Neil Robertson, a snooker player blessed with a warrior-like temperament, today emerged victorious from a Beijing battle with Mark Selby to win his first world ranking title since he captured the 2010 World Open.

Robertson has been close several times this season. Today’s final was not the most aesthetically pleasing, and certainly not the quickest, but there was plenty of tactical skill on show and any victory over Selby in a long match is an achievement.

It was Selby who started slowly, making too many mistakes in the opening session and Robertson, though not at his very best, took advantage to carve out a 6-1 lead.

Some sort of Selby comeback was virtually guaranteed and he did pull back to 6-4 but Robertson was never going to buckle and his 10-6 victory is a pre-Crucible confidence boost.

It also means that, going into the World Championship, each of this season’s ranking events have been won by a different player.

I think Neil is a terrific competitor. He’s also a positive thinker, not a moaner and groaner. He has iron self belief and is single minded in the way so many champions of the past have been.

Nobody gave him anything. He had to work for it. He had to leave his family and relocate to the other side of the world to pursue his dreams.

So I admire him for what he has achieved. He is now, in terms of ranking titles, the most successful player ever from outside the UK.

And now all roads lead to Sheffield. The qualifiers for the Betfair World Championship begin on Thursday. The Crucible draw will be made at 1.30pm on April 15 live on Talksport.

The televised phase of the game’s greatest tournament get underway on April 20.

It’s the climax of the season and the campaign shows us that it’s wide open.


Today’s China Open final pits together two bona fide hard men of the sport. Mark Selby and Neil Robertson will go head-to-head for the £85,000 first prize, just as they crossed cues in the Masters final two months ago.

At Ally Pally, Robertson had been superb all week but his performance in the final dipped as Selby got under his skin.

This is one of Selby’s best assets: the ability to control matches and dent the confidence of his opponents. As Shaun Murphy put it yesterday: “he is just the best safety player in the world and, in the nicest way, he brings the worst out of his opponents. Most frames go scrappy and he usually wins them.”

Robertson has already said he starts second favourite, which is a neat way of playing down expectations and putting pressure on Selby, although the world no.1 doesn’t seem to care or even notice what’s going on around him.

For Selby, playing snooker trumps all the soap opera that goes on around the sport, including all the financial rewards on offer. This is another reason he has been so consistent.

He can win titles not playing at his best, a rare skill and one which came to the fore at both the UK Championship and Masters earlier in the season.

In Beijing yesterday Robertson showed once again why he is one of the very best under pressure with two good final frames to beat Stephen Maguire in a really high quality semi-final.

The Australian is looking for his first major title of the season. It’s been coming. He’s been really close several times.

In general Robertson is playing well. The key to him winning today is coping with Selby, in particular not letting him dictate what sort of match it becomes.

For this reason Robertson needs to be positive, to attack. He is formidable in full flow but if he gets sucked into the tactical stuff he may come up short again.



The four semi-finalists in the China Open are evenly matched in terms of age, ranking and titles.

Neil Robertson, 31, has won the most ranking titles with six to his name and has also been world champion. He is looking for his first major ranking event success since winning the 2010 World Open.

Shaun Murphy, 30, is also a world champion. He has won four ranking titles, the most recent the 2011 PTC Grand Finals.

Stephen Maguire, 32, a former UK champion, won his fifth ranking title last month at the Welsh Open.

Mark Selby, 29, the reigning UK Championship and Masters champion and back as world no.1, has won three ranking titles.

So it’s a quality line-up and any of the four players left has a claim on the title.

However, I’m sure Murphy would admit he could easily have gone out yesterday when he trailed Jack Lisowski 4-2. Murphy did not storm back with three brilliant frames, as is often his way, but exploited his clearly nervous young opponent’s mistakes effectively.

Maguire dismissed his performance as ‘garbage’ in beating Stuart Bingham 5-1 but the Scot has played consistently well for the last few months and, crucially, has been getting the results.

Selby seems to have got out of the trough of form which followed his Masters success in January and had too much for Mark Williams.

Robertson was in danger of getting sucked into a game which better suited Marcus Campbell but made three sizable frame winning breaks in amongst all the safety.

I wouldn’t describe the semi-final line-up as the ‘usual suspects’ because this demeans the people involved. Each of them is a world class snooker player, each of whom has won big titles on big stages.

It sets the tournament up for a thrilling weekend as the battle of Beijing enters the final strait.



Jack Lisowski’s recovery from 4-2 down to beat Mark Davis 5-4 yesterday has sent him through to his first major quarter-final and sets up an exciting contest today against Shaun Murphy.

Lisowski, a lightning fast potter, passed a test here. This was not a showpiece match on a TV table but a battle round the back against an experienced pro.

In Murphy, he is playing someone who proved eight years ago that a young, still raw, talent can go all the way to winning a big title – in Murphy’s case the biggest of them all.

Snooker, like any sport, must renew itself with new faces and Lisowski, like his pal Judd Trump before him, fits the part perfectly. He has already shown enough this week to suggest he can be a real threat to the elite in future seasons.

I keep reading that Mark Selby will be world no.1 going to the Crucible. He won’t be if he loses today and Neil Robertson wins the title, two entirely possible scenarios.

Selby faces a resurgent Mark Williams, who played arguably his best snooker of the season in recovering from 4-2 down to beat Ali Carter 5-4 yesterday.

As players get older, consistency goes but great players - and Williams firmly belongs in that category - should never be written off.

It’s true that Mark has written himself off a few times in interviews but don’t think he believes he can’t still compete. He has always been a laidback bloke with highly competitive instincts.

The last time he played Selby in China it ended in controversy over the red/pink incident in the 2011 Shanghai Masters final in which Williams, for once, lost his head completely.

Selby wasn’t as impressive against Ricky Walden as he had been against Mark King but battled through as he so often does when his form isn’t particularly eye-catching.

Neil Robertson attacked relentlessly against Mark Allen and played superbly, although two key flukes aided him on the way to winning 5-1.

Marcus Campbell made a good clearance to edge the predictably closely fought all Scottish tie with Graeme Dott.

Robertson has never lost to Campbell but needs to play his natural game and not be sucked into a cagey, drawn out battle, which will more likely favour the Dumbarton man, otherwise he could find it turning into a long Good Friday.



Mark Selby’s failure to pot the final black of what would have been a 147 break yesterday should not detract from what was a first class performance. Three centuries and two other big breaks were evidence of a return to fluency for Selby, at just the right time with the Crucible on the horizon.

Since winning the Masters in January Selby has appeared somewhat burned out, with off table issues also affecting his on table performances.

But in Beijing, accompanied by his wife, Vicki, who presumably would have had ideas on how to spend the £23,500 prize her husband would have won for the maximum, he has started really well, with Ricky Walden next up.

We’re down to the last 16 and several big hitters are staking a claim for the title.

Neil Robertson ran through his namesake, Jimmy, 5-0. Mark Allen advanced comfortably against Anthony McGill.

Robertson and Allen face each other for the first time since the Australian won their thriller at the Masters, his winning break initiated by a wonder pot while snookered.

I thought Mark Williams looked sharp in beating Lu Haotian but he’ll have to be again against Ali Carter.

Barry Hawkins seemed to grow anxious despite a 4-0 lead over Ding Junhui but in the end took his chance to win 5-3. He plays a fellow ranking event winner this season, Stephen Maguire.

Jack Lisowski played superbly against Judd Trump but his match with Mark Davis is entirely different. Lisowski practises with Trump and they basically play the same game. Davis has more old school nous and is aware that his young opponent could be susceptible to over confidence after such a terrific win.

Rory McLeod will be a stubborn opponent for Shaun Murphy while a couple of tough Scots in Graeme Dott and Marcus Campbell also lock horns.



It may have gone unnoticed as it wasn’t on TV but what a fine performance from Jimmy Robertson on Monday, making three centuries to win his match in the wildcard round, including a 142 total clearance, his highest break as a professional.

His reward is a meeting with his namesake, Neil Robertson who has been solidly consistent this season without winning a major title.

Jimmy played at the Crucible two years ago and was a bag of nerves. However, he goes into today’s match knowing he is playing well.

Mark Williams has won three ranking titles in China but came to Beijing well aware that his form and very future are being openly questioned.

Now 38, Williams is not in the first flush of youth and, being naturally self deprecating, is forever talking down his chances but he is far from finished in my view.

That said, he faces a potential embarrassment at the hands of a 15 year-old, Lu Haotian, who wasn’t even born by the time MJW won his first three ranking titles.

Lu was a quarter-finalist at the International Championship earlier this season and is dangerous. Williams is on a bit of a hiding to nothing: if he wins people will say he should have done, if he loses it will be a huge confidence sapper.

Robert Milkins at one point threw his cue on the floor yesterday in a display of petulance his opponent, John Higgins, later called ‘pathetic.’

It was certainly bad manners but Milkins later apologised. Players shouldn’t behave like that but they are human and humans make mistakes when their emotions are running high.

Nothing in modern life seems to pass without a running commentary of disapproval from people who have obviously never done anything wrong. Milkins may be fined for ungentlemanly conduct but more worrying for Higgins is his own form, which is wildly inconsistent.

The 116 he made was one of the best breaks I’ve seen all year. Much of the rest of his performance was patchy.

I’m not going to bore on about Jack Lisowski again, except to say that his performance in beating Judd Trump yesterday was sensational: the best of his career.

This was a wonderfully entertaining match, and without entertainment snooker wouldn’t be a professional sport at anything like the level it is.

It was kind of like a Jimmy White-Kirk Stevens match of old: exciting young talents making the game look ridiculously easy.

Of course, we all know that it isn’t.



Judd Trump and Jack Lisowski are good news for snooker, not just in the present but for the future.

These are players not just talented but with a bit of personality. They like their fashion. They like their holidays. They like their social media. They are professional snooker players for the Twitter and Facebook generation.

They used to share a home but Lisowski has now found his own place. I know from the column we did with him in Snooker Scene during the 2010/11 season how inspired he was by Trump’s performances and achievements.

When someone is bringing trophies back home it obviously serves as a motivation to do the same yourself.

And Lisowski has a perspective on snooker which stems from his successful battle against cancer when he was only 16.

Although a frightening time, because he couldn’t play snooker during his treatment it led to him becoming curious about the world. He read newspapers. He subscribed to the Economist. He educated himself in ways many if not most players, trapped in the all consuming snooker bubble, do not.

Today Judd and Jack play each other in the first round of the China Open in Beijing.

Friends playing friends is often tough – and frequently leads to bad matches, as if each player is dragged down by a subconscious desire not to beat the other.

I recall Joe Swail and Patrick Wallace meeting in the quarter-finals of the 2001 World Championship. Ordinarily, they would have been in one another’s corners and neither seemed to derive much joy from taking a frame off the other.

But you have to be professional and the Trump/Lisowski rivalry is surely here to stay.

Trump has obviously had a head start. He’s world no.1 with three ranking titles and a world final to his name.

But Lisowski has won two of their previous three meetings and is becoming a more confident performer on television, as he proved by beating Mark Selby at the PTC Grand Finals, although he would have been disappointed not to put away Tom Ford in the last 16.

It’s a great time to be an early 20s professional snooker player. The money and playing opportunities dwarf those of previous generations.

Without the ties of marriage and children, the snooker world is there to be conquered in single minded fashion and the rewards should be enjoyed.

Trump has struggled for form in 2013 but the campaign isn’t over yet and he will be hoping to end it in a similar vein to how he did two years ago.

But Lisowski, who has learned much from life as a snooker player through his friendship with Trump, has his own career to think about. It promises to be an intriguing contest.



It’s back to Beijing this week for the China Open, the last event before the World Championship.

Because of this, there will inevitably be much talk of the Crucible, but the China Open deserves to stand in its own right.

It was in Beijing eight years ago that Ding Junhui won the tournament the week he turned 18.

The interest this generated has led to five ranking events in China this season. The 2005 tournament had been cobbled together after a gap of three years because the game was going through financial problems. Things have certainly changed.

They’ve changed for Ding too. Back then, he was a young lad without a care in the world. Since his triumph he has been under endless scrutiny in his homeland and his performances in China suggest that this has often been too much to bear.

However, Ding’s terrific display at the PTC Grand Finals last week proves what a great player he is.

He would be a popular winner this week but, as ever, it’s wide open. Peter Ebdon defends the title he dramatically won last year in a slow burning final against Stephen Maguire.

Ebdon changed his cue earlier this season. The experiment didn’t work and he’s changed back. He’s out of form but he was when he won last season and, for that matter in Beijing in 2009.

Judd Trump’s form has been patchy since he lost in the first round of the UK Championship last December. He did reach the semi-finals of the Welsh Open but was a first round loser in Galway.

On the other hand, Mark Allen has looked really good these last few weeks. He won the World Open and did little wrong in losing to Ding in the PTC Grand Finals.

Not much has been seen of Shaun Murphy in recent tournaments. He will be looking for a pre-Crucible boost.

Maguire won the Welsh Open so his confidence is up while John Higgins seems inconsistent at present and his performances are hard to predict.

Mark Selby last week confirmed he had broken up with his long time manager, Mukesh Parmar. The two were close and it remains to be seen whether this will affect Selby on the table.

With Mark Joyce having withdrawn after becoming a father, wildcard Lu Haotian, a fine young talent, faces Mark Williams in the first round, a fascinating match-up considering Williams’s struggle for form of late.

Day one features two televised first round matches: Graeme Dott v Marco Fu and Maguire v Michael Holt plus two TV matches in the wildcard round, Liang Wenbo v Lu Ning and Anthony McGill v an Iranian, Heydari Ehsan.

I thought the point of Chinese wildcards was to promote Chinese snooker. This begs the question: why put an Iranian on TV instead?



Monday’s announcement of a new World Championship sponsor will expose how far snooker has to go to convince the business and sponsorship worlds that it is worthy of serious investment by blue chip companies.

World Snooker instituted a sealed bids process for interested backers for the game’s premier event last September but I understand this has failed to find a sponsor willing to invest at the level the governing body was hoping for.

Instead, a one year, stop-gap sponsor will back this year’s World Championship and the quest for a blue chip sponsor for 2014 will continue.

Though any sponsor in tough economic times should be welcomed, this is a setback for World Snooker and, in particular, for Barry Hearn, who believes the championship is worth much more than Betfred were paying for it for the last four years.

I agree with him, but the business world does not. This is less a reflection on his negotiating skills than the perception of snooker.

The facts don’t seem to matter: 17 days of live BBC coverage in the UK, extensive live coverage in 60 European countries on Eurosport, an audience of over 100 million in China and streamed coverage in various other parts of the world plus all the other media exposure the tournament will generate.

The global reach of snooker has never been so broad but the sport still suffers from a cultural snobbery which seems to ignore all of this and the viewing figures it obtains.

CEOs of major companies prefer golf and tennis. They think the audiences for these sports have more money.

People with money also watch snooker but perhaps our game’s biggest problem is that the audience is so broad that sponsors don’t know who they should be targeting.

However, snooker hasn’t helped itself. By continually advocating downmarket formats and tournaments – Power Snooker, the Shootout etc – the sport is doing little to appeal to blue chip sponsors.

How many players have suggested snooker should become more like darts? They’re wrong. If the sport wants upmarket sponsors it should move upmarket. If it wants to remain the domain of beer, fags and bookies sponsors, with a level of prize money which, though good, will never hit the heights of some other sports, then it should carry on as it is – just don’t complain about it.

There’s nothing wrong with being a working class sport. Snooker has come from honest roots and is widely accessible as a participation activity and professional sport to be watched either live or on television.

Its players are ordinary men who can be easily identified with. The game has many variables and delivers high drama and entertainment.

Snooker doesn't have to apologise for what it is but it needs to take steps to persuade people what it could be.

If the snooker world wants to compete globally with other major sports then it needs to understand what high end sponsors want and the image that needs to go with it.

We need players appearing in GQ magazine, not Loaded. We need events which cater to families, not mobs of drunks. We need players embracing the places they play, not slating them.

Hearn is big enough and successful enough to take this setback on the chin and will be putting the hours and the airmiles into unearthing a long term, prestigious partner for the World Championship from next year on.

But this is a task which has proved harder than he thought and underlines the fact that snooker is not at the top of the list of sports major companies want to give their money to.

In the meantime, of course, none of this will stop anyone enjoying the actual tournament.



There are two occasions in which you should never approach a snooker player.

The first is during a match. The second is at a baggage carousel.

The latter is almost as tense a time for the professionals as the former as they wonder to themselves whether their cue is going to make it off the plane or not.

The 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks in America prompted a widespread tightening of airline security rules. Among the items to be banned from being taken on to aircraft as hand luggage was sporting equipment, including snooker cues.

This has led to many occasions in which players have arrived in a foreign land only to find their cue has not made it with them.

At the recent Haikou World Open Ricky Walden, Andrew Higginson and Matthew Stevens were among the unlucky ones. Li Hang, coming from China to Europe, did not have his cue for the PTC Grand Finals.

But, at long last, there may be a reason for hope. In America, the Transportation Security Administration will allow cues as hand luggage on flights under their jurisdiction.

This is the first real sign of a change of policy amid the airline industry and it strengthens World Snooker’s hand when it comes to lobbying on the players’ behalf for some kind of dispensation. It is their livelihoods we are talking about after all.

On the face of it it’s hard to see what damage could be done with a snooker cue on an aeroplane. As one player said to me at Crondon Park this week, “at the moment I can’t even do any damage with it on the table.”

Stevens, of course, used three cues in Haikou – his own for his last three matches – and still reached the final but a player’s cue is almost like an extension of themselves.

In the early 1980s, Steve Davis used to sleep alongside his. In 1990, Stephen Hendry offered a five figure reward for the return of his cue after it was stolen.

Ironically, it was eventually ruined beyond repair – by baggage handlers.



Ding Junhui’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Neil Robertson in the final of the Players Tour Championship grand finals in Galway tonight provided a fitting finale to the PTC series.

But for an in-off on 98 playing down for the yellow, Ding would have completed victory with his ninth century of the week.

It was an irony for Robertson that he played his best snooker of the tournament in the only match he lost.

But this proves how well Ding played from 3-0 down to complete his 4-3 victory in one of his best ever performances.

All through the week he appeared to be composed and in full control of his emotions, which is half the battle in top level snooker.

He had one stroke of luck in the sixth frame when he fluked a snooker from out of a snooker on the yellow but he later potted a high pressure brown before prevailing in one visit in the decider.

There was also a question mark over whether he should have used his chalk earlier in this frame to check the black spot, although I’m not sure this had much bearing on the result.

What the final proved yet again is that top level snooker, unfettered by silly gimmicks and when played by the best, is terrific entertainment.

And we are in the entertainment business. That is why I was all for Robertson’s vocal celebration on beating Tom Ford in the semi-finals.

Let’s see some emotion. This stuff matters to the participants. To the rest of us it’s one long rolling show to be enjoyed. Tonight’s final was superb.

Ding will be back in action this week at Crondon Park for the winners’ group of the Championship League.

It has been widely assumed for months that Judd Trump would break Mark Selby’s seasonal centuries record of 55 but Ding could still end the campaign ahead of him.

Trump is on 54 centuries but only 14 of these have been compiled in 2013. Ding is on 46. He has three events left, Trump has two.

All of that will sort itself out. For the moment snooker should toast a special talent.

St. Patrick was said to have driven the snakes out of Ireland but Ding, in the Chinese year of the snake, has proved that it takes the highest quality snooker to stop him winning when he’s playing at his best.



Among all the moans and groans this week – some of them from me – we must not overlook some significant personal bests.

Ben Woollaston and Kurt Maflin will today appear in the quarter-finals of a world ranking event for the first time. One of them is bound for the semis.

Woollaston played really well against Mark Williams before dodging a bit of a bullet against Joe Perry.

Maflin refused to be worn down by the methodical Rod Lawler, winning the last two frames to beat him 4-3.

These are two players who may do well under the new system next season when there isn’t so much qualifying to slog through. Maflin in particular looks settled in the arena and Woollaston has certainly improved in the last couple of years.

Even if he makes the final his Belarussian wife, Tatiana, will be unable to travel to Galway as she won’t be able to get a visa in time.

Good luck to Woollaston and Maflin: they've earned their places through hard work and results.

The two best performances of the day came in the first two matches. Ding Junhui began with two centuries and finished with a third in beating Anthony McGill 4-3.

I thought McGill was a little too hard on himself afterwards on Twitter – perhaps just the disappointment of losing. The clearance he made to win the sixth frame was superb but he had just a half chance in the decider.

Most would surely agree that Robertson is due another big title soon and he certainly played well enough in beating Barry Hawkins 4-1 yesterday to suggest that it could be this week.

Meanwhile, Ali Carter’s 4-1 defeat to Marco Fu proved how important the unexpected can be in sport.

Leading 1-0 and nicely in for 2-0, Carter feathered the cue ball when lining up a pink and everything went wrong for him after that.

He got really frustrated towards the end but snooker can be a really cruel game at times.



We are used to snooker matches, in particular finals, ending at midnight but last night Mark Allen’s contest with Joe Swail at the PTC Grand Finals in Galway started just after midnight.

This was ridiculous. It does nothing for the sport and is unfair on the players, spectators and hard working staff at the tournament.

It was too late for Eurosport, who had been broadcasting for 14 hours to that point, and too late for most viewers.

There have been too many matches crammed into this event. Six a day was fine for the ordinary European Tour competitions because they always started with a couple of mismatches between top players and amateurs but this is different.

With a top prize of £100,000, everyone is trying as hard as they can. The players are evenly matched and a potential 42 frames in one day was always going to be too many.

It’s easy to be wise after the event but World Snooker are supposed to be wise before the event. That’s their job.

This event didn’t exist three years ago and the players are earning good money from it so they should be careful in running it down but they have every right to question the scheduling, which has not been conducive to good snooker.

In fact, the standard has, at times, been well below what you would expect at a major tournament. It’s led to several dragged out frames, although any decider is automatically interesting.

There was a really good match yesterday between Ben Woollaston and Mark Williams – Woollaston playing terrific stuff from 3-1 down to win 4-3 – but otherwise it was largely scrappy fare.

Come the weekend when we’re down to the quarter-finals it will surely be an entertaining finish but today sees another six matches and, almost certainly, another late finish.



What did we learn from day one of the PTC grand finals in Galway yesterday?

Chiefly, that there will be some late nights this week. Of the six matches, two finished 4-0 and yet play still didn’t finish until midnight.

The finals are following the same format as the European Tour events with six matches a day but in those tournaments the first couple of games are usually slaps – a top pro against an amateur – whereas in Galway it’s top players competing for a six figure first prize in a series of competitive matches so it’s going to take longer. Much longer.

In some ways it is desirable to have snooker all day long. Nobody has to watch it all but it’s there to dip in and out of. However, if people are going to bed before the day’s play is done then that is less desirable.

Mark Selby, usually so reliable in deciders, was anything but as he was beaten 4-3 by Jack Lisowski in last night’s last match.

Credit must go to Lisowski. I remember talking to him last year after he lost 4-0 to Neil Robertson and he admitted to having been overawed by the occasion of playing a top player live on television.

But all players must learn from such experiences and Jack has won TV matches this season and is now definitely one to follow this week.

Joe Swail, yet again, produced a comeback both unlikely and enthralling as he beat Stephen Maguire 4-3 having trailed 3-0.

This was the latest in a long line of Swail recoveries. One of them is little known but a result Maguire still rates as one of his most disappointing.

It came in the final qualifying round of the 2000 World Championship. Maguire was in his first season as a professional and, leading 9-6, needed just the pink to a middle pocket to qualify for the Crucible.

He missed it and Swail beat him 10-9. It isn’t unlikely that this was somewhere in Maguire’s mind yesterday as Swail was coming back at him.

Swail has entered the WPBSA member's stage of World Championship qualifying. If anyone is going to have a run through the qualifiers from this starting point it's the Belfast man.

Otherwise, Neil Robertson was professionalism exemplified in recovering to beat Jamie Burnett 4-2 and Mark Allen, seeking to become the first player to win back-to-back ranking titles in the same season for ten years, potted the pressure balls to see off Mark Davis 4-0.

Two main points of interest today: John Higgins and Ali Carter, both ranking title winners this season, meet each other and Judd Trump, who needs two more centuries to break Selby’s seasonal record, is up against Alfie Burden.

I predict this match will help reduce the backlog of matches through it’s brevity – whatever the score.



The grand finals of the Players Tour Championship is yet another event which simply didn’t exist until Barry Hearn took the reins of World Snooker.

The treadmill of PTCs hasn’t been to every player’s liking but the 32 who have qualified for the final stages have no reason for complaint. The first prize is £100,000.

And it’s a terrific field comprising many big names plus a smattering of less familiar faces equally deserving of their places in Galway.

This includes two amateurs. Li Hang qualified through the Asian PTC order of merit and Joe Swail by reaching the Paul Hunter Classic final.

It’s hard to think of Swail, a mainstay of the circuit for two decades, as an amateur. Actually, I’m not sure technically that he is because he is still on the ranking list and thus a WPBSA member. Whatever, it’s good to see him back.

The seedings are worked out not from the ranking list but the two orders of merit so top players are not necessarily kept apart. Therefore, John Higgins will play Ali Carter in the first round.

With ranking points available, the various machinations for places on the list ahead of the seedings revision for the Crucible, which takes place after the China Open, will be underway, with these 32 players able to steal a march on their rivals.

The titles have been shared around over the past couple of seasons but shared around primarily among the same faces. With the shorter best of sevens perhaps the PTC grand finals represent a chance for a lesser known name to shine, although regardless of the format the pressure of one table in a big arena with crowds and live TV remains as tough as ever.

Galway is a lovely place and crowds built steadily last year, although six matches a day may be a bit much for some spectators.

All the matches are live on British Eurosport2 for UK viewers with Eurosport International also showing extensive live and recorded action.



I was asked recently on Twitter if I thought a qualifier could win the World Championship.

My immediate thought was ‘no.’ After all, if non-top 16 players by and large do not threaten to win other major tournaments, why should they triumph at the Crucible?

Only two have. Terry Griffiths did so in his first season as a professional in 1979. There were fewer players in those days but it was still a remarkable achievement and arguably one of the most significant in the game’s history as it persuaded until then unsure amateurs that they too could take the plunge and embrace the pro ranks with some possibility of success.

The second was Shaun Murphy in 2005. This was also remarkable, not just the achievement but the all-guns-blazing way it was accomplished.

Murphy had never lacked for self belief but, even so, to be 16-16 in the world final and then win the two clinching frames with big breaks took real guts.

Is it conceivable anyone can follow in Griffiths and Murphy’s footsteps in 2013?

Of course, we don’t yet know who the top 16 seeds will be at the conclusion of the China Open, but maybe this is the point.

In years gone by, the 16 seeds for Sheffield were not the 16 most in form players.

For instance, Murphy beat Chris Small in the first round in 2005. Small was at the time suffering from the debilitating back condition which would end his career.

Alain Robidoux was seeded for the Crucible in 1999 despite having failed to win a single match all season.

So the current top 16 is a more accurate barometer of who has played well over the last two seasons, although of course lower down there have been strong performances which have not been rewarded as greatly in terms of ranking points.

In terms of shock winners, we must surely look to younger players who, like Murphy, are relatively unencumbered by mental scars.

For instance, last year Jamie Jones reached the quarter-finals and very nearly the semis.

There’s Jack Lisowski. Jack is a ferociously attacking player, much like his friend Judd Trump, who himself came within three frames of winning the title as a qualifier two years ago.

Lisowski is the sort of player who, if he got to the Crucible, could put the frighteners up a few established players.

How about Luca Brecel? His road to Sheffield is long enough but he qualified last year and was a UK Championship quarter-finalist earlier this season. Like Lisowski, he has a fearless quality in keeping with his age.

Michael White, a good friend of Jones, looks impressive and is trying to make the next step up, beating top players.

The Chinese have several prospects but Cao Yupeng was one who proved he could handle the big stage when he beat Mark Allen in the first round last year.

Or perhaps we are looking in the wrong place. Even Murphy had had a fair amount of TV experience prior to his world title triumph, which is surely crucial in terms of Crucible success.

So older hands such as Marco Fu or Joe Perry or Ryan Day, all well versed in the long matches of the World Championship, may be in with a shout.

But for any qualifier to win the title this year they would have to beat a combination of O’Sullivan, Trump, Selby, Robertson, Allen, Higgins, Ding, Maguire, Murphy, Bingham and Carter, possibly one in each round, which sounds like a mission too far.

So my answer to the original question is this: not impossible but not likely.



Mark Allen’s successful defence of the World Open title underlines his status as one of snooker’s foremost talents.

This exceptional Northern Irishman kept his head down this year after the controversies of his Haikou trip last season and, to dredge up an old cliché, let his snooker do the talking.

He wasn’t too happy with his form earlier in the tournament but his performance against John Higgins was absolutely superb.

That meant he went into today’s final full of confidence and he made the perfect start, building a 4-0 lead.

Try as he did, Stevens was unable to get close enough to supply enough pressure for Allen to come close to cracking.

Allen pockets £85,000 to go with the £75,000 he won last year. He may be getting to like Haikou.

Certainly he heads to the Crucible seven weeks from now as a live contender for the world title.

From what I saw of ITV4’s coverage it was mercifully gimmick free, concentrating primarily on the actual snooker.

The masterstroke was in engaging Clive Everton and Neal Foulds as commentators, both of whom have been marginalised by the BBC.

These two knowledgeable, articulate men behind the mic complimented each other well, also proving that commentary is less intrusive and more rounded when it’s a broadcaster/player pairing rather than two players indulging in relentless shot analysis.

The lead commentator provides context and observations based on information, leaving the player to do the bulk of the analysis. It has been the standard broadcasting model for decades in most sports.

The Everton/Foulds axis also shows what can be achieved when things are done for the right reasons rather than the wrong ones. World Snooker suggested Clive to ITV. He in turn suggested Neal. There was no agenda other than getting the best people.

A special mention must go to Foulds who spent so much time on screen either in the studio, commentating on the live match or dubbing the second match that I was half expecting him to crop up in the evening repeats of The Sweeney.

Contractually ITV4 can’t show any other existing tournament but there is nothing to stop them reviving, say, the British Open, which would give them live snooker in the evenings.

The main reason this may not happen is the production costs. From the World Open they were taking a feed from the host broadcaster. Any new event in the UK would have to be produced in house.

Even so, there is an outside chance it could happen. I understand the Premier League is unlikely to take place next season in its current form, spread over many weeks, so this would free up time in the calendar.

The tournament itself was badly attended but sponsors care less about that than the television ratings, which in China often top 80m.

There is a strange paradox at work here: in China they get blue chip sponsors but can’t fill the venues; in Germany they fill the venues but can’t get blue chip sponsors.

If you don’t understand why this is then don’t worry: neither do I. Snooker is very popular in both countries but there are underlying factors at work, primarily financial and cultural.

The snooker world has a week off now before the PTC Grand Finals head to Galway on March 12.



By contrasting methods today, Matthew Stevens and Mark Allen ensured they would contest the final of the Haikou World Open.

While Stevens was taken to the wire by Neil Robertson in a lengthy battle, Allen played flawlessly to see off John Higgins.

Stevens has not appeared in a ranking tournament final since the 2008 Bahrain Championship, two and a half years ago. He has still won only one ranking title.

This week he has used three different cues. His own failed to make it off the plane so he borrowed first Mark Selby’s and then Mark Williams’s before reverting to old faithful.

The Welshman compiled seven half century breaks and finished off well in the decider as Robertson, not for the first time this season, failed to make good on promising early form in a tournament.

Allen was quite simply outstanding in beating Higgins 6-2. Higgins didn’t pot a ball in any of the last four frames. He was completely shut out and every part of Allen’s game was strong.

The defending champion had not been too happy with his form earlier in the event but must surely rate this as one of his best ever performances.

So the stage is set for an intriguing final. Stevens has endured a reputation as a bit of a nearly man, despite having won the UK Championship and Masters during his career.

Happy go lucky, he seems to have shrugged off the disappointments and would be a popular winner.

Allen, though, looks really good. The Northern Irishman knew he would have to play well against an in form Higgins and did. If he can maintain that intensity in the final then a title defence seems likely.



If Neil Robertson or Matthew Stevens win the Haikou World Open – and one of them will be in the final – then it’ll be 13 different winners from the last 13 ranking tournaments.

In some ways the game has never been as open, but the titles are still shared around by a familiar group of names.

When the system changes next season and everyone comes in at the last 128 stage for all but three ranking events it will be interesting to see if this pattern remains or if some new faces start winning titles.

For the moment, it’s four players with major titles to their name in the semi-finals. The man to beat is surely John Higgins, superb yesterday against Ding Junhui.

Higgins had been in the doldrums since losing 6-5 to Mark Davis in the last 16 of the UK Championship in December but increasingly the top players are going through peaks and troughs in these lengthy seasons.

Higgins has roared back to form but Mark Allen, who has battled well without playing his very best this week, has beaten him three times out of eight.

One of these wins came in his second match as a professional at the 2005 Northern Ireland Trophy, which said a lot about Allen and his head for the big occasion.

Robertson will be favourite to beat Stevens despite the Welshman’s 5-3 St. David’s Day victory over Judd Trump.

The key moment of this match came before it had begun when Trump got his cue out of his case and found that the tip had become warped into a strange shape.

Quite how this happened isn’t clear. There was some suggestion he had put it in the case the wrong way round and it had gone into the join of his extension.

Whatever it was it certainly affected his performance, but Stevens still had to pot the balls and made a good break in the last frame to reach his first ranking tournament semi-final since last season’s World Championship.

It’s been a strange event: low crowds, cues going missing, a plague of flies in the arena, errant photographers putting players off and, in the Trump v Stevens match, flashing disco lights.

I wondered at first if this was leading to a return of the ghastly Harlem Shake from Newport but it seems someone flicked a switch by accident.

Snooker players have put up with a lot over the years and usually adapt to whatever is thrown at them but there’s been a surreal tone at times to the tournament.

Hopefully it’ll be a high quality finish.


Mark Selby and Neil Robertson managed to avoid each other for years. Now they seem to play most tournaments.

Selby is difficult to play, even when you’re as good as Robertson. The never-say-die attitude he demonstrates even when not at his best can be hard to contend with. Just when you think you’ve got him, he fights even harder.

This was certainly Robertson’s experience at the UK Championship when he seemed to have the match in the bag at 4-0 only to lose 6-4.

The Melbourne man played some top stuff to reach the Masters final but went down 10-6 to Selby, who battled without quite hitting top form.

So their match in the quarter-finals of the World Open today is intriguing. Can Robertson dominate this time or will Selby once again get under his skin?

Matthew Stevens has been winning with Mark Williams’s cue as his has still not turned up. He seems to have fared better with it than Williams has of late, recovering from 3-1 down to beat Shaun Murphy 5-3 yesterday.

Stevens faces Judd Trump today, who was superb yesterday in beating Nigel Bond 5-1. He made three centuries and needs just two more to break Selby’s seasonal record set last year.

Trump has not been put under pressure yet. Even if he is, he looks really confident. It’s a good time to be playing well. It’s March 1st so we can now say that the World Championship starts next month.

Ding Junhui is still going. Marco Fu failed to push him but John Higgins may do after the Scot’s 5-0 dismissal of Stuart Bingham.

Mark Allen wasn’t happy with how he played against Robert Milkins but the defending champion won 5-2 and will face Ricky Walden, who did really well to recover from 4-2 down to beat Welsh Open winner Stephen Maguire 5-4.

It's a great line-up, although you wouldn't know it from attendances. They've been poor and surely ticket prices and promotion of these events need to be addressed.

There are eight world class players in the quarter-finals and they deserve a good atmosphere.