Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Q School qualifiers: Who are ya?

The gruelling battle that is Q School has come to a conclusion as 12 players secured a two-year professional tour card.

The standard has been as high as expected and there's been both delight and despair as the mad scramble has come to a head, but here's a little more about the dozen who made it through...

Sam Baird: One of the real success stories of this year's Q School as he blitzed his way to qualification in event one without dropping a single frame. Baird lost his place on the tour at the expense of a slow start to the season but definitely showed his credentials later on in the campaign, most notably pushing Mark Selby all the way to a decider in the Welsh Open first round. The 23-year-old potter emerged as a force to watch last season and will be relieved his development wasn't stifled by a spell away from the professional ranks. He's a prime example of why a two-year tour card is such a great idea. He's blessed with composure beyond his years and has showed all the early signs that he belongs among the professionals. Keep your eyes peeled for this promising young player.

Chen Zhe: Another exciting young Chinese player joins the professional circuit. Chen isn't afraid to attack and showed this with consistent performances in last season's PTCs. The 19-year-old arrives in the big time with a big reputation. Stephen Lee and Dominic Dale are among the established professionals who have already been singing his praises. Fellow Chinese players who won through to the tour a year ago settled quickly and managed to make an impact early, so he'll be looking to do the same. He has a good base and a high standard of practice partners being stationed at The Grove, in Essex.

Ian Burns: Was made to really battle for his slot with a hard fought 4-3 victory against veteran Rod Lawler to get over the line in event one. This breakthrough has been coming a while. He won eight matches at last year's Q School events without qualifying and won at least one match in 11 of last season's PTC events including the scalps of Anthony Hamilton and Rory McLeod. Qualification is the result of extreme hard work from the Preston potter but the real test now awaits.

Martin O'Donell: A young player who comes with bundles of potential. O'Donnell practices regularly with top 16 player Martin Gould and is reported to have all the qualities to quickly rise the ranks now he's broken into the professional game. He lost out in the final round of Q School event three last year at the hands of Kurt Maflin but made no such mistake this time to seal his spot in event one against Paul Davison. A player with a great attitude and with his feet still firmly on the ground. He really has earned his place. He won the Snookerbacker Classic to qualify for the Q School and then went all the way at the first time of asking. Tipped to be a big success this season and it's easy to see why.

Paul Davison: Another bite of the cherry for the 39-year-old Yorkshireman. A very experienced professional who secures an immediate return to the professional ranks after falling off just a few weeks earlier. Davison failed to win a ranking event match after qualifying for the German Masters, which cost him dearly. He lost to O'Donnell at the final hurdle of event one but found some form to beat Adrian Gunnell, a player he lost to three times last season, and Gareth Allen en route to securing his place through event two. Paul is a tough match player who is as determined as he was when he first turned professional back in 1996. His qualification wasn't greeted with as much cheer as some of the younger players but he'll be hard to beat on tour again and epitomises the kind of difficult tests the new crop of players will need to pass to prove they have longevity.

Sean O'Sullivan: The 18-year-old East Londoner isn't shy of confidence and now has the chance to put himself to the ultimate test. His decisive victory against Ryan Couston in event two means he realises his dream earlier in his career than many. His reaction to qualification on twitter proved just how much this meant to him. A colourful character that will bring plenty to the circuit.

Jamie O'Neill: Returns to the tour after a disappointing season as a professional in 2010/11 where he recorded just five wins in total. He first turned professional in 2007 but has never proved himself at the highest level. He played in the PTC series last season and enjoyed scalps of professionals Barry Pinches, Dave Harold, Matt Selt and David Gilbert along the way before earning another effort through Q School with the crucial win coming against Scott Donaldson. Big things won't be expected of O'Neill but he could go quietly about his business drawing on the experience he's accumulated from past spells on the tour.

Daniel Wells: A fine Welsh player who has never managed to translate his superb amateur record into success on the professional tour. A very talented player who has found it difficult to make the step up and now has his third attempt to do so. You get the feeling it's now or never for him. His biggest success to date saw him become the 2011 EBSA European Champion. Daniel was on the verge of giving up on snooker in January but has turned his fortunes around with the help of coach Del Hill, with the Q School giving him another chance to shine. He wrapped up his place by beating Michael Wasley in event two.

Joel Walker: Another first time professional who comes with glowing references. Ronnie O'Sullivan claimed this budding young player is a future world champion in the making after he won the Star of the Future competition. Joel won eight frames on the spin in event three to confirm his place. He rallied back from 3-0 down against John Sutton before beating Justin Astley 4-0. These results show he's a capable front-runner as well as having the ability to come from behind. He joins Adam Duffy as another professional from the home of snooker, in Sheffield.

Rod Lawler: Success for an experienced player who has built a career on his grinding attributes. Victory here continues his unbroken spell on the professional dating back to 1990. The Liverpool man had to fight off the wave of young players threatening to flood the professional ranks but he did so as many people tipped. Counted on all his experience but still has the hunger to play and the benefit of plenty of know-how around the table.

Michael Wasley: Wasley's qualification for the professional tour nearly wasn't to be after he lost in the final match of event two 4-3 to Daniel Wells, but he came back to beat Scotland’s Fraser Patrick in event three. A big cheer came from Gloucester as the 22-year-old strengthened the army of professional players from the South West Snooker Academy. A popular lad with a massive opportunity ahead of him.

Robbie Williams: He's been the butt of a few jokes over the past day or so but if you look beyond him sharing his name with a certain Take That star, you'll find he came through one hell of a tussle to secure the final Q School qualification place for another year. He had to battle past Mitchell Mann, but did so with the aid of an impressive century in the decider. This came a day after he'd already defeated the experience of Adrian Gunnell. This isn't the first we've heard of the Mersyside man though. He recorded excellent wins against Peter Ebdon and Ali Carter in PTC1 at the start of last season.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Join the Q

One of Barry Hearn's great snooker innovations begins for a second season tomorrow.

Q School gives 12 amateur players the chance to secure a coveted place on next season's professional circuit.

Four semi-finalists from each of the three events will be rewarded with a two-year tour card and the competition for places promises to be intense.

The draws are packed to the rafters with quality snooker hopefuls and if last season's maiden event is anything to go by, it will take a steely effort to make the cut.

This event is about wall-to-wall action between players who all believe they are good enough to turn professional. But now is the time to find out...

Only the very best will make it through and others will be left with their dreams unfulfilled for another year.

This is the last mad scramble for a place alongside the big boys and coping with the demands of relentlessly playing capable opponents is by no means any easy task.

It's sure to be a big test of nerve.

This great event - created by Hearn - is another example of how he's developing the game to become a level playing field.

Click here to see the draw for the first event.

And, click here to read more about the 12 players that made it through to the main tour via Q School a year ago.

Here's a run-down of who will make up next year's professional circuit...

Top 16

Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Mark Williams, John Higgins, Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson, Stephen Lee, Ding Junhui, Matthew Stevens, Mark Allen, Graeme Dott, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Martin Gould, Ricky Walden and Stuart Bingham. 

Players ranked 17-32

Ali Carter, Andrew Higginson, Mark Davis, Peter Ebdon, Stephen Hendry (retired and how he's replaced yet TBC), Barry Hawkins, Dominic Dale, Joe Perry, Marcus Campbell, Tom Ford, Jamie Cope, Marco Fu, Ryan Day, Jamie Jones, Mark King and Anthony Hamilton.

Players ranked 33-48

Michael Holt, Fergal O'Brien, Ken Doherty, Robert Milkins, Liang Wenbo, Rory McLeod, Jamie Burnett, Jack Lisowski, Xiao Guodong, Gerrard Greene, Ben Woollaston, Matthew Selt, Nigel Bond, Jimmy White, Joe Jogia and Dave Harold. 

Players ranked 49-64

Mike Dunn, Anthony McGill, Steve Davis, Alan McManus, Peter Lines, Michael White, Jimmy Robertson, Liu Chuang, David Gilbert, Yu Delu, Mark Joyce, Alfie Burden, Andy Hicks, Adam Duffy, James Wattana and Barry Pinches. 

Top 8 in the PTC Order of Merit outside the top 64

Li Yan, Passakorn Suwannawat, Simon Bedford, Dechewat Poomjaeng, Craig Steadman, Kurt Maflin, David Grace and Liam Highfield.

12 Q School qualifiers


2011 IBSF World Champion

Hossein Vafaei Ayouri 

2011 IBSF World Under-21 Champion

Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon 

2012 European Champion


2012 European Under-21 Champion

Michael Leslie 

2012 Asian Champion

Aditya Mehta 

2012 Asian Under-21 Champion

Anda Zhang (Qualifies as runner-up because winner Hossein Vafaei Ayouri already earned tour place) 

China nomination

2 x TBC 

Thailand nomination


India nomination

Pankaj Advani 

European nomination

Luca Brecel and Tony Drago 

Americas nomination

Alex Pagulayan 

Africa nomination

Mohamed Khairy 

Oceania nomination


Friday, 11 May 2012

And the winner is...

After a long, hard snooker season it seems fitting to finish it all off with an almighty party.

Players, journalists, sponsors, referees and others made the trip to the luxurious Dorchester hotel in London to see who won World Snooker's most prestigious prizes last night, and enjoy a well-earned celebration.

Here's a little bit more about the winners...

Ronnie O'Sullivan
Journalists' player of the year
World Snooker player of the year

Still great for a story and showed his absolute class this season, especially at the World Championship. Make no mistake, snooker still needs Ronnie. He's a massive draw and by far the best player to watch when he's in top form. No awards here will come close to his fourth world title in Sheffield but the way he played makes him a worthy winner of the top gongs.

Judd Trump
Fans' player of the year

A year on from his sensational run to the final at the Crucible and there's still a lot of love between the fans and young Judd. Trump prides himself on being a crowd-pleaser. He goes for his shots and has quickly accumulated an army of fans. He's added the UK Championship title to his CV this season and has played with a spark throughout. It's particularly nice to see Judd win this award. His rise to being one of the sport's top stars has seen the emergence of a few critics, but this proves he still has the majority of the fans' backing.

Luca Brecel
Rookie of the year

A tremendous run to the Crucible has put this Belgian sensation on the map. The 17-year-old won four matches to qualify for the World Championship before losing to Stephen Maguire, who after the match tipped him to be a future world champion. For a player so young, it's no surprise it took him time to settle into life on the professional circuit but a great end to the season proves his potential. It is a credit to his game that he can play on such a big occasion with such control and composure. Capable of playing with both hands and has a great, natural cue action. He'll be looking to build on his success after being given a wildcard for two more years on tour. You haven't heard the last of him.

Stephen Hendry 
Magic moment (for his 147)

Not for the first time, seven-time world champion Hendry brought the Crucible crowd to their feet. It was perhaps fitting he bowed out of the game on such a high on his most successful hunting ground. The atmosphere inside the venue was at its scintillating best. He knows how to make a snooker crowd tingle. This was reminiscent of his glory days. King for the day again. 

Stuart Bingham
Performance of the year (for winning the Australian Open)

A first-time achievement for one of the sports' greatest professionals. Stuart has put his whole life into playing snooker and was excellent Down Under to capture his first ranking title, which helped him go on to break into the top 16 of the world rankings for the first time later in the season. A real snooker lover and a moment he will cherish forever. Reward for a lot of hard work.

**Walter Donaldson, Mark Williams, Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins were also inducted into the World Snooker Hall of Fame.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Ronnie O'Sullivan: Champion of the world

Ronnie O'Sullivan is a snooker odyssey.

Picture by Monique Limbos
He is one of the finest players ever to pick up a cue and now has four world titles to go alongside his exceptional talent.

The Rocket has had three previous World Championship triumphs and bundles of fantastic moments in the game, but this could arguably be his finest.

This Crucible win was about more than beating Ali Carter 18-11 in the final. It was a statement of his greatness.

O'Sullivan was exceptional from start to finish in Sheffield this year. We kept asking whether anyone could beat him but realistically no-one was ever going to.

He let players get close to him at times but always had an extra gear and kept stepping up the pace when it mattered most.

Ronnie has never had any trouble dazzling under the spotlight. He made time for that year this year, of course, but it was his superb all-round game that propelled him to global domination this time round.

He's never played more controlled snooker than this on the biggest stage.

As well as the big breaks, box office clearances and thunderous shots, there were big bouts of superb safety, a temperament of steel and a never-say-die attitude. A lot of credit for this must go down to Dr Steve Peters. He has helped a fragile character to begin enjoying snooker again and control his fluctuating emotions.

O'Sullivan will always win plaudits when he's on song. When he's playing well, there is no-one better in the game. He struts round the table with a unique aura and plays shots that are simply mesmerising.

But he's done that before at the Crucible and not finished king of the world. This tournament was won by his patience. Never has the Rocket played with greater purpose. Fighting through the endurance test that is the World Championship has always been the biggest ask of O'Sullivan but his physical and mental endurance were top class this year to survive the 17 days.

He's had his doubters but here he showed why people regard him as the greatest. Ronnie will always strive for perfection and said after this tournament that "he played alright in patches". While this is a modest modest assessment, watching from a distance it's clear he played with superb fluency and attracts people who are otherwise uninterested in the game.

He has rarely been beaten when anywhere near his best and takes far more satisfaction from happiness than performance. He's ticked both boxes this year.

Ali Carter played his part in another excellent World Championship. He scrapped like a warrior to make it this far and gave Ronnie a far greater contest than many others may have.

In the end though, this was the Ronnie O'Sullivan show.

It was written in the stars he would rule the Crucible this year and nothing was ever likely to stop him. He's had his critics but tonight is a time to simply praise his genius.

Will he retire? We don't know yet. But for now, it's a time to admire one of the game's greatest players in full flow.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, I salute you!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The only way is Essex

Fifteen days are down and two men are left standing in the World Championship.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It's time for the final.

We've seen it all. Joy, despair, surprises,comebacks, flukes and more but now we're down to an Essex derby to decide who becomes world champion.

Ronnie O'Sullivan faces Ali Carter in a repeat of the final some four years ago.

The Rocket is the unanimous favourite. He's playing with more focus than I've ever seen from him at the Crucible.

When he plays at his best, he's a class above anyone and that's certainly been the case over the past fortnight.

He's got a real purpose about his play and refuses to be flustered.

They say the greatest players have an aura about them and Ronnie definitely ticks that box. When he hasn't been superb, he's been sublime cruising round the table like the ultimate destroyer. His positional play when break-building has been of the very highest standard in this tournament and he's effortlessly made it this far, playing through the gears when he's needed to.

He's playing in some massive matches like it means nothing at all and that gives him a great advantage, refusing to buckle under pressure.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Is there anyone who can stop Ronnie? This is a massive task but the job that sits square in the face of the Captain.

This is Ali's second world final and rich reward for some good, hard match snooker.

He's shown his fighting qualities in abundance and has played percentage snooker with great success.

It's difficult to under-estimate the importance of him having 2002 world champion Peter Ebdon in his corner. After a season of huge disappointment on the table caused by fighting the effects of crohn's disease off it, his run in Sheffield marks a massive turnaround in his fortunes.

Carter has simply found a way this week. He's numbed his opponents' play and waited patiently for his chances.

Playing Ronnie is a bigger task than any he's faced in the World Championship but he couldn't come into this match more resolute.

Today's final will clearly bring a great clash in styles but still promises to be a belter as the class of O'Sullivan meets the combative Carter.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Time to tinker?

Is it time to change the format of the World Championship semi-finals?

That's the question being asked and answered by snooker fans over the past 24 hours.

The last four battles at the Crucible have been played over a best-of-35-frame format since 1997 when it changed from 31 frames.

Picture by Monique Limbos
This means players must win 36 frames to reach the semi-final but still need 35 more to lift the world title. On this basis, you can understand why seven-time Crucible champion Stephen Hendry used to say the World Championship never really got started for him until the semi-finals.

The final five days of the tournament sees the intensity of the tournament amplify and this is where the World Championship becomes the ultimate test everyone talks about.

While there's a uniqueness of this lengthy battle for the sport's biggest prize, we've seen in the past fatigue take its toll with some finals becoming a battle of the last man standing.

It's important we strike a balance.

Some snooker purists say the format of the World Championship should never be changed and it will only lead to more going forward but there's always room for improvement and it's important the tournament looks after the players as much as the fans and broadcasters.

There are so many questions to be answered. Why are people talking about change now? Should we lose a session in the semi-final?  Should time be built in for a break between the semi-final and final?

I don't have all the answers but I'd like to offer some of my thoughts.

There's a well-known saying that says: 'If it's not broken, don't fix it'. I fear a lot of people are calling the structure of the semi-finals into question as a knee-jerk reaction to an underwhelming first day of one-table action yesterday.

I'd be quick to argue that every match can have good and bad sessions, and we could see both semi-final games spring into life today.

These longer matches are all about the slow-burning drama and so far, they're both perfectly poised. People should probably be careful what they wish because down the years we've seen some classics at the semi-final stage. Last year's showdown between Judd Trump and Ding Junhui was one of the finest matches I've ever seen over four sessions.

This leads me to the conclusion that maybe the issue is more about schedule than format.

Making the World Championship final is a special achievement for any player. It's therefore right that the semi-final should remain a stern test, which the current four-session format ensures.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Rocket leads semi-finals march...

Can anyone beat Ronnie O’Sullivan?

That’s the question being asked after he led the charge to this year’s World Championship semi-finals.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The Rocket’s 13-10 win against Neil Robertson brought strokes of genius and saw him beat the most complete player in the world.

All you could do was sit back and enjoy the show as O’Sullivan rallied from 5-3 down to beat the Aussie in fine fashion. Quickfire frames and shots of pure class left the 2010 world champion playing catch-up – and now it looks ominous for the chasing pack.

Ronnie looks in the mood and is playing his best snooker at the Crucible in years. When he’s on form, he’s got everything and was unplayable at times in his win against Robertson.

He’s recaptured his super silky touch and his presence around the table is back to its best.

The fear factor of playing Ronnie has returned and it’s difficult to see him getting beat from here.

But that's the task for the tournament’s three other semi-finalists.

First to have a crack is Matthew Stevens. The Welshman is a popular pick with the Crucible crowd but this is a welcome return to the latter stages of the tournament for him.

Stevens definitely has the class. He's still one of the most naturally-talented players in the game but will need to rise to the occasion under the pressure to stand any chance.

A run of 11 frames to win 13-5 from 5-2 down in the quarter-finals against Ryan Day shows he's playing well but he'll need to use everything in his armoury to shoot down Ronnie.

In the other semi-final, Ali Carter meets Stephen Maguire.

Captain Carter lost to O'Sullivan in the final back in 2008 but has the fight for a battle. His run to this stage is the shining moment in an otherwise terrible season that has seen him struggle badly with crohn's disease.

Ali is a determined customer as he showed to beat Judd Trump in a deciding frame in the second round. He's played some great controlled snooker in this tournament so far but will need to show some more attacking adventure to go all the way.

Maguire hasn't had any problems in the attacking department and looks in good enough form to make it to a first Crucible final. He lost in the semi-finals in 2007 against John Higgins but is playing as well as ever in Sheffield this year.

He's hitting the ball at his authoritative best and has delivered some great matchplay snooker. Keeping Ronnie on a tight leash would be his biggest challenge yet if he was to make the final but he's the form horse on that side of the draw.

The semi-finals start today as the matches switch to a gruelling four-session format.

Let the battle commence.

The Jamie Jones show

Jamie Jones’ fairytale run at the Crucible came to an end last night but it’s time to celebrate not commiserate.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The Neath potter has been the star qualifier of this year’s World Championship and looks like he’s destined for a spell at the top of the game.

Jones has quickly established an excellent reputation this season with his performances in the qualifiers but this run to the quarter-finals at the Crucible is the best moment of his career and his breakthrough event.

Victories against Shaun Murphy and Andrew Higginson will live long in the memory but his run was eventually halted by Ali Carter.

Making your debut at the home of snooker can be a daunting prospect but charismatic Jones has taken it all in his stride.

Unlike many others on his maiden visit he already looks like he belongs here. Jones brought a brave and fearless style of play to the table and took the matches to his opponents. It looked like he was loving every second of it on the big stage and this run could well give him the confidence and motivation to make sure he does it again.

Comparisons have already been drawn between Jones and 2006 world champion Graeme Dott. Just like the Scot, Jamie plays every shot with great care even though he’s an attacking break builder. He’s quick to bring the pink and black balls into play and has a great touch making plenty of flicks and nudges while scoring.

Jones had nothing to lose this year in Sheffield and played it absolutely perfectly easily transferring his qualifying form onto the TV cameras.

We haven’t seen the last of this young Welshman. It looks like he’s next on a long line of talent to come out of the Valleys. He’s a sure top 16 player in the making.

Well played Jamie.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Goodbye to a legend!

Stephen Hendry rocked the snooker world last night by announcing retirement from the game he has conquered.

The seven-time Crucible king sat smiling in his chair as he sunk to a 13-2 defeat to Stephen Maguire. This mystified most but all was revealed straight after the match as he hung up his cue for good.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The sport’s staunchest fans were left gutted by the end of a remarkable legend but Hendry can walk away from snooker with his head held high. He’s broken every record going in the modern game and leaves the game with nothing to answer.

Despite a heavy defeat to finish at the Crucible, he has marked his final appearance at the great venue with a trip to the quarter-finals, a win against the defending champion and another marvellous 147 break. That's what you call ending on a high.

The timing of Stephen’s announcement stunned many but we shouldn’t be too surprised.

It was only a year ago that Hendry flirted with the idea of retirement and it’s clear this decision hasn’t come without serious consideration, and brings a great weight lifted from his shoulders.

Year on year he returns to Crucible adulation but coming to terms with life being knocked out in the early rounds isn’t easy for such a true winner.

Hendry’s sheer determination to win makes him an enigma. Never has the game seen such a pure champion. Winning has been his sole drive and the ruthlessness he showed in his prime was simply unplayable.

The plaudits are already pouring in for Hendry and his greatness is unquestionable. He has the unique of a champion but now he can look back on his career with great pride.

Hendry remains good enough to play for many more years on the professional circuit but being unable to match his own incredibly high standards is unbearable for him.

Hendry’s decision has left snooker in a state of shock but he owes nothing to anyone.

Mr Stephen Hendry, you are a legend!