David may have beaten Goliath according to biblical myth but victory for any of the four amateurs playing the top four seeds in York today would make that particular result look like a lot of fuss about nothing.

Shane Castle is only 15 but faces Mark Selby. Rhys Clark will play Ronnie O’Sullivan. Dylan Mitchell tackles Neil Robertson. Antony Parsons takes on Ding Junhui.

There’s no reason to suspect these four televised matches will be anything other than walkovers given the gulf in experience and achievement between the players but the same could be said for Marco Fu’s contest yesterday against Mitchell Travis, another amateur. Travis won that one 6-5, albeit it wasn’t televised.

It’s now 20 years since O’Sullivan won the first of his four UK titles and, remarkably, he is still at the top.

Back then there were 700 professionals. When O’Sullivan turned pro the previous year he had to plough through something like ten qualifying rounds to reach the final stages and did so without complaint.

Doubtless today all 700 players would be brought to the final stages to make everyone feel good about themselves and the matches played on six foot tables over the course of a month.

The UK Championship will be the first tournament broadcasted by the BBC since the World Championship last May.

But for the BBC, the professional game would never have become what it has. When snooker was going through dark times the BBC stuck with it, unlike ITV and Sky, who dumped it when it had served its purpose.

Quite simply, the BBC kept the sport alive. Without its backing in the early years of the 21st century it would have gone under.

Exposure on terrestrial television is important for snooker in the UK. Traditionally clubs fill up when mass audiences are exposed to the game.

Those audiences have grown around the world, most notably because of Eurosport and Chinese TV.

These events are now watched by far more people than 20 years ago, which can only be a good thing.

But if you think the BBC coverage was all better in the old days then here’s the opening day schedule from this tournament 20 years ago, in 1993:

BBC1: 3.50-4.35pm
BBC2: 6.35-7.05pm, 11.45-1.40am

And, er, that was it. No red button. No website. No satellite alternatives.

There’s no coverage of this year’s morning sessions, presumably because the BBC budget is the same as last year when there weren’t any.

This is a shame, but it’s also absurd that the much vaunted liveworldsnooker.tv can’t show them.

That particular service has not had a good week, with the decision to stream matches not from the main arena – where all the attractive ties have been staged – but in the Sports Hall.

This led to the situation on Thursday when matches involving Mark Williams, Mark Allen, Jimmy White, Judd Trump, Stuart Bingham and Barry Hawkins all went unstreamed.

It’s been a hectic start to this UK Championship and the last 128 round hasn’t even finished yet.

Stephen Maguire yesterday joined the chorus of complainers among the top players, saying: “the guys that walk about in their suits and put gel in their hair and go for fancy meals at night with nice bottles of wine should sit down over that wine, as there are a few of them here, and try to fix this tournament because it is ruined.”

Those of us with scarcely enough hair to justify any gel may raise an eyebrow at this. More seriously, few work harder for snooker than Jason Ferguson, the WPBSA chairman, who does indeed wear a suit and who was yesterday named as one of 20 Sports Innovators of the year by industry magazine SportBusiness International.

Ferguson said yesterday that he was listening to the complaints but the truth is there has been a wide range of views expressed and by no means is there a majority against the changes.

Anyway, back to the snooker. Not least because I get the feeling that once this event hits its stride the controversy of the first few days will be a distant memory.



“It’s like a circus,” said Judd Trump last night of the UK Championship.

I’m not sure when circuses started to get such a bad rap but that’s a side issue. Trump’s point was that there are too many tables and too many matches being played in York.

He added: “with four tables in the main venue for a UK Championships, I think that’s just poor. When it is down to two tables with the barrier up, you feel like you’re at a tournament where there is pressure.”

Actually, had Trump been a top 16 player 20 years ago he would have played in an eight table set-up at Preston Guild Hall and had to win two matches to reach the televised stage, but his was not the only voice questioning the wisdom of bringing 128 players to the Barbican Centre.

Far from it. There seems to be three categories of player: those who agree with the new system, those who have accepted it and those who are against it. Of these, the latter camp are the most outspoken.

The main arena features four tables. The two in the middle, configured for TV, are spacious enough but the two at either side are not.

“They’ve crammed four tables in. It should be three in my opinion,” said Ali Carter, a semi-finalist at York last year.

“They’ve taken 128 players to a venue but, for me, I don’t think it can accommodate it.

“The table I was on had about five foot of room around the black spot area. When you’re tight on the side cushion you can’t walk into your shot. It’s like you’re closer than at the Crucible.

“It’s not for me, this flat draw. I think it was working last year so I don’t know why they’re doing this.

“The top 16 all started at the bottom and got to the top. Why doesn’t everyone else have to do that?”

The counter to this is that the previous, labyrinthine qualifying structure was stifling new talent. However, Graeme Dott argued that the flat draws are even more damaging to young hopefuls.

“I think it hinders the players coming through,” he said. “Neil Robertson fell off the tour originally. If he’d got back on in this format, how would have he have done? If he’d been beaten by the players he was being beaten by, how would he have handled playing Ronnie O’Sullivan? So you would have lost him. Would Judd Trump have found it easier?

“I think it’s wrong for the future of the game. I don’t think it’s good for snooker. Kids coming through should learn their trade.

“People think it’s a great idea now but ask them halfway through the season. Eight players didn’t enter the UK Championship because they don’t have the money.”

Some would say top players just want to protect their privileged positions.

Of course they do. Who wouldn’t? They’ve worked hard to attain them. They’ve put the years in at soulless qualifiers and now they want the rewards for those efforts.

But not every top player agrees with Carter and Dott. Stuart Bingham, first and foremost a snooker lover, has the attitude to just play, hopefully win and the perks will come.

“I felt a little bit tight against the wall but from Wednesday it’ll be down to two tables,” he said.

“I’ve read a few comments from people saying it’s like a PTC. But it is what it is. You have 128 players coming to a tournament and have to fit them in somewhere. You just have to get on with it.

“I’d love to be 20 now and in the game. I’m 37 and one of the oldies but I wish this was happening 20 years ago. Someone could come here, have a buzz up and get to the quarters, semis or maybe even win it.”

Nigel Bond has been around longer than most. He’s been at the top and now he’s down in the middle ranks. Wherever he's been ranked he has remained a sober, measured voice in any debate.

“The format is fine,” Bond said. “I was in the Sports Hall but at least you feel part of the tournament in the fact that you’re at the venue.”

Most would agree that snooker had stagnated before Barry Hearn’s takeover in 2010. A dearth of new faces and a paltry number of tournaments had seen the sport slowly gurgle towards the plughole.

The truth is, it is too early to judge whether the flat draw innovation will be a positive for snooker or not.

But I would say this: if it’s the right system, then it must be used in every event, including the World Championship. To not do so is hypocrisy, almost an admission that it is wrong.

This would mean the end of the Crucible. Is four decades of tradition worth losing for the sake of completely levelling the playing field?

I would also say this: players have every right to comment on their work conditions. This is their livelihood after all.

The problem, though, is that to the outside world they can just seem like a bunch of moaners, unappreciative of what they have.

To many, playing professional snooker where financial rewards are high seems like a dream job. The temptation is to just say, ‘get on with it’ and there may be something in that.

The danger with this year’s UK Championship is that all anyone wants to talk about is the format.

Ultimately, like every other event ever played, it will come down to who plays the best. For all the talk of quantity, it is quality which always triumphs.



In 866, the Vikings invaded York. This week, a horde of snooker players have descended on the city in pursuit of one of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious titles.

There won’t be any literal bloodshed but the williamhill.com UK Championship will still be a fight to the finish, and it’ll take a while to finish with 128 hopefuls starting out.

Some have already departed before the main arena even hosts any play. On the basis that it’s best to comment on something when you’ve seen it, I ventured to York yesterday to take a look at it all…

With the sort of timing only learned through long experience of free-loading, I arrived in the media centre at the precise moment they were serving the complimentary food.

My enjoyment of this was tempered only by then watching Dominic Dale devour a water bug on behalf of World Snooker’s Youtube channel, in support of a jungle-confined Steve Davis.

The association hopes to persuade other players to do similar. “We have loads of bugs and cockroaches,” an official cheerily said, as I eyed the remnants of my lunch with growing unease.

Pre-Christmas snooker is always special. It’s the time of year city centres are lit up with decorations as feelings of goodwill and glad tidings sweep away all negativity. Almost.

“That’s my season ruined,” said Dave Gilbert after losing 6-4 to Li Hang. In fairness, there are no positives to take from a first round exit which leaves the loser going home with not a penny for their efforts.

Money was upmost in Marcus Campbell’s mind after a disappointing recent run was ended by his marathon 6-5 defeat of Lu Haotian.

“I’ve got a young family and I haven’t had a cheque for a few months,” Campbell said. “Your outgoings are so heavy and it’s difficult to find the money. You’re outlaying £10- 15,000 and then waiting for two or three months for it to come back in. That in itself brings pressure.

“The system is very cut-throat. You’re flying to Poland or Germany for a PTC and forking out £600 a time. My last three draws have been Andrew Higginson twice and Joe Perry. So that’s nearly £2,000 in matches where you’re second favourite.”

There was great excitement late in the afternoon as Liang Wenbo closed in on what looked like being the 100th maximum in snooker history.

I looked forward to telling my grandchildren that I was there for this moment of history, and by ‘there’ I mean huddled round Matt from Prosnookerblog’s laptop with a bunch of other journalists having been too lazy to actually go and watch it close up.

“It’s all about this shot,” I said as Liang stood over the 15th black, trotting out a hoary old cliché which, for once, proved correct as he overran position for the yellow and missed an awkward cut-back.

Liang took it well considering the prize at the UK Championship for a 147 is £59,000 (though split if there is more than one).

“I had a good chance but I hit it too hard,” he said. It turned out he was unaware of the big bonus: “I didn’t know. I was just concentrating on playing.”

I had earlier ventured into the arena to watch some of the newer players, such as Chris Wakelin and Elliot Slessor, both of whom impressed me.

Slessor was beaten by Liang but Wakelin beat Ryan Day 6-5 having seen his 4-1 lead wither away.

As impressive a player as Wakelin seems, he is also an assured speaker, which suggests World Snooker’s media training programme is working.

His is a tale of triumph over adversity. A year ago he was being treated for depression and suffered the ‘yips’, unable to properly deliver the cue. As his health improved, so too did his snooker.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve gone through to suddenly not be able to play the game I’ve loved all my life,” Wakelin said.

“Snooker is a lonely sport when you’re not playing well. At its worst, I played a local match with the black over the pocket and the cue ball in the middle table. It was the easiest shot ever but I played it with the rest because I couldn’t deliver the cue.”

Thankfully he recovered and came through Q School earlier this year. Whatever the set-up here, he was determined to enjoy it.

But it has to be said the set-up is not ideal. The Barbican Centre is a great venue but possibly not for this format. The playing arena in the Sports Hall, which houses four tables, is a little cramped to say the least.

Snooker, of course, has often been at its best when played in an intimate environment – as at the Crucible – but this looked and felt a little like a club, certainly a contrast with the excellent Badminton Hall layout in Sheffield, used for the World Championship qualifiers these last few years.

There’s no room for practice facilities so players have to go to a nearby club, although conditions there are said to be good.

It was encouraging, though, that yesterday attracted a large crowd even though the game’s really big hitters are yet to start out. There was so much demand for the evening session that extra seats were installed.

That evening session dragged on and on but included a career best win for Chris Norbury, 6-3 over Martin Gould, who was suffering with throat problems.

I doubt Norbury’s assertion that the format is “better for everyone” will be shared by all his fellow players. Some of the bigger names coming in today may feel it’s a comedown compared to the two-table set up last year, although most of their matches will be played in the superior main arena.

This is, after all, the UK Championship, one of snooker’s crown jewels. But whatever the set-up, whatever the format, snooker still has the capacity to deliver high drama, as proven by Alan McManus’s last ditch win over Joel Walker.

Walker cleared the colours to force a re-spot but went in-off playing a safety, thus handing a 6-5 victory to the Scot.

That one shot he played, and its outcome, sums up the narrow margin by which this game is played. There’s a lot of talent out there. Some days you get the luck you need, others it cruelly conspires against you.

But everyone keeps coming back for more, and there’ll be much more before the champion is crowned on December 8.



The williamhill.com United Kingdom Championship has a fine history forged from 36 years of competition.

The event began as a non-ranking tournament for British and Irish players only but gained ranking status in 1984. It was Steve Davis’s first major title and he won six UK trophies from 1980 and 1987.

Stephen Hendry has five UK titles to his name, Ronnie O’Sullivan four and John Higgins three.

For many years the event was staged at Preston Guild Hall and had a best of 31 frame final but in 1993 the final was reduced to best of 19. Two years ago the best of 17 frame early matches were reduced to best of 11.

This worked well for a 32-man TV format but this year it has changed again, with 127 matches to be played in 13 days at the Barbican Centre in York.

There are so many matches to be crammed in that the venue itself has been split in two, with some matches in the main Barbican arena and some in a sports hall.

This prestigious and much loved event has become the Boxing Helena of tournaments – sliced, cut and squeezed into as tight a space as possible.

The BBC, host broadcasters, was not entirely happy with the ‘flat’ everyone-in-the-first-round format which risked losing the game’s big hitters before the cameras arrived on Saturday.

A compromise has been reached. Seed no.1 plays seed 128, no.2 plays no.127 and so on, which considerably reduces the likelihood of shocks.

Some players are doubtless unhappy with this rigid system but the fact is the BBC pays something like £4m a year to televise their events and it’s completely understandable that they want recognisable faces on the screens, because that’s what most viewers want.

The four top seeds – Mark Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui – have had their last 128 matches held over for TV, although it remains to be seen how competitive these will be as they are each playing amateurs with no experience of the forbidding TV arena.

There is streaming of some earlier matches but the problem for fans is that they have no idea when anyone is playing once the first round is concluded. If you want tickets to watch, say, Judd Trump in the last 64, you don’t know what session to buy them for.

It is, though, a great venue in a nice city and the UK Championship remains a title every snooker player wants on their CV.

The British players will have grown up watching it on the BBC, an often criticised corporation but one, it should be remembered, who created the snooker boom through showcasing it on colour television, and who stuck with the sport after other broadcasters had dumped it.

One constant at the UK Championship is a paucity of shock winners, certainly fewer than in the World Championship.

Selby is defending champion and starts in the group of favourites alongside O’Sullivan, Ding and Robertson.

Mark Allen will be hoping to translate good PTC form into a major event. Stuart Bingham will try to maintain the momentum of his run to the Champion of Champions final.

Judd Trump, the winner two years ago, is looking for much needed confidence and an upturn in form and results.

And there are many, many others hoping to come through the pack and spring a surprise in the biggest tournament staged in Britain since the Crucible showpiece last spring.

It all starts today with TV coverage beginning, as is traditional, on Saturday.



The UK Championship was first held in 1977. Its champion in 1978 was Doug Mountjoy, who two years earlier had won the world amateur title and thus found a way into the professional game, at the time a shop not so much closed as boarded up.

Mountjoy had won the Masters in 1977, went on to reach the 1981 World Championship final, became a familiar face on TV and spent 11 successive years in the elite top 16.

But by 1988, he was in decline. At the age of 46, he was dropping down the rankings. A 13-1 defeat by Neal Foulds at the Crucible had ended a miserable 1987/88 season in which he had won only two ranking event matches and finished 24th in the world, surely destined to keep sliding down the list.

Or so it seemed. In one of those rare, heart-warming moments sport uniquely and sporadically produces, Mountjoy authored one of snooker’s most remarkable fairytales, a compelling triumph against many odds.

But first, some background. There was no thriving circuit for a teenage Mountjoy to join. When the young players complain about money today they should consider how lucky they are to be born at a time where there is any at all in professional snooker.

At their age, Mountjoy was down a coalmine in South Wales, working long days and playing snooker only after his back-breaking shifts were done.

It was a hard life and a harder road to the top. Mountjoy turned professional at 34, when careers at the highest level are traditionally thought to be entering their final phase.

By 46, his game had declined but he made a decision which proved to be life changing. He went to see Frank Callan, a former Blackpool fishmonger who had gained a reputation as one of snooker’s leading coaches.

By following ‘the drill’ – one of Callan’s key technical routines – Mountjoy began to play with more confidence. The first sign that things might be turning round for him came at the Grand Prix in Reading in October 1988 where he knocked out the then defending champion, Stephen Hendry.

He arrived at Preston Guild Hall the following month for the UK Championship ten years after he had won it and found that the Hendry victory had been no fluke. Finding confidence and form, Mountjoy beat Foulds, Joe Johnson and John Virgo to reach the semi-finals.

In the last four he beat his old friend and compatriot Terry Griffiths, finding himself so relaxed that he went to sleep in his dressing room during one of the intervals.

And so, against any predictions, Mountjoy was back in the UK final. And facing him was Hendry, still only 19 but a player well poised to inherit the snooker earth.

This was a clash of styles, of generations and of goals: Hendry was looking to win the biggest title of his career to date, Mountjoy hoping to improbably turn back the clock.

In those days the final was played over two days and four sessions. Hendry made two centuries in the first of these but Mountjoy ended it 5-2 ahead.

A 98 break on the resumption made this 6-2 but in the next frame he missed a red which would have given him a five frame lead. Hendry, always a ruthless exploiter of opponents’ mistakes, seized his chance and levelled at 6-6. He made a third century in the last frame of the day to leave the final poised at 7-7.

Logic dictated Hendry would pull away on the second day. In fact, the opposite happened as Mountjoy produced surely the finest session of snooker of his whole career to win all seven frames played, ending with back-to-back centuries.

He began the evening with a third in succession to lead 15-7. Watched by a peak BBC audience of 13.2m, Hendry started to pull back the deficit, rallying to 15-12, but Mountjoy did enough in the next to win 16-12, land the £80,000 first prize and see his name once again etched upon a major trophy.

Of Callan’s contribution, he said: “I didn’t have a game. It’s difficult on your own to find out what you’re doing wrong. I went to Frank. He’s helped me so much he must be sick of seeing me. Without that guy I’m nothing.”

This alone would have been a fine story for the snooker annals but there was to be a memorable postscript as Mountjoy went on to win the next ranking event as well, the Mercantile Classic.

He rose to fifth in the rankings and reached another ranking final at the 1991 Dubai Classic, losing to Hendry.

And then, with everything going well again, Mountjoy suffered a double setback: he had a cancerous lung removed and found that a manager had badly ripped him off.

His career declined again and he quit the circuit in 1997 to coach in Dubai. Recently he has reappeared on TV screens in the World Seniors Championship and has practised at Tredegar Snooker Club, owned by Mark Williams.

Mountjoy’s second UK Championship triumph was 25 years ago this week. It doesn’t seem that long, perhaps because it is one of those snooker moments which feels timeless – a genuine tale of adversity conquered and of victory all the sweeter second time around. 



The first staging of the 888casino Champion of Champions event must be judged a great success and it proved a number of things:

Ronnie O’Sullivan is still the man to beat
O’Sullivan sailed close to the wind against the two players of the season so far, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson, and did so again in the final against Stuart Bingham before going on to win the title. The key was his determination to dig in and graft when things weren’t going well. He kept his focus right to the end.

He’s an apt winner because, of all of last season’s champions, he stands apart. There’s no doubt that with O’Sullivan there is an intimidation factor which comes from his success, his personality and his general aura around the table. It’s hard for the other players to just play the balls and not the man.

Some players deny this but the facts, as at the Crucible last season, speak for themselves. Nobody has stepped up and convincingly taken him on now for 18 months. It will be interesting to see if anyone can at the UK Championship and the Masters.

I think of all the top players, Mark Selby is best equipped to do this because he can get under O’Sullivan’s skin, but he of course was a semi-final loser in Coventry.

There should be more invitation events
A number of top players said there should be more events – like this – for top players. They could be accused of self-interest but it doesn’t mean they aren’t right.

Not every tournament has to have a cast of thousands. Snooker works best as entertainment – which is what it should be when televised – when matches are evenly fought, and that happens when the players are evenly matched.

The general public – not those in the snooker bubble – don’t care about ‘fairness’ or ranking points, they just want to be entertained by the best in the world. Snooker historically mixed ranking and invitation events successfully. Let’s reward success more. Let’s reward achievement. Let’s give the top players more events like this.

They drive the interest which keeps the rest in a job.

You don’t need to have been world champion to be a good commentator
Sports broadcasting is not about what you’ve won but about how well you can communicate. In Clive Everton, Neal Foulds and Alan McManus, ITV4 found three of the best in the business.

Neal and Alan have both won major events but neither has been world champion. So what? They are each intelligent, knowledgeable and have excellent vocabularies. Their analysis was thoughtful and interesting. They mixed humour with genuine insight.

There was also discipline to the commentary because everyone knew what their role was: Clive was the lead commentator doing that information-led role and Neal/Alan the expert. It all made for an enjoyable, rewarding watch. ITV’s coverage was excellent.

Snooker in Britain is not dead
It has declined in interest and participation since the heady days of the 1980s snooker boom. The smoking ban was one factor but not the only one. Society has changed. Snooker is no longer a mainstay of terrestrial television like it once was.

But the idea that the sport in the UK is dead is nonsense. Crowds were good this week for a new event in a new place for snooker.

I am about as far from a little Englander as you can get, I can’t stand that parochial mind-set. I wanted snooker to go global many years before it did.

But neither do I want it forgotten that the UK is the place that built the professional game. It still has a place to play in this new era.

Barry Hearn knows what he’s doing
Hearn pulled this tournament together out of thin air. The nit-picking about the format before it began was quickly forgotten once it started.

Hearn deserves credit but he isn’t a one-man band. Sharon, Luke and the others at Matchroom organised and ran the tournament with their usual calm efficiency. They did their best to make it stand out with the set and slightly different dress-code.

Matchroom have a long record of giving people what they want, even when they don’t know they want it, and they can chalk this one down as another success story.



I was literally putting my coat on to leave the 888casino Champion of Champions event in Coventry when the latest Mark Allen controversy broke.

After his match against Ali Carter the two players came into the pressroom together. Carter went to the main press conference, which I attended, and Allen sat down to speak to a local radio reporter, who asked him a generic opening question along the lines of “it wasn’t your day, can you tell us how you feel?”

Unprompted, Allen then stated that he had been disappointed by Carter’s behaviour in the arena, accusing him of resorting to “tricks” and “antics” to distract him.

The reporter quite reasonably followed up by asking for examples of what Carter was supposed to have done but Allen did not elaborate with specifics.

He didn’t seem especially angry, more like a man stating his opinion. By the time the wider media was alerted to what he had said, Carter had departed to prepare for his evening match against Neil Robertson so could not be asked for his version of events.

On the Richter scale of Allen controversies this rates pretty low. Carter, frankly, is tough enough to defend himself. I suspect any noise or movement on his part was purely accidental but I wasn’t in the arena and didn’t watch every moment of the match.

However, anyone with any journalistic sense knows that one player accusing another of deliberately putting them off is a legitimate story.

Allen chose to say this in an interview, so obviously knew – or even demanded – that it would be reported.

It was therefore disappointing that, having had flak on Twitter – not a nice experience I’m sure when it’s from people who weren’t there and possibly hadn’t even heard the interview – he chose to blame the media for the whole thing.

“I’m only have a reputation cause the media print the stories their way,” was one tweet.

No, Mark, you have it because of things you have chosen to say in media interviews. You have a right to say them. Others have a right to either agree or disagree with them.

It seems these days everyone is an expert in the media, particularly if they’re not journalists.

I have been one for 15 years. In that time, I can honestly say that instances of a player being ‘stitched up’ by members of the press have been extremely rare.

In fact, most often problems occur when the original story filed has been rewritten by someone in a newspaper office and inaccuracies inserted accidentally.

When it has happened deliberately it has angered the other journalists who are doing their best to promote the sport because it reflects badly on the media as a whole.

However, there is no media agenda against Mark Allen. There just isn't.

He is actually quite popular, precisely because he is prepared to say what’s on his mind, which leads to stories more interesting than “I’m pleased to win and hope to go a long way in the tournament.” But with freedom of speech comes the responsibility for what you say. That responsibility is his.

The media’s is to report what happens and what is said. That is all that happened today. That is what I am doing here (I’ve taken my coat off now).

I wasn’t even going to write about it until I saw the whole affair being misrepresented on Twitter but I suspect it will blow over soon enough.



I spent the afternoon in Coventry for the first day of the 888casino Champion of Champions and was impressed by what I saw.

The venue is big and lively and a huge effort has been put into making this new tournament something special, from the set to the new dress code – normal ties replacing bowties to give it a distinctive look.

With one table and the world’s best, it already feels like a prestigious event. Crowds were pretty good overall and there was some interesting snooker played.

John Higgins had a great chance to beat Stephen Maguire 4-2 but admitted that he had felt the pressure in the sixth frame. Higgins, as so often throughout his career, has been chopping and changing cues and techniques and seems to have put himself in a position where he lacks confidence in the basics of his game.

Maguire was surprised to win but delighted also. I suspect he spoke for many of the top 16 afterwards with his comments about the event when I asked him if it was nice to have a tournament just for the elite.

He said: “The set-up is different class compared to what we’re used to now. A few years ago we were used to that but we went backwards, or the top 16 did anyway.

“It’s nice to be rewarded with a nice arena. I’d like more of them. Get the top 16 boys playing in big tournaments like this.”

Not everyone will agree with Maguire’s comments but I know what he means. At times the ‘pro fairness’ agenda sounds like anti-excellence. Everyone has the same chance to climb the rankings and win titles. The sport’s champions deserve to be feted.

Meanwhile, the moaning and groaning about Shaun Murphy’s inclusion ended on the first afternoon when he was beaten 4-2 by Mark Selby.

It says a lot about Selby’s commitment to the game that, having arrived home at 5.30am after winning in Antwerp on Sunday night, he went to practice for two hours yesterday wearing a tie because he had never played snooker in one before.

This is how champions are made: by going the extra mile. It would have been much easier to catch up on sleep – and most would have – but Selby wanted that edge for the week.

One last thing, and this is something I haven’t written much about in the past because of (accurate) accusations of bias, but having listened to him commentating all day, what were the BBC thinking when they dropped Clive Everton from their commentary team?

Nobody has ever so expertly combined snooker knowledge and use of language. The skill of any great broadcaster is as much knowing when not to speak as what is actually said on air.

Combined with the excellent Neal Foulds and Alan McManus, Clive’s presence lends the event gravitas and makes ITV4’s coverage a really good watch.

It should be a really absorbing week’s snooker.



The 888casino Champion of Champions is a new event which starts tomorrow at the Ricoh Arena and, refreshingly, it rewards success.

In this era of flat draws and ‘fairness’ it should be remembered that achievements are worth celebrating. Winning is to be admired. Excellence is to be applauded. The top players deserve to be recognised for being the top players.

Thus, the cream of snooker will gather in Coventry for the next six days, chasing down a top prize of £100,000 in this ITV4 televised tournament.

This is effectively a re-tread of the Champions Cup, also televised by ITV, which ran as a seasonal curtain raiser from 1999-2001.

That event featured round robin groups. Thankfully, this one does not. In fact, there aren’t really groups at all. It’s a straight knockout, it’s just that each quarter of the draw is played in a single day.

So the first four days will feature two best of sevens in the afternoon and a best of 11 quarter-final at night.

The qualification requirements were rightly made clear when the tournament was announced: winners of all major tournaments, then the list topped up using the world rankings.

All ranking titles were shared last season and with Stuart Bingham added as Premier League champion and Martin Gould as winner of the Championship League, that left just two more available places.

Shaun Murphy takes the first and Mark Davis, by a margin of just 75 points over Robert Milkins, the second, although it could be argued Davis should be in anyway as world six reds champion.

Mark Selby, fresh from his Antwerp triumph on Sunday night, kicks off against Murphy on Tuesday afternoon, the winner to play John Higgins or Stephen Maguire in the evening.

ITV’s renewed involvement is welcome, as is Clive Everton’s return to the commentary box alongside two first rate analysts in Neal Foulds and Alan McManus.

It will be interesting to see what crowd figures are like. The Midlands has been a traditional stronghold for snooker but many traditional bases in the UK have been in decline, with clubs closing down at an alarming rate.

(Also, I’ve never understood why people think auditoriums should be full on a weekday afternoon when most people are at work.)

Hopefully, the crowds will grow during the week. New events need time to build. I hope the Champion of Champions becomes a permanent fixture on the calendar. It’s good to have different types of tournaments.

This is a new event which Barry Hearn’s Matchroom has pulled together out of nothing. He has assembled a great field, a sponsors, big prize money and a terrestrial broadcaster.

It deserves to succeed and, with the quality on show, it surely will.



Ronnie O’Sullivan has never enjoyed playing Mark Selby. In his recent autobiography, Running, he described the Leicester man as ‘The Torturor,’ which was a compliment so back-handed it could earn him a place in Britain’s Davis Cup team.

But in fact Selby didn’t torture O’Sullivan to win European Tour event 7 in Antwerp tonight – he just played really well.

He also proved that if you apply real, tangible pressure to O’Sullivan he can feel it, just like any other player can.

Few did this at the Crucible earlier this year and O’Sullivan’s big match temperament is such that he if he gets in front he frequently converts a lead into a victory.

But Selby took the game to him and it worked. In the decider, O’Sullivan missed a straightforward pot and Selby cleared for his 4-3 victory.

It’s his first title of the season and means he has now won five Players Tour Championship tournaments – more than anyone else.

As O’Sullivan put it afterwards, in sport some days you win and some you lose. The world champion certainly showed signs of becoming match fit ahead of the UK Championship at the end of this month.

This event was superbly supported by enthusiastic and respectful Belgian snooker fans and they were treated to some compelling snooker.

Judd Trump made the first maximum of his professional career on Friday night – and the 99th in snooker history – but was beaten by Selby.

Jack Lisowski, inconsistent but on his day brilliant, had a good run to the semi-finals but was also beaten by Selby, as was in form Ding Junhui, who was oddly subdued in the quarter-finals.

The field for the Grand Finals – venue as yet unannounced – is filling up with quality players with just the Gdynia event plus one more in Asia to come.

The action moves to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Tuesday for the inaugural Champion of Champions tournament.



Hercule Poirot, that meddling Belgian who sent many a murderer down despite having no actual jurisdiction in law, takes his final bow on British television tonight.

It’s apt in a way because the next event, in Belgium this week, will, like all Poirot stories, come down to a dozen or so usual suspects, all with a good claim, the eventual champion to be revealed in the final reel.

It’s noticeable how few surprise winners of Players Tour Championship events there have been, particularly since they started to be televised.

The cream has risen to the top time and time again because though prize money and ranking points are lower than in the bigger events, it’s the same difficult game with the same pressures.

What the PTCs have done, though, is given less experienced players invaluable table time against the world’s best and also imbued many with confidence to take into bigger tournaments.

Hence, Robbie Williams, a second season professional, reached the semi-finals of the European Tour event in Mulheim then went to Delhi and got to the same stage of the new Indian Open.

The PTCs have also given some lesser lights TV exposure and introduced audiences to different faces.

The Antwerp event was won last year by Mark Allen, who has just captured the last two European Tour titles this season, in Germany and Gloucester.

He was absolutely right to point out that he has interrupted Ding’s run, which encompassed the Shanghai, Indian and International titles. However, this does not detract from Ding’s three in a row achievement.

World ranking events have traditionally been solely professional tournaments. On occasion they have included amateurs, as when the World Championship was open, but were still strictly seeded according to the world rankings. The PTCs are pro-ams, open to everyone and anyone, with ranking points attached.

For statistical purposes, therefore, they are classed as ‘minor’ ranking titles, in the same way that similar events in the mid 1990s were.

This does not diminish the worth of winning one. They are tough slogs, with seven match wins required over a two-day period.

By my reckoning there have been 46 PTC events staged in the UK, Europe and Asia since 2010 with 25 different winners.

In Antwerp, Ding, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Allen, Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump and Mark Selby are among the leading title contenders.

TV coverage starts live on Friday on Eurosport2 at 8.30 GMT.

In the meantime, here is a list of PTC winners, by titles:

Judd Trump, Mark Selby

John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen

Stuart Bingham, Stephen Maguire, Michael Holt, Tom Ford, Stephen Lee, Mark Williams, Ding Junhui

Rod Lawler, Martin Gould, Barry Pinches, Shaun Murphy, Dominic Dale, Marcus Campbell, Ben Woollaston, Andrew Higginson, Joe Perry, Ricky Walden, Ju Reti, Liang Wenbo



Mark Allen’s defeat of Judd Trump in last night’s European Tour final at Gloucester means back-to-back PTC wins for the Northern Irishman, who heads to Antwerp this week looking for a hat-trick.

This was the first professional title that Allen – not always the happiest traveller – has won in the UK.

Last season, he won the European Tour event staged in Antwerp and also defended his World Open title. But in the really big events he was disappointing, making first round exits at the UK and World Championships.

At 27, he is precisely the right age to be challenging for major titles. He certainly has the will to win, the temperament and, of course, the ability.

Allen’s problem is that all too frequently it has not all come together at once. But he said after his victory at the Ruhr Open how hard he had been working with Terry Griffiths, his coach, and this bodes well for the next few months, which includes the UK Championship and Masters.

Trump too will take confidence from the week. He has not been getting the results in big tournaments but, as I said after his Chengdu exit, this represented a slump not a career crisis.

Neil Robertson had five more centuries to take his seasonal tally to a whopping 44. He also knocked out Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Ken Doherty won only one frame but did so by making the tournament’s highest break, 140.

Among the players doing well were Chris Wakelin, a Q School graduate, who reached the quarter-finals and Jamie Jones, largely off the radar since his appearance in the 2012 Crucible quarter-finals, who reached the semi-finals.

The first day was devoted to amateur rounds and these ground on for so long that play did not end until close to 5am, a situation which did nobody any favours, least of all the players.

The answer is to either extend the event if entries are high, cap the entries or reduce matches in the amateur phase to best of fives.



Steve Davis has not entered the UK Championship, apparently so that he can instead take part in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here.

This will mean Davis going not to York to pot balls and sit in the BBC studio with Hazel, JP and Hendry but travel to the Australian outback with rats, snakes, grubs and spiders for company, as well as his fellow contestants.

Steve has more than earned the right to do what he likes but it strikes me an as odd decision. I’d be very surprised if he needs the money. The celebrity world has never been one which has appealed to him.

Still, at least he is famous for doing something tangible. Reality shows tend to be self-perpetuating: finding members of the public to appear on them who thus become famous and can appear on more and more.

Therefore, Steve can expect to share a campsite with the denizens of mind-rotting trash like the Only Way Is Essex and other gems of the schedules.

For the uninitiated, I’m A Celebrity takes well known people and humiliates them on television through a series of undignified tasks, such as lying in a coffin full of rats.

It’s exactly what John Logie Baird had in mind when he legged it down the patent office.

It’s been suggested to me by more than one person that Davis likes a challenge, is fascinated by any game and that this represents a high stakes chance to test himself.

Maybe, but the contestants are at the mercy of the edit. There are two main ways to get screen time: shout at and argue with everyone or cry.

A thoughtful, dryly humorous person may not feature so prominently but Steve, while not exactly appealing to the show’s core demographic, could still do very well. He is much funnier than many people realise and is a likeable character.

The last snooker player to appear on the programme was Jimmy White, who finished third. Can Steve go even further?

Davis was once the king of snooker, now he is aiming the become king of the jungle when the programme starts on November 17.

This is an unexpected development in a glorious career but I wish him the best of luck.