PTC 12 in January will consist of only 16 players at the venue in Fuerstenfeldbruck, Germany due, apparently, to the unsuitability of the venue to hold the usual 9-10 tables required for these events. I understand this anomaly came to light at a recent site visit by organisers.

The WPBSA’s response was to announce a reduction of the field down to 16 immediately before PTC 11 in Sheffield in the week following the UK Championship.

They then announced a ‘consultation’ with players, the result of which is to stick to the original plan.

Although this is all rather unfortunate there are a couple of upsides: 1) all matches from the last 16 onwards will be on television and streamed; 2) UK based players losing in the early rounds will not incur the same level of expenses going to Sheffield as they would in Germany, although this isn’t much consolation to German amateurs.

Leaving aside the point that the venue should surely have been checked out much sooner, the WPBSA had to do something and I would say have come up with a reasonable solution, although the ‘consultation’ should surely have come before announcing alternative dates, not afterwards.

This taps into something I’ve been hearing about rather a lot. Not so long ago players were sent a letter on various matters, one of which was that the WPBSA staff preferred communication via email because HQ ‘is not a call centre.’

No it isn’t. But equally the players pay membership fees and should reasonably expect genuine queries to be dealt with. We’re talking here about their professional lives, the way they earn their money to provide for themselves and their families.

One of the problems is that World Snooker’s staff have been cut down to the bone – at a time where there is more to do than ever. In my experience they are not underworked, certainly not the officials out on the circuit who slave away in tournament offices for little thanks.

I know some players now find dealing with the governing body a bit impersonal, especially those being fined for tournament withdrawals without getting any sort of hearing.

And the situation surrounding PTC 12 seems to underline something many people are saying: that there are too many PTCs.

However, many of those coming up with easy solutions are not in possession of the full facts. World Snooker has contracts with Eurosport and Perform based on supplying a particular number of tournaments to be broadcast or streamed, so cutting back is not the simple option many assume.

Personally, I would suggest eight PTCs – five in Europe and three in the UK (with at least two of those in Gloucester) – with money saved by scrapping four put into the remaining eight.

But that’s easy to say. The commercial realities do not necessarily allow such changes [I of course haven’t seen the full contracts so am not fully sure how this stacks up].

Meanwhile, well done to Ricky Walden for compiling a 147 break in PTC10 yesterday, and to David Gray who did so in qualifying earlier in the week.

It was probably inevitable after I mentioned how relatively rare maximums are that we should have had three in a single week.



John Higgins grew up watching Steve Davis and marvelling at his achievements and the clever, calculating, formidable way he played the game.

So when Davis referred to him as “the greatest player ever” after the Scot’s fourth world title victory last May, Higgins was understandably overjoyed.

“To be honest that meant more to me than winning trophies,” he told me. “I know a lot of people won’t agree with him. They’ll say Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan or Steve himself, which is fair enough.

“But for me to hear that from Steve, who was and remains my hero in snooker, was really special. He’s a complete one-off and an inspiration.”

Higgins, like Davis before him, plays the classical game. He always knows the right shot and, though it might not always come off, almost always plays it.

He took a dim view of the recent Power Snooker, in which many of the finer points of the game were discarded. “In the words of Sir Steve Redgrave, if you see me anywhere near it again you have my permission to shoot me,” Higgins said.

“Credit must go to Rod Gunner for getting it on. It’s good for young players but it wasn’t my thing at all. I won’t be playing in any more of them.”

And as a traditionalist, Higgins is also unhappy that the forthcoming UK Championship has been reduced to best of 11 frames from best of 17.

“I’ve always played best of 17 at the UK Championship and it’s lost prestige now. It’s more like the Masters in my eyes,” he said.

“Barry Hearn is doing a great job as chairman of World Snooker but I wished he had spoken to the players first about this, because most aren’t in favour. He hasn’t given a proper reason yet for the change.

“I would rather have played a best of 17 qualifier to get to York than go there for best of 11s. I know the BBC want the top players guaranteed, but in the past they chose four players to play on TV in the last 32 and maybe could have done that again.

“Barry is a great promoter and doesn’t need to be coming to snooker players to check 99% of his decisions, but this is one he should have asked us about.

“I think Barry thinks people’s attention spans in the UK can’t handle longer matches. But I think you could lengthen matches in other countries. I hope we have a longer format tournament somewhere abroad.”

Higgins stresses he is not about to join the increasingly vocal group of players complaining about various aspects of Hearn’s tenure.

“Barry is the best man for the sport and snooker is moving in the right direction. I would give him 8/10 so far,” he said.

“Our sport couldn’t have got much worse but there was an appetite out there, in Europe and elsewhere, for the game. It just took someone with the skill to make it all work, which Barry has.

“If someone rang up to get a tournament on in Brazil he’d be on the first plane over there to get the deal done. He has an ego as big as Don King’s, so he wants to do as well as he can, for himself and the game. That’s what we need.”

Speaking of Brazil, Higgins did not enter the new invitation event there in September, citing the crowded calendar. Hearn publicly criticised him and other players for not supporting this new tournament.

“Barry took a pot-shot at us over Brazil, and probably rightly so because you do need top players to go to new places, but he’s made mistakes as well with the calendar. He’s trying to grow the sport but he has to try and manage the calendar better, otherwise you will get players not going.

“The game is heading in the right direction but it will involve more travelling, and you don’t enjoy that so much as you get older. The future of the game is the younger players, like Judd Trump. They don’t mind travelling so much but the top players will be picking and choosing the tournaments they play in.

“With my ranking, in the next couple of years I can do that, but if you fall down, like Ronnie O’Sullivan has, you don’t get so much of a choice because you don’t want to drop out of the top 16.”

Higgins returned to the circuit just over a year ago following his suspension and played like a man possessed, winning six titles big and small including the world and UK titles.

He put absolutely everything into every match, a level of commitment that it was impossible to sustain, particularly after the end of season break.

“It all frazzled my brain,” he said. “I put so much into my professional life that my personal life suffered.

“After the World Championship it was as if my brain exploded. I couldn’t have kept that intensity up and it’s taken a while to get back on an even keel.”

At 36, he is not at an age where snooker players improve. Usually they are entering some sort of decline by now, although there is no evidence of that with Higgins.

Like Davis before him, his all round game should keep him in good stead to compete at the top level for many more years, if he has the appetite to do so.

“Someone pointed out to me that I’ve won world titles in three different decades, which is some achievement. But I know I will be falling away soon,” he said.

“You want to fight it off. You want to be trying to fight to improve, but you know it’ll happen because it happens to every player. Like a golfer losing your length off the tee, you notice it happening with certain parts of your game.”

As for York, his UK Championship defence starts against Rory McLeod, a methodical, tough as old boots campaigner who Higgins battled against in a lengthy second round tie at the Crucible.

“You know what you’re going to get with Rory,” Higgins said. “At the Crucible I saw what he did to Ricky Walden in the first round, the way he got into his head, and I knew I couldn’t let him dictate the match against me.

“I think Rory deserves great credit for getting through the qualifiers. He rarely loses a qualifying match. He doesn’t seem to play as well at the venues but I think he will do one of these days. But you have to concentrate on playing your game your way.”

The way Higgins plays is still what most players aspire to. His ‘slow’ start to the season is a bit of a myth. He’s already done enough to qualify for the PTC grand finals and, of the two full ranking events, he’s been in a quarter-final.

There is no reason to believe he won’t come right for the big events of which, despite its reduction in frames, the UK Championship remains a test of skill and nerve and a prestigious title to win.

“I’m confident in my form,” Higgins said. “The PTCs are mainly about jockeying for position to get into the finals but top players tend to raise their games for the major tournaments.”



And the pattern continued as the new decade began with John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams winning the first three UK titles between them.

Higgins had been replaced as world no.1 by Williams but beat the Welshman 10-4 in Bournemouth shortly before flying off to get married.

By the time of the 2001 UK Championship, O’Sullivan had become world champion, later than his two great contemporaries but, like them, the fulfilment of a great potential.

For once, the top eight in the world rankings all reached the quarter-finals in York in a great championship, which included 9-8 wins from 8-4 down in the last eight in one memorable night for O’Sullivan against Peter Ebdon and Williams against Stephen Hendry.

O’Sullivan would beat Williams in the semis while Ken Doherty came through against Stephen Lee, but the expected dogfight in the final never materialised as O’Sullivan turned on the style to blow away the Irishman 10-1. As Doherty put it: “He completely embarrassed me, just destroyed me.”

O’Sullivan’s title defence would end at the hands of Drew Henry the following year but Doherty once again reached the final, this time against Williams, who won their long, absorbing battle – a portent of the world final to come later in the season – 10-9.

Matthew Stevens had been in the group of players to come through after Higgins, O’Sullivan and Williams and despite his capture of the Masters and some near misses in the World Championship was yet to win a world ranking title.

He finally put this right by winning the 2003 UK title, beating Hendry 10-8 in a final in which each player played well in spells before being pegged back by the other.

The 2004 UK Championship was distinguished by having not a single top eight player in the quarter-finals. It was a strange event to be at because, from very early on, the winner seemed clear.

Stephen Maguire had reached the British Open final in Brighton shortly before York and beat O’Sullivan on the opening day with a first rate performance.

As various top stars fell by the wayside it was hard to see the Scot losing in the form he was in and he swept through the field, demolishing David Gray 10-1 in the final.

The 2005 event was the 25th anniversary of Steve Davis’s first UK triumph but few could have expected the great man to feature so prominently.

In fact, he played as well as he ever did. He produced a great finish to beat Maguire 9-8 from 8-6 down, 145 total clearance and all, and then beat Doherty and Hendry to reach a tenth UK final, 15 years after his ninth.

It was a fairytale run but did not have a fairytale ending. Ding Junhui, the 18 year-old China Open champion, beat him 10-6 in the final.

Ebdon’s 2006 capture of the UK title brought the curtain down on a high quality final few days, which included his excellent semi-final win over Higgins.

In the final, Ebdon defeated Hendry, who had reached the semis in bizarre circumstances after O’Sullivan prematurely conceded their quarter-final match trailing just 4-1.

A year later and O’Sullivan was UK champion for a fourth time, beating Maguire 10-2, although his big test came in the semi-finals where, held to 8-8 by Mark Selby, he made a 147 in the deciding frame.

Speaking of deciders, Shaun Murphy outlasted Marco Fu 10-9 to win the 2008 title after a war of attrition, which finally ended when he fluked match ball.

The 2009 final should have gone to a decider too but Higgins missed what appeared to be a routine brown against Ding, who duly beat him 10-8.

However, Higgins would secure a hat-trick of UK titles in 2010 after an improbable 10-9 victory from 9-5 down to Williams.

He is one of 17 men to have won the UK Championship in its 34 stagings. In this time it has changed sponsors and venues and trophies but remains a prize much cherished from among the array of silverware available on the professional circuit.

The UK Championship has a prestige that can’t be denied and a history that can’t be erased, even if the format has been changed in 2011.



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s capture of a remarkable tenth Premier League title tonight reconfirms him as the king of the shot-clock.

Ding Junhui didn’t enjoy much luck but he was also well below his best and O’Sullivan played confidently, his long potting particularly strong.

He has now won this title seven times in the last eight years. The 20 second shot-clock favours him because of his quick, instinctive snooker brain but this is not the whole story.

I think the League also appeals to O’Sullivan because of the nature of the format. This restless spirit gets easily bored and loathes hanging around in hotel rooms for days at a time during longer tournaments. Many other players feel the same but handle the boredom better.

The Premier League, by contrast, is a series of one night stands: pitch up, play, go home. O’Sullivan in fact went home after his semi-final win on Saturday evening before returning for the final.

Ronnie is 36 next week. He remains a fascinating figure, who seems to attract unquestioning love and vitriol in equal measure.

Both viewpoints are as hidebound as the other. The only way to assess someone’s personality and career is objectively.

In my objective opinion Ronnie is the most charismatic snooker player I’ve ever met, probably the best too in terms of sheer skill.

He is a complex man and I wouldn’t claim to understand him but I like him and I respect him for his ability, his achievements and his entertainment value.

I think sometimes commentators can be too gushing about him – doubtless I have been guilty of this – but he does play the game in a particularly attractive way, and there is more often than not the sense of a wider drama, that something, anything, may happen.

This heady mixture is what draws the crowds and the attention. Snooker would go on without him but would miss him badly.

What’s interesting, though, about the Premier League is that it doesn’t seem to have a bearing on any other event. It’s out on its own. O’Sullivan won the title last year but then lost in the first round of the UK Championship.

He needs to do better at York next week because his top 16 seeding for later in the season is not yet guaranteed.

There aren’t 16 better snooker players than Ronnie in my view but a combination of withdrawals and early round defeats have left him needing some solid performances to stave off an unthinkable relegation from the elite bracket.

His career has been one of peaks and troughs. There have been seasons when he’s been unstoppable and those where he has looked like he’d rather be anywhere other than on a snooker table, with results to match.

The good news for his many fans this season is that he has already won two PTCs from three finals, is consulting with Dr Steve Peters and seems focused.

Whatever he says, he can still play this game to a standard most can only dream of.

He will probably find the tenth PTC of the season, already underway in Sheffield, difficult to be totally motivated for (and won’t be alone in that) but it will be interesting to see what he does at the UK Championship.

And as everywhere else, all eyes will be on this authentic superstar of the green baize.


When Steve Davis, who reigned for a decade, met Stephen Hendry, the boy who would be king, for the 1990 UK Championship crown it was clear that this was no ordinary final.

The two players entered Preston’s Guild Hall arena to the strains of Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best.’ At two decades remove few could argue it was an apposite choice.

It was an engrossing match, perhaps the best ever UK final, and Davis got his nose in front at 15-14 before Hendry demonstrated why he became what he became.

Clearing up with 57, Hendry potted a great all-or-nothing blue with the rest under pressure and went on to take the decider with a break of 98.

It was not only the fact that he potted the blue, it was his self belief, his unshrinking desire to take it on, regardless of the consequences of missing.

John Parrott reached the top perched between two eras, as Davis began to fade and Hendry took over. Parrott possessed great nerve and a competitive spirit which helped him become world champion in 1991, and he emulated Davis and Hendry by winning the UK title in the same calendar year as his Crucible triumph.

Parrott beat Jimmy White 16-13 in the final. It was the latest defeat for White in a major final but he would have his moment in the sun in 1992 when he turned the tables on Parrott, beating him 16-9.

On the trophy, it reads: ‘1992 – Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White’, an exception for the most popular player in the game.

In 1993, the decision was taken to reduce the final from two days to one, from 31 frames to just 19.

But this in no ways undermines the extraordinary achievement of Ronnie O’Sullivan in winning the title at the age of just 17.

O’Sullivan had been groomed for stardom from a young age and given every advantage in his quest for glory, but snooker is an individual game out in the arena – you against the other guy – and in this case the other guy was Hendry.

Displaying maturity beyond his years, O’Sullivan took the game to the world champion and beat him 10-6. Amid all the many, many words written about him, he isn’t lauded enough for this.

The 1994 UK Championship final produced a break building record that still stands to this day as Hendry compiled seven centuries, although his margin of victory over Ken Doherty was 10-5.

This was Hendry at his relentless best: long red, ton, job done. A year later he drubbed Peter Ebdon 10-3 to win UK title no.4.

A fifth would follow in 1996 in the most high profile match he would ever play against John Higgins, whose consistency and mature game was marking him out as someone who could take over from his fellow Scot as snooker’s top dog.

Hendry scrambled through 10-9. He reached three more UK finals but failed (so far) to equal Davis’s record of six titles.

In 1997, O’Sullivan beat him again but, mired in depression, he withdrew from the 1998 event, which Higgins won with a 10-6 defeat of Matthew Stevens.

The tournament produced a remarkable first round reverse for Hendry, 9-0 to Marcus Campbell. He would go on to win a seventh world title at the end of the season but there were signs that, as the decade drew to a close, his reign, like that of Davis ten years earlier, was coming to an end.

Mark Williams won the 1999 UK title, beating Stevens 10-8 in the final. The last three UK Championships of the 90s had been won by O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams: the three players who between them would dominate the game as the new millennium dawned.



Though it may not have been apparent at the time, Steve Davis was in the right place at the right time: a talented young snooker player turning professional just as the sport was beginning to move forward.

A student of technique, he had something less definable, a quality of personality which enabled him to retreat into his own mind when the chaos of snooker, with its heady mix of skill, pressure and luck, was all around him.

Barry Hearn, his gregarious manager, had the opposite persona to his shy young charge. Hearn came from a working class background but went into accountancy on his mother’s advice: “you never meet a poor one” she had told him.

He purchased a string of snooker clubs and in Davis identified a rare character, and someone who would work as hard as was necessary to achieve his goals.

They were part of the Romford mob, a brash crowd who would reap the financial rewards of a sport swiftly demanding serious TV time.

In 1980, the BBC upped its coverage of the UK Championship from three days to nine. Davis won it, beating Alex Higgins 16-6 in the final. It was the first of more than 80 titles he has won thus far.

A demonstration of his growing confidence and status came in the semi-finals where he demolished Terry Griffiths 9-0.

In the 1981 final Davis, already world champion, steamrollered Griffiths again, 16-3, to defend his title.

Griffiths got some sort of revenge in 1982, beating Davis 9-6 in the quarter-finals, and in the final edged Higgins 16-15 from 15-13 down in what one newspaper dubbed ‘The Shoot-out at the UK Coral’ – the bookmakers having come in as title sponsors.

The 1983 final still provides great memories for Higgins’s loyal army of fans. If snooker was a soap opera than Higgins was Dirty Den: mad, bad and dangerous to know. Davis, on the other hand, was Ken Barlow: boringly dependable.

The point, though, is that while Den was killed off (twice, in fact), Barlow is still going strong to this day.

In 1983, it looked as if the player given the ironic nickname ‘Interesting’ would prevail after Davis raced into a 7-0 lead.

But Higgins was never better than in a fight and he roared back, his supporters with him for every ball, to win 16-15, one of his greatest ever victories and one of snooker’s most pulsating finals.

The rematch came a year later but fizzled out, Davis winning 16-8. He was deep in trouble in the 1985 final against Willie Thorne, who led 13-8 only to miss a straightforward final blue and lose the frame.

Davis scented blood and launched his own fightback, winning 16-14 in a defeat that almost came to define Thorne’s career.

A fifth UK title came Davis’s way in 1986 when he defeated Neal Foulds 16-7 in a tournament best remembered for Higgins’s headbuttting of the tournament director, which led to a £12,000 fine and five-tournament suspension.

A sixth title was secured when Davis beat Jimmy White 16-14 in 1987, which he described afterwards as “the highest standard match I’ve ever played in.”

It was ten years since Patsy Fagan had won the inaugural UK Championship and collected a winner’s cheque for £2,000. Davis’s prize was £70,000, a sign of how snooker had gone forth and multiplied in the intervening decade.

Indeed, it seemed as if Davis’s run of success would go on and on. However, a few weeks before his sixth UK triumph, an 18 year-old Scot named Stephen Hendry had won the Grand Prix.

Hendry had many of the same qualities Davis possessed: self assurance, a strong work ethic, in Ian Doyle a canny manager and, of course, the talent on the table to succeed.

He swept Davis away 9-3 in the 1988 semi-finals but his coronation was not to be. Doug Mountjoy, at 46 and ten years on from his first UK title capture, instead authored a remarkable fairy tale by winning it again.

Dropping down the rankings and apparently into the autumn of his career, Mountjoy went to see Frank Callan, a Blackpool fishmonger and astute coach who set about rebuilding his game.

After the first day, the final was poised at 7-7, but Mountjoy pulled away in style, winning all seven frames of the third session and compiling three successive centuries.

Hendry recovered to 15-12 but Mountjoy duly completed an emotional 16-12 victory.

Hendry’s time would come, though, and indeed did a year later when he won the last UK title of the 1980s with a 16-12 defeat of Davis.

He had beaten him before but never over this distance in a match of such importance.

It was symbolic of the changing of the guard at the top of snooker: the Davis era of dominance was over and the Hendry years had begun.



The countdown to the UK Championship starts here! (apart from all the other places it has started).

In four articles I will provide a brief history of the tournament, divided into four decades: the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

The UK Championship was born in 1977 and first played at the Tower Circus in Blackpool.

Let us pause for a moment to consider what the professional game was like in those days. There were no calls for fewer tournaments or a better structured calendar: there was no calendar, really, to speak of, just a small handful of events for low prize money.

However, the BBC’s interest in tournament snooker was growing. Having already agreed to provide full ball-by-ball coverage of the forthcoming World Championship, they elected to screen the final of the UK Championship.

It was originally solely for players from the UK and Ireland and hence did not become a ranking event until 1984 when it was opened up to all (and renamed the UK Open, incidentally, although it reverted back to its original name in 1992).

That first final was between Patsy Fagan and Doug Mountjoy, who had already won the Masters and beaten John Spencer, Willie Thorne and Alex Higgins to reach the UK final.

Fagan was a talent not long out of the amateur ranks, hardened by money matches and ready to make his way as a professional. He won 12-9. His reward was £2,000.

A year later the tournament relocated to Preston Guild Hall, which would become as synonymous with the UK Championship as the World Championship became with the Crucible.

Fagan lost in the first round to David Taylor, aka the ‘Silver Fox’, who reached the final where he was beaten 15-9 by Mountjoy.

The 1979 UK Championship will be remembered for a bizarre incident which left John Virgo doing an unplanned sprint through the Guild Hall’s adjoining shopping centre.

Virgo was through to the final – the biggest match of his career against the then world champion, Terry Griffiths.

He was doing well, too, leading 11-7 and requiring only three more frames for victory in the final session. However, the BBC’s Grandstand programme had requested a 12pm start rather than 1.45 – as it had been all week – and Virgo had not checked the schedule.

Having failed to show up at the venue he was phoned at his hotel some 15 miles away not long before the start. A manic dash to the Guild Hall ensued by he arrived 31 minutes late and was docked two frames.

Griffiths, always a sporting sort, campaigned on Virgo’s behalf but to no avail. Hardly surprisingly the Welshman won the first two frames and was thus level at 11-11 going to the interval.

Still unhappy that he could win in these circumstances, Griffiths knocked on Virgo’s dressing room door during the break and suggested they split the prize money, a well intentioned gesture that was nevertheless met with a blunt response from Virgo: “you haven’t won it yet.”

Griffiths led 13-12 but Virgo, his composure now restored, won the final two frames for his unlikely 14-13 victory.

The first prize was still only £4,500. Clearly, snooker was still growing in popularity but was yet to receive the huge cash injections that would see the sun shine permanently on the sport and its top players in the decade to follow.

Two men in particular would bask in the riches soon to be on offer. Mountjoy’s title defence had ended in the first round to a 22 year-old ginger-haired lad named Steve Davis, backed by his garrulous manager, Barry Hearn.

As one decade ended and a new one began, they were poised to change snooker forever.



Mike Dunn’s 147 break in the German Masters qualifiers tonight proves two things: that the standard throughout the ranks is high and that maximums are still relatively rare.

There are a number of players who have been on the circuit a while who get routinely written off as ‘mediocrity’ or ‘deadwood’. People ask what they have done for snooker.

Well the answer to that is this: they have played it. True, professional sport relies on its star names for commercial appeal but snooker would be nothing without the many foot-soldiers who comprise the tour.

They can all play to a much higher standard than many realise. Hopefully the introduction of streaming for the qualifiers has illuminated this. Just because they aren’t all tournament winners doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be respected.

(Neither, incidentally, should they be artificially propped up. Money in sport should be earned through performance.)

Dunn had never previously made a maximum in a tournament but will now be placed on a list of players, some legends, others long since forgotten, to have achieved the perfect run.

We are fast approaching the 30th anniversary of snooker’s first officially ratified 147 break, made by Steve Davis at the Lada Classic in January 1982.

Since then there have been hundreds of thousands of frames of professional snooker played around the world, yet Dunn’s 147 was only the 79th maximum in the game’s history.

Make no mistake: it is still a very difficult thing to accomplish. In a match environment more so.

Ken Doherty says that the biggest regret of his entire career is his missed black for a 147 at the Masters at Wembley in 2000. He has woken up in the middle of the night thinking about it.

Cliff Thorburn became world champion in 1980 but he is still best known for making the first 147 at the Crucible in 1983.

Whenever Kirk Stevens is mentioned so is his white suit and maximum break at the 1984 Masters.

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s five minute, 20 second maximum at the Crucible in 1997 is rightly talked about as a remarkable exhibition of skill.

Dunn’s 147 was not made in such lofty surroundings but it is still a significant personal achievement.

It’s a shame so many people immediately began to bellyache about the fact there is no financial prize for making one in the qualifiers, as if everything has to be about money. Dunn didn’t make the break for cash (though he would obviously welcome it), he did it because it’s a holy grail in our sport.

Whether there should be a prize or not, the feat of accomplishing a maximum break in competition is one all snooker players aspire to and most don’t achieve.

So Dunn can be proud to have done so.



So Power Snooker is over for another year and, once again, has divided opinion pretty sharply.

I can only give my honest verdict, which is this: I thought it was better than last year but still don't think it is pitched right.

There are two aspects to Power Snooker: the game itself and the environment in which it is played.

The game can be entertaining if the match is close, as the final was. However, if it is one-sided then it peters out and the crowd loses interest.

In this way there is an unlikely correlation with billiards, whose timed format very often produces one-sided matches. Close finishes, on the other hand, are exciting.

It is snooker with some tweaks. As I've said before, as long as this is isolated to one-off events such as this then I have no problem with it.

But the mob of boorish drunks in the crowd add nothing but irritation to proceedings. They were not as bad as last year but for someone to loudly shout out "miss" while Martin Gould was on the green (which he duly did) was a disgrace.

It is a fallacy that reverential silence equals no atmosphere. In fact, the opposite is true. A hush descending at the Crucible adds to the atmosphere, to the feeling that something important is at stake, and thus intensifies the pressure on the players.

There's nothing wrong with crowds interacting more and getting excited but the comments that are apparently hilarious when you're drunk and shouting out in the arena don't come across this way on TV.

Snooker has always had a strong female following, not all of whom will be impressed with the use of page 3 girls to 'sex up' the event. In fact, by marketing Power Snooker at beery lads a large section of potential viewers are isolated.

Why should snooker dumb down at all? Why not instead take the game upmarket?

There is evidence on the continent of Europe that it increasingly appeals to an affluent, sophisticated demographic, and these people are the ones with money to spend.

This isn't the future of snooker, as some have claimed, but it may have legs as a sideshow if viewing figures are strong enough.

If Power Snooker organisers have the money and the players want to play in it then good luck to all involved.

And this debate will not matter a jot to Gould. Neither should it. He should be justifiably proud of winning a TV title and particularly in standing up to the pressure as Ronnie O'Sullivan, who grew stronger all day, twice missed the Powerball when well placed to defend his title.

Newly installed in the top 16, Gould is improving all the time. With the UK Championship and Masters to look forward to, he was full of confidence before a ball - power or otherwise - had been struck in Manchester.

Gould arrived apparently not knowing the rules or caring much, just determined to have a good time.

He leaves with £25,000 and a title. Not bad for what was basically a weekend jolly.



Power Snooker returns in extended form this weekend with the whole of the world’s top 16 taking part in its second staging.

Good for them. It’s a chance to win £25,000 in just two days without the intense pressure of championship snooker. It’s a chance to have some fun.

You can never tell what will be popular. Jimmy White tweeted Philip Schofield yesterday with a picture of the line-up for Tenball, an ITV innovation 20 years ago presented by Schofield that ultimately failed to catch on.

Like Power Snooker, Tenball took the traditional elements of snooker and attempted to speed things up with new rules, extra balls etc.

Schofield’s reply to White on Twitter was: “I thought it would make us all rich!”

Power Snooker may well make various people rich but it depends on public support. What matters at the Trafford Centre in Manchester is not how full the arena is but how many of the people there have bought their tickets rather than been given them.

Viewing figures will also determine levels of sponsorship support in the future, though I understand Power Snooker is well backed already.

As for the action, Ronnie O’Sullivan is defending champion and an obvious favourite again, although the format also favours other fast, instinctive players such as Judd Trump or Mark Allen.

To be honest, it favours all of them because they are all talented potters, and that it what this variant of the game is mainly about.

Mark Williams could be struggling, though. He has injured his ankle, which is severely swollen. Perhaps he could emulate Alex Higgins, who won the 1989 Irish Masters after breaking his ankle.

The tournament is screened live in the UK on ITV4 with some coverage also on Eurosport International for those on the continent.

Power Snooker website.



I was sorry to see Bjorn Haneveer retire from the professional circuit, as I would be for any player.

Snooker players tend to start out very young and dream of glory. Most don’t attain this in the way they had hoped: winning the World Championship or another of the game’s big trophies.

This is the way of dreams: for most they will remain mere fantasies but, as John Lennon put it, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Then again, he also said ‘I am the egg man, they are the egg men, I am the walrus, goo-goo-g'joob’ so his profundity was something of a moveable feast.

Bjorn was a very talented amateur. I was in Riga when he won the European amateur title in 2001, a very competitive event the final of which was played live on local TV.

His best ranking as a professional was 53rd. He reached two ranking tournament last 16s and is Belgium’s best ever player.

However, snooker is biased towards the Brits. All the successful non-British players – Cliff Thorburn, James Wattana, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, even Ken Doherty – moved to live in the UK, where all the qualifiers are held.

Haneveer did not, and it is perhaps true to say that he failed to kick on because of this. He looked like a player who could certainly join the top 32, but it never quite happened.

Everywhere I look I read he is quitting because of the expenses he incurs. But this is only partly true.

He is not being forced off the circuit because of poverty. It’s just that he can earn more money commentating for Belgian Eurosport and by running his own carpentry business.

Credit to him for this. Many players have absolutely nothing to fall back on.

Now a father, Bjorn has reassessed his priorities and come to the decision that he can best provide for his family by concentrating on areas other than playing, which is always a perilous business, particularly with the standard through the ranks as high as it is.

But the brutal truth is this: sport is not a charity. It’s about excellence. It’s about achievement.

Every top player started at the bottom and worked their way up. They did so because of their talent, nerve and determination. Some complain that the leading players are too protected but there was no protection in place as they climbed the rankings. It was because of their results.

If snooker had been managed properly for the last three decades the world no.53 could well earn a six figure salary, but it wasn’t and they don’t.

Haneveer may feel he should have achieved more, although I still say his non-British status loaded the dice against him from the start.

I also think the qualifying system is too labyrinthine. The German Masters has only three rounds rather than four, which may be a better model than the current one.

I wish Bjorn well. He is a very good player from a country which clearly loves snooker.

He probably won’t miss the stress of the qualifiers, even if there is nothing quite like competition for a player of his ability.



The merits, or otherwise, of Power Snooker are a matter for debate but the event, which returns this weekend, does mark the re-involvement of ITV.

It put me in mind of their coverage of snooker in days gone by, when the game was a constant presence on terrestrial television.

It was inevitable after the BBC’s ratings success in showing snooker that ITV would want a slice of the action.

Tournaments were therefore invented to fill this demand and so began an age in which the calendar was comprised of a series of events in regular slots, usually with regular sponsors and venues. For this reason, the tournaments came to have meaning and developed their own personalities and, over time, histories.

Mention the Mercantile Classic to those of a certain age and they will recall it provided Willie Thorne with his only ranking title, or that Jimmy White beat Cliff Thorburn 13-12 in the final after needing a snooker on the pink.

ITV’s main presenter in the 1980s was Dickie Davies. He was ITV’s version of the BBC’s Des Lynam, and every bit as suave and professional, just generally with lower quality sport to introduce.

In this vein, the snooker ITV broadcast was generally regarded as less important than that shown on the BBC, although this was only because the corporation got there first, so their events came to be seen as the really important ones.

ITV had a very strong commentary team, led by John Pulman, who had a voice like velvet and a style so laidback you wondered if he needed to be nudged in the ribs to keep him awake.

He once commentated with Dennis Taylor at the Yamaha Organs tournament, where a player equalled the highest break, the prize for which was provided by the sponsors.

When Taylor pointed this out, Pulman replied: “Yes, Dennis, but what can you do with half an organ?”

Pulman’s great friend and co-commentator was Rex Williams, the debonair former world billiards champion who played snooker at the top level well into his 50s.

They were augmented by the irreverent Mark Wildman, Ray Edmonds (before he jumped ship to the BBC) and Jim Meadowcroft (after he jumped ship from the BBC).

Taylor typically realised that he could earn money and boost his profile by commentating long before most players. He was a regular member of the team before he became world champion and continues for the BBC to this day.

ITV got some great ratings for their so-called lesser events. One of the reasons was that they often had best of 25 three-session finals which ended on Sunday afternoon: no 8pm starts and late night finishes.

They also shared coverage with Channel 4 and so were able to hand over when it was time for something else, but when Michael Grade took over at C4 he scrapped their snooker contract and, a year later, ITV won live Sunday afternoon football rights, which was the beginning of the end of the best of 25 finals.

In fact, in 1989 they reduced their coverage from four tournaments a season to three and dumped the World Doubles in favour of the World Matchplay, an invitation event designed to challenge the World Championship with its big money and best of 35 frames final.

By now Tony Francis had replaced Davies as the main presenter and budgets began to be cut so that, for instance, the Mercantile Classic was only shown on one table.

In those days the top 16 came in at the last 64 stage and to get through to the one table last 16 stage would have to win two matches. The Mercantile was played just after New Year. Most players hadn’t practised and there were often shocks.

So it was that one year ITV’s first live match was Silvino Francisco v Mark Rowing.

I recall at about this time they changed their opening titles sequence to an arty, black and white thing, a rather pompous innovation in truth, and started to struggle with scheduling decent hours.

Maximum breaks were rare. So rare that when one came along the presenters could hardly hide their excitement.

When James Wattana made his at the 192 British Open, the then presenter, Nick Owen, opened the programme by telling everyone it had been “a very special day here in Derby.” That rather gave the game away by the time Wattana reached 40.

As an aside, I saw Owen not so long ago in my local Sainsbury’s. I considered taking this matter up with him but thought that, after the best part of two decades, I should probably let it go.

ITV’s scheduling problems were complicated by the fact that they were a network of regional television companies, so coverage varied depending on where you lived.

Eventually, snooker was dumped altogether and Sky began to take over the tournaments ITV had pioneered. Sky’s coverage was excellent – and live – but to a much lower audience and snooker began to recede a little in the national consciousness.

There were a couple of comebacks. The Charity Challenge provided something different, where players played for prize money not just for themselves but also for designated charities.

The presenters were Eamonn Holmes and Anthea Turner of GMTV, who one year had had a bit of a spat in the press shortly before they were to host the snooker. The atmosphere backstage was colder than the latest series from David Attenborough.

When ITV Digital (anyone remember that?) launched, ITV set up their own sports channel and, not unreasonably, needed some sport to put on it.

Snooker came courtesy of the Champions Cup, a tournament for winners of the previous season’s titles, and Nations Cup, a team event, each of which ran for three years.

ITV’s coverage of Power Snooker proves that, like Sky, they want something different, not just lesser tournaments which otherwise resemble the BBC’s majors.

ITV4 would be a great platform for a proper snooker tournament, though. Darts, football and boxing have all proved popular on the channel and snooker fits this demographic.

Maybe if Power Snooker is successful then ITV will consider it. I hope so. They played their part in making snooker so popular in the first place.



In the blink of an eye it was over, but the memories of what happened will linger long.

Judd Trump’s 4-3 victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of PTC9 in Antwerp tonight was close to snooker perfection: two charismatic, flair players demonstrating bags of guts, taking on their shots, knocking in all manner of long balls, making big breaks, displaying strong tactical nous, serving up visceral drama and all in front of a huge, enthusiastic crowd who lapped up every minute.

What more could the sport want? Well, only more frames. The match barely lasted 75 minutes but, for this brief time, Trump and O’Sullivan captivated the audience both in Belgium and watching around the world.

David Cameron once famously said to Tony Blair, “you were the future once.”

Ronnie must have seen in Judd the player he once was: the new kid on the baize, taking on the big boys with his talent and his panache. Fearless and walking the tightrope between audacious and dangerous in his shot making.

O’Sullivan is still brilliant when his mind is right, as it was all weekend. He missed a black off its spot in the second frame and was soon 3-1 down but responded in awesome fashion with back-to-back centuries.

Trump, though, was still going for his shots to the end. The only shame was that the winning ball was a fluke, but snooker is a mad game and its richness comes from such unexpected, often cruel, moments.

O’Sullivan had no complaints. He was gracious afterwards having more than competed. It bodes well for his many fans this season.

It’s a delight to see Trump not only owning the big stage as a player but being so relaxed as a man too. He has come out of his shell since moving to Romford and now occupies that crowd pleasing bracket where O’Sullivan has for so long dwelled.

And once again, a European crowd showed their voracious desire for top level snooker. As in Germany and Poland, the Belgian fans turned out in force and made the occasion even more special.

As I wrote last week, there’s nothing wrong with snooker as a game, especially when it is played like this in front of a crowd who appreciate what they are watching.

It was style. It was class. It was wonderful.



Another busy and well supported day of snooker in Antwerp has left us with an intriguing last 16 line-up at Players Tour Championship event 9.

Eight of the remaining players are ranked inside the top 16. World finalists John Higgins and Judd Trump were among the winners yesterday and were joined by Matthew Stevens and Martin Gould.

Aditya Mehta flies the flag for India, former PTC winner Tom Ford is still going strong and Andy Hicks is also through, after a surprise win over Mark Selby, his second in fact over the world no.1 in PTCs this season.

Mike Dunn has also survived to the last day, despite a poor run of results following a stay in hospital.

In fact, Dunn was so disappointed by his failure to win a frame at the UK Championship qualifiers last week that he tweeted his career could be over.

I guess it proves that as long as there are more frames to play, there is always a chance that things can turn round.

This ultimately is why so few players actually do retire. It’s not just that they often have little to fall back on, it’s the feeling that something, eventually, might start to happen for them.

Dunn’s reward for going to Belgium and carrying on is a TV meeting with Higgins this morning, whose moustache for Movember is coming along nicely.

Including the Premier League he has won five matches out of five sporting the ‘tache, perhaps like Samson he would be advised not to shed it at all.



A very interesting and entertaining day’s snooker left us with several well known faces through to the last 16 of PTC9 in Antwerp.

The Michael Holt-Shaun Murphy was typical of why I enjoy watching snooker. The standard wasn’t world beating throughout, but this is the point: it was dramatic and the unexpected was what sustained the interest.

You can admire sport when it is a continued stream of excellence, but when mistakes creep in and a bit of twitching too, snooker comes into its own.

I enjoy watching a century break as much as anyone, but give me a good old scrap on the colours as well.

While you’re there, give me flukes and miscues and misses and self-inflicted trouble. Sport is not science, it’s chaos, just like life. It’s a test of skill but also psychology. Snooker comes into its own when the doubts and difficulties increase.

But back to excellence. Ronnie O’Sullivan played a starring role as he lost only one frame in 13 played to coast into the last 16.

At times he was simply brilliant and he did what TV sport is supposed to do: he entertained.

But the test for O’Sullivan, as for any snooker player, will come when he is properly put under pressure.

This was a test that Graeme Dott once again passed yesterday, winning all three of his matches in deciding frame finishes, including from 3-0 down to Liang Wenbo.

Dott is one of the best pressure players in snooker. Many wilt when it really matters but the Glaswegian seems to grow stronger, and this has been one of the keys to his success.

Neil Robertson also demonstrated his guts and determination by recovering from 3-1 down to beat Kurt Maflin 4-3 in the last 32.

Some younger players made it: Michael White, who is having an encouraging season, Davey Morris and Jack Lisowski.

Stephen Lee and Alan McManus, two vastly experienced campaigners, completed the line-up from the top half of the draw.

Today, the likes of Mark Selby, John Higgins, Ali Carter, Judd Trump and Mark Williams enter the fray.

The two leading locals, Luca Brecel and Bjorn Haneveer, will also be centre stage, Haneveer against Jimmy White.

There were large, enthusiastic crowds in Belgium from early on yesterday and I’m sure this will continue through to the conclusion of the tournament tomorrow night.

Players have justifiable concerns about the PTC series regarding the financial drain on their resources, but for snooker fans these events have been a breath of fresh air.

And if they do grow into bigger tournaments for bigger money then they will have been well worth it.



The ninth Players Tour Championship event of the season is underway in Antwerp in Belgium, with the big boys coming in tomorrow.

The right and wrongs of the PTC series have been endlessly debated so I’m going to concentrate on the actual snooker, which is supposed to be what it is all about.

One of the undoubtedly positive aspects of the PTCs is the varied cast of characters you get to watch, veering from all time greats to complete unknowns and all those in between.

I dare say we’ll see Bjorn Haneveer, who is hanging up his cue after the tournament. Put simply, Bjorn can earn more commentating for Belgian Eurosport and his carpentry business than playing snooker.

But he goes out on a high...a meeting on Saturday with a certain James Warren White on home soil.

It’s terrific to have snooker back in Belgium, something of a hotbed for the sport 20 years ago before – guess what – the old WPBSA fell out with the then promoters.

John Parrott, Mike Hallett and James Wattana all won the old Humo Belgian Masters before the European Open was taken there, first won by Jimmy White in 1992.

Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry also won this ranking event on Belgian soil before the country was effectively abandoned by the governing body.

Haneveer never quite broke through in the way he threatened to do. He was an excellent amateur and did get to a couple of last 16s in ranking tournaments but never got higher in the world rankings than 53rd.

The new Belgian hope is Luca Brecel, who like many a young player who is talked up by others has to try and shrug off the weight of expectation being placed on him.

All of the televised PTCs have so far been won by top players. It seems that a crowd and the lights and cameras really do make these less of a leveller.

Eurosport’s coverage begins tomorrow at 11.45am UK time and the TV table is also available on the Eurosport Player, liveworldsnooker.tv and various streams.



Happy birthday to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which opened its doors 40 years ago today.

It has been the host venue of the World Championship since 1977. Mike Watterson, the promoter back then, had been looking for a new place to hold the tournament and his late wife, Carol, returned home from seeing a play at the Crucible and mentioned it could be ideal.

The rest really is history...rich history. So many iconic images and moments that have fascinated, thrilled and shocked spectators and television viewers.

It is in many ways an unlikely sporting venue: a provincial theatre on a street in the middle of Sheffield city centre.

But snooker is an unlikely television favourite. The significance of the World Championship rapidly grew after that 1977 event but the Crucible very quickly seemed to gel with what made TV snooker special.

When I first went there to watch as a boy the Crucible was a rather shabby building and I couldn’t believe how small the actual playing arena was.

When I began working there I realised how cramped it was backstage and how little room there was to actually play out on the floor of the theatre.

But in fact this has been the Crucible’s great strength: the claustrophobic atmosphere it creates. Snooker is a mentally demanding sport and the oppressive, uncomfortable Crucible arena has seen many an implosion down the years.

Recently the Crucible has been refurbished but has lost none of its allure for snooker fans. For many, the trip to Sheffield is an annual pilgrimage of an almost religious kind.

The tournament is guaranteed to continue there until at least 2015. After that, who knows?

Market forces dictate most decisions in the world of business but I rather agree with Steve Davis, who has played on snooker’s most famous stage a record 30 times. He said that there would have to be a very good reason to throw away all the history associated with the Sheffield theatre.

Time will tell. For now, happy birthday to the Crucible, a theatre of snooker dreams and of nightmares, the one venue where everyone wants to play, a hallowed ground for players and fans, and a house of wonderful snooker memories.



In this busy week of snooker, the UK Championship qualifiers at the South West Academy in Gloucester take centre stage.

Already putting in the hours has been Ian McCulloch, who has won his first two matches in tight finishes, first edging Luca Brecel 6-5 on the black (after getting a snooker on the pink) and then making an 86 break in the decider yesterday against James Wattana. His reward is a meeting today with Steve Davis.

Ian has always been a grafter, a heavy practiser and it is possibly all this effort that has led him to have neck problems which have seriously affected his form.

He always seemed to play well on TV and reached two ranking finals and the 2005 World Championship semi-finals.

This got him into the top 16 for the first time but Shaun Murphy’s capture of the title wasn’t enough to push Murphy into the elite group and, as the world champion is automatically seeded second in major tournaments, it effectively pushed McCulloch down to 17th.

This was rotten luck as he missed out on the benefits of being a top 16 seed: namely not having to pre-qualify for the final stages.

But he has always been industrious off the table. He does some broadcasting work and playing snooker is no longer everything to him, so although his main tour place is under threat he has other things to fall back on.

Davis of course is back in action just two days after his defeat to Darren Morgan in the World Seniors Championship final.

Steve is playing some good stuff this season. He seems to be really enjoying it again and making a big effort to maintain his pro status. In fact, he said last week he wants to play into his 60s, like his namesake Fred.

Davis won the first of his six UK titles 31 years ago when it was a non-ranking tournament. He was in every UK final bar two in the 1980s.

As a callow youth, I remember being particularly excited by the 1990 final he contested with Stephen Hendry at Preston Guild Hall, which went to a deciding frame.

In those days it was played over two days and 31 frames, so there was plenty of time for the momentum to shift. Davis led 15-14 but Hendry made a typically brave dish in the 30th frame and won the decider.

Hendry was already world champion at this point but the match was in some way symptomatic of the changing of the guard at the top of the game: the Davis years over, the Hendry era beginning.

Of course Hendry himself will be in action tomorrow, against Gerard Greene or Jimmy Robertson.

The only upside for viewers of him not qualifying is that he will be heard on BBC commentary, which he will be doing much more of this season. Of course, this won’t be any consolation to Hendry himself.

Elsewhere in the draw, it seems the Chinese contingent is quietly making progress this season. There is a bunch of them playing today: Tian Pengfei, Cao Yupeng, Li Yan and Xiao Guodong, as well as Liang Wenbo.

The qualifiers are hard, nervy and difficult to enjoy. It’s just about getting through, and the standard of snooker is such that you can play really well and still lose.

For this reason, good luck to all involved.



Darren Morgan is a proud man with snooker running through his veins. His capture of the Wyldecrest World Seniors Championship in Peterborough tonight will mean a lot to him, not least because he beat Jimmy White in the semi-finals and Steve Davis in the final.

Morgan has not played on the professional circuit for a few years but still competes below the radar on the amateur scene, where he has had success in international seniors events.

He decided not to attempt any comebacks as a pro but proved he still has the appetite for competition by completing an impressive victory over Davis from 1-0 down.

Morgan was world amateur champion in 1987 and reached eighth in the world rankings.

He never won a ranking title, losing in two finals, but triumphed 9-8 on the black over Davis in the 1996 Irish Masters.

Darren won various events which were then discontinued: the Welsh Professional Championship, original One Frame Knockout and Pontin’s Professional Championship.

As owner of a snooker club, Morgan gets the chance to play regularly and although snooker has frustrated him at times, he will never lose his love for the game.

I enjoyed the tournament. It was nice to see the old stagers out there again and overall the event should be judged as a success.

The snooker wasn’t always of the highest quality but the players were competitive and there was a good mix of fun too.

There was also packed house for every session, and you can’t argue with that. There is clearly a market for seniors snooker.

The whole thing was slickly packaged by Sky Sports, as you would expect. It’s worth recording how pioneering their early coverage of snooker was in the 1990s, which in turn had an effect on the BBC, whose coverage in those days was a little staid by comparison.

But Sky’s understandable desire to make their events different has led to rules being introduced which nobody asked for.

The 30 second shot-clock added nothing to the tournament other than a stern rebuke from Cliff Thorburn and the ‘beeps’ putting off White at a crucial moment in the first frame of his semi-final against Morgan.

And there were farcical scenes in the other semi-final between Davis and John Parrott when Parrott was informed after two misses that a third would result in Davis being able to place the cue ball anywhere on the table during the first frame.

The two players were unaware of this rule. After a lengthy consultation with referee John Williams, who had the rules in his pocket, Davis declined to put the cue ball in a position where he could pot a red.

This was sporting of him but the incident underlined the dangers of messing around with a game which has more than proved its worth over the course of the last century.

There have been rules changes over the years – the miss rule an obvious example – but by and large the game of snooker is the same now as when Joe Davis won the first world title 84 years ago.

Snooker has had many problems and will doubtless still have them but one thing that has survived intact is the game itself.

It is the game that fascinates as the cast of characters changes over the years. And the game is bigger than any of them.

If you start messing around with it then you risk devaluing the very thing that drew everyone to snooker in the first place.

When you say this you get labelled a ‘traditionalist.’ Good, I take that as a compliment.

It is the traditionalists who stand up for snooker in the face of cheap, cosmetic attempts to dumb it down, which thrive despite there being no actual evidence that this is what people want.

I’m not against variant events. Just as other sports look for new audiences by providing a more ‘fast food’ version so can snooker.

So by all means have your Power Snookers and your Premier Leagues and your Shootouts.

But the championship game is the only true test and the only version which should be taken seriously. Once this version starts being diluted then, frankly, the sport will lose its credibility.

I recognise that World Snooker have to be alive to commercial pressures, particularly from television companies who effectively bankroll the circuit, but very much hope the established game of snooker as we know it, which has provided entertainment, drama, heartbreak and joy for so many, will outlive us all.


John Higgins v Judd Trump is the pick of the matches in the first round of the Sky Shootout, the draw for which was made today.

Higgins and Trump of course clashed over 35 frames in their Crucible final last season but their meeting in Blackpool next January will last a maximum of ten minutes.

Other standout ties include Mark Williams v Steve Davis, Neil Robertson v Jamie Cope, Stephen Hendry v Jack Lisowski and, in a repeat of last season's final, defending champion Nigel Bond v Robert Milkins.

The one surprise is that Ronnie O'Sullivan, the best player under the shot clock format, has not entered.

It may be that with his top 16 position under threat, Ronnie is concentrating on the ranking events, although this is merely my own speculation. Players don't have to enter tournaments if they don't want to.

Mark Selby v Joe Perry
Mark Williams v Steve Davis
John Higgins v Judd Trump
Neil Robertson v Jamie Cope
Ding Junhui v Barry Hawkins
Shaun Murphy v Fergal O’Brien
Ali Carter v Matthew Stevens
Stephen Maguire v Anthony McGill
Graeme Dott v Alan McManus
Stuart Bingham v Liu Song
Mark Allen v Rory McLeod
Stephen Lee v Peter Lines
Martin Gould v Peter Ebdon
Mark Davis v Mark Joyce
Andrew Higginson v Liang Wenbo
Stephen Hendry v Jack Lisowski
Ricky Walden v Liu Chuang
Marcus Campbell v Xiao Guodong
Mark King v Dominic Dale
Marco Fu v Barry Pinches
Ryan Day v Joe Swail
Tom Ford v Jimmy Robertson
Ken Doherty v Michael Holt
Anthony Hamilton v Jimmy White
Robert Milkins v Nigel Bond
Gerard Greene v Jamie Burnett
Matthew Selt v Joe Jogia
Mike Dunn v Michael White
Jamie Jones v Adrian Gunnell
Dave Harold v James Wattana
Tony Drago v Andy Hicks
Ben Woollaston v Alfie Burden



Good luck to all those taking part in the Wyldecrest World Seniors Championship in Peterborough this weekend.

I was in Bradford last year and it was a lot of fun seeing some of the players from snooker’s golden TV age of the 1980s back in action.

This year the age limit has been increased from 40 and over to 45 and over, although last year’s final featured two players, Jimmy White and Steve Davis, who comfortably cleared this hurdle.

They will start among the favourites again, although Davis has a tricky opening round tie against Tony Drago.

The other likely title contender is Nigel Bond, although I wouldn’t write off Darren Morgan’s chances as the Welshman, though no longer on the tour, still plays regularly.

John Parrott also put up a good showing last year and I’m sure he will have been practising in readiness for this year’s event, which carries a top prize of £18,000.

It would be a big shock if some of the real veterans were successful. It’s 31 years since Cliff Thorburn won the World Championship and he is up against 69 year-old Doug Mountjoy, a twice UK champion.

Dennis Taylor and Joe Johnson, world champions in 1985 and 1986 respectively, will also find it tough against opposition more used to modern conditions.

There are two players for whom this weekend will be a real novelty. Steve Ventham has not played on TV since Junior Pot Black in 1983 and his first round opponent, Karl Townsend, has never before done so.

Best of threes seems short for a World Championship and the 30 second shot-clock is completely unnecessary - although it will apparently only come into force ten minutes into a frame - but I hope it goes well. There’s no reason why seniors snooker shouldn’t have a future, particularly with the players currently heading towards the qualifying age.

The World Seniors Championship is live all weekend on Sky Sports4.



Terry Griffiths believes Stephen Hendry will be fired up by being back at the qualifiers.

This in itself is interesting as the minute Griffiths dropped out of the top 16 he chose to retire rather than slog round the anonymous qualifying events after many years as one of the game’s leading players.

He was 49. Hendry is 42. I agree with Terry that Hendry will be motivated. He is a proud man, but this is no guarantee of success.

It’s the first time in 23 years that he hasn’t been a member of the elite group but, as those with long memories will know, not the first time in this period he has had to play qualifiers.

The top 16 used to have to qualify for tournaments outside the UK, although Hendry has not gone through this for some time.

That the UK Championship is first up won’t make much difference. It’s a great event but when you’re not at the venue that means nothing. For everyone it’s a nervy, testing business and Hendry has now joined the ranks of well known faces condemned to endure it.

Who is Stephen Hendry?

He’s a complex man, driven by a desire to succeed that seemed to override every other emotion. He had no interest whatsoever in snooker until his parents bought him a small table one Christmas and yet within a fortnight had made a 50 break.

His manager, Ian Doyle, instilled in him both professionalism and toughness, an attitude which helped Hendry win and also ensured he behaved in a manner befitting a leading sportsman.

The public didn’t always like him due to the monotony of his successes but they admired and respected him. Hendry is the last snooker player to get anywhere near winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year, finishing in the top six in 1999.

In this video, Hendry talks in matter of fact fashion about the greatest career of them all. He was never one to dwell on his triumphs, only ever looking forward. His personal scrapbook of memories must be bulging but it’s clear a few are a genuine source of pride.

He modelled himself on Steve Davis and has been the only player since the Nugget to fully throw himself into life as a snooker professional, with everything that entails.

It’s not just his game or his achievements that make him the greatest, it’s his attitude, which would have stood him in good stead at any point in the sport’s history.

I can’t speak highly enough about his achievements. Some of them are receding into memory, as if they were never that important to begin with, but make no mistake, he was a remarkable player, certainly the best ever under pressure, which is where it really counts.

And Hendry would have been the best in any era because he wanted to be the best. He made the sacrifices necessary to be the best.

There were no off table dramas or distractions. He lived a life consumed by snooker. He played in just about every tournament he could, did loads of exhibitions and built an aura that still stands to this day, even if his form has deteriorated.

His sporting idols are the great winners. He has no time for underdogs and the sentiment that surrounds them.

He took great satisfaction from winning but the trappings of success never overwhelmed him. He was never lazy or content to be, say, a five times world champion when he could be a six times world champion.

Such sportsmen are rare. The majority are happy with any success, and the financial rewards it brings.

Only a few are driven to be even better. And these are the ones who achieve true greatness.

Here’s what Ken Doherty says about Hendry in his new autobiography, Life in the Frame, which gives a good summation of both the player and the man:

“I first met him when he was 14...He understood exactly where he was going and what he was going to achieve in the game. He looked the business and he played sublime snooker even then but he was aloof and he stayed like that to an extent. He wanted to separate himself from everyone else and develop an aura. It’s a great thing to have and it’s the way you’ve got to be to get to the top but it means isolating yourself from everyone else and that’s not something that comes easily to most of us.

“Stephen is the best player I’ve ever played against. At his best, he was awesome, better even than Ronnie O’Sullivan. His long potting and break-building were out of this world and his safety game, when he used it, was strong as well. The only way I could beat him was by breaking him down, playing good match snooker and trying to frustrate him. It felt like you had to hide the cue ball in your pocket to keep him out and stop him scoring. Just when you thought you had him in trouble on the bottom cushion he would pull out a pot from nowhere and make a frame winning break.”

Doherty knows this better than most having been on the receiving end of Hendry’s record seven centuries in the 1994 UK Championship final.

Those days are over. For the 2011 UK Championship, Hendry will have to qualify. He will surely play his match in the main arena at the South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester, which will be a help compared to, say, a tight cubicle in Sheffield with no atmosphere.

But it is still a long, long way from the years of glory when he was the man to beat.

Hendry is still good enough to beat most players on the circuit, however he no longer beats the top players with enough regularity.

Precisely how much longer Hendry has left I wouldn’t want to say. Davis has been written off many times and keeps bouncing back.

Indeed, I remember asking Steve ten years ago if he was going to retire as he had just dropped out of the top 16.

The great man fixed me with an old fashioned look and patiently explained that, actually, he enjoyed playing regardless of his ranking.

I’m not sure Hendry is the same in this respect, but I tend to agree with Ronnie O’Sullivan, who said last week that Hendry needs to change his attitude and, if he can, lighten up a little, not put so much pressure on himself.

After all, he has nothing to prove to anyone.



Chris Turner, who has died suddenly, had a deep love of snooker and maintained an excellent website providing a wealth of statistical information.

Chris had been collating these for many years and was still updating his site days before he passed away.

I often used it myself as a resource and Chris was always helpful when clarifying and cross-checking a stat.

He never sought the limelight but, in his quiet way, he made a significant contribution to ensuring the game’s key achievements were recorded for posterity.

My sincere condolences go to his family.


Chris's son, Andy, has contacted me with the funeral arrangements.

The funeral will be at:

Vinters Park Crematorium
Bearsted Road,
ME14 5LG

Attendees are then invited to join the family for refreshments afterwards at:

Tudor Rose
Chestnut Street

In place of floral tributes the family would prefer anyone wishing to pay their respects to donate to the British Heart Foundation via funeral directors R High & Son, Bayford Road, Sittingbourne, Kent ME10 3AD. 01795 472958