Thursday, 27 September 2012

Lee-ding the way

Stephen Lee openly thanks Barry Hearn for getting his career back on track.

The 37-year-old is one of many players on the circuit proving that age is no barrier in today's game, thanks to more playing opportunities.

If you brush aside the moans and groans that come with the PTC series - now in its third season - there are players like Lee making the most of competitive tournaments being played throughout the season.

His confident 4-0 victory against Ding Junhui in the final of the APTC2 in Yixing, China, marks his third PTC trophy and points to the reason for his resurgence in form and passage up to his current ranking of six in the world.

Lee is quick to tell people that he finds solo practice difficult. Having now spent 20 years on the professional tour, motivation must be difficult.

But like so many players, he has a family to support and snooker is what he knows best. Now, with umpteen tournaments in front of him - offering first class match practice against all kinds of players - his hunger, and indeed form, have returned.

Lee is an excellently gifted player who at his best is capable of beating absolutely anyone. But so regularly eclipsed by his fellow Class of '92 scholars Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, it is easy to forget his immense talent.

If you're holding a debate about the best players never to have won either of World Championship or UK Championship, Lee's name need not be far from the top of the list.

Talk of his excellent, silky smooth cue action has become a bit of an old and tired cliche but you can't help but admire him in full flow. Not all of the top players have grasped the chance thrown up by the PTCs, but Lee is among the format's biggest benefactors.

Not too long before Barry took the sport by the scruff of the neck, he was desperately struggling and merely going through the motions. Changes in recent seasons have brought back some of his best form and extended a career that looked to be flagging.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Stuff of legend

John Higgins is born to be a champion.

The superb Scot proved again today why he will go down as one of snooker's all-time greats, with the fantastic capture of the Shanghai Masters title.

He fought back from 5-0 and 7-2 down to win a dramatic final 10-9 against Judd Trump.

Higgins should be commended for a maximum 147 break he made in frame six and even more so for a trademark gutsy comeback when many predicted he was down and out.

Snooker hasn't seen many more determined players in its history than John. You can never write him off.

He trailed 7-2 in the final of 2010 UK Championship against Mark Williams and stormed back to victory. Now he's done exactly the same again here and his tenacious performance did little to surprise us. After being outclassed in the first nine frames by an excellent Trump, who has improved all week, he did what he does best; digging deep and finding something.

He potted pressure ball after pressure ball and made some superb breaks to turn the match on its head. This kind of win is the mark of all the greats.

Higgins now has 25 major titles and is third on the list of all time honours. His place as legend is undisputed.

He will take plenty of pleasure from winning his first trophy since the 2011 World Championship. But what makes this win even more remarkable for John is that he came to Shanghai void of form and distinctly lacking competitive match practice. That mattered not an ounce as Higgins showed his class.

Well played John. You are a snooker treasure.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Best of British four

We're led to believe that the future of snooker resides here in China but, in the present, it's the best of the British who are ruling the roost.

Four remain in the Shanghai Masters and it's a stellar line-up comprising of great British champions.

But which one will be taking the trophy back home with them?

John Higgins

The four-time world champion has been at his trademark best this week, scrapping his way through the rounds to his first ranking event semi-final since the Crucible in 2011. Higgins is desperate to put a disappointing 18 months behind him and, after a lengthier summer break than most, has vowed to get back to business. If John starts putting the hours in away from the main venues it won't be long before he's competing for silverware again. He's a competitive animal who brings out his best when he needs it most. Still good enough to be in the winner's circle, he'll want to prove it this weekend. 

Mark Williams

The two-time Crucible king has put to bed any demons that may have been waiting for him in Shanghai after losing a controversial final to Mark Selby a year ago. He's had other problems to worry about though. Involved in a scooter crash at a cue sports trade show on Thursday, he managed to fight through an injured right wrist to beat Joe Perry 5-4. Williams can be as attractive to watch as anyone on his day but another of his best qualities is finding a way to win. He doesn't lose heart when the balls go scrappy but finds a way to get through. He comes with bundles of experience and is more than capable of finishing the job now. 

Shaun Murphy

The 2005 world champion is renowned for his consistency with streams over quarter-finals and semi-finals to report on over the past two seasons. He hasn't made it to a major ranking final since he won the PTC Grand Finals in March 2011 but, if you don't think that counts, you have to go back as far as the 2009 World Championship showpiece. He looks like he's playing well enough to start winning titles again. He's diced with death a little this week after being pegged back from 3-0 up against both Dominic Dale and Mark King before coming through 5-4 and 5-3 respectively. His quarter-final win was far more straightforward though as he caught Stuart Bingham on a bad day and stuffed him 5-1. He never takes anything for granted.

Judd Trump

No-one has shown greater character here in Shanghai than Judd. After needing to produce two turnarounds early in the week, he got off to a much better start against Graeme Dott, building a 4-1 lead. But the determined Scot came back at him to force a decider. The switch in momentum in the match didn't play on Trump's mind though as he produced a steely century to pinch the final frame. He's been asked many questions this week and hasn't been at his best but has managed to find the answers. He's the definite fans favourite with the Chinese contingent and this could spur him on all the way. 

The next time I blog the champion of the Shanghai Masters will have been decided. It couldn't be any more difficult to pick a winner...

Living the Hai life

One of the world's top players is just three wins away from landing the Shanghai Masters 2012 title.

Only eight remain as we've seen the field whittled down to the quarter-final stage.

You'd be mad to believe it when the players say they're just taking it one game at a time; they'll all have their eyes on the top prize now.

With two wins at the venue already under their belts and playing so far away from their families, there's no consolation for not finishing the job.

There's a lot of work to be done between now and when the silverware is handed out, so expect plenty of battles en route to the finish line.

OnCue takes a look ahead to some fascinating quarter-final clashes...

Stuart Bingham v Shaun Murphy

A battle between two of the best professionals on the circuit. They each boast a first class attitude to the game. You never hear either them moaning. They just do their very best to play snooker. This should be an exciting match. They both like to attack, take on their shots and try make something happen. Bingham’s 5-1 win against Jamie Cope in round two was his 12th of the season in China after winning the APTC1 and reaching the Wuxi Classic final. This is indicative of Stuart. He’s been given the opportunity to play in more tournaments and has grabbed it with both hands. He does his best to stay match sharp and has become a formidable force over the past couple of seasons. Shaun will put his all into every event he plays in but openly admits that he prefers to play in front of the bigger crowds. He’ll enjoy everything that comes with the enthusiastic Chinese fans.

Mark Williams v Joe Perry

Williams has been floating balls in like only he does to reach this stage. He’s had as difficult a route to the last eight as anyone. He’s had to beat Wuxi Classic champion Ricky Walden and this season’s two-time major ranking event semi-finalist Mark, but he’s made it look easy enough. Bidding to win a seventh title in Asia, there’s no need to question his credentials. He has a proven track record. He’ll take some stopping by Joe Perry, but he comes into this match with a boost knowing he’s already sent Matthew Stevens and Neil Robertson home. I watched him have a stinker against Oliver Lines at the PTC3 in Gloucester, but everything seems to have clicked for him this week.

John Higgins v Ali Carter

This match pits two players together who have taken different approaches so far this season. Higgins was a late starter after missing many of the early events. What he may have lacked in complete match sharpness though, he definitely makes up for in self belief. He’s looked in good form this week dropping just two frames in wins against Jamie Jones and Ryan Day. It looks like he’s creeping back into contention and he’s proved himself to be a master when it comes to the business end of tournaments. In contrast, Ali has committed to playing in more tournaments and looks to have rekindled his hunger to play the game after shaking off the worst in his battle against Crohn’s disease. Reaching the World Championship final appears to have given him a spring in his step. His season has been a mixed bag so far reaching two PTC quarter-finals but also losing in the first round of the two bigger ranking events. He’s come through two different tests this week. He beat Robert Milkins in a deciding frame and then swept past Stephen Maguire 5-0. He’s a player more than capable of matching Higgins should it become an ugly tussle.

Judd Trump v Graeme Dott

Trump advances through tournaments with a crash and a bang, while Dott goes a little more quietly about his business. Judd has been the comeback king of the week. He went 3-0 down before beating Barry Hawkins and trailed 2-0 before dismissing Mark Allen. He’s a difficult player to stop once he finds his momentum and becomes tougher to beat the longer he stays in a tournament. The Chinese fans appreciate his outrageous potting ability and he’ll be full of confidence now. These two met at the same stage of the World Championship in 2011 and Dott’s safety wasn’t anywhere near good enough to contain him. The Scot is playing well himself with changes to his cue beginning to pay dividends, but this match could be all about how well he keeps buoyant Trump on a leash. He can be hot to handle when he starts to reel off frames. These short matches can whizz by quickly once he finds a rhythm.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Shanghai-lights so far...

The Shanghai Masters is already in full flow.

We're down to the last 16 of the tournament and we've already learnt plenty.

It's time for OnCue to share a few thoughts...

Coping with the best

Jamie Cope is continuing to be a bit of a surprise package this season. While there is no doubting his considerable talent, inconsistency has always plagued him. But has he turned a corner? So far this campaign he's managed to qualify for three of the four venues and he enjoyed his best result of all this week with a 5-1 defeat of defending champion and world number one Mark Selby. He reversed what everyone predicted in this match by nicking the tight frames. He showed great guts under pressure to capitalise on Selby's jet lag and has got people talking about a surge back into the top 16.

The Ding is dead, long live the King

I can't help but feel massively sorry for Ding Junhui as his struggles on home soil continued. No-one is taught to take the expectation of an entire nation on their shoulders, yet this is the demand placed upon Ding. From 3-0 up against Mark King, he ended up losing 5-4 as the pressure told again. He's now lost in the first round of four of the last five full ranking events held in China. There must be a way of using his huge home support to his advantage but as of yet he is void of answers. From the matches I've seen it looks as if he plays rash shots trying to force the win.This is a sure sign that the pressure gets on top of him.

Judd plays Trump card

Judd Trump gets plenty of criticism, but credit where credit is due. He recovered from 3-0 down against the winner of the last full ranking event, Barry Hawkins, to win 5-3. This excellent fightback highlights one of Judd's greatest qualities that is essential to be a top player. He knows exactly when to turn it on. When he looks in trouble, he has the ability to step it up a level and find that something extra to make the difference. I've seen Trump do this time and time again. Couple this fine attribute with his love of playing in front of a crowd and here's why he's always a candidate to win in China. 

Just what Maguire requires

I've always been a firm believer that coming through a decent first round test is the perfect preparation for a player hoping to go all the way to win a title. Stephen Maguire definitely hasn't made the last 16 here the easy way. He had to beat Peter Ebdon, who he lost to in the China Open final just five months ago, and that's never an easy match. He won the crucial eighth frame in no less than 75 minutes. He'll be more than ready for whatever this tournament throws at him now. 

Lee at sea

I didn't watch Stephen Lee's 5-3 win against Marcus Campbell, but I hear it was far from convincing. A few questions have been raised about the current state of his game given this performance plus back-to-back 5-1 defeats in the Premier League live on Sky. In front of the cameras he may be struggling but I saw the complete polar opposite watching him behind closed doors in Gloucester. He was happy to pick off his opponents from their mistakes and was clearing the table proficiently. Maybe when the cameras aren't rolling he's finding it easier to slip into care-free practice mode. Graeme Dott will provide stiff competition in the next round, but don't write him off yet. 

Wild, wild Welsh

It was a case of contrasting fortunes for the two Welshmen in the top 16. Mark Williams made light work of Mark Davis with a 5-1 win while Matthew Stevens lost out 5-2 to Joe Perry. Here are two vastly experienced and talented players in completely different places. Williams still looks capable of getting the job done wherever and whenever, but it looks more and more the case that Stevens needs to be someone near his best in most matches to score a victory these days. 

Close encounters

Six first round matches took a deciding frame to find a winner. This gives more evidence to the argument that the gap in quality between the top players is as minimal as its ever been. Shaun Murphy still needed to go the full distance to see off Dominic Dale 5-4 depsite racing into a 3-0 lead and Ricky Walden, winner in Wuxi, needed all nine frames to shake off veteran Steve Davis. Stuart Bingham, Ryan Day, Ali Carter and King were the other deciding-frame victors. There's no question about the depth in the game right now. 

Last 16 draw:

Jamie Cope v Stuart Bingham
Mark King v Shaun Murphy
John Higgins v Ryan Day
Ali Carter v Stephen Maguire
Mark Williams v Ricky Walden
Joe Perry v Neil Robertson
Stephen Lee v Graeme Dott
Mark Allen v Judd Trump

Monday, 17 September 2012

It's over to Lu

There's only one player everyone was talking about on the opening day of the Shanghai Masters.

Fourteen-year-old Lu Haotian stunned the snooker world with a 5-4 victory against seasoned professional Marco Fu in the wildcard round of the tournament, but this isn't the first time the young Chinese prodigy has made everyone take notice.

Back in July, I reported here how a new star was born when he became the youngest ever winner of the prestigious amateur IBSF World Under-21 Championship.

This put Lu on the map but his heroics at a fully-fledged professional ranking event today spread the word further. He was the talk of the baize and saw praise heaped upon him.

Within an hour of his fine victory, the complements had come gushing in.

The real deal. The next Dung Junhui. He'll go all the way. The best 14-year-old since Ronnie O'Sullivan.

These are bold, sensationalised claims fuelled by the excitement that comes from watching any young talent as good as him.

But it's difficult not to sing Lu's praises as he seems to be taking the rise to stardom easily in his stride. Lu is undeniably a cracking little potter. The task now is develop a tougher, tactical game to make him capable of competing consistently with the professionals.

This isn't easy, as Poland's young Kacper Filipiak proved when he broke onto the main tour at 15. But Lu is some three years younger than Kacper and will be buoyed by the confidence of his early successes.

There's still a long way to go for Lu to live up to some of the huge tags being placed on his head today, but he has both the ability and the time to make his talent stick.

This is just the start of Lu's journey, and there will be many more hurdles to jump before he becomes a household name in the game.

But for now, sit back and enjoy this fabulous break he made against Fu today...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Red or pink? Remember this...

With the Shanghai Masters back for another year, it's time for a trip down memory lane.

Last year's tournament, in the end, was remembered for just one shot.

Did Mark Selby hit red or pink first as he attempted to escape a tricky snooker in the final?

Either way, referee Eirian Williams' decision that it was red proved decisive. It was the catalyst for Selby to come back from 9-7 down to beat  Mark Williams 10-9.

Relive the shot that got everyone talking 12 months ago...

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Flying high to Shanghai

Suitcases packed, passports at the ready and all aboard the aeroplane to Shanghai.

The global snooker roadshow rolls on next week with the Shanghai Masters; the second of five major ranking events being held in China this season.

Ricky Walden etched his name on the first China trophy, the Wuxi Classic, back in June. But who will come out on top this time?

Such has been the rapid growth of snooker tournaments across the world over the past few years, the impact of travel and distribution of tournaments remains a hot topic. Some players travel better than others. Although this will definitely play a part in what we see in Shanghai, the outcomes of the week will, as always, come down to what the players do with their cues.

We talk about growth of the circuit  and snooker calendar at every opportunity, and the Shanghai Masters is a casing point. When Ali Carter won this title some two years ago, it was the first major ranking event of the season. Now, it is the third.

I am positive this is a big reason why the gap in quality between the very top players in the world and the chasing pack is as small as it has ever been. This makes every tournament  wide open but, with only three players in the 32-man field in Shanghai coming from outside of the top 32 of the world rankings, it really is the case this week.

Only Steve Davis, Robert Milkins and Jimmy Robertson managed to navigate through more than one qualifying round to reach the venue. But the job isn't done yet with them, and a few others, still having to face wildcard matches to make it to the first round proper.

As usual, the overall winner of this title could come from a whole clutch of names.

World number one and now fighting fit Mark Selby returns to Shanghai as the defending champion. He beat Mark Williams 10-9 in last year's final after a controversial decision from referee Eirian Williams.

Selby played a hit and hope shot trying to escape a tough snooker in the 17th frame and it wasn’t clear whether he hit the intended red or fouling pink .

Referee Williams judged it to be red which proved the catalyst for Selby's narrow victory.

It's ironic though that Selby won the title here a year ago fresh from capturing the Paul Hunter Classic. He's already defended that title this season and is line for another double.

Williams is never to be written off abroad. He already boasts eight titles overseas and regularly finds a way to perform despite not being the best fan of travelling.

Ding Junhui will as usual be the home crowd's favourite but has sometimes struggled with the pressure of playing on home soil. He's yet to really produce his best in China outside of the China Open, which he won as his breakthrough event in 2005.

Neil Robertson is another who finds it difficult playing in China. But you'd expect a player with such class to eventually come good.

Mark Allen makes no secret of the fact that he doesn't enjoy China, but still managed to win his first ranking title here earlier this year at the World Open.

Stuart Bingham, Martin Gould and Stephen Maguire have all shown good form to already win a PTC this season, and Judd Trump will enjoy the grand reception the keen Chinese snooker fans will give him and could easily respond by producing his best.

If it's about the form book, Shaun Murphy and Stephen Lee produced arguably the best snooker I saw on my recent trip to Gloucester and Mark Davis has reached the semi-final at each of the last two major ranking events in Wuxi and Bendigo.

Form can be deceiving though. John Higgins has only just started playing again after a lengthy summer break but could well find himself in the mix, such is the strength of his ability to win scrappy.

This rounds up the usual regular suspects when it comes to the bookmakers' favourite but Peter Ebdon and Walden have both won big titles here in the last six months and Barry Hawkins was the winner of the last major ranking event, The Australian Open.

In fear of fence sitting, among this huge lists of names I'm going to tip Australia's Robertson to go all the way this week. A player of his immense talent is bound to come good soon in China. He's not the kind of player to get bogged down by the stats, or be beaten in the mind. He's got one of the best all-round games going, and I like the look of his path to a potential final.

I fancy him to be £75,000 richer in a little over a week.

First round draw:

Mark Selby v Jamie Cope
Stuart Bingham v Tom Ford
Ding Junhui v Mark King / wildcard
Shaun Murphy v Dominic Dale
John Higgins v Jamie Jones / wildcard
Martin Gould v Ryan Day / wildcard
Ali Carter v Robert Milkins / wildcard
Stephen Maguire v Peter Ebdon
Mark Williams v Mark Davis
Ricky Walden v Steve Davis / wildcard
Matthew Stevens v Joe Perry
Neil Robertson v Fergal O'Brien / wildcard
Stephen Lee v Marcus Campbell
Graeme Dott v Jimmy Robertson / wildcard
Mark Allen v Marco Fu /wildcard
Judd Trump v Barry Hawkins

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Fan profile: John O'Reilly

It's been a long time but here's the return of the popular fan profile article.

A trip across the Irish Sea is next on the agenda with a fan who predicted a bright future for Paul Hunter and saw one of Ireland's biggest matches live at the Crucible.

Name: John O’Reilly 

Age: 26 

From: Antrim, Northern Ireland. 

Occupation: DJ, club promoter and sales team leader. 

Followed snooker since: The day I was born. 

First live match: It was Mark Allen versus Ken Doherty on Mark’s debut at the Crucible in 2007. Even though it was first match, it is still to this day my favourite game. It was great to see Mark, a player with so much promise, win 10-7 and show he had arrived on the scene in top class snooker. 

Best memory: I was invited to rehearse the players' 'walk on' at the 2011 Wembley Masters. I got to shake hands with Jan Verhaas in front of the crowd. It was very funny. 

Memory that will stay with you forever: I'll always remember turning on the TV to find out that one of the best snooker players ever, Paul Hunter, had sadly passed away. I'll never forget the way that man played snooker. I would actually go as far as saying that he would have been the best snooker player in the world if he had still been with us today. 

Greatest player: This is so easy. Stephen Hendry. Full stop. 

Favourite player: I want to say my good old friend Mark Allen, but I don't want to be biased, so I'll go for Judd Trump. I like his attacking game and I think he's a really nice guy as well. 

Snooker in 10 years' time will... be one of the biggest global sports in and it could also become an Olympic event.

If I could make one change to the game... I would bring it to Northern Ireland. It's a massive shame that there are no tournaments over here because there are so many fans. 

I love snooker because... it's one of the most mind-controlling, temper-testing sports in the world. To win, you must be focused at all times, even when sitting in your chair for long periods of times. It's a massive test, even for the greats of the game.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

A Law to himself

If you could bottle up Rod Lawler's determination, you'd have a queue of top players a mile long wanting to buy it.

Call him what you want. Rod 'The Crawler' Lawler or Rod The Plod, but never question that this man has a game made of steel.

Lawler is regularly the butt of jokes for his slow play, but this is doing him a gross disservice. Anyone who watches him regularly will know he likes to attack and go for his shots. That should not be forgotten because of the methodical approach that comes with it. He puts in 100 per cent with every strike of the cue ball.

His first ranking event title here should be warmly received because it supports the philosophy that hard work does pay off.

But, I wouldn't question Rod's quality. En route and during his 4-2 win against Marco Fu in tonight's final, he played some great shots. I lost count of the number of times I saw balls whistling into the middle pockets with ease this weekend.

On top of Fu, Rod beat ranking event winners Stuart Bingham, Dominic Dale and Stephen Lee to show us again that he's a match for anyone.

This is a special moment for Rod, that I'm sure he'll enjoy. This win completes what is one of the most remarkable turnarounds I can remember in snooker.

Brushed up in tonight's triumph it's easy to forget that Lawler was just a whisker away from quitting the game altogether this summer. He'd fallen off the main tour and entered QSchool for one last crack at a return.

Forty-three matches later and he's deservedly holding a professional trophy aloft.

Among his successes this season since regaining his place on the professional circuit has been qualification for the Wuxi Classic, then victory against Stephen Maguire at the venue and progression to the final round of qualifying for the Shanghai Masters.

If you thought this was a good a story then this is just the cherry on the top for a player who has come back fighting for his life.

Don't be fooled by Lawler's bad press. He is a player to be admired. From a position of down and out, his turnaround has been remarkable.

Well played Rod.

Behind Gloucester doors

My visit to Gloucester this weekend has given me the chance to get up close and personal with the stars of the baize.

From the game's top names to the budding young amateurs, I've seen them.  A conversation here, a bit of banter there and dropping in and out of the match tables, there's been plenty to digest.

I've been keeping some notes along the way from activity on and off the table.

Here are some of my candid thoughts from an action-packed couple of days at the South West Snooker Academy.

Next in Lines

You often hear the phrase 'like father, like son' but in the Lines household it really is the case. Peter first turned professional in 1991 and is still fighting it out on the circuit today. Now his teenage son, Oliver, is bidding to follow in his footsteps, and looks to be well on his way. A 4-3 victory against Joe Perry this weekend will already be a career highlight for him. Oliver was given numerous chances to clinch the match in the decider by an off-colour Perry, but he got the job done. He showed great composure around the table and a level of maturity which bodes well for the future. The delight on his face as he was reunited with his friends after the match was a picture moment. 

Marco's magic

A burst of form from Marco Fu is never a total surprise. Inconsistency has probably prevented the Hong Kong potter from lengthier stays at the top of the game but, at his best, he's always capable of beating anyone. He showed that on Friday again. Within one day at the SWSA he won two matches on the main arena table including 4-2 against this season's two-time UKPTC finalist Stephen Maguire and a whitewash of two-time world champion Mark Williams. Not a bad day's work. 

Rusty Ronnie?

He came, he saw, he had a bash around the main table and quickly retreated home. I don't buy all this rustiness talk. In my opinion, Ronnie O'Sullivan showed a distinct lack of interest during his 4-3 defeat against Simon Bedford. Instead of playing the kind of controlled game that saw him win a fourth world title in his last outing in May, he decided to take on every pot going and came unstuck, despite leading 2-0. The PTCs clearly aren't top of Ronnie's priorities and it really showed here. His performance wasn't in any way a result of under-estimating Bedford or being out of the swing of things, his heart just wasn't it. As an aside, I still believe Ronnie will have plenty of gears to go through in the next event, should he want to.

All hail Swail 

Joe Swail. He's still got it. Reaching the final of the Furth PTC despite next to no practice in the run-up to the event proved he's still a class act and I got the chance to see that first-hand this weekend. He eventually lost to Judd Trump here but his break-building during a 4-1 win against Passakorn Suwannawat earlier in the day was an absolute pleasure to watch. He was timing the ball like a dream. I can't see any way that he won't back on the professional circuit next season. 

On track with Zak

I knew nothing about amateur Zak Surety before this weekend, and still I know very little. What I have learned though is that the boy can play. He barely missed a ball from 2-0 down to beat Jack Lisowski. I'm all for giving credit where credit is due. This is why I was a little surprised and frustrated to see comments on forums questioning whether Jack's defeat could be a bi-product of living and hanging around with Judd. I think these claims are laughable. Jack is progressing just fine and enjoyed his first ranking final this season. It's true that he is at a different stage of his career to best pal Judd but I can't think of many better practice partners for him. Jack could do very little to stop comeback kid Zak here, a player who was unknown to me. A quick google of Zak though and I've found out a couple more things about him. He's from Essex and reached the Snookerbacker Classic semi-final last season. Based on his performance this weekend, that's not the last I'll be hearing about him either. 

Wake up call for Chen Zhe

I've heard many great things about Chen Zhe over the past couple of years. This weekend I got to see him live for the first time and couldn't help but be impressed. He recorded wins against Andrew Higginson, Ian Burns and Surety en route to finals day and looked to me like a player who could go far. His compact cue action reminded me of Ding Junhui. He also displayed a good mix of power and control. In his maiden professional season where he has struggled for results so far, it looks like he could be about to get going. I'd gladly pay to watch him again. 

Mesmerising Murphy

A starstruck fan told Shaun Murphy he was mesmerising to watch as he walked up the stairs to the players' lounge seconds after his first win of the weekend. You cannot deny that Murphy is a classy customer on the baize. His cue action is impeccable. When he's on song he makes a ridiculously difficult game look effortless. He also made the effort to come to chat with all the bloggers around the media desk. It went down well. People remember these kinds of gestures. 

Alan's in the zone

Alan McManus has always had a reputation as a dedicated professional and this was on evidence again this weekend. Never have I seen a player so resolutely in the zone as McManus. He embarked on a serious practice routine and then went away into a quiet corner before one of his matches. He had the look of a man here to do a job and did exactly that as he came out on top of deciders with Matt Selt and Peter Ebdon. 

Burd flying high

There are no characters in the game anymore. How many times have we heard that before? But we all know it's a load of nonsense. When you come to Gloucester you see that clearly. Alfie Burden is one of most colourful characters I've met in the snooker world. This weekend he was laughing and joking, speaking to fans and interacting with the crowds during his matches. And who would blame him the way he's playing? After reaching the semi-final of the last PTC here, this time he enjoyed a 4-1 victory against John Higgins before defeat to Stephen Lee, who I've nicknamed 'The Hoover' for his scoring exploits. It was good to meet Alfie face-to-face after interviewing him for the blog two weeks ago over the phone. A good interview always make you look out for a player, even if they are Arsenal fans. 

Temper, temper

Who would have thought Dechawat Poomjaeng has a bit of a temper? He usually looks so calm and collected around the table. But he really lost the plot in a 4-1 defeat to Swail. As his hopes of a win came crashing to an end in frame five he threw his cue down on the neighbouring table, continued to stomp his feet and eventually conceded the match while Joe was still completing a clearance with the frame already sewn up. 

A rapturous applause

It's important to behave in an appropriate manner at the snooker. Myself and Roland from Snooker Island completely forgot this when watching Martin Gould win a decider against Craig Steadman. As he potted a tricky and pivotal plant, we both burst into rapturous applause and Roland shouted 'get in'. A natural reaction to a class shot, I suppose. The fans around us couldn't believe what was going on with four matches in play at the time. Oops! 

Tales from the Irish

As I watched the friendliest of handshakes at the end of Mark Allen's match with Ken Doherty, I began to think I'd been led up the garden path by fellow snooker blogger Dave from Snooker HQ. He was telling me all day that this was going to be a grudge match. Allegedly this 'feud' dates back to a meeting at the Crucible where Allen beat Doherty comfortably. The 1997 world champion had hoped to dish out the beating himself after claiming Allen showed lack of respect for fellow Irish players during his time as an amateur. True or not, it spiced up the match for everyone here. This win was also to inspire Doherty. He followed it up with the defeat of Ding and a place in finals day. 

What a twit

A weekend at the snooker wouldn't be complete without some dirty laundry being washed in public. We weren't short of Twitter leads to cling to here. Assumably under the influence of a few too many ales Andrew Pagett decided to take a shot at Fergal O'Brien at 1am in the morning when they were due to meet just eight hours later. He tweeted: "I'm steaming!! Rather be down the caravan with @markwilltomorrow than play the slowest player in snooker!! #FOBrian. Talk about egg on his face. He was beaten 4-0 with breaks of more than 60 in every frame. He tweeted after the match: "Gotta be fair fergal played well, 60,70,70,100.... If I took that long over a shot I'm sure I'd pot like that as well #f**kmehesslow." Lucky he's not a professional or he'd be receiving a fine through the post from World Snooker pretty soon. With Fergal going on to qualify for finals day I bet he wishes he'd kept a little quieter.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Some pictures from SWSA

Here are a few pictures from in and around the the Gloucester venue...

Practice tables
Media area
Main entrance
SWSA building
Scoreboards in reception
Souvenir shop 1
Souvenir shop 2
Pink Ribbon trophy
Main arena 1
Main arena 2
Main arena 3
Tournament office
Streamed table
Non-streamed tables

Friday, 7 September 2012

My Gloucester experience

There's a wonderful atmosphere everywhere you go within the South West Snooker Academy (SWSA).

I'm making my first visit to this unique snooker venue this weekend and have been impressed by every aspect of it.

The close proximity of the tables create an intimate atmosphere during the matches. The open-plan communal areas immediately generate a feel of community with players, fans, officials and media mixing freely. The team that look after the academy are not only warm hosts but snooker lovers too.

Combining all this makes for a mini-snooker haven.

While you're inside the academy, it feels as though you're within a specially-designed snooker bubble.

In fact it's unfortunate that this bubble, as far as professional events are concerned, will soon be bursting.

It was announced during the last event here that the academy's contract with World Snooker would end after this season's UKPTC4.

This is disappointing on two notes. Firstly as a snooker fan, I regret not coming here sooner for the pure enjoyment factor. Secondly based on my experience this weekend, it's a great shame to think that such a perfect setting for a PTC event will be lost.

I don't for one minute question the quality of facilities at Sheffield, but there is no way hosting events there provides the same all-round product as here in Gloucester.

In the SWSA we have a venue that can compete with the equivalent events being held across Europe.

With just one professional tournament left here, my advice to any mad-keen snooker fan out there is to get here and have a taste of a great place for snooker.

Just a day in and around the venue, you will get the chance to see many different professionals and amateurs battle it out on the baize and then get the chance to mix with them socially and gain an insight into the life of a snooker player.

Whatever happens between the SWSA and World Snooker, the game still has a bright future in Gloucester. While the venue may not host any more professional tournaments, I have no doubt it will continue to be a first-class base for its players and an excellent venue for amateur events.

Gloucester, thank you for your hospitality.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Rocket is back

World champion Ronnie O'Sullivan is back in action this weekend at the UKPTC3 in Gloucester.

When he takes on Simon Bedford on Saturday, it will be the first time he's played in a competitive match since beating Ali Carter to win his fourth World Championship in May.

Picture by Monique Limbos
This gives an already open and exciting tournament some added spice.

Love him or hate him, Ronnie is fantastic at bringing interest to the game. You can expect to see a few extra bums on seats at the South West Snooker Academy this weekend and his participation is also bound to attract some additional media attention to the event.

Even for snooker's most die-hard fans, Ronnie's returns participation always gives a tournament extra appeal, and it was a relief to see him finally sign the World Snooker players' contract last month.

O'Sullivan always said he would take a break from playing snooker after his Crucible campaign, but his well-publicised issues surroundings the terms and conditions of the contract made this somewhat thornier.

In true deadline day fashion, it took him until the final hours of the night before the entry dates of the latest set of tournaments, including the UK Championship, to sign on the dotted line.

He kept everyone holding their breath but finally committing is a sure sign that O'Sullivan still enjoys playing the game and still has the motivation to win.

For clarity, after conversations with Barry he has agreed to the same terms as the rest of the players on the professional circuit.

Ronnie comes back into the fray and is immediately a danger man. His superb performance in Sheffield proved again he is capable of winning any tournament. And he'll be among a handful of players in the running to win every tournament he enters this season.

It's natural that he may be a little rusty in his first outing in Gloucester but I'm sure he'll soon find his rhythm. He knows the old green baize like the back of his hand and will certainly have been putting a few hours in on the practice to get back up to scratch.

Ronnie will be the star attraction of this weekend's snooker but there are plenty others who will be looking to claim some silverware.

I'm positive Judd Trump will be boosted by the return of his Grove partner. Stephen Maguire has made each of the two UKPTC finals already this season and is playing well enough to make it a third. I could go on with the names...

It's also worth remembering that this will be the penultimate professional event held in Gloucester, with the contract with World Snooker already wavered for next season.

The SWSA is a truly great place for snooker and it's important we make the most of the final two tournaments here. I'll be at the heart of the action in the press room and around the tables this weekend.

Follow my tweets @GaryOnCue to hear all the big stories.

Enjoy the tournament.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Aditya Mehta EXCLUSIVE interview: "It was developing into such a great week for Indian snooker that I didn't want to mess it up."

Aditya Mehta has been the talk of the tour for large parts of this season.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Playing the second season of his second spell on the professional circuit, he's enjoying some great success. He's reached the final qualifying round of two events and also qualified for his first professional venue last month.

He's already looking forward to making his venue debut at the International Championship as he hits a great milestone in his career.

His progress this season is great news for him personally and is also helping put snooker on the map in his home country, India.

With former world billiards champion and fellow countryman Pankaj Advani making his tour debut this season and qualifying for the International Championship as well, discussions around India's snooker hopes have been on the tips of everyone's tongues.

Aditya took some time to talk to On Cue about his recent resurgence and a potential bright future for the game in India. 

Firstly Aditya, congratulations on your success. How does it feel to finally qualify for your first venue and see all your hard work come to fruition?

It's an excellent feeling. Every time I was asked about my goals, I always said that my first big aim was to qualify for a venue. I think it shows you have arrived as a snooker player, but I hope it's just the beginning. Now I want to focus on getting there consistently.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

WIN V.I.P tickets to watch the Premier League

Love snooker? Love the Premier League?

Here's your chance to win two V.I.P tickets to a play-off night of your choice.

You could soon be going to watch four of the world's top players on the old green baize.

The lucky winner will be able to pick pick from a fun-filled night of snooker in Carlisle, Banbury, Southampton, Malvern, Penzance, Guildford, Doncaster or Durham.

Now in its 27th season, the Premier League Snooker is one of snooker’s longest running invitation events and a regular fixture on the calendar since 1987. It's played over ten Thursday evenings from August to November - all aired live on Sky Sports - and reaches its climax in the two-day finals weekend in Grimsby on 24 and 25 November.

The ten man line-up of the Premier League is made up of the winners of all last season's major events in the calendar. Each play-off night takes four players in a variety of UK venues, battling it out over the best of six frames to earn those big money points for admittance to the finals. 

For your opportunity to WIN a pair of V.I.P tickets, just answer the question below...

Who did Ronnie O'Sullivan beat in last year's Premier League final?

A. Judd Trump
B. Shaun Murphy
C. Ding Junhui

Email your answer to

The prize of two VIP tickets to any of the future Premier League Thursday night events will include...

- Back stage access
- Tour of the set and photo opportunity
- Two prime view seats
- Limited edition PLS t-shirt

This competition closes on Friday 7th September at 10pm.