Sunday, 31 October 2010

Power Snooker: The Verdict

This blog is a little more delayed than I would have liked.


Minus playing football this morning and in my local snooker league this afternoon, I don't actually fully know what I think of Power Snooker yet.

Don't get me wrong, I had a great day at the event but I'm not sure if that was because of the snooker. I think it was more to do with enjoying a few beers, having some great banter with my mate and visiting the O2 for the first time.

As for the snooker, I'd use the word 'bizarre' to describe it all.

It definitely was a good laugh and I was moderately entertained. I didn't have much trouble following the scoring, there were some very close matches, but it didn't feel like a revolution.

It just seemed like a watered down version of the sport I love.

The crowd were aggravating and insistent on hurling abuse at the players. What happened to snooker being a gentleman's sport? When one 'fan' shouted: "come on Murphy you fat c***," to say I wasn't impressed, was an understatement. It was clear from this as well as other numerous outbursts that the crowd were were not your usual snooker crew.

To then over hear a group of lads next to us, trying to work out which players were former world champions proved that. But then again, I don't think introducing new fans to the game is a bad thing even if they do lack a certain level of knowledge.

This sounds like a bit of a whine, when in fact there was some great snooker played throughout the day.

Predictably Ronnie won the competition. He proved he's a clever man, winning £35,000 for 90 minutes work by designing a game that suits his own style of play, and convincing others it's the future of the game.

I also enjoyed watching Luca Brecel, there was some terrific banter on the table between Ali Carter and Mark Selby, and the Shaun Murphy Neil Robertson match went right to the wire.

The players seemed to be enjoying themselves and it was great to see the sport jazzed up with some music, a light-hearted approach and an injection of humour.

But when people talk about Power Snooker as a revolution, I have to disagree. It was good fun, a nice day out and I actually think we'll see the tournament again next year.

But it won't catch on and rival the real game. And if it's on TV next year, I'll probably tune in but won't go out of my way to get a ticket.

Well there you have it, my honest verdict. In conclusion, I've probably sat on the fence. What a wimp.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Power Snooker: The Preview

The journey of Power Snooker begins this Saturday at the Indigo O2, and already its under massive pressure to answer the questions that loom large above it.

If the purists have their way, this new journey will begin at the weekend, and end the same day, such is the strength of opposition to the concept of power snooker among many fans.

'Don't mend what's not broken' is the view of most.

I like many other fans love the slow burning tension snooker provides. And in fairness, what the sport lacked at the start of the season was the number of events. This has been partly fixed by the introduction of the new PTC series. While snooker had its shortcoming before the arrival of Barry Hearn, the tradition of the game was never in question. Yet Power Snooker seems to be tinkering with the usual format of the game, when in fact this was never the problem. That is what probably what fuels the opposition.

And this is what leads me to believe that Power Snooker is more about dragging new fans towards the sport, rather than wowing the current crop.

But as long as the game isn't tinkered with at the majors, I've got no problems whatsoever with trying something new.

I've followed snooker for many years. I love everything about it. But that didn't stop me logging on to buy tickets for this new phenomenon. Not because I craved more from the sport, but more out of curiosity I guess.

It's been well documented that the new rules may be difficult to follow, but doesn't every sport or new game start out this way. Power Snooker has one day to impress me. I know deep down I'll always prefer the traditional format of the game, but what is more appealing to me is to see snooker in the headlines.

Just seeing the sport being talked about gives me great satisfaction, because many years ago it was an even bigger sport than football. Now, it's not on the same scale, but any publicity will be welcomed. Any chance to see snooker back in the public eye like it once was should surely be classed a success. Power Snooker has the ability to do this, even if for just one day.

I won't be in the crowd to watch the future of the game unfold. I'll be there for entertainment value only. Even if not entirely endorsed, I'm excited to see snooker in a completely different light. It may be a success, it may flop. But whatever, it certainly will be interesting.

I have a feeling that part of Power Snooker's creation is to satisfy Ronnie and his clear need for something more from the game. Because of this, Saturday may be the day we see The Rocket produce like he hasn't for many years. I wouldn't miss that treat for the world. So, for that reason alone, it could be a day worth savouring.

Ronnie I'm sure will revel out of the fact of being centre stage, where natural ability over any real tactical prowess will be rewarded. But Ronnie will be under pressure as well. He's put so much faith and weight behind Power Snooker being a success, that he's almost having his understanding of the game put to the test.

He's be red-hot favourite to lift the trophy, so he'll be playing with a pressure he hasn't had for many seasons, where he has something to prove. It'll be interesting to see how he responds to that.

For all these reasons, I'm looking forward to Power Snooker. Bring it on...

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Ronnie turns the table in a blink

Coming into tonight's Premier League match, this really was billed as a must-win match for The Rocket.

With three draws so far, O'Sullivan was bottom of the table. For a man who has reigned supreme in this competition in recent years, his situation was shocking by his own impeccable standards.

And in his way tonight was a rejuvenated Mark Williams who sat top of the table, brimming with confidence after a terrific start to the season.

Ronnie on the other hand has dipped in and out of form so far but when it mattered, O'Sullivan responded in his usual stylish fashion. He brushed Williams away 4-2 tonight and now it looks a whole lot rosier. He's climbed off the foot of the table and is the only unbeaten man left in the series. It just shows what a huge difference one match can make in this tightly-contested Premier League format.

What impresses most though is not only did Ronnie get the job done, there was a swagger about it too.

This stylish win had the O'Sullivan stamp all over it and against arguably the best player on tour so far this season. He's teed himself up perfectly for Saturday's Power Snooker competition, and is finely poised in the Premier League for when he meets Neil Robertson in Grimsby in a fortnight's time.

So panic over, and he made it look so easy.

In the night's other match, Ding Junhui couldn't bounce back from last week's humiliation.

After losing 6-0 at the hands of world number Robertson in Oxfordshire, he was handed another thumping as he went down 5-1 to Hong Kong's Marco Fu.

What makes these two results more shocking is that just earlier this month Ding won a PTC event and looked in fine nick when he beat Mark Selby 4-2 at Brentwood. He's gone from a player who was showing all the qualities of winning major honours this season, to one who now looks like he can't arrest his slide.

Too many more games like this and even his firmest followers may begin to doubt him.

But as for Fu, he finished bottom of the Premier League last season with just two points to his name. This year, he's already accumulated six and tops the charts. So fair play son!

Please step forward... Hammad Miah

The strength in depth of the professional tour is probably as great as it's ever been.

But even below this pool of vastly talented players, there are many pretenders to the throne just waiting for their chance.

OnCue spoke with 17-year-old star of the future Hammad Miah, who currently plays on the baize at Pockets snooker club in Hertfordshire, as he strives to break into the professional game over the coming years.

With considerable century breaks already to his name, a highest break of 144 and a win against Jimmy White in the bag, keep your eyes peeled for this great break builder in the years to come.

When did you start playing snooker Hammad?

In 2001, I went to watch the Masters with my dad. He got me into it. I watched Paul Hunter and all the top players at that tournament and it really inspired me. It was good to watch so I thought I'd play myself. After that, I just picked up a cue and it's been all good ever since. 

Has it always been quite natural to you?

Yeah, I picked it up quite quickly at the start and that meant I enjoyed it, so that made me come down more often and keep playing. It was that simple.

How far are you away from turning professional now?

In my eyes, the only thing that's wrong with my game at the moment is my positional play but, of course, that's a very key factor. My potting is keeping me going, but I know I can't rely on that all the time. When I can advance my positional play to the next level, I think I'll do very well, but I know how tough it will be to break into the tour even with that. But I think if I can get in the tour in the next two years then I'll know I've got it. I know I've got it now, but I've just got to work harder and make sure it happens. I've got my sponsorship so it's down to me now. But when I practice well, I get zoned in and everything happens for me on the table. These are the moments I really believe.

How have you been performing in competitions recently?

Late last year, I won my first junior tournament on the English Regional Tour. I enjoyed that because there's some good players involved. I came first in the play-offs at this event and qualified for the tour I'm in now, the Premier Tour. In this, there's six tournaments for 48 players and, if I get into the top three in that, I'll be able to represent England and also play in the world under-21 and euro under competitions, so that's the incentive to work hard. In the first two events, I just missed out on qualification through the groups and I'm ranked around halfway, but there's something for me to build on.

Where do you see yourself against the other players on that tour?

I'm really pleased to be in a league with all other top junior players. It shows I'm playing at a competitive level.. I can't be complacent. I know I can, and will, do well. I'm quite a confident person, but I need to keep going and be patient for it to come.

You've already made a break of 144, so I assume break building is a strong part of your game?

Yeah. When I was 12, that ability to break build just came on really strongly. I was 15 when I made that break, and it felt really good. It makes me want to score heavily every time I get in the balls. I've made between 50 and 60 centuries but if my positional play was better I know it could be more. I often fall back on my potting rather than making it easier for myself.

You beat Jimmy in a club in an exhibition. How did that feel?

He's a legend so just to be playing him that night was great. To go and win was a dream come true. I didn't feel too nervous either. I was playing in my own club, I'm used to it and I just concentrated so much on playing well that I didn't really have a chance to get daunted. Former pro Jason Pegram, who runs the club, introduced me as the best player at the club though, so that put pressure on me more than anything else.

There's still some way to go, but do you ever let yourself dream about being a pro?

Yes, I want to make it so badly. I'd like to fast forward and see where I am in 10 years time. Hopefully, one day, I'll be holding the world trophy. But hard work will get me there, not dreaming.

Who's your favourite player, who do you like watching?

It's obviously got to be Ronnie. He's someone I look up to. When he gets in, he's fantastic. At the World Open, he was outplayed by Neil Robertson, who is another good player, but I like the players who score heavily and like attacking.

Are you watching much snooker at the minute and who do you fancy for the worlds this season?

I'm always going to fancy Ronnie because, if he wants to win it, I think he will, but there are a lot of other good players so who knows. You can't even write off the underdogs these days. I can sit and watch snooker for hours and I sometimes do. If I'm in the club, I'm busy playing and there's so much going on but at home I'll watch any match.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

60 seconds with... Anthony McGill

Young gun Anthony McGill has really grasped the nettle this year in his bid to rise up the snooker rankings.

With plenty of PTC events for him to get his teeth into, it's proving to be the perfect apprenticeship for a young player who has been tipped for a long and successful career in the game.

OnCue asked him some quickfire questions.

When did you start playing snooker and how?

I always Enjoyed watching snooker on TV and then when I was about seven-years-old I played a lot of pool on holiday. That year I got a small snooker table for Christmas and then when I turned eight or nine, I moved onto the full size tables.

What's your proudest snooker moment and why?

Well in terms of winning a tournament it has to be the Pontin's International Open Series (PIOS) in December last year. It's a very difficult amateur tournaments to win. Also beating Stephen Hendry and Stephen Maguire both 4-0 at this year's PTC events, will stick with me forever.

What's your lowest moment and why?

I missed out on qualifying for the main tour by one match in 2008 and by 1 frame in 2009.

In 2008 I lost to Stephen Craigie 6-2 in the European U19 Final. To get one match away from the Pro tour and lose was hard to take.

Then in 2009 when I was desperate to bounce back, I lost 6-5 in the Scottish Championship semi final to Ross Vallance. If I had won I would have finished top of the Scottish rankings and qualified for tour. So to lose out by only a frame was probably my lowest moment. It got even worse for me.

Where do you see yourself in five year's time?

I would hope I was at least in the top 32, but I would also hope to be in the top 16. Well preferably, I would like to be number 1!

What professional snooker player do you most admire and why?

Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis for the way they dominated their eras. That kind of domination can only be achieved by working extremely hard and practicing hours upon hours, so I admire their ability to practice more than the rest. Hard work is vital I believe.

What's your greatest snooker memory?

I have so many good memories from snooker it would be hard to signal one out but hopefully I will have more to come!

If you weren't a snooker player, what would you be and why?

I am fascinated by the human mind and the power of it. I enjoy reading books on the mind, so I definitely would go into education to study that field.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Campbell conquers Germany

Marcus Campbell may be a bit of journeyman in the game after 19 years as a professional but he showed he can still turn it on by winning the EPTC3 title in Germany.

The Scot has been enjoying a spell of resurgence over the last two years, and these vital ranking points edged him back into the the top 32.

This achievement is definitely worth celebrating considering just three seasons ago he was down at 52. And while reaching the 32 may be a satisfying milestone, it also has tangible benefits for the Dumbarton Destroyer.

If he can retain his place in the game's second band by the end of the UK championships in December, he'll need to win just one qualifying match after the turn of the year to make it to the German Masters and Welsh Open proper.

After beating China's Liang Wenbo 4-0 in the the final, he thanked his fellow Scottish stars for helping him turn around his career.

And it's no coincidence that mapped alongside his turn in fortunes, 24 months ago he switched clubs, and has since been hitting the practice tables with the likes Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott and John Higgins.

With that kind of company, it's no wonder the 38-year-old has enjoyed a marked improvement in fortunes. Between the trio, they behold all the qualities a player in the modern game could possible throw at Campbell.

His performance in the final wasn't the best. He earned a 3-0 lead despite his highest break being just 32 in these frames. But he certainly made up for this earlier in the competition where he played some fine snooker beating most notably shock semi-finalist Ken Doherty, Judd Trump and Robert Milkins along the way.

Anyone who accuses Campbell's triumph of being caused by a drop in standard at these PTC events can eat their words as well after the weekend brought two terrific maximums. Mark Williams and Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon both made breaks of 147 to take this season's tally up to five.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Dale dominates at PTC6

Dominic Dale could only dream of winning another ranking event before this season.

But thanks to the launch of the PTC events, he's added a third title to his collection and shown what a valuable tool these new competitions are in helping the depth of quality in the sport flourish.

The Welshman is no mug. Anyone who's made it to a semi-final at the Crucible warrants respect, but after winning his last title at the Shanghai Masters in 2007, Dale has only ever been a shadow of himself on the baize since.

And as you'll hear time and time again, he's such a lovely bloke, that it's nice to see him back at the business end of a tournament.

In the final he beat one of the success stories of the season so far, Martin Gould. The Pinner potter has rocketed up to 20th in the world rankings with some fine displays, including a quarter-final spot at the World Open.

But there really was no stopping Dale this weekend in Sheffield, as he recovered from needing three snookers in the deciding frame against Gould, to eventually lift the trophy.

His comeback if not fortuitous was still spectacular. While Gould still has years ahead of him to land his first ranking prize, Dale will hope his triumph marks the moment that will resurrect his career.

He's suffered from inconsistency in the past couple of years, but this win as least shows it's still in his locker.

As well as a big personal achievement for Dale, seeing the world number 33 claim top prize marks another victory for the lesser stars in the game. While he becomes the eighth different player to claim a PTC win this season, he is also the fourth from outside the top 16 to be crowned.

He joins Tom Ford, Barry Pinches and Judd Trump as the outsiders who have stolen the headlines this season. For many years, the sport's followers have harped on about the great depth in the game.

This series is proving it beyond doubt, that below even the mighty top 16, there are some rare gems at the sport's disposal.

What really will be interesting is as we approach qualification for the bigger events on the calendar, which players can transfer their fine promise from the PTCs into the majors, and show that rather than a flash in the pan, these tournaments have been a useful set of build-up events.

The snooker is still coming thick and fast, with EPTC3 up next weekend.

Until then, here's the latest order of merit, in which the top 24 will gain qualification to the grand finals in March:

1. Barry Pinches
2. Mark Selby
3. Mark Williams
4. Dominic Dale
5. Judd Trump
6. Shaun Murphy
7. Tom Ford
8. Ding Junhui
9. Martin Gould
10. Marco Fu
11. Jamie Jones
12. Stephen Maguire
13. Jack Lisowski
14. Anthony Hamilton
15. Ricky Walden
16. Mark Davis
17. Ronnie O'Sullivan
18. Stuart Bingham
19. Daniel Wells (amateur)
20. Marcus Campbell
21. Matthew Stevens
22. Matt Couch
23. Andrew Higginson
24. Liang Wenbo
25. Gerard Greene
26. Anthony McGill
27. Jamie Cope
28. Jimmy Robertson
29. Stephen Lee
30. Alfie Burden
31. Barry Hawkins
32. Jimmy White

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

60 seconds with...Jamie Jones

The new season has brought it's fair share of shock finalists.

Jamie Burnett progressed to the showpiece in Shanghai, while the new PTC events have given the lower ranked players a chance to experience the the buzz of playing in the shoot-out match for a trophy. Matt Couch,  Barry Pinches and Jack Lisowski have been among the players to cash in.

Welshman Jamie Jones progressed to the final in the most recent tournament, before finally being beaten by Ding Junhui at the PTC5.

He spoke exclusively to OnCue this week, where he revealed his aims to be a top 16 player within the next five years...

Well done in Sheffield last week reaching the PTC5 final. Explain how you were feeling?

I started off my first round match feeling really good and I ended up playing that way too.

That carried on throughout the tournament so I wasn't really surprised when I kept winning my matches because when I play with confidence, I feel unbeatable.

After the competition, it sunk in that I made it to the final of an event with practically all the best players in the world bar Ronnie and Higgins, so I felt quite proud of myself.

It hasn't made me reassess my aims in the game. I've been scoring like I did in the PTC5 ever since I was a 16-years-old, so I knew that I was capable of it.

It's given me a lot of confidence in myself though to realise that I can go on to be a top player. It's just down to my dedication on and off the table.

Is it your proudest snooker moment?

Yes probably. I'm really proud of how I'm playing right now. I'm pleased with the way I'm performing, happy with my results and think I'm preparing myself well. 

What about your lowest?

I'd say about three years ago. I'd  fallen out of love with snooker. I wasn't enjoying practicing or playing in competitions. I went through a bad time off the table and I'm just very glad I came through that time. 

What professional snooker player do you most admire and why?

It has to be Stephen Hendry. Throughout my junior career I would watch Hendry's maestro video nearly every single night. I loved the fact that he was a true champion and very much wanted to be just like him.

Where do you see yourself in five year's time? 

I'm very ambitious. I'd like to think I would be a top 16 player at least. I would like to have won one ranking competition, if not a few more.

When did you start playing snooker and how?

I started playing at my uncle Michael's house when I was younger on a smaller table, and I loved it. I used to carry a chair round the table with me because I couldn't reach!

If you weren't a snooker player, what would you be and why? 

If I wasn't a snooker player, I think I'd be in the army if I'm honest. I've never really liked like paper work so it would have to be something physical. I know the army is a very dangerous job but I think the lads that have gone to war are the bravest people around.

Powering the snooker debate

Power Snooker graces the game later this month.

The concept seems to be capturing the imagination of most. For the ardent snooker fans out there, it's a chance to watch the sport in a new, faster format.

For others, who find the game too laborious to watch in its traditional format, Power Snooker is a diluted version of the sport. There's less time for safety, more emphasis on potting and therefore for some, the game becomes more watchable.

Whatever band you fall into, the core aim of Power Snooker remains the same. It is a regeneration of snooker, in addition to the rest of the sport's calendar, to drum up more interest.

In my eyes, this one-day tournament has the potential to bring the sport into the public eye to the same heights it reached during the famous World Championship final in 1985. I believe it could be that big.

I look at what Twenty20 has done for cricket, and have visions of a similar furore surrounding Power Snooker.

The fact that the draw for this exciting tournament was made during the half-time interval of England's European Championship qualifier against Montenegro live on ITV, just shows the burning desire Barry Hearn has to take the sport to the public.

I'm positive it'll be a huge success, and will return to the snooker calendar year after year.

I'm even confident the sceptics out there will warm to it. Maybe not whole-heatedly at first, but in time, they will become the converted.

No-one is saying it should replace the traditional side of the game. It's merely an extension to the current calendar, which is already substantially popular among the sport's biggest followers.

The draw itself certainly made my mouth water. In form man Ding Junhui takes on crowd favourite Jimmy White. Enough said! Two of the game's biggest emerging stars of the last two years, Mark Selby and Ali Carter also meet, while the most fascinating match in the first round will probably be between Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy. These boys can sure pot, and their naturally attacking style of play should produce fireworks.

But unsurprisingly the most talked-about tie involves Ronnie O'Sullivan and Belgium's 15-year-old wonderkid Luca Brecel.

The Rocket is no stranger to being the talk of the tour, he's come to relish it in fact. But for once he's been upstaged, and people seem to be talking about Brecel more than the three-time world champion.

Unfortunately, it's not all been positive.

While some fans are looking forward to see what this undoubtedly talented young man can produce on the biggest stage, others seem more interested in criticising his invitation to Power Snooker.

First of all, as much as people bleat, it won't change a thing.Wildcards are not picked to be popular. They're picked to spice up a tournament. It's not a decision you or me will ever get to make, so what's the point in moaning.

Secondly, the clue is in the name , 'wild'card. And I'll admit the decision to invite Brecel to this event did stun me at first. But it's a wild decision, as the name suggests it should be. And if Hearn's aim is to get people talking, and therefore watching, it looks like it's working.

Whether people tune in to see if Brecel is as good as word on the street has it, or even just in hope that he fails miserably, the end product is the same; people are watching snooker.

Thirdly, any argument that Brecel's inclusion gives him any advantage over his other fellow young hopefuls is utter nonsense. There's no ranking points attached to the competition, and there's as much chance of him losing confidence as there is of him gaining any off the back of this.

Fourthly, the slogan for Power Snooker is 'Cue the Revolution'. Well, if this really is a revolution, then surely change is right and proper. And Brecel is definitely the kind of player I'd class as revolutionary. He's a young hope, who Hearn obviously rates very highly.

And say one day the Belgium star goes on to win major honours, we may just look back at his wildcard appearance at the 2010 Power Snooker as the moment that made him. And with the game entering a new generation, which is supposedly all about giving young players the best platform to develop, Brecel can have no complaints about the chance he's been handed.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Ding delivers with PTC prize

Ding Junhui has clicked into gear at the perfect time.

With major honours of the UK Championships and The Masters on the horizon, China's number one is just beginning to rediscover his finest form.

It's not been plain sailing so far this season for Ding, but this week has certainly been one to remember. On Thursday night he served up arguably the most complete showing of any player so far in this year's Premier League with an impressive 4-2 against Mark Selby in Brentwood.

Then returning to his hometwon Sheffield for the weekend, he lifted the PTC5 crown with yet more great snooker.

He beat Wales' unranked Jamie Jones 4-1 in the final, who adds his name to a clutch of the game's lesser stars who have used the PTC competition as a fast-track route to the limelight of the sport.

This weekend will easily rank among the 22-year-old's best in his career so far after wins against Ricky Walden, Martin Gould, Patrick Wallace, Gerrard Greene, Liu Song and Patrick Einsle guided him to the final.

But Ding, who was terrific throughout the weekend, eventually stopped his fairytale.

The world number eight also beat Andrew Higginson, Dominic Dale, Stephen Lee, Peter Ebdon, Stuart Bingham and Tony Drago on route to his triumph.

This win will mark the moment Ding kick starts his season in many people's eyes. And with the defence of his UK Championship title just around the corner, it couldn't be better timed. In this kind of form, he now looks a certainty to reach the business end of any major ranking event he enters, and will surely be installed as one of the favourites in Telford. He's shown this week the talent we all know he possesses, but just a little more resilience when he's not firing on all cylinders will help him drop his inconsistent tag.

The only disappointment for Ding is that despite this win, which sees him climb from 65th to a place in the top 24 of the in the Order of Merit list, he's still ineligible for the grand finals in March because he missed the first four tournaments in Sheffield.

And that for me, is where this rule is all wrong. We all know the only reason Ding didn't appear at the first few events is because of his struggles to renew his visa in time for the new season. After seeing him lift the PTC trophy in Sheffield at the first time of asking, I know the grand finals will miss him.

I really don't understand. If a player is good enough to acquire enough points but in fewer events than other players, why should they be punished?

Not only does Ding lift his first trophy of the season, but he also becomes the seventh different player to win a PTC event.

This just provides an even clearer ringing endorsement of the PTC programme,.

Once again it has shown why it's such a welcome addition. It is helping more players lift trophies, and keeping the competitiveness of the sport at the optimum level.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

A time to remember Paul Hunter

Paul Hunter was one of the most popular snooker players of his time.

Not only did his vast talents on the baize help endear him to the sport's faithful, but his wonderful manner away from the table was another major factor.

Four years ago, Paul was sadly taken away from his family, friends, fans and the game after a long bitter battle against cancer.

He was never a world champion, nor world number one, but at such a young age, you got the feeling he was never far away.

He's most remembered for his three triumphs at The Masters, where he became the known as the Comeback King.

It was at this venue where he year-on-year produced his best snooker, won places in the hearts of fans and made a competition his own.

Such was his record at Wembley, there are now calls via a facebook group with 992 members, for the tournament to be renamed 'The "Paul Hunter Masters'.

Nearly every player these days divides opinion. Paul was different. He was universally admired.

So, to celebrate, here are some of his best bits...

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Stuart Bingham EXCLUSIVE interview - part two

OnCue brings you the second part of an exclusive interview with Stuart Bingham.

Here he talks about Ronnie, his childhood heroes as well as his career highs and lows...

There's a lot of talk about the depth of the snooker game at the minute. Have the players got better in snooker in recent years?

The game has got more depth. I think any player in the top 50 can win a tournament now. Like in Shanghai, you had Jamie Burnett in the final. Standards are higher. And with more tournaments, everyone looks a lot sharper. You can’t afford not to be playing in the PTC and EPTC events.

Talking of the top players, you practice quite a bit with Ronnie don’t you?

I used to yeah. This season I’ve not done so a lot. Last season we did up until the Welsh Open when we played each other. He likes to play different players. I’ve got a couple of texts from him this year asking for Matt Selt’s and Mark King’s numbers. I haven’t really had much time this season anyway with all the new events.

Opinion is quite divided about Ronnie at the moment. What’s he like off the TV cameras?

One-on-one, he’s like me and you talking here. He can have a chat about anything. He likes his cars. Every time he comes here, he’s got a different car. He loves his running and he takes an interest in my life too. But sometimes he seems a bit different on the TV cameras. Sometimes he looks like he doesn’t want to be there.
Deep down, we’re all snooker players, and we don’t want to lose. But when he looks like he doesn’t care, that’s a dangerous Ronnie because he will go for his shots and he can pot anything.

A lot of fans on message boards are saying players must resent him for showing a lack of respect. Is that true?

Some people are getting annoyed with him. He says he wants to play good snooker and please the fans but then at the World Open, he wasn’t bothered whether he made a 140 or 147. Just to make a 147 in competition is great. I’m lucky enough to have had two and it’s just a buzz. You cannot beat it. The adrenaline rush is second to none. Maybe Ronnie needs to do something different to get his buzz. What people say, is that he’s the best in the world. He may be world number four or six or whatever, but he’still the best. If he puts his mind to it, he is so the best player. Like on eight points, asking what the highest break is. I guessed when he potted the first red he’d go for a maxi but there’s still plenty that can go wrong to have that kind of confidence.

What’s your best moment in the game?

Beating Stephen Hendry at the world championships in 2000. The year before I went up there as a fan. We got a backstage tour and I sat in the chair I was in against Hendry and I was thinking this is every snooker player's dream. I have to get here. A year later I was playing Hendry in his prime. He was current world champion and just to play like I did was great. The next day, David Gray beat Ronnie as well, which was another big shock. I had two or three camera crews following me everywhere and started getting noticed about.

What about the other side. Any big lows?

From 2000 to 2001 funnily enough, into the season after, I lost ten games on the trot. I plummeted down the rankings and I was lucky to stay on tour. I was having some negative vibes and didn’t think I’d ever win again. Then I won one or two. It’s hard to get it back, but I did.

I’ve got to mention the pink you missed at Sheffield for a 147. How gutted were you after that?

It’s just one of those things. I’ve got to lump it and get on with life. It was a bit too much for me at the time with the life-changing money that was at stake. I’ve never taken any drugs but I can imagine that’s what it would feel like. The adrenalin was running. It was playing with my head. I was thinking holidays and new cars. I was thinking of everything other than potting the pink.

Any funny stories?

I won the world amateurs out in New Zealand in 1996. They always invite the reigning champion back and the year after it was in Zimbabwe. My itinerary came through. I packed my bags ready. I rung up the snooker association to see what the weight limit was and she told me I should have been on the plane that took off last night. I started shaking because I had the trophy in my hand. They ended up getting me a new flight but I was really worried. And even now. It’s a bit of a joke my friends have with me.

Who did you grow up admiring?

Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Jimmy White. All of the top players really. Davis was an ultimate winner. I was gutted when Dennis Taylor beat him in 1985. I thought he was brilliant. Hendry was such a good break builder and brought the game up to where it is today. He was very attacking.

Can you imagine yourself still playing at Davis’ age?

I’d love to. He’s 53 and provisionally he was higher than me in the rankings not so long ago. I think he only does about an hour a day. He text me about practicing together. We haven’t yet but I’d like to. He’s an ultimate legend and a good laugh. You see him at tournaments and he’s always got time for you.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Stuart Bingham EXCLUSIVE interview - part one

Stuart Bingham has been one of the most consistent players on tour so far this season.

He's one of a clutch of players who have a real chance of cashing in on the new look calendar, and breaking into the top 16.

OnCue paid the Basildon man a visit at his local snooker club to find out more.

In this, the first of a two-part exclusive interview, Stuart speaks about his performance in Shanghai, his aspirations for the season, the changes Barry Hearn has made to the game, plus much more.

Let’s start with Shanghai. You beat Mark Allen in the first round and narrowly lost to the eventual winner Ali Carter in the last 16. How do you assess your performance in China?
Mark Allen gave me a good hiding in the UK championship in 2008. He beat me 9-2. I had a bad day, he had a good day, so to beat him here was a great result.
He’s a very aggressive player. He believes in his own ability. Anyone who can beat Ronnie at Sheffield is a good player in my book.
Even though he hasn’t started well this season, I was happy with the win.
Then I played Ali. We’ve always had a bit of a rivalry being only 20 minutes away from each other in the car. He’s really kicked on over the last couple of years, getting to a world final and making tournament maximums. He won a few competitions now. It was a tough match and he narrowly beat me, but I couldn't grumble about my performance.
What’s it like playing someone you know so well, whether it be a friend of practice partner? Does it feel any different?
When you get down to the crunch, everyone has their own goals. I’m big friends with a lot of players. We can have a laugh, play cards and hang out during tournaments, but as soon as I get on the table, I want to rip their head off. I want to beat them and sometimes when you’re sitting in your chair, you’re thinking, I know this fella has got kids, and I could be stopping him buying nappies. But you can’t think like that. You’ve got to be ruthless and I’ve got to try and beat him as much as he’s trying to beat me.
You weren’t at the World Open, but what did you make of it?
In best of fives, you can’t really let your arm go. It’s a totally different mindset. You don’t have to do a lot wrong and you can be going home. It’s literally a toss of a coin but it’s very exciting though. It was tough sitting watching it at home.  You miss that buzz. Everyone is talking about it in the club and you miss the atmosphere. It’s one table, and just looked really good. I’m a die-hard snooker fan myself, so I watched it.
What have you made of the changes to the game under Barry Hearn?
Barry has jazzed it up. People are talking about snooker again. I backed Barry. He’s a good man for the job. All the tournaments were getting the same, but he’s making it more interesting. It’s good for the kids coming on as well. They’re lucky to come into the game as it’s thriving. I love snooker and this is what I’ve wanted for years.
What are your season targets?
I want to climb as high as I can in the rankings and qualify for the UK and World. I want to get in the top 16. With the new ranking system, it gives everyone a chance. I’m trying to push up and there’s more motivation to practice.
You’re on the cusp of the top 16 now. Do you see yourself as good enough?
I’ve had a couple of years where I’ve had good chances. But you need two good years. I’ve tended to have a good year, followed by a bad year. But I look at some of the players in there and I think, you’re no better than me. Even the likes of Ali. He’s world number two but I look at him and think I’m as good as him. But he’s proved it where it matters. That’s the difference. At the moment, I’m knocking on the door thinking can I do it whereas he’s knocked on the door, and walked through. I haven’t been past a quarter-final of a major tournament yet. To do that, would be breaking barriers.
Does Ali’s emergence inspire you then?
Yeah definitely. It gives you a bit of self belief. He’s got a good snooker brain. He wins a lot of frames when the balls are scrappy. Everyone has got a different game. I’m more getting into the safety now. I’ve always been a break builder. Everyone knows that. I won the high break in Shanghai. I’ve always been a good scorer. When I first turned pro, if I didn’t make 70, I’d lose the frame. It was so true about my game. All I wanted to do was pot balls. My safety game was non-existent. But then as you get more experienced, you tighten up and you learn different aspects of the game.
Do you turn down shots you wouldn’t have in the past?
No, I’m still very attacking. I like to get in the pack as early as I can to open the reds up but I don’t force the issue now. Before, I’d be looking at three-ball plants and stupid shots like that. My mum and dad have got videos of me playing a decade ago and I look and think on certain shots ‘what are you doing?’. I’m just tighter now. If I get a chance, I’ve got to look to win the frame.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Murphy kick starts season with Belgium win

Shaun Murphy has been much maligned for his slow start to the season.

Minus a 5-1 crushing of Ding Junhui in the Premier League, it's been pretty much bad news for The Magician so far.

But this weekend, he went to Belgium and conquered at the EPTC2 tournament. It's his first trophy of the season, and there was nothing hollow about it either.

On route to the final, he staved off in-form Mark Williams and six-time world championship finalist Jimmy White, who stunned world number one Neil Robertson earlier in the competition.

Then in the showpiece, he saw off Matt Couch 4-2.

Couch, ranked number 58 in the world, enjoyed a good run to the final and beat another of the competitions shock candidates, Fergal O'Brien, in the semis. This was after his best win of the weekend came in the last eight against Ricky Walden.

Murphy was tipped to challenge for all the major honours this season. But after early exits in both Shanghai, he's already become under pressure.

He's always been a good pressure player, and he showed it again this weekend. Murphy has terrific temperament. It was on show in abundance in Bruges.

With rivalry hotting up for players to make it into the top 24 in the order of merit, Martin Gould, Liang Wenbo and Bjorn Haneveer all did their hopes the world of good with trips to the quarter-final.