Thursday, 31 March 2011

China Open - Day four - Ebdon stuns Robbo

I'm not one to boast.

But anyone who read my Twitter feed this morning would have seen that I perfectly predicted the winners of all today's eight second round matches.

I had the quarter-final line-up down to an absolute tee.

John Higgins, Peter Ebdon, Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Mark Selby, Stephen Lee and Ding Junhui all progressed.

Found out how below...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

China Open - Day three - Rocket blasted out of Beijing

Ronnie O'Sullivan's dismal form continued today as he crashed out of the China Open in the first round.

He was beaten 5-2 by Welshman Ryan Day and is now without a win in a ranking event match since last September in the World Open.

After withdrawing from both the Shanghai and German Masters already this season, it was questioned whether he'd even make the trip. He did show, but could do little to arrest his alarming dip in form.

At 2-1 up and with a 123 break under his belt, he was striking the cue ball beautifully and starting to look like the Ronnie of old. But after being pegged back to 2-2 by the interval, he imploded to defeat, missing yet more easy balls and looking drastically off his game.

It's been a complete non-season for the sport's most popular player. So much so, that he now seems to be going into his matches as the underdog in many people's eyes.

Problems away from the table have marred his season. But we should all remember, despite his vast talent, he is still human. Criticism has again been full on in the wake of his defeat, but I urge people to get off his back. Day didn't play to his maximum today, but definitely deserved to win. Some excellent long pots in the final frames helped him to victory.

For Ronnie's army of fans, I wouldn't hold your breath for a revival in Sheffield. You'd be silly to ever write him off completely, but it would be some turnaround, even by the standards of a genius to go and lift the world title now.

It's not pleasant watching Ronnie struggle so badly, but as the old cliche goes, form is temporary while class is permanent.

Elsewhere today, there were another seven first round matches played.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

China Open - Day two - Lee edges Williams in China classic

Snooker has rightly or wrongly built an image of being a bit dull over the years.

Even as an ardent fan of the game, I'm big enough to admit it can sometimes be grinding.

But what keeps me intrigued as much as anything is that every now and then snooker has a habit of delivering an absolutely classic match.

Today was one of those days.

The clash between Mark Williams and Stephen Lee was an epic, and one I'll remember for many years to come. It was the perfect advert for the best-of-nine-frame format of the game. And the perfect answer to the question of whether the China Open is just a warm-up for the World Championship.

Phil Yates said this match ranked among his top ten of all time. And believe me, there have been some classics along the way, and Phil is not one to sensationalise.

This was a glorious match. But I'll be honest and admit that when I was boarding the train into London at 06.40 this morning to make sure I was at my desk ready for the 07.30 start, I thought I was making a big mistake. It transpires, it was probably the best decision I've ever made.

Maybe you think I'm going overboard, so I should probably justify myself.

What made this match so special was that Williams scored four centuries, but was cruelly beaten 5-4 by a determined Lee. A player has never suffered defeat under these circumstances before.

The Welshmen played flawless snooker in the opening two frames as he raced into a commanding 2-0 lead. Two years ago - when his confidence was low - Lee would have lost this match 5-0.

But such has been his transition, he hung in there and got his reward.

Anyone who plays snooker knows the most demoralising part of the game is being slumped in your chair while you watch your opponent pot ball after ball. While they're growing in confidence with every shot, you're left sat hoping the earth will open up and swallow you.

Lee has been a fragile player in recent seasons finding confidence hard to come by. It's no surprise that his return to form this season has come at the same time he's rekindled his enthusiasm for the game.

Today, he was prepared to fight. And it was fight that won him this match. Because in truth, he ended up winning a match he should have come nowhere near winning. He deserves credit for taking his chances of course, but even he'll be confused as to how he's still in this competition.

In fairness though, Lee has lost plenty of games this season he's deserved to win, so maybe it's justice. But it's this kind of resilience that will mean John Higgins is cursing drawing Lee at next month's World Championship.

While this match was perhaps the best of the season, let alone the game of the day, we were also spoiled to seven more intriguing matches on day two in Beijing.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Barry Hearn EXCLUSIVE interview

Snooker supremo Barry Hearn has made plenty of sweeping changes to the game since taking charge.

New events, new formats and changes to the ranking system are just some of the ways he's given the sport a refresh.

Last week, OnCue sat down with the man with the plan to assess his impact so far, more changes in the future and his thoughts ahead of snooker's biggest tournament, kicking off in April.

Here's what he had to say...

China Open - Day one - Headline heavy in Beijing

As an action-packed opening day at this year's China Open drew to a close, it was difficult to pick out the stand-out story.

With Stephen Hendry proving he's prepared to fight for his top 16 place, world champion Neil Robertson showing rare form in China, Norway's Kurt Maflin winning on his TV debut and Ken Doherty being trounced by wildcard Li Hang, there was plenty to digest and no shortage of talking points.

And this was all without Jimmy White, who didn't show for the event after suffering visa problems.

Anyone who thought this tournament would be a drab showing ahead of the main showpiece at the World Championship next month, really needs to think again.

Here's how day one unfolded...

Friday, 25 March 2011

The China Open: Tournament preview

With this year’s World Championship on the horizon – just three weeks away in fact – it’s easy to forget the small matter of the China Open.

But beginning on Monday, the tournament held in Beijing is more than merely a warm-up for the biggest event on the calendar.

The China Open is in my opinion one of the most important tournaments of the season...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The boy is back

Matthew Stevens will play in this year's Premier League for the first time since 2002.

He sealed his place with an impressive 3-1 win over last week's PTC Grand Finals champion Shaun Murphy in tonight's final.

His performance in the final proved not only he's still got the Stevens swagger, but the guts to win the scrappy frames too.

This tops off what has been a fantastic four days for the Welshman coming through group seven to nick the final place in the the winner's group, and then storming his way past six of the world's best.

It's the third night running I've ended up writing about Stevens on this blog. It's fair to say the boy is back.

His revival hasn't happened over night. It's been coming for a long time. He's been slowly turning the wheel and cranking up his performances.

He may even tell you we've still not seen the best of him yet. But, we've definitely seen enough to know his days at the top of the game are far from over.

Stevens has been playing well for most of this season. But instead of just proving he's got the beating in the qualifiers, this week he's done it against the very best. Murphy, Mark Williams and Mark Allen are just three of the players who have felt the force of his resurgence in Essex.

Never for a moment has Stevens ever doubted his capabilities. He's too confident for that. No-one else has ever doubted ability either, but this week he proved he can more than just win a place back in the top 16. He proved he can still win titles.

Next, he's one of 32 players flying to Beijing for the China Open, which starts on Monday. But surely his recent form suggest he's also in the running to lift the world title in May as well.

Watch the space. Matthew is back.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Stevens sets winners group pace

The word "momentum" is one frequently used in sport.

Matthew Stevens proved what an important factor it is in snooker today, finishing day one of the Championship League winners group top of the table.

After grabbing the final spot by emerging as the group seven winner last night, he continued his good form at Crondon Park by winning three of his four matches.

He began the day with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Mark Selby but bounced back to beat Mark Allen, Ryan Day and Shaun Murphy.

The snooker world seems to be talking regularly about the reemergence of Stevens at the moment and you just cannot deny the lad, as another day goes by, and it's the Welshman we're taking about again.

On an impressive run, that makes it eight wins from the last nine matches in Essex over two days for Stevens, and he'll be many people's tip for a place in the Premier League now.

But he's not the only player with something to smile about. Selby and Allen will be relatively chuffed with their day's work as well though. They both managed to pick up two wins from three matches.

Ali Carter and Murphy both won two and lost two, while Mark Williams could only manage one win from three and Day none from three.

It's unsurprising that at the halfway stage it's all still wide open. With the players so evenly matched, any of them could still make it into the semi-finals, although Day will have to pull an almighty performance out of the fire from his precarious position.

It's game on tomorrow.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Delayed Stevens flys into winners group

Matthew Stevens proved again today he's well on his way back to being one of the world's top players.

After his Monday morning flight back from the PTC Grand Finals in Dublin was delayed by two hours, he almost didn't even make it to Essex to play in the Championship League group 7.

But after scampering back and battling through first day fatigue, he stepped up a gear to qualify for the winners group.

He won all five of his matches today including a 3-0 whitewash of Liang Wenbo in the final and a 3-1 victory over Stephen Lee in the last four.

The Welsh Dragon is getting better and better with each match, and the scary thing is you know there's still more to come.

After his victory, he said: “I didn’t have much time to rest or sleep, but that’s a good thing as these days you’re playing all the time.

“I was moaning enough when there were no tournaments but it’s gone from one extreme to the other and we’re going from one country to another.

“It was a bit tight to get here on time, my plane was delayed and there was an accident after the Dartford Tunnel. I thought I might have to turn around but I got here eventually and won the tournament.

“I didn’t expect much in the last couple of days, especially yesterday as I was playing tired all day and I was happy to win one of my three matches, but today I came here still tired but feeling a bit better.

“I didn’t play great but scored pretty heavily, hung in there even though my concentration wasn’t great and did enough to win."

Stevens joins Ryan Day, Mark Williams, Ali Carter, Mark Selby, Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy in a strong final group kicking off tomorrow.

Any of them could win it, and with a place in the Premier League up for grabs, they'll all be going for it.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Crucible draw: Matthew Stevens EXCLUSIVE reaction

Matthew Stevens was busy playing in the Championship League group seven when he was drawn to play against Mark Allen at the Crucible.

After finishing off at Wembley, I made the trip across to Essex to find out his thoughts.

Here's what he had to say...

Crucible draw: Ali Carter EXCLUSIVE reaction

Minutes after the Captain was pulled out of the hat against Dave Harold, I grabbed  few words with him overlooking the great Wembley pitch.

Here's what he had to say...

Crucible draw: first thoughts

Arriving at Wembley Stadium usually fills me a special feeling.

My last two trips to this wonderful arena were to watch my football team - Tottenham Hotspur - play in two cup finals.

Although today’s visit was for totally different reasons, I still got that slight tingle of excitement I’ve now come to expect.

While I wasn’t due to see any sporting action, this was the moment where the snooker season suddenly shifts up a gear.

Barry Hearn has made plenty of exciting changes to the sport this season, and it’s fair to say we’ve never had it so good.

When you think that Shaun Murphy was playing in his 94th match of the season last night and hardly a weekend has gone by this season without any competitive action, you certainly can’t complain.

We’ve had an action-packed calendar to get our teeth into, and this has thrown up plenty of matches to remember.

But no matter what has gone, the World Championship still remains the ace in the snooker pack. It’s still the daddy.

And with players enjoying more match practice this season than ever before and their competitive edge at a mind-blowing high, this year’s Crucible competition is threatening to be a classic.

Now the draw has been made, the countdown begins. You’ll probably all agree the draw is pretty special too, with some tasty ties in store.

Here are my first thoughts on the round of 32 matches...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Merit leader Murphy lands top PTC prize

I always like to see consistency rewarded in sport.

That's why it was fitting to see Shaun Murphy scoop top prize at this week's PTC Grand Finals event in Dublin.

Because after all 12 events, he led the Order of Merit.

Not only did his form throughout the series warrant him winning the title, but today he was superb too.

He whitewashed both Matthew Stevens and Martin Gould as he steamrolled to the £60,000 winners cheque.

As usual his long potting gave him the cutting edge as he rattled in two classy performances.

It was also fitting to see Murphy the victor because his Irish genes made him a popular champion with the home crowd, who witnessed their first snooker ranking action in more than six years.

Tonight's scoreline was perhaps harsh on Gould, but he can take heart from appearing in his first televised final.

Gould has been another consistent performer in the PTC series, and most notably came through a gruelling semi-final with Mark Selby 4-3 to earn a place in the showpiece and vital ranking points as he pursues a place among the world's top 16.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Hitman hits back

Failing to qualify for the Crucible is often the end of a player's season.

This campaign is slightly different because the new PTC series means there's an immediate chance for players to bounce back.

But such is the drain of missing out on Sheffield  that it wouldn't be a surprise to see the failing qualifiers fall into oblivion.

It takes real character to react to lows, and a year without Sheffield is pretty much down there for most top players who have tasted the tournament before

Defeat in the World Championship qualifiers ultimately means all a player's hard work has gone without the best reward of all.

But one of the game's biggest character's proved he's got the stomach for the fight today.

Michael Holt, fresh from losing 10-6 at the World Championship qualifiers on Saturday, chalked up an impressive 4-1 win against Marco Fu in the first round of the PTC Grand Finals.

It shows he's back in business.

It was perhaps fitting this result marked a good comeback from Holt, because after all, it was his ability to bounce back which earned him his place in Dublin anyway.

The Hitman endured a barren start to the season. Problems off the table, namely the illness of his father, prevented him producing the kind of snooker we all know he's capable of.

But then from nowhere, he went on an emphatic run to win one of the 12 PTC events. This title alone gave him the points to force his way inside the top 24 Order of Merit.

Losing a place at the worlds is always a tough knock to take for the professional players. The only cure is winning matches quickly after. Holt has enjoyed a fantastic start in Dublin, and he can forget about missing out by accumulating plenty of ranking points from now until Sunday.

It's only a small substitute for a place at the Crucible, but it's better than letting defeat fester.

Well played Holty!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Grand Finals for a grand series

Snooker's first ever PTC Grand Finals event kicks off in Dublin tomorrow - and it marks the end of an extremely successful maiden run on the circuit.

The first half of the new-look snooker calendar under Barry Hearn was largely dominated  by the 12 PTC events.

With six PTC events played in Sheffield and six EPTC events hosted at various locations across Europe, the season got off to a flying start because of them.

The players were in support of these.

With extra ranking points and money up for grabs, snooker became a full-time job for the players, just like they wanted.

Although the set up of the six tournaments in Sheffield wAS far from ideal with no crowds allowed into the arena to watch, the match sharpness gained by the players has made for one of the most exciting seasons on record for the sport.

Seeing snooker played across Europe is helping build support for the game more and more, and some of the sport's lower ranked players have been given a real fighting chance of climbing the pecking order, gaining experience playing the top players and earning good money.

Young Jack Liswoski has been one player to really profit from the series, and alongside him at the finals are the likes of Barry Pinches and Joe Jogia. It's good to see their commitment to turning out every weekend has been rewarded.

Ireland's snooker fans definitely won't be complaining either, that's for sure with the first ranking event being held in the country for six years.

While there are many positives, I can't help but look at the draw and see too many top players missing. While it's probably right that the likes of Ali Carter, Neil Robertson, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan are absent because they didn't invest enough effort into the series and didn't play in enough to force their way into the top 24 Order of Merit, I still can't help but feel Ding Junhui and John Higgins have been robbed.

Hearn stated when he created the series that you could only qualify by playing in a minimum of three PTC and three EPTC events. Ding and Higgins failed to do that, but they did each win an event. I think that's unfair and all 12 winners should have earned a place.

But Hearn has already said he regrets that rule, and he's never been the kind of person to be too stubborn to change his mind. He's always been very good at learning from his mistakes. With a few minor tweaks, such as the one suggested above, the PTC series is sure to be a successful series that is here to stay.

All the action from Ireland can be watched on Eurosport. In the meantime, here's the draw courtesy of World Snooker:,,13165~2313892,00.html

Monday, 14 March 2011

Crucible line-up complete

I'm still relatively new to this blogging lark, but yesterday I realised there won't be many busier or more exciting days in the the year than than the final day of the world qualifiers.

The final ten players made it through to the Crucible yesterday, and if you were following my Facebook page, you would have seen the action unfold nicely.

The story of the day was qualification for both Andrew Pagett and Jimmy Robertson, who will now be making their Crucible debut next month.

No matter what success these players on to enjoy in the snooker careers, this is a great moment they will always remember.

For Welshman Pagett, the prospect of a first round draw against his practice partner and close friend Mark Williams will I'm sure already have gone through his mind.

He booked his place with an impressive 10-6 win over Andrew Higginson , which was the last of his four victories throughout the week.

For Robertson, this is a significant milestone in his career.

After first breaking onto the professional tour some eight years ago as a talented 16-year-old with a fantastic amateur record, he's finally made it to Sheffield in his third spell on the circuit and now as a member of the world's top 64.

The early days of his career haven't been easy battling against medical problems that were affecting his cue action. Last night though, he played like a man possessed taking all seven frames in the evening session to defeat Ken Doherty 10-6.

A fantastic experience now awaits them both.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Six progress with unfinished business

Six qualifiers booked their place at this year's World Championships tonight.

Martin Gould, Dominic Dale, Jamie Burnett, Rory McLeod, Mark King and Joe Perry now all have their names in the hat for the draw to be made on 21 March.

And there's one thing thing they'll all have on their minds. Unfinished business.

Martin Gould has emerged as one of the game's brightest talents outside of the top 16, but last year in Sheffield he famously surrendered an 11-5 lead to lose 13-12 to eventual champion Neil Robertson.

With the prospect of playing Steve Davis in the quarter-finals, and a place in the last four seemingly at his mercy, it all went horribly wrong. This dramatic defeat hasn't exactly hindered his progress since as he still remains on the fringes of the elite, but he'll be desperate to get back and put it right.

After beating Robert Milkins 10-6 today, he has that chance.

Mark King made it to the Crucible today with the same scoreline victory against Mike Dunn. At the last cut-off point to the rankings the Romford dropped out of the top 16.

He came through the qualifiers and will be eager to prove he' still go it when he meets the big boys.

Joe Perry hasn't hit his heights of form at the World Championships since his trip to the semi-finals in 2008. When he trailed Liu Song 4-1 today, it looked like he might miss out altogether this year. But a stirring comeback saw him run out a 10-6 winner to halt Song who won three matches earlier this week.

He's been in good form for the second half of this season, playing the kind of snooker that could see him spring a surprise

Dominic Dale's wait for a return has been even longer. He hasn't played at the Crucible since way back in 2004. He's desperate to get back and now he can after winning the last seven frames on the spin to beat Michael Holt 10-6.

Two of snooker's grafters booked their place today too. They've also got unfinished business.

Rory McLeod is enjoying a good season but after losing to world champion Robertson in the first round of the UK Championships in December 9-1, he'll want to put his televised form right. He raced into a 9-2 lead over Mark Davis today eventually stumbling over the line as a 10-5 victor. He'll be focussed on giving a better account of himself.

Jamie Burnett gets a fair amount of stick for his style of play, despite having played plenty of attractive snooker this season. He made it to the final of this season's Shanghai Masters but perhaps needs a good run at one of the sport's bigger tournaments to earn some plaudits. A 10-7 win against Liang Wenbo means he has the chance to shine on the biggest stage of them all.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Next stop the Worlds

It's been wall-to-wall snooker this week at the Sheffield Academy.

There's been plenty of thrills and spills and now just one hurdle remains for the qualifying hopefuls to make it to the Crucible.

Tension will notch up a gear when the final round kicks off on Saturday.

But there were some pretty intense matches for the players who had to win to make it there.

Here's how 16 player outside of the top 32 got there...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Mark Davis EXCLUSIVE interview

Mark Davis has been on the professional circuit for 20 years without disruption.

But currently ranked just outside of the top 16, he's enjoying one of his most consistent seasons to date.

Despite years battling through the qualifiers, his motivation to play the game hasn't wained. A trip to the quarter-finals of this season's Shanghai Masters has been his highlight of a good season.

This weekend he bids to make it to the Crucible.

OnCue caught up with the Sussex man to see how life as one of the sport's veterans is treating him.

He talks critically about his own career and relives some of his World Championship nightmares...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Missing the point?

Since snooker returned from the Shoot-Out event in Blackpool, everyone's been talking about the miss rule.

Social networking sites, messageboards, forums and even Snooker Scene has been littered with debate about what's right and wrong with the rule and ways in which it could change.

OnCue editor Gary Moss has been happy to sit back and soak it all up until now. But he called upon our columnist and World Snooker referee Paul Collier to answer some questions and put a few things straight.

Here's what he had to say... 

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Not such a Gray day

A blast from the past put his stamp on the opening day of the World Championship qualifiers today.

Former world number 12 David Gray, who was relegated off the tour after the 2009/10 season, began his long road to the Crucible with a narrow 5-4 win against Mansfield's David Singh followed by a 5-0 blitz of Ali Bassiri.

In his first win, Gray also came close to a maximum break of 147, only to break down  on 113.

All in all, it was a good day's work for Gray, who is bidding to get his career back on track in this qualifying campaign and with entry to this year's all-new Q School experience.

There's still plenty of work to be done though.

The Scot still remains four wins away from a return to the home of snooker, where he enjoyed his greatest success on the baize.

In 2000, he masterminded one of the greatest Crucible shocks when he beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-9 in the first round. This ended up being the beginning of a terrific climb up the rankings, where he eventually conquered the top 16 by the 2003/04 season. He also went on to enjoy his only ranking event win at the Scottish Open in 2003.

Gray is blessed with a superb cue action and at this point was a player to watch. He possessed heaps of talent and had become a very popular player with the fans and his fellow professionals alike.

But after two years among the elite, he soon started to badly struggle with his game. A 13-2 defeat to Peter  Ebdon at the Crucible in 2006 saw him slip out of the 16, and he would later go on to plunge off of the tour four years later as he continued to struggle for results year on year.

Today will feel like a big milestone for Gray as he attempts to battle back from the doldrums. The task ahead should not be underestimated, but some weight will have been lifted off his shoulders.

 It's good to hear people in the snooker world talking about David Gray again.

Allen powers through

Superb Mark Allen found an extra gear today as he stormed through the Championship League group 6 as an easy winner.

After four straight days of intense snooker, the Northern Irishman has finally made it into the winners group, and is well worth his place.

On Tuesday night, he lost out on progression from group 5 losing 3-0 to Ryan Day in the final.

That seemed to be playing on his mind as he began group 6 with two straight defeats, but today he found something extra winning four of his five matches by a comfortable 3-0 margin.

Whitewashes of Judd Trump and Mark Davis booked his place in the play-off.

Then he breezed past both Matthew Stevens and Stephen Lee in the semi-final and final respectively.

I've often written on this blog how Allen is destined to win trophies in the sport. It's these kind of spells that prove what he's got in the locker. He's such an aggressive player, but when it goes right, he's like a bulldozer who cannot be halted.

These Championship League groups are proving a real tough test for the players, with almost wall-to-wall snooker to be played. Some players have been hitting the wall. But Allen motored on when it mattered. It can be long and boring out there. Allen showed why he's a different class.

Road to the Crucible...

The World Championship is still the jewel in the snooker crown - and qualifying for this great event begins today.

Sixteen players may already have their Crucible spots signed and sealed, but for the chasing pack, this is where it really counts.

Tension, drama, disappointment and joy are all guaranteed as players battle it out for the right to play snooker at the biggest and best tournament on the planet.

As well as quality, it takes guts and bottle to make it through.

It doesn't have to be pretty. Only results matter.

Qualifying can be a cruel and thankless tasks for the players, but this one means more than  the rest.

Snooker as a sport has been great this season. There's been many new events and innovations to the game for players to enjoy, earn ranking points, and win prize money.

That aside, there's still only one tournament players want to win more than the others. This is it.

A chance to play at the Crucible is within touching distance. Who has the nerve to make it?

Here's a full schedule of how the players will be whittled down, but I'll be providing you updates throughout.,,13165~159019,00.pdf

In the meantime, here's my 16 picks for who will make it to Sheffield:

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Ryan seizes the Day

Ryan Day is back in the best of company after winning the Championship League Group five yesterday.

The Welshman - who is enjoying a spell of resurgence at the moment - put in an A-star display to beat Mark Allen 3-0 in the final.

Now, he joins Mark Selby, Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter in the final group, with a place in next season's Premier League at stake.

To think Day would be among such a star-studded list as this just a few months ago, would almost have been almost unthinkable.

He won just two matches in the opening eleven ranking events this season, which saw him drop out of the top 16.

But from somewhere, he seems to have rekindled his hunger to play snooker.