Monday, 27 August 2012

Boring, boring Selby just isn't fair

Boring, boring Selby wins the Paul Hunter Classic.

That's the angle many people would have you believe after the world number one retained his title in Furth. Although I respect everyone's opinion, I can't go along with this.

The real story here, in my opinion, is that one of the sport's top players rekindled his form, returned to the winner's circle and sent out a message that he's back in the race for titles.

I believe Leicester's Mark Selby is somewhat wrongly labelled a negative player on the baize, but he's not the world number one for no reason.

You don't have to believe Selby is the best player in the world, but the ranking points he's accumulated over the past two years means he deserves to sit at the top of the tree.

Selby's excellent all-round game is built on excellent safety, patience and knowing exactly when to push the boat out. He doesn't play kamikaze shots but plays a measured game that allows him to compete with anyone.

I don't think this should be mistaken with negativity. When a chance comes along, he can score as heavily as anyone. In fact, he holds the record for the most number of centuries in a single season and has scored the most hundreds in a single match at the Crucible.

He might not be rash, but he most definitely is clinical.

That's why it's a joy to see him back on form. Selby was back to his solid best in Germany and showed that he's over the neck injury that has stifled him since the build-up to April's World Championship.

It's neither easy nor enjoyable playing Selby in a big game. He makes it tough for his opponents and showed why in Germany.

He looked back in the zone and back in the mood for the rest of the season.

He deserves an extremely big congratulations for defending a very competitive title. It was surely only a matter of time until Selby started playing the kind of snooker we know he's capable of.

He's a tough match player. He can front run a match and also come from behind. I'm sure he will be in the hunt to win more titles.

Love him or hate him, he's going to be around at the top end of our game for plenty of years to come yet.

Selby wasn't the only star this weekend though. Runner-up Joe Swail showed he's still got it. After falling off the professional circuit last season, he returned with very little practice to show he can still deliver.

Then there were the incredible German fans. They packed out the arena all weekend long and laid bold claim to being the most enthusiastic fans in the world. There's no way the players can't enjoy playing in Germany.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

This one's for Paul

The snooker roadshow has arrived in Germany ready for The Paul Hunter Classic.

This is a special tournament in memory of a very special player.

Popular Paul died of cancer six years ago, aged just 27, and it's fitting that such a vibrant tournament is named in his memory.

Paul was a talented player and a likable lad with a bubbly character to go with it. He was the kind of player who attracted fans to the game. His natural attacking instincts created a buzz and won him plenty of admirers.

He was comfortable playing the game he loved and embraced everything that came with life as a top class sportsman.

It's actually perfect that this tournament in Furth should be named after him. After all, Hunter was always a great supporter of the former German Open pro-am tournament and he loved his snooker to the fullest extent, just like the waves of fans in Germany who will turn out in their droves to watch this European PTC event.

The Paul Hunter Classic is a title all real snooker fans love because it continues the legacy of a fine talent. Paul was most well known for winning three Masters titles and I'm convinced he would have already got his hands on the World Championship crown was he still with us today.

That opportunity was cruelly taken away from him but he will never be forgotten for the great entertainment he provided and how he helped increase the popularity of the sport.

This tournament is sure to be watched far and wide thanks to Eurosport's continued first class coverage and all the players will be keen to win a title that means so much in the snooker world.

Here's to watching watching some top-class snooker snooker over the next few days in memory of the great Paul Hunter.

Never forgotten. And just to make sure, watch a tribute to him here:

Here come the Indians

Yestarday was a day to remember for Indian snooker.

Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani both reached their first professional ranking venue - and with it did a country proud.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Snooker was invented in India back in 1875 (source: Snooker Scene), but the nation has only had a handful of stellar moments to look back on in the sport since then.

Yasin Merchant is currently the most successful professional Indian player in history having three times qualified for the last 32 of ranking events between 1991 and 2001.

But Mehta and Advani's rise to stardom and securing places at the International Championship venue is a wonderful moment for the nation where the game began.

It's difficult for any emerging snooker nation to get credit in an era where China are widely believed to be leading the way when it comes to the future of the game.

But while India's only two professionals managed to navigate their way through four qualifying matches to reach the inaugural International Championship, only Cao Yupeng from China's contingent of stars on tour could join automatic qualifier Ding Junhui there.

This is a significant achievement for both Advani and Mehta and I can't help but share their delight.

Pankaj is currently playing in his debut season on tour. The former world billiards champion has already proved he's a master cueman and is having a crack at professional snooker courtesy of reaching the Asian Championship final.

Picture by Monique Limbos
He has already embraced the online world of Twitter and frantically retweeted messages of praise after his 6-4 win against Michael Holt sealed his triumph. He seems a genuine bloke riding the crest of turning professional.

Aditya has been around a little while longer. He first turned professional in 2008 but fell off before returning in 2011. Since returning, his game has come on leaps and bounds. He's improved in every department and his temperament is up there with some of the best.

His desire to win and positive attitude towards playing is infectious and you can't do anything but back him when he plays. He's been knocking on the door of a major venue for a while now, but finally made it with victory against Jamie Cope.

To see Advani and Mehta reach a key milestone in their snooker careers together makes this moment even more special. And anyone who thinks these lads have come through the easy way, in one of the season's minor events, can think again.

This brand new International Championship has a total prize pot of £600,000 up for grabs and a stonking £125,000 will go to the winner. It is already easily the biggest ranking event hosted in China and with the slightly longer matches, it could quickly become one of the majors, to rival even the UK Championship.

As the tournament begins to enjoy its own great moments, the stock of this tournament will grow. The Indian duo can look forward to playing in a tournament guaranteed huge viewing figures worldwide. This means they have officially announced themselves on the scene.

If they can continue the feelgood factor that surrounds them, who knows, maybe we'll end up seeing ranking snooker in India not too far down the line.

Well played lads, and good luck at the venue.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Alfie Burden EXCLUSIVE interview: "I will never know if I could have come back to play football at the highest level."

Alfie Burden emerged as the surprise package of the recent UKPTC2 with a run to the semi-finals.

Picture by Monique Limbos
After struggling early on in the season, he's looking to kick on in now his third season back on the professional circuit.

This is his second spell on tour after becoming the IBSF champion in the 2009/10 season. Alfie first turned professional in 1994 after after a blistering start that saw his attacking style compared him to that of Jimmy White, he's first to admit that he hasn't yet fulfilled his maximum potential.

He spoke exclusively to OnCue this month about his past, the present and the future...

I'm talking to you at the perfect time. You enjoyed a run to the semi-finals of the UKPTC2. That came out of the blue. How pleased were you with that run in Gloucester?

I always knew I had the game to produce a run like that. When I apply myself, I believe I'm capable of beating anyone. I never worry about who I'm playing. Sometimes it all falls into place and I can play that well. It doesn't surprise me, but maybe it does surprise others.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A good night had by all

The Premier League always had big boots to fill this season in the absence of the format's master, Ronnie O'Sullivan.

But if tonight's showing in Skegness was anything to go by, we're in for an absolute treat this season.

O'Sullivan has enjoyed so much success in the Premier League that he has become synonymous with it.

He has lifted the trophy seven times in the last eight years and boasts an incredible ten triumphs in total. Snooker journalist Dave Hendon said earlier this week that the Premier League without The Rocket "is a bit like getting tickets to see The Beatles (back in the day) and discovering there was no John Lennon. Or Paul McCartney."

He has a point. O'Sullivan is the master of the shot clock and while the loss of the defending champion, the world champion and the biggest box office attraction in the game is a huge dent, the show must, and will go on.

If the first night's showing is anything to go by, we need not worry a shred.

On an entertaining night of action, Ding Junhui beat Shaun Murphy 4-2 in a match of very high quality and this year's favourite, Judd Trump, kicked off his campaign with an impressive 5-1 defeat of Stephen Lee. It was great to watch snooker back on the TV and in front of a good crowd again.

Judd proved he's the man for centre stage and Ding showed again how good he really can be.

Some fans of snooker that consider themselves purists are staunchly against the Premier League and everything it stands for. The omission of O'Sullivan has done little to deter their protests against a format they view as pointless and a watered-down version of the game.

It is difficult to argue that although more open than any year before, victory for any of the 10 players in this year's tournament would have some shine taken off because of Ronnie's absence.

But the competition should be far stiffer and I remain a big fan.

The Premier League is the fourth longest running event after the three majors and still holds great prestige, especially among the players. You only have to look at the reaction of players such as Stuart Bingham and Mark Allen when they qualified for the first time this season to understand that it carries great weight and is thought of as highly as some ranking events.

I'm not the kind of snooker fan who would like to see the shot clock employed in the ranking events but I think its inclusion here adds variety and reaffirms the Premier League as an event which offers a good night out for your average fan.

The Premier League always offers high quality and is a great showcase event for the world's top players and latest tournament winners. The money on offer is a great motivator for the players too.

Its round robin format, although different, doesn't make it too dissimilar to what would traditionally be considered as snooker on a match by match basis.

The Premier League is back and I enjoyed it once again. I think it continues to complement the serious business of snooker well.

Long may it continue.

Click here for a full run down of this year's Premier League format, groups, dates, venues and matches.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Life without Ronnie

This week sees the start of the new Premier League.

A stellar line-up includes John Higgins, Judd Trump, Stuart Bingham, Peter Ebdon, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen, Mark Selby, Stephen Lee and Shaun Murphy.

But reigning champion Ronnie O'Sullivan is missing. The four-time world champion has claimed this invitational event as his own with ten titles and an impressive seven in the last eight years.

His absence will without doubt take away something from the tournament as it travels around the country but lead referee, Paul Collier, who returns for another season to write exclusive columns for OnCue, says the show must go on...

Ronnie's absence is going to be a little detrimental to the Premier League, of course, but no-one is bigger than the game.

Tickets will probably sell a little less quickly because he's such a box office attraction, but I'm not worried about the event overall this season. It's a shame he isn't going to be in it. He's the defending champion and also the world champion. Any event would suffer from him not being there. He's a massive character and a great player.

I've got to know Ronnie fairly well over the last few years and I hope he's in a happier place now after his break. Maybe he'll be back with us next year, if he qualifies.

I think true snooker fans will go to watch the Premier League if it's near where they live whoever is playing. I think the support will still be high and a little bit of extra marketing has been done to help that along. 

I don't think Ronnie's decision not to play is anything to do with the actual way the Premier League is run. In fact, I know he enjoys playing and is disappointed not to be involved this season. He had his contractual issues and couldn't sign up to play in the Premier League before that was sorted. He's just so busy that something had to give. He's not the kind of player who will enter everything and the Premier League is off the list this time, unfortunately.

I know the event will still be a roaring success and that's why it's here to stay.

The Premier League does put some constraints on when other tournaments can be played because so many top players are involved, but they all still want to play in this as much as a lot of ranking events.

We've got ten top players this season and it's going to be another exciting campaign. A lot of people are also looking forward to seeing Peter Ebdon under shot clock constraints. It will be interesting to see how he reacts. I haven't spoke to him about it but he's a very deep thinker and will definitely have it on his mind.

I think 25 seconds is quite a long time to play a shot. I'd like to see it cut to 20 seconds. It would give all the players something to think about, for sure. It would get even people watching.

People ask me whether the Premier League still has its place with so many other tournaments, but I still think there's a big place for it. You only have to look at the reaction of the players when they qualify to see how popular it is.

Stuart Bingham can't wait for it, for example. There's still a prestige to the event. 

I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into the Premier League again. It's been a long time since the last one finished, but there have been so many tournaments that it's really flown by.

The Premier League is returning to more of a league format this time. There are no more Shoot Out frames. They are all six-frame matches again. I think it was difficult for people at home to follow last season and it took quite a lot of explanations before every match at the venue, so the idea is to simplify the event again.

I wouldn't say it was a failure last time but it might have been more successful if there was a programme at each event with a detailed explanation of the new format and I think the traditional Premier League fans didn't enjoy the change.

It was difficult for me as referee and all the players to suddenly have to switch formats during a match and handle two sets of rules in one match.

It's going to be great to go back to Grismby for the finals weekend. I think the auditorium deserves it. it's been an excellent venue down the years and one of a handful where you can rely on a sell-out crowd. There are lots of people there who love the game and really know their snooker. You rarely have to ask for quiet. They're great in every way.

I'm not doing as much refereeing as much this season for World Snooker because I've got so heavily involved with the tournament office and organising events. I'll always be doing some matches, of course. I had a quarter-final at the Wuxi Classic and a semi-final at the Australian Open to fill in for Jan Verhaas while he's injured, but the Premier League is my main regular refereeing duty.

There are only two dates I won't be doing where Brendan Moore is stepping in for me. This is just because of how busy I am. I would never give the Premier League up because it's my main priority. When I left World Snooker, Matchroom didn't think twice about keeping me on. They said that as long as I wanted the job, it was mine. I'm giving the Premier League some loyalty into return for that.

I hope you all enjoy this season's Premier League as much as I know I will.

If you're interested in going to the first Premier League event in Skegness this Thursday, visit or call 08456 740 505 for a bargain £10 ticket.

Here's a full list of the line-up and venues,,,13165~2810278,00.html

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Gould medal winner

Martin Gould has been knocking on the door for a while but has finally got his hands on his first ranking title.

On an evening when there was so much else to take the shine off his win, he cared not a crumb as he enjoyed his own gold medal moment.

While the London 2012 Olympic Games drew to a close and news of the SWSA's announcement that they will not host anymore professional tournaments after UKPTC4 filtered through the snooker world, Gould was making news of his own.

A 4-3 victory against Stephen Maguire finally landed him a win in a PTC final at the fourth attempt, as he achieved what he's been good enough to do for a long time.

Gould has generally excelled during the PTCs since their launch in 2010 because he's the kind of professional who applies himself well to every tournament and is keen as mustard when it comes to competing.

Although he's enjoyed long spells of consistency in these tournaments, disappointment has also come all too often. Before this weekend he'd lost two PTC finals on a decider to Dominic Dale and Tom Ford, and also suffered defeat in the Grand Finals final to Shaun Murphy in 2011.

This shows how agonisingly close he's come to winning a ranking trophy over the past two years.

It was nearly another cruel end to a final for Martin tonight. After leading 3-2, Maguire enjoyed a monstrous fluked pot red from the white being placed behind the brown in each of the last two frames, but could only convert one into a frame win.

Gould's win is definitely deserved this weekend. As well as beating Maguire, he's beaten Mark Allen and Neil Robertson, so no-one can accuse him of taking the easy road to victory.

Martin's win has gone down well. His attacking style of play and sensational long-potting ability make him very popular with the fans. His struggle to win a trophy has also won him plenty of friends but, at last, his vast ability has reaped it rewards.

Gould has always been a pure confidence player. He's been in the top 16 for a while and has a title to go with it too now. This could be the making of the man.

Well played Martin.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Here comes Higgins

We're back on the baize in Gloucester this weekend with the UKPTC2 event.

Some familiar faces will be making the trip to the excellent South West Snooker Academy with another round of ranking points up for grabs, but the big news is the return of four-time world champion John Higgins.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The Wizard of Wishaw has yet to pick up a cue for a competitive game of snooker this season with two major ranking events and two PTC tournaments already passing him by, but now he's ready for business.

An extended summer after a humiliating defeat to Stephen Hendry at the Crucible is a luxury he could afford after victories at the UK Championship, World Championship and Welsh Open in 2010/11 season meaning he stills sits pretty as the world number seven.

But following a disappointing campaign last time out where he reached the semi-final of only major event, at the Masters, before being safely dispatched by Shaun Murphy 6-4.

The entire season made for unpleasant reading but a few words at the World Championship press launch in April shed plenty of light on the situation.

Higgins points the finger of blame squarely on his own head when it comes to explaining his underachievement last season. He admits says poor preparation was his predominant problem.

He went on to explain how that will all change now and he's ready to have another real good crack at it. You can expect his preparations to be thorough and well polished.

A motivated John Higgins is still a very dangerous snooker animal. It's an old cliche that he has the best B-game in snooker but, if he can find out, his A-game is sensational. His tactical awareness superb, his break-building clinical and his temperament unshakable. When he's bang in form, he can give Ronnie O'Sullivan at his very best a fight. In fact, he might be the only player the Rocket fears.

The thought of these two both competing in a major final in top form this season is something special. It will take Higgins a bit of time to get back to his glorious best but this weekend is the start of this path and a sure sign he's ready for warfare on the baize again.

It's time to unleash the Wizard.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The return of Ronnie

It had an air of predictably about it but, finally, Ronnie O'Sullivan is back.

The world champion has returned.

After taking the limelight throughout the summer in a painfully drawn out 'will he or won't he' saga, O'Sullivan has signed the World Snooker contract  and has entered both the new International Trophy event in China and the UK Championship.

It is a major breakthrough with many people suggesting his stubbornness over negotiating different terms to the rest of the players on the circuit may lengthen his absence from the sport.

I had faith all along that he would sign the contract in time for the UK Championship, and so it has been proved.

Why is he back? Has Barry Hearn budged on his stance that Ronnie would have to sign the exact same contract as the rest of the players? I doubt it very much. The snooker supremo is as tough as nails and takes no prisoners when it comes to business.

But neither do I blame O'Sullivan for attempting to get a better deal for the extra promotional work he does above and beyond any other professional player.

He does more to promote the game than anyone. He's the poster boy for every tournament and the kingpin the game often hangs around. O'Sullivan finds the packed snooker schedule more difficult than most and I think Hearn should go a little easier on him and appreciate that actually by playing in events he is doing his best promotional.

When in full flow, he fills venues and brings new fans to the sport. He defines box office.

He has every right to ask for more but it appears it won't come at the price of playing the game altogether.

I'm not surprised by O'Sullivan's choice to finally sign up. He hasn't played competitive snooker since winning his fourth world title in May but he warned us he would take a break, and that's exactly what he's done.

Maybe Ronnie has realised he still loves playing and isn't ready to turn his back on it yet.

His triumph at the Crucible proved he is still the best and, more importantly, still capable of winning titles.

It's fantastic to see Ronnie returning to the baize. There is no denying that snooker is far greater with him than without him. He is still the most entertaining player to watch and gives tournaments an added buzz that no-one else can replicate.

Ronnie, it's great to have you back.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Fighting for the top 16

Breaking into the world's top 16 is a milestone every professional player hopes to reach at some point in their career.

It means automatic qualification for the major ranking events and a place as one of the game's top players. It's a sign of status.

Ultimately, a player's career will always be judged on tournaments won and the great days they have playing the sport. These are far more important than your position in the world, but the rankings are still a great marker for progress and position.

That's why Marcus Campbell hasn't given up on his dream of breaking into the elite.

At 40-years-old he's playing some of the best snooker of his career. After years on the edges of the big time, he's found a greater level of consistency over the past two seasons and is up to number 22 in the world rankings.

Speaking in a recent interview with World Snooker he says he believes this is his time to push into the top 16.

The introduction of extra tournaments under Barry Hearn has helped Marcus to improve and going one step further would be rich reward for a player who has a good attitude, has spent years grafting and enjoys playing as much as ever.

A passage to his maiden ranking event semi-final at the Wuxi Classic earlier this season should give him that extra belief that he can win matches under pressure and force his way into the reckoning.

Campbell is most famous in the sport for beating Stephen Hendry 9-0 in the 1998 UK Championship when his fellow Scot was at the height of his power. This is still regarded as one of the biggest shocks in the sport, but while this was a career highlight he would probably take as much joy from reaching his ranking target. This would be reward for his performances over a sustained period rather than just one day. It is an indicator of consistency, and says he has constantly been among the best.

This target won't be easy as there are many more players in the hunt for the top 16.

Among his rivals, Mark Davis is definitely a man to watch. Like Campbell he reached his first ranking event semi-final at the Wuxi Classic but then followed that up by progressing to the last four at the Australian Open as well. He came within one win of reaching the top 16 at the expense of Ronnie O'Sullivan last season and will want to have another crack at making it. He's well placed at number 18 in the rankings.

Just above him is Ali Carter. He reached the World Championship final in May but is a sufferer of crohn's disease. I understand his condition is getting better and this could be the break he needs to reignite his best form.

Ali's problem has never been getting himself up and finding motivation in the big games. For him, it's all about digging out results in the smaller events. His recent run to the quarter-finals of the UKPTC1 suggests he may be ready to do well on all fronts this season.

Elsewhere, world number 19 Barry Hawkins recently won the Australian Open, world number 20 Peter Ebdon was runner-up there and won the China Open at the end of last season. They're both back in form and look in determined mood.

Could a burst of form come from the way of Andrew Higginson, Dominic Dale or Joe Perry? They're also in the mix. But then at world ranked 25 Jamie Cope has qualified for all three venues so far this season and is showing signs of a resurgence.

Or someone lower down the ranks?

There are plenty of players capable of making the push over a long, hard season. But who do you think is best equipped to force their way into the top 16 this season?

Leave your opinions below...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Should snooker be an Olympic sport?

The short break in the snooker calendar could hardly have come at a better time as I've found myself engrossed by the action at London 2012.

Swimming, rowing, shooting, judo and cycling. I've been watching it all as Olympic fever has got me well and truly gripped.

I've caught myself cheering on sportsmen and women competing in events I barely know the rules in. These are the effects of being hooked by Team GB.

As with any major news or sporting event, snooker's very own Twitter community likes to join the debate. And this week, the question has been posed as to whether snooker should qualify as an Olympic sport?

Sorry to be a killjoy, but the answer from me is a big fat 'No'.

I personally think the sports that work best in the Olympic format are those in which winning the gold medal would be considered the pinnacle of the sport. There is no way victory at the Olympics could ever be compared to triumph at the Crucible. Being a sport with such a firm tradition away from the Olympics means it may be difficult for this new event to earn the kind of credibility it deserves when compared to other tournaments.

It's for this same reason that I don't think football or tennis have enough clout against the rest of sports in the Olympic offering. They are both great sports but the Olympics feels like a bolt-on to the rest of tournaments instead of an integral part of what the sports already stand for.

Another big reason for voting against snooker joining the Olympics is because of what I see when I look around at the Olympics. Most of them are short, quickfire rounds of events that allow the viewers to dip in and out, get a taste and enjoy.

I fear the same experience would not be guaranteed from snooker. To change the format of traditional game of snooker to fit into the Olympics mould would feel like a disservice to the game. It would portray a false image of the what the sport of snooker actually is and would be perceived by many as a process of dumbing down.

In my opinion, the best asset of snooker is its ability to create a slow-burning drama. This doesn't fit with the style of the rest of the sports in the Olympics. I fear snooker would be labelled dull and boring.

Sorry folks, but I think snooker should stay well away from this particular party.