Jamie Jones is 10-6 up in the second round of the Betfred.com World Championship.

His only problem is that he is 10-6 up in the second round of the Betfred.com World Championship.

I really hope for Jamie’s sake that he switches off his phone and stays away from his well meaning family and friends. I’ve seen this before: he’ll have people asking him for tickets for a quarter-final he isn’t yet in. He’ll have all manner of noise in his head.

Martin Gould put it best when asked about his collapse against Neil Robertson in the last 16 two years ago: “I’d never been 11-5 up in the World Championship before and I didn’t know how to handle it.”

Here’s what Robertson said about that match and the tournament’s unique pressures in general when I interviewed him 18 months ago: “It’s the true test of snooker on the table and psychology as well, which is what sport is all about.

“It has to be a test of mental strength and the ability to play under pressure. You have to do that consistently well. There’ll be times when you’re behind and have to make big clearances under pressure. You can either do it or you can’t.

“There’s no other tournament like it. Between sessions is what the public don’t see, where you’re sat thinking you should be further ahead or that you’re lucky you’re not further behind.

“It’s all about convincing yourself that you’ve got a good result at the end of the session. Even when I was 11-5 down to Martin Gould I thought, well, I could be out of the match. I was doing everything possible to convince myself that I still had a chance to win.”

In other words, how you spend your time between sessions is almost as important as how you actually play.

Jones looked set to go 5-2 down to Andrew Higginson but Higginson missed a black in frame seven which would have left Jones requiring three snookers. Requiring only one, the 24 year-old Welshman duly got it, won the frame and then the next four.

Leading 9-6, he spectacularly doubled the final black to carry a four frame lead into tonight.

You would rather be 10-6 up than 10-6 down but this evening’s final session will be the biggest of Jones’s career. Three frames doesn’t sound much but it could still be a very nervy night.

I thought Ronnie O’Sullivan was at times unplayable in claiming an 11-3 lead over Mark Williams yesterday. To his credit, Williams reduced this to 11-5 but a comeback seems unlikely.

Far closer are the matches between Judd Trump and Ali Carter, in which Trump leads 9-7, and Matthew Stevens v Barry Hawkins, which is poised at 8-8.

Carter felt Trump was unduly lucky. I tend to agree with him, but nobody wins a 25 frame match solely because of luck.

Stevens did well to win the last two frames against Hawkins and remain in touch. It’s going to be another dramatic day.



We're halfway through the Betfred.com World Championship - I trust everyone has been pacing themselves.

It seems like an age since Jamie Jones beat Shaun Murphy. The young Welshman has since been out-quiffed by the dependably hirsute Ronnie O'Sullivan but returns to action today for a second round encounter with Andrew Higginson.

This is an interesting one because they have both played well thus far and will both be fancying their chances.

Neither is playing a top seed and I think this will be a good, close game.

Jones seemed surprised that all the hotels in Sheffield were booked up this weekend. This is touchingly naive for an unassuming and dedicated professional currently playing the best snooker of his career.

Higginson has been around longer but this is still the first best of 25 frame match he has played as a pro.

The other start - no finishes today, rather ridiculously - features Matthew Stevens against Barry Hawkins.

It was difficult for Hawkins to gauge precisely how well he was playing in the first round because Mark Selby was clearly struggling with the after effects of the trapped nerve which forced him to withdraw from the China Open.

Stevens is more of a veteran of long Crucible matches. He has an excellent record at the Crucible despite never having won the title.

Matthew was best mates with Paul Hunter, who came so close to reaching the world final in 2003.

He would still have been one of the favourites to win the title, perhaps would have done by now, had the appalling disease which killed him not intervened.

Out of the tragedy of his early death has come a positive: the Paul Hunter Foundation is doing important work with disadvantaged youngsters with the support of prominent members of the snooker community.

Some of them, including Steve Davis, Peter Ebdon, Michael Holt and Shaun Murphy, are running the Sheffield half marathon for the charity next month.

And today is Paul Hunter Day at the Crucible, with activities organised by the Foundation, set up both in tribute and remembrance to a much missed player.



There's been much talk of the 1992 World Championship during this year's event, largely due to the fact that it's been 20 years since eight seeds lost in the first round.

Snooker Scene of June 1992 called that year's tournament event a "vintage championship." It was packed with incident, new and old faces doing well, and ended with a thrilling final.

There were 25 centuries made in the whole championship, a mark we have long since passed this year.

A total of 20 players have made centuries at the Crucible already. In 1992, only 11 did. Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White, the finalists, made six apiece and so accounted for just about half of all the tons made.

So we can already deduce that the overall standard has risen and that more players are capable of better performances.

Hendry in fact did not make a century in the 1992 World Championship until the 12th frame of his semi-final against Terry Griffiths but compiled four more in the final, three of which came in the final session.

There was a real international flavour to the championship 20 years ago with 11 nationalities represented.

Of these, New Zealand's Dene O'Kane reached the quarter-finals for a second time. He had trailed Steve James 9-6 in the first round but beaten him 10-9 before a 13-10 victory over Chris Small, then an 18 year-old who had won eight matches to qualify before beating Doug Mountjoy in the first round.

Another ex-quarter-finalist, Jim Wych of Canada, made it through to the last eight again with wins over Dean Reynolds and Willie Thorne.

The first day saw an historic win for John Parrott, the defending champion who defeated Eddie Charlton 10-0. This remains the Crucible's only whitewash.

Dennis Taylor was beaten by a debutant, Mick Price, in a match best remembered for a dispute Taylor had with the referee, Len Ganley, over the miss rule, which had not long since changed to the version we know today.

But the most infamous first round match in1992 saw Peter Ebdon, a 21 year-old with a ponytail and fast, free flowing style of play, beat Steve Davis, who had won the last of his six world titles three years earlier, 10-4.

This was a sensational debut from an assured newcomer clearly confident in the heat of the Crucible.

Ebdon defeated Martin Clark in the second round but his run was ended by a resurgent Griffiths, 44 years old and evoking memories of his heyday.

Alas, Griffiths would be drubbed 16-4 by Hendry, who in fact led 10-0 before the veteran Welshman won a black ball frame to stave off the dreaded whitewash.

White found it difficult to shake off Alain Robidoux in the second round, eventually winning 13-11, but otherwise made reasonably serene progress to a fourth world final.

The highlight of the championship for White had come in the opening round when he made the second Crucible 147 against Tony Drago.

This was not shown live on the BBC. There was no red button, no Eurosport coverage, no online stream. The break was shown hours later on Sportsnight. Back then TV coverage was piecemeal: you got what you were given with no alternative options.

Hendry opened a much anticipated final with a century, 105, but trailed 4-3 at the conclusion of the session and lost a black ball frame to kick off the evening.

By the end of the night he was 10-6 down and White was heading for his heart's desire.

What could possibly go wrong?

Not much, it would seem, when they resumed on bank holiday Monday for the grand finale. Hendry did not pot a ball in the first two frames as White arrived at 12-6 with the aid of a 134 break.

At 14-8, it looked all over, but Hendry won the next before a pivotal final frame of the afternoon.

Hendry potted a brown at the end of this frame which almost defines his career: it was do or die, it was audacious, it was brave, it was brilliant.

Furthermore, it made the difference between a 15-9 lead for White - surely insurmountable - and 14-10.

The first two frames of the evening session were close and Hendry won them both. As the pressure grew, the Scot became stronger while White, seeing his lead eroded, was able to make only one half century break all evening.

Another century, 128, brought Hendry level at 14-14, he dominated the next two frames and finished with efforts of 134 and 112.

This completed a ten frame winning streak, an awesome run which gave him a second world title and planted serious mental scars in White, which would become apparent when the pair met again in the final the following two years.

The 1992 World Championship is generally remembered for this final and for Hendry's comeback.

It capped a fascinating 17 days in Sheffield. Hard to believe, then, that 20 years on the man who won is still creating more memories at the most hallowed venue of them all.

This was the BBC's musical montage of the 1992 championship, one of the best they ever put together.



There’s a story, possibly apocryphal, about the actress Shelley Winters in which she was asked late in her career to audition for a film role and the director told her he was unsure about her acting style.

Winters is said to have delved into her handbag, pulled out the two Oscars she had won and then asked if her acting style was still an issue.

Were anyone stupid enough to query the snooker playing credentials of Stephen Hendry and John Higgins the two Scots could point to the World Championship trophy. Between them they have won the title 11 times in the last 22 years.

Remarkably, their second round meeting today is the first time they have played each other at the Crucible.

Higgins comes into the match below par while Hendry played some of his best snooker for some time in the first session of his match against Stuart Bingham.

This is a bona fide meeting of two snooker legends. Indeed, throw the Mark Williams v Ronnie O’Sullivan match into the mix and you have two last 16 matches featuring 16 world titles.

Predictions in this tournament have been fraught, with more egg on face than that time John Prescott went to Wales during the election campaign and ended up slugging some bloke.

Personally, I expect Higgins to play better than he did against Liang Wenbo and will be surprised if Hendry can quite keep up the standard he showed against Bingham for all three sessions.

Higgins lost at this stage two years ago to another all time great, Steve Davis, who he did not expect to play as well as he did.

I suspect he will be more ready for what Hendry will attempt to throw at him, but this is an intriguing match-up, at long last, between Scotland’s two greatest cuemen.

Williams hasn’t beaten O’Sullivan in a ranking event for ten years. He showed his contrition backstage at the Crucible by apologising to theatre staff for his widely reported disparaging Twitter comments.

But it is on table where he will be most under pressure against O’Sullivan, whose run of success against him goes on and on.

Cao Yupeng has been the real surprise package so far, beating Mark Allen in the first round.

Allen’s reaction to this defeat gained all the headlines and overshadowed what was an assured performance by Cao on his Crucible debut.

He is still an unknown quantity and may have expected to play his compatriot, Ding Junhui, but Ding was of course undone by Ryan Day, whose rally from 9-6 down puts the Welshman through to his first ranking event last 16 of the entire campaign.

Down to 35th in the world rankings, this was exactly what Day needed. The pressure now stems from the fact he is favourite to reach a third Crucible quarter-final.

If anyone reading this now honestly predicted the second round line-up then congratulations are in order.

Personally I got nine out of the 16 winners correct, and I’ll take that as a result after an unpredictable opening six days to what has become a fascinating World Championship.



A few of the form players this season are already out of the Betfred.com World Championship but Ali Carter, who has endured a poor campaign affected by illness, produced a comfortable 10-2 defeat of Mark Davis to reach the second round today.

With the formbook turned if not upside down then certainly askew, Carter may be a dark horse.

He plays Judd Trump next, the tournament favourite as long as he can avoid eating any more dodgy chicken.

Carter described Trump as ‘simple-minded’ in his post match press conference. It sounds harsher than I suspect he meant. What I think he is saying is that Trump is relatively immune to pressure. He glides through tournaments enjoying himself rather than endlessly fretting about how much it all means. (You can hear that quote in context here)

Trump is still at that age where it is all new and exciting. He is also rightly very confident of his own game.

Carter confessed to having dwelt on losing matches he feels he should have won and getting too caught up in the psychology of it all.

This could happen to Trump in time, although it doesn’t seem to have happened to Neil Robertson, another player who always seems to be in a good mood.

Ultimately everyone is made differently. Some people can shrug off disappointments, others can’t stop thinking about them.

Carter can certainly push Trump. Indeed, he can beat him. Players have turned up before with low expectations, often because of illness, and, without putting too much pressure on themselves have had a good run. Steve Davis won the 1997 Masters after a bout of flu.

It's been a difficult tournament to predict so far so nobody can be said to be safe, even the super-confident Trump.



William Goldman, the renowned Hollywood screenwriter, once said of the movie industry: "nobody knows anything."

The same can be said of sport. For all the endless punditry, sport is about human emotions as much as the formbook. It's about seizing the chance.

So for all the predictions, anything can happen. This was certainly the case for Chelsea against Barcelona last night and is increasingly true of the Betfred.com World Championship.

Andrew Higginson seized his chance well against Stephen Lee, the most consistent player since the turn of 2012.

Lee won what looked like a big frame to close the gap to 7-6 at the interval, enjoying a few slices of luck in the process.

But what happened next spoke volumes for Higginson's attitude. Instead of spending the interval down in the dumps he reminded himself he was still in front, made his first Crucible century and won 10-6.

Even after he lost 5-4 from 4-0 up to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round of the German Masters, Higginson took the positives. He felt he had played well and refused to get on his own case. A few weeks later he reached the semi-finals of the PTC Grand Finals.

There are enough things that can go wrong in snooker, and more than enough people who can beat you, without you having to get down on yourself. Higginson has got the reward for accentuating the positives.

O'Sullivan came through rather tamely in the end against Peter Ebdon but from ten results, five seeds have lost and several more are in trouble.

Judd Trump woke up yesterday with food poisoning. He was seen literally being sick in a Crucible toilet.

He looked pale and in pain but creditably came out 5-4 up on Dominic Dale.

Ding Junhui resumes in touch with Ryan Day, trailing 5-4, but Mark Selby, who has barely practised since withdrawing from the China Open with a trapped nerve in his neck, fell 6-3 adrift to Barry Hawkins in a session which ground on, and on.

Graeme Dott's performance was perhaps the biggest surprise of all. The 2006 champion hasn't had the best of seasons but the way he played against Joe Perry must have been a desperate disappointment.

When you are getting ironic cheers for winning a frame, as Dott did in the ninth, you know it isn't going to be your year.



Mark Allen's management stable, OnQ Promotions, have issued the following statement on his behalf:

"Following my recent comments in the press conference after my first round defeat to Cao Yupeng, I would like to formally apologise to anyone who may have been offended.

"Having taken some time to reflect on my comments I can appreciate that I over-stepped the line at a time when I was heavily influenced by the emotions of a disappointing defeat.

"I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Cao Yupeng if he felt that my comments were insinuating he were a cheat. I stand by my opinion that the shot in question was a foul, but I also stand by my previous comments in the press conference that Cao was the better player and fully deserved to win. I genuinely wish him the best of luck for the rest of the tournament.

"I would also like to apologise to World Snooker. I appreciate the hard work by many people to grow our sport and I am truly horrified to think that my actions could be perceived to be detrimental to this.

"It is fair to say that this season has been one of ups and downs. The highs of winning my first ranking title and finishing runner-up in the UK championships have been overshadowed by some ill judged comments from myself.

"I realise that I need to ensure that my off table behaviour matches the standard and level of professionalism I set for my on table etiquette. I will return for the 2012-13 season with an improved approach to giving my opinions publicly."


This Betfred.com World Championship is beginning to take a rather unpredictable turn with a few shock results livening it up.

The great thing about sport is that, for all the predictions, talk of the form book and endless chatter which surrounds the actual action, until play happens nobody really knows what the results will be.

It’s clear the eight or nine players widely tipped to be in contention for the title are not all having it their own way.

John Higgins stuttered through while Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy have exited. Stephen Lee trails Andrew Higginson 5-4 overnight.

Cao Yupeng’s defeat of Allen was a big surprise. Jamie Jones’s victory over Murphy was perhaps less of one given his form coming into the tournament.

Jones had a great chance to win 10-7 but couldn’t take it. He missed match ball red for 10-8 before later knocking it in.

He couldn’t help himself and punched the air in delight. This may have looked unsporting but it was an instinctive and entirely understandable release of emotion.

Good for Jamie. He is known as a hard worker and this is the best result of his professional career.

The Ronnie O’Sullivan-Peter Ebdon encounter, which many felt was the tie of the round, at the moment looks like ending in a comfortable victory for O’Sullivan.

As I wrote before the tournament, O’Sullivan could be better mentally prepared this time, as opposed to 2005, because he knew what was coming.

The first frame seemed important. O’Sullivan won it on a re-spotted black. Had he lost it then it may have been a different story, but he looked solid and would be expected to come through from 7-2 up.

This morning Judd Trump enters the fray a year on from his Crucible heroics.

Again, most people are tipping him for success against Dominic Dale but he still has to produce the goods.

The soap opera that is the World Championship is not going to script so far. Even some of the biggest characters are in danger of being written out long before the final act.



Stephen Hendry got the result in the end even if he looked completely flat early on in the final session against Stuart Bingham, who played well to pull back from 8-1 down to 8-4.

Frame 13 was massive. Bingham failed to lay the intended snooker on the last red, Hendry potted it from distance, cleared up and made 96 to clinch victory.

This was the first time Hendry had beaten a player ranked above him in the World Championship since his semi-final defeat of Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2002.

He now plays John Higgins, another multi-world champion from Scotland. Remarkably this is the first time the pair have clashed at the Crucible.

Neil Robertson beat Ken Doherty and will now play Dave Gilbert, who within a few seconds demonstrated what it means to win at the Crucible and the essential fairness of most snooker players.

Gould already needed a snooker when Gilbert fluked a red. Instinctively, Gilbert punched the air in delight and relief and then immediately apologised to Gould for his display of emotion.

He apologised afterwards too but had no reason to. It was a natural reaction to surely the best win of his career.

I was impressed by Luca Brecel, who out-scored Stephen Maguire but was still left trailing 6-3 overnight.

Brecel got going towards the end of the session, winning the last two frames. In the last of these he potted a crazy black down the side rail which hinted at his talent and precocity. He may not win today but I for one hope he is back in the future.

Off table, Mark Allen enhanced his reputation as a rebel without a clue by taking another pot-shot at the Chinese after losing to one of their players, Cao Yupeng.

Not content with his wide ranging attack on the Chinese people at the World Open, Allen pondered whether cheating is “a bit of a trait for the Chinese players.”

As usual, many people completely missed the point as the row spilled over on to Twitter. If Allen felt that Cao played a push shot in frame ten which wasn’t called by the referee than he was perfectly entitled to say so, both at the time and afterwards.

But it was his bringing other players into it and then questioning the wider integrity of the Chinese which may bring him trouble, including possible legal action from the players involved.

Allen’s comments underline an unpleasant creeping attitude I’ve noticed this season of some people within snooker stereotyping the Chinese and indeed disparaging them, all through a basic cultural ignorance.

‘The Chinese’ do not all act in the same way. They are a vast population of people who are all different, just like anywhere else.

Furthermore, next season there will be five ranking tournaments staged in China. For the avoidance of doubt, if these events were called off they wouldn’t be staged anywhere else.

For all the interest in Europe, there is not yet sufficient sponsorship to sustain as many big events. There is in China.

So the choice is between 10-11 ranking tournaments, half in China, or to go back to just five or six in the UK.

Astonishingly, there are some who would choose the latter. Well, it’s pretty simple: if you don’t want to go to China, don’t go. The tournaments will continue without you.

And so to day three and Ronnie O’Sullivan v Peter Ebdon centre stage.

In the old Aesop fable of tortoise v hare, it was the tortoise who prevailed, albeit not over a best of 19.

Snooker’s own version of the tortoise won at the Crucible seven years ago in a much discussed encounter but Ebdon has not beaten O’Sullivan since.

Eirian Williams is the referee and it raises the issue of how slow is too slow.

If Tony Drago were playing and suddenly went up to 40 seconds a shot he would surely be warned because he is a naturally fast player.

Ebdon is not. So how slow does he have to get to be told he needs to speed up?

There is no slow play rule in snooker, only ‘time wasting.’ This is at the referee’s discretion.

Some shots do take time but, in the balls, there is no need for a player of great ability to be taking 40-50 seconds a shot.

Tonight, Stephen Lee, one of the players of the season, starts out against Andrew Higginson.

Lee is playing his best snooker since he reached the 2003 semi-finals. But this World Championship is already proving to be dramatic and nothing can be taken for granted.



The first day of the Betfred.com World Championship must be the best opening there has ever been to this great tournament.

There was Stephen Hendry’s superlative session, highlighted by his maximum, Neil Roberton’s three successive centuries, seeds Martin Gould and Mark Allen left trailing and then last night a genuine Crucible thriller.

John Higgins, who has struggled all season to replicate the game which brought him a fourth world title last year, scraped through 10-9 against Liang Wenbo.

I don’t know how snooker players find the nerve to make clearances like the one Higgins eventually completed to finally win but it ensured he did not become the eighth Crucible champion to fall at the first fence.

It is likely he will now face his fellow Scot Hendry for the first time in the World Championship.

Today, Luca Brecel makes history as the first Belgian to play at the Crucible and, having turned 17 last month, the youngest player to do so.

Belgian journalists have packed into the pressroom to follow his progress. Indeed, the teenager was front page news back home after qualifying. Hendry telephoned him to congratulate him on taking his record.

Amid the swirl of emotions going through his mind today, Brecel may find it hard to concentrate on actually playing. Stephen Maguire is a tough-as-old-boots opponent.

But Brecel seems level headed and has already beaten four experienced opponents to qualify. A fascinating session awaits.

Cao Yupeng certainly took to life at the Crucible impressively, although his 5-2 lead over Allen was trimmed to 5-4.

Dave Gilbert was good value for his 6-3 lead over Gould, whose residency in the elite top 16 seems to have affected his thinking.

In an interview for Eurosport, Gould revealed that at one point this season he started packing a case for the qualifiers before remembering he was in the top 16.

Being a seeded player brings its own pressure. You are there to be shot at.

However, Gould potted an extraordinary last red to win the final frame yesterday and a comeback certainly can’t be ruled out.



For a time this afternoon Stephen Hendry was the no.1 trending topic on Twitter.

I wonder what this meant to him? Knowing Stephen, probably nothing. Neither did all the handshakes and congratulations, well meant though they were. Neither, even, will the money, welcome though it is.

Why? Because for the authentic greats of sport, achievement is all. To have made a third Crucible 147, the 11th of his career, is what really matters. Everything around it – all the platitudes and comment – is an irrelevance.

Much of sport exists as a soap opera. Snooker is not immune. But amidst the tantrums and spats and hype, we must never forget that the true test of greatness in sport is achievement.

Hendry has achieved more than any other player of the television age and today underlined once again why he is, by any objective measure, the greatest.

The first few shots of the maximum were all missable but he quickly achieved prime position and never looked like missing, even potting a Thorburnesque yellow.

I read in the Daily Telegraph today that Judd Trump had suddenly made snooker more attacking.

Trump is a delight to watch but snooker has been attacking for more than 20 years.

Hendry is the modern era’s true game-changer. He pioneered a way of playing which all those who came after him copied. Some, such as Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, have arguably improved on it.

But the reason they all play how they do is because they saw Hendry do it, to remarkable effect in his pomp.

Today’s overall performance was a reminder of what made him so great: all out attack, nerveless potting and clinical break-building.

This is the way snooker is now routinely played – witness Neil Robertson’s three successive centuries on the other table.

The question now is how far Hendry can go in this tournament. On this form a long way, but let’s not get carried away.

We live in an age of opinions – blogs, forums, Twitter and the rest. But when all the chatter is blown away and forgotten – which it will be – achievements will stand in time.

Stephen Hendry’s achievements will be looked back on by snooker historians of the future as landmark feats, defining the era in which snooker saw playing standards rise.

As for the present, the game can cherish a champion still capable of defying the years, the critics and the comment.

When all else is gone, his achievements speak for themselves.


Well the talking wasn’t quite over. Indeed, it’s always been thus. In the last couple of days before the World Championship a kind of hysteria builds and all sorts of things get said.

There’s the inevitable ‘there’s no characters in the game any more’ pieces written by journalists who bring not expertise but ignorance in publications which suddenly remember snooker exists once a year.

Players say all sorts of things too, most usually forgotten by the time play actually starts.

However, Mark Williams hit the headlines yesterday for a derogatory tweet about the Crucible. In fairness to Mark, he has always thought this about the legendary venue, but in the cold light of day the tone of his comments appeared unnecessarily harsh. The Crucible is where everyone who picks up a cue wants to play.

This harms Williams’s reputation more than snooker’s, although it also reveals much about the modern media.

It seems anything now written on Twitter is regarded as great truth, as if spoken under oath in a courtroom, rather than what most of it is: throwaway nonsense generally not meant to be taken seriously.

What is meant to be taken seriously is the actual snooker, which finally begins this morning.

I’ve already given an in-depth rundown of the matches and won’t repeat all that, but it is interesting how hardly anyone is tipping John Higgins this year.

This is because Higgins has had a poor season by his own high standards. But he also belongs to a generation whose best days are surely behind them.

Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan are by no means finished yet, quite obviously, but time is running out for them to add to their haul of Crucible titles.

I’ve spoken to a few former players about the phenomenon of decline. They tend to all agree that it comes about through a mixture of reasons: changing eyesight, decreased desire to practise and a greater inability to cope with pressure.

The latter is why so many players slow up. Peter Ebdon is often accused of dragging out matches deliberately but much of it is actually calming the nerves before playing the shot.

Dominic Dale is quite perceptive about this in his column for next month’s Snooker Scene. He says you can get down and, in your natural rhythm, be ready to play the shot but that your brain can be a few seconds behind, not ready, which is where difficulties begin: a clash between your technique and your mind.

We look at top snooker players and are fooled into believing the game must be easy, because they make it look easy.

But it isn’t. We know this whenever we have ourselves picked up a cue.

We also don’t see when we watch snooker the serious doubts and insecurities in a players mind, only the product of them.

“How could he miss that?” is a common cry when watching a match on TV. The actual answer, given the difficulty of the game and the pressure on a player is, “quite easily.” Perhaps the question, given what is at stake, should be, “how could he pot that?”

Playing snooker can bring great riches but it is also a lonely, mentally exhausting profession. The 32 players gathered in Sheffield over the next 17 days are an elite that, for all they may say or do to frustrate, deserve respect.

I’m sure they will entertain us greatly this coming World Championship.



So we’re ready, then.

All the talking, the predictions, the conjecture, can stop. The Betfred.com World Championship is about to begin.

This is snooker at its best: gimmick free. The World Championship stands alone as the last bastion of what championship snooker should be about, unsullied by cheap attempts to dumb it down.  

As it has been for the last three decades the World Championship is 17 days of lengthy matches, slow burning drama, great potting, big breaks, unexpected misses, joy, despair, elation, heartbreak, good luck, bad luck and, for one of the 32 players involved, a life changing triumph.

It’s tough, really tough. You need skill, stamina, bottle and much more to become champion. You need belief and mental fortitude. You need heart and nerve.

For the eventual winner, a place in the history books awaits. For everyone else there is only disappointment.

The World Championship existed for 50 years before moving to Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in 1977 but the Crucible era coincided with snooker’s television age and is thus awash with memories inescapably stitched through time in the grand tapestry that forms the history of the sport.

Joe Davis was the first champion 85 years ago. He used half of the original entry fees to purchase the silver trophy which is still presented to this day.

Little did he know what he started. Colour television brought the tournament into living rooms and illuminated moments forever frozen in time.

Even those who don’t remember them first time round can see them now: Barry Hearn barrelling into Steve Davis after his young charge won his first world title in 1981. Alex Higgins tearfully beckoning his wife and baby on to the stage in 1982. Cliff Thorburn sinking to his knees after his 147 in 1983. Dennis Taylor holding his cue aloft after his black ball defeat of Davis in 1985. Joe Johnson’s smile, equal parts joy and disbelief, as he swept away Davis in 1986.

Into the 1990s and the remarkable Stephen Hendry-Jimmy White rivalry, the emergence of John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan, whose 1997 maximum remains an audacious exhibition of sheer skill.

We had drama too in the 2000s, Peter Ebdon winning a decider against Hendry, Ken Doherty’s 2003 adventure, Shaun Murphy triumphing as a qualifier.

Just last year Judd Trump enthralled as the new kid on the baize, threatening the old guard with his incredible potting, the latest in a long line of players who have lit up the Crucible stage.

Close your eyes and remember. And then open them and enjoy the 2012 edition, because more memories are about to be created.

There are a number of players going into this year’s tournament with every reason to feel they can scoop the £250,000 first prize come May 7 after a season in which the major prizes have been shared around.

There are nine players in the field who have won the title before. Three players are experiencing the Crucible’s unique and oppressive atmosphere for the first time.

If you are going to Sheffield to watch in person then you will be part of the experience first hand. Everyone else can enjoy it on TV and online.

The BBC has coverage all day on the red button (for those with satellite television) and live terrestrial coverage in the afternoons. All matches are live on the BBC website for UK residents.

Eurosport has blanket coverage across its various channels and on the Eurosport player.

The tournament is also live on Chinese TV and on liveworldsnooker.tv apart from those areas with TV coverage.

Wherever you are watching, I trust you will enjoy it.

It’s been another great season of snooker, featuring more action than ever, but there is only one World Championship. This is the ultimate test for any player.

There’s nothing more to be said. Let the drama begin.



There are three debutants at the Crucible this year.

Jamie Jones has maintained his excellent recent form. Cao Yupeng is one of a group of emerging Chinese players starting to make strides. And of course there’s young Luca Brecel, just 17 and the youngest ever Crucible competitor.

Debutants rarely do well. Consider the following list of great names for starters: Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Jimmy White, Ken Doherty, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy. All of them lost in the first round on their Crucible debuts.

However, 32 Crucible debutants have won their first match, including Peter Ebdon, Mark Allen, John Parrott and Mark Williams. The last of them to do so was Liang Wenbo in 2008.

It’s nerve-wracking playing at the Crucible for everyone but particularly when it’s your first time there. You will have seen it on television and may have been to watch, but being out in the middle, getting used to the claustrophobic atmosphere generated by this Sheffield theatre-in-the-round, is something you only understand if you experience it first hand.

Doherty says he was 4-0 down on his debut before he could concentrate properly. His fellow Irishman Fergal O’Brien, however, made a century in his very first frame, still the only player to do so on debut.

Terry Griffiths of course won the title on his debut in 1979. It seems unlikely, very unlikely, that Jones, Cao or Brecel will do that. They each have a tough match in the first round.

It’s easy to say they should just enjoy it, but nobody enjoys losing, particularly by a big margin.

What each of them want, aside from obviously winning, is to acquit themselves well, to give a performance consistent with that which got them through the qualifiers.

They know there is suddenly more focus on them than there has ever been. It’s a chance to shine: exciting but also forbidding.

Quite a few promising professionals have never played at the Crucible. This trio’s qualification brings the total number to have played there since 1977 to 182, not that many really.

You never know when you’ll be back. Many players have never been back.

So good luck to our three newcomers in 2012.



And so my first round preview concludes with more predictions...

I would never claim to have any great insight into the inner workings of a snooker player’s mind but it seems to me that Williams put a great deal into getting back to world no.1 and has now tailed off a bit, perhaps because the only way after accomplishing what was a terrific feat was down.

Since losing the Shanghai Masters final last September, Williams hasn’t looked the same. He’s still dangerous of course but his performances haven’t been as impressive as they were last season.

So perhaps this one could be the big first round shock that nobody can see coming. Well, if it is, I haven’t seen it coming either.

Liu has done really well to qualify. He has that deadpan way about him which makes his emotions hard to read.

But his lack of experience must surely be a factor. He played at the Crucible four years ago but doesn’t have much table time under his belt in the big arenas.

Williams doesn’t seem to rate his own chances of progressing much further but I think he’ll come through this one.

PREDICTION: Williams to win 10-5

Make no mistake: this is a rotten draw for O’Sullivan. However, it isn’t a good one for Ebdon either.

Aside from his debut in 1993, when he was just 17, O’Sullivan has only lost twice in the first round and he played great both times: five centuries against David Gray in 2000 and a maximum against Marco Fu in 2003.

All the talk will be about their infamous quarter-final in 2005 in which Ebdon – and let’s be clear about this – employed spoiling tactics, slowing down the pace of play to a crawl.

O’Sullivan was unable to cope with this. You could argue this is part of the test of a snooker player. Others would maintain that a break of 12 in five minutes is simply beyond the pail of what is acceptable. Whichever your view, that match hangs over this one like a raincloud.

However, Ebdon has not beaten O’Sullivan since that night in four meetings and the key difference this time is that O’Sullivan will be mentally prepared for what is going to happen.

He wasn’t seven years ago. He was 8-2 up and coasting. What happened surprised and unnerved him.

This match is not as long and if he can get on top of Ebdon early on then it would be a much tougher ask for Ebdon to come back.

But it’s not just Ebdon’s pace of play that is the issue. The point is, he is playing great stuff right now. He’s back to somewhere near his best and his confidence is high.

This is all on O’Sullivan. Is he playing well enough? Is he mentally prepared? He needs to dig in, will he?

I think he will. We saw at the German Masters what he could do when he really, really tries.

This is the Crucible. There is no reason not to make another supreme effort.

PREDICTION: O’Sullivan to win 10-7

Gould played some really good stuff to become a top 16 player for the first time this season. Since then he seems to have, perhaps subconsciously, been looking over his shoulder.

This is something many new top 16 players have struggled to cope with, but he is low on confidence and that is not the state of mind you want heading to the Crucible.

When Gilbert started the qualifiers last week there was talk that, because of a bizarre loophole, he would be better losing his first match as he would then be out of the top 64 and get a two-year tour card through his place among the top eight tour qualifiers from the PTC order of merit.

Well, that may have been true but this is the World Championship and every player is going to give it everything. Gilbert’s Crucible debut in 2007 saw him lead Stephen Hendry 5-1 before losing 10-7.

He has done the hard work already by qualifying and can exploit any nerves from Gould, who is playing at Sheffield for the first time as a seed, not a position he seems to have taken to so far this season.

PREDICTION: Gilbert to win 10-8

Robertson is my tip for the title this year. He is a player who excels in every area of the game. He’s a great potter, heavy scorer, has an iron safety game, understands tactics and psychology and has a big match temperament.

Robertson’s only real weakness is his preparation. He hasn’t elaborated, but admits to not having given the run-in to his title defence last year the proper respect.

I’ve had the feeling all season that he has been eyeing these 17 days in Sheffield. Of course, all players do but they don’t all have the Australian’s strength of character.

He’s a proven winner at the Crucible and he doesn’t have the baggage this year of trying to defend the crown.

Doherty had his day in the Crucible sun in 1997 and was the star of the 2003 championship, if not the winner.

The genial Irishman is far more inconsistent these days. I think he can certainly cause Robertson problems but over a match of this length I’d expect the form man to come through.

PREDICTION: Robertson to win 10-4

Day is always potentially dangerous but has gone backwards since his appearance in the Crucible quarter-finals in 2008 and 2009.

Ding blows hot and cold but was impressive at the Crucible last year where he eventually lost an epic semi-final to Judd Trump.

Ding seems nicely settled now in his private life. He lives in a house in Sheffield with his girlfriend, Apple, and maybe this relaxed home life will help him bear fruit come May 7.

He’s certainly good enough. He’s as good a break builder as there is. But he’s also inconsistent and there’s plenty of time for things to go badly wrong at the World Championship. Sometimes you have to dig in and rely on your B game.

He has to be favourite to come through this, although Day is by no means a pushover.

PREDICTION: Ding to win 10-7

Cao has done really well to qualify and his temperament must be good to win deciders against Dave Harold and Tom Ford but it’s his misfortune to run into a player who has always been high in confidence and who now has the silverware to back it up.

I think Allen will have a really good run here. He seems to relish playing on the biggest stages and has a Crucible semi-final and two quarter-finals under his belt from these last three years.

There’s no reason why, given his experience, confidence and form, he shouldn’t be a justified favourite for this one.

PREDICTION: Allen to win 10-4

There’s usually a riveting 10-9 in the first round and this could be it.

Stevens was among the four or five leading world title contenders in the first half of the last decade. Like Stephen Lee, he has regained his place in the world’s elite top 16 but, unlike Lee, he has not pushed on since.

Fu always seems to play great or not much good at all. This maddening inconsistency means he is out of the top 16 again even though he belongs in there for many, myself included.

If it goes close I’d fancy Fu. And I think it’ll go close.

PREDICTION: Fu to win 10-9

A week ago, Selby was unable to play due to the trapped nerve in his neck which saw him withdraw from the China Open.

This is not the ideal preparation for the World Championship and he is still receiving treatment. Even if the physical pain goes away he can be forgiven for having mental doubts.

He also has a very tough first round opponent. Hawkins beat Stephen Maguire in the first round last year and was a frame from beating Mark Allen in the last 16.

Hawkins needs to play well again but the intrigue surrounds Selby. Is he really in a fit state to play?

More to the point, given the build-up, could he last the full 17 days? The omens are not good for him even if he wins this first round encounter.

PREDICTION: Selby to win 10-8