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!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Gould captures Power Snooker title

Martin Gould added to his recent success of making the top 16 by winning his first trophy as a professional tonight.

The Pinner potter, who played well in Power Snooker all weekend long, slayed favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final and showed what he can do with his added confidence since joining the elite.

Martin has been knocking on the door of the big time for quite a while - and now he's finally joined the top order, he proved it's where he belongs.

In hindsight, his strengths were always perfectly suited to this kind of format. Gould is a talented raw attacking player and an excellent potter.

That proved a perfect recipe for success in Power Snooker but, his superb ability to break was another key factor.

There's a lot of people pleased for Martin tonight. Not only is he a tremendous character on the circuit but he's a real lover for the game too.

Repeatedly he's said he plays because he wants to, and not for the money. And, you just know he's telling the truth. Getting his hands on silverware will mean much more to him than the £25,000 winner's cheque.

Who's to say how far he can go now he's a member of the top 16. This weekend he proved he's not fazed by joining the big names of the game.

Power Snooker got a fair amount of stick this weekend. But all in all, I found it enjoyable to watch. I'm pleased to see the traditional format of the game return tomorrow when the German Masters qualifiers kick off but for one weekend a year, I think it's a great watch.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Ronnie on course for 10 - but could quit Premier League

Ronnie O'Sullivan kept his hopes of a 10th Premier League title on track with victory in Grimsby - but then said this could be his final season playing the format.

The Rocket is a master of the shot-clock, proved by his nine previous triumphs.

But on a night where he masterminded another excellent performance, he shocked Grimsby Telegraph reporter Paul Smith when he said: "This could be my last Premier League - you never know.

"There are so many events now and with the PTCs being for ranking points you have to prioritise.

"The Premier League isn't for ranking points and and the calendar is so busy that it isn't right up there in my priorities."

With  Ronnie's desire to climb back up the rankings, I can see good logic in this. The snooker calendar is packed and players have to put ranking points first. But for so long, Ronnie has been the heart and soul of the Premier League. It would not be the same without him

O'Sullivan has said things before that he has not followed through - so we'll have wait to see if this sticks.

This lack of priority was in no way reflected in his performance on the table though. He put on a great show.

When he arrived in Lincolnshire on Thursday night, he still had a little to do to claim the final play-off spot. But despite needing just a single frame, he put on a show, winning the night with ease.
First he steamrolled Jimmy White 3-0 then, he beat Shaun Murphy 3-1 in the final.

His excellent performance was way above and beyond what he needed but was reward for a passionate crowd and a timely reminder of what a force he is in this format.

He'll be the sure favourite to lift the trophy now and next meets Mark Williams in the semi-final.

It's more great news for Ronnie fans as his resurgence continues.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Power Snooker: It's not all bad

Whether people love it or loathe it, everyone will be dishing out their verdict on Power Snooker as it returns to our screens for a second year in succession this weekend.

Plenty of the game's purists have already done their best to pour cold water over the competition, ridiculed by many as a format full of gimmicks, a wild shot clock and rules that are hard to keep up with.

For those who love watching snooker in its traditional form, you can certainly put a case forward for these being fair comment, but it's not all bad.

After all, Power Snooker provides a welcome return of snooker to terrestrial television.

The tournament - being broadcasted on ITV - is the first time the sport's top names have appeared on the nation's primary channels since John Higgins beat Judd Trump in this year's World Championship on the BBC in May.

While the concept of Power Snooker may not tickle the taste buds of people who live and breathe the game, the event is also a great chance chance for the sport's many casuals fans to catch a glance at some of their favourite players.

That's why the idea to invite the entire top 16 to this year's matches is a great one. The inclusion of Luca Brecel and Jimmy White gave the event a wildcard feel last time out. But with each of snooker's top players in the draw this year, it feels like there's more structure to play - although this may quickly disappear once the first cue ball is struck.

All joking aside, Power Snooker has pace and atmosphere to be a fair success in Manchester this weekend. For two days of the season, I think I can live with it and go along with the fun. It's great chance for the top players to earn some extra cash, an opportunity for part-time fans to become more familiar with the current top names in the sport and a timely teaser ahead of snooker's return to terrestrial television in December for the UK Championship.

It's also likely we'll see how good these top stars really are. With the freedom to play in relaxed exhibition style, there could be some great snooker along the way.

My only fear is that the media will point the finger at snooker this weekend for staging a desperate attempt to entice a new younger audience.

If this accusation is made, real snooker fans know this isn't true. The sport's audience is already attracting younger faces and Power Snooker is just one of many changes supremo Barry Hearn is making to liven things up.

Instead of criticising it for what it isn't, I'm going to enjoy it for what it is.

Fan profile: Peter Love

It's back! Requests to take part in OnCue's new fan profile feature have been flooding in.

In the second of the series, we head north to Teesside to quiz another baize fanatic.

Name: Peter Love

Age: 25

From: Middlesbrough

Occupation: Customer service advisor

Highest break: I made 51 two years ago and still to this day I don't know how I managed it.

Followed snooker since: I used to go round my grandad's house in 1993 and put the snooker on the TV. I haven't stopped watching it since.

First memories: I was watching a match between John Parrott and James Wattana. I couldn't believe how good Wattana was potting into the middle bags.

First favourite player: Jimmy White. His quickness around the table and accuracy of potting was scary in the early 1990s.

First live match: In 2001 I went to the UK Championship to watch the late great Paul Hunter against Joe Perry.

Best memory: Stephen Hendry winning his record-breaking seventh world title in 1999. That will probably never be broken.

Greatest player: Hendry is by far the greatest player of all time. I have never seen a player dominate the game as much as he did. He broke every record going.

Favourite player:  Still Hendry. Although these days he plays nowhere near the standard he used to, it would be good to see him win one more ranking title before he retires.

Snooker in 10 years' time will... have more than three ranking events in China. We may even see the World Championship move out there. But I'd like it to stay in Sheffield forever.

If I could make one change to the game... I'd change the UK Championship back to a best-of-17-frame format. It's the second biggest tournament of the season and players should have to work harder to win it.

I love snooker because... it's the hardest game in the world to play. I've never seen a sport where an individual is put under so much pressure. It's unique.

Want to be featured? Get in touch. Email

Monday, 14 November 2011

Has O'Sullivan under-achieved?

Ronnie O'Sullivan is a snooker legend, one of the most successful of all time.

In a glittering career, he's won three world titles, four UK titles and four Masters crowns.

But in a frank interview following his defeat to Judd Trump in Antwerp, he said his career is one of under-achievement.

He said: "I should have won two more World titles, two more Masters and maybe another UK. I've been in nine Masters finals and I should have converted another couple of those.

"I could have had Stephen Hendry's records in sight, but I have had a lot of ups and downs in my career. I suppose with the mindset I have had at times, I should be happy with what I've achieved.

"I'm still excited when I look forward to the big events. I'm happy to be the underdog now, even though I would much rather be among the favourites and really fancying my chances. The other players have flown past me and rankings don't lie. I'm coming from a different place where I enjoy events and hope to nick a big scalp. There is no pressure on me to win."

When asked about John Higgins and Mark Williams, who broke through to the professional ranks in the same year, he added: "Those two are still winning titles.

"I was doing the same until two years ago, but I'm not any more so I'm not in that category. Then you've got Mark Selby who is World No 1 and very consistent, Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui. There are eight or nine players who are winning everything, and I'm not one of them. It's touch and go whether I'll even be in the top 16 when the World Championship comes around."

Snooker fans across the country have been chewing over these comments all day long, and opinion is very much divided.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Trump wins Antwerp classic

Every so often snooker produces a match that will go down in the sport's history - tonight was one of those occasions.

It was fast, it was furious, it was intense and it was compelling.

Judd Trump stormed to victory in the PTC9 in Antwerp with an incredible 4-3 win against Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The match was billed as a thriller and delivered in every sense, proving snooker is still box office stuff. This match will go down as the greatest best-out-of-seven-frame matches, the best PTC final we've ever seen. The standard was through the roof.

It was the twist in the tail of the match which won it for me. With Judd 3-1 ahead, it looked as if the apprentice was showing the master the way. Roles were reversed as Ronnie was forced to sit in his chair and watch effortless snooker.

But O'Sullivan replied with back-to-back centuries to force the decider. Judd nicked it with the aid of a fluke on frame ball. That's unfortunate but part of the game and no-one can begrudge Judd his win.

From a spectators point of view, the result didn't matter by that point. This great match was already heading for the scrapbook.

There wasn't much safety but when there was, it was excellent. This match was all about great pots and one-visit snooker.

Both players were clinical and brutal in the balls and despite the match going the full distance, it was still wrapped up in just over an hour. That was testament to the players gung-ho style.

It was played like an exhibition match and was great reward for an excellent Belgian crowd.

Both players belong on the big stage and with the atmosphere pumping, they relished it. They were fearless, rarely refusing an opportunity to score and taking the chance to put on a real show.

This match was a great advert for a sport that often attracts criticism. It proved short formats can produce memorable snooker too.

The balls were singing and with these boys in town, there was no need for a shot clock. They played at an uncontrollable pace anyway.

I won't be forgetting this one in a hurry, and nor will anyone who watched it.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Paul Collier's Premier League nights: Banbury

The line-up for this year's Premier League semi-finals is taking shape.

Judd Trump and Mark Williams both secured their places alongside Dung Junhui this week.

Ronnie O'Sullivan needs to win just one frame in Grimsby in his match with Jimmy White to take the last.

Paul Collier spoke to OnCue about the night in Banbury and what he thinks on the tournament as it reaches its climax....

Friday, 11 November 2011

Higgins is man of the Mo-ment

John Higgins proudced his most fan-tache-tic display of the Premier League so far - even if it was too little too late.

The World and UK champion arrived in Banbury sporting a moustache- in support of Movember - and appeared to be bristling with confidence.

He recorded back-to-back 3-1 wins against Ali Carter and Mark Williams adding to the solitary triumph he'd picked up in his three previous nights.

Higgins isn't the kind of player you'd expect to naturally suit the shot-clock format and that overwhelmingly proved the case throughout the comeptition.

Although victory in Oxfordshire is only scamp consolation, the real winner was Williams, who picked up the one frame he needed in the final to clinch a place in the play-offs.

Judd Trump was also confirmed in the final four as results went his way.

That means going to the final qualifying week in Grimsby, Ronnie O'Sullivan looks odds on to clinch the final play-off place. He needs just a frame in his semi-final match with Jimmy White. Failing that, Shaun Murphy could sneak in, if he wins the night.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Haneveer quits main tour

Bjorn Haneveer quit professional snooker yesterday due to financial reasons.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The 35-year-old is by far and away the greatest player to have come out Belgium and has been around in the game for many years.

But the financial burden of an increased number of tournaments has forced him to pull the plug - and focus more on his commentary work back home.

Bjorn isn't alone as a professional struggling to make ends meet by playing snooker. The new PTC series means players are having to pay out vast sums of money in expenses to play in them all before they can begin to earn ranking points and a living.

It's a sad tale for a player who first turned professional back in 1993, but it's a case of a double-edged sword.

Some people have been quick to point the finger of blame at Barry Hearn for neglecting players ranked at the lower end of the game but, I have to step to his defence.

Players have been asking for years for a full-time job, and the chance to play in more events. Barry has made that happen.

I'm honest enough to admit the new system isn't ideal. It still needs a few tweaks before it's quite right but, by the same token, you can't always choose how quickly you grow.

The fact of the matter for players is that there is now more money on the circuit than ever before, even if not straight away.

Like in any profession, the best prosper. No player has a divine right to big bucks. If you win matches, you win money. There's nothing unfair about that.

I sympathise for Bjorn and other players in his boat but snooker doesn't owe anyone a living. A snooker player has far greater earning potential than most 9-5 jobs but not everyone can take home the money.

You're going to York

The standard of play at this year's UK Championship qualifiers has been exceptional.

In fact, some of the best performers this week didn't even make it to the tournament in York, the competition has been that fierce.

We know the qualifying scene is a dangerous jungle and that was reflected by the number of old boys who counted on their years of experience to make it through to the venue.

There was heartbreak for many but joy for 16 who earned the right to play in front of the BBC television cameras later this year in December.

A new best-of-11-frame format has definitely given the competition a shake-up, but here's who made it, how they got there and the challenge they face when the tournament kicks off at the Barbican...

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Downbeat Dunn endures Xiao drubbing

Anyone who follows snooker on Twitter would have seen Mike Dunn's tweets midway through his 6-0 defeat to Xiao Guodong today.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Trailing 4-0 at the mid-session he said via the social networking site: "Something's seriously not right, this could be the end," and "in a pretty dark place at the moment."

He then added: "Haven't got the strength to fight outside a paper bag at the moment."

This is disappointing to hear from one of the game's funniest characters.

Dunn is one of the genuine nice guys in the game, and today should have been reason to celebrate as he returned to action after recently spending time in hospital to be treated for kidney stones.

As you would expect, it will take a little time to get back in the groove after a lay-off from competitive action but, a poor display and his own remarks, make me fear the worst.

This was by no means an easy match even if he was at full strength. Xiao has proved this week what a formidable force he is becoming in the qualifying arena. But the ease of which Dunn rolled over to take defeat suggests he may have lost the heart for the fight.

I severely hope not, but it will be interesting to see how he performs from now until the end of the season. Such is the high standard of players in the qualifying stages these days, there's no guarantee he will bounce back. Even playing a margin off his best could cost him ranking points and places.

I wish all the best to Mike as he continues his fightback. Right now, I bet he feels pretty low but, he has a whole lot of support from the snooker community behind him.

Monday, 7 November 2011

McCulloch doubles up on deciders

Ian McCuloch has been showing this week he's up for a fight to reclaim his place in the top 64.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The former top 16 man dropped out at the latest seedings revision but proved he still means business with two back-to-back 6-5 wins.

Twice coming back from deficits he's beaten Belgian wonderkid Luca Brecel and fellow veteran James Wattana.

It's the kind of steel and determination we've come to expect from McCulloch down the year. He's a hard match player and a real tough nut to crack in the qualifiers.

For the game's young players, winning matches in qualifying is more than just about potting balls and making big breaks. To survive, and emerge from the cubicles, you have to be able to compete tactically and mentally with the older professionals who have been there, seen it and done it as far as the qualifying scene goes.

Knocking in tons in in practice is one thing but having the game for a fight with the likes of McCulloch who bring a vast array of experience to the table is strictly another.

I've seen Ian play on a number of occasions and while he's an excellent scorer, I still believe his greatest asset is his tenacity. Judging by the never-say-die attitude he's shown in his two matches so far in Gloucester, he'll take some beating on his route to the UK Championship.

Shoot-Out draw announced

Check out the full draw for January's Shoot-Out:

Mark Selby v Joe Perry
Mark Williams v Steve Davis
John Higgins v Judd Trump
Neil Robertson v Jamie Cope
Ding Junhui v Barry Hawkins
Shaun Murphy v Fergal O’Brien
Ali Carter v Matthew Stevens
Stephen Maguire v Anthony McGill
Graeme Dott v Alan McManus
Stuart Bingham v Liu Song
Mark Allen v Rory McLeod
Stephen Lee v Peter Lines
Martin Gould v Peter Ebdon
Mark Davis v Mark Joyce
Andrew Higginson v Liang Wenbo
Stephen Hendry v Jack Lisowski
Ricky Walden v Liu Chuang
Marcus Campbell v Xiao Guodong
Mark King v Dominic Dale
Marco Fu v Barry Pinches
Ryan Day v Joe Swail
Tom Ford v Jimmy Robertson
Ken Doherty v Michael Holt
Anthony Hamilton v Jimmy White
Robert Milkins v Nigel Bond
Gerard Greene v Jamie Burnett
Matthew Selt v Joe Jogia
Mike Dunn v Michael White
Jamie Jones v Adrian Gunnell
Dave Harold v James Wattana
Tony Drago v Andy Hicks
Ben Woollaston v Alfie Burden

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Morgan wins Seniors title

Darren Morgan won the World Seniors Championship title - and in doing so resigned six-time world champion Steve Davis to his second successive runners-up medal.

Picture by Monique Limbos
There was some smart money being put on the Welshman at the start of this tournament and those predictions were proved right as he won his six matches in the competition for the loss of just a single frame.

It was runner-up Davis who took that frame but, he had to accept second-place again after losing to Jimmy White a year ago.

The Nugget was so successful because he never enjoyed losing, and it will be no different this time round.

But I'm pleased for Morgan. He's a real snooker man and this title will mean a lot to him. Although many fans won't have seen him on the professional circuit for some years, he still plays on the amateur scene and proved here that he's kept his game in good shape.

Morgan was a decent player in his day, winner of several non-ranking events including the 1996 Irish Masters where he ironically beat Davis in that final too.

He reached as high as number eight in the world rankings and had notable success winning the 1987 World Amateur Championship as well as captaining the Welsh Dragons to the Nations Cup title in 1999.

To beat both Davis and White en route his latest triumph shows he's still handy on the baize.

O'Sullivan withdraws from Shootout

Three-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan will not compete in January's Shootout tournament, OnCue learned today.

Although the reason still remains unclear, I guess this is because the Rocket doesn't want to play in every single tournament this season.

Given his precarious placing in the world rankings, just inside the top 16, he's not a position to skip ranking events, so this seems a fair compromise.

I'm sure this will leave many fans disappointed but it doesn't mean the tournament is in ruins. Snooker is in no way a one-man sport and last year's Shootout proved the star of the show could come from anywhere in the rankings, with Nigel Bond the eventual winner.

O'Sullivan withdrawal does mean Welshman Michael White will take his place in the 64-man draw, having missed out finishing 65th in the world rankings at the recent mid-season seedings revision.

The show must, and will go on.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Hendry set for UK qualifiers

picture by Monique Limbos
The mad scramble to qualify for this year's UK Championship gets underway tonight - and the biggest plot sees seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry beginning life in the cubicles.

Down to the number 20 in the world rankings, it's the first time in 23 years the Scot has not been a member of the top 16 as we build up to a major venue.

To qualify for the UK Championship, a title he has won and finished runner-up in both five times, he needs just the one win, but in a environment that is alien to him.

Widely regarded as the greatest player the game has ever produced, Hendry is used to playing at the biggest venues and in front of the biggest crowds.

When he faces one of Gerard Greene, Jimmy Robertson, Kurt Maflin or David Hogan on Wednesday, I expect he will only have a handful of snooker's hardcore fans watching on.

His unwillingness to play in many PTCs also means he's remained starved of experience for playing on the less glamorous occasions.

While I still believe Hendry is the strongest player in this field of qualifiers, success is not guaranteed. He will be fighting players who have played almost all of their professional snooker in this format. You can be sure they'll make it tough for him in their own backyard, just as Hendry would do if he was meeting them in a packed auditorium.

Whether Hendry qualifies or not almost boils down to his attitude.

In my opinion, Hendry's troubles over the past few seasons derive from his struggle to accept he no longer has the same command on the table as he did when he was dominating the sport back in the 1990s. I get the feeling that his inability to beat players at will like he always used to, grates him.

We have seen, even this season, Hendry can play in patches to the same standard that has yielded him so much success. His problem has been has been delivering this consistently. Seeing himself slip down the rankings and knowing his game is still there, must be the most frustrating of all.

Many people predicted that once Hendry dropped into the qualifiers, he would hold aloft the white flag and hang up his cue. Although he hasn't announced his retirement, it is possible that a series of limp performances until the end of the season effectively says the same.

But I've got a feeling we haven't seen the last of Hendry yet.

He is a proud man. A man who has always looked ahead.

It would have been easy after winning three, four or even five world titles to take his foot off the gas. But he's a rare breed. A player who set himself such high standards he was always looking forward to beat the next record in front of him.

Although he has no specific records beat now he's outside of the top 16, I think his ethos will remain strong. I refuse to believe he's ready to let playing at the big venues slip from his grasp. I've got a feeling he could come back fighting.

I'm not suggesting he'll make it back to the top of the sport but by the same token, I guess we've not seen the last of him on the television either.

To be as successful as Hendry, you don't get there without determination. It's this kind of steely attribute that will ensure he can hack it in the cubicles.

For the full UK Championship qualifying draw, click here

Paul Collier's Premier League nights: Southampton

Paul Collier returns to OnCue with another blog column, as the Premier League really hots up...

It was back to Premier League action this week in Southampton after a one-week break and it’s very much the business end of the competition now.

The big talking point this week was obviously the match between Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan, which unfortunately was decided by the ball-in-hand rule.

Judd was unlucky to foul and it left Ronnie right in with a chance to seal the match. I’ve got to admit this rule gives a massive advantage. When I first looked at it, I thought it was too big but I do think a lot of people have criticised it because Ronnie doesn’t like it.

It feels like everyone’s jumped on the bandwagon since he said he wasn’t a fan of the rule. I can see why people have a problem with it but there is, of course, another side to the argument.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Ding downs Ronnie to book play-off place

Any talk of Ding Junhui being rusty was rubbished last night as he booked his place in the Premier League  play-offs with victory in Southampton.

The 24-year-old Chinese cueman defeated defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan 3-1 in the final after taking advantage of an out-of-practice Neil Robertson in his first match.

The Australian admitted in his pre-match interview that he'd not spent too much time on the table since his victory in Killarney and a five-hour journey to the Southampton venue didn't help his preparations either.

He gave Ding a fight anyway taking the match a decider - but couldn't find a result.

Ding on the other hand, must be fresh as a daisy and was well worth his win against O'Sullivan . It's been well-documented that Ding has been skipping recent PTCs. I'm sure O'Sullivan will envy he can afford to but I assume the main reason is to protect himself against burnout with bigger tournaments on the horizon. Some people have questioned whether he could maintain his match sharpness.

The answer last night was a resounding yes.

Ding now sits pretty at the top of the Premier League table with 16 points from his four nights. With a seven-point cushion over fifth-placed Mark Williams, he's guaranteed to be in the semi-finals at the end of the month.

Victories in Southampton and Stoke gave him the bulk of his points while an appearance at the Motherwell final also helped him neutralise his semi-final whitewash to Ali Carter in Doncaster.

Robertson has now also played all four of his matches but will have to sweat over his play-off place with just 12 points banked. Currently ranked fourth, he'll have to wait on results of Williams, Matthew Stevens, Ali Carter who are all on nine points and Shaun  Murphy on seven, who can all still catch him. The odds are stacked against him.

O'Sullivan's trip to the final moved him up to third. He also has 12 points and a three-point cushion over the main chasing pack but still has to play in Grimsby.

He defeated second-placed Judd Trump 3-2 in the semi-final but the young potter still has a night to play and looks comfortable on 14 points after wins in Weston-Super-Mare and Exeter.

Unsurprisingly, it was this match that gave the night in Southampton its biggest talking point.

The meeting of O'Sullivan and Trump was always going to be box office, and it was proving that way with the players level at 2-2. Trump had made a break of 139, while Ronnie had twice scored over 50.

That was before the ball-in-hand rule in the Shoot-Out frame ruined a great match. After Trump accidentally knocked in the green, Ronnie took the ball in to prime position and made 70 to win the match. It meant the deciding frame to a good match became an anti-climax.

I'm not going to lose too much sleep over it. After all, this was a Premier best-of-five match. Hopefully we'll have many more meetings between these two at even bigger venues to look forward to.

But in my opinion, this should be a severe warning never to let the ball-in-hand rule ever enter the world of ranking snooker.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Back on the baize

After a brief respite from snooker action, the season is ready to kick right back into gear this weekend.

This starts in Southampton with one of the most eagerly-anticipated matches of the campaign so far. With the Premier League returning, defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan is being pitted against man of the series so far, Judd Trump.

It promises to be an absolute classic as the two most naturally suited players to the Premier League come head-to-head.

The Rocket has dominated this quickfire format of the sport for many years and Trump is being predicted by many to take over that mantle.

This match will be a good marker to see whether Judd can indeed match the shot-clock expert. His performances so far in this campaign suggest yes as he's won both the nights he's played in so far but, we can expect Ronnie to raise his game for this massive match.

The crowd promises to be good spirit which will appeal the showman instincts in both players.

Either way, this tie won't be one for the feint-hearted as both players love to attack.

Not forgetting the other side of the draw, Neil Robertson faces Ding Junhui with both of them still in the running for a play-off place too.

It doesn't stop there either. This weekend sees the return of the World Seniors Championship with Jimmy White looking to defend the crown he won a year ago.

These best-of-three frame matches played with a 30-second shot clock are likely to prove a big pull for fans who love the game's legends.

As for the ranking scene, there's also the UK Championship qualifiers to get underway.

Changes to the format of this tournament this year have prompted many to question whether the UK Championship is as prestigious as it used to be. With matches due to be played over 11 frames instead of 17 this season, many have called to question whether it can still be regarded as the second major behind only the World Championship.

It's definitely watered down the competition but I still think it remains a big prize. 

Whatever your view, you can guarantee the qualifiers won't be taking it lightly.

Returning to the Barbican in York, it's chance for players to qualify for one of the game's top venues and more importantly, vital ranking points are up for grabs. The scramble to stay on tour next season and move up a bracket in preparation for the Crucible begins.

Let's get the boys back on the baize!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Fan profile: Alex O'Boyle

Welcome to OnCue's first fan profile feature.

In the coming months you can find out more about snooker fans reading this blog.

Name: Alex O'Boyle

Age: 27

From: Northamptonshire

Occupation: Currently studying accountancy at college.

Highest break: About 37. I used to play a lot but not so much anymore.

Followed snooker since: The early 1990s. I've been hooked since watching it on TV.

First memories: The great world finals between Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry from 1992 to 1994. Although the result was the same in each, the plots were very different.

First favourite player: Jimmy or Tony Drago. The way they played the game at their peak was great to watch. They were both attacking  and quick.

First live match: I've never been to watch snooker live but next year I'm hoping to go to Sheffield.

Best memory: Ronnie's record-breaking 147 against Mick Price. Incredible.

Greatest player: Hendry. It has to be. He dominated for an entire decade and won so many titles. It's obvious.

Favourite player:  Judd Trump. He's the most exciting young player. If he improves his safety game, he'll become a multiple world champion.

Snooker in 10 years' time will... be played with more shot clocks, more music and more noise from the crowd. Chinese players will dominate the top 16 as well.

If I could make one change to the game... I'd bring in the ball in hand rule for all tournaments after a player fouls three times in a row. 

I love snooker because... it's thinking man's game. I love everything about it. The big breaks, the safety battles, the drama, the tension and the late-night deciding frames. 

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