Pankaj Advani's decision to withdraw from the International Championship and play in the World Professional Billiards Championship paid dividends when he won the three ball world title in Leeds at the weekend.

It gave the wildcard, Zhou Yuelong, a walkover to play Ding Junhui later today.

Zhou is just 14. He is of course very much an outsider but is looking to join another 14 year-old, Lu Haotian, in the last 16.

Yesterday Zhao Xintong, 15, gave Matthew Stevens a real scare, taking on everything and getting quite a lot before Stevens finally beat him 6-5.

It stands to reason that China will produce another world class player in the mould of Ding - surely more than one - but it could be that it won't be any of the players currently on tour but one of these talented teenagers.

There are many junior tournaments in China and they are also getting their chance now against top players in these raking tournaments. Many may feel the wildcard round is unfair but this isn't the fault of the wildcards and they can't be blamed for making the most of their opportunities.

I remember Ding himself playing as a 14 year-old in the 2002 China Open in Shanghai, where he took two frames off Mark Selby.

Many talented teenagers have disappeared into the snooker ether over the years but there seems to be more a structure in China to keep them on track.

It's clear many of them have watched Judd Trump, who also plays later today, and want to emulate his all out attacking style.

You have to be really, really good to do this successfully but it's inconceivable that in a country the size of China with so many snooker clubs and so much TV exposure that someone won't emerge and become a major star.

On a general point about the tournament, the increase to best of 11s seems to have reminded everyone just what an important event this is.

It's been well supported and has already produced some good matches, with a couple of shocks for good measure.

Sport is at its best when there's something at stake. There is in Chengdu and that's why it promises to be such an interesting week.



Ryan Day has quietly started to recover his world ranking and is 22nd on the latest list.

He was once as high as sixth but endured a poor run of form which left him fighting to stay in the top 32.

Who knows why form deteriorates? Sometimes there are off table reasons, usually unknown to followers of the sport. Other times it’s just that confidence gets dented by the odd close defeat and is hard to recover, even with so many playing opportunities.

Day is a very heavy scorer when he gets going. He is certainly good enough to have won a ranking event without having quite done it. He has three defeats in finals so far.

The Welshman was a member of the original WPBSA young players of distinction scheme in 2000, which also included Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire and Ali Carter. It also featured a couple of players who were less successful.

In fact, Day had already served notice of his potential by recovering from 4-0 down to beat Steve Davis 5-4 in the Welsh Open at Cardiff.

I vaguely recall someone excitedly coming into the press room and declaring that Day would ‘definitely be a world champion.’

I’ve heard this said about so many players that the World Championship would have to be played most weeks to make it possible.

It’s the worst thing for a player to hear, particularly at a young age: it’s the easiest thing for anyone to say but they don’t have to play the shots, endure the pressure or cope with the burden of expectation.

Ryan has had a very good career but a big title is missing. The good news is that there is still time.

He beat Ding 10-9 from 9-6 down at the Crucible last season, although his quarter-final against Matthew Stevens saw him lose all eight frames of the middle session. I was later told he had had a migraine before this session.

Today he plays Neil Robertson in the International Championship in Chengdu. This match is a good barometer of where Day is. If he can win or at least push Robertson close with a strong performance it will bring back more confidence. A heavy defeat would be a setback.

He’s only 32 but there’s always a danger when a player drops out of the top 16 that they aren’t quite going to get back.

Matches like today’s against Robertson can make all the difference.



China calls this week, as it so often does these days.

Europe has a growing legion of snooker fans but China has the money, lots of it. The forthcoming International Championship in Chengdu carries a top prize of £125,000, easily the highest ever awarded outside the UK.

China is such a vast place that its cities are like countries within countries – Chengdu has a population of around 14m – and they compete against each other.

This is how Barry Hearn has been able to ink deals not just for five ranking events there but also steadily increase the prize funds: none of the cities want to be seen to be lagging behind.

We live in a world of instant comment, much of it negative, but few could fault the concept of this event. Aside from the prize fund it is being played over a longer format in an era in which the mania is for shortening things.

Best of elevens will be the order of the day in Chengdu with best of 17 semi-finals.

So what to look out for?

Ronnie O’Sullivan, the top seed, will play his first televised match in a ranking event since he won his fourth world title last May.

Mark Selby, hoping to remain world no.1, has a tough first round encounter in the form of Ali Carter, who is close to returning to the top 16, with Masters places up for grabs at the seedings revision which follows the tournament.

John Higgins, who won the last full ranking event in Shanghai, will hope to reproduce that form.

Ding Junhui, whose China form is generally not too promising outside of Beijing, will again be trying to shut out the expectations of a nation.

Mark Allen, so brilliant in Belgium last week, reached Amsterdam with the wrong passport and had to go back to Antrim to get the one which matched his visa. Allen isn’t a fan of travelling but neither was John Parrott and he won tournaments in all sorts of foreign climes.

Judd Trump was beaten on the line by Higgins in Shanghai but can console himself that he didn’t throw it away.

One player due a win, if indeed anyone can be said to be, is Stephen Maguire.

He came up just short in both the German Masters and China Open finals last season and was a semi-finalist at the Crucible. Maguire has had success in PTCs and has won in China before, in fact the 2008 China Open is his last full ranking title.

Chengdu is home to the giant panda. There are just 1,500 of these living in the world and 80% are said to be in the Sichuan Province.

Snooker was once a rarity in this part of the world. All that has changed. For European viewers it means some early mornings but it also means another week of world class action.



A sign of how times have changed is that two televised events are now clashing. As the new International Championship begins on Sunday, the World Seniors Championship is coming to an end.

Seniors snooker has never quite taken off, despite many attempts to establish it in the same way as in golf and tennis.

There was a tournament held in 1985 for all (living) former world champions called the Kit-kat Break for world champions, one of the best names for a tournament ever. Of course, many of these players were not seniors.

In 1991, Barry Hearn promoted a World Seniors Championship in which one great character, Cliff Wilson, beat another, Eddie Charlton, 5-4.

In 1997, a Seniors Pot Black was held and shown on the BBC. Joe Johnson was the winner.

In 2000, the Royal Automobile Club in London staged a seniors masters, won by Willie Thorne.

But the concept never really caught on. Part of the problem is that though many people like to remember these older stars of snooker, they prefer to remember them as they once were.

Ultimately people go to tournaments to watch high quality action, not players who can’t produce the form they once could.

Snooker loves to go on about the ‘good old days.’

There is a difference between nostalgia – the rosy-eyed romanticising of the past – and heritage, which is a chronicling and respect for what has gone before.

Snooker has for too long been nostalgic for years gone by without realising what it has had at any given present.

In the 1980s, the sport was made for late night highlights but many of these largely tactical matches would frankly bore a generation brought up on the all out attacking game.

Standards have risen as the nature of how snooker is played has changed.

This is not to do down the World Seniors Championship, but the event itself has a somewhat confused format.

Nigel Bond is the highest ranked player in the tournament and yet had to win three matches to qualify while other players who haven’t played professionally for years were seeded straight through.

Some of these are world champions, which is fair enough, but others are not.

If Sky is televising the event then certain concessions have to be made but a shot-clock for these old stagers seems almost disrespectful.

Last year, the rules were messed about with so much that there was a farcical interlude in which the referee, John Williams, had to get them out of his pocket and explain them to Steve Davis and John Parrott live on air.

I think it’s right that matches are short early on but a world final should be longer than a best of three.

These are all opinions, not criticisms. I’m sure many will enjoy the tournament for what it is. It’s a chance to see up close some of the players who helped make snooker so popular on television.

But perhaps the truth is this: modern snooker is now in such a strong state that we no longer have to look to the past to reassure ourselves how good the game is.



Much has been written about Mark Allen in the last year but very little of it has been about what he’s done on the table.

This has largely been his own doing but he proved again tonight by winning the third European Tour title of the season in Antwerp just what a terrific, big occasion player he is.

Before a huge crowd, Allen stylishly compiled three successive centuries to lead Mark Selby 3-0 and killed off a 4-1 victory after the world no.1 had averted the whitewash.

It’s rarely said but is worth stating: in the arena, Allen is one of the most sporting of all the top players.

He apologises for flukes and is gracious when things go against him. Television sport is supposed to be entertainment and he likes to entertain. He expresses his emotions.

At the Shootout last season he spontaneously gave his t-shirt to a young spectator when he was knocked out.

Allen is donating money from his Premier League campaign to help raise funds for medical treatment for a young lad back in Northern Ireland who is seriously ill.

These are all admirable attributes and are allied to a fine attacking game which once again bore fruit in Belgium.

It’s one thing to have the talent but quite another to have the nerve. It comes from an iron self belief and this is less easy to teach or learn than how to pot balls.

Allen was used to winning when he turned professional, having captured the Northern Ireland amateur titles at all age levels, the world amateur crown and European amateur and junior trophies.

Instead of moaning about ‘the system’ he proved that if you are good enough you can come through by joining the top 16 after only three seasons on the circuit.

He came very close to winning the UK Championship last year and has been a semi-finalist at the World Championship and Masters.

Allen revels in a good atmosphere. The matches he loses are often when the environment is more prosaic.

As he said himself afterwards, the PTCs aren’t much fun when it’s the proverbial one man and his dog watching but a packed house gets the juices flowing.

And the Antwerp crowds, particularly on Sunday, were large and vociferous, once again underlining the interest in snooker on continental Europe.

Following Selby’s victory in Furth and Neil Robertson’s in Gdynia, the final was once again won by one of snooker’s leading lights.

And there will surely be plenty more silverware for Mark Allen.



Last season’s PTC final in Belgium was one of the best matches of the whole season. In an exhibition of flair, skill and entertainment, Judd Trump beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-3.

Snooker returns to Antwerp this week for the latest event of the European Tour, the first two of which have been won by Mark Selby and Neil Robertson respectively. As ever in TV tournaments, the cream rises to the top.

Belgian snooker fans will doubtless have high hopes for their young protégé, Luca Brecel, whose run to the Crucible at the end of last season was evidence of his great potential.

There are some tasty early matches, including Matthew Stevens v Graeme Dott, Michael Holt v Steve Davis and, in particular, Shaun Murphy v Ding Junhui.

Belgium is not a new market for snooker but it is one, like many others, which was allowed to lie dormant for too long. The European Open was staged there several times in the early 1990s.

It would be nice to think that in the near future this tournament could return to the schedule. Snooker is bubbling along very nicely in Europe but outside the UK and not including the PTC finals there is only one ranking event, the German Masters, on the continent.

This is a first class tournament but is yet to attract the levels of sponsorship and thus prize money available in China.

But nobody can doubt the public interest in snooker around Europe. Belgium has a strong cue sports tradition and surely anyone who had a ticket for last year’s final will be back this season.

Eurosport coverage starts at 8.30am UK time on Friday.



The professional billiards season starts and ends this week with its only tournament, the World Championship.

English billiards has a long history. Mary Queen of Scots was such a fan of the game that her body was wrapped in the cloth from her table following her execution.

Shakespeare mentioned billiards in Anthony and Cleopatra. Variants of the game have spawned a number of successful cue sports, most particularly snooker.

The World Championship takes place at the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds and has attracted a record entry of 65 players from 15 countries.

It is a joint promotion by World Billiards, the International Billiards and Snooker Federation and the English Association for Snooker and Billiards and comprises a timed event and 150-up competition.

Mike Russell will be a great favourite having won a total of 16 world titles in WPBSA and IBSF events.

Pankaj Advani of India has decided to relinquish his place in snooker’s new International Championship to play in Leeds.

Billiards is a TV sport in India but attempts to televise it in the UK have usually fallen flat.

In the 1980s, Barry Hearn summed up what he saw as the essential problem with its appeal: “Not enough balls.”

In fact, the chief problem is that the top players are so skilful and timed matches are frequently not close enough to be compelling. This is, after all, a sport in which Tom Reece made a record break of 499,135 over a period of five weeks in the early 20th century.

In March 1987, the BBC did plan to show the World Championship extensively but coverage was curtailed to make way for live news reports of the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise.

Eurosport shows much three cushion carom billiards, a different game entirely, not least because the tables have no pockets.

Billiards is a game of great skill and, as Advani has proved, can be a useful training ground for snooker.

Its profile has diminished down the years with the rise of snooker as a television sport but without billiards there would be no snooker so I hope their World Championship goes well.



John Newton, who refereed the 2000 World Championship final, has died.

John was cheerful, dedicated and always professional. He hailed from Lostock in the North West and was widely respected by players and his fellow officials.

Indeed, when he retired from refereeing he became an official assessor.

Sympathies go to his family and his many friends in snooker.



The WPBSA has today suspended Stephen Lee from the professional circuit pending a hearing into alleged match fixing.

Their full statement reads:

On 2 October 2012 the Crown Prosecution Service announced that there will be no criminal proceedings in the match fixing allegations against Stephen Lee made in 2010. Following this decision by the CPS, the WPBSA started its own investigation into these allegations.
On 5 October 2012 the WPBSA met with the Gambling Commission in order to review material collected by the Gambling Commission which may prove relevant to the WPBSA investigation.
The WPBSA is now in the process of conducting a thorough enquiry into the circumstances and this will be led by Nigel Mawer, the Chairman of the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee.
On 12 October 2012, the WPBSA was informed of suspicious betting patterns relating to a game between Stephen Lee and John Higgins played on 11 October 2012. This suspicious activity has also been referred to Nigel Mawer, the Chairman of the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee.
The WPBSA have carefully considered both the initial information from the Gambling Commission which was reviewed on 5th October 2012 and the new information regarding suspicious betting patterns in relation to the match between Stephen Lee and John Higgins from 11 October 2012.
The WPBSA have concluded that it would not be appropriate for Stephen Lee to continue to compete on the World Snooker Tour whilst these investigations are undertaken and therefore WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson has taken the decision to suspend Stephen from competition whilst this enquiry is ongoing.
Subject to his right to appeal, this suspension will remain in place until either the conclusion of the investigation or any resultant hearings.

Lee, who turned 38 today, has won five world ranking titles, the most recent at the PTC Grand Finals last season.

He turned professional in 1992 and reached a career highest ranking of fifth.



Pankaj Advani is a talented all round cueist, already a world champion at billiards and in amateur snooker and now making his way in the professional ranks.

He has qualified for the International Championship, alongside his fellow Indian, Aditya Mehta.

Snooker was invented in India but it has been in billiards where their cue sports success has come.

And it is billiards which is threatening to derail Advani's snooker progress. The World Professional Championship in Leeds ends on the day the International Championship in faraway Chengdu begins. Advani is due to play the following evening but it would surely be a race against time were he to feature in the billiards final, which could easily happen.

This is an unfortunate dilemma for Advani but I imagine many players will see it this way: if he had no intention of playing in the International Championship then he shouldn’t have entered it. He has eliminated four players from the tournament who would like to have played in the final stages.

If he withdraws to play in the World Billiards Championship he will face disciplinary action.

In India, billiards is considered a more prestigious sport than snooker so his country may expect him to prioritise the three-ball game. But Advani has already been world champion in this sport, in 2009.

His snooker career is just taking off. He played well to beat John Higgins at the Paul Hunter Classic and can only now improve.

The experience of playing in the final stages of a major ranking event would be invaluable.

Advani loves billiards but it isn’t a profession: they have only one tournament. Snooker is and, as such, he could live to regret it if he decides not to go to China.

EDIT: in fact, as commenters have pointed out, the Indian press have today reported that Advani has withdrawn from the International Championship to play in the billiards. Story here 



Paul Hunter died six years ago today. He was only 27. Next week he would have turned 34, still easily young enough to have been competing at the highest level.

We all know about his career. He remains the youngest player to reach a ranking event semi-final at just 16. He beat five top 16 players to win the Welsh Open in 1998 at the age of 19.

He won the Masters three times, all in deciding frame finishes after unlikely comebacks.

He won a total of three ranking titles, reached a high of fourth in the world rankings and came within a frame of reaching the 2003 World Championship final.

These facts should not be forgotten because they sum up a career which was already successful and would surely have hit greater heights.

But Paul was a player about whom people thought not of statistics but his more human characteristics: he was always smiling, he was always determined to have fun. When he won he did so without triumphalism. When he lost he did so graciously without any bitterness.

He was, in every sense, a personality, someone who drew people to snooker. Those Masters finals were remarkable matches, not just through his recoveries but because of how well he played to win them, centuries flying in, pressure balls being dispatched, his nerve remaining firm to the end.

If Ray Reardon, who I wrote about yesterday, was one of those who lit the snooker fuse in the public mind, Paul was one of the main reasons it kept burning amid gross mismanagement and lost opportunities.

His cancer diagnosis came shortly before the 2005 China Open, a tournament now remembered for sparking the current snooker boom in China, due to Ding Junhui winning it at the age of 18.

Paul still travelled to Beijing to play, obviously deeply concerned about his future. The press knew he was ill but did not know the severity of his condition at this point.

After he won his first match we requested him for an interview. This can take quite a long time in China because various people want a piece of the player but a good 20-30 minutes passed with no sign of Paul.

We assumed he had left the building, and quite possibly cursed him for it. Someone went off to see what had happened and found him still in the arena, patiently signing autographs for fans.

Paul wasn’t a saint but he had a genuine goodness, recognised by snooker fans the world over.

He loved the game and the game loved him.



Ray Reardon has today turned 80, a grand age for a grand man of snooker.

Reardon was one of snooker’s first TV stars, a formidable figure with jet-black hair and a widow’s peak which led him to be nicknamed ‘Dracula.’

It was apt for one of the game’s toughest match-players, a man with a seemingly endless resolve and very definite killer instinct.

Reardon was born on this day in 1932, between the two world wars, in Tredegar, a coal mining town in Wales.

The son of a miner, at the age of 14 he was down a pit where he was buried for several hours in a rockfall. After this, he knew mining wasn’t for him.

The Reardon family relocated to Stoke where he would eventually become a policeman, pounding the streets as a bobby but already dreaming of snooker glory.

Already Welsh amateur champion, Reardon almost won the 1956 English amateur title. He led Tommy Gordon 7-3 in the final at the end of the first day’s play but, with his first shot of the second, his tip flew off and he lost 11-9.

This was unfortunate but Reardon had always been savvy. When he met John Spencer, who would go on to be a great rival but never a close friend, in the English amateur final in 1964 the organisers asked each to send a photograph for the tournament programme.

Reardon duly sent off a picture of him wearing his snooker gear, looking a million dollars. Spencer, far more naive, sent the first photo he could find, which was him in swimming trunks.

Reardon won 11-8 and a few years later he turned professional, though this was not then the door to riches it later became.

It was hard work: flogging around the fledgling exhibition circuit in holiday camps of the UK, demand increasing due to a programme on the BBC’s new colour TV service. Pot Black would change everything.

Now, players were recognised. The World Championship reverted to knock-out format after several years as a series of challenge matches. Reardon lost 25-24 to Fred Davis in the first round in 1969 but beat Davis, Spencer and, in the final, John Pulman 37-33 a year later.

As world champion his profile rose and he could supplement his tournament earnings, such as they were, with a steady income in exhibitions.

Reardon had the mindset to dominate. He was determined but he was also acutely aware of the importance of psychology in snooker. He knew when he had an opponent on the ropes. Like his alter ego, he knew when to plunge his teeth into their necks - figuratively speaking - and not stop until they were finished.

Reardon won six world titles in the 1970s as the game grew into a professional sport with television interest rapidly increasing.

Perhaps his greatest of these came in 1975 at the Nunawading Basketball Stadium, Australia, where he recovered from 29-24 down to beat home favourite Eddie Charlton 31-30 in the final.

Reardon’s Crucible success of 1978 at the age of 45 was his last in the World Championship, although he reached the final again in 1982, losing only 18-15 to Alex Higgins. His last Crucible appearance came in 1987.

He had been snooker’s first world no.1 in 1976 and that year won the Masters and several other titles, although he had far fewer tournaments in which to play in his heyday compared to those top players who followed in his wake.

Reardon was still playing to a high standard into his 50s. He is the oldest ever ranking event winner, capturing the 1982 Professional Players Tournament at 50.

In 1988, he whitewashed the then imperious Steve Davis 5-0 in the British Open at Derby.

But Reardon’s eyesight was failing. He never took to spectacles and tried contact lenses. At the qualifiers he wore a visor to cut out the glare of the lights.

His career declined and, a proud competitor, he retired from tournament play in 1991.

Like most players who have drifted into snooker politics, Reardon’s board membership did not end well. He got mixed up in the Rex Williams regime at the end of the 1990s, which ultimately culminated in him and Williams being expelled from the WPBSA, although they were later reinstated.

I got to know him a little at around this time and found him to be both charming and eccentric. He was full of old stories, such as how Alex Higgins was drunk for at least three sessions of their 1976 world final, but also seemed interested in the modern game.

In 2004, Reardon was asked by Ronnie O’Sullivan’s father to give his son some advice. The two clicked and Reardon was in O’Sullivan’s corner when he won his second world title.

These days, Reardon is happily retired in Devon. He enjoys good food, wine and golf, a nice lifestyle which may explain why he is so well preserved.

Reardon is a name evocative of snooker’s first flowerings as a television entertainment.

Before Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, he was top dog, the man to beat, the player everyone else wanted to be.

Like those other early players he helped foster the interest in snooker which led to the professional circuit as we know it.

For this, and his great record of achievement, we should wish him a very happy birthday.



Neil Robertson won the match of the day at the Gdynia Open yesterday, recovering from 3-1 down to beat Jamie Jones 4-3.

It was a reminder of why the top players are the top players. It’s nothing to do with ‘the system’ but the fact that they so frequently produce their best snooker when they have to.

The key to Robertson’s success is not only his ability but his personality. He’s not a moaner. His glass isn’t half empty, in fact it’s not half full: it’s full to the brim. He always accentuates the positive and reaps the rewards from this mindset.

He won in Poland last year, surviving four successive deciding frame finishes before capturing the PTC in Warsaw.

Robertson now plays Martin Gould, already a PTC winner this season.

His good friend Joe Perry seems to be going through a purple patch. Fresh from his quarter-final appearance at the Shanghai Masters, Perry yesterday defeated Mark Davis 4-1 and now faces Stephen Maguire.

Rod Lawler has proved that it’s never too late to win a professional title. Perry is certainly good enough, it’s just that so many other players are also good enough.

Jimmy White’s match with Dave Harold was not a classic but White's supporters will be cheered by his progress. He now faces Liang Wenbo, whose own form was hard to discern because his opponent, Andy Hicks, struggled about as badly as it is possible to struggle.

The final match of the last 32 kicks off this morning with John Higgins, who played so well in Shanghai, facing Ding Junhui, a player whose performances are becoming increasingly hard to predict.

Ticket sales for the weekend are said to be very strong in this latest outpost to embrace snooker.



We don’t get to see James Warren White on television much these days so the Whirlwind’s many fans will look forward to his match this afternoon against Dave Harold in the Gdynia Open.

White is still plugging away but is now 50 so if his snooker career were a frame he’d be down to the colours.

His supporters have a store of memories to recall, many of them moments they would rather forget. Being a White fan is an emotional rollercoaster, never more so than during his matches at the Crucible.

To reach six world finals is a great achievement, one that only Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry can better at the Crucible. But, of course, White never won one.

He did win the Masters and the UK Championship, two Irish Masters and ten ranking titles, but – rightly or wrongly – these seem to play second fiddle in the public conscious to his defeats in the world final.

But Jimmy is nothing if not stoic. He still loves snooker and continues to breeze around the exhibition circuit, where he produces the goods away from the glare of the TV lights.

Recently, when he has played on TV he has looked a little nervous. It used to be second nature to him but he now spends most of his playing time in the cubicles of the qualifiers.

I thought he played well against Judd Trump at last season’s China Open and he has every chance of having a good weekend in Poland.

Whether he does or not, his army of fans will be anxiously following every ball as ever, hoping for one more golden memory from this most popular of players.



Hala Sportowo-Widowiskowa is the roll-off-the-tongue venue for the Gdynia Open, event two of the Betfair European Tour which, to complicate matters further, is also part of the Players Tour Championship.

The idea for the European Tour is to build up a series of events across Europe into big tournaments.

Those who snipe at Eurosport would do well to realise that there would be no European Tour without the channel. There would be no German Masters either.

When television viewers see snooker, large numbers want to watch it. They become fans.

What’s refreshing in Europe is that they have only started watching snooker in the last few years and so are fans of the game as it is now rather than endlessly harking back to the ‘golden days’ where the sun always shone, you could leave your front door open and Tony Meo was always on the TV.

The Gdynia Open has already been played down to 32 players and it’s a good mix of big names, a few old stagers and some newer faces.

On paper, the match of the first round pits John Higgins, fresh from his remarkable Shanghai Masters triumph, against Ding Junhui, who in Poland will not have the forbidding pressure of home expectation.

Higgins and Ding are among a number of big hitters making the trip to Poland. Other favourites for the title include Mark Selby, who won ET1, Stephen Maguire, Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham and Graeme Dott.

It’s also a chance for some of those lower down the rankings to show us what they can do.

Michael Wasley is a first season professional from Gloucester who will face Maguire live on television in the last 32.

This is what it’s all been about for players such as Wasley: all the hours of practice, all the preparation.

Players feel like proper professionals when they play on TV. It’s a shop window in which they can showcase their considerable skills.

Michael will I’m sure receive the usual advice: enjoy the experience, you have nothing to lose.

In fact, he has a match to lose, and nobody enjoys the experience of losing. But it’s a learning curve for him either way. If he wins it’s a career high, if he loses he can examine what went wrong later on video (do people still watch videos?).

Good luck to him and all the rest. For Polish snooker fans this is a once-a-year chance to see professional snooker up close.

Tomorrow’s live TV matches are:
Andy Hicks v Liang Wenbo
Stephen Maguire v Michael Wasley
Jimmy White v Dave Harold
Mark Selby v Fergal O’Brien
Neil Robertson v Jamie Jones



One of Britain’s best known snooker clubs, Willie Thorne’s in Leicester, closed yesterday after 32 years.

The reason given is that the council need the building for office space. A council spokesman told the Leicester Mercury: "The lease for the snooker hall was sold by Willie Thorne some years ago and the current operators have never signed a lease.

"We gave them notice we would be ending their tenancy and they have accepted this. We own the building and already have some offices there. We are looking at the options for using the rest of it for office accommodation but no plans have yet been drawn up."

The current operators are Rileys, who own a number of snooker clubs in the UK.

Regardless of the reasons, the closure of WT’s is symbolic of the downturn in interest in the game in the UK.

People often talk of the extraordinary viewing figures snooker achieved on British TV in the 1980s but participation levels were also huge. Children all around the country were getting small snooker tables as Christmas presents, including a 12 year-old Stephen Hendry. It was a game that could not be ignored. But times change.

WT’s was an iconic club because it was widely used for tournaments, particularly for juniors.

Most professionals of the last 30 years passed through its doors dreaming of one day emulating their heroes in the professional ranks.

This was long before players complained snooker was getting in the way of their social life: this was their social life. It was Saturday mornings on the motorway, obliging parents shipping young hopefuls to junior events.

It was a generation of boys whose enthusiasm for snooker knew no bounds.

It was here that friendships and rivalries formed which still stand to this day. It was here that young talent was nurtured, most particularly by Malcolm Thorne, Willie’s brother, an unsung hero in the development of many careers.

Mark Selby was one of them. He said: “It’s a sad day because I wouldn't be where I was without Willie Thorne's. I played there from the age of 11 to 16 and Willie's brother, Malcolm, let me practice for free and he sponsored me in my first competitions. I have a lot of great memories of the club.”

The snooker boom of the 1980s on British television led to an explosion in clubs but in recent years many have closed.

This is because of a number of reasons. Honeymoons don’t last forever. Snooker was the in thing for many years but fashions change.

The smoking ban hit the sport hard. Snooker clubs are not just about snooker but are social hubs. Many enjoyed going in for a chat and a smoke and a drink and, maybe, a few frames as well.

But the game has also gradually disappeared from mainstream TV.

When I was a kid in the 1980s there were as many as nine tournaments on terrestrial television. Now there are three, and they do not receive the terrestrial hours they used to.

Just yesterday the BBC announced it was reducing its red button output to only one channel from later this month. This means for its snooker tournaments the most it can show is one table and, at times, there won’t even be that.

All of the above has a knock-on effect. Wales has always been a stronghold for the sport but just recently the snooker hall at Pontardawe Arts Centre was threatened with closure.

Why? Because its takings from five tables had fallen from £24,000 to just £2,000. The number of people using the tables has fallen from 18,600 to 1,600.

Snooker is no longer a game large numbers of British kids want to play.

Some still do, obviously. But junior events simply do not attract the same numbers they once did.

Readers from elsewhere in the world may well say, ‘so what?’ The Brits have had it too good for too long. The qualifying set-up is still based in the UK and the circuit has long been biased towards British players.

This is true but it is because of the demand in Britain for snooker. As that demand declines, what of the future?



Oliver Lines won the first qualifying event of the Snookerbacker Classic at the weekend, an event which culminates in its two finalists having their entries paid for Q School.

Lines is the 17 year-old son of Peter Lines, a professional from Leeds, which is where the event was held.

Time flies. I remember Peter talking about his then very young son when he made his Crucible appearance in 1998.

Oliver was into football in a big way but has decided to try and emulate his father by becoming a professional.

This remains relatively rare in snooker, whereas it is more commonplace in some other sports, such as cricket.

For instance, Chris Cowdrey, son of the great Colin Cowdrey, was briefly England captain during a calamitous summer in which the national side had four captains.

Snooker’s best known father and son remain Geoff and Neal Foulds. They played each other in a couple of tournaments, not a nice situation for either who would usually be supporting the other.

More latterly, Steve Davis’s son, Greg, entered Q School. Steve himself was tutored in the ways of snooker by his own father, Bill. 

But it’s very hard for the sons of really successful players to make any sort of impact themselves, as their careers will always be compared to that of their celebrated fathers.

Blaine Hendry, son of Stephen, has played as a junior but it would be difficult for him to make a snooker career in his own right.

Alex Higgins started the now well worn trend of bringing babies and children into the arena at the end of major victories. These youngsters will always be known as the offspring of famous fathers regardless of what they do with their lives.

So to follow them into the same profession is perhaps a further diminishing of their own identities.

Peter Lines has been a very solid pro, a UK Championship quarter-finalist, but not a major title winner. So Oliver, if he does make it on to the tour, has a chance to shine without being known just as ‘son of...’