Saturday, 25 February 2012

Talking Snooker.... with Snooker Bingo

The business end of the season is definitely upon us but a lot has happened since the last edition of the Talking Snooker feature.

When SnookerHQ joined OnCue at Christmas time, we had plenty to look forward; The Masters, The Welsh Open and the German Masters.

Those tournaments are down and it's time to reflect again on all the action plus many more talking points from the green baize.

You should know the drill by now; two bloggers put their heads together to dissect the lastest news .

This time out Tom from SnookerBingo joins the debate to talk everything snooker including Ronnie O'Sullivan's return to the winning circle, Neil Robertson's victory at Alexandra Palace, Ding Junhui's return to form in Newport, Mark Selby's critics, hints of changes to the World Championship format plus much more.

Tom is one of a few of the comics on snooker's Twitter community. His account pokes fun at the commentators' numerous cliches. His incisive analysis always gets people talking.

Here's what we had to say:

OnCue: Thanks for joining me Tom. You said you've seen the feature on my blog before so I'm pleased to hear it's doing the rounds and getting noticed. Your tweets always make me laugh, so I'm pleased to welcome you.

SnookerBingo: Not a problem at all.

OnCue: Let's get stuck straight in with the Masters. I was a massive fan of the switch to the Alexandra Palace. Did you manage to get to the venue at all?

SnookerBingo: I didn't but I would have loved to. I've been a bit over-burdened with work lately which has kept me away a little but the atmosphere looked excellent from the television. 

OnCue: I went for a couple of days and it was a great venue. I think a switch was needed. Wembley was a little soulless and that was probably highlighted even further by some of the great atmospheres we've been seeing in Europe this season. The Masters should be competing with that, and now it can.

SnookerBingo: Yes, it was time for a change. Unless Ronnie was playing, there was no real buzz about Wembley. You'll always get a good atmosphere when O'Sullivan is playing in and around London but it was the other games that suffered. 

OnCue: It quickly looked empty. I was talking to Rob Walker this year at Ally Pally on my day in the media centre and he said the only time he ever thought there was a wow factor about the atmosphere at Wembley was when Selby beat O'Sullivan in the final in 2010. This year, every match I went to impressed me. 

SnookerBingo: It wasn't just the fans that felt that way about Wembley. The commentators used to hint at the same, as well as the players. I think half the reason the players are motivated to be out there and playing is because they're in front of the crowds. Especially the biggest names. It was a great move. 

OnCue: The packed auditorium we saw at Alexandra Palace is exactly how it should be at the biggest events. It had that Crucible feel to it. It was far more intimate than Wembley. The seating was similar TO Sheffield and it made a difference. You said about the players not really liking Wembley. John Higgins is a prime example. He's openly criticised it in years gone by and got to the semi-final this year in a venue he probably feels more comfortable playing in. 

SnookerBingo: There's always been different players excelling at different venues. That probably added to the excitement this year because it makes picking a winner even more difficult than usual because you have no idea about who is going to react or play well in the venue. 

OnCue: Talking of a winner. This time it was Neil Robertson. I thought he played well throughout. He enjoyed a sweet win against Trump in the semi-final after he'd had a bit of the beating of him recently. A lot of people have been saying he's matured into a better player than he was when he won the World Championship, and it's difficult to argue with that. I think he's a more complete player these days and has that second dimension to his game. He can tough it out as well. 

SnookerBingo: It's being able to win with your B-game that he's developed. You see players like Higgins and Selby who are good at winning in almost any form. That's the big difference now between Robertson and some of the younger players. Neil might not quite have the A-game of Judd Trump but his B-game is so much higher. The consistency that brings is so important. No-one can pot their opponent off the table every single time. It's about knowing when not to go for certain shots. That's almost what wins you matches. 

OnCue: Obviously your tweets focus on the cliches in the game. One that springs to mind about Robertson is that he's the best single-ball potter in the game. That was what he used to be known as a few years back but he's built a new reputation for his mental strength and ability to employ an effective gameplan. 

SnookerBingo: It's almost unfair to say it now. His potting is still an important part of his game but it's such a tiny part of his game. There were times he needed to pull out those incredible pots because he'd misplace a positional shot but he's playing everything so much better now, he doesn't find himself in those dodgy situations as much as he did earlier in his career. 

OnCue: Everyone was pulling out the stat about his 100 per cent records in finals. It was jumped on from every angle but you can't ignore that. It sounds obvious but you'll never have an easy match in a final. It's an incredible record. 

SnookerBingo: By the time you get to a final you've always got two players who are playing well and it's not so much a test of skill but it's about who can cope best with knowing they're in a final and keep their head together. 

OnCue: Yeah, Robertson has mastered that. There was also a well-documented spat between Robertson and Trump after their semi-final match. A few things were said in the press conferences. I thought it was absolutely superb and the sport probably needs a little bit of needle between certain players, especially at the top end of the game.

It was maybe blown a little out of proportion at the time in a tabloid style but every other sport has a media that behaves that way so why not snooker? What did you make of it all? 

SnookerBingo: The whole point of it is that it's entertainment. Even if it's done to make the match more interesting. It works in plenty of other sports. I do wonder whether it was frustration from Judd. He knows how well he can pot to the extent that he could win almost every match and tournament. Because he can't, I wonder whether it frustrates him.

Robertson can be a careful and thoughtful player, but he's not a slow player. That kind of approach does wind people up even down to the local leagues level that I play in. I think if you come across someone you know can pot quickly, it's a good tactic to play a few safety shots to see if they fall apart.

It looked to me like Judd got tricked. He fell for Robertson's game. 

OnCue: Trump's comments about Robertson being a slow player shows to me that for as wonderful a player as he is, he still has a little to learn. It reminds me of how young he still is. I think Judd could probably do with acquiring some of Neil's attributes to win even more. Maybe in five years time he won't be playing as attacking as he is today. 

SnookerBingo: I agree. That's all a part of growing up. He takes on these incredible pots and the games he wins are when he knocks them all in or manages to fluke a safety when he doesn't pot. The games he loses are when he doesn't get that rub of the green. Someone like Robertson reduces the amount of luck he needs. Over the course of a year or a tournament everyone gets the same amount of luck. It's the players who control the luck and minimise their reliance on it that don't suffer when it's against them though. Trump will win five frames on the trot because it's going his way but could lose a critical frame because he does something silly. That happened in the final of the World Championship when he went for the 147 chance. I can understand why he took it but every time you lose a frame you should win it's a two-frame swing and you can't do that against the top players. 

OnCue: You've made a couple of good points there and we are starting to see a few question marks over Judd at the moment. I think that's quite natural. Because of how quickly he's developed over the past year it's unrealistic to expect him to to be the complete player already. I think it's probably a positive. Because he's now being scrutinised at such length, it probably proves he's arrived as a top player. 

SnookerBingo: I think he's the kind of player people feel they have to have an opinion about. I can understand why some people maybe don't like him. There are one or two people who almost won't even bother to watch him play because they think he's got an arrogance about him. I don't agree with that but he's an interesting and exciting player. That will always polarise opinion. It's the players who do things a little bit differently instead of the sensible professionals who get people talking and split opinion. 

OnCue: You need the variety in characters and players to give the sport its edge. 

SnookerBingo: You want people either loving or hating players or you're not going to get that involvement. It's exactly why football works because every fan loves their own team and hates the other team. It makes it passionate and exciting. I'm not crazy enough to ever believe snooker could become like football but you get my point. 

OnCue: Definitely not but you can still learn from those kinds of sports and become more popular.

Let's move on to the Shoot Out now. There was a little bit of debate about the tournament this time around rather than the bed of roses it was portrayed as the year before. I've not been to see it live. I really enjoyed it last year but got a little bit bored this time. It seemed a bit repetitive. I like it when each match has a different plot. There was no exclusivity to the matches.

Saying that, tickets sold well, it's a great chance to showcase the players lower down the rankings and people who aren't normally interested in snooker seemed to be watching it and talking about it. That's a great start. 

SnookerBingo: No-one who watches the World Championship and UK Championship is ever going to say they're going to stop watching snooker because of it but someone who watches the Shoot Out might go on to give the traditional game a try. I don't see how it's doing any harm. If it gets new fans to the sport, then great. It's also good for younger players and veterans like Mike Dunn to get on TV. I think one event a year is fine. It might sound a little strange but I prefer Power Snooker. Ten minutes isn't long enough for a game of snooker, in my opinion. 

OnCue: I thought it was a farce when the Shoot Out was introduced to the Premier League format this season. I don't think you can ever mix the two. Ludicrous.

People hinted at it being a lottery to win. I do agree anyone can win it because none of the top, top players have won it yet but by the same token I don't think it's easy to win. All the players are probably capable of winning it from ability but I think you have to go there in the right frame of mind to actually pull it off. 

SnookerBingo: You've got to be on form for a lot longer at the bigger events, even in the PTCs. Maybe the Shoot Out is about who's up for it most. If you go into it with the wrong attitude, you're not going to do very well. If you take it as an exhibition, they might enjoy it more and do well in it. It shows that there are other players outside the top 16 who can play. That's not a bad thing. 

OnCue: Let's get back on track with the ranking event snooker and Ronnie's German Masters win. That's a big topic in itself. I thought he looked very focused all week and won it in the end for his ability to fight at key points rather than dazzling throughout. 

SnookerBingo: It shows he can still do it if he wants to which almost makes it even more frustrating. He's one of those players you should never risk money on. He's completely unpredictable. 

OnCue: It doesn't matter how long it's been since the last. You should never be surprised when O'Sullivan wins a tournament. We all know he's got it in his locker. 

SnookerBingo: Yeah, he could turn up and win the World Championship this season. That's why he's always up there in the top two or three favourites even when he's clinging onto his place in the top 16. 

OnCue: It looked like the win meant a lot to him. He clenched his fist in the final and when he spoke afterwards it sounded like winning mattered to him. Am I being naive to think this might give him the thirst to go on and win a couple more events? Or, will he slide back into his old habits? 

SnookerBingo: It's almost impossible to tell. You can argue it both ways. Maybe he was just doing it to prove he can. He talks about parts of his life outside of snooker being more important to him but maybe this was him reminding everyone that he can still win. After what we saw in Germany I was surprised in his loss to Selby in Newport how easily he lost his thread again. But he was playing someone he doesn't enjoy coming up against and, if you aren't desperate for the money, enjoyment or triumph, how does he motivate himself in games like that?

It's incredible to see him play his best snooker but you never know why he's doing it. 

OnCue: The person who can read Ronnie O'Sullivan will probably be a very rich person. He's still got that wizardry in him. I was very pleased to see him lifting a trophy, as were his army of fans.

Looking now at some of the form players at the moment. Shaun Murphy and Stephen Maguire both look like they've got it together of late. Shaun actually made an interesting point on his blog recently about seeing the success of the likes of Trump and being determined to push the boat a bit more himself. It's ironic because he had a lot of early success because of his attacking game. He went on to build an all-round game and maybe hasn't won as much as people predicted. 

SnookerBingo: He started his career well when people weren't expecting him to win a big title like the World Championship but then he started thinking a little bit too much. He started off playing naturally but then tried to be clever and think too much. It's about finding the balance that suits you and your game. You can imagine Higgins playing in a snooker club with the same kind of determination as we see from him in big matches. That's why he's done so well because his natural game is equipped for the big tournaments. 

OnCue: I'm not close enough to the players on a regular basis to make a comprehensive verdict but I've seen Murphy a couple of times recently and he seems relaxed and content. 

SnookerBingo: I don't know much about his personal life but sometimes what is going on off the table has the biggest effect. Mark Williams is the perfect example. He just couldn't be bothered a few years ago, dropped down the rankings but then got it back together. If Murphy decides he wants a good crack at it winning titles and getting to number one in the world, he seems like the sort of level-headed person who could achieve it. 

OnCue: He's been ever so consistent of late so the confidence factor is obviously having an impact. He's the kind of player who could easily win next week's World Open. He tends to travel well. Maybe if he wins a prestigious event, he'll kick on again.

What about Maguire? I'm enjoying watching him at the moment. He's one of the best to watch when he's on top form. 

SnookerBingo: The problem with Maguire is that he'll lose the match in one frame. He's a lot better at it now but you look back at some matches and when something went wrong, he'd slap the table or bash his cue and let the match slip. He seems to have got a grip of that a little bit.

OnCue: His win against Higgins at the UK Championship seems to have been the catalyst for his upturn in form.

SnookerBingo: I think if you're in the right frame of mind and beat Higgins it makes you realise what you can do. If you never beat players like that, you must go into tournaments with it on your mind. You need wins like that to remind you that you can do it. 

OnCue: It's a huge scalp. Maguire knows he can beat anyone. There were murmurs from a lot of people about him going on to win the World Championship. His attacking snooker is definitely devastating enough to warrant those kind of thoughts and he looks happy playing again. But do you think he could go out and win at the Crucible? 

SnookerBingo: The only reservation I have about Maguire at the World Championship is whether he could keep his head together for such a long amount of time. I wouldn't want to risk much money on him. 

OnCue: We said about Murphy maybe needing a title to kick on. That's exactly what Ding might have just achieved with his Welsh Open title. I thought he was excellent and a lot of people were pleased for him because they genuinely like him. 

SnookerBingo: I think he's just a nice bloke. There was so much sympathy for what happened to him against Ronnie in the final of the Masters in 2007. There's something enjoyable about watching him play snooker. He makes the occasional mistake like they all do but he doesn't do anything stupid. He scores lots of centuries and plays lots of canons. O'Sullivan gets praise for it but Ding does it just as often. 

OnCue: He develops a frame-winning chance quite gradually rather than with one big canon.He has a clever approach. 

SnookerBingo: That's possibly Murphy's biggest weakness. He plays a lot of little canons that don't quite work. Shaun sometimes gets it wrong and that can cost him winning frames as quickly as the other top players. 

OnCue: I always think Ding is a very compact player. His cue ball control is excellent but he doesn't overwork it. He's simplistic and keeps the table tidy. 

SnookerBingo: He holds the cue ball in such tight spaces. The less the cue ball travels, the less chance there is of running out of position. It seems to work very well. 

OnCue: Looking at his CV, he's only really missing the World Championship to have won all the biggest tournaments. His record at the Crucible was questioned for a while but he went to the semi-final last year and could easily have gone further. I rate him so highly I think it's only a matter of time until he becomes world champion. 

SnookerBingo: On another day he might have beaten Trump. I'm not saying for a second that Judd was lucky but things went right for him. I think Ding might have beaten Higgins. Trump let him back in where Ding may not have. 

OnCue: While we're still on the topic of the Welsh, let's switch our attention to Mark Selby. The world number one got a lot of harsh criticism in that tournament. 

SnookerBingo: I am a bit guilty of that. I actually quite enjoy watching him play because I appreciate what he's doing but I also like easy jokes. There might be a few people out there who think I don't like him but it's not true. 

OnCue: I think he should be praised for having a game to fall back on. If you're playing badly, you're playing badly. You can't just flick a switch to turn it around. You've still got to win matches and he finds a way of doing it. 

SnookerBingo: Just look at the way he started the Welsh Open final.  He had two centuries and a very quick average shot time. When he's in the balls, he's as quick as anyone. Unlike someone like Ebdon who is slow even when he's on a break. Selby is a brilliant player but the way he plays the game helps him rank higher than his natural ability. He almost punches above his weight little. 

OnCue: He makes plenty of centuries. People sometimes forget that. He's had nearly 50 this season and set a new record in the previous campaign. He is a good attacking player when things are going his way but can battle it out as well. I think he should have won more titles. He's number one in the world because of consistency but ultimately his career will be judged on what he's won.

He's had enough finals as well. He's been quite unlucky to meet players in inspired form. 

SnookerBingo: It's hard to say this without sounding like I'm saying he's a bad player but minus the Welsh Open final, maybe he goes into finals starting a little slow and thinking he has to be as tactical as possible. If he went in potting from ball one maybe he'd get on a bit better in finals. If you start slowly it's hard to speed up but I think you can drop your pace if it's not going quite right and you've started positively. 

OnCue: I assume Roland will comment on this section of the article. He's a massive fan of Selby. 

SnookerBingo: Yes he is and then there's two or three people who are anti-Selby so it always creates a good debate. 

OnCue: That makes the circuit go round, I suppose. To finish off, let's have a little chat about the proposed changes to the World Championship. Barry Hearn says we may go towards a straight 128 knockout with the length of matches staying the same. A lot of people threatened to go mad if he ever touched the World Championship, but is this so unreasonable? 

SnookerBingo: I enjoy the longer matches and the thought of that reducing seems to annoy people most. It would be ridiculous to say we can never change anything. You've got to go towards what the broadcasters want but you've also got to retain the tradition of the flagship event. Everyone was up in arms when Sky took hold of football but it hasn't done the sport any harm. 

OnCue: If it stays at the Crucible and the length of matches remain the same, I think most people will be happy. 

SnookerBingo: You've got to have a match that lasts a long time just because snooker is such a mind game. If they're going to change it, maybe look at the table layout from Germany for the qualifiers.  But you've got to be realistic and realise most snooker fans aren't that fussed until the big names arrive. It's easy to get caught into this small bubble on Twitter where people want to see every match. That is still only a minority of the snooker world. There's no point pretending the last 128 would be watched on TV. 

OnCue: Barry says the top players should be able to win two extra matches and it also makes it a more level playing field for the qualifiers to get through. Is he right? 

SnookerBingo: The FA Cup in football works well because every team gets a chance but you don't get the top teams playing in the first round. They stagger where the top teams enter. I'm not sure pushing the big players right to round one could be justified. 

OnCue: There's got to be some reward for being at the top of the rankings, surely. 

SnookerBingo: I don't see how it could work. The top players deserve some special treatment. 

OnCue: We shouldn't forget the top 16 players have been through the ranking system themselves. They've earned it. 

SnookerBingo: Exactly. 

OnCue: I'm sure there will be a lot more to come out of that in the future. That's probably a nice point to wrap it up with. I enjoyed that. Thanks again.But, before you go, how about a quick prediction for the winner of the World Open? 

SnookerBingo: No problem. I'll look out for it on the blog. As for my World Open tip, I was going to go for Trump to get to the final but have a feeling he might take his mind off the game out there with his mates. So it's Ding Junhui to beat Shaun Murphy 10-8 in the final, with a break of 116 in the final frame. Roughly.

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