Tuesday, 30 November 2010

UK Championship qualifiers - the final round

Thirty-two players are now just one match away from making it to this year's UK Championships in Telford.

The snooker calendar has faced a frantic shake-up this season, but this event still ranks in as the second most prestigious prize in the sport.

The qualifying matches have been bubbling away quietly over the last week, but now into the final round, the players who remain in the running, can smell the televised stages.

With the chance to play one of the top 16 players in the first round, there could be no greater incentive. 

We have 16 terrific ties in prospect being played on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Sheffield Academy. OnCue will keep you bang up-to-date with who progresses as the results come in, but for now, here's a look ahead to the action...

Sunday, 28 November 2010

O'Sullivan steams to Premier League triumph

Ronnie O'Sullivan proved he's still the deadliest force in world snooker, blowing away Shaun Murphy 7-1 in tonight's Premier League final.

The Rocket is the most decorated player in this format of the sport, and in Norfolk this evening, he claimed his ninth title to pull three championships clear of the great Stephen Hendry.

Ronnie has long been known as the king of the shot-clock winning the Premier League eight times between 1997 and 2008.

But last year, Murphy knocked him off his perch to claim his first. This year saw a rematch of the 2009 final, but this time there was only winner as O'Sullivan produced simply breathtaking snooker.

But this wasn't just any win for Ronnie. It was a win that proves he's still the man to beat in our sport.After failing to embrace the PTC series and pulling out of this year's Shanghai Masters, Ronnie has tumbled down to eighth in the world rankings.

Murphy on the other hand topped the PTC Order of Merit and has, at times, played even better snooker than that which saw him crowned world champion in 2005.

Last night was a fine example of his return to prominence. After falling 2-0 behind in his semi-final match against Marco Fu, Shaun rattled in five consecutive frames without conceding a single point. Despite Ronnie being predictably installed as the favourite, Murphy was certainly going to be no pushover. Or was he?

In short, Ronnie made of mug of him. So much so, Murphy looked a shadow of the man we've seen with a cue this season. We know Shaun is a very strong player, but surely this heavy defeat will knock some of the stuffing out of him ahead of next week's UK Championship.

While Murphy will be disappointed not to have made a better match of this, on this form, I'm not sure any player could have stayed in touch. For Ronnie, it was pure vintage. Following on from his impressive 5-1 semi-final victory against world champion Neil Robertson last night, he looked untouchable. His break building was immaculate.

Once he was in, he didn't look like missing. He was accumulating frames at will. And that's why Ronnie is still top dog.

Well played Ronnie! A master at work!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Michael Holt: EXCLUSIVE interview

Michael Holt may be a journeyman of the professional circuit, but in Prague he sent out a timely reminder of just how much ability he has, by capturing the EPTC6 title.

Despite a poor start to the season, this win sees him sneak into the grand finals and beginning this week's UK Championship qualifiers full of confidence.

He spoke exclusively to OnCue about what it meant to win his first ranking title, and his hopes for the rest of the season.

Sum up how it felt to finally land your first ranking title?

I was delighted. I've known for a long time I was good enough to win titles. I've been telling people for years. I knew I had it in me, but after a while I stooped saying it. This win shows I wasn't lying. 

You've not had the best start to the season, but this win has taken you into the PTC grand finals qualifying spaces and picked you up some vital ranking points. You must be delighted... 

Yeah it's absolutely mad. I arrived in Prague knowing I had to win it to qualify. No-one expected me to because I've not had the best start to the season, so it was a great feeling. I've dropped from 24th in the rankings down into the 40s. I've been having a nightmare, so the points should help me start climbing back up. 

A lot has been made of your poor start to the season. How do you explain it?

The funny thing is, I haven't been playing that bad. I've just been getting beat. Outside of the ranking events, I got to the final in Pontins and I won the Pink Ribbon tournament before the start of the season, so I've played some really good stuff. It's shocked me how bad I've done, but I've had some really tough draws. My matches have been like the 'who's who' of the top snooker professionals. I was playing against players I don't expect to beat quite early in competitions. Even though I was losing games, I still felt confident. It's just been more frustrating than anything. It's been hard but I had to keep the faith. 

You didn't exactly win the EPTC6 the easy way though beating John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire. Did that make it extra special?

I must have had the worst draw ever in Prague. To win it the way I did, I couldn't be happier. I played some good stuff but if you'd seen it in a film, you'd probably have said 'yeah good one'. I wish I got bottle up my performance this weekend and save it for every tournament. 

What changed then?

I didn't do anything massively different. My dad has recently had a stroke, so I've been backwards and forwards to the hospital, so if anything, I practiced less. I went out a couple of times and had a few drinks. But, I think the main thing, was taking that pressure off myself. I thought 'sod it', went out there and played well. I grew in confidence and ended up winning the thing. 

You've always been a popular player. What was all the praise like?

I felt a little bit humbled by the amount players congratulating me to be honest. Mark Williams and Peter Ebdon both called me to say 'well done' and John Higgins came out of his way to congratulate me at the end as well. Lots of people were buying drinks, so I got drunk through no fault of my own.  Lots of fans have sent kind messages. I suppose because I've never really made any enemies, everyone is happy to see me win. 

What have you made of the PTC series as a whole then?

There's probably still a little room for improvement but overall it's been great. It's only the first season, so there's bound to be teething problems but you've got to remember the schedule was thrown together. Some of the venues need some work but I turned a pro to play lots of snooker, and I am now. Last season, I only played in six ranking events. This year, it could be as many as 20. I don't see how anyone can complain about that. 

I suppose you're looking forward to the grand finals in Ireland as well...

Yeah of course. I think it's good for Ireland to get back on the circuit as well. They've got some great snooker fans there. There's some big names in the hat, so it will be a good weekend. I've seen the tournament falls on the same weekend as St Patrick's Day though, so I'll probably have to lock myself in my room to keep away from the Guinness. A lot of my mates will be coming to watch, and there's good prize money, so I'm pleased. 

Looking ahead now, what are your aspirations for the season?

Just like every season, I want to win things. I've won a ranking event now and I want more. I look at my career and I class it as one of underachievement. I really think with the ability I've got I couldn't have done any worse. I've slipped out of the top 32 and that's bad news. As a kid, I was a winner. I know I'm better. In the major events, I've never been past the quarter-finals. I want to get to the business end of tournaments. I've not fulfilled my capabilities. 

What has kept you going then?

I know I can play. I don't enjoy being a journeyman. I know I'm not a world beater but I'm good enough to be doing well at events and winning some of them. I probably only have myself to blame because I've taken the mickey out of the game for some years. Maybe, I've been paying for that. But I've been putting more in over the last few seasons, so hopefully I'll start getting something back. 

Your UK Championship campaign kicks off this week. How are you feeling about that?

I've got to win two qualifying games to get there, so that's not idea' but I'm confident. I've had quite a good record throughout my career of qualifying for events. I prefer the longer matches as you can really get into them. I love playing at the UK. It was the first venue I made, so it's always had a special feel. I hope I make it to Telford.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Heroic Holt halts Higgins charge

Michael Holt will admit his performances have been disappointing so far this season.

It's exactly this reason that has seen him slump to 42nd in the world rankings.

But this weekend in Prague, he pulled out all the stops to win the EPTC6 and announce his return to top form.

This is undoubtedly the biggest triumph of Holt's snooker career, and no-one can argue about the manner of his win In the final, he overturned John Higgins 4-3, sending the Scot to his first defeat in 14 games since his return to the circuit.

The Wizard of Wishaw has been in sensational nick over the last two weekend, but Holt was on top of his game.

In the last four, Holt beat Order of Merit leader Shaun Murphy. His heroics also saw him overcome fellow top 16 players Stephen Maguire, Mark Selby and Jamie Cope as well. Off the back of this remarkable performance, he won himself £10,000, 2,000 much-needed rankings points and a place in the PTC series finals.

So all in all, it's been a terrific weekend for the Nottinghamshire lad. I've got to say on personal note, I'm really chuffed for him.

Holt has always been one of my favourite players on the circuit. I love the passion he has for the game, the emotion he shows when he's playing and, it's great to watch one of the true characters in the sport.

It's always nice to see players of that ilk succeed. It's refreshing to see such a likeable lad doing well. When you see a players' frustrations flooding out  when they're at the table, it brings the whole game to life.

It shows, despite all their deadly talent, they're human as well. Holt lets everyone in the crowd know when he's having a bad day. For me, I warm to that. It brings you closer to a player, even though you may not have ever spoken to them.

Because of it, you understand their feelings. You can see they care, so you care for them.

Enough of that though, despite a poor start to this campaign, Holt seems to have really come of age on the circuit in recent seasons, showing that maybe life as a pro begins for him in his 30s. He's been a pro for some 14 years now, and probably his inability to play the mental game as well as other players has stunted his progress.

But a couple of years back, he seemed to make great strides in this area of the game. It's important to note you don't beat Higgins and Murphy without a mental game either. So now he's shrugged off what was a poor start to the season, his performance in Prague suggests the best could be to come, and the timing couldn't be any better, as he kicks off his UK Championship qualifiers this week.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Rocket shows Selby who's the boss

Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Selby have built up a fierce rivalry over the last couple of seasons.

The Jester from Leicester was the undoubted winner between the two last year, after knocking him out of the quarter-finals at the Crucible, and nicking the Masters crown from under his nose after trailing 9-6.

But tonight, three-time world champion O'Sullivan put a timely reminder in of who's the boss on the baize.

I wouldn't go as far as saying it was revenge, because after all, this isn't a ranking event. But I'm sure this still felt sweet.

The Rocket ran out an easy 5-1 winner as he bids to regain the Premier League title he lost to Shaun Murphy last season.

Ronnie is the king of the shot clock, and quite simply, Selby couldn't handle him tonight. He was in one of those moods, playing the kind of fluid snooker that fills venues. Not so much for his break building. He did knock in a century and two halfs along the way, but it was his shot selection that won him this match.

He found the balance, between safety and point-gathering, perfectly.

I'm sure Selby will lose little sleep over this. You get the feeling this is no-one near the top of his priority list. He's one of those players who likes to talk about world rankings, and performances here will have no bearing on that. He'll want to save himself for when it really matters, but for Ronnie, he's won in a format he truly loves. Not that O'Sullivan is a man to ever suffer from a lack of confidence, but this win will certainly put him into a good position if the two meet later in the season at the business end of a tournament, which I must say is pretty likely.

This win means O'Sullivan tops the Premier League group going into the knockout phase, a feat that never seemed likely after he laboured through his first three games with a treble of draws against Murphy, Ding Junhui and Marco Fu. With world champion Neil Robertson, Mark Williams and Selby next up, it looked like he had it all to do just to make the cut.

But never one to suffer under pressure, he proved again why he really is still the man to beat in world snooker.

Well played Ronnie!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Welsh Open wins welcomed makeover

For too long the Welsh Open has been known as the poorest relation on the circuit of professional ranking tournaments.

It's often been seen as the least important in a list of highly-competitive tournaments.

To dispel this theory, World Snooker has tried a small makeover of the competition to stir up greater enthusiasm.

There have been many potential changes touted around the web in recent weeks. Some people have even suggested the competition should be taken out to Asia. Although this was never really on the cards for this season, I hope it never happens, for the sake of the loyal and knowledgeable snooker fans based in Wales.

Asia may boast a growing new fanbase for the sport, but it's important in times of change we don't forget our heritage, and Wales is definitely part of that.

In fact, I think World Snooker has got the changes about spot on.

The first in a list of alterations made to the tournament is reducing it from a three-tabled event, to just two. This means the non-televised table has been scrapped, and I'm a massive fan of that.

I always think it's important that if a player qualifiers for one of the majors, they deserve the opportunity to play in front of the cameras. Not only have they earned that right, but there needs to be some distinct difference between the real event and the qualifiers. There should be a completely different feel - now there will be.

It's also a pretty hard bargain to expect a player to qualify, not play on TV, and go out in the first round. This isn't in my opinion giving them the fair crack of the whip in getting used to the different conditions.

To pave way for this change though, it means some matches are shorter. The first round clashes will now be played as best-of-seven-frame matches, instead of 9.

On the face of things, this is only a two-frame difference, but it means matches will no longer have an interval - they'll be shown straight through. It looks like this change suits television schedules, but it could also suit the players as well, who have got used to this length of match during the PTC series.

But maybe the biggest, and most crucial change is brought about by Hearn's amendment to the ranking systems. The Welsh Open will now be the last ranking event before the seeding list is updated ready for the World Championships.

This could see a lot of twists and turns for players hoping to bypass the qualifiers and automatically play at Sheffield. It could also make a difference for players hoping to stay or break into the top 32 and 64, with their results having a direct influence of how many qualifying they will face to make it to the Crucible.

These changes are by no means radical, but could give the competition a much-needed boost with snooker entering a new era this season.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Perry plodding back to form

The increased amount of snooker being played this season  has thrown the professional tour players collectively into the limelight and under scrutiny perhaps more than ever before.

Form of players is being analysed to the very finest point and, in general, players are being spoken about much more regularly.

Almost every player on tour has had something to cheer about this season, even if it's been sandwiched between other more disappointing results.

But one man who seems to have escaped the attention altogether is Joe Perry.

His performance in Germany at the EPTC5 event made me stand up and take notice, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one either.

On route to the last 16 in Hamm, he beat Matthew Stevens 4-0 and Order of Merit leader Mark Selby 4-2 before crashing out in somewhat disappointing fashion to Paul Davison, who he'd have fancied beating.

Nonetheless, Perry will be pleased to have finally made his mark this season, and can now look to build on this in Prague, although making it into the top 24 of the Order of Merit is still highly unlikely.

It's been a tough couple of years for Perry, since he made it to the semi-finals at the Crucible in 2008. That run took him to a career-high 12th in the world rankings.

But just when we thought the Chatteris potter might go on to reach the kind of heights his ability might warrant, he seems to have slipped into old habits where pressure and expectation seem to get the better of him.

It's been a recurring theme throughout his career, that when it comes to the crunch, he's fallen short too often. Don't get me wrong, I'm not questioning his bottle because he has won tight games in his career. Most notably in 1999, he knocked Steve Davis out of the World Championship 10-9 on the final black. But in these kind of closely-fought matches, he'll probably even admit himself that he'd have liked to have won more.

It doesn't mean there's anything fundamentally wrong with Perry's game. Quite the opposite. He's a solid player in every department, and on his day, he's capable of beating anyone on the circuit.

But it's just that tiny bit of courage that matters when he's become near real success and key wins. That's how I'd explain his dip in form over the last 30 months that have stopped him kicking on.

Expectation understandably rose when he become a Crucible semi-finalist, because I always think that making it to here is the mark between a good and top player. Winning just two ranking  matches in the following season, and another poor campaign straight after has seen him drop to his current ranking of world number 29.

Now on the brink of falling out of the top 32, pressure is again being released from his shoulders, so to me it's no surprise to see him perform like he did last weekend, at somewhere nearer his best.

With little to fundamentally gain in Prague, I'm sure Joe will use the EPTC6 event as a tournament to maintain the form he showed in Germany, in the hope of carrying that into the UK qualifiers later this month. One win there will see him back on the televised stages and with the chance to pick up vital ranking points to stave off the next drop.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Higgins seals dream return

We always knew John Higgins was a fighter.

To bounce back from the battering his reputation has taken over the last six months, he needs to be now more than ever.

And on his return to the professional game, he couldn't have wished for a better start.

Seven matches, seven wins and a ranking title in the bag.

This victory in Germany is only the start of a long road back for the Wizard of Wishaw, but he's already shown he's made a very stern stuff. Anyone who thought Higgins may not have the stomach for the fight, could be eating their words right now.

The impact of being out of competitive action for such a lengthy spell shouldn't be under-estimated, but to come back and beat the likes of former world champions Graeme Dott, Shaun Murphy and arguably the most improved player on the circuit, Martin Gould, is one hell of an achievement.

It marks resilience personified.

There will be plenty of people that hate the comeback he's made. But in this instance, you really can't knock him. The character it shows is phenomenal. Even with many still doubting him, he manages to deliver.

Fans all across the web have been predicting Higgins to return a shadow of his former self. While this win doesn't guarantee him future success, it's a sign  he has the desire and determination to re-take his place in the upper reaches of the sport.

The final ingredient is talent. We already know he has that in an abundance.

Not everyone is ready to draw a line under the match fixing allegations, but Higgins seems to have done so already. With so many critics still out there, that takes guts.

To be fair though, I'm not at all surprised either. This is John Higgins we're talking about. A man who has built his career on commitment. And it looks like he's ready to rebuild it with the same principles.

Well played John!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Higgins wary of return

John Higgins will play his first competitive snooker match after a six-month ban from the game on Friday.

The three-time world champion plays his comeback match in the EPTC5 event in Germany after being cleared of a match fixing scandal that has seen him suspended from the sport since May.

While his counterparts go into this competition, the 11th of a 12-tournament series, desperate for a decent result to secure or force their way into the top 24 in the Order of Merit, the challenge the Scot faces is far tougher, and maybe more significant.

This competition marks the beginning of a very tough climb to winning back his reputation, which has been all but shattered  since the scandal broke on the day of the 2010 Crucible final.

After being cleared of the charges September, Higgins vowed to return to the baize stronger than ever. He spoke like a fighter. But now that return is here, the challenge appears to be daunting him a little more than he perhaps imagined.

I guess maybe this is because he's realised the thickness of the cloud that hangs over his name.

The former world number one said in the Sunday newspapers: "When the result came through, I was like, 'Right I'm going over to Germany and I'll show them all", but now as the day gets closer, it's like going to the dentist.

"You make the appointment and as it gets nearer you think, 'oh no'. I'm a bit nervous about how the players are going to take to me. It's just something I'll have to deal with."

Higgins' name has been put through the ringer since the story broke, and I know the allegations don't sit easily with some players on the tour. I doubt the Scot can expect a welcome back with open arms when he walks into the players lounge in Germany. His reception I'm guessing will be frosty at best.

His best his friends on tour will be glad to see him, and in time I expect him to be accepted back into the family that is, professional snooker players.

How his fellow professionals will take to him on his return is one thing, the fans are a completely different beast though. How they react will probably not be truly known until he arrives at Telford for this year's UK Championships in December.

If he thinks winning back the players' faith will be tough, well he'll be in for an even bigger fright when he faces the backlash of snooker's fondest fans.
Grudges may be held, but professionalism will ensure he's accepted in time.

It's the strength of ill feeling among the fans which could take longer to remove.

In the world of snooker fans, there's a very strong sense of black and white. Despite being cleared, in the eyes of many fans, rightly or wrongly, he's still guilty.

Messageboards and social networking sites across the globe saw fans branding him a 'cheat' and calling for him to be banned for many years, if not life.

The smear across Higgins' name last . It's difficult to judge exactly how his return will go down, but I imagine the healing period will be long.forever.

A lot of people in snooker feel let down. You can't just turn that around overnight. All the results in the world may not make a difference. Some fans will never forgive him. Others will in time. Higgins has got to be prepared to tough it out before winning back hearts.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Wind blows away seniors field

Even if he doesn't admit it, there must be a small part of Jimmy White that resents being classed as a senior snooker play.

As he rightly said before his quarter-final match with Cliff Thorburn, it hasn't exactly crept up on him though. He's now 48-years-old, and you have to be 40 to compete with the seniors.

Only a 13-year gap between this event and the last seniors only competition stopped White being lumped in this bracket long ago, but even if The Whirlwind is eight years past the minimum required age, he showed he's still a class above that level.

I was lucky enough to have tickets for all four of the quarter-final matches in Bradford on Saturday. And from that snippet of play, Jimmy was by far and above the best player on show.

While the likes of Steve Davis, Nigel Bond and John Parrott showed the tactical nous that could probably match even the best player's in the game today, White was the only player who demonstrated that killer instinct.

He looked like making a frame-winning contribution every time he was presented a chance, as he swept away Thorburn with ease.

Parrott proved a much tougher test. The 1991 Crucible winner came within just one ball of whitewashing Jimmy 3-0 in their semi-final clash, but The Whirlwind hit back in the same style as his nickname suggests to take the match 3-2.

He took that confidence into the final, where he ran out an easy 4-1 winner against Steve Davis, who also played well in this competition.

White is known throughout the sport as the People's champion. While most of his opponents were former world champions, Jimmy arrived at this event for legends with the unwanted record of having lost six Crucible finals throughout his colourful career.

Even if only for seniors, at least White has finally chalked up a world title, and he was well worth this win.

He didn't arrive favourite by any stretch of the imagination either. That was reserved for the highest ranked player in the tournament Peter Ebdon, who was dumped out by Bond in Friday night's final qualifier, before going on stage to provide the entertainment singing a cover of U2's With or Without You.

Davis was another of the bookmaker's tips. He played solid enough to reach the final, but lacked that spark White provided in abundance.

While the crowd's support might have helped stir up Jimmy that little extra bit, he still came to this event as the form player from the pro tour.

With two televised appearances at the World Open and a trip to the latter stages of the PTC6 event under his belt, he's really found his feet again, and you could tell he's not ready to pull the curtain down on life at the top of the game just yet.

Some of his fellow players went through the motion in this event, just looking happy to enjoy the day. White was as ever eager to entertain and going all out for the win.

Well played Jimmy!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Snooker heroes return

Today sees the start of the first World Seniors Championships in 19 long years.

Fans favourites including Peter Ebdon, Nigel Bond, Jimmy White, Dennis Taylor, Joe Johnson, Steve Davis, John Parrott, Cliff Thorburn and Ken Doherty will be taking to the baize at the Cedar Court Hotel in Bradford.

It's rather fitting that Yorkshire plays host to this eagerly-anticipated event as it was 1986 world champ Johnson, the competition's organiser, who fought so hard to make sure it happened.

Popular Yorkshireman Joe was part of the all star line-up which played in the 1997 Seniors Pot Black competition, and ever since he's had the burning desire to relaunch a Seniors Championships as per the format six years previously.

Well today his dream becomes a reality. It will be a treat for him, the rest of the players and all the fans who have tickets.

It's time to sit back, relax, and watch all of these great players roll back the years before our very eyes.

Today's match, the only qualifier, pits 2002 world champion Ebdon against 1995 Crucible runner-up Bond, with the winner earning the final quarter-final place.

Tomorrow the real action begins. In the daytime sessions, the four best-of-three-frame quarter-finals will be played. With such a short format in store, the matches couldn't be more open, which should make for some entertaining matches.

In the evening, the final four will return to play the competition to a conclusion for Sunday. The semi-final a race to three frames and the final a best-out-of-seven match.

The event promises to be full of entertainment with many of the game's biggest characters present, but I'm sure there will be no lack of quality either.

With a £20,000 cheque up for grabs for the eventual winner, these cue masters will be pulling out all the stops, and eager to put on a show too.

While winning this event clearly carries financial benefit, being crowned the champion of champions in this event will also hold much kudos among the sport's eldest supporters.

This tournament really is wide open. With five of the nine players still competing on the pro tour, they may just about have the edge, but this is certainly no guarantee.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Fu fighter through to semis

Marco Fu secured his place in the last four of the Premier League with an impressive 4-2 victory against the reigning world champion and number one Neil Robertson tonight.

The Hong Kong potter has been in exemplary form in the competition this year playing with a confidence he has lost over the last couple of seasons. Its return can only be put down to the settled cue action he seems to have found since working alongside his new coach Terry Griffiths.

Last year, Fu finished bottom of the Premier League tree. But this time round he's well and truly banished those demons. His turnaround in fortune is certainly dramatic but clearly a result of the hard work he's put into his game, and particularly his technique.

This win, over a Robertson who has failed to find his feet in the tournament, means he ends tonight's play three points clear at the top, having only suffered a solitary defeat in his six matches.

Fu has long been a member of the top 16 who has struggled to find a killer level of consistency, thus failing to ever nail down a place in the top eight over a sustained period of time. This run in the Premier League still doesn't completely dispel this achilles heel of his game. In fact, some below par performances at the PTC events suggest he's still battling hard against his tendency to drift in and out of good form. But progressing in a tournament with such a high line of quality does show that his pockets of form are starting to develop into longer spells, even if only gradually.

With his passage into the last four now wrapped up, Fu will be hoping to repeat his success in 2003, which saw him crowned champion.

The Australian on the other hand now sits bottom of the league with just one win from his four opening matches. He'll be sweating on his place in the semi-finals, and will have to win his final two matches to achieve it.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Paul Collier EXCLUSIVE column - Power Snooker proved me wrong

Welcome to my second column for OnCue snooker blog.

I hope you enjoyed the first, but it doesn’t seem like a month ago I was penning that and now I’m doing another.

There’s  a lot more snooker going on this season and the game is in a good state right now, so I suppose that’s why time is flying. I’m certainly not complaining.

So what’s been happening in my world?

I’ve just got back from a family holiday to Butlins camp in Minehead. It was a nice break, and it’s always good to get away.

But while I was there, I did get the chance to watch little bits of the new Power Snooker. I’ll admit I was really sceptical about the event before it started but I actually thought it went well.

It’s something completely different for snooker, and as long as it remains a one-day event once a year, I think there’s definitely a place for it on the calendar.

The rules seemed to work well, but one issue that does need to be addressed is getting the balance right in the crowd participation.

It’s great for the fans to enjoy the match and voice their support but there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

There seemed to be quite a rowdy crowd and I’ve refereed Premier League matches in the past when it has got out of hand. You find that if people are drinking throughout a match, it can go too far.

In my opinion, you’ve got to get the level right so the players get the chance to play. That’s probably the big test moving forward for the event.

October also saw the announcement of the new Brazilian Masters scheduled for next year. I think that’s an exciting concept as long as the safety of the players is secured.

Igor Figueiredo is the top player from Brazil at the moment, and I’m sure he’ll be as delighted as anyone.

I was lucky enough to referee him at one of the PTC events this season, and I think he’s a great player.

He’s a larger than life character and he’s got the potential to be a top player. He’s a terrific potter but has got a good touch in the balls as well.

Talking of the PTC events, they’ve been coming thick and fast as well and it’s great to see some of the games lesser stars doing well in these.

I know Joe Jogia well and he reached the semi-finals at the EPTC4. When he’s on form, he’s one hell of player and this new series has given him a great chance to show that.

He’s been able to keep playing even after losing matches when in the past he’d had to have stacked his cue back on the rack and waited a long while to play again. He’s clearly benefited from the extra play.

Marcus Campbell won an event too. That was quite a shock. He’s been around for years and I guess he’d probably never imagined he’d win an event again. But over the couple of days, he’s just got it together and come away with a trophy.

I don’t think there are many players complaining at the moment. In general I think snooker is doing really well right now. A lot of broadcasters seem to be interested in the sport, but what did surprise me was the BBC pulling the plug on the World Open. It just shows you in these times of financial constraints, even the BBC can’t afford everything.

I know Barry Hearn is very keen on that format though, so I’m sure he won’t give up. Maybe Sky or ITV will want get involved to save that one.

This week, I’m back in action  on Thursday at the Premier League in Hutton Moor. It’ been a great competition already this season and I think it’ll get even better as we reach the conclusion.

On the last matchday, Ronnie enjoyed a fantastic 4-2 win over Mark Williams.  Mark didn’t play that badly but O’Sullivan was in one of those moods where he wasn’t giving any chances away.  When he’s that focused, he really takes some stopping.

Ding Junhui hasn’t been having the best of luck in the past few weeks. He’s lost 11 of his last 12 frames. I don’t know him that well but we’ve all seen what a good player he is. He had a mixed month in October because as well as this bad form, he won a PTC title, reached the final of Power Snooker and played excellently against Mark Selby in Brentwood.

I think his problem is  when he falls a couple of frames behind, his head does seem to drop.  I think he’s probably got into a habit over the last couple of years of losing matches he could probably still have won if he’d battled on a bit longer.

On the other side of things, Marco Fu has been playing really well lately. He finished bottom of the Premier League last year but he’s also a previous winner so you can’t write him off.

He’s had a couple of inconsistent seasons but he’s spending most of his time back in Hong Kong now and just seems to be a lot happier. He’s being coached by Terry Griffiths at the moment and he’s got a real knack of taking a player’s game back to basics and rebuilding it. Marco’s now playing like the winner we know he is. I’m chuffed for him.

November is going to be a busy month for me. I’ve also been re-signed  to World Snooker. I’ll be at the UK Championship qualifiers. It’s my first competition for them in more than five and a half years ago.

Next month, you can read all about how that goes for me, and I’ll be previewing the UK Championships proper in Telford too, so don’t miss that.

All the best readers.


Power Snooker: Moving forward

The dust has settled on Saturday's brand new Power Snooker event.

After days of scouring blogs, messageboards and chatting face-to-face with snooker fans, the competition seems to have been greeted warmly by most.

Even people who were originally quite dubious of the format have admitted they were pleasantly surprised by its success.

Power Snooker may be here to stay but it's still far from perfect.

OnCue has come up with a few revisions, which could help to improve the competition moving forward:
  • Scrap the century bonus points
Compiling a ton isn't that difficult in Power Snooker. With the balls always relatively well spread because of the break shot rules and the power ball activating double points, it's a walk in the park for these professionals. All these bonus points do is take the match away from the opponent and contribute to a less exciting conclusion.
  •  Reduce the stop clock as the match wears on
I don't like time wasting in any sport. I can understand why people do it, and it's perfectly within the rules but it does deflect from a more exciting finish. Seeing Ali Carter do a lap of the table to run down the clock in his quarter-final match with Mark Selby brought this point home. Maybe in the last five or 10 minutes of a Power Snooker game, the shot clock could reduce to just 10 seconds to avoid this.
  • Change the colour of the power ball
The power ball was quite difficult to see if you were sat in the upper stand at the IndigO2. It's marked only by some white lines, which were out of view if the ball sat near the cushion. Why not make it easier and change it to gold.
  • Invite more players
There's no reason why this event has to be just a one-day competition. The players and fans both seemed to enjoy themselves, so why not invite 16 or even 32 players, and play it over a weekend like a PTC event.
  •  Get rid of the troublemakers
It's great to see snooker played with crowd interaction and a vibrant atmosphere but the organisers should clamp down on players being subjected to personal abuse. Let's get the idiots kicked out.It's still snooker.
  • Introduce a warm-up match
To help fans watching the format for the first time, get some younger or amateur players to play a frame to demonstrate the rules. It'll make sure the rules are understood before the real matches begin, but also get the crowd going.
  • Do the draw live
The spectators would love it if a random draw took place on the day of the event.This isn't an essential change of course, but I think it would work really well nonetheless.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Lee lands overdue ranking title

Stephen Lee ended more than four years of hurt this weekend at the EPTC4 in Gloucester, to win his first ranking title since the 2006 Welsh Open.

Now ranked at number 20, the former provisional world number one is threatening to break back into the top 16, where he spent a decade as an ever present between 1999 and 2008.

It would be jumping the gun to say that Lee is back to the best form of his career, which saw him collect more ranking points than any other player in the 2001/02 season - but he's definitely enjoying his snooker again. This in itself marks a stark contrast to the player who threatened to the quit the game in 2008.

The former Crucible semi-finalist seems to be playing with a smile on his face again, and it's probably no coincidence that he's now coming desperately close to a return to the elite of the sport.

He's one of a clutch of players with a decent chance of breaking in, but the difference is he's been there before. While some of the other hopefuls including Martin Gould, Ricky Walden, Mark Davis and Stuart Bingham are arguably playing the best snooker of their career, they also have the psychological barrier to cross in making the top 16.

For Lee, he's been there before and uncharted territory doesn't lay before him.

For those who are bidding to become top 16 players for the first time in their careers, they still have the question to answer as to whether they're good enough to make the leap. But Lee has proved it all before, and even though he's in good form right now, we know he' still got plenty left in the tank, which could come to the fore following his capture of a rankling title.

He's proved over the years he's got the pedigree , and is renowned for having one of the smoothest cue actions in the game. If he can keep progressing like his 4-2 final win over Stephen Maguire shows he has, then he'll have as big a shout as anyone of climbing to the promised land.

His next test will come in the UK Championship qualifiers, which kick off later this month.