Friday, 30 December 2011

Review of the year: 2011 (part 2)

The end of 2011 is almost here and with it comes the return of the review of the year.

As 2011 rolled into a new season, OnCue rounds up the biggest talking points from another six busy months on the baize.

July

A busy summer month gave Stuart Bingham his day in the sun.

After 16 years as a professional, Ballrun capped all his years of effort by winning his first ranking event. He won the last four frames to beat Mark Williams on a dramatic decider and achieve his greatest moment in the game.

This came all at a time when a feud off the table with Mark Allen threatened to derail his title charge.

He was part of a war of words with the Northern Irishman with bad feelings spanning right back to last year's UK Championship. He had the last laugh though, beating him in the quarter-final and going on to lift the trophy.

This was genuine great win for a good guy on the professional circuit.

Elsewhere, China were back proving their emergence in the game with victory at the World Cup. Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo paired up to win the team event.

I think I speak for many when I say the return of the World Cup adds great variety to the calendar.

August

A big month for snooker fans across the globe as World Snooker began its live streaming facility ready for the Shanghai Masters qualifiers. With a greater thirst for snooker, it's only right fans can watch the game more regularly. This move was greeted with cheer.

There was more action off the table as well supremo Barry Hearn giving top players a stern warning after many of them had refused invitation to the Brazilian Masters. This sparked debate over the new crowded calendar with opinion left divided and questions left unanswered as the game continues to evolve.

On the table there were PTC wins for Judd Trump who was continuing his rich vein of form, Ben Woollaston who was showing why he's long threatened to make an impact and Mark Selby who was continuing to close in on the world number one slot.

Who can forget Ronnie's record breaking 147 against Adam Duffy too?

Sad news of Len Ganley's death was a definite lowlight of the month. This great referee was one of the sport's great characters, proved as the tributes flooded in.

September

Selby did indeed clinch top spot in the world rankings this month following a controversial win over Williams in the Shanghai Masters final.

The Jester from Leicester recovered from 9-7 down to win 10-9 and condemn the Welshman to yet another defeat from the jaws of victory - and again it was not without drama.

Selby escaped a snooker and was judged to hit red instead of pink by referee Eirian Williams to the disgust of the two-time world champion. This was a turning point, and ultimately cost Williams the title.

Selby wasn't complaining and instead was rewarded for a year of great consistency.

Following last month's Brazilian Masters debate, the tournament was played and Shaun Murphy emerged the winner. While the Magician won plaudits for his continued commitment to all tournaments, the event itself invited criticism for expensive ticket prices and a secluded venue.

Back in the UK, Andrew Higginson won PTC5 with victory against John Higgins in the final. Another new recruit to the winner's enclosure and a player no-one begrudged a win.

October

This month was dominated by grumblings of discontent from top players about the PTC series.

It appeared the novelty of playing regularly was wearing off and the imperfections of the events were being talked about widely. Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Maguire were leading the crusade with talk of "buying ranking points" and "going back to the cubicles" all high on the agenda.

Plenty of valid points were raised with top stars moaning they were losing money to compete in the PTCs. As good as regular snooker is for the fans, it's clear the structure needs looking at ready for next season.

That said, 2011 was all about grabbing the opportunity to play. No-one was doing that more in October than Neil Robertson who won events in Poland and Northern Ireland to spark talk he may even be playing better than he did when he won the world title.

O'Sullivan was also back collecting silverware at the event held in Gloucester as his battle to retain his top 16 spot cranked up a notch.


November

This month will be remembered for one of the greatest matches of the entire season.

Trump secured his second PTC victory of the season, and in some style. He beat O'Sullivan 4-3 in an enthralling final in Antwerp, capturing the imagination of everyone.

It was attacking snooker at its very best and was broadcast out to the worldwide public live on Eurosport. A great advert for the game.

This wasn't the Rockets only defeat in a final as he was also beaten by Martin Gould in the return of Power Snooker. The Pinner Potter is a popular figure with the fans and his first professional win was greeted with congratulations across the board. This couldn't be said about the tournament as a whole though.

It wasn't all disappointment for Ronnie though. He enjoyed some success this month winning a record 10th Premier League title, this time repelling Ding in the final. The master of the shot clock was back.

There was plenty to talk about in the qualifiers too. Stephen Hendry was back in the cubicles as he was forced to win a match to make the UK Championship venue and Mike Dunn scored an impressive 147 in the German Masters which would see the start of a flurry of maximum breaks.

To wrap up the month, Michael Holt won PTC10 showing signs he may be ready to go into 2012 with an assault on the top 16.

December

When one of the true majors of the snooker calendar comes along, it tends to overshadow everything else.

In a month where Tom Ford won PTC11, it was was obviously Trump's UK Championship win that won the day.

It was perhaps fitting in a year where Judd was most people's pick for player of the year that he ended it with the biggest title of his career. Over the course of the tournament, he wasn't firing on all cylinders but he saved the best until last with a virtuoso dispaly to beat Mark Allen 10-8 in the final.

Allen showed he had come of age with a trip to his first ranking final but he was in the headlines as much for what he did off the table choosing the tournament to call for Hearn to resign.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Review of the year: 2011 (part 1)

This year has seen Barry Hearn's snooker revolution really find its rhythm.

Action on the baize has been non-stop and full-on all year long.

With 2011 drawing to a close, OnCue looks back at the highs and lows, the twists and turns and the stand-out moments on and off the table.

January

You'll soon see that a regular theme across 2011 is change. That was definitely evident in the first calendar month of the year.

The sport saw its first ever all-Asian final in January as Ding Junhui played Marco Fu in the Masters showpiece.

Ding emerged a 10-4 winner, added another prestigious title to his growing trophy cabinet and drew a strong line under his 2007 Masters final appearance where he lost to Ronnie O'Sullivan and ended the match in floods of tears.

But the biggest winner here was Asia, still one of the game's biggest emerging markets. Ever since Ding won the China Open in 2005, interest in the sport in China has rocketed but this final shows how far Asia has come and is evidence of changes in tides for snooker.

More change this month saw the first Shoot-Out tournament. It was fast, furious and overall branded a success.

Although only a pale replica of the game in its traditional format, it captured the imagination of the fans in Blackpool and brought a welcomed and structured novelty act to sit alongside the main tour.

Nigel Bond won the tournament and plenty of plaudits for adding this title to an already varied career. The event served its purpose as a great bit of fun to go alongside the serious business of ranking events, and could easilyc become an eagerly-anticipated annual event.

February

This month saw the return of ranking event snooker with the Welsh Open and German Masters leaving plenty to feast upon as the roadshow took a trip to Berlin and returned to Newport.

It's acceptable to say the German Masters didn't get off to the best of starts. First, Ronnie O'Sullivan withdrew before a cue ball had even been struck, to the disgust of many snooker fans and then John Higgins was forced to make an early exit after the death of his father.

After these setbacks, the tournament did pick up, of course.

Mark Williams won a tense final 9-7 against Mark Selby but the big winner by the end of the week was snooker. A full house stood to applaud the finalists as they took to the stage for the match and the German fans were the stars all week. They turned out in their droves and proved the snooker boom in Germany is well and truly live and kicking.

Higgins did manage to end the month on a good footing despite his disappointing news earlier on. He again showed his determination to bounce back and ended up winning the Welsh Open. He beat Stephen Maguire 9-6 in the final, sealed an emotional victory and devoted it to his father.

There was another Scot making the headlines this month as well. Stephen Hendry scored another impressive 147 break in the first round in Newport. This was a timely reminder that he's still got it but sadly it only punctuated another disappointing display at a ranking event for the seven-time world champion.

March

This month was dominated by the road to Sheffield, with the biggest tournament of the calendar year fast on the horizon.

Andrew Pagett and Jimmy Robertson earned Crucible debuts and as usual, the plots of the qualifiers were numerous. Some great coverage from ProSnookerBlog and Snooker Island showed the power of Twitter and blogs alike as the qualifying rounds of the World Championship enjoyed greater coverage than ever before.

Later in the month came Shaun Murphy's triumph at the first PTC Grand Finals. Earning reward for his terrific attitude towards extra tournaments, he beat Martin Gould in the final and continued to enhance his reputation as one of the most consistent and committed top professionals.

Matthew Stevens captured a place in the Premier League through the Championship League and off the table Mark Allen announced he was suffering from depression. Build-up to the World Championship was bubbling nicely...

April

A month that belonged to Judd Trump.

He won his first major ranking event at the China Open and masterminded an incredible run to the World Championship final.

This was the month terrific Judd proved he was the real deal. His win against Selby in the Beijing was particularly impressive, dispelling any myth that he hasn't got a safety game. It may not be his biggest asset but he does have it in the locker.

His greatest quality was on show at the Crucible just a fortnight later as he began dethroning world champion Neil Robertson in round one and got stronger and stronger beating Gould, Graeme Dott and Ding on a magical run to the final. He put on a festival of potting and won fans all along the way.

The quality at Sheffield this season was as high as ever but when one man steals the show, you know they're a bit special.

May

Higgins completed a full circle this month by capturing the world title for a fourth time.

A year ago he was exposed in the News of the World of plotting to match fix. Here, he was world champion again and stood tall as the comeback king.

You can't help but feel only Higgins was capable of beating the new kid on the block

His 18-15 triumph in the final was victory for one of the game's greatest champions and a reminder of the power of steel, grit and determination. Higgins is capable of scoring as well as the best of them but with Trump intent on potting the lot, it was his ability to scrap it out that saw him lift the trophy.

While the month began with Higgins on top of the world, it ended with the game's younger stars taking stage at another of Hearn's innovations, QSchool.

With snooker intent on becoming a truly level playing field, 12 players won places on the professional circuit for the season after coming through the new jungle of a system where amateurs shoot out for the final cards.

Although QSchool attracted some criticism for being a lottery style event,  I think many players were pleased to be given a last shot at professional status, where in seasons gone by they wouldn't have. It proved great excitement seeing players scrambling for the final cards and was an excellent way of giving the thriving amateurs greater exposure.

June

There was once a time when June would never even feature on a review of the snooker year; not anymore.

The season started early this time around with qualifiers for the Australian Ope underway and the first PTC of the season done and dusted.

Incidentally, it was Mr O'Sullivan who began with a win. Although only short, a summer away seemed to bring Ronnie back raring to go again. He looked refreshed and revitalised sealing his first trophy of what is undoubtedly a big season for him.

OnCue will be back with part two of the  review of the year tomorrow...

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Fan profile: Quinton Cade

Seasons greetings my snooker followers.

I hope you're all enjoying the festive season but, just in case you're struggling without any snooker, here's another profile of one of my readers.

Read how Quinton Cade sees the game and his ambitions to be a future champion of the sport. 

Name: Quinton Cade

Age: 20

From: Norwich

Occupation: A-Level graduate. Currently unemployed.

Highest break:142 (in practice)

Followed snooker since: I began playing when I was about 9-years-old in an after-school club.

First memories: Watching Stephen Hendry win his seventh World Championship. 

First favourite player:  Stephen Lee. His cue action is as smooth as silk, even now. I always hoped he would achieve more.

First live match: Hendry v Ebdon. World Championship final.

Best memory: I made my first century at 17.

Greatest player: I believe Stephen Hendry is the greatest champion.

Favourite player: There are so many to choose from but if I had to choose out of Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins or Mark Williams it would have to be Higgins. He is my idol. I want to follow in his direction.

Snooker in 10 years' time will... be a dominant sport across the world. We will keep breaking through into more different countries.

If I could make one change to the game... I'd take away the miss rule. It seems too unfair if you miss a ball by a whisker.
 
I love snooker because... it's such a beautiful game and can set the greatest of challenges and expresses people's ability to cope under pressure. I also love it because I don't want to just be some guy from Norwich When I die I want to be a champion. I know I will be.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Talking Snooker... with Snooker HQ

With a brief respite from the packed snooker calendar coming along in time for Christmas and New Year, OnCue returns with the popular Talking Snooker feature.

Snooker Island and Maximum Snooker blogs have already shared their views here this season.

But this time out, David Caulfield from SnookerHQ blog discusses the major baize talking points.

David is based in the Republic of Ireland and devotes a lot of his time commentating from over the seas on the Irish game. He adds a great presence to Twitter chipping in with insightful views on the main professional world circuit.

In this feature, he'll share more of his opinions including reaction to Judd Trump's recent UK win, how Mark Allen has hit the headlines and thoughts on this season's second PTC series.

Here's what we had to say:


Monday, 19 December 2011

Ford finds focus

Tom Ford has established himself as a far greater force on the professional circuit this season after setting his sights on the top 16.

The Leicester potter has always had the raw attributes to become a top player but seems to have discovered greater purpose and poise to start putting them to better use.

Picture by Monique Limbos
By winning the PTC11 title with a 4-3 win against Martin Gould in the final tonight, he may just have put himself forward as a capable contender to join the elite.

This is his second PTC triumph, of course, proving once again he has the free-flowing scoring game to win trophies. His problem in his career thus far has always been performing on the televised. Too often his displays in front of the cameras have been far short of what he's produced behind the closed doors of the qualifying rounds.

As a youngster I hear he was right up there talent-wise with his fellow countyman Mark Selby. While the Jester has gone on to top the world rankings, Ford has been left behind only ever reaching the top 32.

He admits himself he struggles to practise and enjoyed the social side of life too much to best take advantage of his talents. But that seems to have changed.

At the start of this season he openly stated his ambitions to reach the top 16. He's already backed those bold claims up with a string of fine performances, including his most recent win seeing him up to a career-high 26th in the world rankings.

Tom is still a little way short of his top 16 hopes but is moving in the right direction, producing his best snooker more regularly. He currently sits ninth in this season's Order of Merit and could improve that after travelling to Munich in January.

Some people don't like to set targets but in Ford's case, a goal to work towards appears to bringing more of the best out of him.

O'Sullivan clings on to top 16 place, for now...

Ronnie O'Sullivan held on to his top 16 status by the skin of his teeth today - but the tide isn't out quite yet.

Mark Davis went within just one frame of claiming a place in the elite for the first time in his career, and doing so would also have knocked the three-time world champion out.

With the Rocket not entering the PTC 11 or 12 tournaments, the Bexhill Battler needed a trip to the semi-final here to nick his place but, could only muster the last eight before losing agonisingly 4-3 to Anthony Hamilton.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The dramatic match wasn't chosen for today's stream but after leading the match 3-2, you couldn't blame Davis for feeling the pressure.

This would have been his biggest career achievement but, unlike in other big matches, his opponent was under relatively little pressure. Maybe this made the difference.

Not only was it a chance for Mark to put himself up alongside the game's top stars for the first time but he had to do it while everyone was watching and the national media were at the ready to report on the fall of one of the game's greats.

Had he secured the win, you can guarantee it would have been splashed across tomorrow's newspapers but, as it works out, Ronnie earned a reprieve.

He's not totally out of the woods though, of course.

If Ricky Walden converts his passage to the last 16 of PTC12 into silverware when the competition is played to a conclusion in Munich next month, the result will be just as damaging.

The reality of losing top 16 status at the next seedings cut-off for Ronnie is that he will be forced to qualify for the Welsh, China and World Opens.

This would mean one of the sport's greats going back to school, made to tough it out back in the cubicles. That would be quite a comedown who has always enjoyed life in the bright lights of the sport.

To the snooker world, this is a big deal.

O'Sullivan has been among the game's elite for 18 years and is part of the furniture there now. He plays the game so beautifully and is the hero of so many fans that his omission would be saddening.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Ironically, I'm not sure Ronnie would be so disappointed.

He's always been a player focused on winning trophies. Whether his ranking reads as 16th or 17th, probably makes little difference to him.

He would view both as mediocrity; a band he has tried desperately to avoid throughout his career.

Ronnie is a perfectionist and the fact that he now sits away from the top order frustrates him.

This is so much so that dropping out of the top 16 would be of little interest to him.

He already takes a dim view of the current state of his game. Dropping further down the pecking ordering would do little but magnify that opinion.

The only difference he would practically notice is having to win one qualifying match to make the TV venues. Unlike a lot of other players, this doesn't greatly diminish his hopes of winning more trophies.

If he turns up in the right frame of mind and playing somewhere near his best, he's capable of winning any tournament whether he has to start out from the last 32 stage or from the qualifying circuit.

What I did find interesting about his near-miss today is that despite his vast following, he has many haters too.

His blase attitude doesn't go down well with everyone and when the prospect of him falling out of the top 16 drew closer, the O'Sullivan bashers were out in force.

That won't bother Ronnie even an ounce. In fact, he probably revels in it.

The difference with Ronnie to other players is that criticism only makes him stronger. He's quite unique in that fact that he needs greater motivation to perform than just winning matches alone.

Sticking one up his critics or coming back from the qualifying rounds might just be what he needs to fire him up.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Make mine a double 147

Two maximum breaks were made today at the PTC12 in Sheffield.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It's the first time there's been a double helping of 147 breaks in a single day's competitive play at a professional tournament in the history of the game.

This great achievement does show how the standard of break building continues to improve but we shouldn't kid ourselves as it's also clearly the result of more matches being played.

The first man to find perfection was Matthew Stevens in his 4-0 win against Michael Wasley.

Stevens is rather surprisingly only the second Welshman to achieve a competitive 147, following in the footsteps of Mark Williams who made his first at the World Championship in 2005.

Picture by Monique Limbos
This fine feat was later repeated by Ding Junhui who added a third to his impressive collection in a 4-0 victory against Brandon Winstone.

He also struck maximums at the Masters in 2007 and the UK Championship in 2008.

It's no surprise to see Ding's impressive record.

He's one of the most efficient break builders the game has seen, and could easily go on to match maximum masters Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry, who have made 11 and 10 147 breaks respectively.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Fan profile: Ian Wagstaff

Finally, there's a break in the packed snooker schedule.

This gives OnCue the chance to feature another of the blog's avid readers. This time out sees a century-maker go under the spotlight. Read about his love of the game and an innovative new rule he'd like to see put in place for fouls.


Name: Ian Wagstaff

Age:44

From: Coventry

Occupation: A licensed bookmaker for 20 years. Currently unemployed.

Highest break:145

Followed snooker since: I began playing when I was about 10 or 11-years-old

First memories:Watching Terry Griffiths win the World Championship in 1979. "I'm gonna buy a motorbike." Great quote.

First favourite player: Tony Knowles. He was a real flair player in the days when you couldn't just screw the cueball up and down the table like you can today.

First live match: Steve Davis v Tony Knowles in the 1989 Rothmans Grand Prix. An elderly gentleman in front of us was eating sweets with his missus and Len Ganley shouted 'can that man with the bag shut up'.

Best memory: I played Paul Hunter at Willie Thorne's club in a monthly one-day tournament in 1992. He was only 13 but I'd never seen anything like it in my life.

Greatest player: Ronnie O'Sullivan is the greatest player of all time. Stephen Hendry is the greatest winner of all time.

Favourite player: It will always be Paul Hunter. Although he left us so young, I feel lucky to have watched him play. Who knows what else he would have achieved but I'm sure he would have had a big say in the way snooker is today.

Snooker in 10 years' time will... continue to grow in Asia and around the globe. There will also be many more Asian players at the top of the rankings.

If I could make one change to the game... I'd scrap four points for a foul and make it 10. It's outdated because of the way players score today. By increasing it to 10, it would encourage players to hit the easiest ball each time.

I love snooker because... it's such a beautiful skillful game yet it can put a man's character to anvil and his greatest qualities, patience and restraint to the flame.

Want to be featured? Get in touch. Email oncuesnookerblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

We're all winners

Judd Trump wasn't the only winner at this year's UK Championship.

With an abundance of new tournaments on the circuit nowadays played over only a couple of days, it means when the major ranking tournaments come around, you really do appreciate them.

That was definitely the case last week as we were treated to nine days of quality snooker, with all the top players giving it their all to land vital ranking points.

It will always be Trump's name left on the trophy but in a week where there was so much to talk about, there were plenty more success stories.

OnCue looks back at the winners of this week's UK Championship...
  • Mark Allen. Northern Ireland's number one didn't start the week on the best note but finished it in great style. After choosing to slate snooker supremo Barry Hearn in public, he soon turned his critics into supporters. First, he opted to take on Facebook. With a barrage of abuse being hurled at him on the social networking site, instead of burying his head in the sand he came out to defend, explain  and reationalise his comments. This won a lot of praise. Then, he flourished on the table, reaching his first ever ranking event final and proving just how far his game has developed. He's obviously learnt a thing or two from his mentor Terry Griffiths. His safety player was up there with the best of them and his positional play was also vastly improved. He can go out of this tournament confident he can now compete for major honours.
  • Marco Fu. The Hong Kong cueman picked one of the sport's biggest stages to find a return to form. At the back end of last season and the start of this, he couldn't buy a win. He showed what a classy player he is though with impressive wins against Stuart Bingham and Mark Selby. Before this tournament he was struggling to hold on to his top 32 status. It looks like he could be moving in the other direction again.
  • Ricky Walden. A shock semi-finalist and a week where he really put himself on the map with an overdue run at a BBC tournament. Wins against Stephen Lee, Shaun Murphy and Mark Williams earned him many plaudits and have put him right back in contention for a quick return to the top 16. He'll be one to avoid in the qualifiers for the remainder of the season.
  • Stephen Maguire. Only a run to the quarter-final for the Scot but it was great to hear fans talking about him in a positive light again. Maguire has often been criticised this season for bad gamesmanship and an explosive temperament. It's a shame because when he's on form he's an excellent player to watch. A second round win against defending champion John Higgins and winning the highest break prize marked a good week
  • Barry Hearn. Although not overly popular when devised, snooker's top man can look back at a very successful UK Championship format change. There will always be people who don't like change but, on the whole, reverting to best-of-11-frame matches went down well. I'm sceptical this is what drove record ticket sales but even so, it went much better than expected. Matches still provided great levels of entertainment and a large proportion of people who slammed the alterations came out realising they weren't too bad. Barry again showed he knows what he's doing.
  • Stephen Hendry. The real success story in the commentary box. Life after playing looks bright for the seven-time world champion. His punditry showed real understanding of the modern game. Instead of criticising players' mistakes, he explained shot selections and picked his words about players carefully. He went down a storm.
  • The Trump family. It wasn't only Judd celebrating when he lifted the trophy. The whole Trump clan where at the Barbican to see the win. Especially for his father, this is reward for a lot of hard work driving round the country during his amateur days. It must have felt all the more worth it at the end of this tournament.
  • York. It was an overdue return to this great snooker city and it certainly brought in the cash. The local economy ended the nine-day tournament £1 million richer, according to a local newspaper report. The venue was much better than in Telford and it generated a great trade for local businesses.
  • Ken Doherty's book publisher. This piece of literature was mentioned time and time again on the BBC coverage. I'm sure sales for this will go through the roof with Christmas just around the corner.
  • Snooker's Twitter community. Mark Williams signed up to the social networking site during the tournament and has added great value. Not afraid to speak his mind and bring inter-player banter to the public, he's been a massive hit.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Judd captures landmark title

Judd Trump enjoyed the finest night of his young career at the end of his breakthrough year in the sport - but you know it's just the start of a glittering era.

The 22-year-old has taken a little longer than everyone expected to make his mark but 2011 has seen him burst on the scene beyond all expectations.

Picture by Monique Limbos
He's won the China Open, finished runner-up in the World Championship and last night scored a tremendous 10-8 win against Mark Allen in the UK Championship.

Not for the first time he showed superb shot-making, flair and the ability to play under the greatest of pressures.

The best thing about Judd is his love for playing on the biggest stages.  In a front of a packed Barbican crowd he turned up the gas on his Northern Irish opponent, who was playing well enough to win the title himself.

Allen made four centuries and still lost, which puts into perspective just how well Judd played. The match was a great advert for snooker. It had big breaks, outrageous pots, high standard bouts of safety and was played in great spirits.

However good a match it was though, it's the morning after now and it's all about Trump.

He has great self-belief and supreme confidence which coupled with his fine talents give us an incredible snooker talent. For now, Judd can look back on a year of great achievements but he's been getting better and better and will only improve next year too.

It's important he sits back and enjoys his fine success in York - but now he's had a taste of the top I expect him to come back hungry for more.

He's a born star, a player who only cares about winning. That is the sign of the greatest of champions.

Last night was a landmark win for super Trump, a night where the he and his family realised all those years of hard work coming through the sport from the junior game to the amateur scene, onto the professional tour and now to the top of the sport.

Victory here means Judd has completed a journey but there are many more to make. There's still so much more left for him to achieve.

Judd Trump is here to stay.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Terrific Trump wins UK Championship

A massive congratulations to Judd Trump on winning his first UK Championship tonight.

He won a superb final 10-8 against Mark Allen to end his excellent breakthrough season.

It's a great landmark in this young man's career but you just know he's going to enjoy many more nights in the limelight of the game.

I'll post my considered verdict on his win tomorrow but for now, I hope Judd enjoys every second of his well-earned success.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Galvanised Allen makes first pro final

Mark Allen has been knocking on the door for quite a while but tonight he reached his first professional final with a 9-7 win against Ricky Walden.

Northern Ireland's number one has gained a reputation as the nearly man of the circuit with five ranking semi-final defeats - but he banished his hoodoo in a match that perfectly showcased his fighting spirit.

Picture by Monique Limbos
He came into tonight's session 5-3 adrift, and opening with a string of four frames flipped the match on its head before he showed great coolness under pressure to finish the job for a place in the UK Championship final.

It takes great bottle to play like that in a match that matters so much but Allen has been at it all week.

The feisty young Ulsterman has been the topic of hot debate this week with his comments about Barry Hearn being the main talking point for people around the game.

But instead of letting his critics drag him down, it's galvanised him. He's come back fighting and won the headlines for what he's doing on the table, instead of off it. And, that's what it's all about. That's why we're here in York and that's what Mark Allen cares about.

As well as his mental toughness, I've been most impressed by his safety play this week. This isn't the side of his game he's been most renowned for down the years but it's been spot on in York. Add that to his ability to make outrageous pots and score heavily and you have a UK Championship finalist.

Allen has been playing with a smile on his face at the Barbican and now faces one last test to take home the trophy. Judd Trump stands in his way in what should be an excellent final between two talented left-handers.

By the very nature of these tremendous attackers, you can guarantee both players will be out there to win by their own accord instead of waiting for the other to lose it.

Hold onto your hats, there could be fireworks at the Barbican.

Trump reaches maiden UK final

Judd Trump's fine breakthrough year continued last night with a an excellent 9-7 win against his fierce Aussie rival Neil Robertson.

Picture by Monique Limbos
In a year that has seen him win his first major ranking event, win Fans Player of the Year and finish runner-up in the World Championship, he can now add a maiden UK Championship to his growing list of achievements, as his reputation continues to soar.

Judd is fast becoming the player all the top players want to avoid at the big tournaments.

His fearless approach make him dangerous every time he comes to the table. His potting is sensational and his confidence sky high.

He's definitely got the beating of Robertson now. Despite losing to him earlier in the season in the Alex Higgins International Trophy, he's now knocked him out of the last two BBC tournaments.

It's difficult for Robertson to blame anyone but himself for this defeats because he had chances to reverse this defeat.

In fact, he had chances in pretty much every frame.

Judd is a great showman, a fans' favourite and an incredible attacking force. But with that comes pushing the boat out a little too much from time to time. When he pulls it off, he deserves all the superlatives in the world but the only slight drawback is that it does mean his opponents will get chances.

That's why despite being a heavy favourite to lift the title in York now, it's not over yet.

As well as another day in the sun for Judd, yesterday's match was also a classic example of why snooker fans love multi-session matches. Instead of the excellent sprint ties we've seen all week, this was entertainment value for a completely different reason. There was a story to the match. A beginning, a middle and an end.

The match lived up to its billing as a jaw-dropping potting and scoring fest but also ended with a good old-fashioned nervy conclusion. Judd will be a better player for coming through that kind of test. It proves he can win scrappy as well with his usual flair.

There will be more great battles to come between these fine two players, the best potters in the game. But for now, and again, it was Trump who came out on top and has a shot at silverware on Sunday.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Then there were four

Quarter-finals day at the Barbican served up more compelling snooker - with the the four players who made it through to the semi-finals all staking a claim for why they can win this year's UK Championship.

Leading the way was Judd Trump. He chose the perfect time to make his first century of the tournament, three in fact.

This helped him along to a comfortable 6-3 win against Stephen Maguire but this result should bare little reflection on the Scot.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Judd was just too good. He out-potted Maguire from start to finish and would have done the same to anyone else.

The way Trump keeps improving with each game is an ominous sign for his fellow title contenders. He's climbing up the gears smoothly and showing a little more each round.

Today was as impressive as it comes though, for me. He put on a masterclass of attacking snooker and continues to re-write the rules of what the correct shot is. He plays with a style of his own. As Maguire found out today, he's so hot to handle, because if a match isn't going his way, he'll create something out of nothing. He's a real aggressor at the table and perhaps that intimidates his opponents.

His long-potting is of such a high standard that maybe players are scared to even leave a sniff of a chance.

Ironically, he faces another of the games best single-ball potters in the semi-final, with Neil Robertson waiting in the wings.

The Aussie is another fearless competitor, as he showed with a ruthless 6-2 win against Ding Junhui today.

Just like Judd, Robertson is showing signs of playing himself into this tournament although his form has been pretty solid throughout with just six frames lost in his opening three matches.
Picture by Monique Limbos
It will be a different ball game in the last four though.

I'm sure Robertson hasn't forgotten how Judd brutally ended his title defence of the World Championship earlier this year.

It was one of the stand-out performances of the calendar year and must be prying at the back of Neil's mind somewhere.

I'm not suggesting Robertson will be doubting his ability to win the match but, he can't pretend the scars of that defeat have completely healed.

This match is worthy of any final but will be just as thrilling as a semi-final.

Ricky Walden also secured an unlikely place in the semi-finals - his first in a BBC tournament - with a 6-3 win against Shaun Murphy.

It's the second world champion Walden has beat this week as he continues his cool run.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Despite no longer being a top 16 player, he's shown glimpses of brilliance and evidence that he has enough about him to regain his place. Although his style is distinctly different from the rest of players in the semi-finals here, no-one should be writing him off.

Time and time again he's shown what an efficient scorer he is and how a soft touch around the table can bring rewards.

While the players around him have been busy producing fireworks, Ricky hasn't tried anything flash. He's been taking his chances, choosing the right shots, capitalising on his opponents mistakes and quietly making progress by remaining calm under pressure.

You can see his confidence slowly oozing back and he remains a danger because he's the player left in the tournament with the least pressure on him. Although ambitious Walden stills harbours hopes of adding to his solitary ranking title, three wins here means he's probably ticked the box of what he wanted to achieve pre-tournament anyway. That makes him a dangerous prospect.

With wins against Murphy and Mark Williams already under his belt, he faces another stern test next against Mark Allen, who has had an action-packed week himself.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Off the table, he's had plenty to say about Barry Hearn and has been splashed across the newspapers as a result.

It looks like in the face of adversity and criticism he's adopted bunker mentality and has come of age on the table. He's showed great flair and tenacity, providing real entertainment value along the way.

He's been somewhat of the box office attraction this week for both these reasons but his win tonight was arguably his sweetest of the tournament so far.

He showed cracking bottle to beat Marco Fu 6-5, and having to do it from 5-4 down made it all the more special..

Whether he feels he's got something to prove or is the kind of player who flourishes in the limelight, it doesn't matter. He's playing superb stuff and stands a great chance of lifting his first ranking title on Sunday night.

There's no rest for the wicked with the semi-finals underway tomorrow and a switch to the one-table set up in York.

That's always a sure sign we're into the serious side of the tournament.

The atmosphere has been spot on this week with no partition giving the kind of open feel you get in most snooker clubs.

Now with just one table taking centre stage it means the pressure is cranking up and everyone's eyes are on the players in action.

Bring on the semi-finals!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Fu fighter

Who would have thought it?

Out-of-form Marco Fu turns up at the UK Championship and stuns the world number one and tournament favourite.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Well, that's exactly what happened this evening as he beat Mark Selby 6-3.

Don't get me wrong, this was far from vintage. It was a scrappy match but, that won't matter even an inch to Fu who from nowhere is now back at the right end of a ranking tournament.

Marco will be the first to admit his form over the last 12 months has been turbulent. He rediscovered some quality to see off Stuart Bingham in round one but relied on his ability to scrap and take advantage of a poor Selby to win tonight.

The Jester from Leicester, who prides himself on his consistency, will be disappointed with his display for it was way short of what he produced in an opening round whitewash against Ryan Day.

Although his defeat will scupper many fans' bets, it does mean the race for this title is blown completely wide open.

Selby, who is a little like Mr Reliable, was looking like a safe bet to lift the trophy as others around him were flicking in and out of form.

Now, it's a case of take your pick.

Despite his troubles, we shouldn't forget Marco made the UK Championship final just three years ago and is still a classy player.Well played!

Allen talks on the table

Controversial Mark Allen also made it through to the quarter-finals.

His comments calling for Barry Hearn to quit earlier this week have made the national sport headlines but tonight he did his talking on the table.
Picture by Monique Limbos

His performance in his 6-2 win against Ali Carter proved why I believe he's the best player on tour never to have won a ranking event.

He potted some exquisite long balls, refused pots when he had to, scored heavily, hit on the counter-attack and showed he can play safety too. It was a complete performance. He was in lethal form, playing like someone desperate to prove a point. That's not always a bad thing.

His attacking prowess was on show for all to see as Carter just couldn't live with him.

While we've started the week talking about Allen off the table, it would be ironic if we ended it discussing his qualities on it. Maybe adversity will bring the best out of him as he bids for silverware.

Walden wanders through

Ricky Walden assumed the role of this season's UK Championship surprise package.

An impressive performance scored him a 6-3 win against world number two Mark Williams as he wandered through to an unexpected place in the last eight.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The UK Championship has a habit of seeing non-top 16 players advance to the quarter finals. Last season it was Mark Joyce and the year before saw Peter Lines do the same.

The fact that Ricky was a member of the top 16 just earlier this year makes his run less of a surprise than the former two.

But still, it marks a welcomed return to form for a player who failed to kick on after breaking into the elite and has found it difficult to get going since dropping out.

Walden has arrived in York with a burst of confidence and a steely determination to get results.

Just last month he made his first professional maximum break at a PTC and appears to be spurred on by that achievement.

Following on from victory against Stephen Lee in round one, he raced into 3-0 lead against Williams before losing the next three to go back on level terms.

Walden managed to keep faith in his game, refused to change his tactics and took another three on the spin to clinch the match.

Beating a player of Williams' calibre at any major tournament is worthy of praise but I can't help feeling a lack of commitment at this season's PTC tournaments has cost the Welshman the sharpness he needed coming into this event.

His defeat does mean that both of last year's finalists have now been sent packing, after John Higgins lost to Stephen Maguire yesterday.

Walden shouldn't feel an ounce of sympathy because he deserves his win after finally dusting himself down from the disappointment of only a short stay in the top 16 and showing glimpses of his best again.

He'll remain an underdog now he's into the second half of the tournament but the former Shanghai Masters winner Walden has thrown tea rankings guide out the window before, of course.

What is a novelty for Walden is enjoying a decent run at one of the BBC tournaments. A lot of snooker fans know what a great player he is but this week he's showing plenty more.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Maguire marches on and Judd Trumps Ronnie

Stephen Maguire completed a Scottish double today in York with victory over defending UK champion John Higgins.

Following on from his win in the first round against Stephen Hendry, on-song Maguire put pay to Higgins' hopes of a second successive title with a thoroughly deserved 6-4 win.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Although Maguire was by far the stronger player on the night, it wasn't all plain sailing. He raced into an emphatic 5-1 lead including a tournament high break of 144 but had to weather a trademark Higgins fightback before clinching the vital frame.

A lot of people are quick to level criticism at Maguire as he's renowned for losing his rag. But here, he was cool, calm and collective waiting patiently for his chance to kill off the world number three.

Higgins on the other hand was clearly unsettled by the shortened format of this year's UK Championship. He openly criticised the changes to the tournament last week and played like a man with something else on his mind. He was lucky to even beat Rory McLeod in round one and was perhaps destined to lose when he met a stiffer test.

Stephen was that tougher match. His recent performances at the PTC tournaments have been excellent. He's rediscovered his long potting and is playing with the kind of authority that makes him easy on the eye.

That said, his chances of winning silverware at the Barbican have perhaps gone under the radar, until now. People are beginning to talk up his chances again but Maguire appears to be staying grounded. With the standard of play so exceptionally high, that's the only way to approach it.

It was a good night at work for Maguire and now he can look forward to a clash with Judd Trump in the quarter-finals, who emerged through the game of the day.

Trump beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 6-5 in a nail-biter -  but can still get even beater.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The 21-year-old significantly upped his game from his first round match with Dominic Dale but, he simply had. The Rocket showed decent resolve once more but was caught out by Trump's outstanding potting game. Ronnie's safety game wasn't as tight as usual and Trump capitalised.

The scary thing here is we know Judd can get better. He appears to be playing himself perfectly into form in this tournament, a sure sign of of his ever developing maturity.

Today was Trump's fourth professional win over his Grove partner, with his last coming just a few weeks ago in the PTC9 final in Belgium.

He looks to have the beating of the three-time world champion but immediately after defeat began the usual  inquest into why Ronnie lost. We shouldn't bemoan his performance though.

He's been in good enough form in recent weeks to suggest he could have made a bid for the title this week, and could easily have snatched this match.

But we must not forget it's been ever such a long time since O'Sullivan made a real impact at a major ranking event.

Although he'd never admit it, that must be playing on his mind. Ronnie spoke after the match about the possibility of needing a break. But today was about another huge stride forward for young Judd rather than the chance to further dissect Ronnie's relationship with the game.

The other two matches of the day saw Ding Junhui win his second decider of the week, this time against Matthew Stevens and Neil Robertson win 6-3 against Graeme Dott in a repeat of the 2010 World Championship final.

Ding has showed excellent fight so far this week further dispelling the myth about his lack of temperament. This added grit coupled with his superb ability to break build make him a dangerous prospect.

Robertson meanwhile, scored a scrappy victory and will need to find greater fluency lift the trophy. His long potting was on the money but he was positionally off the pace.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Close but no surprise

As the first round of this year's UK Championship came to a conclusion today we were almighty close to two massive surprises at the Barbican.

Joe Jogia - making his debut at the UK Championship - pushed world number two Mark Williams all the way taking a share of the first eight frames before losing 6-4.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It was far from glamorous but as a heavy second favourite Jogia scrapped, fought and grafted in a bid to take advantage of an off-colour Williams.

Mark is right up there in rankings largely to his consistency over the last year but that said, it doesn't mean we haven't seen him choke. He's lost three ranking finals within a year from winning positions and as Jogia drew level from 4-2 adrift, I wondered whether it might happen.

In the end, the Welshmen bundled over the finish line and showed experience in front of the TV cameras counts for plenty.

Dominic Dale also came close to springing a surprise, against Judd Trump. After holding a 4-2 lead over the World Championship runner-up, a huge slice of fortune in frame seven proved the turning point as the young gun turn the tie on its head to run out a 6-4 winner.

Although this win wouldn't have been a surprise on the same scale as Jogia's given Dominic's run to the most recent PTC final, Judd's ability to turn it on for the big occasion still made him a huge favourite before the match.

We've seen plenty of evidence for how lethal Trump can be when front running. Maybe today proved he's got another side of his game too, being able to tough it out when not playing his best. However good the boy is, that's a quality he'll need in abundance moving forward.

These two matches were a warning for what can happen in these shorter format matches. While it's important for the top players not to peak too early in the big tournaments, both Williams and Trump will need to improve quickly after shaky starts.

Picture by Monique Limbos
There was drama in York off the table today as well. Mark Allen hit out at Barry Hearn after his 6-3 win versus Adrian Gunnell.

Criticising the sport's supremo for lining his pockets from the game and not having the player's best interests at heart, it put a rather disappointing tint on an otherwise good win for him.

Allen has struggled with depression for the past six months but looked like he was back playing with a smile on his face and enjoying his snooker again.

I'm all for players speaking their minds but on a week of a big event like this I'd rather the snooker did the talking.

The only other game today saw Ricky Walden beat seeded Stephen Lee 6-3. This match was always going to be a tight one but resurgent Ricky did his hopes of a return to the top 16 no harm at all here.

Tomorrow sees the start of the second round matches.

Here's how they line-up:

Neil Robertson v Graeme Dott
Stephen Maguire v John Higgins
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Judd Trump
Matthew Stevens v Ding Junhui
Mark Williams v Ricky Walden
Martin Gould v Shaun Murphy
Ali Carter v Mark Allen
Mark Selby v Marco Fu

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The story so far...

It's great to be back in York.

We're just two days into this year's Williamhill.com UK Championship but what a pleasure to be here.

The Barbican is a superb venue for snooker and with ticket sales through the roof, the atmosphere has been fantastic.

A strong crowd always adds to the occasion in big matches at big tournaments - and that's been proved the case again.

Picture by Monique Limbos
In such a massive tournament, the pressure is on the players to perform. They haven't disappointed.

World number one Mark Selby has put in the most impressive performance so far. A 6-0 demolition of Ryan Day sent out a stiff warning to his title rivals, showing he means business and proving exactly why he's leading the ranking list.

Keen to add to his win at the Shanghai Masters earlier this season, he made light work of game that looked tricky on paper and further dispelled any myth that he's a negative player.

Ronnie O'Sullivan looks equally determined to chase silverware this week. After losing the first frame to Steve Davis he eventually ran out a comfortable 6-1 winner. Like a sign of all great champions, he steadily rose through the gears as this match progressed but, the most impressive part of his display was how he kept his game in check despite early scrappy spells. His patience bodes well for a bid for the title.

These two top 16 players weren't alone in opening with a sparkle. Neil Robertson and Graeme Dott ran out 6-1 winners against Tom Ford and Matt Selt respectively, while Martin Gould was far too strong against Peter Lines, and won 6-2.

The closest matches were actually yesterday. John Higgins and Ding Junhui both needed slices of fortune in deciders with Rory McLeod and Mark Davis respectively.

Higgins' ability to come through a stern battle is hardly surprising and only confirms why he'll be at the business end of this tournament. But for Ding, it was a marked improvement for a player who has often been questioned for having a soft centre.

No-one will be more pleased with their  first round win though than Ali Carter. He's desperately struggling for form and confidence but managed to emerge a 6-4 winner over Robert Milkins. That will do the Essex potter wonders.

Stephen Maguire is another player lacking in the confidence department right now. He did all the basics right to beat Stephen Hendry by 6-3 in the battle of Scotland. Yet again, it was difficult watching the seven-time world champion labour at a big venue, missing balls he just wouldn't have in years gone by.

It's not all been about the winners. A big congratulations should go to TV debutant Li Yan. The Chinese cueman came through a gruelling four matches just to make it here and  can be proud of his performance. He eventually lost 6-3 to Shaun Murphy but showed enough glimpses of quality to suggest a bright future in the game.
Picture by Monique Limbos

It's never in front of cameras but all in all, he looked comfortable.

Talking of tough, it really was hard watching Marcus Campbell. He lost 6-2 to Matthew Stevens as another top 16 player ran out winner but, even seeing him out competing was worth commendation.

Campbell went out into the arena to play despite hearing news that his friend who follows him at all the major tournament had died suddenly in his York hotel. It was a brave effort to fight on, which earned him plenty of plaudits. A massive well done to him. But Stevens showed signs of another top player desperate for a good week.

In fact, the only top 16 not to progress so far is Stuart Bingham. Despite leading 3-1, he lost 6-4 to Marco Fu. This result will go down as a shock considering Marco's poor recent form but glimpses of brilliance in this hard fought win suggests he may be over the worst of his struggles.

The standard of snooker has been superb so far. So much so, it's difficult to complain.

A lot of debate has been had surrounding the new shortened format. Personally, I think the best-of-11-frame matches have been pitched about right so far. I wasn't in support of the changes in the first place but it's pointless moaning about them now. We may be losing an extra session of play but, the matches still seem a fair distance with more frames being played in the single session than normal. The appeal of seeing a player being tested doesn't feel like it's lost.

Either way, with the quality of play we're being treated to, how can we argue?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

UK Championship: BIG tournament preview

This year's Williamhill.com UK Championship may take on a shorter format than in years gone by but it still remains the second biggest ranking event on the snooker calendar.

With only the World Championship at the Crucible ahead of it for prestige, points and prize money, all the top players will be ready and raring to go to win one of the top trophies in the sport.

One of the biggest fears when Barry Hearn took charge of the sport is that he'd meddle with the format so-called major tournaments.

This worry became a reality this season with the early matches in this tournament being played as best-of-11-frames matches over one session instead of best-of-17-frame matches over two.

This decision has divided opinion. The big positives are that every player will enjoy time in front of the television cameras, instead of being farmed out to the off-screen tables, paying spectators will get a result after every session of play and ultimately, it pleases the television broadcaster.

The fans at home will get the chance to watch all their favourite players and not miss any matches either

However, this means sacrificing multi-session matches in the early part of the tournament. Like a lot of traditionalists, I enjoy matches being played over more than one session. I think it gives the players a bigger test to pass if they want to win the biggest events. This works perfectly well for the World Championship but was obviously not deemed such a success here.

Whatever your opinion, this tournament will be as fiercely competed as ever. The UK Championship may this year lack a certain entertainment value for its inability to give matches a longer slow-burning appeal but because it remains high on the agenda for players to win, it will still be fulfil in others.

Players will have to start the match quickly and seize the early initiative, which brings a drama of its own. Ultimately though, the new format will still benefit the top players because they have more experience playing in front of the TV cameras.

Another big change to the UK Championship this season is a return to the Barbican in York. It's always been a great venue and will surely bring in bigger crowds than in previous seasons in Telford. 

On the table, there are plenty of sub-plots in this year's UK Championship.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has showed better application so far this season than last and is being tipped by many to take the title. His first round clash with six-time world champion Steve Davis ticks all the boxes as an absolute classic.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Then there's a ranking event debut for Li Yan.

He impressed in qualifying with four wins and faces 2008 UK champion Shaun Murphy.

Will he freeze or flourish? If he delivers his best, he's capable of an upset.

Elsewhere, Martin Gould makes his television debut as a member of the top 16, while I'll be particularly interested to see Mark Williams having already lost two ranking event finals this season in Australia and Shanghai.

Mark Selby will come into the tournament under pressure as the reigning world number one and as winner of the most recent major ranking event, the Shanghai Masters. That's why his opening round clash with  Ryan Day looks like a right gem.

Ding Junhui has chosen to miss a few of the PTC events leading into the UK Championship. We'll soon see whether any benefits come from that.

Then there's Judd Trump. A real success story of the season and a finalist in the World Championship earlier this year. He's quickly accumulated a legion of fans and will be relied upon to give the tournament its dazzle.

John Higgins returns as the reigning champion. A year ago marked his return to the sport with a dramatic victory in the final against Williams last season.
Picture by Monique Limbos

The Scot trailed 9-6 and looked dead and buried. But a run of four straight frames saw him capture the title and complete a memorable comeback. It will go down as one of the most exciting UK finals of all time.

He will take a lot of the beating again this year still being the hardest player to beat in the game, and a player renowned for delivering on the biggest stages.

But my tip this year for the title is Neil Robertson.

He's now a much better player than when he won the world title in 2010. He has developed the all-round to go with his tremendous potting ability. His form in the PTCs this season have been much improved with two trophies already won.

He's mixing his game up more than ever before and, in my opinion, he has the quality to beat both kinds of players. He can fight it out with Higgins and attack as well as Trump.

Let the battle commence!

Full first round draw:

John Higgins v Rory McLeod
Stephen Maguire v Stephen Hendry
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Steve Davis
Judd Trump v Dominic Dale
Ding Junhui v Mark Davis
Matthew Stevens v Marcus Campbell
Graeme Dott v Matt Selt
Neil Robertson v Tom Ford
Mark Williams v Joe Jogia
Stephen Lee v Ricky Walden
Martin Gould v Peter Lines
Shaun Murphy v Li Yan
Ali Carter v Robert Milkins
Mark Allen v Adrian Gunnell
Stuart Bingham v Marco Fu
Mark Selby v Ryan Day

Paul Colllier's Premier League verdict

Premier League referee Paul Collier has been writing columns all-season long for OnCue.

This time, he looks back on the year's new look Premier League competition and gives his verdict.

 Collier on Ronnie O'Sullivan....

The strange thing about Ronnie in this season's Premier League is that he didn't seem to play very well early on. Saying that, there were 10 players in the competition and only four nights to qualify, but he made it through. I was surprised to see him lose his first match but it was almost as if he won when he needed to.

The way he reads the game has seen him become the master of the shot-clock.

Once he arrived in Potters for the finals weekend, he looked really up for it and played excellently. His record of ten titles is great. I think the difference in preparations for the Premier League to ranking events makes a huge difference to him. He's only a couple hours from home here and can turn up, play and then go home. It's not played over lots of days and it brings out the best in him.

He's been saying he may not play in the Premier League next season and he could be serious. I don't think it will happen but he's in a position where he may have to qualify for the World Championship, so it's right he needs to be ranking snooker top of his priority list.

It would be a shame to lose him though. His domination in the Premier League has been huge. I think he's under-achieved elsewhere in the game but in the Premier League he's shown what a top player he really is.

Collier on the new format...

I liked having ten players in the competition this season but I don't think the format was quite right.

It wasn't much of a league and the Shoot-Out frame didn't work. I don't think it's a great idea to have a match change format halfway through. It confused the spectators and the players, but I can't defend the players.

I think it's their responsibility to brush up on the rules of the game. After all, they've accepted to take part and play for the prize money.

Maybe it would have been better to have split the players into two min-groups of five and have the top two from each qualify for the play-offs. This would have kept the league format alive.

The reduced shot-clock wasn't a problem although I don't think it could go any lower than 20 seconds now.

Collier on the venues...

I can honestly say I loved every venue. They were all so uniquely different but all pulled in a big crowd.

I had my reservations about going to Skegness in summer holiday season but even that was great. The great thing about the Premier League is seeing all the different venues. I'd gladly come back to them all, but I'd welcome anywhere new as well.

I wouldn't like to pick one to drop though. I hope that isn't my job.

Collier on next season...

I've heard the finals may not be in Potters but I'm not sure exactly where they will be. Potters want us to come back but aren't happy with the dates. Unfortunately, they're dictated by Sky.

We could maybe go to Grimsby. I'd be pleased with that but I honestly don't know either way.

I've heard the tournament may go back to six frames. I'm happy either way. All I want is for the crowds to stay high and Sky to give us the same support. That's the key to success.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Holt earns second PTC title

Michael Holt proved again what a class act he is on the baize.

His 4-2 win against Dominic Dale in the PTC10 final earned the Nottingham potter his second title in as many seasons.

Picture by Monique Limbos
To put this achievement into perspective, only Mark Selby and Judd Trump have managed to win a PTC event in two successive seasons.

That's an excellent haul for a player currently ranked outside the top 32 in the world rankings.

But in truth, Holt's current position is arguably a false one. When he's at his best, he's a classy cueman and a match for anyone. I just worry that his temperament holds him back in the bigger ranking events where the pressure is amplified.

Michael is a popular lad. He wears his heart on his sleeve, interacts with the crowd and is one of the circuit's real characters. Like anyone who doesn't perform to their potential, he gets frustrated. But I can't but help feeling he let's this get the better of him far too often.

He has a habit of showing his opponents too many cards and letting poor shots smoulder his performances.

That's why it's no surprise to see him realise his ability in these shorter-format tournaments played in front of small, or sometimes no crowds. He has no choice but to get on with the game and as a result, his snooker does the talking.

If only Holt could do this more, he'd be a real threat higher up snooker's pecking order.

His performance in Sheffield today was exceptional. In the semi-final, he masterfully outfought the World and UK champion, John Higgins. In the previous round, he potted Jamie Cope out of sight. Then crucially in the final, he was too much for even an in-form Dominic.

Holt is the kind of player who is desperate to enjoy greater success in the game. This win will give him the perfect boost going into the rest of the season.

If he manages to keep his temperament in check, he could achieve plenty. And you wouldn't begrudge him it either. He's a great lad, as well as a fine player.

Well done to Walden

Ricky Walden has had a brief taste of life among the top 16 - and now he approaches the stage of the season where he'll be desperate to claim it back.
Picture by Monique Limbos

If his impressive 147 break at this week's PTC10 is anything to go by, he's right up for the fight as well.

Maximum breaks have been rather like buses this season. We waited several tournaments for the first, then got three at all once. First Mike Dunn hit a 147 in the German Masters qualifiers, then amateur David Gray jonied in an now most recently, Walden.

Ricky has escaped my radar somewhat this season. He's been going steadily about his business, currently just outside the top 32 on the one-year ranking list so far this season.

This shouldn't concern Ricky too much as that can all change quickly with the bigger ranking events now on the horizon. He'll be playing in the UK Championship next week and can stake a claim to be back among the elite with a decent run.

There's no doubt he has the quality to be there. His career highlight saw him win the 2008 Shanghai Masters, proving what a talent he is on his game.

What people struggle to undertsand was whether that was over-achievement or his form now is under-achievement. I can't help but go for the former because he's not consistently emerged as a realistic title contender.

On his A-game though, he's a precise player and a neat break-builder. He's ambitious enough to get back in as well. I remember reading when he first broke into the top 16 last season that his plan was to stay there and move up.

Unfortunately defeat to Rory McLeod at the Crucible in April saw him bomb out prematurely. But his inability to make his top 16 status stick may well drive him on to a quick return.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Premier performance earns Ronnie 10th title

Picture by Monique Limbos
Ronnie O'Sullivan won a record 10th Premier League title last night - as he cruised past Ding Junhui by an impressive 7-1 scoreline.

This is the Rocket's seventh triumph in eight years and proves yet again why he's the master of shot-clock snooker.

O'Sullivan often produces his most mesmerising play when the seconds are ticking, but why is that?

In short, he's the only player who does not have to change his game to play in the Premier League.

He's the quickest and most instinctive player on the circuit. He plays the game as he sees it and his raw ability to quickly plan ahead stands in him such good stead.

While his opponents ponder, Ronnie rapidly gets about the table and controls the cue ball with ease, and often little thought.

Ronnie's unrivalled sucess in the Premier League is more than just about ability though. Playing in the Premier League is also a chance for Ronnie to play the game with the shackles off. The event draws in big crowds and in front of a packed house, he's often at his best, looking to put on a show.


Ding wasn't anywhere near his best and on a night when Ronnie had the long game to back up his quality in the balls, there was only ever going to be one winner.


Next on the radar for O'Sullivan is the UK Championship. Success at the Premier League does not guarantee him a run in York. While he's still fighting for a guaranteed top 16 seeding after the next ranking revision, he's under pressure to pick up points.

His recent performances in the PTCs prove he's up for the fight and, if he finds a confident rhythm, he'll be difficult to stop.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Comeback king Ken bound for Berlin

Ken Doherty stole all the headlines on a dramatic final day of qualifying for the German Masters.

The 1997 world champion recovered from 4-0 down to young Sam Craigie to win 5-4 and prove again, he's the master of playing under pressure.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Victory denies Craigie a first shot at a televised venue but means the Dubliner rolls back the years once more.

Doherty has found resolve again this season with some good results already to his name including a path to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

Such a stirring comeback yesterday shows he still has the ability to win against all odds, like he did in his prime. It also means he's not ready to make way for the game's up and coming stars just yet.

I'm the kind of snooker fan who likes to see new faces make the venues but, it's hard to deny Doherty his place now. Defeat will be eating away at Craigie as victory was at his fingertips. The consolation is that he'll have plenty more chances to get in front of the television cameras in the future.

This match wasn't the only excitement of the day.

James Wattana secured a place back at venue with a 5-1 battering of Stephen Hendry. The Thai cueman has been back playing excellent snooker this week and his win comes as no surprise based on his previous showings. But for the seven-time world champion, this was a case of 'welcome to the qualifiers'. Life isn't easy outside the top 16 so his reaction to this defeat will be interesting to map.

Elsewhere, Tom Ford continued his blistering form with a 5-0 win against a usually tenacious Anthony Hamilton as he continues his bid to climb up the rankings.

Mike Dunn, who made a first professional 147 earlier this week, finished off the job. He beat a struggling Mark King 5-3 as he shows more signs of renaissance since struggling from health problems earlier in the campaign.

In the best of the deciders, Peter Ebdon beat Jimmy White, Ryan Day came past Anthony McGill, Liu Song fought past granite Fergal O'Brien and Paul Davison pinched a late-night win over Dominic Dale.

Jamie Cope and Marco Fu's barren form continued as they lost out to Yu De Lu and Adrian Gunnell respectively.

Also through is Andrew Higginson, Ricky Walden, Marcus Campbell, Barry Hawkins and Mark Davis.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Dunn makes maiden max

Mike Dunn celebrated his first competitive 147 break in the German Masters qualifiers last night.

It comes as rich rewards for a player who has enjoyed a long career in the professional ranks but encountered trouble in recent times.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Following health troubles, he questioned how long he could go on playing the game following defeat in the UK Championship qualifiers earlier this month.

Not long after that and he's now celebrating joining an elite list of players to make a maximum in a tournament.

It's strange how quickly fortunes can change, and a 5-0 win against Norway's Kurt Maflin means he stands a real chance of qualifying for the German venue and a cheeky £3,000 maximum bonus in his pocket.

Dunn's high break also shows the strength in depth of players down the rankings. Recent streaming of qualifying matches is seeing the reputation of many of the game's lower-ranked players soar and Dunn may well join that category.

Although he has never troubled the silverware end of tournaments, this 147 proves the quality of player there is right the way across the professional board.

Well played Dunny!