The German Masters got underway yesterday with most of the favourites surviving but with Judd Trump dodging a bullet against James Wattana and John Higgins being eliminated by Peter Lines.

Berlin holds unhappy personal memories for Higgins. Two years ago, after winning his first match, he withdrew because his father was seriously ill, and subsequently passed away. It’s inevitable that being back at the same venue would serve as a poignant reminder.

This is not to detract from Lines’s win. He has beaten Higgins before, notably in Shanghai in 1999. Peter’s son, Oliver, is a very promising prospect himself and was rightly proud of his dad’s win yesterday.

Trump could have lost to James Wattana, a great player of years past who just failed to close out victory.

This would have been another major setback for Trump, whose form of late has not been good, but few would be surprised if, having avoided an early exit, he went on to have a good run. Sometimes a win or two is all that’s required to rediscover lost confidence.

Some players have complained about playing conditions. Neil Robertson described the outside tables as ‘unplayable’ and claimed they hadn’t even been tested. I was at the venue early yesterday morning where table fitters were in fact testing them but when a player wins a match and still complains they can hardly be accused of sour grapes.

Berlin itself seems a very friendly place. One member of our party left his phone in the backseat of a taxi and assumed that was the last he would see of it. In fact, the taxi driver, on finding said phone, made a detour back to the hotel to hand it back.

I arrived at the Tempodrom early, armed only with my GCSE German, which is basically only good for asking the way to the town hall, a fine place I’m sure but not strictly relevant to the business in hand.

I had difficulty making myself understood but was fortunate that Rolf Kalb, German Eurosport’s commentator, the master of ceremonies and Germany’s leading snooker evangelist, soon arrived to give me a tour of the venue.

It is a very impressive place. My only concern was how much of each match the audience could concentrate on with five tables in progress but I’m sure grown adults can cope with such a conundrum and it’s a much better layout than having partitions up everywhere.

This is the sort of venue you would want to come to and to come back to.

The local bars have had good business from the snooker fraternity and, in the course of journalistic duty, I have been reluctantly dragged to a couple myself. Inevitably, chat has turned to the new ‘flat’ structure.

“Many players are against it and an EGM will be called to put a stop to it,” was what one seasoned professional told me.

Actually, I’m not convinced such a vote would be carried by those against the move but then I’m not convinced World Snooker would even need to take any notice if it was.

I did try and point out to said seasoned professional that the players no longer run the sport and that the days of vote after vote to protect self interest were over but he had by then moved on to conspiracy theories about Ronnie O’Sullivan’s return and I was losing the will to live.

What yesterday proved was that most of the top players still win if they play their matches at the venue.

What sceptics of the new system, myself included, are concerned about is top players having to play in soulless cubicles before tournaments begin, which is of no commercial value to the sport at all, especially if they lose.

Anyway, all of that can wait. The actual snooker is far more interesting and there’s another busy day in prospect.

This morning Mark Williams and Michael Holt take their Twitter bromance to the main table while Mark Selby, who played yesterday as if there was a shot-clock, aims to continue his great run when he tackles Joe Perry on the TV table this afternoon.

The top 16 starts tonight, with the TV match to be decided later.



The German Masters, now in its third year, is a real high point of the snooker season.

This is because of one thing: the atmosphere. The Tempodrom in Berlin is perhaps the best venue since the old Wembley Conference Centre and German snooker fans lap up every single minute, enthusiastic but respectful of what they are watching.

The old Field of Dreams maxim - if we build it, they will come - doesn’t work everywhere but snooker is extremely popular in mainland Europe thanks to Eurosport and it’s remarkably popular in Germany.

Increasingly, it’s not only on TV where German fans can watch the top stars. They have two PTCs and this is the big one.

This year’s event will be busier than ever due to a tweak in the format. The top 32 came in at the last 64 stage and ten matches have been held over to Berlin. Of the top 16 players required to qualify, only Mark Davis failed to do so.

There are some less familiar faces making the trip. Michael Wasley is a young talent from Gloucester in his first season, who beat Peter Ebdon to qualify.

Fraser Patrick is an amateur but played in the qualifiers because the full quotient of professionals didn’t take their places in the draw.

Martin O’Donnell coaches amid the plush surroundings of the Royal Automobile Club in London and provides the last 64 opposition for Mark Williams.

In addition, there are some players in Berlin who have reached or are approaching veteran status: Jimmy White, James Wattana, Alan McManus, Anthony Hamilton, Dave Harold and Nigel Bond.

The first two stagings of the German Masters produced excellent finals. Williams edged Mark Selby 9-7 in 2011. Last year, Ronnie O’Sullivan produced a great comeback to win a great match, 9-7 against Stephen Maguire.

Again, these matches were better because of the environment in which they were played. Players respond to enthusiastic crowds. It makes a match more of an occasion.

Eurosport’s coverage starts on Wednesday, contrary to what is stated in some listings.

I’ll be in Berlin and am very much looking forward to sampling the German snooker boom first hand.



The World Snooker Academy in Sheffield will no longer be used for qualifying matches and PTCs next season.

The space upstairs at the English Institute of Sport was originally used for practice and coaching by the WPBSA led by Sir Rodney Walker but this did not make the association money.

Barry Hearn was lumbered with the facility and has used it for qualifying but it isn’t particularly popular with players, not least because there is hardly any room for spectators and there is thus a sterile atmosphere.

There is also only room for eight tables, so the PTCs saw many late nights as matches overran.

A new venue is being scouted for next season large enough to accommodate more tables and space for an audience.

With the new system of everyone coming in at the last 128 stage, it is assumed that some tournaments will have a round or two played at such a venue.

The qualifiers have pitched up in various unglamorous locales down the years. The most famous was the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool, whose large ballroom saw a bewildering array of names and matches.

In the open era is was graced by the teenage Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, as well as many players who were never quite good enough, some who were but who preferred the Marriner’s pub over the road and fading greats such as Alex Higgins.

Hereford, Burton-on-Trent, Newport...their leisure centres got good use out of the WPBSA, as did the two rooms at Pontin’s in Prestatyn used for qualifying.

So where next? Of course, there is already a first class facility, the South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester, but it has already been announced that the staging of PTCs here will not continue.

I’ve heard various towns mentioned and some have pressed the case of Preston Guild Hall, former home of the UK Championship, which has a first class arena in which spectators on the upper tier can walk round and watch whichever match they choose.

Wherever it is it’ll have to be spacious. First rounds next season will comprise 64 matches. I understand the first qualifier, for the Wuxi Classic, will be from May 28-30 (dates provisional, don’t book holidays without checking with World Snooker).

To most players, the specific location is less important than the quality of the facilities and the playing conditions.

But wherever the qualifiers end up, room for spectators is a must. Qualifying matches by and large don’t draw big crowds but any atmosphere is better than none at all.



Jason Mohammad will replace Rishi Persad as the BBC’s second presenter at the World Championship as Persad is off to join Channel 4 Racing.

Mohammad, who will also be the new presenter of Final Score, hosts a daily show on BBC Radio Wales and is a regular presenter of rugby for the BBC.

He follows in a long line of BBC ‘second men.’

There was David Icke, who in the 1980s was David Vine’s able deputy and who nowadays believes the world is run by 12 foot shape-shifting reptiles.

There was Tony Gubba, a durable all rounder currently doing his best to make Dancing On Ice sound important.

There was Eamonn Holmes, now a well remunerated presenter of Sky News and ITV’s This Morning whenever Phil and Holly can’t be bothered.

There was Dougie Donnelly, probably the best of them all with a particular skill for interviewing. Dougie now travels the world commentating on golf.

There was Ray Stubbs, a solid BBC pro who started as a member of the production team and who now presents live football for ESPN.

There was Garry Richardson, sports presenter on Today whose yearly task at Wimbledon is to harass Andy Murray for an interview on the practice courts.

There was Matt Smith, now ITV’s no.2 football presenter.

When Vine retired in 2000, his place as main presenter was filled by Hazel Irvine, one of sports broadcasting's genuine professionals. However, not even Hazel can front every hour of coverage so Mohammad will make his debut at the Crucible.

It’s a harder job than it looks. What viewers don’t see, or more accurately hear, is the constant stream of noise coming down the presenter’s earpiece while they are on air. This is often irrelevant and frequently baffling but the trick is to take in the relevant information while still talking to camera or interviewing.

Vine was a master at making the whole thing seem perfectly natural but, like Irvine, all the work had been done before the programme began: research, double-checking facts, talking to the right people.

The Ortis Deley fiasco at Channel 4’s coverage of the World Athletics Championship in 2011 proves what happens when these basic procedures are not followed.

I don’t know Jason but I wish him good luck. They are long hours at the Crucible and there are some late nights but the snooker community always gives newcomers a warm welcome and he’ll find it a fun, if tiring, 17 days.



The first incarnation of the Shootout in Blackpool two years ago was a success.

It entertained the paying public, provided Sky Sports with very good audience figures and gave the players a chance to let their collective hair down over what was a bit of well paid fun.

There was all manner of nonsense talked afterwards about how the rules should be adapted for the World Championship but this was soon forgotten when proper snooker soon returned into view.

Last year’s staging of the Shootout wasn’t quite as entertaining, but that’s the thing with novelties: they soon wear off.

This season’s Shootout, sponsored by Betfair, begins this evening with new rules. Matches will still be ten minutes long but rather than the first five minutes having a 20 second shotclock and the last five one of 15 seconds, it will now be 15 seconds for the first five minutes and 10 seconds for the last five.

This risks making the players look pretty stupid. One of the appeals of snooker is the skill on show but there is precious little time under this format to even get into position to play, let alone execute the shot correctly.

The rules were altered at the insistence of Sky, who felt players were guilty of running the clock down last year. Even if this is true, it is one of the inevitabilities of having a timed match.

The Shootout is a piece of entertainment. It’s an ever-changing cast of players competing for the £32,000 first prize. However, it is only really compelling when matches go close.

It’s better in my view than Power Snooker, of which little has been heard of late, even though a date for an event was added to the World Snooker calendar for March, but shouldn’t really be taken seriously – either within snooker circles or by those who really, really, really want everyone to know how much they dislike something on television that they are apparently forced to watch/tweet about all night.

One player I spoke to last week had it about right: ‘I’m going to go up there, have a few beers and enjoy myself.’

And what is wrong with that?

That said, Neil Robertson isn’t playing and Judd Trump, who recently said snooker audiences should be more like those at darts, hasn’t entered the one event where this already happens.

Blackpool is a party town and I trust a good time will be had by all.

Those for whom it holds little appeal only have to wait a few days until the German Masters.



Mark Selby’s capture of a third Masters title tonight confirms him as the pre-eminent player of the season.

He has now won the campaign’s two biggest titles and returned to the head of the world rankings. If Selby wins the World Championship he will become only the fourth player to do so in a single season after Steve Davis (1987/88), Stephen Hendry (1989/90, 1995/96) and Mark Williams (2002/03).

Selby’s 10-6 victory over Neil Robertson looked likely after he opened an 8-3 lead. Robertson fought back well but Selby held on to become the sixth player to win the Masters three or more times – joining Cliff Thorburn, Hendry, Davis, Paul Hunter and Ronnie O’Sullivan on that list.

He had every right to be exhausted after his epic semi-final victory over Graeme Dott on Saturday night but in fact looked fresh from the off, winning the first three frames.

Robertson did not replicate the form he had conjured against Shaun Murphy in their semi-final, but Selby has become such a tough matchplayer that he now seems to have the measure of just about anyone.

He isn’t a flair player but neither was Davis. Neither, for that matter, is John Higgins. What they are, though, is successful winners. Selby, for all his ‘Jester’ image, is single-minded and fiercely competitive, as you have to be in sport.

I enjoyed my week at the Ally Pally. It was good to see some old pals from the circuit, though somewhat dispiriting to see how far out of favour the sport has fallen with the print media.

What has gone from backstage, mercifully, is the political back-biting of years gone past which turned friends against one another and at times led to a poisonous atmosphere.

There are still arguments and complaints but, in general, tournaments are friendly places to visit and it’s good to see that though many of the faces may have changed, the pressroom remains stuffed with reassuringly eccentric characters.

It was also good to spend some time chatting to former players turned pundits, such as John Parrott, Dennis Taylor and John Virgo, good company all and with stories stretching back decades.

The Masters began with complaints that there isn’t enough money in the game. These players remember a time when there was none at all, certainly not enough for top players to make a living without trudging round Britain undertaking exhibitions.

Maybe that’s why they spend most of their time backstage cracking jokes and reminiscing: they are grateful for the life snooker has given them.

Are today’s top players as grateful that they get to play the game for a living with financial rewards dwarfing those of most other professions? Not all are, I think, but Selby and Robertson seem to be.

The final wasn’t a classic but it was engrossing. There was some high quality snooker during the week but no higher than the finals of a decade ago.

I think there needs to be a word of caution introduced to counteract the seemingly unarguable statement that ‘standards are rising all the time.’

Are they? They are certainly very high, and there are an increasing number of players playing very well, but are they playing any better than O’Sullivan did when he won in 2005 and 2007? Or when Williams won in 1998 and 2003?

For that matter, when Hendry was winning his titles?

Finally, the people who deserve praise but rarely get it are those who come along to watch. There were good crowds all week, despite the bad weather and the relatively remote location.

As I left tonight I passed throngs of them, precariously walking down the hill into town through the snow. It was gone midnight but they had stayed to the end.

They are snooker fans, the very backbone of the sport, and contrary to media stereotyping, there are plenty of them in the UK. I was amazed by how many stayed behind on Saturday to watch the Selby v Dott match.

It’s just a shame that, yet again, the next generation were disadvantaged by an 8pm start which guarantees a late finish unless it’s a real runaway, which it rarely is.



While Robertson strode majestically into the Betfair Masters final, Selby’s path was more of a crawl as he completed his latest comeback at half past midnight to see off Graeme Dott.

He told me afterwards he hadn’t slept much the previous night and felt flat and ill at ease early on in the match. Dott on the other hand was flowing but the match turned when he failed to pot the black to lead 5-1.

This became hard match snooker – undoubtedly too hard for some tastes – but Selby got the job done. I hope for his sake he slept well last night because he’s going to need his stamina against Robertson, whose all round game was excellent in beating Shaun Murphy 6-2.

A couple of killer clearances made the difference as Robertson’s poise under pressure came to the fore once again. He has played well in all departments over the last week, potting well, scoring heavily and employing deadly safety when required.

These two have managed to avoid each other in tournament draws over the last few years but are at last meeting in a major final.

This is a battle of the snooker tough guys. No quarter will be asked or given.

But I feel Robertson has played the better snooker and he is one of the few players capable of contending with a determined Selby.

PREDICTION: Robertson 10-6



We’re down to the semi-finals at the Ally Pally...

A repeat of last year’s final, which Robertson won 10-6, between two players who could easily have been knocked out in the previous round.

Last year, Robertson beat Judd Trump at the semi-final stage, after which Trump made a few less than kind comments about his pace of play. This week, the Aussie said Trump had been right, and that he was looking to get less bogged down and play a more instinctive game.

This is typical Robertson: even when someone is having a go at him he remains positive. It’s one of his best attributes, this ability to always see the glass not so much half full as overflowing.

Murphy was defensive early on against John Higgins. It didn’t work so he attacked and he turned it around. There are few better playing this sort of snooker.

These two could serve up another Masters classic.

PREDICTION: Robertson 6-5

Selby arrived at his 3-0 lead over Mark Williams last night having made a highest break of 28. This was poor fare but Selby potted the key balls and, crucially, he kept his focus.

Towards the end he started to play better as he seeks to emulate Williams, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry in winning the big three titles in the same season.

Dott must have been surprised by how poorly Trump played. Everyone was, Trump included.

These two played in the recent European Tour final in Germany, which Selby shaded 4-3. They can both get stuck in when they need to but Selby is better when attacking and may have enough firepower to get the job done.




After no deciders at all last year we’ve had six from the first ten matches in this year’s Betfair Masters, including two more yesterday.

Neil Robertson played what he described as the best shot of his career when he potted a red when snookered and made a century to beat Mark Allen.

Last night, Shaun Murphy roared back from 4-1 down to edge John Higgins 6-5, proving once again that there are few better in full attacking mode.

Will the pattern continue today?

Trump dodged a Barry Hawkins-sized bullet in the first round while Dott laboured to see off his fellow Scot Stephen Maguire.

Neither man was at their best but came good when it mattered, particularly Trump, who finished off in style with a century.

The last time they met, in China last season, it was Dott who went for everything when 4-1 down. The strategy almost worked before Trump won 5-4.

There’s nothing flash about Dott. He isn’t trying to project any sort of image. What you see is what you get: an honest, hard working and at times very tough match player.

Trump has the flair but Dott has the will to win on the big stage. Even so, I feel the Juddernaut will roll on.


I think Williams’s slump in form and confidence can be traced back to his 10-9 defeat from 9-7 up to Selby in the 2011 Shanghai Masters final, the red/pink controversy and all.

Williams was poor against Matthew Stevens and claimed afterwards that he had dragged him down.

Selby was inspired in recovering from 5-1 down to see off Stuart Bingham 6-5, producing if anything better snooker than he mustered in winning the UK Championship last month.

Selby has great respect for Williams but will seek to exploit any repeat of the weaknesses so apparent in the Welshman’s game in the first round.

It will take a turnaround in form for Williams to remain on target for a third Masters title.




Robertson could easily be out but staged a great rearguard action to come from 5-3 down to edge Ding Junhui on the opening afternoon.

The Aussie, a big match player if ever there was one, showed plenty of grit to steal Sunday’s headlines but Allen’s performance suggests he can make this a classic.

Allen was relieved to have won his first match in a BBC tournament in 13 months when he beat Mark Davis 6-2. He played well, too, starting with 136 in the first frame and has been relaxed around the venue ever since.

It’s one apiece in the Masters between them and it’s hard to see either running away with it. I tipped Allen for the title so had better stick with him.


Of the players left, Higgins is the real dangerman. He once again proved his supreme matchplay skills by shrugging off losing two black balls frames he should have won against Ali Carter to beat him 6-3.

Murphy repelled a late rally from Ricky Walden. Afterwards he admitted he was having a few problems closing matches out.

Murphy has a good record against Higgins but will need to start well tonight. Otherwise, Higgins has to be favourite.

PREDICTION: Higgins 6-3 



Another engrossing day at the Betfair Masters saw Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy join the quarter-final line-up with the first round to be completed today.

We saw some exemplary sportsmanship from Ricky Walden last night. After getting the snooker he needed in the tenth frame against Murphy he could force a re-spot but, on the blue, committed a foul on the black unseen by anyone else and owned up.

Murphy, who had led 4-1, potted the blue to ensure his 6-4 victory and a meeting with John Higgins in the last eight.

I was amused by the way Twitter seemed to think Murphy should be carried shoulder high around London for telling a security guard that the ‘press could wait’ while he signed autographs in the arena.

In fact, much of the press had already left having filed the story of the day – Trump’s victory over Barry Hawkins – hours earlier.

Good on Shaun for wanting to sign as many as possible but the arena is the wrong forum for autographs because it is unwieldy with lots of people clamouring without any control.

If players want to sign autographs World Snooker can set up a stand in the foyer where, in proper British tradition, people can queue up, 15 minutes or so after play, which would give the players time to fulfil their media commitments. This has happened at many venues down the years.

Trump wore a pair of fancy shoes which, inevitably, were unsuitable for playing snooker in and which he had to change after two frames.

He was in trouble trailing Hawkins 5-3 but, as Neil Robertson had against Ding Junhui on the opening day, toughed through. Indeed, like Robertson, Trump made a winning break from the Hawkins break-off in the decider.

This was a very classy finish and I think an important win for Trump’s overall confidence.

And so to today...

This match seems like a step back in time bearing in mind these Welshman played in the world final 13 years ago.

Neither has set the world alight of late and Stevens has in fact won only one match in the Masters since he won the title in 2000.

Williams, a twice champion, is looking for his first major title since capturing the 2011 German Masters.

I think this will be close and, if it is, I fancy MJW to prevail.

PREDICTION: Williams 6-5

Selby comes into the Masters, which he has won twice, as the man in form having won the UK Championship and the recent European Tour event in Germany.

Bingham was ill over the Christmas period, which affected his ability to practice. He was relegated from the second group of the Championship League last week.

However, Selby’s last two outings in the Masters have not been successful, losing first round to Mark King two years ago and in the quarter-finals to Murphy last season.

He will want to put that right tonight and has the confidence right now to do so.





Despite some naive observations on Twitter about prize money, Trump remains an obvious fans favourite due to his eye-catching style of play. However, it wasn’t very eye-catching at the UK Championship and two fifth placed finishes at the Championship League last week don’t exactly scream a man in form.

Well, the truth is most top players have peaks and troughs in form in these increasingly long seasons and there’s no reason to assume Trump won’t get it all back together soon.

Hawkins is back at the Masters after a six year gap. His Australian Open success was six months ago but he can be a very heavy scorer and now has a title to prove he can mix it with the best.

But I just get the feeling that the Masters is going to see Trump coming back into the groove.



Walden’s results have not been hugely encouraging since his Wuxi Classic triumph earlier in the season. Murphy has been consistent without winning a title, coming up short to Mark Selby in last month’s UK Championship final.

Walden won their match at the UK Championship last season, thus proving that, on his day, he has the measure of the very top players.

Murphy, though, rarely seems to lose early in tournaments, indeed often starts really impressively.

PREDICTION: Murphy 6-3



This is the 39th staging of the Masters and the tournament has aged well judging by the first day’s play yesterday.

I’d better start by saying something nice about Neil Robertson as he reads the blog and took exception to me calling him a grinder in a match in which he was grinding earlier in the season.

Robertson trailed Ding Junhui 5-3 and would surely have lost 6-4 had Ding got on a red from a split in frame ten. He didn’t and Robertson launched a gutsy comeback, eventually winning the decider in a single visit from Ding’s break-off in the decider.

This was snooker of the very highest quality, an exciting match played in front of a near capacity Ally Pally crown.

What struck me was how broad an audience it was, encompassing all ages and backgrounds. In a way, this is snooker’s problem. Its audience is so broad that sponsors find it hard to target any particular social group, unlike in sports regarded as more middle class like golf and tennis.

This is why Judd Trump and others are wrong to say the snooker audience should become more like those at darts. If snooker is to attract the prize money levels Trump wants then going downmarket is entirely the wrong strategy. Blue chip companies want to appeal to crowds they feel have money to spend, namely on their products. Football began to attract these companies when it started catering to the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ as Roy Keane famously once put it.

Also, it’s a fallacy to suggest that because the crowd is silent that they aren’t involved in the match. Quite the opposite is true: they are silent precisely because they are involved in it.

I was watching the wrapt faces yesterday as they hung on every ball of the Robertson-Ding match. Their silence helped add to the tension and drama, not detract from it. There were a number of kids in the audience plus plenty of people in their 20s, the very people we are told time and again that don’t like snooker.

The sport suffers from great prejudice and misrepresentation but anyone at the Masters yesterday can see it is in very good health.

So to today...


Higgins and Carter were the respective winners of the two groups of Championship League snooker last week and they both played very nicely indeed.

But the Ally Pally is of course a different setting to Crondon Park and it’s a case of reproducing that form on a much bigger stage.

Higgins has a poor record in a tournament he has nevertheless won twice. In 18 previous Masters appearances he has lost ten times in the first round.

Why is this? Some players don’t settle in a particular venue. This though is a relatively new home for the Masters and Higgins reached the semi-finals a year ago.

Carter has only beaten him twice and though he is playing well, Higgins on form is so tough to beat.

PREDICTION: Higgins to win 6-3


Everyone is waiting for Maguire to win another big title. Most would agree that he’s too good for it not to happen soon.

He knows Dott well and he also knows that the former world champion returned to some sort of form by reaching the last European Tour final in Germany.

But Dott’s general form has not been good for the last year and he was deeply disappointed by how things were going when he exited the UK Championship last month.

There won’t be any quarter given here between these two competitive Scots, hardened match players both. But Maguire has to start favourite.

PREDICTION: Maguire to win 6-2



So the Betfair Masters is upon us at the Alexandra Palace.

There’s no hiding place in this tournament: just one table and the top 16 players in the world.

Let’s take a look at today’s matches…


A brutal opener, this, for both players featuring as it does the last two winners of the title.

Ding is suffering for his inconsistency by failing to secure a top eight place and thus facing one of the top eight in the first round. But this draw does Robertson no favours either because, on song, Ding is as good as anyone.

Defending champions are always under pressure on the opening day. Robertson was when he lost 10-8 to Judd Trump in the first round of the 2011 World Championship. The defending champion has lost on the first afternoon of the Masters for the last two years.

Robertson, though, is a first rate match player, calmness personified when the pressure comes on. Even so, any weaknesses in his game will surely be pounced on. Ding is a hard player to predict but after first round defeats in all of the big three tournaments in 2012 it’s about time he came good again.



Davis is making his second appearance in the Masters, ten years after his first. He has enjoyed a terrific couple of years in which he has beaten top players and produced the goods on television.

Allen is a feisty talent from Northern Ireland who reached the Masters semi-finals two years ago. His game is formidable when he’s on song and after a first round exit at the UK Championship he’ll be looking to make amends here.

I think it’s only a matter of time before he wins one of the big three and wouldn’t be surprised if it was this week.




The enduring appeal of the Masters comes from the fact it isn’t just another ranking event. This is just for the elite, the top 16 in the world.

This is a snooker jungle where the big beasts roam. The roll of honour, which dates back to 1975, reads like a pantheon of the greats.

The Masters came about because Clive Everton was at the time managing a squash player, Jonah Barrington, and went to see Peter West and Patrick Nally, who ran a consultancy specialising in the then newish world of sports sponsorship.

They were pitching for the Gallaher tobacco sponsorship account, which included Benson and Hedges. Clive suggested a snooker tournament as an idea which may appeal to B&H, West and Nally won the account and the Masters was born.

That first final, in which John Spencer beat Ray Reardon, went to a deciding frame re-spotted black.

So too did the 1998 final, in which Mark Williams defeated Stephen Hendry. This is the most exciting conclusion to any final I’ve ever seen. It is slightly alarming to think it is 15 years ago because it feels like a couple of years since Mark potted the black after Hendry had missed a tricky pot across the table.
Wembley Conference Centre went mad. Alan Chamberlain, the referee, must have gone hoarse trying to shut the crowd up during the closing stages.

Because that’s the other unique aspect of the Masters: it’s in London. At Wembley they were vociferous with small sections just bang out of order.

I remember Hendry once losing to Ken Doherty and telling Jim Elkins, who ran the tournament for sponsors B&H, that he would never play there again (he did, incidentally).

These were the days when snooker was endlessly puffing on a cigarette, ingesting the vast fortunes tobacco companies were giving the game to showcase their dubious products.

Snooker was spoilt rotten. B&H used to employ someone solely to keep the pressroom fridge stocked up and to ferry drinks and chocolate bars to hacks who were unable to stand up and walk the few metres to help themselves.

I once left this gilded cage to venture into something called ‘the arena’ and watch Jimmy White play Ronnie O’Sullivan amid a thunderous atmosphere in which White reasserted his claim to be the Wembley darling.

He only won the Masters once, in 1984, a tournament remembered for Kirk Stevens’s stylish 147 in their semi-final.

In the 1980s, it wasn’t, for once, Steve Davis who dominated but Cliff Thorburn, who won three Masters titles.

Hendry arrived in 1989 and promptly won five successive titles, losing finally 9-8 to Alan McManus in the 1994 final.

Like Hendry, O’Sullivan has appeared in nine Masters finals, including a 10-3 demolition of Ding Junhui in 2007.

He also lost an incredible final in 2006, on the final black to a superhuman John Higgins clearance, one of the undoubted highlights among the many the Masters has produced over four decades.

But the person most associated with the tournament in the last decade is Paul Hunter. At a time in which the sport began to struggle, with tobacco cash about to be stubbed out, Hunter lit up the Wembley stage with three deciding frame wins after comebacks.

I was there in the press conference when he suggested ‘putting plan B into operation’ with girlfriend Lyndsey had been a key factor in his recovery from 6-2 down to Fergal O’Brien in 2001.

It was a throwaway remark but seemed to cement him as a man of the people, for whom snooker was not the everything.

The game still misses Paul, as it misses Alex Higgins. The Masters will miss White, Hendry and O’Sullivan but ticket sales for this year’s Alexandra Palace extravaganza are already up on last season and snooker, as it always has, will find new stars to fashion future memories.

Back when he beat Hendry on the re-spot, Williams was a cheeky 22 year-old. He’s now a cheeky 37 year-old and the second oldest player in this year’s tournament.

This year’s first prize, £175,000, is the highest since he won the title for a second time ten years ago.

This befits the stature of the Masters: a tournament steeped in history, blessed by great champions and ready for more magical snooker.



The BBC’s decision to extend its contract to show the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters is good news for snooker in the UK.

The sport’s profile in its traditional home is maintained by having exposure on terrestrial television.

The BBC first broadcast snooker in black and white before Pot Black in 1969 brought the game into living rooms in full colour.

It led to a boom which in turn created the professional circuit, so snooker has much to thank the BBC for.

They used to show five network tournaments, now it is down to three. The new deal gives the BBC an option to show a fourth from 2014.

The BBC is a public service broadcaster so sport is one of the things it should be showing but it has been outbid in recent years by Sky Sports and others.

The snooker deal is good for them for another reason: 25% of its output has to be produced by independent production companies. The snooker is produced by IMG. Snooker Extra exists solely for this reason.

The new BBC deal is likely to ensure that the Crucible will continue to host the World Championship until 2017, bringing it to 40 years as the home of the sport’s premier event.

In this ever changing snooker world, it provides continuity and helps the game to maintain a stronghold in Britain, where it first flourished nearly a century ago.



The Championship League was established in 2008 quite by chance. World Snooker had failed to agree terms to stream the qualifiers with Perform, the world leaders in such things, and so Perform went to Barry Hearn, the Matchroom chairman, who within an hour or so had come up with the format for an entirely new event.

The idea was to create a tournament aimed squarely at the betting market. That first event was streamed on the websites of three bookmakers. It’s a sign of the success of the League that this year it will be shown on 31 betting websites.

For the players it’s a no-brainer: they get top quality match practice and are well paid in the process. They could also secure a place in the Premier League if they prevail in the winners’ group in March.

For many snooker fans the Championship League is the most mysterious event on the calendar because it is played behind closed doors. One of the reasons for this is that the venue, the Baronial Hall at Crondon Park in Essex, is too small to accommodate spectators, but they aren’t encouraged because the betting element could lead to jiggery and, indeed, pokery if punters were ahead of the stream.

Graeme Dott is the only top 16 player to turn down an invite this season. Players can request which group they are put into. Group one today is brimming with quality: Judd Trump, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Mark Davis, Martin Gould and Matthew Stevens.

Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire and Stuart Bingham join group 2 on Wednesday.

Not everyone is a fan of this event but let’s nail one canard well and truly: if it were scrapped it wouldn’t be replaced by any other events. It doesn’t work like that.

The Championship League pays for itself. It makes money for all involved. It isn’t diverting funds from other events, which would need their own sponsorship funds to operate.

The commentators, of which I am one, also get the most delicious breakfasts, which outranks any other considerations.

Full details of the tournament can be found on the official website.



The first tournament of 2013 is the Arcaden Munich Open, also known as Betfair European Tour event 6.

This is the end of the Players Tour Championship series. The top 25 at the end of the tournament will join the top seven from the Asian order of merit to contest the Grand Finals, which will be back in Galway in March.

There has already been pre-qualifying so a field of 32 will gather in Furstenfeldbruck including seven members of the game’s top 16 – Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott, Matthew Stevens, Ricky Walden and Mark Davis.

Maguire won this event last season. He began the current campaign by winning the first UK PTC and finishing runner-up in the second so was able to pick and choose which further events he played in to a greater extent than some other players.

Maguire faces Anthony Hamilton, sheriff of that well known snooker stronghold Pottingham, and a player it’s good to see back on our screens.

Anthony is one of the heaviest scorers the game has ever seen but never quite got his hands on a ranking title. His career hasn’t been helped of late by injury so it’s encouraging that he’s qualified. He’s also 34th in the order of merit so has a chance to make the finals.

It’s nice to see some younger faces too. Michael Wasley will meet Mark King while Kyren Wilson, an amateur, tackles Selby.

In addition there are three Chinese players in the field, plus an Indian and a Thai.

Who wins may depend on who has been practising over the festive period. The five previous European Tour titles have been won by Selby, Robertson, Mark Allen, Judd Trump and Ding Junhui, so it would be a surprise if another big name didn’t come away wit the trophy.

All matches will be live on British Eurosport, with extensive coverage also on Eurosport International. It all starts today at 12pm GMT.