With the greatest respect to the Haikou World Open qualifiers I’ve seen quite enough snooker for one year and written more than enough about it.

2012 was a year in which snooker’s major titles were shared around between an elite group of players who, under any format or system, would be the best.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, focused throughout the 17-day Crucible marathon, won a fourth world title.

Neil Robertson, who has developed into one of snooker’s finest big occasion performers, captured the Masters.

Mark Selby, whose capacity to dig deep in matches when many others would have lost heart is his great strength, won the UK Championship.

Selby thus returned to the no.1 position assumed by Judd Trump, who won the new International Championship.

Trump had lost to a rejuvenated John Higgins in a gripping Shanghai Masters final which reaffirmed the Scot’s ability to play his very best under pressure.

There were ranking event wins too for Mark Allen, Ding Junhui, Peter Ebdon, Ricky Walden and Barry Hawkins.

There were big breaks, pressure clearances, unbelievable misses and all the drama and excitement our game is capable of conjuring up.

Above all, it’s been busy. Make no mistake, reports of snooker’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

The sport now has a very solid financial base and is expanding into hitherto unthinkable markets around the world, with more to be explored in the years to come. It would be nice if the media would recognise this now and again.

Before the UK Championship there was a story on the BBC website, whose coverage of snooker is at best sporadic, asking if Trump could rescue the sport.

Rescue it from what exactly? Having a record number of tournaments? Or record prize money? Or record global television audience figures?

There are still many in the game, some players included, for whom the glass is eternally half empty but by any objective assessment snooker is in robust health heading into 2013.

There have always been moans and groans, often with justification, sometimes for no other reason than people like moaning and groaning.

But the game goes on. It continues to challenge the players and fascinate those who enjoy watching it.

And snooker fans are now much better served online than in years gone by, particularly through the wealth of snooker blogs and sites that have popped up in recent times. These are written almost entirely by people spending their own time and in some cases money trying to help spread the snooker world, and for this they deserve respect.

There’s been much to write about. 2012 saw some superb snooker matches. Among them was O’Sullivan’s recovery against Stephen Maguire in the German Masters final. There was Ali Carter’s win over Trump from 12-9 down in the second round of the World Championship. There was Higgins’s recovery from 7-2 down to pip Trump in Shanghai.

The greatest of them all, Stephen Hendry, made a dignified exit from the stage he once owned, retiring from competitive play at the Crucible. O’Sullivan has also walked away, perhaps permanently.

Those who remain, and who aspire to the achievements of these two great champions, have a responsibility not just to entertain on table but to represent snooker professionally. Some do it better than others but it was ever thus.

They deserve respect for their talents. Television is the game's shop window but the players keep the shop in business.

What remains true is that snooker, like life itself, is a land of opportunity: go out and grab it and make your dreams come true. Don't blame others if it doesn't happen.

It’s all there for the taking in 2013. Until then, Merry Christmas everyone and all the best for the New Year.



After a long year of snooker, not every top player made the trip to Ravenscraig but Ding Junhui did and he left as the winner of European Tour event 5.

Ding played with great purpose from his first match. He was fluent and determined and made seven centuries during the tournament.

What a lovely player he is to watch in full flow. He is already, at 25, one of the best break-builders the game has ever seen.

The mystery is why he is sometimes flat in matches. Ding stands 11th in the world rankings, lower than many would put him given a free choice.

But he ends 2012 on a high with half of the season still to go.

Much praise must go to the beaten finalist, Anthony McGill, who became snooker’s marathon man with something like nine hours of continuous play on Sunday.

He was 3-0 and 51-0 down to Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon in the quarter-finals but recovered to win 4-3. He got the two snookers he needed in the deciding frame of the semi-finals against Andrew Higginson and won 4-3 on a red-spotted black to reach his first televised final.

The key moment of the final in the end was his failure to get ideally on frame ball in the fifth. He left it awkward, missed and Ding made a great clearance before wrapping up a 4-2 win.

There was a good crowd for the final but the event was otherwise poorly attended. It’s not abundantly clear why this tournament went to Scotland in the first place.

The European Tour has done a very good job of taking tournaments to areas where interest in snooker is growing, with the ultimate goal to produce full ranking events.

Scotland has already had many of these and some may have felt, particularly with the number of high profile stay-aways, that this was a retrograde step.

It also came very quickly after the UK Championship, which felt like a natural break halfway through the season.

However, there is a long tradition of tournaments after the UK Championship and before Christmas, be it the World Doubles, World Matchplay or German Masters. In 1998 there were three events after the UK Championship and before the New Year. Years ago the players would record Pot Black shortly after Christmas and the Mercantile Classic would often start on New Year’s Day.

The Haikou World Open qualifiers are this week and then it all shuts down until January 4, after which it is basically no sleep until May Day.



The last tournament of 2012 is European Tour event 5 at Ravenscraig in Scotland.

In the wake of the UK Championship it’s a little after the Lord Mayor’s Show. That said, has anyone ever sat through the Lord Mayor’s Show? What does it entail exactly?

There have been some notable withdrawals. Mark Selby, already qualified for the PTC grand finals and presumably exhausted from his York exploits, is a stay-away. So too are Neil Robertson, Matthew Stevens and Ali Carter.

Some, including Judd Trump, didn’t enter in the first place.

There’s been a lot of snooker played this year and some players want a break of the leisure variety with half the season still to come.

But someone will get a 10,000 euro Christmas bonus plus a chance to take part in the grand finals, where the top prize this season is £100,000.

The Scots are well represented with John Higgins, Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott all title contenders, although Dott is deeply unhappy with his form right now.

There is just one more PTC to come, in Germany next month, after which the top 25 on the order of merit will join the top seven in the Asian PTC standings for the grand finals.

Matt at Pro Snookerblog has provided a typically masterful overview of who is where.

British Eurosport will be showing every match live, with Eurosport on the continent showing live and recorded action.


Clive Everton, Snooker Scene's editor since its inception in 1971, has updated his book Black farce and Cue Ball Wizards with seven new chapters to take into account Barry Hearn's arrival at the tenure of World Snooker and his own departure from the BBC.

He spoke recently to Sports Tonight about the book:

It can be ordered from the Snooker Scene online shop.



The fifth European Tour event of the season is being staged in Scotland this week, a part of the world with a fine snooker heritage.

It’s earliest star was Walter Donaldson, the first player other than Joe Davis to be world champion when he won the game’s biggest title in 1947.

Donaldson also won the World Championship in 1950 but there was little money in snooker, the professional game all but died and he became so disillusioned with the sport that he broke up the slates of his table and used them to make a path in his garden.

Then again, back then there was no Twitter on which to moan about everything.

Bert Demarco, who died this year, opened snooker’s first commercial snooker club in the 1970s and became a prominent promoter and provider of playing facilities as the game began to emerge from the shadows and become seriously popular.

When television made snooker a very big deal indeed a proper circuit began to form and several Scots played their part. These players were good enough but not world beaters.

Among them was Eddie Sinclair, who is once said to have taken part in an epic drinking contest with beer-loving Bill Werbeniuk.

The story goes that with the score locked at 42 pints each Sinclair hit the deck and a victorious Werbeniuk headed to the bar for a social drink.

Jim Donnelly was the first Scot to play at the Crucible in 1982. It wasn’t until 1987 that a Scot won a match at the Crucible. This was Murdo MacLeod, a former baker who managed to make a bit of dough from snooker.

In 1989, John Rea made only the seventh ratified 147 break in snooker history in the Scottish Professional Championship.

But there was of course by then someone very special indeed making headlines for both Scotland and snooker.

Stephen Hendry changed the way the game was played and superseded the achievements of all his fellow countrymen as well as everyone else in the sport.

And Hendry inspired a new generation of Scots to take up snooker, ushering in an era in which Scottish players at major tournaments were the norm rather than the exception.

Alan McManus made an immediate impact when he turned professional in 1990. John Higgins soon climbed to the top after joining the pro ranks in 1992.

But there were many others too: Euan Henderson and Billy Snaddon reached ranking finals. Chris Small was a ranking tournament winner and member of the top 16. John Lardner, Graham Horne and Dave McLellan played at the Crucible.

Graeme Dott was world champion. Stephen Maguire has been UK champion. Jamie Burnett and Marcus Campbell are still going strong.

In 1996 the formidable triumvirate of Hendry, Higgins and McManus won the World Cup for Scotland in Bangkok. At this point Scotland had three players in the top six.

Hendry and McManus had even been introduced for a session of their Crucible semi-final in 1993 by a bagpiper.

Many of the Scottish pros of the 1990s have come and gone. One such was Drew Henry, a former UK Championship semi-finalist who reached 18th in the world rankings.

One distinct fact about Henry is that he was once shot at on the way to the Crucible. No, he really was. As he drove through Sheffield some thug with an airgun took a pot-shot, all puns intended, at his car.

Thankfully Drew emerged unscathed and went on to beat Mark King.

Small was christened ‘the human limpet’ by John Parrott due to his tendency to stick his claws into his opponent and not let go.

He was methodical all right and a late finish could usually be guaranteed if he was playing. Indeed, at the 2003 World Championship qualifiers Chris was, unsurprisingly, involved in the last match on and World Snooker, displaying the tact and diplomacy for which they were renowned at that time, decided to de-rig the arena around him. Thankfully they did leave his table up.

Nevertheless, as he sweated blood to try and reach Crucible there was banging and crashing and general noise.

“They wouldn’t have done this to O’Sullivan or Higgins,” Small said when the match was finally over.

Sadly a debilitating back condition forced him to quit but he did win the LG Cup in 2002, beating both O’Sullivan and Higgins along the way.

The Scottish amateur game was for many years poisoned by internecine political strife. This obviously affected the amount of new young players coming through but some have, notably Anthony McGill, Michael Leslie and Scott Donaldson (no relation to Walter).

Donaldson won the European amateur title this year at 18. It’s chastening to think that he wouldn’t even remember Hendry’s seventh world title triumph.

I hope all goes well in Ravenscraig. Previous tournaments have gone well north of the border. The old Regal Masters was always good fun and the several ranking events staged in Scotland in the 1990s were really well attended.

The amateur rounds of European Tour event 5 begin tomorrow with the pros entering the fray on Friday.



Mark Selby wasn’t exactly snooker’s Cinderella as he couldn’t quite wrap up victory by midnight but he did win the UK Championship, and winning is what matters in sport, whether it’s through a dazzling display or a right old dogfight.

This was the latter. Much will be made of Shaun Murphy’s missed blue with a chance to close to 7-8 but he may reflect that it was the last two frames of the opening session which proved most costly.

Selby was struggling at this point. Murphy won the 53 minute sixth frame to lead 4-2 but that frame seemed to affect his rhythm and he could not maintain the momentum. By winning these two frames, Selby stayed in touch.

The evening session was generally low in quality but high in drama and excitement with sundry close frames.

Snooker is a tough game at the best of times but when the pressure is on it becomes almost unbearably difficult.

Selby did improve as the evening wore on whereas Murphy will be disappointed he couldn’t produce the same stirring comeback he conjured against Ali Carter. Put simply, not enough went in.

So Selby ends 2012 as world no.1 and UK champion, a satisfying return for someone whose very future was under threat at the start of the season due to his neck injury.

A bunch of people Mark will never meet don’t seem to like him but they should know that he doesn’t care. Neither should he. He’s got to where he is in life through sheer hard work. He’s happy and successful. He’s a winner.

As he spends the £125,000 winners’ cheque – a record for the UK Championship – the Jester can once again have the last laugh.

Murphy was gracious in defeat and this isn’t easy. He seems to just love being part of it all, win or lose. It’s a boyhood dream after all.

It was another late finish. Why? Because it was a late start.

The BBC attracted one of its biggest audiences for years when they started the final session of the 2011 world final at 7pm but seem unmovable on the 8pm start time for all other finals.

The central problem is that they don’t want a runaway final to be swamped by, say, the X Factor final but people have work or school or tiredness to think about and it’s surely time for a rethink.

One final thought: I didn’t personally hear a single mobile phone go off all week. For this alone the tournament should return to York next year.



The UK Championship, as one of snooker’s truly great events, deserves a high quality final and it is surely going to get one as Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy cross cues in York today.

Both of these players could be out by now. Selby was 3-0 down to Ryan Day in the last 16 and 4-0 down to Neil Robertson in the quarter-finals.

Murphy could have lost 6-4 or 6-5 to Luca Brecel in the quarters and was of course 8-4 down to Ali Carter in the last four.

But they have battled through to the final and the stage is set for a fascinating denouement to a tournament which began long before either was born.

Murphy has the edge 8-5 in previous meetings but Selby won their only contest over a longer distance than best of 11, 17-16 in the semi-finals of the 2007 World Championship.

Selby and Murphy grew up together playing on the then thriving junior circuit. It was here that they learned about matchplay, about the competitive game, about how snooker was not just a bit of fun but about winning or losing.

It was Selby who first made a professional breakthrough, reaching the semi-finals of the 2002 China Open in Shanghai at the age of 18.

He was a naive teenager back then. So disorientated was he by jetlag and a rare foray outside British shores that he was found in the hotel lobby at 1 in the morning trying to hail a taxi for a 2pm start. Despite the darkness he thought it was the afternoon.

Selby beat both Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan in this tournament but soon went backwards, falling down the rankings. However, in the first round of the 2006 World Championship he beat John Higgins and hasn’t looked back since.

A year later he faced Higgins in the Crucible final. In 2008 he won the Masters at his first attempt and the Welsh Open. Another Masters title followed in 2010. Last year he won the Shanghai Masters. He became world no.1 and, after only a few weeks, has wrestled top spot back from Judd Trump regardless of what happens in York today.

Murphy was always a talented potter and twice qualified for the Crucible as a young professional but, like Selby, was going backwards before the 2004/05 season.

Here, he reached his first ranking tournament semi-final at the British Open. He was thrashed 6-0 by John Higgins but got a taste of the big time and duly qualified for the Crucible again the following spring.

Playing with maturity beyond his years, he won the world title, only the second qualifier to do so. He was simply brilliant, bringing his formidable attacking game to the fore with deadly effect.

Since then he has at times struggled to find the balance between attack and defence but against Carter he produced a performance as good as you will see, knocking everything in and really owning the arena.

These two are good friends and staunch supporters of the game. They play in just about everything and are genuinely grateful for the life snooker has given them.

Snooker needs superstars but it also needs dedicated professionals and it has two in today’s showpiece final.

I think Murphy will win if he produces the blitz of potting and break building he conjured against Carter.

Selby, though, is a great all round match player with guile, pluck and patience in abundance.

When they were boys, pitching up at snooker clubs of a weekend for junior events, these were days they dreamed of being involved in.

The UK Championship is steeped in history and, for Selby or Murphy today, glory awaits.



Well the best of 17s certainly came into their own last night as Shaun Murphy produced a quite remarkable comeback to beat Ali Carter 9-8 from 8-4 down.

This was as good as anything Stephen Hendry could have produced in his heyday: positive, attacking snooker with long pots flying in, big breaks being made and plenty of guts being displayed.

Murphy was simply sensational. His attack-first approach had always been his great strength – it’s how he played in 2005 to become world champion – and he clearly always believed he could still win the match.

It’s a very bitter pill for Carter to swallow. He had played well to lead 8-4 but turned a couple of pots down. Of course, he may never have potted them. He tried to keep things tight but Murphy played like a man possessed and forced openings from unlikely positions.

This was world class snooker and Murphy can enjoy his day off watching Mark Selby against Mark Davis.

Today’s UK Championship semi-final is the biggest match of Davis’s 21-year professional career. He has been a late bloomer. Up until this season he hadn’t been in a ranking tournament semi-final. He is now in his third.

Davis himself has commented on the fact that he isn’t as used to the one table set up as the other semi-finalists in York but he is playing well and needs to remain positive.

Selby is tough as old boots, as he proved with his comeback win over Neil Robertson, and is capable of mixing attack and defence with the best of them.

His only other UK semi-final came five years ago when Ronnie O’Sullivan made a maximum in their deciding frame. Selby has made slow starts in his last two matches, falling 3-0 and 4-0 behind, but this is a longer match.

He starts as favourite but Davis is full of confidence and another close finish appears likely.



So at long last we’re up to best of 17s as the semi-finals of the UK Championship get underway with four familiar faces vying for the £125,000 top prize.

It was another day of close matches yesterday, the standout being Shaun Murphy’s nerveshreddingly dramatic 6-5 win over 17 year-old Luca Brecel, who could have won 6-4 and was clearing up to win the decider after Murphy’s kick on the last red.

“I want my mum,” was Murphy’s heartfelt tweet after an afternoon of psychological torture. Snooker is a hard enough game at the best of times but when the pressure is on – and it is in these big tournaments – it separates the men from the boys, literally as it transpired yesterday.

That’s why these guys deserve the big money they earn. What drama, what entertainment they serve up time and time again.

Murphy today plays Ali Carter in the first semi-final as the arena goes down to one table.

Carter has come through quietly, which probably suits him. He wasn’t talked up before the event began but he wasn’t at last season’s World Championship either and he reached the final at the Crucible.

He’s a tough competitor and took the game to in-form Stuart Bingham yesterday, winning 6-4.

Tomorrow it’s the Marks, Selby and Davis.

Davis has been solid and consistent all season. These don’t sound like huge compliments but they are. His standard at the moment doesn’t slip below a particular level and he saw off Matthew Stevens 6-4 last night.

Here's what he said afterwards:

Late last night, Selby proved why he has been world no.1 and why he can return to top spot if he beats Davis tomorrow.

He was 4-0 down to Neil Robertson, who had entered full grinding mode. Many players would have lost all interest but Selby’s inner strength and determination came to the fore and he dug deep to come back and win 6-4.

This wasn’t a great match but Selby’s never-say-die attitude was admirable. Success at sport isn’t all about what happens when things are going well but how you cope with adversity.

This was a textbook example of how to do it.





Nothing I could write would do justice to the excitement of the Mark Davis-John Higgins match last night. Suffice to say it is one of the matches of the season so far.

After a closely fought start, Davis pulled away to lead 5-2 with back-to-back centuries before Higgins contributed a quite brilliant maximum, the seventh 147 of his career.

This sparked a comeback which appeared set to be completed when Higgins was clearing up in the decider but he missed the final pink and Davis eventually slotted it home from distance.

There are several things which could be said about all this but I’ll pick just three.

Firstly, it provided further proof that snooker does not need to be artificially messed about with in order to provide drama and entertainment.

Second, the reverential hush of the crowd is what makes the atmosphere, not a bunch of boozed-up bores shouting out.

Third, what about Davis? 21 years on the tour but in the last couple of years producing the best snooker of his career. You’d have to be a pretty spiteful sort not to be genuinely pleased for him.

It was a dramatic day all round, particularly in the Mark Selby-Ryan Day match.

Selby was all at sea trailing 3-0 and should have gone 4-2 down but played the two best shots of the tournament for 3-3.

Day had failed to pot the pink which meant Selby could win the frame with the aid of a snooker. The black was just off the middle of the baulk cushion.

Selby nailed the snooker and later potted the pink to the yellow bag, taking the cue ball all round the table to land perfectly on the black. He won 6-4.

Luca Brecel was also 3-0 down but became the youngest ever UK Championship quarter-finalist with a good comeback, beating Mark King 6-4.

King is a tough campaigner but it seems to be very difficult to get under young Luca’s skin. Mark Williams said earlier this year that he would reach a ranking semi-final this season. A few eyebrows were raised but, if Brecel beats Shaun Murphy today, he will have been proven right.

Murphy has played well so far but the 17 year-old is having the time of his life and has plenty of crowd support.

The only way is Essex for Basilton’s Stuart Bingham and Chelmsford’s Ali Carter. They played once in York and Carter was docked a frame for late arrival, which would be even more damaging in a best of 11.

(As an aside, why not play the semi-finals on the same day and free up a day for best of 17 quarter-finals?)

Selby v Neil Robertson is an interesting one because they’ve hardly met before. Robertson was scathing about conditions after his 6-2 win over Barry Hawkins last night, but he will be on the other table this evening, the one on which he compiled four centuries against Tom Ford in the first round.

As for Davis v Matthew Stevens, this is a hard one to call. Stevens hasn’t played his best stuff yet but came good when he had to against Marco Fu.

Davis is of course on a high but needs to come down from this as he attempts to reach his third ranking event semi-final of the season.



So Luca Brecel returns to action today following his dramatic 6-5 win over Ricky Walden the other night.

Encouragingly, Brecel did not let this victory go to his head. In fact, he admitted there were areas in which he needed to improve.

One of his problems was his tip, which was replaced yesterday by the superbly named cuedoctor Claudio Mercurio.

Brecel today plays Mark King, who he beat to qualify for the World Championship last season.

King was at times very good in beating Mark Williams 6-3 and needs to bring his vast experience to bear. But Brecel is at that age where he has few mental scars and can just go out and enjoy it. Snooker needs new faces and he represents a chance for continental Europe to start making an impact on these big tournaments.

For all the fuss about Judd Trump’s ascension to world no.1, Mark Selby can in fact replace him with a good run in the UK Championship.

Selby today plays Ryan Day, who he beat 6-0 with a very strong performance in the first round at York last year.

Selby says he felt the pressure of being world no.1. This is understandable: the only way is down after all. He hasn’t made much of an impact on the season thus far but there’s still a long way to go.

Tonight John Higgins returns to action to face Mark Davis and Neil Robertson – so impressive with his four centuries against Tom Ford – tackles Barry Hawkins.

Matthew Stevens led Marco Fu 4-1 yesterday but could not close the deal and was suddenly 4-4 and a long way behind in the ninth frame.

But the Welshman made a really excellent 74 clearance before comfortably adding the next to reach the UK Championship quarter-finals for the first time since he won the title in 2003.

Ali Carter was solid in seeing off Trump’s conqueror Mark Joyce 6-2 and Shaun Murphy at times played superbly to beat Graeme Dott 6-2.

But the best performance came from Stuart Bingham, brimming with confidence, who beat Stephen Maguire 6-4. Bingham has been one of the players of the season and the confidence is obvious for all to see.

It’s Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 37th birthday today, although it needn’t be a special occasion for him to feature in speculation in the morning’s newspapers.

Today’s story is that he may, and by definition may not, play in the World Championship. The closing date is in the new year.

By the same token I may or may not win the national lottery this weekend. Either way, rest assured I will continue to write this blog.




Well, Luca Brecel did it after a right old slog at the Barbican Centre last night, beating Ricky Walden 6-5 in a late night burn-up in York.

This was a match whose quality gradually dipped, which had the effect of increasing the dramatic tension. Snooker often does this and it’s one of the reasons the sport has been so successful on television. It can deliver different kinds of matches.

For instance, you could only marvel at Neil Robertson’s exhibition snooker in making four centuries to dismiss Tom Ford 6-1. This was the game played at the highest standard.

But a right old grind when the nerves are jangling – even if the standard is much lower – is also compulsive viewing.

Brecel was right to be jubilant at the win. It’s a good one. He may still be a little raw but he seems to relish being out there. It all bodes well for the future.

He plays Mark King next after the Romford man beat a below par Mark Williams 6-3.

Williams was disgusted with his own performance. He seems to be lacking confidence. It shows how hard a game snooker is if even the true greats can struggle for self belief.

But King was impressive. He has quietly had some good results in the run-in to this tournament, qualifying for both the European Tour event in Munich in January and the German Masters.

Poor Dominic Dale looked wretched and fears he may have shingles. Credit to him for even turning up, but he was turned over, 6-1 by Matthew Stevens.

The last 16 gets underway today with Stevens up against Marco Fu and Ali Carter taking on Mark Joyce this afternoon.

Tonight it’s Stephen Maguire against Stuart Bingham and Shaun Murphy against the man who replaced him as world champion in 2006, Graeme Dott.

Will the winner come from this octet?

Well, Stevens, Maguire and Murphy have all won the UK title before and only Joyce has failed to win a ranking title.

He beat Carter in the UK Championship two years ago but this was after Ali had been in hospital undergoing treatment for Crohn’s disease.

Carter has hopefully weathered this storm. It affected him so badly last season that he threatened retirement but he stuck at it and of course went on to reach a second world final.

Maguire v Bingham could well prove to be the match of the day. The Scot made three successive centuries during his first round match and Bingham is super-confident with the run he’s been on.



Luca Brecel is exactly the sort of player snooker needs.

Just 17, he is a talent improving all the time. He is also shaping up to be the great hope of continental Europe, a territory where interest in snooker is high.

The Belgian plays Ricky Walden in the first round of the UK Championship at the Barbican Centre in York tonight.

Brecel struggled early last season but his rookie campaign came to life when he qualified for the Crucible. He has now come through the qualifiers for another major and is surely going to continue in an upwards direction.

It’s 20 years since Mark Williams was in this position. In his first UK Championship in 1992 – at 17 – he qualified to play Stephen Hendry and came from 8-3 down before losing 9-8.

Williams, who has won this title twice and been runner-up in two further UK finals, was playing brilliantly two years ago when John Higgins pipped him 10-9 but has not been the same since losing the 2011 Shanghai Masters final to Mark Selby in bizarre circumstances.

He’s still in the top eight and still produces performances of the highest quality but to win an event like this he needs to string a series of these together.

Williams faces Mark King tonight, a player who has beaten him six times out of 12. Williams last beat him in 2004.

King has had some very good results of late in the qualifiers. He reached York by beating Xiao Guodong 6-0.

First up it’s Neil Robertson, one of the favourites, against Tom Ford and Matthew Stevens, who won this title in 2003, against Dominic Dale.

Last year’s two finalists are already out following first round defeats yesterday for Judd Trump and Mark Allen.

Trump led Mark Joyce 5-2 but lost 6-5. Many people said he had taken too many liberties against the Walsall man but I think the truth may be more simple.

All players, even the two greats, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis, have experienced peaks and troughs of form. Trump was excellent a couple of months back but poor in the Premier League play-offs and it may be that he needs the Christmas break before he gets going again.

Here is what he told SportsBeat after the match:

Allen was just outplayed. Only Trump has made more centuries this season than Marco Fu, who made two more and several other sizeable breaks in beating him 6-3.

At the official media day last week Allen had the chance to take back the unfounded slur he made against Fu at the Crucible last season but chose to stand by it. When the press accurately reported his comments and that the WPBSA had written to him asking for an explanation because they had fallen within his three month suspended ban period it led him to Twitter to write the following:

“Why don't people realise its not me who wants to talk about the past. The press' job is to write crap about me. Gullible people believe it!!”

Well, it’s good to see that World Snooker media training was money well spent.

As someone who has spent 15 years writing professionally about snooker I can tell you that this broad brush characterisation of the sport’s press is inaccurate.

It’s true some journalists over the years have treated players unfairly but they have been in the minority. The regular snooker press comprises a small group of people who have worked long hours to try and promote the game, usually with little thanks from anyone, least of all players.

Fu has never said anything bad about any other player, either in public or, whenever I’ve been with him, in private. He can be very satisfied with his performance, although it does underline his wild inconsistency. If he could play like this more often he would win more titles for sure.

Stuart Bingham has started to do just that. A week on from his Premier League defeat of Trump he beat Jack Lisowski 6-2 to reach the last 16.

You can see the confidence in Bingham now. He is not only a top player but believes he’s a top player, which makes a huge difference.

There was to be no fairytale for Steve Davis, who struggled to produce the sort of form needed to beat Ali Carter. Carter duly came through 6-2. He isn’t a player many have tipped pre-tournament but the same was true at the Crucible last season and he reached the final there.



Here's what Shaun Murphy had to say after beating Robert Milkins 6-3 at the UK Championship today. Interview courtesy of SportsBeat.


Judd Trump and Mark Allen served up arguably the best match of last season with their enthralling, high quality UK Championship final at York.

These two fine attacking players provided a great advert for snooker and are in opposite halves of the draw again this year.

Their media stock has also risen considerably. Judd Trump has become the go-to-guy for interviews and speaks very well.

I don’t always agree with what he says but defend his right to whatever opinion he wants to hold, as one should in a free society.

The same applies with Mark Allen, another good talker. Whenever I read an Allen interview I’m reminded of the (one and only) time Dave Letterman hosted the Oscars and had to introduce Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, whose attachment to fashionable causes was legendary.

As the celebrated couple walked on to the stage to present an award, Letterman witheringly commented: “They’re here and they’re sure to be pissed off about something.”

Allen, whose various comments last season racked up a series of fines, was the canny choice of World Snooker to undertake the official media day in York last week. Sure enough, he was pissed off about plenty.

However, sportspeople are like rock stars: their words are given a weight and heft completely out of proportion. Just as no one goes to a gig to hear a speech, so people attend sporting events to watch the skill and action unfold before them.

There’s little point getting too excited about what snooker players say. It’ll never be as interesting as what they do in the arena.

However, snooker needs media attention and newspapers, much derided by all and sundry of late, matter a great deal to sponsors. Trump and Allen don't hide from expressing what's on their mind and this means column inches.

Allen today faces Marco Fu, a player he elected to lump in with his general view that cheating was a Chinese trait at the Crucible. Amid his various pronouncements before the event was the warning that Fu should not treat this as a grudge match because there will only be one winner (Allen).

He speaks from experience. Allen's derogatory comments about Stuart Bingham before their meeting at last year’s Australian Open resulted in victory for Bingham.

Fu came within a frame of winning this title four years ago and he has been one of this season’s heaviest scorers, but he remains maddeningly inconsistent.

In the first round today Trump faces Mark Joyce, a player with genuine reason for complaint but who has made none.

Joyce will enter to Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing,’ a reference surely to the ordeal he went through just after reaching the UK Championship quarter-finals two years ago.

Out celebrating with pals in Birmingham city centre, Joyce was violently attacked and his injuries severely affected his ability to even get down and strike the ball.

So it’s good to see him in York. The road back has been tough, particularly down the end of the game where’s there’s little prize money. But he really is still standing.

So too is Steve Davis, who holds a record six UK titles and commands the respect of everyone in the game.

It’s not only Sir Steve’s ability to turn up results some 34 years into his professional career that’s impressive but that he retains a boyish love for snooker. Perhaps this is the key to it all.

He beat Ali Carter, his opponent today, at last season’s Welsh Open, although Carter was in a bad way health wise then.

Bingham has been on a roll of late, winning the Premier League, and faces an adopted Essex boy in Jack Lisowski, a former flat mate of Trump and a dangerous young player.

I spoke to Jack after he’d been thrashed by Neil Robertson at the PTC Grand Finals last season. He was furious with his performance and that he’d allowed himself to be overawed by the occasion, and vowed not to let it happen next time he was on TV in a big event. Well, this is next time.

This morning’s matches see Shaun Murphy, the 2008 UK champion, face Robert Milkins and Mark Davis, at long last a top 16 seed, up against fast improving Chinese Cao Yupeng.

The main surprise at a very well attended Barbican yesterday was Ding Junhui’s defeat to Ryan Day, though this can’t be classed as a huge shock.

Stephen Maguire made three centuries in as many frames in beating Fergal O’Brien. Once upon a time this would have been considered remarkable. The second time it ever happened was when Doug Mountjoy did it in the UK final 24 years ago.

Now it feels like just another day at the snooker.



So the UK Championship is here with six matches to kick off day one at the Barbican Centre in York.

The last time Ding Junhui played Ryan Day, earlier this year, he lost his 9-5 lead and was beaten 10-9 by the Welshman in the first round of the World Championship.

Ding then proved his English was improving by letting slip some choice Anglo Saxon at the post match press conference, for which he was fined.

Stephen Hendry said in his BBC preview that Ding was a much better player than his ranking, which I think most people would agree with. He’s won this title twice before but does seem to be very inconsistent. Day, though, is coming to York off the back of a long and ultimately disappointing 5-4 defeat to Dave Harold in the German Masters qualifiers yesterday.

John Higgins, a three times winner, starts things off against Michael Holt, who yesterday did qualify for Berlin.

I was in Bournemouth in 1998 when Higgins won his first UK title amid a backstage atmosphere so politically poisonous that wearing a gas mask was advisable. What golden days they were.

John was a young man then, just 22 but already world champion. It was before marriage or fatherhood.

In fact, he got married just after he won the UK in 2000 and it took him ten more years to win it again but he heads to York in great form and as one of the handful of favourites.

Holt has beaten him twice, including in a PTC final, but Higgins has won their TV meetings.

Liang Wenbo impressed me in qualifying and played well yesterday but was beaten 5-3 by Graeme Dott in the German prelims.

Liang was a quarter-finalist in the UK Championship three years ago before his form collapsed. He faces Barry Hawkins, back in the top 16 at last, today and has every reason to feel confident of causing an upset.

Fergal O’Brien is appearing in the final stages of the UK Championship for the first time in nine years. In that 2003 event he ended the remarkable record of Mark Williams, who had successfully negotiated his opening round match in 48 consecutive ranking tournaments.

Fergal endured a late and ultimately disappointing evening last night when he lost in the German Masters. He has never beaten Stephen Maguire, who played so brilliantly to sweep to the title in York in 2004.

Tonight, young Michael White plays what must rank as the biggest match of his career against Mark Selby.

White has been very impressive this season, qualifying for the final stages of three of the first five ranking events. However, the TV set up is new to him and he can be forgiven for being nervous.

Selby, whose best effort in this tournament was a semi-final place in 2007, is usually pretty reliable in early round matches but a shock can’t be completely discounted.

Today’s other match sees Dott face Martin Gould, who may feel less pressure now he is out of the top 16 than he clearly did while he was part of the elite.

The BBC’s network coverage starts at 1pm, with one table on the red button from 11. Eurosport begin at 11.30 (all times UK) and there is online coverage too.

However you are watching, particularly if travelling to York, then enjoy the week. The UK Championship remains one of the jewels in the snooker crown and whoever wins this year will be joining an illustrious roll of honour.