Monday, 24 December 2012

Talking Snooker... with ProSnookerBlog

It's been a hectic year on the baize with competitive action at every corner.

There have been twists and turns, spells of great form and talking points all the way. In a sport that refuses to be dominated, the major titles in 2012 have been shared around by the game's top players.

World number one Mark Selby signed off the year with the last big win, capturing the UK Championship.

To draw an end to 2012, OnCue spoke to Matt from ProSnookerBlog, one of the best snooker blogs in the business, to discuss some of the big talking points before the Christmas break.......................

OnCue: Nice to speak again Matt. Thanks for joining me. I know it's a busy time of year. There's always lots going on at Christmas but it's one of the few times of the year when the snooker calendar slows down.

The big point of debate over the past week is the announcement of a flatter structure at eight events next season with everyone on the tour coming in to play in round one. What are your first thoughts on that proposed change?

ProSnookerBlog: The main point is that you couldn't successfully have a money ranking list with the current system as it is, so I think it's a good idea but it's not ideal from a TV point of view. That's my concern. No disrespect to the players who got to the semi-finals at the most recent PTC in Scotland but if you had a line-up like that at the UK Championship it would probably halve the audience.

OnCue: Apparently the TV broadcasters may be able to hold some matches over to the TV stages. I'm not 100 per cent sure how that will work but I suppose it feels like a compromise.

ProSnookerBlog: It does happen at the German Masters and the Welsh Open at the moment. It puts the power in the hands of the TV. It might not always be the fairest way of doing things, but it's a very important part of the game.

OnCue: I assume it will be the same top players who have their matches held over at most events. That will ensure we keep the household names on the TV and maintain the part-time fans who only watch the big events.

ProSnookerBlog: I think it will largely be the top eight players in the world.

OnCue: I'm not too surprised with the decision overall. In fact, it feels quiet inevitable that we're going this way to ensure the money list works as best as it can. Barry Hearn has always said he wants to make the game a level playing field, and it fits into that ethos. Any players who comes onto the tour now are being given a clear chance to make an impact straight away. That has to be a positive.

ProSnookerBlog: I was at Barry's press conference at the Crucible back in May and he said he wanted to put more money into the PTCs because he sees them as the fairest tournaments. This kind of format is obviously something he's had his eye on for a while. His challenge looks like selling the format to the TV broadcasters, but it sounds like he's already making progress.

OnCue: The format isn't going to be adopted at the World Championship yet. I suppose the UK Championship will be used as a bit of a testing ground for how it works. I do feel a little bit sorry for some of the top players who have worked their way up the rankings, not been in the top 16 for too long and are now being made to go back to round one. Surely they've earned their place in the top 16 and the luxuries that have always come with that?

ProSnookerBlog: They have earned it under the current system and will feel they deserve to be where they are but they would have loved this new system when they were starting out, so you can't please everyone. The rankings will still ensure some protection with seedings to keep the top players apart in round one. I think it's a continuation of the changes we've seen with the PTCs. The lower ranked professionals are getting the chance to play top players every other week. They've been a big leveller and that's even more the case now.

OnCue: There is the argument that if you're a top player and can't beat players lower down the ranks then you don't deserve to be in the later rounds anyway. Everyone has the same chance and it's up to the players to make the most of it.

ProSnookerBlog: If you're not winning matches you won't progress. It's simple. I'm more in favour of the system than not but it's about getting it right for the TV as well. People who aren't snooker addicts probably like to turn on and see the same familiar faces. People like you and I know all the players but it's about keeping the interest of the more casual audience.

I can see potential problems if we get lesser known players going further. From a fairness point of view though, I don't think there can be any arguments.

OnCue: We are going in to a little bit of the unknown but you can never accuse Barry of avoiding making bold decisions. This is another one and it looks like the man has a plan.

UK Championship

OnCue: The next place to go is obviously the UK Championship. It was a big win for Selby and one I felt he deserved in the end. Do you agree?

ProSnookerBlog: He didn't play at his peak at the start of the tournament but sparked into life from 4-0 down against Neil Robertson in the quarter-finals. He probably deserved to win event based on that comeback alone. Robertson is such a strong all-round player with no real obvious weaknesses. He's the last player you'd expect to give up that lead. Selby has got his critics but it was a massive fightback.

OnCue: You wouldn't expect Robertson to lose from that position but it's probably only Selby and Higgins you'd think are capable of coming back from that kind of deficit against that kind of players. Selby is a great match player. He showed that in York.

ProSnookerBlog: He laid down the marker with the win. Shaun Murphy is a fantastic player who would beat anyone playing like he did in the final five frames of his semi-final against Ali Carter, but I did just fancy Selby in the final. His all-round game gives him a slight edge. When Murphy's not missing he's fantastic but when it went scrappy you felt Selby could get on top.

OnCue: It was always going to be tough for Murphy to replicate his form against Carter again in the final. I just felt Selby had the tactical edge.

ProSnookerBlog: Selby just looked more like that player that won the Masters titles a few years back. He looks like he's through his neck injury and will be a threat for the rest of the season.

OnCue: Yeah, definitely. You said that Selby gets his critics but this game is all about winning and he did what he had to do to lift the trophy

Another star of the tournament was Luca Brecel. Like many people, I enjoy watching him play. It was actually quite bizarre because even though he reached the quarter-finals I've seen him play a lot better than he did here.

ProSnookerBlog: All his matches at the qualifiers for the World Championship earlier this year were streamed and he played excellent to get there. He beat such experienced players and manages to match them in every department. He probably played even better then.

It's strange because you can't compare him to Judd Trump, who was the last player to be coming through and being talked about so much. Brecel is still 17 and his breakthrough is two years before Trump made his mark when he reached the Grand Prix semi-final at 19. He's well ahead of him in that sense and that's quite frightening. But it's probably to do with the PTCs as well, helping to accelerate his development.

OnCue: Brecel has already got a very clever game. He can pot good balls but he spends time thinking about playing the right shot more than your average young player. He already plays quite an experienced game.

Another sub-plot at the tournament was Selby edging back ahead of Trump at world number one. That looks like being a big tussle to the end of the season now as well.

ProSnookerBlog: Yeah it's one to watch with Neil Robertson likely to be close as well. There's still great prestige attached to being world number one and it's an exclusive club of only 10 players who have ever been there since the rankings were launched in the 1970s. It will be interesting to see it unfold.


OnCue: The next big event to watch out for is the Masters. It's always a great crowd puller and one that brings snooker down to my neck of the woods. All the big names are there. There are the familiar faces but also we've got Barry Hawkins and Mark Davis making a return as top 16 players.

ProSnookerBlog: It's good to see them there as a reward for their form this season. Davis has reached three ranking event semi-finals and is playing very well. Hawkins won his first ranking event this season and is every bit capable of beating the top players.

The stand-out draw in round one is Ding Junhui against Robertson though. I'm looking forward to that one.

OnCue: Yeah we should have lots of great games throughout the week. There's a good pot of money available. All the players will be motivated to win it and it's all the players who you expect to be fighting for the trophies. It's a great prospect.

Some of the finals we've had at the Masters down the years shows you what a superb event it is.

ProSnookerBlog: The tournament has so much great history. I'll always remember the Stephen Hendry against Mark Williams in the final and Higgins against Ronnie O'Sullivan as well as Paul Hunter's three wins. If you win the Masters you're one of snooker's great players.

OnCue: Some great matches there. I think when Selby beat O'Sullivan in 2010 that was another great match. Hendry-Williams remains the best one for me though.

It's wide open as usual but can you pick a name to win it, Matt?

ProSnookerBlog: Probably not but I'll have a go. I think Robertson could possibly defend his title. He looks a good bet in the top half with Selby and Trump in the bottom. You can't ever rule Higgins out either.

OnCue: He used to struggle at the Masters at Wembley but reached the semi-final last year when it moved to Alexandra Palace. He's playing better than he was a year ago too.

I also wonder about Ding. If can win his tough opener against Robertson he could be worth a shout. He played brilliant snooker in Scotland. Maybe he's coming back to good form.

Looking back at 2012

OnCue: Moving on to looking back at 2012 as a whole now. It's been a busy year for the players, officials, fans and the bloggers like us. Can you pick out your moment of the year?

ProSnookerBlog: It's a personal choice for everyone but I'll remember Hendry's 147 at the Crucible most fondly. I was lucky enough to be sat in the media seats in the Crucible. To be that close and then there when he announced his retirement from snooker later in the tournament was very special.

OnCue: It was typical Hendry. His career has always been about being the best and then he goes out on a such a high reaching the last eight of the World Championship and making a maximum. It will always be quite an historical tournament for those reasons.

ProSnookerBlog: He had the last word again. He beat Higgins easy and was sensational against Bingham in the first session of the first round. It rounded off his great career in great style.

Talking about players of the year, if I had to pick one stand-out player to be player of the year I'd struggle. There's no obvious candidate. Judd got himself to world number one and won the International Championship. Ronnie is world champion and won the German Masters. They come close.

OnCue: I think most people would go for Ronnie because he won the biggest event and joined Higgins as a four-time world champion. He brought his best game to the biggest tournament and looked pretty much unbeatable at times.

ProSnookerBlog: It's difficult because he was excellent in Sheffield but hardly played in anything else. No-one has dominated the year or been clearly on top. You could argue that someone like Stuart Bingham or Mark Davis would have a shout.

OnCue: Ronnie's German Masters where he made a great comeback against Stephen Maguire. That was probably one of a few matches you could say was the best of the year.

ProSnookerBlog: Yeah that was a high quality match from the start and then Ronnie came back to win. It was a great one to watch.

OnCue: When talking about the best matches of the year I also think of Ali beating Judd at the Crucible and Higgins coming back to beat him in Shanghai. It sounds a bit harsh to mention two matches where Trump lost but they were both very dramatic. I was gripped to them both. I'm a big fan of Trump as well, so they aren't my choices because of the result.

ProSnookerBlog: The match Trump lost at the World Championship was easily the most exciting of the tournament, especially when you consider he was 12-9 up. I was watching it in the arena and I couldn't see Judd winning. He looked nervous in the balls and looked like losing position. It was unusual and shows the pressure is there for everyone. He showed a sign of weakness but has come back this season so much stronger. Judd won the last four frames of the International Championship final against Robertson and answered any doubts.

OnCue: I was in the arena for the Trump-Carter match too and even then it felt like quite a defining moment for Trump and he's gone on to use it as a positive. It goes back to the old cliche that you learn more from the matches you lose, than the ones you win.

The comeback from Higgins in Shanghai was impressive for other reasons. It was all about the Scot tellins us he was back in form. 

That's a lot about the top players. Who else has impressed you in 2012 lower down the ranks?

ProSnookerBlog: Michael White would be my pick. He's qualified for his first venue in China and has moved a long way up in the rankings. He's become very consistent.

There's also Cao Yupeng. He's made venue after venue and beat Mark Allen at the Crucible.

OnCue: He looks very accomplished. He's a strong all-rounder. I always rated Xiao Guodong a lot higher for his scoring but he looks like potentially overtaking him because of the events he's qualified for.

ProSnookerBlog: Rod Lawler deserves a mention.

OnCue: Especially considering he was an amateur halfway through the season...

ProSnookerBlog: Yeah he was off the tour, won at QSchool and then has had some great runs, including winning a PTC in Gloucester. He's taken his chances well.

OnCue: The Indian duo Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta have done well since the start of this season as well. They could both have bright futures

ProSnookerBlog: There are plenty of names. Looking ahead I think Scott Donaldson, Robbie Williams and Ian Burns could do well. They could make a push for the top 64. Jack Lisowski is probably one big TV win away from really pushing on as well.

Thanawat has found a bit of form recently too. He is winning quite consistently now. There's no end of players to watch, which makes it very exciting.

OnCue: For sure. My last name to mention is Jamie Jones. His form has been alarming since the World Championship, but he'll be back I think.

Anyway, thanks for joining me Matt. I hope you enjoy your Christmas and I'll see you at one of the venues in 2013.

ProSnookerBlog: You too, thanks!


  1. I find it amusing that the perception is that Ronnie "hardly played in anything else" than the WC in the 2011/12. He played in 10 out of 12 PTCS, won 2 of them and made another final. He went to Shanghai and Beijing - where he made the semis - as well and won the German Masters in Berlin. Yes he did give Australia a miss, and he certainly wasn't the only one, and he did withdraw from Haikou and the PTC GF citing ill health. But "hardly played in anything"?

    1. Ronnie has played in a grand total of six professional snooker tournaments in 2012, a year which has seen more tournaments than any other in my lifetime, so for me it's not a perception or in any way meant as a dig at Ronnie, but is fact.

  2. Fair point but the discussion is about 2012 not the 2011/12 season. He's played one match since WC, so fair point really on that basis

  3. To my mind the best way to make draws for TV is to automatically place top 16 to play their 2nd qualifying match at the venue. If someone loses the first round match then number 17 may play at the venue - it shouldn't be difficult to change that. In my opinion top 16 is the elite and they should get something as I want that the position is coveted.

    I personally love the German Masters style draws but those are impossible as they're not equitable. Players 17-32 start at second round and 1-16 also start at 2nd round but at the venue (TV matches).

    The perfect way would be to play all the qualifiers at the venue (why not also on TV) but nowhere is enough place and Worldsnooker should pay part of the travel costs. Not going to happen soon.