Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Pink Ribbon returns

The second annual Pink Ribbon charity pro am begins this Thursday.

With the success of last year's maiden event, the tournament is expected to be even bigger.

It's already the largest pro am in the world and organiser Paul Mount is hoping to gazump the £6,000 raised for breast cancer charities last year.

Each player must donate £25 to charity to play - and there's also a £10,000 winners chest up for grabs.

The event gives professional players the chance to prepare ahead of the new season, while for the hopeful amateurs, it's an opportunity to test yourself against the best.

Among the entrants, last year's champion Michael Holt is returning alognside runner-up Jimmy White. Then there's Andrew Pagett, who famously wore pink on his Crucible debut this season, world champion John Higgins, Graeme Dott and Stephen Maguire.

The four-day event is likely to attract plenty of media coverage.

OnCue would like to wish all the participants luck for what is a terrific competition, for a great cause.

There couldn't be a better setting either.

Premier League dates and venues annoucned

This year's Premier League will begin its tour  in Skegness.

The event will open with John Higgins versus Jimmy White followed by Neil Robertson versus Matthew Stevens and the two winners then play each other.

Here's a full run down of the PROVISIONAL schedule:

18th August – Embassy Theatre, Skegness
1st September – K2, Crawley
22nd September – Ravenscraig, Motherwell
29th September –  The Dome, Doncaster
6th October – Hutton Moor Sports Complex, Weston Super Mare
13th October – North Solihull, Birmingham
20th October – The Riverside, Exeter
3rd November – Guildhall, Southampton
10th November – Spiceball Leisure Centre, Banbury
17th November – The Auditorium, Grimsby
26th & 27th November – Potters, Hopton on Sea, Norfolk

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Q School qualifers: Who Are Ya?

Snooker's first Q School drew to a close today.

Although none of the action was televised, the general consensus is what a huge success it has been, giving players a terrific last chance to book their place on the pro circuit.

The standard has been impressive throughout the field but only 12 players could come away from it with a place on the tour.

Here's a full run-down of who made it:

Tian Pengfei - The 23-year-old is a tremendous attacking talent who increases the ever-growing Chinese presence on tour. A very highly-rated player whose career highlights include beating Ronnie O'Sullivan 5-3 at the China Open in 2010 and winning the invitational BTS International last year against Ryan Day.

Li Yan - Making his debut on the professional tour, aged 19. A fairly unknown quantity but another Chinese star potentially in the making.

David Morris - Ireland still awaits the successor to Ken Doherty, and many thought Morris would be the man. In 2004, he became the youngest ever Irish National Champion before winning that title again in 2005 and 2006. The 22-year-old was on tour last year, but despite making his TV debut at the World Open in September, he dropped off after a series of poor performances in the PTCs. Q School has given him an immediate return though.

Simon Bedford - An experienced player who is most fondly remembered after qualifying for the World Championship in 1998. A former top 64 player who most recently made it to the last 32 at the 2008 Grand Prix.

David Grace - A very successful junior player. He was the English under-19 champion in 2003 and followed that up with the English Amateur Champion title in 2005. Plenty of potential.

Robin Hull - Finland's greatest ever player. He qualified for the World Championship in 2002 with a victory against Steve Davis. He then went on to break into the top 32 of the rankings in 2003 but medical problems stunted his progress. An able break-builder with more than 100 competitive centuries to his name. He's twice been a ranking event quarter-finalist.

Andrew Norman - A former top 48 player who has rekindled his love for the game with the opening of the South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester. He first turned professional in 2001 and enjoyed back-to-back trips to the last 16 of the Grand Prix in 2005 and 2006.

Adam Wicheard - Immediately back on tour after falling off from the season just passed. It's been a difficult journey to professional status for Wicheard after suffering from a spine tumour for a long time.

David Gilbert - Finally sealed his spot in the third Q School event after losing in two previous quarter-finals. A former World Snooker Young Player of Distinction who books a straight return to tour. He reached the Welsh Open last 16 in 2009.

Kurt Maflin - Norway's finest. He fell off the circuit last season but still enjoyed plenty of highs. He hit a 147 in the PTC1 event and only narrowly lost to Ding Junhui 5-4 in the first round of the 2011 China Open after making it to the venue.

Adam Duffy - A fine young player who is a former Paul Hunter scholar. Put in some impressive displays in the Q School, and beat David Gray to clinch his place.

Stuart Carrington - The final man to book his place on the professional circuit. The Grimsby potter has finally realised his dream and is predicted a bright future.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Paul Collier EXCLUSIVE column: It doesn’t hurt to change

The Premier League has been running since 1987, and has experienced plenty of change down the years.

With the event starting a little earlier on 18 August this season, there’s another new format for fan’s to digest.

This year, ten players will compete and each night will have four players competing in a mini-tournament, with a winner emerging.

Each player will play on four nights and earn points for their performances, which will count towards qualification for the eventual semi-finals.

Instead of six-frame matches, the games will be a best-of-five format. The shot clock has been reduced from 25 seconds to just 20, and if a decider is needed, they’ll be like the ten-minute Shootout matches from Blackpool.

The prize money for the eventual winner has been doubled to £60,000 at the expense of the £1,000 previously earned per frame victory.

Qualification for this year’s event was given to the defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, winners of last year’s ranking events, plus Jimmy White, who won the World Seniors Championship and Matthew Stevens for for his victory the Championship League.

Here’s the full line-up: Ronnie O’Sullivan (defending champion), John Higgins (World champion), Ding Junhui (Masters champion), Mark Williams (German Masters champion), Ali Carter (Shanghai Masters champion), Judd Trump (China Open champion), Neil Robertson (World Open champion), Shaun Murphy (PTC Finals champion), Matthew Stevens (Championship League winner) and Jimmy White (World Seniors champion)

OnCue columnist Paul Collier has been refereeing on the Premier League since 2000. He shares his thoughts on the shake-up…

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Snooker goes down under

Snooker continued to move global today, with the announcement of a brand new ranking event in Australia.

The first of three definite Australian Goldfields Open events will be held this season between 18 and 24 July at the Bendigo Stadium in Victoria.

With a deal signed until 2013, the tournament will be our calendar for at least three seasons.

2010 world champion Neil Robertson was among the many delighted Aussies.

He said: “This is a long-standing dream come true for me, as I am sure it is for many snooker players and fans in Australia.

“To have a world ranking event in my home state will be just unbelievable and I hope to get a lot of support. I know some of the other players are excited about coming to Australia and I’m looking forward to showing them around.

“It’s fantastic to see snooker becoming much more of a global game, it looks like we’ll be clocking up a lot of air miles in the next few years.

“This is a really special day not just for me but for all Aussie snooker fans.”

I've got to admit, I'm pretty pleased about the news as well.
Events like this excite me. It's new and it's a message about where our game is going. More of the same please Barry...

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Q School ready to launch

Barry Hearn has made many sweeping changes to snooker since taking up the mantle as the sport's supremo this season.

Another of those gets underway tomorrow - with the launch of Q School.

With 12 places on next year's main professional tour still up for grabs, the stakes couldn't be higher as 124 budding amateurs begin the first of three specially-designed tournaments, where the four semi-finalists will all gain a professional card for next season.

In line with all of Barry's changes, this means snooker has never been contested on such a level playing field.

Instead of an entire year of toil for game's budding stars of tomorrow, the Q School provides a quick and cheap, but by no means easy way of winning professional status.

For just £1,000, players have the chance to realise their dream for the first time or roll back the years and have another crack at stardom.

Many amateurs believe they're good enough to be professionals. This is their chance to prove it.

Among the hopefuls are familiar names such as David Gray, who beat Ronnie O'Sullivan at the Crucible once upon a time, former Scottish Open winner Lee Walker and former world number five James Wattana.

Then there's exciting young Thai sensation Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon, women's world champion Reanne Evans, Norway's Kurt Maflin, who impressed at this year's China Open and stars of the 1980s Mike Hallett and Tony Knowles.

Other names you may also recognise are Jak Jones, James McBain, Zhang Anda and  Li Hang, to list just a few.

That's not the end of the exciting pool either. A lot of eyes will be on Stephen Hendry's nephew Jason Tart, as well as young hopes Sean O'Sullivan and Ben Harrison.

This is likely to be  a thorough examination for the players. Predicting the victors seems a near impossible task.

But good luck to them all!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Dorchester delight

Snooker has had a zip about it this season.

That was celebrated at last night's end of season awards, held at the Dorchester in London.

A number of top players, referees, sponsors and journalists made the trip to the capital, for the swanky ceremony, which proved a fitting end to what has been probably the greatest ever snooker campaign.

Here's how the gongs were dished out...

John Higgins
Journalists Player of the Year
World Snooker Player of the Year

It's been a quite remarkable season for John Higgins. Winner of six events since returning from suspension, the Wizard of Wishaw has looked as determined as ever on the baize. It wasn't a big surprise that this year's World and UK Champion picked up two of the biggest awards going, but sadly he couldn't be there to collect them. Reports say he was stranded at Milan airport.

It's hard for me to argue about Higgins picking up two gongs. His performances this season have been off the scale, especially on the biggest stages. He's given us comebacks to enjoy in both major finals and yet more evidence that he could be one of the greatest all-round players to grace the sport.

Judd Trump
Fans Player of the Year
Performance of the Year

Popularity personified. Judd Trump is snooker's latest attraction. From now on, every match he plays in will be box office. Despite only really finding this stardom in the last two events of the season -where he won the China Open and finished runner-up in the World  Championship - this was enough to see him win two awards.

For Trump, it's justified reward for how he's rocketed to the top of the sport. His attacking style was always going to be a winner with the fans, and I'd argue his performances in Sheffield this year were the best of all-time for a player not to go on and lift the trophy.

Mark Williams
Players Player of the Year

This award is often the most prestigious in any sport. Winning the praise of your peers is probably the greatest compliment you can be given.

Mark Williams has won the German Masters and climbed back to number one in the world rankings this year. You can't argue he deserved something for that, but I also can't help but feel this says a little bit about how fellow players still feel about Higgins. His reputation has been dragged through the mud over the last 12months, and in my opinion, I think that might have something to do with the outcome of this award. There are a lot of fans who haven't forgotten what happened, and maybe the players are the same. Just a thought.

Rory McLeod
Moment of the Year

For his dramatic black-ball win against Tony Drago at this year's maiden Shootout event in Blackpool. Didn't expect it to win the award above the introductions to the final session of this year's World Championship final, but it was great.

Watch it again here.

Jack Lisowski
Rookie of the Season

A player who really has grabbed his opportunity on tour with both hands. In the PTC3, he beat Mark Selby to reach his maiden final, before losing out to Tom Ford.

He also qualified for the televised stages of the German Masters, before losing narrowly in the first round to Higgins. Great things are expected of him.

He looks like one of the game's really promising players.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

World Championship 2011: My considered verdict

It's been two days since the conclusion of this year's Betfred.com World Championship and I'm sticking by my guns - this was the best tournament in many years.

It had it all.

A great final, a few deciders, centuries galore and a fair share of shocks.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Moss v Pegram: World Championship Predictions: The Results

Like all great contests, the OnCue head-to-head World Championship predictions went down to the wire.

Editor Gary Moss tested his predictive powers against those of former professional player Jason Pegram.

Despite trailing for most of the competition, Moss found his form when it mattered, to earn an eventual 34-30 winning scoreline.

The difference proved in the last three matches.

Moss backed Higgins to beat Trump bang on 18-15 in the final, while Pegram opted for the young gun to win. And in the semi-finals, it was the same story. Although there were no precise scores, Moss guessed a Higgins v Trump final, while Pegram thought it would be Ding v Williams who progressed.

Luck evaded Pegram at the last knockings, but it means a 100 per cent start for Moss on snooker predictions.

Fancy your chances of knocking him off his perch.

Email gary@abcomm.co.uk to take him on during the next major ranking event.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Higgins wins fourth Crucible crown

John Higgins is making history winning his fourth world title - but Judd Trump has changed the future of the game with his exciting performances in Sheffield.

By running out 18-15 winner in this sensational final, Higgins became the first player since the great Joe Davis to land the world title in three separate decades, adding to his triumphs in 1998, 2007 and 2009.

He's also now the third most successful player at the Crucible with only Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry with more titles to their names. This led Davis to label "the greatest player he's ever seen" and you can't really argue after this resilient display, showing why he's widely regarded as the best match player there's been.

Trailing 10-7 after the first day, Higgins followed in the footsteps of only Dennis Taylor, Hendry, Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy to have won a Crucible final from behind.

This is owing to his tremendous bottle and resilience. He won the crucial third session 6-2 to take a 13-12 lead into tonight, and despite his best efforts, Judd could never overturn it. Higgins was never going to be wrestled away from what he want on to describe as his best title yet.

That's for obvious reasons of course, as no-one has forgotten what a turbulent year this has been for the now world number two Higgins.

Just 12 months ago, the News of the World printed stories accusing him of match-fixing. He was temporarily suspended and returned to the sport some five months later. Since then, he's also had to come to terms with the death of his father, but has still gone on to win the Welsh Open, UK Championship and now earn world champion status.

It was no surprise that his comments after this match were fuelled with emotion - and the delight as he lifted the great trophy again was plain for all to see. It felt like the end of an almighty journey.

This final was far from all about Higgins though.

Terrific Judd more than played his part. You cannot argue he became the star attraction of this year's 17-day tournament. He took potting to a new level and proved he really will be a star of the game for many years to come.

Comparisons have already been drawn between him and the legendary Jimmy White. His ability to thrill the crowd has won him thousands of fans. And now he can look forward to a generation at the top of snooker. Up to number nine in the world rankings after this great run and his triumph at the China Open last month, he is the undoubted young star everyone is talking about. Even some of snooker's most ardent followers can be forgiven for not knowing quite how good the 21-year-old he was until this tournament.

He's always been one of the sport's most exciting potential talents, but now he's the force we were always promised. He's come of age.

In Sheffield this year, he played the game in a way we've never seen before. He broke the mould and took attacking snooker to an even higher height. He's brave and arguably the best potter the game has ever seen. He can hold his head high and shouldn't lose too much sleep after defeat tonight. His time will come, but tonight it's Higgins who is the new world champion.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

It's the final countdown

I said "a new star has been born" on this blog on 3 April.

Never have I spoke a truer word.

Judd Trump's performance at this year's Betfred.com World Championship has been simply breathtaking.

From China Open champion, he now finds himself on the cusp of being crowned the greatest player on the planet.

The final day of this year's championship is upon us and 21-year-old Trump goes into it with a 10-7 lead against three-time Crucible king John Higgins, as he bids for glory.

Today, it was business as usual as far as the Juddernaught was concerned.

Two more sessions of scintillating potting and a three-frame advantage was the least he deserved. Higgins was some way short of his best it has to be said, but  Trump was playing just like he has for the entire fortnight, without fear and exactly as you'd imagine he would on the practice table.

This ethos means he's been too hot to handle for defending champion Neil Robertson, Martin Gould, Graeme Dott and Ding Junhui.

I always got the feeling it would be a different story completely when he met Higgins, and although it hasn't proved the case so far, you'd be silly to write him off so soon.

After all, both Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Williams have the Scot on the ropes in Sheffield this year. But neither could muster the knockout blow.

That's because as tough players go, Higgins is like granite. He's the most complete player in the sport today, and he never knows when he's beaten. He's a competitive animal, and one of the most tenacious match players the sport has ever produced.

That's why this final is a long way from over.

Judd can go to bed tonight satisfied with his day's work, for sure. But Higgins always has a sting in his tail. His game was created for comebacks, and he loves the big occasion. They don't come any bigger than this, at the home of snooker and against the brightest young talent in the game, who on this showing is capable of dominating the sport for many years to come.

Trump is setting a mould for all future players. He is giving us a glimpse of how the game will be played in the future. It's exciting, but tomorrow is his biggest test yet. He's passed every challenge he's faced so far. But into the pressure cooker tomorrow, we'll see what he's really made of.

If he wins, it will be one of the sports greatest moments. He'll be only the third left-handed world champion, and only the third qualifier to come through and triumph at the Crucible.

If he loses, you just know he'll be back. That's what makes him so dangerous. There's no pressure on him. He's already achieved stardom in Sheffield. Taking the title would just be the icing on the cake.

Ted Lowe dies aged 90

Snooker said goodbye to one of its oldest and greatest legends today.

Ted Lowe - nicknamed Whispering Ted - died aged 90 and will be fondly remembered for 50 years as the commentary king of the game.

He's been the voice of some of snooker's classic moments including the conclusion of the famous 1985 World Championship final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor, which went down to the final black.

Among his notable successes was devising the popular BBC Pot Black series in 1969, which led to the great snooker boom of the 1980s

I'm 23-years-old, so sadly only heard flashes of his work from old footage - but the messages I've already read show what high esteem he was held in.

He retired from snooker commentary in 1996, just a year before I got hooked on the game. It would be wrong for me to blog in too much detail about his greatness. I'll leave that to the people who knew him best. I'll be buying in a selection of newspapers tomorrow to read more about his contributions to snooker.

R.I.P Ted.