Thursday, 31 January 2013

Chasing the German dream

If the opening exchanges of this year's German Masters were dominated by the so-called favourites for the title, then the chasing pack has surely replied.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Day two at the Tempodrom in Berlin was all about victories for the lesser stars.

Barry Hawkins - recently back in the top 16 and chasing his second ranking title - was brilliant en route to beating Mark Allen 5-2.

His performance was compared to one snooker fan on Twitter as that of "an angel". He played smoothly and fluently backing up the old cliche that on his day he is capable of beating anyone.

Michael Holt  had a busy but successful day. He beat Mark Williams 5-1 and Kurt Maflin 5-3 to progress to the quarter-finals.

He set the high break of the tournament with an impressive 144 against two-time world champion Williams and played like we all know he can when finds his form and doesn't overthink things.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The good results didn't end there for the the Nottingham boys. Anthony Hamilton ensured world number two Judd Trump wasn't let off the hook two days running, as he edged past him 5-4.

Trump is struggling badly for form and it looks as if his fear factor has gone missing. Hamilton is a confident scorer and the kind of player you'd expect to cash in on a top player slightly out of the swing.

Mark King did well to beat Stephen Maguire 5-0 but lost later in he day to Matthew Stevens. Peter Lines continued his good run with the defeat of Ken Doherty, and the chances of a winner from outside of the usual winner's circle isn' out of the question, although there will be more tough tests ahead.

Neil Robertson has been moaning about the state of the outer tables at the venue but has still navigated his way comfortably through so far.

Mark Selby is in a rich vein of form and is the favourite in the other half of the draw.

And so we go on...

Quarter-final draw:

Carter or Hamilton v Holt
Robertson v Dott or Murphy
Lines or Fu v Stevens
Hawkins v Ding or Selby

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Behind Berlin Lines

You never hear a bad word spoken about Peter Lines by his fellow professionals.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The 43-year-old Leeds potter is one of the game's real a journeymen, but has the kind of professionalism everyone can take a lesson from.

He isn't usually one for stealing the headlines. Instead, he prefers to quietly about his business; playing the game he loves with a minimum of fuss.

Playing the supporting role on the circuit is his normal vocation but that just wasn't an option today as as caused the big upset on the opening day at the German Masters beating four-time world champion John Higgins 5-3.

Inside a packed and atmospheric Tempodrom venue in Berlin, these are the types of wins he will both remember and be remembered for. But funnily, he's got very recent history.

This is the second time inside a week that Lines has taken the prize scalp of Higgins, after beating him in the Shootout last weekend in Blackpool.

Peter's great likability always means he earns rich plaudits for his successes. His run to the quarter-finals of the UK Championship in 2009 was greeted with cheer by most. His determination and dedication is something worthy of commending.

The fantastic German fans understandably love snooker's star names.

But on a day when Shaun Murphy, Mark Allen, Judd Trump, Ali Carter, Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui, Mark Selby, Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens and Neil Robertson all began with a win, it was Lines who stole the show.

Well played Peter.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Back in Germany

If the Shootout didn't get your snooker tastebuds tingling then the German Masters surely will.

It's time to switch back to 'proper snooker' and a trip to Berlin for a tournament which is rapidly becoming one of the most eagerly anticipated on the entire calendar.

This is the third year in a row that we have visited the Tempodrom and never have we been disappointed. The atmosphere is always first class.

Credit for this must go to Barry Hearn, who has an abundance of common sense and so, always does the simple things well. He identified a market with a thirst for the game, so took a ranking event there. Unsurprisingly, it has been a roaring success.

The Germans are yet to produce a top player in the professional ranks of the game, but when it comes to fans who have the passion, they really take some beating.

Credit for this emerging snooker market goes to Eurosport. Their unrivalled coverage of the game has played a huge role in feeding the early hunger of those on the continent.

But the German public has proved it's not just content with watching the baize on the TV. The turnout for their two PTC events this season was commendable. But this is their big one. You'll see more sell-out crowds at the German Masters this week. And surely it is only a matter of time before the event becomes even more prestigious.

To assess the true importance of an event, it's often sensible to look back at the impact of the finals. In the past two years, the German Masters has hosted two of the finest.

Mark Williams beat Mark Selby in 2011 with the crowd's reaction to the players as they came into the arena voted the moment of the 2010/11 season.

A year ago Ronnie O'Sullivan masterminded a superb comeback against Stephen Maguire in one of the best matches of the 2011/12 season. This proved to be the catalyst for Ronnie to go on to claim his fourth world title.

What is waiting for us this year in Berlin?

Who knows. But another chapter in this long season is about to get under way. As always, there will be more talking points, more great snooker and potentially fresh controversy.

The event already gets started with a twist. The deployment of a flatter structure for this year's tournament means the enthusiastic fans will see even more players at the venue than in years gone by.

As well as all the usual top 16ers, Martin O'Donnell, Michael Wasley, Dechewat Poomjaeng and Daniel Wells will are some of the newer faces at the venues, Irish amateur Fraser Patrick has made it to the venue and there are also appearances from veterans such as Jimmy White, James Wattana and Nigel Bond.

Click here to see the full line-up.

Enjoy the tournament.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Shining Gould in Blackpool

Martin Gould became the Sky Shootout 2013 champion tonight by doing what he does best - potting balls.

Picture by Monique Limbos
He isn't called the Pinner potter for no reason.

Gould is one of the best players to watch outside of the top 16. He always goes by attacking instincts and is a wonderful single-ball potter.

He showed that again this weekend in Blackpool, beating Mark Allen in the final to pocket the £32,000 top prize for a grand total of one hour's work on the baize.

That's the great thing about the Shootout.

Traditional snooker it may not be, but it still has plenty of benefits. It brings an element of fun to the game, loosens the shackles on the players, showcases the characters on the circuit, gives the fans at home a short and sharp format to dip in and out of and is an event where the spectators can really make some noise.

Gould is becoming a bit of a master of the quickfire formats. He adds this title to his triumph at Power Snooker in 2011 and proves what we already know about him as a player. He is at his best when plays with his first instincts and tackles the table as he sees it.

Martin has never been a moaner. He goes quietly about his business, turning up at the venue always willing to give it a go. He has incredible belief in his talent and, when his game comes together, is fantastic to watch.

His charge into the top 16 a little over a year ago was a story of a fearless potter being rewarded for his positive style of play.

His stay in the elite was short-lived. He's had to tackle confidence issues and bouts of inconsistency,but remains one of the players on the fringes of the top 16 capable of bursting back into contention.

A year ago Barry Hawkins won the Shootout title. This proved to be a springboard for him to win his first major ranking event and plot his way back into the top 16. Gould will have the same hopes.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Shooting to Blackpool

It's time for a bit of fun again this weekend.

The Shootout returns to Blackpool for a third season and there's a £32,000 top prize up for grabs for just an hour of work.

Sixty-four of the sport's top players will fight it out in 10-minute knockout matches with the crowd allowed to go wild and get involved.

This is all about quickfire snooker and a lighter entertaining form of the game.

The first year was a great success. The second attracted more criticism, but we're back again.

This won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's not snooker with the slow-burning drama that many of us have to come to know and love; it's about showing the fans a bit of life and soul, and letting snooker's bright characters come out.

This event ticks all the boxes if you take it at face value for what it really is. This isn't being billed as the future of the game. It's a light alternative on a heavy snooker calendar, an injection of fun, an event to attract new fans and a chance for spectators to see many different players in one weekend.

Anyone can win the tournament. The previous two champions have been Nigel Bond and Barry Hawkins. It requires talent, of course, but more than anything, a player who is good under pressure.

Sit back and enjoy the show.

Click here for the draw for the first round.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Selby crowned Ally Pally Master

Masters champion Mark Selby knows how important it is to get the job done.

His 10-6 victory against Neil Robertson to capture his third Masters crown at the Alexandra Palace was another well-timed performance of a champion.

Selby has now won the two biggest titles of the season so far after his recent UK Championship triumph and can sit proudly as world number one.
Picture by Monique Limbos

The Australian had the edge on form coming into this final but Selby delivered his best performance of the week exactly when it mattered.

For all of Selby's critics, this is the kind of thing true winners do.

You may have forgiven Selby for arriving at the final with little steam left for the final push, but he brushed aside the battle wounds of a difficult tournament to come back fresh, make life difficult for Robertson and once again, land the final killer punch.

You are never in for an easy match against Robertson. Selby found a display that many believed he wouldn't be able to muster after being dead on his feet against Graeme Dott a day earlier.

He might not be playing his very best snooker but he is finding a way of winning titles.

His performance was intelligently controlled and clinical at the right times.

It will make a nice change for Selby to have not relied on a comeback to secure silverware. He got himself ahead, and protected it until he was over the line. We know what he can do from behind but this was an excellent showcase of front running. He kept his nose in front and also managed to shoot down a spirited revival when Robertson won three straight frames to close from 8-3 down to just 8-6.

Winning a title as big as the Masters is always special, but there is even greater glory for Selby to enjoy this time.

He is now one of only six players to have won the Masters three times. He joins a star-studded crowd including Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Cliff Thorburn and Paul Hunter. 

He also has the chance to join an even smaller, more elite group.

Selby has won the UK Championship and Masters titles in a matter of weeks. If he was to go on to win the World Championship in May, he would rank alongside Hendry, Davis and Mark Williams as a player to have all three BBC titles inside the same season.

This is a quick turnaround for a player who not too long ago was battling against a nasty neck injury, with his future in the game actually in doubt.

He was a fighter then and he is a fighter now.

Selby stands for many great things in our sport. He is a fantastic professional, a real hard worker and an example of what level of excellence can be achieved through a commitment to maximising your ability.

His fine run of titles hasn't come easy. Right now, he's not only proving he is a match for anyone but that, in fact, he is the man to be beaten.

Well played Mark.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Masters final: Neil Robertson v Mark Selby

Two of snooker's toughest players meet today at the Alexandra Palace in the prestigious Masters final.

Neil Robertson against Mark Selby is a mouthwatering prospect where a milestone win awaits for one.

Defending champion Robertson has the chance to become only the fourth man to win successive Masters crowns, while world number one Selby could become only the sixth player to win the event three times.

But who will be lifting the trophy in London tonight?

The form guide says Robertson. He was excellent in his 6-2 semi-final win against Shaun Murphy and has played well throughout the tournament.

Selby hasn't been at his best. He's yet to make a century in this tournament but has got the job done and twice recovered from behind.

He beat Stuart Bingham from 5-1 down in round one and was 4-1 behind to Graeme Dott in the semi-final last night before finding a way back to win 6-5.

His late-night win will have taken its toll on him, whereas Robertson had his feet up. Selby admits he was tired before the match even started and would have needed a good night sleep to be ready and raring for today's action.

Selby is made of stern stuff and never gives up. His ability to win ugly is a quality rivalling John Higgins' much talked about B-game, but Robertson is his biggest test so far.

This match has a bit of history. Robertson led Selby 4-0 in the UK Championship quarter-final in December before Selby wielded his comeback magic again to win 6-4. The Aussie will be aware of this and knows he can't let his guard down even for a second. Selby will be looking for a better start this time.

Expect some twists and turns. It should be a great final.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Dott's delight

It was a day to remember for Graeme Dott as he enjoyed his finest Masters moment.

The hard working Scot hammered pre-tournament favourite Judd Trump 6-1 and in the process progressed to his first ever semi-final at the event.

Picture by Monqiue Limbos
I've seen Dott play better than this but his performance was opportunist.

World number two Trump wasn't at the races at all. He missed as many balls as I've seen him miss in one match for a while, and his shot selection was too often questionable.

Dott has always had a knack for seizing his opportunity. He was 3-1 up at the break without hitting top gear but he improved after the interval and finished the match with an authoritative century.

In moments like this I wish more time would be spent commending Dott than dissecting the unlikely defeat of the big gun.

Whenever Graeme does well, he is billed as the unlikely hero. 

But Dott has won plenty of big matches in his career. He gives every shot 100 per cent and can be a feisty little match player. These qualities were on show again today.

He will be the outsider going into the last four. He is used to this by now, but we know he can deliver. He is two matches away from another big victory to add alongside his 2006 World Championship triumph.

Judd will have to wait another year to have a crack at the title.

That won't prevent his performance continuing to be the big talking point way into tomorrow. I prefer not to dwell on it too much. This was a bad day at the office for one of the sport's brightest stars, but it's all part and parcel of the development of a young champion.

It's in fact a compliment that his defeat has attracted so much conversation. It proves he is a massive scalp and a man to be beaten at the big events.
Picture by Monique Limbos

After two disappointing outings at the recent BBC events, Judd is clearly suffering from a sticky patch. This is inevitable at points during a season so long. He needs to put this defeat behind him and come back stronger for the next tournament.

After all, he has both time and talent on his side.

Dott wasn't the only big winner at the Alexandra Palace. World number one Mark Selby also kept up his title bid with a 6-1 win over Mark Williams.

The Jester gave a perfect rendition of how to win ugly. He was far from his best but cashed in on his fellow two-time Masters champion who struggled for rhythm throughout the match.

Selby has always been good at digging in and getting results even when he's not at his best. This is what makes him such a formidable  force.

I still make him the man to beat, but he will need to improve and make betterof his openings.

Decider time

This year's Masters is the gift that keeps on giving. With every day, it seems to get better and better.

Yesterday, I spent both sessions inside the venue and was treated to some first class action and drama.

There were two more matches that went the distance to take the tournament tally up to six, as the nailbiting continues. There were even discussions online that this year's event is shaping up to be the best in Masters history.
Picture by Monique Limbos
That's a debate for another day but I've been going to watch live snooker for more than a decade and yesterday's value for money would definitely take some beating.

In the first match, Neil Robertson cruelly edged past Mark Allen 6-5. The Northern Ireland man laid his opponent in a snooker, tight behind the yellow. It was the last shot he took of the tournament as the Aussie escaped the snooker, knocking in a red close to the pocket and then coolly making the fourth century of the match to continue the defence of his title.

Allen was rocked. Ousted by a fluke, he reckons. I think it was more of a percentage shot than perhaps Robertson has been given credited for. Resting the cue ball into the pack of reds wouldn't have been easy. Instead, the red he played for was close enough to the pocket to have a good chance of going in.

But whatever way you see it, snooker has always been the same. If you get a slice of luck, it's about how you take advantage of it.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Robertson's match-winning century was of the highest quality. It was slower and more methodical than his usual big breaks, but it meant so much. This was a big win in a match where both players contributed to it being a classic.

The way Neil finished showed all the hallmarks of a champion.

Heading back into the auditorium for the evening match, you wondered how John Higgins and Shaun Murphy could match up to such lofty standards.

Granted, this one was more of a late bloomer but its ending was epic.

The first four frames were difficult to watch, at times. But after five, Higgins led 4-1 playing no better than his famous B-game. Murphy looked a bit betwixt and in between. Were his tactics to take the game to Higgins or keep it tight? It was hard to tell.

Then it all clicked. He won three on the spin to level, fell behind again at 5-4, and then won the final two frames to clinch the match.

I bet it was beyond even Murphy's wildest dreams. Higgins just doesn't surrender leads like this, or so we thought.

The Scot is usually such a safe pair of hands but, now Murphy has history, having also beaten Ali Carter at the Barbican from behind.

This sets up a semi-final clash between Murphy and Robertson; a repeat of the final here a year ago. The brief is simple. Robertson is gunning to defend his title. Murphy is bidding to become the eighth player to complete the triple crown.

It was a fantastic day at the Alexandra Palace. We can only hope for me of the same today.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Heading to Alexandra Palace

You can't beat the buzz of the venue.

Today, I'm off to the Alexandra Palace to taste the London atmosphere and watch some mouthwatering action from the quarter-finals.

The line-up at the Masters is always first class but now we're down to the really serious business as the first round winners return for their second matches of the tournament.

The drama this week has already been gripping. With the stakes getting even higher, and the final drawing closer, you can expect more of the same.

I can't wait to get into my seat and settle down for four great matches.

Here's a quick look ahead to the Masters menu...

Mark Allen v Neil Robertson

A battle of two incredibly gifted left-handers.

Robertson is the defending champion and a slight favourite given his excellent all-round game. He has no real weaknesses. He can pot long balls, make big breaks, control the pace of a match and play safety with the very best.

The Aussie is a big occasion player but the pressure of trying to become only the fourth Masters champion to defend his title could be a stumbling block. His deciding frame win against Ding suggests he's up for the battle though.

Norther Ireland's Allen is one of the best fighters around and has his eyes on a major prize. He was clinical in his 6-2 win against Mark Davis and can cause anyone problems when he's on song. He will thrive off the buzz inside the venue.

John Higgins v Shaun Murphy

Always a good match guaranteed between these two classy cueists.

Higgins has a poor record at the Masters despite reaching four finals and lifting the trophy twice. But he came through his match against Ali Carter fairly comfortable once he found his form.

He seems to like Alexandra Palace, winning three of his four matches here.

Last year's runner-up, Murphy, knocked him out here last year in the semi-finals, but Higgins is playing much better a year on.

Murphy didn't quite match up to Robertson in the final 12 months ago and was a little short versus Mark Selby in the recent UK Championship final too. He'll want to find soemthing extra go one better to win a major title again.

He usually starts tournaments impressively. He did enough to beat Ricky Walden earlier this week but didn't play his best. He will need to be at his best to beat Higgins. That's not a question.

Judd Trump v Graeme Dott

Both players are fortunate to be here after going the distance in round one.

World number two Judd won three on the spin to recover from 5-3 down to Barry Hawkins. After losing his opening match at the last BBC event this comeback should give him a boost of confidence.

Trump loves being the centre of attention and should thrive at the Masters, which looks built for a player with his talent and flair.

Dott worked hard to beat fellow Scot Stephen Maguire but will need to crank it up another level to keep control of Judd.

Mark Williams v Mark Selby

Two great comebacks see these two, two-time Masters winners, paired in the last eight.

Williams won five in a row from 4-1 down to beat Matthew Stevens, but the match overall was a poor standard. He hasn't won a major event in nearly two years but is capable of flicking into form.

Selby also won five in succession against Stuart Bingham from 5-1 behind. He proved why he was world number one with some wonderful pots and breaks under pressure.

A win like this will make him feel unbeatable. He's an ultimate match player and as tenacious as they come.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Another day at the office for comeback king Selby

Mark Selby is renowned for his great comebacks. Tonight he staged one of his very finest.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The world number one has had to watch his rivals take centre stage all week, desperate to throw himself into the Alexandra Palace cauldron.

And then even when he did get the chance to get on the baize, he left it late to show why he's one of the title contenders.

At 5-1 down, you can be forgiven for thinking he was dead and buried. But those who know Selby, never say never.

He was brave. He showed desire and he potted some unbelievable balls under pressure to win five frames on the spin and edge out his opponent on a decider.

Bingham played a classy game to build a commanding lead but, ultimately, was miles behind Selby when it came to delivering under pressure.

Playing under the bright lights at the Masters can be unforgiving. For Selby, these are situations he relishes most. It was all or nothing by frame seven. He stepped up to the mark and showed exactly what a world number one is made of.

It's been a week of comebacks already but Selby's eclipses the lot. This is his trademark calling card. So much so, you can spot it a mile off. Most people were calling this once he'd got just one of the five frames he required this evening.

They say confidence is a great tonic. He'll feel unbeatable after winning a match like this. His march to the UK Championship title was fuelled by an equally rousing comeback against Neil Robertson.

I've blogged about four of the main trophy contenders already this week. Selby has as good a chance as anyone of claiming this year's Masters title.

Trump plays comeback card

The twists and turns that have become synonymous with matches at the Masters are what make the tournament so exciting.

Picture by Monique Limbos
We all know Judd Trump loves to entertain, but he will have breathed a sigh of relief after staging an exciting comeback of his own against Barry Hawkins.

The world number two found himself 5-3 and Hawkins was playing rock solid stuff; dependable safety, exemplary shot selection and scoring when he got his chances.

Trump - seemingly on the brink of another first round BBC exit - cranked up the pressure. He started playing with pace and authority.

I asked on Twitter whether this could rattle Barry. It did.

Judd flicked from a fairly average performance to really taking the game to his opponent. As the pressure mounted on Hawkins, Trump seemed to become more determined, and relished the chase.

He made a century in the decider to seal the match. It was superb. It could be a turning point for him to rediscover his best form.

Everyone knows Judd has got the skill. He has been showing more this season that he has the guts for a fight as well.

He likes to be the centre of attention and he likes to triumph with glitz. The Masters is a perfect stage for him.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Higgins heads past Carter

If the opening day of the Masters was about defending champion Neil Robertson firing a warning to the rest of the field that he's up for the fight - then day two was about the response of another tournament favourite.

Picture by Monique Limbos
John Higgins faced one of the toughest possible draws in round one against Ali Carter, who has reached the final and semi-final respectively in the last two BBC events.

But after finding himself 2-0 down, the Scot came back to win 6-3 with as he found his form and proved he's also prepared to battle.

Higgins is quick to mention that he hasn't got the best record when it comes to playing at the Masters; losing ten times in the opening round. Despite this, he's also managed to reach four finals - and win two of them.

He often hasn't produced his best in this tournament because he used to dislike playing at Wembley. Last year he reached the semi-final in the first year at Ally Pally, despite never really excelling past his famously good enough B-game.

He arrives back in London a year later in far better form and having already picked up two pieces of silverware this season.

He has got his motivation back and seems to be reaping the rewards on the table for his work off it.

Higgins often fares better in tournaments when he doesn't start at his very best. He can improve on the performance he put in against Carter. There won't be one player who would take on Higgins out of choice this week. He is always dangerous, and knows how to win matches no matter how he's playing.

Scotland wasn't only celebrating Higgins' passage to the quarter-finals. Graeme Dott managed to come out a 6-5 winner in a dramatic match against Stephen Maguire.

The quality in this match dipped in and out but Graeme can take confidence from the spirit he showed, after a long spell low on confidence. He's a fierce competitor who will keep going to the bitter end.

Stevens: "One good week and you can win the title."

Sunday, 13 January 2013

You beauty

A passionate Neil Robertson shouted "you beauty" as he sunk match ball to beat Ding Junhui 6-5 in a dramatic Masters opener at the Alexanadra Palace.

Picture by Monique Limbos
That shows just how much this means to him.

The defending champion found himself 5-3 down against Ding, who was mixing hard matchplay snooker with his trademark brilliant breakbuilding.

He was asked to dig deep and, once again, delivered the goods under the pressure. This is one of the Aussie's finest qualities.

It's a mark of how difficult a tournament the Masters is to win that only three players have ever managed to defend the title; Paul Hunter was the last in 2002.

Robertson faces a hard task to follow in his footsteps, but has shown on his first outing that he is more than capable.

He has overcome a very tough first hurdle, seems to be able to produce in London and definitely isn't lacking in the desire and determination departments.

Robertson has just had the first word. It's up to the rest of the field to respond and show they want this trophy as much as he does.

Summing up of the first day of action at the Masters wouldn't be  complete without a mention for Mark Allen.

The Northern Ireland man put in a top class performance to defeat Mark Davis 6-2. He was quick, clinical and flamboyant, at times as he made light work of a match in tournament where every match is difficult.

Tenacious Allen has the flair that epitomises the Masters. His fearlessness is the exact kind of quality required to triumph in an event so strong. He said after his win that he still has a lot of improving to do, which would have made for ominous listening for the rest of the players.

Every time I watch him play he looks like he is getting closer to winning one of the biggest titles. Could it be his week in London?

Friday, 11 January 2013

Masters step forward

The masters of our game are ready to fight it out again for one of snooker's real glory titles.

The appropriately named Masters event is all about history and prestige. Returning to Alexandra Palace this weekend for a second season, the line-up is, as always, packed with top stars.

With No easy path, an electric London atmosphere and the best players in the world waiting with every turn, we're in for treat.

The Masters - although not a ranking event - is one of those tournaments that really gets the juices flowing.

As well as a huge £175,000 top prize, next week is a chance for someone to stand up and be counted, claim a chapter of snooker history as their own and join a list of winners boasting all the greats.

In fact, six of this year's 16-man field have already etched their name on the trophy.

Great players always win this great title. Every snooker fan remembers a golden moment from the Masters down the years. It's the longest running event on the calendar behind the World Championship and has produced some of snooker's most exciting memories.

What do you remember most fondly? It could be John Spencer's win against Ray Reardon at the first event in 1975 in the deciding frame. One of Alex Higgins' great performances?

It might be Cliff Thorburn winning three titles in four years from 1983 to 1986.

Maybe Stephen Hendry's five-year winning run from 1989 to 1993 ranks highest? Or when Alan McManus put a halt to his compatriot, beating him 9-8 in the 1994 final.

Then we had another classic in 1998. Mark Williams took down six-time winner Hendry on a respotted black.

Paul Hunter is synonymous with the Masters. He found domination between 2001 and 2004, winning three finals on deciding frames in four years.

John Higgins produced a masterful clearance to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan in 2006, who then reduced Ding Junhui to tears a year later with a 10-3 win masterclass.

One of the modern classics was Mark Selby beating Ronnie 10-9 from 9-6 down in 2010.

We really have seen it all at the Masters. And it's easy to see why the tournament is so popular. The competition will always be a hit with Londoners; it's the only time the sport comes vaguely near England's capital.

Us southerners love our snooker and Ally Pally has definitely given the Masters an extra edge. It's an absolutely unmissable BBC classic this year.

With a mouthwatering field of potential champions, the anticipation could hardly be greater. And how about this for a curtain-raiser? Defending champion Neil Robertson faces Ding Junhui first up on Sunday.

Enjoy the tournament.

Trump: "I feel I'm playing better than anyone."

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Backed by the BBC

The BBC's decision to continue to broadcast snooker until 2017 means the game can continue to be viewed by the masses in the UK.

Today's announcement of a three-year contract extension should be greeted with cheer because it continues to give our beloved game mainstream attention.

A large majority of snooker fans in the UK watch the sport on a part-time basis and when the majors - the World Championship, UK Championship and The Masters - are broadcast by the BBC.

People like me who follow all the events, including the PTCs and qualifiers and watch the ever-moving world rankings with great interest, are a rare breed.

Even today, with snooker streamed online and showed on Eurosport most weeks, the BBC action is the backbone of the season for most fans.

That's why this deal is an absolutely massive boost for the sport.

It keeps up the momentum of Barry Hearn's rennovation work in snooker. The deal means the BBC is also saying that the recently announced flatter 128-man flatter structure isn't a dealbreaker when it comes to a major broadcaster.

The announcement also states that in 2014 there is an option to add a fourth event to the BBC roster. This signifies potential growth of the game in the UK, at a time when the majority of change has come for the rest of the world.

Today is a good day for the sport. It helps to keep snooker accessible in the country of its origin.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Crondon critics

The Championship League is quick to be criticised.

For the past three years when the snooker roadshow has arrived at Crondon Park, in Essex, people have done their level best to belittle it.

There is no denying that since its launch back in 2008, its value has diminished, fuelled mainly by the vast changes to the sport and increased playing opportunities engineered by Barry Hearn.

There is so much snooker for the fans to watch and the players to compete in that the Championship League has been left behind a little - but let's not bash the event completely out of sight, because it still has many positives.

The series of two-day events run from January through until March.

The players couldn't be happier.

Next week, the top 16 will be playing for a £175,000 top prize at the Masters. This prepares them with great match practice against top class opposition.

And with the calendar packed until the very end of the season, these chances will keep on coming before other major events. Players don't get much time these days to practice on their game without the pressure of ranking points. The Championship League gives them this chance.

The positives don't stop there. The players are well paid for winning matches, can select which group the begin in and also have the chance to win a place in next season's prestigious Premier League.

This blog post is in no way groundbreaking. None of these arguments are new. But I thought it was worth writing a reminder, as the event has been subject to the same old negative press.

Group one concluded today. John Higgins emerged the winner and is first to qualify for the winners' group.

Ali Carter finished as runner-up. Martin Gould and Mark Davis were knocked out in the semi-finals and Judd Trump ended the group in 5th place. Those four come back tomorrow to compete in group two.

Stephen Maguire, Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham will join up with the group, while Shaun Murphy and Matthew Stevens finished sixth and seventh in group one, and were eliminated.

Click here to see the the full format of the Championship League.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Selby starts the year in style

World number one Mark Selby began 2013 in the same way he ended 2012 - with a trophy.

After finishing the year on a high with his capture of the UK Championship and a return to the top of the world rankings, big things are expected of fit-again Selby in 2013.

His 4-3 victory against Graeme Dott in the Munich Open final was the perfect start.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The win had an air of trademark Selby grit about it as he looks to have rekindled his winning instincts. Good safety play coupled with an ability to take the chances this creates has always been the backbone of his accomplished game. He is unlikely to drift from a formula that has always brought him great success.

A neck injury which derailed his charge for titles for a large chunk of 2012 is long in the past. It now looks like he's ready and raring to go to make this year really count.

This may go down as a great start for the Jester but it's also a fine finish as he wins the last PTC event of the season before the Grand Finals back in Galway in March.

You can't help but feel sorry for Dott in this match. He has yet to win a PTC event and looked almighty close when he led the match 3-2.

His run to the final is victory enough for Dott though I suspect who looked and sounded downtrodden after defeat to Shaun Murphy at the UK Championship in December.

Graeme perhaps hasn't capitalised on the volume of extra events in the past two years like some of the other top players around him. In fact, he's looked quite disillusioned with the game at times with the burden of so many events taking its toll.

Seeing a top player look so drained is never nice to see. His lack of enthusiasm to play has been plain for all to see at times. So, to start this calendar year with such a good run at least fuels some renewed belief that he can get himself back on track.

Selby isn't having any such trouble in the motivation department. In fact, his ability to play his best snooker at all events, big or small, is one of his finest qualities and the chief reason for his position as world number one.

Watch out. Selby could be winding up for a very big year.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New year predictions

Another year of snooker is about to begin and what happens on the baize is likely to be as unpredictable as it was in 2012.

That doesn't stop us from looking into the crystal ball and taking a punt at what 2013 may hold.

Here are my predictions for the year ahead:

1. Judd Trump to become world champion
2. Jack Lisowski to break into the top 32 in the world
3. Ronnie O'Sullivan to play professional snooker again
4. Neil Robertson to win the most events
5. Mark Allen to go an entire year without any fines from World Snooker
6. Martin Gould to move back into the top 16
7. Shaun Murphy to win an event in China
8. Luca Brecel to reach the semi-finals of at least one ranking event
9. Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon to reach the last 16 of a main ranking event
10. Oliver Lines to qualify for the main tour via QSchool.     

Agree? Disagree? Got some predictions of your own?

Share them with me by posting your comments below.