, attracted television coverage and sponsorship and helped lead to a burgeoning professional circuit.

In the snooker soap opera of the 1980s, he was a much loved villain who put the sport on the front pages and kept up the remarkable levels of interest.

Steve Davis lived a much more placid life and was completely dedicated to being the best, which he was for a decade.

Davis has won more titles than anyone else and is still capable, into his 50s, of producing high quality performances. As an ambassador for snooker, he remains unsurpassed.

Jimmy White’s enduring popularity and cheerful optimism in the face of many knocks means he is still a draw more than 30 years after turning professional.

Never a world champion, he won ten ranking titles, including the UK Championship, plus the Masters and has provided many a fan with the sort of emotional rollercoaster ride which means they remain loyal to him long after his peak.

Stephen Hendry raised playing standards and ushered in a new era of attacking snooker. He has won more of what matters than any other player.

There were 90 ranking events played in the 1990s. Hendry won 27 of them, just under a third of the total. He is still more than 100 centuries ahead of the field.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is a rare natural talent whose brand of entertaining snooker has drawn many new fans to the game during the last 15 years.

Perhaps the best break builder snooker has ever seen, his many controversies have only added to his status as flawed genius but his achievements stand for themselves.

John Higgins has proved himself as the toughest match-player of the current time, with four world titles to his name and an almost innate knowledge of every aspect of the game.

Brilliant under pressure, he remains every bit as difficult to beat as when he first emerged two decades ago.

I realise some will argue for others, such as Fred Davis, John Spencer and Mark Williams, but this is the list from which I will select my four.

The first face who earns a place in our imaginary mountainside is Steve Davis.

It is hard to believe now the attention he had in the 1980s, when snooker bestrode TV sport like a colossus – and Steve did the same on the green baize.

He never went off the rails, never shirked from his professional responsibilities and, despite the odd famous slip-up, just kept on winning.

He could have walked away happy with hit lot but, such is his love of the game, that he carried on and is still delighting fans now, as well as providing inspiration for a whole group of much younger players.

Davis was always the model player to look up to. He is to snooker what Jack Nicklaus is to golf.

The second face the carvers had better set about constructing is that of Hendry, who decided from a frighteningly young age that he was going to be the best.

Sport thrives on the fluff and intrigue that surrounds it, but the true test of greatness is achievement. For this alone Hendry deserves his place, but the quality of snooker he has produced down the years speaks for itself.

My third face will be that of Alex Higgins. He didn’t win as much as Reardon but he had an alchemy that meant he was an absolutely vital figure to snooker’s growth and development.

People admired the Reardons and Spencers but they loved Higgins. Many hated him too, but nobody who watched him play could fail to be excited by his charisma, his shot making and his theatrical style of death-or-glory snooker.

So one face left to be carved and, for me, it should be O’Sullivan.

It was Joe Davis’s misfortune not to be playing in the colour television age. Snooker owes him a huge debt of gratitude but that is not the whole story.

He created the professional game but he also killed it when he retired but continued to play exhibitions. Everyone knew the best player in the world wasn’t in the World Championship and it was eventually discontinued for a decade before being revived, largely due to the efforts of Rex Williams.

In truth, professional snooker had two beginnings. The first was under the auspices of Davis in 1926. The second was in 1969 when the World Championship reverted from challenge system to knock-out and Pot Black began. It was this latter beginning which was more significant to the sport as it is today.

Reardon’s modern day tally of world titles was equalled by Steve Davis and surpassed by Hendry. He may have won more than Alex Higgins but Higgins’s contribution off the table cannot be overlooked.

The only mark against White is that he never won the world title, which has to count him out.

John Higgins is a great player but ultimately O’Sullivan has been responsible for keeping interest levels up in an era in which snooker’s survival as a top level sport has been under threat following the loss of the tobacco millions.

New viewers around the world watching snooker for the first time on TV have been drawn in by O’Sullivan, whose talent and changeable personality have created a heady mix and sustained the game in the media. He is, by any definition, a star.

So my four for snooker’s Mount Rushmore are Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Alex Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Something tells me not everyone will agree with these choices.



Neil Robertson lost only two frames to reach the semi-finals of the Alex Higgins Trophy, demonstrated his great poise under pressure to edge Mark Allen in a decider and did a proper number on Judd Trump to secure the title.

Robertson, who has developed into a real hard match-player, dictated the style of the final from the off and managed to tame the brilliant Trump, unlike all the players the 22 year-old swept aside during the tournament, though both players struggled with conditions.

Alex Higgins was an excellent safety player, although few ever mention that. He had to be because he played in an era where safety was a key part of the game.

Robertson used to be more of an out-and-out potter but has toughened up his game over the last few years and his record in TV finals speaks for itself: played eight, won eight.

Neil always strikes me as a positive person who looks for the best in any situation. It is rare to see him let frustration get to him in the arena, all great assets for a snooker player.

As he said afterwards: “When you look at what’s going on in the world you realise there are worse things you could be doing than playing snooker.”

So the Australian wins his second Players Tour Championship title of the season and is clearly going to be a handful as the campaign continues.

Trump spoke well afterwards. He has blossomed as a player and a person since moving to Romford and standing on his own two feet.

He’s a credit to the sport not just for the way he plays but in his general conduct. Whatever anyone thinks of the structure of the tour and all of that off table stuff, there’s no doubt the game has a good bunch of lads representing it at the top level.

However, there are still many rumblings backstage about the fact that most players are losing money travelling to play in these PTCs.

That isn’t going to go away and what makes it worse is that it’s one PTC after another at the moment with no big events in between.

But that’s another issue. The night belongs to Robertson, an authentic world class talent and, even more importantly, a winner.


What a shame that a tournament named in honour of the people's champion has failed to attract the people to Killarney.

The Alex Higgins Trophy has been full of interesting snooker with a good line-up for the last day. Hopefully the crowds will improve.

Ireland has always been a snooker hotbed but new events notoriously struggle, regardless of what promotion has been done.

Still, it should be a very interesting day with eight members of the world's top 16 still going strong.

Of these, Mark Selby, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Judd Trump must be the favourites.

Mark Allen is also worth following, Northern Ireland's best prospect since the heady days of the Hurricane and Dennis Taylor.

Ken Doherty won three deciding frame finishes yesterday to book his last 16 place, including against Ali Carter in the last 64.

Doherty forced the decider by doubling the re-spotted black the full length of the table, after which he seemed destined to win the match.

Ken was a big pal of Alex Higgins and would dearly love to win a title named after him. He plays Alan McManus this morning, who he beat in the final of the 1993 Welsh Open, his first ranking event win.



After a day of amateur qualifying, the televised phase of the Alex Higgins Trophy - PTC8 - gets underway today.

The first TV match is Mark Williams v James Wattana followed by John Higgins against Ian Burns and Ronnie O'Sullivan v Aditya Mehta.

The TV element makes these PTCs slightly harder to predict than those played behind closed doors, albeit with streaming.

Mark Selby won the first televised PTC earlier this season and Neil Robertson the second.

It is likely another established name will win this one, though who that will be is anyone's guess.

Perhaps it will be O'Sullivan. He has already captured two PTCs this season and, though he described them as 'pointless' on Twitter yesterday, they do of course carry points that will help boost his ranking.

I suspect Alex Higgins would have approved if O'Sullivan won the first title bearing his name. I remember Ronnie winning the Irish Masters in Dublin one year and Alex going out into the arena to congratulate him.

They are cut from the same cloth, snooker wise: entertainers with vivid back stories. Box office, in short.

Good luck to all involved. Killarney is a picturesque setting, although arenas look much the same to TV audiences wherever tournaments are staged.

Here is the Eurosport schedule.



The professional circuit will be increased to 128 players under plans announced today by World Snooker.

When Barry Hearn was bidding to become World Snooker chairman among the lies spread by his enemies was that he would cut the main tour to 32.

By increasing it, he recognises the potential for snooker to grow and is also backing the potential of new players to make their marks.

Cruciallly, new tour players will get their ticket for two years, allowing them more time to bed down and relaxing some of the pressure.

This is a vital step because so many talented players seem to have fallen through the cracks, trying in vein to keep their tour cards in one season when the rankings are based over two.

The other change being discussed as part of an overall review - though not yet agreed - is to change the ranking system so that it is based on prize money won rather than the completely arbitrary points tariffs currently in use.

This would peg the rankings to the market value of each tournament, reflecting how much sponsorship money they attract and therefore what they are worth.

It would be a controversial move for many but easier to understand for the general public and arguably fairer.

I think tournament winners should receive considerably more than the guy who finishes runner-up.

One thing, though: if the list is to be determined by prize money then every player on the circuit should be rewarded financially, including those who lose in the first qualifying round.

The precise details are clearly yet to be ironed out, and the players will no doubt want their say before a decision is taken.



Give or take a couple of weeks it is 25 years since Rex Williams became the oldest player to appear in a ranking final.

Williams was 53 when he faced Jimmy White for the Grand Prix title at the Hexagon in Reading. White beat him 10-6 but it was a fine achievement by one of the sport’s elder statesmen.

The old guard who helped make snooker such a successful TV sport in the 1980s were gradually forced off the stage by younger players who in turn raised standards.

One such player was Ronnie O’Sullivan, the youngest player, at 17, to win a ranking title.

Ronnie told today’s Independent that he wants to become the first 40-something since Ray Reardon to win the World Championship. This would mean him winning the title in 2016, only five years away.

Is this possible? Could a player win the world title in their 40s?

It depends on the player. John Higgins is 36, as is Mark Williams. O’Sullivan will be in two months.

These three have proved to be every bit as good in their 30s as they were in their 20s.

Reardon was 45 when he won his sixth world title in 1978 and people forget how close he ran Alex Higgins in the final four years later when he was 49.

The Welshman is the oldest winner of a ranking title. He was 50 when he captured the 1982 Professional Players Championship.

It’s also worth mentioning that he beat Steve Davis – at the time the undisputed king of snooker – 5-0 in the first round of the 1988 British Open at the age of 55.

The game has changed since Fred Davis reached the World Championship semi-finals at 64 in 1978 but this is still a remarkable feat given the stamina required, particularly in the days of hard as nails snooker.

Fred last qualified for the Crucible in 1984 when he was 70. At 77 he won two qualifying matches for the Mercantile Classic.

He played his last match as a professional at the age of 79 to bring a pro career of some 57 years to a conclusion.

That is a series of accomplishments that it is very hard to see being emulated.

Steve Davis has, of course, continued to defy conventional wisdom by producing highly creditable performances into his 50s.

Davis, 54, is not just hanging on. He is still playing well, as he proved when he reached the semi-finals of PTC6 in Poland a few weeks ago.

He said before that event that he was taking things seriously again, which suggests he has been practising.

I remember interviewing him at the 2005 Malta Cup, where he said he would be practising hard for the upcoming World Championship as it was the last to be sponsored by Embassy and he wanted to produce a good performance.

I have no doubt my reaction would have been along the lines of, ‘yeah, whatever’ but not so long afterwards there was Steve in the quarter-finals.

He reached the same stage of the World Championship last year. Such is his great knowledge of matchplay snooker that I wouldn’t rule out another appearance at the Crucible for the circuit’s oldest player.

Age is not the key factor here. Davis has looked after himself. He is fitter than a number of players younger than him.

And he has the pure love of the game, the endless fascination with it, to carry on. His latest challenge appears to be proving all those wrong – myself included – who thought he would be on a slippery slope after he dropped out of the top 32

Snooker is not a physical sport but does require high degrees of concentration. There are other factors, most notably changing eyesight, which are age related and older players sometimes find that their nerve is not as strong as when they were young and fearless.

Outside life intrudes, too. Players have families and other interests and pressures whereas when they’re young it tends to be snooker, snooker, snooker.

Sometimes they burn out. I remember interviewing Stephen Hendry after he had won his seventh world title at the age of 30 and part of his intensity, which he had put into breaking the modern day record, seemed to have gone. He still won tournaments of course but was never quite the same again.

But age should not be regarded as an impediment to success in snooker. If players still have the desire then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t extend their careers into middle age.

Look at Phil Taylor in darts – 51 and still brilliant, still the man to beat.

So can O’Sullivan be world champion at 40? It’s impossible to say but there’s no immediate reason why not, although he will have to keep playing in all the other tournaments to ensure a Crucible seeding. He will have to retain a desire for week in, week out snooker, otherwise his world ranking will go down.

The slog of the circuit, particularly with so many new events, generally becomes less appetising for older players.

Higgins and Williams, both of whom are proficient at mixing it in the safety/scrappy stakes, will surely still be going strong in five years time.

In some ways it’s easier for them now than it was for the players of their age 20 years ago.

Back then the top stars had the likes of Ronnie, Mark and John coming through, kicking over the old order and taking their places among the elite.

There are many talented young players out there now but few seem to be making the sort of strides these three did.

So these ‘veterans’ are not looking over their shoulders at what’s coming in behind them in the same way players 20 years ago were when the game went open.

For O’Sullivan to be world champion at 40 would be a fine achievement, not least because it would come more than two decades after his first ranking title.

But snooker is one of those games where players can enjoy the sort of longevity physical sports simply do not allow.

It comes down to how much they want it, how hard they are prepared to work and what they make of their opportunities.

All of which applies however old you are.



The WPBSA inquiry into the incident which turned the Shanghai Masters final has been concluded.

You'll recall Mark Selby played a high speed 'hit and hope' escape from a snooker trailing Mark Williams 9-7. It was not immediately clear whether he first made contact with a red or the pink.

The referee, Eirian Williams, studied replays on an arena monitor before ruling it was red first.

Mark Williams believed it was pink first and blamed (referee) Williams for him subsequently losing 10-9.

Jason Ferguson, the WPBSA chairman, said: "Whilst this inquiry was not to establish which ball was hit first, we have now analysed footage of the incident and whilst we would still say that the analysis is inconclusive, there is overwhelming opinion that the cue ball struck the red first. With this in mind we believe the referee's original decision not to call the foul was correct.

"In these situations the WPBSA rule (Section 5 Subsection 1 (c)) states:
'If the referee has failed to notice any incident, he may at his discretion take the evidence of the marker or other officials or spectators best placed for the observation, or may view a camera/video recording of the incident to assist his decision.'

"The question does raise itself as to whether a player has the right to call for this analysis. The WPBSA rules also clearly state that 'the referee shall be the sole judge of fair and unfair play', and therefore it is ONLY the referee that can ask for assistance either from the scorer, spectator or video replay if available.

"Formal guidelines on the interpretation of this rule will now been issued to referees by WPBSA Director of Rules Alan Chamberlain.

"The WPBSA also felt that some of Mark Williams's comments about the referee following the match were unfair; however we are pleased to report that Mark has since issued a formal apology to referee Eirian Williams."

So Eirian Williams has been vindicated. Personally I didn't think he did anything wrong in the first place. He was just trying to come to the right decision.

His job as referee is to ensure the players play to the rules and to adjudicate on decisions such as this, which was difficult and bound to be controversial.

On viewing various replays, it seemed to me that Selby had just caught the red first.

(Mark) Williams was disappointed that he had let the incident affect him but, in the heat of battle, these things happen. I'm glad the WPBSA have brought no action over a few comments made minutes after the final ended.

Snooker is fortunate that such controversies are rare. In general, the top referees are respected by the players and officiate with the utmost professionalism.

It is a shame that this incident overshadowed the final but such things happen in all sports. At least this has been resolved with the minimum of fuss.


One name guaranteed to be on the trophy for PTC8 this week is that of Alex Higgins, after whom the tournament has been named.

The 2009 six reds World Championship staged in Killarney was the last tournament Higgins competed in before his death last year so it is fitting that this same venue is paying tribute to him (even more fittingly, his last appearance with a cue was for Snooker Legends at the Crucible).

There have been more successful and better players but none more iconic than this Northern Irishman, who played a greater role than any other individual in dragging snooker up from its lowly status as a folk sport to a prime time television entertainment.

Higgins was a one-man soap opera living a tumultuous life of excess which garnered huge media attention but his contribution on the table should not be forgotten or underestimated.

He may not have set out to change the world of snooker but he did. He brought one thing to the game above all else: the people.

And the people stood by him as his rollercoaster life unravelled in full public gaze.

These days, Higgins would probably be considered to have a mental illness and be treated appropriately. 30 years ago he was simply regarded by many in the sport as a menace.

Patience, tested severely over the years, finally ran out for the WPBSA in 1990 after the volley of abuse he directed at Dennis Taylor at the World Cup and the punch he landed on Colin Randle, press officer at the World Championship.

Higgins had got himself back into the top 16 for the 1990/91 season but was banned for the whole of it and never recovered.

Maybe he should have been given more help, although it is true to say that many who tried to help him had it thrown back in their faces.

In his interesting new book 'Who Was Hurricane Higgins?', Tony Francis reveals that the WPBSA offered him a bungalow rent free for the rest of his life - but that he turned them down.

That was Alex. He was his own man, entirely unconcerned by how others saw him. He was a renegade, a one-off, and this only strengthened his appeal.

As Francis points out, people like Higgins are exciting from a distance. To have to deal with him up close on a tournament-to-tournament basis was not a lot of fun for officials, many of whom couldn’t wait for him to lose.

Example: he once turned up for some qualifiers at the Norbreck in Blackpool and asked an official to look after something until he had finished playing. It was a gun.

There are more stories about Higgins than any other player. Many of them are extraordinary and most are true.

He could be a frightening figure but intoxicating (and sometimes intoxicated) too.

His legend will only grow with the passing of the years. For all his faults – and he had many – Alex Higgins was a gift to snooker and it is entirely right that a tournament such as this remembers him.



Things have changed markedly in the last year and a bit, most would say for the better.

More tournaments, global expansion and a feeling that the game is on the up have created a mood of optimism.

But you don’t have to look too far beneath the surface to find players unhappy with various aspects of their professional lives.

In short: the Barry Hearn honeymoon appears to be over.

I was in Gloucester last week for PTC7 where I spoke to a number of players, some off the record and some, like Stephen Maguire, in an interview.

Maguire, to his credit, has always spoken his mind, as he did again when I asked him for his views on the PTCs.

“I don’t enjoy them,” he said. “You play in a cubicle with no audience and no atmosphere. We play for years to try and get out of the cubicles and now we’re back in them. It’s hard to play well in that set up but you have to keep coming for the points.

“I’ve lost all respect for the ranking system. All anyone is looking at is the cut-off points and if I won’t drop down then I won’t play in a PTC.

“I feel like a bit of a prostitute, turning up for these events because I have to. Some of us got stick [from Hearn] for not entering tournaments because we wanted more time with our families. It’s up to me if I choose not to enter an event. If you don’t want to play you shouldn’t be forced into it.

“If you travel anywhere now you’re out of pocket unless you do really well.”

So what do we make of this?

A spoilt sportsman who doesn’t know how lucky he is or the heartfelt concerns of someone who feels he isn’t being treated in a manner worthy of his status?

As usual, the answer lies somewhere in between the two.

First of all, it’s important to point out that Maguire isn’t the only player who feels this way. Other top stars share his view and even some reasonable, sensible players lower down the ranking list are unhappy that they are shedding out large amounts of money with little prospect of serious return.

One described the European PTCs as “buying ranking points.” Most likely players will lose money on a trip to, say, Warsaw but can’t afford to miss out because of the points the events carry.

I think Maguire makes a good point about the cubicle set up. He’s right that players work hard to become free of that environment and to end up back there is a comedown.

Gloucester is a much, much better environment to play than Sheffield but still does not have the atmosphere of a big TV tournament.

But when Maguire talks about being ‘forced’ to play he is actually just articulating what many people feel about their jobs.

Most of you reading this now will know the feeling of waking up in the morning and really, really not wanting to go to work. But you do because you have to put food on the table. In that sense you don’t have a choice.

And snooker players, as in any other profession, will sit round with their colleagues complaining about having to do it. Go to any workplace and this is what you will find.

In fact, top snooker players who earn good money do have a choice, but not playing could be to the detriment of their ranking position, which is the trap Maguire is talking about.

A teacher cannot pick and choose what days they work. They can’t decide not to teach a particular class because they feel it’s beneath them.

The difference, though, is that teachers are not required to go to countries like China at their own expense to work.

The globalisation of snooker is a good thing for the sport and its future but it has left many players out of pocket with mounting expenses.

While it may be true to say they all have the same chance to win the top prize, it is equally true to say they are not all going to win it.

Most will bow out early and not even break even at the European PTCs, all of which increases the pressure of when they are actually playing. PTC11, due to be staged in Europe, is apparently to be held in the Badminton Hall in Sheffield, which will at least reduce expenses for British based players (i.e. the vast majority).

All that said, there is a great deal of money to be made playing snooker and when top players end up skint it is usually because of bad choices they have made, either spending money recklessly or putting their faith in shysters determined to rip them off.

This is why players desperately need independent financial guidance, ideally initiated through a structure at the WPBSA.

Maguire is not a lone voice but by no means everyone agrees with him. One lower ranked player told me that “the top players have been overpaid for years and shouldn’t be complaining.”

Another expressed astonishment that players were carping only two years after they were playing in just six or seven tournaments a year.

Shaun Murphy has said that he plays in just about everything because he wants to “create a store of memories” he can pass on to his children and grandchildren, and that he won’t do that sat at home.

Many other players are enjoying the opportunity the PTC affords and relishing the busy season in progress.

One of the problems is that many top players had it sweet when tobacco firms pumped millions into the game. For instance, Mark Williams won £270,000 – snooker’s biggest ever first prize – for becoming world champion in 2003. After local tax of 46% was withdrawn from his runners-up prize at the Australian Open he says he was left with roughly £9,000, out of which he had to pay his expenses.

It’s fair to say he wasn’t impressed and it’s easy to see why. Some players are openly saying they won’t be going to Australia next year.

And expenses are going to mount. After Christmas, running into the World Championship, there is a succession of tournaments in foreign climes.

This is all to the good in my opinion but it is vital that the structure of the tournament calendar is looked at, otherwise players will – understandably – not be playing in certain events.

At the back end of February the players are expected to go to China for the World Open, possibly on to India for a new tournament, then back to Europe for the PTC grand finals, then back out to China and then back to Britain for the World Championship. All this in the space of five or six weeks.

Other sports have, for instance, an ‘Asian swing’ so that they play a succession of events in a particular region.

This would surely be better in snooker, although of course Hearn and his team is having to largely start over again after years in which the sport drifted aimlessly.

His attitude is to get as many tournaments on as possible and, in fairness, this is what the players have asked him to do.

And players, like many other people, are motivated by financial gain. Personally I see nothing wrong with this.

But they need to be honest about it. Some of the players who skipped the Poland PTC didn’t do so to spend more time with their families: they were in China playing in an unsanctioned exhibition event.

Flying around the world is less arduous when you are being well paid for it.

Only hardcore snooker fans, in the minority, involve themselves in every aspect of tour structure and the minutiae of the circuit. Most just enjoy watching the game and are happy with the increased amount of tournaments and the opportunity to see more players.

However, some of the players who vociferously supported Hearn’s coronation are now finding that the game has become a runaway train they are finding hard to keep up with.

There is much to adjust to and so complaints are inevitable and understandable, but I think everybody has to realise that snooker is not premier league football or golf or tennis. Those sports attract vast amounts of sponsorship revenue. Snooker, which has always suffered from cultural snobbery, does not. It depends mainly on betting firms, most of whom do not pay fortunes. With the world economy how it is, sponsorship is going to be harder and harder to obtain.

Therefore not every new event is going to be like the World Championship. Major tournaments are not going to fall from the sky, replete with huge prize funds.

For this to change the sport has to be built up again, and the players are key to this. Things are not perfect – and the schedule is going to create more problems – but what is the answer? To go back to how it was before? Does anyone really want that?

Players said they wanted more tournaments. They have them. They aren’t all ideal by any means and they don’t all make financial sense, but one thing Hearn can’t be criticised for is doing what he was asked: to get events on.

Maybe the moral of the story is this: be careful what you wish for.



With so much happening in the game over the last year, Power Snooker seems like a distant memory.

However, out of nowhere it is back. Next month a two-day event in Manchester will launch what is believed to be a grand prix series of several tournaments, which suggests Power Snooker organisers have received substantial investment.

The first event divided opinion sharply. Some thought it a bit of harmless fun in which players could show a different side to their personalities, others a moronic waste of time aimed at the lowest common denominator.

The top 16 have been invited – at rather late notice – to play next month. An ominous line in the invitation letter informs them that if they don’t accept they will be ineligible for any future Power Snooker tournaments.

With a first prize of £25,000 – and possibly much more to come – it is unlikely many players will turn down the invite.

The two days will be broadcast on ITV4. World Snooker’s attitude is that they should not deny their players a chance to earn more money, providing Power Snooker and such innovations do not clash with existing tournaments.

Many sports have these distracting off shoots. Indeed, as I wrote after the Power Snooker launch, that’s exactly what snooker originally was – a game devised from other cue sports.

It is never going to replace traditional snooker but we live and die by the market and, if sufficient interest exists, then it may be able to establish itself as a diverting attraction set aside the game we all know and love.



Ronnie O’Sullivan tonight became the first player to win two Players Tour Championship titles in a single season with a 4-2 defeat of Matthew Stevens in Gloucester.

I was there on Friday and O’Sullivan was focused and committed from the start.

He travelled down with Damien Hirst, a fellow artist, and conducted himself in exemplary fashion, signing autographs, posing for pictures and generally being professional.

Why shouldn’t he, you may well ask. That’s what pro snooker players are supposed to do. And you’d be right.

The point is, though, that there were no distractions for him. His mind was concentrated fully on the job in hand. He went there to win and that's what he did.

I watched a couple of his matches in the arena and it was clear how seriously he was taking it. His disappointment at bad shots was obvious and he couldn’t have tried harder.

O’Sullivan got his reward in the end and well done to him. He remains snooker’s leading attraction and I'm pleased to see him enjoying himself and playing some good stuff again.

He also knows he can’t afford to take any tournament carrying ranking points lightly with his top 16 place under constant threat this season unless he gets some major points on board.

If he can remain in this frame of mind he has every chance of doing so.

Uniquely, the players wore pink polo shirts to raise money and awareness for breast cancer charities.

It was an emotional few days for South West Snooker Academy owner Paul Mount, after whose sister the Kay Suzanne trophy was named.

The final was played on the fifth anniversary of Paul Hunter’s death and it was therefore fitting that his best friend on the circuit, Stevens, had such a good run.

And as play was progressing today, cancer claimed another victim among the snooker fraternity as Dave Coleshill, the long time TV lighting technician, passed away.

Big Dave was a cheerful, reliable figure backstage with many friends on the circuit. His name won’t be known by many snooker fans but he played a very important part in the way the look of TV tournaments evolved over the last 25 years.

The players are the shop window of the game but there are many others who make it a professional sport, and Dave was one of the biggest characters at any tournament. He will be sadly missed.



The seventh Players Tour Championship event of the season is underway in Gloucester with the top players coming in on Friday.

There have so far been six different winners of the first six PTCs. There were of course 12 winners from 12 events last season.

Of the six who have so far triumphed, four have been players associated with winning major titles: Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson.

The South West Snooker Academy is a better venue than the academy facility at Sheffield, not least because there is room for spectators.

But PTC7 is unique for a very special reason: it is raising awareness for breast cancer.

The players will wear pink polo shirts and the trophy has been named in honour of Kay Suzanne, the sister of SWSA Paul Mount owner who sadly died from breast cancer.

By chance, the final falls on the fifth anniversary of the death of Paul Hunter, who fought gamely against cancer for 18 months before passing away at the age of 27.

Other players have suffered from this appalling condition, including Jimmy White, Alex Higgins and Doug Mountjoy. Jack Lisowski was diagnosed with cancer at the age of just 16 and has thankfully beaten it.

Several popular figures backstage have also been lost to us because of cancer, including Malcolm Thorne, such an important figure in the development of young careers, earlier this year.

Many if not most of you reading this now will have family members or friends who have had to go through the ordeal of chemotherapy, sometimes without success.

So snooker can be proud of its players and as a sport that it is using this event in a positive way for a positive cause.

It is worth remembering that there are more important things in life than potting balls.

Read more about the pink PTC here.



The BBC finally killed off Last of the Summer Wine, presumably because there are only so many times old men can rattle down a hillside in a tin bath before people realise it wasn’t funny to start with.

World Snooker, though, are supporting the game’s old – or older – guard by staging the World Seniors Championship, now for over 45s as opposed to over 40s as of last year.

Seeded through to the televised phase are several legends of the sport – Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Cliff Thorburn, John Parrott and the defending champion, Jimmy White, among them.

And there’s an intriguing selection of old faces taking part in the qualifying competition at the South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester later this month.

Mike Hallett, still playing in PTCs, is there, as is David ‘silver fox’ Taylor, former top 16 members David Roe and Gary Wilkinson and several Welsh players.

Of these, I am pleased to see Doug Mountjoy back in action because he authored one of snooker’s greatest fairytales when he bounced back from a lengthy spell in the doldrums to win the UK Championship in 1988 at the age of 46.

He outplayed Stephen Hendry in that final. At one stage he made three successive centuries, which in those days was a rare feat.

Doug led something like 15-7 before Hendry threw everything at him but Mountjoy held on to win 16-12.

It was an emotional moment and he then remarkably went and won the next ranking tournament as well, the Mercantile Classic.

Mountjoy’s resurgence continued when he reached the 1991 Dubai Classic final but his career was effectively ended by ill health. Cancer forced him to have a lung removed.

He has been practising recently with Mark Williams. It would be nice to see him qualify for the TV stage.

In that Mercantile final Mountjoy beat Wayne Jones, who has also entered the Seniors.

It was a poor match between them back in 1989 but one of the reasons for this was because of their closeness. Mountjoy was something of a mentor to Jones and they found it hard to play each other, particularly in such an important occasion as a major final.

Tony Chappel, another familiar Welsh name from the late 1980s/early 90s, has also entered, as has Steve Newbury, who like Chappel reached a ranking event semi-final two decades ago.

I once saw Newbury play Terry Griffiths. I’m not saying it was a bad match but the referee spent the entire mid session interval sat in the arena with his head in his hands, although I don’t claim this is representative of his career.

Darren Morgan is good enough to win the whole thing. He is a former Irish Masters champion and tough as old boots in his day. Hopefully no boxers will be in the audience to put him off.

Patsy Fagan was the first winner of the UK Championship in 1977 before his career was ended partly by a horrible case of the ‘yips’ when using the rest.

Patsy disappeared from the scene for a while but is now back in his role as president of the Snooker Players Association and as a coach.

There’s also former slimmer of the year Les Dodd and various lesser known names hoping to get through to a spot on TV.

I can’t say I entirely approve of the seniors format – best of threes is short for a ‘World Championship’ and a 30 second shot clock is a bit of a joke, not least because one of the attractions of the tournament is the banter, which will be limited if players are on the clock – but I am pleased to see these guys being given the chance to remind everyone that the sport of snooker is not just for the young.

They all did their shift at the coalface of the game and I hope they enjoy their return to the limelight, however fleeting it may be.


Well done to Neil Robertson for his superb performance in winning PTC6 in Warsaw tonight.

It was a typically composed, ruthless display from a player who is yet to lose in a televised final.

Everything I think about Neil can be read in my season preview on him here.

The tournament was really well attended, proving that it is not just Germany but Europe as a whole that represents a huge market place for snooker.

In the past it has not been explored to anything like the extent it should have been but clearly it will play a major role in the future.

As in Germany, the Polish crowds are knowledgable, enthusiastic but also respectful.

They got to witness a very dramatic last day in which it looked like Steve Davis may go all the way to another final.

As it transpired he just came up short, losing 4-3 to Ricky Walden in the semi-finals.

But Davis seems to be enthused by snooker again while players who have replaced him in the upper echelons of the world rankings stayed away.

Maybe, by no means for the first time, they will look to Davis for inspiration once more.

The next PTC will be staged in Gloucester this week.



After a day of mismatches on the main table, PTC6 in Warsaw was brought to life last night by two exciting young guns and the oldest potter in town.

Judd Trump and Jack Lisowski, housemates and practice partners, survived scares in the last 64 before eventually taking their places in the last 16 tomorrow.

Trump was hit by an inspired Tian Pengfei comeback but finally potted a terrific pink in the decider which was worthy of winning any match.

Lisowski won his first match on TV as a professional by edging out Australian Open champion Stuart Bingham 4-3.

These two talents are a breath of fresh air for the sport. They play an attractive, attacking game but also have personality and are committed to interacting with their fans on social networking sites such as Twitter.

Snooker has been around a long time but Judd and Jack truly belong to the modern age and the game will look to them to pull in the next generation of fans.

When Steve Davis was about their age he was turning professional in 1978, a very different time for the game.

The idea of playing a professional tournament in Poland back then would have been laughable.

But at the age of 54, Davis has also booked his last 16 place, despite his trusty old cue going missing on the flight over.

Thankfully it has been returned to its legendary owner, who continues to defy the conventions of sport by pulling out good results long after his prime.

Davis said this week that he is working hard again. He has always loved a challenge and his latest is to remain on the circuit and halt the slide down the rankings.

He will stay in the top 48 when the new seedings are announced on Monday and although snooker players usually keep on falling when they begin a decline, if anyone is going to buck the trend it will be Davis, whose lifelong love affair with snooker shows no signs of abating.

He already has the MBE and OBE. How about a knighthood for this old warhorse of the green baize?