Thursday, 1 December 2011

UK Championship: BIG tournament preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the battle commence!

Full first round draw:

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


  1. Now is time for snooker to gain new TV audiences around the planet, therefore, shorter format is great. The format can always change back to the traditional one should this short format fail. We need to try new things to keep up with changes around the world today. Thanks to Mr.Hearn for being so brave by bringing changes to the game. I'm sure these changes will pay of sooner or later.

  2. This format confuses me..What I don't understand is how are the sessions split.I booked tickets for the 11am session on Sunday and it initially said it covers the 2pm session as well, but now I see that they appear as different sessions on the format of play..