Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Haikou World Open so far is that there haven’t been any surprises.

On recent form it was hardly a shock that Robert Milkins beat Mark Davis or Marco Fu defeated Mark Williams.

All the other seeded players won their last 32 matches, although Nigel Bond is in the last 16 because Ali Carter withdrew.

Of the 16 players remaining, only Milkins has thus far failed to win a ranking title. This is a high quality line-up.

Like an Agatha Christie story, you could make a good case for most of them. The likes of Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson are surely due a big title soon while John Higgins is looking to return to form, Stephen Maguire is trying to maintain the momentum of his Welsh Open victory and Judd Trump and Mark Selby continue their battle to be world no.1.

It’s fair to say the match that will capture most interest in Haikou itself will be Ding Junhui v Fu, a repeat of the 2011 Masters final.

Time was British snooker fans couldn’t watch tournaments from the Far East live. This event is on three channels – Eurosport1, Eurosport2 and ITV4.

Television snooker has come a long way from its humble black and white beginnings and is now broadcast on a multitude of cameras in high definition.

Tonight we learned we had lost one of the best cameramen the game has ever seen with the passing of Chas Lewis.

Chas was a big man with a big heart who worked for the BBC, Sky and many others and was much liked and respected. He had been ill for some time.

He worked across several sports and in other walks of television too. It was a mark of the esteem in which he was held that when he retired Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry went out into the Crucible arena to pose for pictures with Chas and one of his beloved cameras.



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s decision to defend his World Championship title is good news for snooker and, I suspect, good news for him.
O’Sullivan admitted to being bored during his sabbatical from tournament play. Competing in major events creates a buzz difficult to replicate in ordinary life or exhibitions.

A lucrative personal sponsorship deal with a vodka company would also have helped him make up his mind.
Whether O’Sullivan is the best player in the game is a point for argument but that he is the biggest draw is not.
This is why the media flocked to his press conference today. World Snooker say he is yet to formally enter the World Championship but he has until Thursday to do so.
For the event to have gone ahead without its defending champion would have been a blow. O’Sullivan has guaranteed media interest in the Crucible as the countdown to snooker's version of the greatest show on earth begins.
O’Sullivan’s decision is good news too for Judd Trump. As probable no.1 seed in O’Sullivan’s absence he would have been walking out to play on the first day with all the pressure that comes with that. Plus, most of the pre-event media attention would have been on him. Now it will all be on O’Sullivan.
I’m sure many players were hoping Ronnie would stay away. As he proved last year, he is still a potent force when his mind is finely tuned towards snooker.
On the face of it, it seems unlikely that he can come back with barely any match snooker all year and defend his world title but O’Sullivan’s whole life has revolved around the unlikely.
For a long time he has seemed to feel that not playing snooker was the answer to his problems but time away has convinced him that he does indeed love the game and the challenges it presents.

Snooker has survived without him. Ticket sales and TV viewing figures have gone up this season.
But O’Sullivan is a fascinating figure whose presence in tournaments adds to the general intrigue. Nobody, sometimes not even Ronnie himself, knows what he is going to do next.
It appears come April 20th he is going to play snooker again. The king across the water is coming home.
If he wins a fifth world title it will surely be his greatest ever triumph.


The first day of the Haikou World Open was largely underwhelming but this was down primarily to poor scheduling.

This is not just down to the wildcard round. There were two first round matches played but no stardust.

Perhaps World Snooker could explain why they didn’t put a big name on. They were all there. They have to be for pre-tournament promotion.

So why not put Judd Trump or Ding Junhui or Neil Robertson or John Higgins or Mark Selby on the first day and launch the tournament with some momentum?

Then again, this is a preview for what could happen next season under the new system. You toss aside your star names at your peril. Television sport isn’t about some nebulous concept of ‘fairness’ but the entertainment it provides for those watching on television.

The game’s big hitters – and we all know who they are – are the ones who regularly provide this.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has provided plenty and will today take advantage of his own box office appeal by tying in an announcement as to whether he will play in the World Championship with publicity for the Snooker Legends exhibitions.

As I write this, ITV4 have just begun their coverage with the words – and this is a verbatim quote – “the only story in the world of snooker today concerns Ronnie O’Sullivan.”

This is an eccentric way to begin nine hours of live coverage of a tournament he isn’t in but I suppose reflects the interest in today’s press conference.

In the meantime, thankfully the big names are entering the fray today on Hainan Island.

Trump in particular will be keen to beat Mark Joyce, who beat him 6-5 from 5-2 down in the first round of the UK Championship last December.

This was the start of a poor run of form for Trump but he played much better at the Welsh Open and has returned to the top of the rankings.



It hasn’t been the best sporting weekend for Bradford with the city’s football team losing 5-0 to Swansea in the League Cup final at Wembley.

Today Bradford’s Simon Bedford takes centre stage at the Haikou World Open.

Bedford, 37, beat some good players just to qualify: Pankaj Advani, Peter Lines, Gerard Greene and Ken Doherty.

He is from a snooker playing family. Indeed, he once made a maximum break against his own mother.

Bradford is a strong snooker area. Their own Joe Johnson won the World Championship in 1986 and James Wattana was for many years stationed there when at the top.

Bedford played at the Crucible 15 years ago but never quite hit the heights, with a highest ranking of 63.

So days such as this will be special for him, not least after missing the back half of last season after sustaining injuries in a car accident.

He plays Lu Haotian, the 15 year-old who reached the quarter-finals of the International Championship as a wildcard last year.

In today’s other TV matches, Ricky Walden, the Wuxi Classic champion, faces Peter Ebdon, who defends his China Open title next month.

Mark Davis tackles Robert Milkins, a semi-finalist in Haikou last season and Alan McManus will hope to continue his resurgence against Lin Shuai.



The Haikou World Open is the fourth of five world ranking events staged in China this season.

The previous three were won by Ricky Walden, John Higgins and Judd Trump. In other words, there’s no point looking for a pattern because there isn’t one: the last 11 ranking titles have been won by 11 different players.

Why this should be is a matter for debate. Some would argue the standard at the top is so high that titles are naturally shared around.

Except, it clearly hasn’t been as high this season as in previous years. Neil Robertson even said at the Welsh Open that several tournament winners this season wouldn’t have been challenging for titles five years ago.

The truth is, players like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were exceptional in every sense, in particular in their drive and desire to be the best. They didn’t want to be pals with anyone or follow the herd in any way. They were single minded and devoted only to winning. How true is this of those who have followed them?

More to the point, what does it matter?

Mark Allen clearly didn’t enjoy his trip to Hainan Island last year, although he probably enjoyed the £75,000 winners’ cheque he brought back.

This fiercely talented Northern Irishman has the snooker chops to defend the title but there is, as usual, ten or so other players in with a realistic shout.

Stephen Maguire is one of them, having just ended a five year wait for a major title at the Welsh Open. If he wins again this week he will be the first player to win back-to-back ranking titles in the same season since Ronnie O’Sullivan won the European Open and Irish Masters in 2003 – ten years ago.

Ding Junhui’s success in China is pretty much limited to the China Open. He plays with the pressure of expectation, which remains because there have been no other Chinese players come through to realistically challenge for titles.

There are all sorts of factors which can affect a tournament such as this: the playing conditions, jetlag and various off table issues.

Eurosport will broadcast the World Open in 60 countries. In one of these, the UK, it will also be on ITV4.

This is the first ranking tournament ITV has shown in 20 years. The last was the 1993 British Open, although they have shown various smaller events in between. Their renewed interest in snooker is to be welcomed.

However, ITV are not broadcasting any evening highlights which would best showcase the tournament to those who are at work during the day so it remains to be seen what impact their coverage will make to those outside the snooker bubble, even though they are employing the two best commentators in the game, Clive Everton and Neal Foulds.

Ali Carter, the German Masters champion, has withdrawn, citing illness. Hopefully everyone else will make the long trip to Haikou and deliver another entertaining week for the sport.


Joe Jogia has made a series of allegations concerning match fixing in snooker in an interview with the Sunday Mirror.

Jogia was banned for two years following an investigation into unusual betting patterns surrounding his match against Matt Selt in the Shootout last year.

He has since been contacting journalists seeking payment for a story detailing his claims about historic corruption in the game. The Sunday Mirror does not state how much Jogia received for the interview.

Jogia effectively admits breaching WPBSA rules on failing to report approaches to fix matches. The governing body confirms he did not pass on any information about match fixing to them.

But this is not to say his claims should be dismissed. Snooker, like any other sport but no more than any other sport, has suffered from low level fixing and cheating, usually in matches ‘below the radar’ in qualifiers and lesser tournaments.

Players who often haven’t earned much money are particularly susceptible to match fixing.

The rise of internet betting makes all sports vulnerable to corruption. It is only relatively recently that snooker has taken the problem seriously enough.

Jogia said: “You know that the people who put the bets on and hang around with these players are not nice people.

He is certainly right about this. On the periphery of the game there have been many dodgy characters down the years who have got their claws into players, often under the guise of ‘manager’. Players have historically been spectacularly bad at seeing through these people.

World Snooker should introduce proper licensing of managers and stop allowing players and others to just sign in anyone they like at tournament venues.

Players know the difference between right and wrong. They know cheating is wrong. But many of them are extremely naive and easily manipulated, usually by people in which they have put misplaced trust.

The bedrock of any sport is its integrity. There isn’t a sport in the world that is 100% clean but that does not mean that each of them should not aspire to be clean.

Snooker faces the same challenges as football, cricket and others when it comes to organised gambling rings, particularly in countries from which it is difficult to obtain sufficient information to make a case.

In Nigel Mawer, World Snooker has someone determined to both root out corruption and punish the offenders.

As Joe Jogia can testify.



When people look back, and they often do, at great World Championships, nobody ever mentions 1993.

The annual Crucible marathon is invariably remembered for its final. Nobody ever fondly recalls the 1993 final.

Well, with one exception: Stephen Hendry.

Ask Hendry for his personal best memory from his years of dominance and it isn’t his 1992 comeback win against Jimmy White or his capture of their decider in 1994.

It’s his win with a session to spare in between. In 1993, he was so much better than everyone else that the tournament became a procession. Hendry beat White 18-5. There was no late night drama, just a series of repeats to fill the BBC2 schedule (whatever the equivalent of 'Coast' was back then).

This was an exciting time to be young: John Major was prime minister, Eldorado had replaced Terry Wogan's chatshow and the rise of 2 Unlimited showed no signs of abating.

Against this life-affirming backdrop, a young Scotsman was dominating snooker.

The first thing to say about the 1993 World Championship is that the qualifiers were played closer to the previous year’s event, in September 1992.

This helped produce an eclectic field of players in some cases rarely seen since.

There was Spencer Dunn. There was John Giles. There was Shaun Mellish.

There was Karl Payne, a blond West Midlander who sported three different haircuts for his match against Martin Clark and later appeared on Stars in Their Eyes as Rick Astley.

There was also Ronnie O’Sullivan, just 16 when he qualified, who won ten matches to reach the Crucible.

O’Sullivan lost 10-7 in the first round to Alan McManus, a creditable performance given that McManus was one of the title favourites.

Indeed, on day one of the event, the BBC’s David Vine wrote his pick as to who would be champion in a sealed envelope to be revealed on the final day (there was no Twitter, indeed barely an internet).

McManus was his choice. BBC integrity still being highly prized in those days, Vine duly unsealed the envelope during the final, just before introducing a montage put together by the ‘back room boys’.

How much simpler these times were.

Because the qualifiers had been held months before the final stages, many of the players who made it to Sheffield were in fact out of form by the time the tournament began on April 17.

There were a slew of runaway victories in the first round with seven of the 16 matches finishing 10-4 or under.

Hendry ran through Danny Fowler 10-1. Fowler had been a dustman in a previous life and was later reported to be driving a pick-up truck on a maggot farm.

Steve Davis, still very much a contender, gained revenge on Peter Ebdon for his defeat in the first round the previous year but came unstuck against McManus in the last 16, although not before he made the highest break at the Crucible for the fourth and last time with his 144.

A Hendry-White final was again on the cards. White saw off Joe Swail, Doug Mountjoy, Dennis Taylor and James Wattana to reach his fifth world final.

Hendry reached the semi-finals having lost only 12 frames in three matches. In the last four, he faced McManus. To mark this all Scottish affair the players were led into the arena before one session by a lone bagpiper.

These days it would probably be some Herbert doing the Gangnam Style dance but there was no Youtube in 1993 and somehow we coped.

The second session proved key here. From 4-4, Hendry pulled away to lead 10-5 and won 16-9.

And so it was Hendry v White again, but this time there was no drama. Hendry won the first session 5-2 and the second 7-2. He won six of the seven frames on the third afternoon to leave the evening with no snooker at all.

He made three centuries and ten half centuries in the final. Hendry had made eight of the 35 centuries recorded in the final stages.

This is 20 years ago but of the 32 players who comprised the final stages, only seven – O'Sullivan, White, McManus, Davis, Ebdon, Nigel Bond and Tony Drago – are still on the circuit.

Two, Clark and Gary Wilkinson, now work for World Snooker’s tournament team. Many of the others have drifted away from snooker.

The 1993 World Championship wasn’t regarded as a vintage tournament. It doesn’t feature in lists of great snooker moments.

But it marked perhaps the high watermark of Hendry’s dominance of the game’s greatest event  and this is reason enough to remember it.



Stephen Maguire ended a five year major title drought with a 9-8 victory over Stuart Bingham in the BetVictor Welsh Open final in Newport tonight.

It is Maguire’s fifth ranking title and must feel like his sweetest, not just because of the five barren years it has followed but also because of the manner in which he finally achieved victory.

He was put through the emotional ringer all day. So too was Bingham. This was a classic, with high quality snooker and many twists and turns.

It proves that, whatever people say, snooker does not rest on the shoulders of a couple of superstars.

In fact, it stands or falls by the quality of entertainment and drama it can provide, whoever is playing. This final was as gripping as any we have seen all season.

Bingham had the clear psychological upper hand at 7-5 but failed to put away the 13th frame, which Maguire finally claimed on the black.

That gave the Scot fresh momentum and he grabbed the lifeline with both hands, forging 8-7 in front.

But pressure and nerves were by now growing and Bingham won a tense 16th frame to force the decider.

In the end he failed to make a plant and Maguire made a really good break to cross the winning line. The way he thumped the table in celebration showed how much it meant to him.

Stephen is actually incredibly laid back off the table. But when he gets out in the arena he wears his heart on his sleeve.

You would be tough if, like Maguire, you’d grown up with a tankful of baby sharks in your bedroom.

The key figure in his formative snooker years was his late grandfather, Paddy, who knocked down a wall between two rooms in his house to install a full sized table so young Stephen could practice there after school.

As a teenager, he practised with Stephen Hendry, a unique snooker education which must have brought his game on.

Maguire turned professional in 1999. His first ranking title came in 2004 at the European Open.

Within weeks at the end of that year he had beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan twice, first in reaching the British Open final and then en route to winning the UK Championship.

So well was Maguire playing at this time that O’Sullivan predicted he would “dominate snooker for the next ten years.”

He didn’t, but neither did anyone else. His victory tonight means the last 11 ranking events have each been won by a different player.

But Maguire always looked like he should belong in the winners’ circle. He has been knocking on the door for the last couple of years and it has finally opened.

Bingham was gracious as to be expected from one of the game’s genuine good guys. It wasn’t his night but he’ll be back for the next event, as enthusiastic as ever.

Finally, BBC Wales saw greater sense than the main network usually does by not only starting the final session at 7pm but by splitting the frames eight and nine.

This meant that though it was a relatively late finish it was still before 11pm rather than yet another midnight job.


I’m sceptical about ‘burnout’ in snooker but one player who will never cite it as a reason for poor results is Stuart Bingham.

Why? Because he loves playing. He really, really loves playing.

Bingham is the sort of guy who can’t pass a snooker club without going in if there’s a competition in progress.

In the dark old days when there were hardly any tournaments and ‘burnout’ would have been welcome – four years ago, in fact – Bingham was plugging away in pro-ams below the radar to fill his time between the big events.

Now he’s winning the big events. He’s won the Australian Open. He’s won the Premier League. He’s won two Asian Players Tour Championship titles. He was also runner-up in the Wuxi Classic.

It looked like he may have missed the boat against Ding Junhui in the Welsh Open semi-finals yesterday but finished brilliantly to come through in a decider.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to love their job as much as Stuart. This is one of the reasons so many in the game are happy to see him doing so well. Every sport needs its superstars but just as important are the dedicated foot-soldiers who are dedicated to the game and genuinely grateful for the opportunities it has given them.

Stephen Maguire has never sought the limelight but is back in a big final after his 6-4 victory over Judd Trump.

Trump led 2-0 but looked flat for the next five frames and only started playing well when on the brink of defeat, which eventually arrived in the tenth frame.

Maguire is looking for his first full ranking title victory since the 2008 China Open, a long time for him considering he had won four in four years up to that point.

I tipped him for the recent German Masters, which hardly did him any favours, but he seemed to me to be playing some good stuff, certainly toughened up by the Championship League and, on the law of averages, had to win one eventually.

Perhaps it will be today. Bingham, of course, will have other ideas.



Ding Junhui and Judd Trump would appear to be on a collision course in what would doubtless be a terrific BetVictor Welsh Open final but their respective opponents in today’s semi-finals are also big tournament winners with plenty to say about this weekend’s outcome.

Trump’s 17-15 win over Ding in the 2011 World Championship semi-finals was an engrossing, high quality affair. Few would complain about more of the same.

They each yesterday dominated their opponents early on. Trump hit Pankaj Advani hard and heavy to lead 4-0. He missed a red to the right centre on 59 a couple of balls from making it 5-0 and Advani creditably recovered to trail only 4-2.

Trump, though, was overall playing his best snooker of the tournament and duly completed the 5-2 win.

Ding’s 5-1 defeat of Robert Milkins was similar. He went 4-0 up before the interval dulled his focus. Milkins made a century to avert the whitewash before Ding’s good clearance to ensure his title defence continues.

The Chinese now faces Stuart Bingham, whose record against him is strong. Bingham came through yesterday 5-3 over Ken Doherty, who seemed to grow edgier as their match went on.

Trump is up against Stephen Maguire, a tough-as-old-boots battler who needed to be last night against Alan McManus.

This was an absorbing contest. Maguire had little luck, with in-offs and all sorts affecting him but McManus ultimately missed a yellow with a chance for 4-4 and Maguire cleared to reach the Welsh Open semi-finals for the third time in five years.

So Newport’s stage is set for the last four. Just one table and four players who have all won big titles.



Today the young, exciting star of his sport takes centre stage in the quarter-finals of the BetVictor Welsh Open.

That player is Pankaj Advani, the world billiards champion, who faces Judd Trump.

The 22-ball game has always played second fiddle for Advani but he was world amateur snooker champion a decade ago and has beaten three world champions in succession – Peter Ebdon, Shaun Murphy and Graeme Dott – to become the first Indian to appear in a world ranking tournament quarter-final.

Advani may in the future have to decide where his loyalties lie. Professional billiards currently has just one tournament, the World Championship, but there’s a good chance there will be more of a circuit next season and in the years ahead.

As for today he can look forward to a meeting with Trump, who played well yesterday without being put under much pressure by a below par Andrew Higginson.

Stuart Bingham made a great clearance to win the deciding frame against Neil Robertson. He’ll play Ken Doherty, who won the first of his two Welsh Open titles 20 years ago.

In that final, Doherty defeated Alan McManus, who rallied from 3-0 down to beat Joe Perry 4-3 last night.

McManus has always been dedicated to snooker. I commentated with him for Eurosport on last season’s World Championship. His stint was up at the end of the two-table phase and he went back to Scotland the next day and into the club to practice.

It’s not much fun for a former world no.6 to be stuck in qualifiers but it helps if you like the game and also show it respect, which McManus always has done.

He now faces Stephen Maguire, a fellow Scot who played really well from 2—1 down to beat the last remaining Welshman, Matthew Stevens, 4-2.

Ding Junhui, the defending champion, maintained his progress with a 4-2 victory over Mark Allen. There was a big moment in the third frame when, trailing 2-0 but poised to clear up, Allen suffered a thunderous kick. He recovered well to just a frame behind but Ding has looked cool all week and duly finished off nicely.

His quarter-final opponent is Robert Milkins, much improved in recent times having been 55th in the world rankings four years ago.

He is now in the 20s and playing with evident confidence, as he displayed in dispatching Sam Baird 4-2 last night with a couple of really good clearances.



Firstly some news at long last about Stephen Lee. World Snooker say he has a case to answer in relation to alleged match fixing at tournaments in 2008 and 2009 and it will be heard by Sports Resolutions UK at a date to be decided.

It has been a painstaking process for World Snooker to gather the evidence it needs to make a case. Lee has been suspended for several months. It is in everyone’s interests that his case is heard as quickly as possible.

His is a case built on genuine concerns from the bookmaking community. Yesterday, Shaun Murphy suffered from an allegation from a very modern menace: online trolling.

Some idiot suggested he had thrown his match against Pankaj Advani. Shaun would probably have been better advised not to draw attention to this but was understandably hurt by the accusation and was rightly defended by many in the sport.

This should have been an end to it but, unbelievably, some news organisations chose to make a story of it. ‘Murphy denies cheat accusations’ was one headline, which gave undue prominence to a complete non-story.

Shaun wasn’t accused by anyone important, just an anonymous nobody with no evidence or grounds to make such a claim. In ‘Eleanor Rigby’ Paul McCartney posed the question, ‘all the lonely people, where do they all belong?’

If he’d have waited forty years he’d have got the answer: the internet.

Trolls are people who didn’t get the lives they wanted and so target successful people they are jealous of rather than doing something about it. They’re easy to spot on Twitter: they usually don’t know the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ and list ‘banter’ as one of their hobbies.

Anyway, there are some good matches to look forward to today, the pick of which could be Ding Junhui v Mark Allen. They each played well in the previous round. Ding has made four centuries in the eight frames he has won at Newport.

Judd Trump dodged a Dominic Dale-shaped bullet, coming from 3-1 down to beat him 4-3.

Trump opined afterwards that players were deliberately slowing matches down to try and beat him. Actually, most players are slow compared to Trump.

Despite having been in something of a slump of late, he is about to replace Mark Selby as world nol.1 after Selby’s woeful display against Joe Perry.

It was strange, not least because he had played so well to beat Steve Davis in the previous round.

As I write this, Pankaj Advani has reached the quarter-finals having beaten Graeme Dott 4-1, his third successive victory over a world champion following wins against Peter Ebdon and Murphy.

Every credit to him. He is doing it the hard way and proving that all round cue sports knowledge and poise under pressure can make all the difference.

Doubtless the trolls already hate him.

Today is Valentine's Day, which means commentators get to use obvious phrases such as "there's no love lost between these two!!!" and, in the case of Stephen Maguire, who plays Matthew Stevens, "he'll be looking to break Welsh hearts!!!"

For Mark Williams, it's a February 14th baby as his wife is giving birth pretty much as we speak, more than ample consolation for his loss to Robert Milkins last night.



Snooker isn’t even Pankaj Advani’s no.1 sport but he produced an assured performance last night to see off Shaun Murphy 4-3 at the BetVictor Welsh Open in Newport.

The reigning world professional billiards champion played a tactically astute deciding frame to reach the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time.

Snooker, according to legend, was invented in India by British army officers in 1875 as they took shelter during the rainy season. Billiards has always been no.1 there but they now have two dedicated professionals in Advani and Aditya Mehta and there will very likely be a ranking event there next season.

Ten years ago, Ken Doherty beating John Higgins wouldn’t have been a shock but while Higgins remains a top player, Doherty has slipped down the rankings. Therefore, the Irishman’s 4-1 victory yesterday was a surprise.

It’s hard to explain where form goes. Higgins played about as well as he ever has to beat Judd Trump 10-9 from 7-2 down in the Shanghai Masters final last September but has not played as well since. He may still this season but following a first round exit in Berlin is clearly in a bit of a slump.

Sam Baird reached the last 16 of a ranking tournament for the first time with a 4-0 win over Gerard Greene, who seemed to be feeling the pressure of being favourite.

Don’t believe anyone who says psychology doesn’t play a part in snooker. It’s a massive part of the game. All these guys can play but mental fortitude is vital: shutting out self doubt and remaining positive. That’s what Advani did and he reaped the rewards.

Twenty years ago Doherty beat Alan McManus in the Welsh Open final and the Scot duly joined Doherty in the last 16 with a 4-2 win over Barry Hawkins, who missed a straight black to lead 3-1.

Today Trump returns to action against Dominic Dale, who he beat in the first round of both the UK and World Championships last season.

Ding Junhui, the defending champion, faces Mark King, runner-up in the Welsh 16 years ago.

Mark Williams, the only Welshman to win the title, is up against a similarly swift, attacking player in Robert Milkins.

And Mark Selby, the player of the season so far, tackles Joe Perry, who he beat recently at the German Masters.

Another busy day on the green baize beckons, then.



Surprises were thin on the ground on day one of the BetVictor Welsh Open but it was good to see Mark Williams, the only Welshman to win this title, playing better than he has of late.

“It wasn't the Mark Williams of old, he’s gone for good, but it’s the Mark Williams of a few years ago and I can still give anyone a game,” was the twice champion’s typically forthright view of it all.

Encouragingly for Williams, the long balls were going in. He looked confident and went for his shots.

Williams turns 38 next month. This is approaching veteran status but he is not yet over the hill. He can still be an intimidating presence when he’s floating imperiously around the table.

So too can Judd Trump, although his form these last two months has also been below par. He said after running through Mike Dunn in under an hour that all that had been lacking of late was luck.

Maybe this is a good way of looking at it, even if most impartial observers would suggest that there’s more to it than that. Stressing and worrying about poor results only adds to anxiety. Trump is young enough and certainly good enough to recover his poise quickly.

As players get older, mental scars do form. Trump is 23 and has much to look forward to, so a good run in Newport and recent reverses will be quickly forgotten.

The best performance of the day came from Mark Selby, who midway through the fourth frame of his eventual 4-0 defeat of Steve Davis had a pot success rate of 99%.

It’s true that Davis contributed to his own downfall but Selby’s week off since Germany seems to have left him refreshed and he cued quite superbly, a 144 total clearance the highlight.

Speaking of which...

Traditionally, when a round has been split between the non televised and televised phases it has been deemed to count towards the highest TV break prize. However, World Snooker now say Shaun Murphy’s 145 on Saturday night will only count towards the non-televised prize.

They could clear up the inevitable confusion by specifying stage one (qualifying) and stage two (venue) high break prizes and taking ‘televised’ out of the equation altogether.

After all, Murphy’s break was captured by liveworldsnooker.tv’s cameras whereas if Neil Robertson made a 147 this morning not a ball would be broadcast because the session isn’t being recorded.

This also exposes the folly of determining the match schedule weeks in advance rather than at the start of the tournament.

Robertson is the world no.3 and a former champion. He is playing Ian Burns, the rookie of the season so far. With all due respect, this is a more attractive match than Gerard Greene v Sam Baird, which will be televised this afternoon.

Why not change the order of play to suit the people paying for the tournament, i.e. broadcasters and, by extension, the viewers?

Anyway, one match that will be televised features two world champions, and I don’t mean John Higgins v Ken Doherty. It is Murphy’s meeting with Pankaj Advani, the reigning world billiards champion, which promises to be fascinating.

Advani is a cue sports legend in his native India and his mastery of the three ball game is evident in the thoughtful way he approaches snooker.

India is a coming nation. Talk is strong of a ranking event there next season. Advani and his compatriot, Aditya Mehta, are doing well this season and are both blessed with a good attitude aside from their obvious talents.

Success at the highest level in one sport is hard enough. Snooker may be Advani’s second sport but he has the chance this evening to make a name for himself in the 22-ball younger brother of billiards.



The BetVictor Welsh Open has something most tournaments do not: a history.

It was first staged in 1992, growing out of the old Welsh Professional Championship. The first winner was Stephen Hendry. In 1995, it provided the last ranking success for Steve Davis.

Paul Hunter won it at 19. John Higgins, like Hendry, has won it three times. Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and Ken Doherty have each won it twice.

There have been some terrific finals down the years: Higgins beating Stephen Lee 9-8 in 2000; O’Sullivan coming from 8-5 down to edge Davis in 2004 and then beating Hendry in a decider the following year. Mark Selby won from three down with four to play to beat O’Sullivan in 2008.

One of the most memorable Welsh Opens was in 2007, when Andrew Higginson came from the first qualifying round to within a frame of winning the title. Amid all the endless talk of ‘fairness’ that surrounds next season’s new format, Higginson proved what could be done if you keep your head down, work hard, try your best and, above all, win.

It got better and better for him that week: wins over Marco Fu, John Higgins, a 147 against Ali Carter, a semi-final win over Stephen Maguire and then a final against Neil Robertson. Higginson recovered from 6-2 down to lead 8-6 before Robertson beat him 9-8.

Carter was the highest profile casualty at the qualifiers, the German Masters champion going from playing in front of 2,500 enthusiastic snooker fans in Berlin to nobody at all in Sheffield.

Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Maguire, Stuart Bingham and Barry Hawkins were among those who made it through.

So too did an amateur, Gareth Allen, who made the most of his ‘lucky loser’ card awarded because not all professionals entered.

His reward? A meeting with Higgins tomorrow afternoon. This is the stuff of which snooker dreams are made.

From an unknown to one of the most recognisable faces ever to pick up a cue. Davis is back after a good 4-2 win over Kurt Maflin, complete with century break, and faces Selby.

The Welsh contingent – Williams, Matthew Stevens, Ryan Day and Dominic Dale (whose German residency also saw him seeded through to Berlin) – will be trying to give home fans something to cheer, but there’s been little of this for Welsh snooker players in Newport in recent years. It’s 14 years in fact since Williams last won the title.

The first prize has been increased to £50,000, a step in the right direction because – look away ‘fairness’ fans – winners should be rewarded properly for their achievements.

It’ll be a busy tournament with match after match until the dust settles at the weekend for the closing stages, which are more than likely going to be contested by the usual faces.

Or will there be a surprise winner? We’re about due one for a ranking event.

Personally I’ll be interested to see if Judd Trump can return to form after three disappointing events for him at York, the Ally Pally and Berlin.

The last ten ranking titles have each been won by a different player. In snooker today, an increasing number have every right to fancy their chances with so many playing opportunities affording the chance to become match sharp.

But the Welsh Open, like any big tournament, remains difficult to win. As a glance at the roll of honour will tell you, it’s the best who usually come through.

The Welsh Open is live all week on BBC Wales, Eurosport and Eurosport 2.



When the Welsh Open was staged at Cardiff International Arena, as it was from 1999 to 2003, it was one of the best tournaments on the circuit.

Crowds were large, the venue was superb, the tournament’s reputation was strong and the snooker was high quality.

Only the latter now remains true. The Welsh Open, through no real fault of its own, has gradually been made into the poor relation of the circuit.

The enforced loss of Regal as sponsors and general WPBSA mismanagement meant a change of venue, first to Sofia Gardens and now the Newport Centre, where the Welsh Open began life in 1992.

Prize money is lower than for any other ranking event and even the length of frames was reduced two years ago to best of sevens until the quarter-finals.

This year’s genius idea to further degrade the tournament is to make several top players pre-qualify, thus potentially depriving spectators of recognisable faces.

Ali Carter, who has just won the German Masters, will have to play in a soulless cubicle in Sheffield with no room for an audience, as will Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Mark Allen and all but six of the top 16.

Parochially, four Welsh players, none of whom are in form and the youngest of which is 32, have their matches held over to the venue.

The decision to change the qualifying structure for this tournament makes no sense because three of the sessions in Newport are not even being televised, whereas last year every match was broadcast.

Why does the Welsh Open keep getting hit like this?

Many decisions are, quite correctly, made due to financial restrictions and realities. Others seem almost deliberately designed to deal a fatal blow to what is the third longest running ranking event on the calendar.

Wales has a wonderful snooker heritage and has produced several legends of the game. It is a stronghold which should be nurtured.

I don’t doubt the tournament will still produce some good snooker and close matches but the Welsh Open currently bears the air of a tournament not far from being put out of its misery, which is a great shame for those of us who remember its glory years.



The World Open will be broadcast by ITV4 in the UK, ITV's first ranking event snooker since the 1993 British Open.

In the intervening 20 years ITV has shown various invitation tournaments and, more recently, Power Snooker. But by broadcasting a full ranking event they are making a much greater commitment.

The World Open, which will still be broadcast by Eurosport, starts on February 25. ITV's commentary team comprises Clive Everton, Neal Foulds and Peter Drury.

ITV broadcast many hours of snooker during the boom years of the 1980s and achieved huge ratings but they eventually ran into serious scheduling problems. Their portfolio gradually shrunk from four tournaments to two and then none at all.

But ITV4 already screens a range of sport, from football to cricket, tennis and darts. Snooker is a welcome addition to the line-up.

ITV4 is a free to air channel available on all platforms so the tournament, which is held in Haikou, China, will reach a large potential audience in the UK.

It would be safe to assume that, if all goes well, ITV will look to show even more snooker in the future.



Ali Carter, the new Betfair German Masters champion, is one of snooker’s fighters. And he’s had to be.

He’s had to fight just to keep his career going in the face of a troubling medical condition which has affected him both physically and mentally.

Last season, Carter threatened to retire. This was not a kneejerk reaction to losing a match but the accumulation of years of struggle with Crohn’s disease. He had another operation recently in an attempt to control it.

He didn’t retire but snooker could not always be his priority. This is why his run to last year’s World Championship final was so impressive as it came in the face of much bigger problems than potting balls.

He said he hadn’t practised much for Berlin. He arrived in Germany only to find his cue hadn’t been put on the flight. He was reunited with it only an hour before his first match and found himself 3-1 down to Fraser Patrick.

However, Carter said the sudden realisation that he might not have been able to play at all, or at least only with a borrowed cue, somehow gave him a new lease of life and he came through 5-3 before embarking on a run to the final.

He played his best snooker of the tournament in last night’s final session. Trailing Marco Fu 5-3 at the resumption Carter made his first century of the tournament and then, in the next frame, promptly made another.

It put Fu under pressure and he failed to respond. Carter won six of the evening’s seven frames to run out 9-6. It was in some ways reminiscent of his recovery from 5-2 down to beat Joe Swail 9-5 and win the 2009 Welsh Open, his first ranking title.

Carter has won three ranking titles, the same number as the world no.1, Mark Selby, and the world no.2, Judd Trump, although he is ten years older than the latter.

He said afterwards that he sometimes forgets how good he is as he is rarely talked about in the front wave of tournament favourites – Selby, Trump, John Higgins and Neil Robertson.

But he can be very satisfied and proud of his victory last night, coming as it did against a backdrop of difficulties most players can only speculate about.

The final was not as dramatic as last year’s Ronnie O’Sullivan comeback against Stephen Maguire and the atmosphere thus not quite as memorable. But only not quite. The German fans, as they had all week, displayed huge enthusiasm. For them, the identity of the finalists was secondary to the experience of being there, watching live snooker.

Even the final referee, Olivier Marteel, was given a rousing reception usually reserved for rock stars.

I can recommend the trip to snooker fans wherever they live. Berlin is a fascinating, historic and welcoming city. There is much to see and do away from the snooker.

And the Tempodrom is a superb venue. It is widely assumed the World Championship will go to China if it ever leaves the Crucible.

Financially that makes perfect sense, but I suspect many players would rather it came to Germany, where a television boom has created a snooker-loving constituency who are already looking forward to the next time the game hits town.