Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Rocket power

It's difficult not to jump aboard the Ronnie O'Sullivan bandwagon.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It's moving at 100 miles per hour and with an ungodly amount of class. As he strolled to a 7-1 lead in the first session of his quarter-final match against Stuart Bingham, it was difficult to do anything but sit back and enjoy the show.

As the cue ball glided effortlessly around the table and was kept in pinpoint precision by its master with the cue, we were watching the snooker of a genius to a level difficult to match.

The Rocket finished off Ali Carter in great style last night snatching his required four frames in just five to win 13-8 and then on his return today he just picked up exactly where he left off, putting on a show for a mesmerised Crucible crowd.

This dominant haul against poor and powerless Bingham was an absolute masterclass. He made big breaks, switched hands and picked off frames like a steam train.

The performance was so good he is now odds on to win the World Championship with many bookmakers and, without doubt, the man for everyone else to beat.

He has improved his level of performance with every single session here and is both quickly and terrifyingly finding his top gear after an 11-month sabbatical from the sport since winning the world title a year ago.

We've had such a fantastic season on the baize overall. It even felt at times like we might not be missing the four-time world champion Ronnie, but think again.

Michael Holt made an excellent point on Twitter this afternoon (perhaps in jest) that the game has definitely missed him, but not the players.

While Ronnie has been away, the ranking titles have been largely shared around. No-one has grabbed hold of things and dominated the trophies. We're back at the biggest event of them all right now and O'Sullivan looks like he's raised the bar and taken standard up a notch.

Ronnie performed close to his best this afternoon, showing why he is so widely adored. He showed off his swagger, was completely dominant and was absolutely unstoppable.

The way he rattles off frames when he's on form is scary. He can kill a match in a session. To be beaten at this year's World Championship, someone is going to have to perform out of their skin.

O'Sullivan is back.

Monday, 29 April 2013

In close quarters

It's quarter-finals time at the Crucible.

The prospect of becoming world champion is beginning to become a real reality for the eight players who remain.

The greatest title in the game is only three wins away and this is the time to up it and stake a claim to lift the famous trophy.

The first two rounds of the tournament have produced an array of upsets but there are plenty of quality players still left battling it out.

Here's a whistlestop look ahead to our four tasty quarter-finals:

Shaun Murphy v Judd Trump

Picture by Monique Limbos
A match worthy of any ranking event final. This is the clash of the round as two classy cueists, who love to attack, chase their World Championship dream. Murphy won the title as a qualifier back in 2005 and has number two in his sights. He's used to starting events strongly but needs to show he can get even better when winning line comes in sight. He has always been at his best when he goes on the attack with a delightful cue action that gets plenty of attention. If he decides to go all out after the win this could become a classic because Judd loves to go after his shots as well and has produced moments of brilliance in this tournament, scoring as well as he has for quite some time. Trump looks to be getting more confident, so Murphy needs to believe in his own game just as much. I'm not sure these two are the greatest of friends but they have huge mutual respect for each othery and know they need to be at their best to win.

 Ronnie O'Sllivan v Stuart Bingham

Picture by Monique Limbos
 A clash of contrasting experience in this massive match. Bingham is playing in his first ever Crucible quarter-final while O'Sullivan has won the World Championship four times and has been here many times before. Bingham won't let that affect him. He doesn't fear anyone these days and is one of the best break builders in the world. Form suggests he will have to be at his very best to win this match though. O'Sullivan has been excellent so far in the tournament despite his lengthy break and looks to be going through the gears nicely. He's been in very punishing mood in the balls and is clinically taking advantages of any mistakes. Ronnie looks really focused and is probably becoming less vulnerable as the rounds go on and should get closer to his best with every session. Bingham will be worrying about his own game. He will relish playing in this great match and can put O'Sullivan under pressure.

Ding Junhui v Barry Hawkins

Picture by Monique Limbos
A lot of people believe the draw is opening up beautifully for Ding Junhui but this won't be plain-sailing. Hawkins has been playing brilliantly for a long time now. He proved against Mark Selby that he's a classy player and well up for the fight. Ding is superb in his own right and, if he plays like he did in his second session against Mark King, is pretty much unstoppable. His break building skills are mesmerising. Ding has showed all the signs that he is ready to step up to win the big one. If he can go all the way it would be huge for the sport in China. It would be one of the most memorable moments in the history of snooker. Hawkins will be desperate to spoil the party. He will want to get on top of Ding early and is capable against anyone.

Ricky Walden v Michael White

Picture by Monique Limbos
Maybe the most difficult quarter-final match to predict. Both players have won their first ever matches at the Crucible this year and are living the dream in Sheffield. White is here on debut and taking the whole experience in his stride. He's really taking the chance to show what he can do on the big stage and has showed great tempremant. Walden has been playing awesome so far and looks like he's put lots of practice in and is getting the rewards. This match could be a tense one and will produce spells of real pressure. It might come down to who handles it best.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Never underestimate the Hawk

Barry Hawkins has long been one of the most underestimated player on the professional circuit - but he's shown his class again.

The Hawk staged an excellent comeback to beat world number one Mark Selby 13-10, winning seven of the final eight frames from 9-6 down. He showed incredible fighting attributes when it mattered most.
Picture by Monique Limbos

This is now the second year running Hawkins has ended Selby's hopes and his reward is a place in his first ever Crucible quarter-final.

Hawkins is one of the truly nicest players at the top of the game. You never hear him talking himself up in the press. He just gets on with the job in hand. He's never cared about reputation but he is a great player and, as he keeps showing, capable of beating anyone. This a massive win for him. That was obvious when he cheered to the crowd after match ball and then let his emotions out in his press conference.

This wasn't the prettiest of wins but it was a big win nonetheless. He will get more confident following this memorable victory. He'll  keep scoring and has proved he can scrap alongside the very best.

The question now is: How far can he go? The bottom half of this draw is wide open. The top seeds have been falling all week and it really shows that the gap at the top just keeps closing. The tournament is an absolute minefield. It's not easy to name a winner. So, can Hawkins get to the one table format? Why not!

Hawkins is still in the hunt and will probably be underestimated again, but really shouldn't be.

Selby will be very disappointed and may be one of a few players paying the price for such a long, hard season. He was way below par at the crucial time in this match, but that hasn't always mattered. He usually finds a way. It always felt like he would eventually step up and take the match, but it never quite materialised. This means another chance at winning the World Championship has slipped away.

He's still had a decent season with two major BBC event wins but the trophy he so desperately desires continues to elude him.

Coping with the Crucible pressure

One of the greatest appeals of the World Championship is the pressure that surrounds it.

The heat is on from the very first ball at the Crucible and having never played at this great venue I can't even begin to imagine its full effect.

I don't get huge pleasure from seeing a player struggle under pressure but it helps to create drama and, ultimately, the players who find a way to overcome it usually enjoy greater success here.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Michael White and Shaun Murphy are the first two names through to this year's quarter-finals and have both dealt with the pressure well.

Murphy's press conference anecdote highlights just how excellent White has performed under the circumstances. Murphy lost 10-4 to Stephen Hendry here on his debut and told the media he was so nervous that he he missed his glass when pouring his water.

This is the behaviour of a man who went to win the title in 2005. So, compare this to how 21-year-old White has taken the whole experience into his stride and it speaks volumes about his ability to deal with pressure and the great future he might have. He has shown maturity way beyond his years.

Beating two-time champion Mark Williams on his debut is a fantastic achievement and requires great self belief. This is a memory that will stay with him forever but, in the second round, he required a different kind of professionalism.

While world number 70 Dechewat Poomjaeng was dividing opinion and letting his character on the loose, White kept his eye on the job in hand.

The eccentric Thai was clapping his own shots, constantly gesturing to the crowd, looking around for laughs and trying to talk to White throughout.

This isn't a pop at Dechawat. He's great for the game. So many people are talking about snooker that he
can't be anything but positive for this year's World Championship, but the show that comes with him could have been off putting because it's so unusual and excessive for a game of snooker so important.

White found a way to block it all out and won the match 13-3.

His performances so far at the Crucible suggest we have a real talent on our hands. He has bags of ability and a top class attitude to match. He is riding the crest of a wave this week a bit like his Welsh compatriot Jamie Jones did a year. He should continue to enjoy himself and could even go further but, as in Jamie's case, this run doesn't guarantee more success although it should inspire him to get back to playing on the big occasions.

This experience is brand new for White. Murphy on other hand has been here and seen it all before. He knows what it feels like to win these big matches but also has some scars from defeats.

Picture by Monique Limbos
After beating Martin Gould in round one, he was involved in a classic against Graeme Dott. He flew into a 6-2 lead after the first session but then was pulled back level before going into the final.

Murphy eventually won 13-11 and could even benefit from enduring such a battle of getting over the line.

No one ever cruises through to the final stages at the Crucible. A test like this could toughen him up for the one table format, should he get there.

People love the twists and turns that come with these longer matches at the World Championship. Murphy has lived through enough. He doesn't always win the easy way, but knows all about what it takes. He rightly said that you cannot replicate these pressured match conditions in practice. You have to roll with the punches and find a way to win at all costs.

Murphy has his level-headed attitude on his side. He will never stop giving it his all. He could face Trump next and it will be interesting to see if he goes out on the attack himself or instead tries to tame Judd.

Consistency has never been a problem for Murphy. Having lost 13 semi-finals, it's more likely that a little bit of killer instinct in big matches has stopped him winning even more. It will be interesting to see whether he deploys a more specialised gameplan this year to prevent another near miss.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Renaissance Robert

Robert Milkins has waited eight long years to get back to the Crucible and really made his return count.

The Milkman slayed 2010 world champion Neil Robertson 10-8 in a thrilling match giving him the biggest scalp of this year's World Championship first round.
Picture by Monique Limbos

The world number 19 reckons this was the biggest win of life and it signals that his career fightback shows no sign of ending just yet. The Gloucester pro is back on the rise after a major slump. He dropped so far down the rankings that at one point that he was outside the top 48 and claims his life was in the "gutter".

He's settled down off the table and has engineered a stunning renaissance this season on the table. He's been playing excellent snooker and has quickly become one of the most feared opponents in the qualifiers. He's now on the cusp of a place in the top 16 and used the Crucible as a stage to show everyone why.

Milkins is one of those players who everyone knows can play, and very well on his day. He's always been a good potter and very heavy break builder. Lots of the professionals have these qualities in their locker. What sets the very best apart is tactical nous and how they handle the pressure. These were the very attributes that won Milkins this memorable match after he trailed the Australian 5-2.

Robert won eight of the last 11 frames and played so well he saw the former world champion deteriorate in front of his very eyes.

Milkins just kept on producing and found a way to break down Robertson. The test was always going to be crossing the winning line, but as victory crept closer he he kept his calm and didn't wilt. His shot selection was brave and the rewards were massive.

Many people tipped Robertson for the title, but Milkins rubbished those view. He isn't here to make friends. He's already knocked out the people's champion Jimmy White in qualifying and will fancy his chances of going even further now.

He has beaten one of the best in the world. There's nothing really to fear now. His game has stood up to one of the sternest tests out there and he's forced the hand of a player who usually has such unshakable steel.

Robertson came into this event right to be feeling confident. He won the most recent ranking event in Beijing, but the World Championship brings a completely different pressure. His hopes are over for another year.

Milkins has been one of the players of the season outside the top 16. Now you've seen why.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Time for Trump?

Everything is going to plan for Judd Trump so far at the Crucible - and he has plenty to feel confident about.

The world number three played with great dominance and control to beat Dominic Dale 10-5 in round one and it looks like he's created a platform to go on and play even better.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Trump made two centuries in the match to take his 2012/13 tally to 56, which is a record for a single season. One of these was a break of 142.

These are all good signs for Judd who has had a fragmented season. He won the International Championship back in November but has since struggled for form in the other two BBC events, where ideally he would have hoped to produce his best.

Judd is only one match into his bid to become world champion and has already hit the headlines for his break building. Reaching these kinds of milestones and setting the bar so high will feed his confidence and, in my opinion, make him more dangerous in this tournament.

This doesn't cover Trump's biggest advantage this year. It's great to see him going quietly about his business. The media hurrah surrounding Ronnie O'Sullivan's return and Mark Selby's push to win the triple crown is providing Judd with a diversion of attention away from his own game.

In his press conference after knocking out Dale, he looked satisfyingly relaxed and ready for business. He is still among the favourites to lift the trophy but, so far, being spared the hype.

A year ago, he was the outright favourite to win the World Championship at this stage. His stunning potting display that took him to the final in 2011 was still fresh in everyone's minds.

In fact, he was playing so well and potting so much the year he got to the final that he never needed a plan B game to fall back on. His safety was still raw and untested at the very top level.

He has had a few setbacks since this great run and probably learned a thing or two. His tactical game is much stronger these days and he looks more prepared to battle through the scrappy frames, but he's proved he can still score along with the best of them.

I just wonder with the pressure being relieved slightly, whether this is his time he will produce his best again. Like any player, Judd would love to be crowned world champion, but it feels as if the hysteria has died down, expectations are back where they should be and he's matured into a bigger contender.

Time will tell, but eveything inside Trump's camp looks positive.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Dechawat Thais up Crucible win

Dechawat Poomjaeng lit up the Crucible Theatre today with a giantkilling of Stephen Maguire that won him a legion of new fans.

The world number 70 - known as Jack to his friends - stole a famous 10-9 win against another of the tournament's big favourites, but this was only half the story.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Dechawat's debut on the biggest stage was a breath of fresh air. The public have found one of the game's real unearthed characters here.

His performance was superb and the match made for compelling viewing. The Thai wore his heart on his sleeve throughout and beamed a great big smile from start to finish. He's as animated as any player I've seen at the Crucible, interacting with the crowd and putting on a great show of entertainment.

He enjoyed every moment of his win, and so he should. Dechawat won four matches just to book his place Sheffield and his remarkable run is still going.

This afternoon's BBC commentator called him the Mr Bean of Thailand. There was never a dull moment as he bantered with the crowd and laid bare every emotion.

His celebrations at the end of the match showed just how much this meant to him. This win comes as huge shock and again shows the great depth of quality in the sport.

Dechawat has a good all-round game and really trusts his technique. This match couldn't be decided over the allotted two sessions. Instead, they had to come back late at night with Poomjaeng leading 9-8. The pressure must have excruciating, but he found a way.

He is very methodical player and when the heat was on gave every shot the care and attention it deserved. He ran out of position a few times but stayed on the attack and grabbed his opportunity. He remained very composed, even when the biggest victory of his career was just in his midst.

Whatever happens from here, people will always remember Dechawat at this year's World Championship. His antics were enjoyed by everyone in the crowd.

He has shown he is another of snooker's great characters.

Long live the King

Mark King is one of the game's real fighters – but his great win against Mark Allen was more than just a good old scrap.

The Chelmsford potter really took the match to the Ulsterman and, in the end, produced his very best in the pivotal spell of the match.
Picture by Monique Limbos

King looked like he'd let his first session lead slip when he trailed 8-6, but it appears he saved his best until last. He won four frames on the spin including breaks of 74, 89 and 81 to seal a huge win against one of the favourites for the title.

This is King's 14th appearance at the Crucible and this win will probably rank up there as the very best. He was hitting the ball beautifully by the end of the match and always made Allen pay for his mistakes.

Not many people gave King a prayer in this match but although his fighting attributes and dedication to the game haven't changed, maybe his attitude has. Coming into the match as such a heavy underdog, King decided to take the pressure off himself, not expect too much and instead enjoy the experience.

King's list of scalps in major ranking events this season is impressive. He adds to Allen to a list of players he has beaten including Mark Williams, Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui.

In a recent interview with Mark he told me he finds it frustrating that whenever he beats one of the top stars, the focus is on how poorly they have played, not how well he has. That is sometimes a natural reactions to a shock, but King was well worth this victory. He took the game to Allen, asked him plenty of questions and he didn't have the answers.

Allen will be mightily disappointed with his defeat. This is the second year in succession he has been beaten in the first round at the Crucible, but he was very gracious in defeat.

There are so many exciting young players at the World Championship this year. Everyone is talking about the new generation and the new wave of players breaking into the big time, but this was one for the older, more experienced players.

The King lives on.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Davis days

Mark Davis completed a memorable Crucible win against John Higgins and hailed it as his best ever.

The Battler of Hastings beat the four-time world champion 10-6 making it a fine double this season against one of the sport's all time great.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Davis has now knocked Higgins out of both the UK and World Championships, meaning the greatest year of his career just keeps getting better and better.

At the ripe old age of 40 Davis is in the form of his life. He has achieved his career-best ranking event performance of the semi-finals three times and is now up to number 13 in the provisional world rankings.

This is a fairytale spell for a player supposedly in the twilight years of his career - but it all just comes down to belief.

Davis has always been able to play, but after two years under the mentorship of Terry Griffiths and having enjoyed a few good runs, he seems to be brimming with confidence.

The feelgood cycle has a habit of going on and on. The more you keep winning, the more he keep enjoying playing and the more you enjoy is, the more you keep winning. Success is infectious. He has acquired great winning mentality.

He's no longer afraid of playing someone of Higgins' ilk on the greatest snooker stage. Maybe there's a sense of belonging with the big boys these days. I dare say his victory against the Scot in York gave him the confidence to go and do it again over an even longer format and with even more at stake.

His success has been one of the real stories of the season and no one will begrudge him it. This is his reward for a career of hard work.

In contrast, Higgins has had a disappointing couple of years since last winning at the Crucible and can't seem to match the high standards he has set for himself in a career including so many highs.

He spoke about decline after this defeat. Despite being three years Davis' junior, he questioned whether he's missing balls he shouldn't be just because he's getting older.

Higgins has built a career on playing well and then in other moments managing to win matches he really shouldn't, but that tried and tested B-game appears far less accessible these days.

Coming to terms with turning up at tournaments and making up the numbers instead of fighting for the title is understandably going to be difficult for a player who was 25 ranking titles in total.

I can't imagine he's the kind of player who finds it easy to lose matches he once used to win. But I still think Higgins has more to give. He has fought back from plenty of positions throughout his career. He has a summer break coming up and then needs to dust his disappointment under the rug and come back fighting next season.

For Davis, his season is very much alive. He has a great opportunity ahead of him.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The new Welsh wizard

Michael White has already created a Crucible debut to remember.

The 21-year-old Neath potter completed an impressive 10-6 win against Welsh legend Mark Williams and it was almost as if history was repeating itself.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Two-time world champion, Williams, famously beat Terry Griffiths on his debut at the venue back in 1997 and 16 years later this was another case of a national legend handing over the mantle to the younger generation.

White was well worth his win. He looked relatively comfortable in the surroundings of the most terrifying and intimidating snooker arena. He also played with the same intent and attacking purpose we have seen from him in qualifying.

Williams was far from his best but this shouldn't devalue his victory. He was asked to play two sessions against an experienced Crucible campaigner and beat him twice. His reaction to what could have turned out to be a pivotal moment in the match was the most impressive though. White led 4-1 and missed a red that would put him 5-1 up. Williams hit back to level 4-4. This could have dented his confidence, but he came back stronger. This says a lot.

White has been threatening to breakthrough onto the big stage for a little while now. He is one of a few young players making steps to burst onto the scene right now. He is a fearless young potter who looks brave enough to take his opportunity.

His attacking game is very dangerous. He scores very well in the balls and quickly creates chances for himself.

This is a dream come true for White, who spent much of his youth looking up to example being set by Williams.  To be on the same table as his hero was one thing, but beating him is even better.

White can go into his next match against Stephen Maguire or Dechawat Poomjaeng with great confidence. He has proved he is a player to watch out for in future seasons and we'll be seeing much more of him at the tops venues in the years to come.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Rocket takes off

Ronnie O'Sullivan returned to snooker today and it was like he was never even away.

He beat Marcus Campbell 10-4 in his first major match since defeating Ali Carter in the World Championship final a year ago, and any signs of rustiness were curiously absent.
Picture by Monique Limbos

The cue ball was moving around the table effortlessly and in amongst the balls, Ronnie scored smoothly and efficiently.

It was almost as if he just had to flick a switch back into snooker mode. This deserves credit because playing well in practice is very different to performing in an intense competition and under the spotlights of the Crucible. He made the transition with ease.

O'Sullivan has clearly been putting the work in and was sharp in dispatching Campbell, but this wasn't the finished product.

This was a comfortable start for Ronnie but things will get a whole lot tougher yet.

The Rocket will have to improve his long game and toughen up in the scrappy frames if he is return to win his fifth world title, but the signs so far are very good.

He took advantage of the chances he was always going to get against Campbell, who has never produced his best at televised stages of major events. This was a case of a job well done.

His performance was good enough and he looks in a serious frame of mind to go all the way. But it could still go either way. Ronnie has other gears to glide through but also looked beatable today.

He has a whole week before his second round match against either Carter or Ben Woollaston. He will be working hard to brush up his game further.

O'Sullivan completely, and understandably, stole all he media attention today. Until next Saturday, the tournament will return to the situation the sport has been in all season: one without its star attraction.

There are many other great players bidding to become world champion this year. We can take a look at them now and prove the show goes on, as it has all year.

Ronnie created a memorable opening day at the Crucible. There is plenty more to come.

The Crucible is calling

The famous World Championship is about to begin for another year and the anticipation, as ever, is through the roof.

Anyone who has ever been to the Crucible knows this is a special snooker place.

Every year it gives us all that same tingling feeling as we prepare for 17 days of wall-to-wall snooker to discover who will be our next world champion.

We can look forward to all the usual excitement. There will be twists and turns in matches, intense pressure and drama at every corner. There will be glory for some, heartbreak for others.

This is snooker's premier event. The jewel in the crown of the season. This is the event that will sit up and grab the wider public's attention. This is the event every player dreams of winning, a tournament that can make or break a season.

This year, of course, we have an extra source of spice: Ronnie O'Sullivan's return.

The four-time world champion has played just one competitive match in the past year - but is back to defend his crown.

Everyone expects the Rocket to come back with a blaze of glory - but no one knows for sure. There's no form to study. O'Sullivan comes into the heat of intense competition today close to cold but still with a weight of expectation.

He has all the natural ability and the buzz of this fresh challenge to spur him on against Marcus Campbell. It's time for him to deliver.

The atmosphere inside Sheffield's snooker paradise is going to be fantastic when he walks out to kick-off this year's World Championship.

This is the greatest snooker show in the world, and it starts right now.

Enjoy the tournament.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Crucible predictions: part 2

The second half of this year's World Championship draw is as juicy as the first.

OnCue takes a closer look at eight more matches and explains how they could pan out at the Crucible....

Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins

It's been three years since Robertson was crowned world champion and now he has his sights set on becoming one of a only a small group of elite players to be a multiple Crucible winner. This year feels like his best chance since 2010. He's had a strong season and has come close to winning lots of titles. It feels as if he is building up to the big one. Robertson isn't overawed by occasion. He'll settle quickly and will be comfortable. This could be ominous for Milkins who is playing at the Crucible for the first time in eight years. Milkins is a great scorer but Robertson has everything: good long potting, excellent break building and a solid tactical game. He should have too much and will do most of the damage in the first session.

Verdict: 10-4 Robertson

Ricky Walden v Michael Holt

This match begins over the partition and in the shadow of Ronnie O'Sullivan's opener. It's a real shame because this one could be a classic. Here are two very even players who are desperate for Crucible success. Between them they have only won one match at the venue and will feel they have under-achieved. Expect a flowing start but it could get scrappy as the winning line becomes closer. Neither player would have been too displeased with the draw so you could see them both really go for it. This match has a deciding frame written all over it for me.

Verdict: 10-9 Walden

Mark Williams v Michael White

A batttle of two Welsh wizards. This is a dream draw for Michael on his Crucible debut against a fellow Welshman who is a national legend and two-time World Championship winner. This sounds quite daunting on paper but he might just fancy his chances and feel even extra motivated to do well. Williams has had a difficult season and struggled to find form. White has nothing to lose and will be dangerous just enjoying the match. He won't care too much for reputation and is a fearless little potter. This could be a real attacking contest and there could be a shock on the cards.

Verdict: White 10-8

Stephen Maguire v Dechawat Poomjaeng

It's been an excellent run by Poomjaeng to win four matches and qualify for his first appearance at the Crucible. He has shown himself to be a solid player, able to kill matches and calm under pressure. These attributes will be tested like never before here. Maguire is a great aggressor and will be looking to bully his way through to round two. He's recently got himself back into the winners' circle with triumph at the Welsh Open. He's reached the semi-finals here twice and will be gunning to be at the business end of the tournament again. There's an air of unknown about Poomjaeng for most. This could turn into a baptism of fire.

Verdict: Maguire 10-4

Mark Allen v Mark King

The battle of two Marks. It was a real shock a year ago when Allen was dumped out in the first round by Cao Yupeng, and it probably hit him quite hard. Losing early at the Crucible puts a dampener on your entire season, especially for a player who lives for the great occasions. I can't see him letting that happen again. He's shown great form this season and won't be taking any prisoners. King is capable of doing some damage and picking up on any chances left but I think Allen will be positive and take the game to his opponent.

Verdict: Allen 10-6

Ding Junhui v Alan McManus

You never really know what kind of performance you're going to get from Ding at the Crucible. It has been a venue where he has frozen at times and felt the huge burden of the pressures. McManus is experienced enough to pick him off should he not quite to be firing but I have a feeling he will hit the ground running this year. If he finds his rhythm and gets into his dangerous break-building mode he will be like a runaway train. This probably isn't something McManus can live with these days. It's good to have him back at the Crucible for the first time in seven years, to a place where he has twice reached the semi-finals. I'm sure he'll get all those great feelings as he walks out into the arena. I've got big hopes for Ding this year, though. He could be the star performer of round one.

Verdict: Ding 10-4

Barry Hawkins v Jack Lisowski

This match is a mouthwatering prospect. It will be another tight battle between two players who like to keep matches open and attack their chances. Hawkins is a much under-rated top 16 player but Lisowski is among one of the most difficult qualifying opponents. He has lots of confidence, especially after his recent run to the quarter-finals at the China Open. There will be long spells in this match where it will be difficult to identify who is the seeded player. The pendulum is likely to be swinging and I envisage both players playing well. It could go the distance. Jack will probably have learnt a thing or two from his UK Championship appearance and will look a lot more comfortable on the TV.

Verdict: 10-9 Lisowski

Mark Selby v Matt Selt

A lot of people believe this could be Selby's year. He has already won the UK Championship and Masters this season and is now bidding for the full house. He has everything you need to be world champion including ability, desire and his trademark battling attributes. There are no easy starts at the Crucible and he won't be wanting to give anything away. The intensity at which Selby plays at times could take its toll and affect his stamina so he'll be eager to get the first couple of matches won without too much fuss if possible. Selt is a debutant and has a mountain to climb. He has a very sound safety game and will make life difficult for the world number one in spells, but I think he will be ultimately be too strong. 

Verdict: Selby 10-5

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Crucible predictions: part 1

It's nearly time for all the talking to stop and the action to get under way.

But humour me until then.

At first glance, the first round draw is one that appears to favour most of the top seeds. OnCue takes a look at the top half of the draw and sees what each of the match-ups could produce inside snooker's beloved Crucible Theatre...

Ronnie O'Sullivan v Marcus Campbell

All eyes will be on the defending champion when the curtain comes down on this year's World Championship. The Rocket is used to this kind of attention, but Campbell. The pressure will be immense. The Rocket has a good record against the Scot, winning all four of their previous meetings. I expect this match to turn into a fifth. O'Sullivan may have a bit of rust to remove when it comes to playing competitive snooker. Don't expect him to hit top gear straight away. This is quite a kind draw. He should be able to find enough and then has a platform to build his tournament on.

Verdict: O'Sullivan 10-6

Ali Carter v Ben Woollaston

A tough opener for last year's runner-up. Woollaston is one of six Crucible debutants this year and arrives in Sheffield strong in most departments. He is a solid match player who will not be fazed by the bright lights and TV cameras. He has already proved he is comfortable in the big matches. He's improving all the time and has been practising for the tournament with fellow Leicestershire man and world number one Mark Selby. Carter will need to weather a storm or two during this match. He shouldn't expect it all his own way, but has never been one to shy away from a battle. He is excellent over the longer format and often produces his best at the Crucible.

Verdict: Carter 10-8

Stuart Bingham v Sam Baird

There are so many big names in the tournament that Bingham could find a way to go under the radar this year. He's not one of the first obvious favourites for the title but has had a good season and will be full of confidence. He has proved he can give anyone a match and could come into contention if some of the top seeds fall in the first two rounds. His opponent Baird has come on a great journey to reach the Crucible. He has won four matches and will feel like he's already won a tournament to get here. Just under a year ago he was playing in QSchool to reclaim his professional status. He is likely to put in a confident performance  nd could cause some problems, but Bingham will never take anyone lightly and will be looking to make up for his first round exit against Stephen Hendry last year.

Verdict: Bingham 10-5

Higgins v Davis

A gulf of Crucible experience separates these two players but could form over the season be the great leveller. Minus winning the Shanghai Masters, Higgins has struggled for form by his own high standards. Some of his results and performances have been surprisingly poor. Davis on the other hand has had his best ever season, reaching three semi-finals and forcing his way into the top 16, only be denied automatic seeding here because Ronnie comes in as defending champion. Higggins is a Crucible master with four titles to his name. He doesn't always start well but normally finds a way to win.

Verdict: Higgins 10-7 Davis

Murphy v Gould

This one could be a real potting feast. Both players like to go for their long shots and attack. They both lost in the first round of the tournament a year ago and will be keen to put that right. This could be one of the ties of the round. Gould can scare almost any player in the world, but I think Murphy might shade it as he usually starts tournaments strongly.

Verdict: Murphy 10-7

Graeme Dott v Peter Ebdon

This is a repeat of the 2006 World Championship final, but let's hope it is a more entertaining match when they meet this time. They both have great Crucible credentials. They have both won the tournament once and played in three finals. Ebdon came through a challenging qualifier against Kurt Maflin. He's fighting hard and is rich in practice, so will be well on his game. Dott bombed out 10-1 against Joe Perry a year ago but sometimes produces his best at the Crucible. He won't be intimidated by Ebdon and has actually beaten him in their two previous meetings at the Crucible. Expect a tight match.

Verdict: Dott 10-9

Matthew Stevens v Marco Fu

A very evenly matched contest on paper. Neither player is blessed with great consistency and there could be a few twists and turns in this one as each of them feel the pressure of being in a match they will think is winnable. Both have had moments to celebrate over the past year. Stevens reached the last four here 12 months ago and was a finalist at the World Open earlier this calendar year. Fu was the runner-up to Carter in the German Masters. This will be an open match with frames of real quality and others that drag out.

Verdict: Stevens 10-8

Judd Trump v Dominic Dale

This is the second year running these players have met in the opening round. Dale played very well in qualifying to beat Alfie Burden and looks in good shape. Trump will be looking for a flying start and has the firepower to see out this match. Dale will try to make it difficult for Trump and will probably have joy at times, but the crowd will be willing on the world number three, hoping he puts on a real show. This is the big one for Judd. He will be bang up for it and shouldn't take the liberties we've seen him risk in other events.

Verdict: Trump 10-6

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Title chasers

There are two sides to every story.

There are so many contenders for this year's Crucible crown - but who will deliver the goods...?

OnCue takes a look at the main title chasers and looks at both sides of the argument. Why could they win the world title, and why might they miss out?


Why he could win the World Championship...

He often thrives under the pressure of a challenge. This is right up there with his biggest. He will be the freshest player at the tournament and has the natural ability to find top gear almost instantaneously. 

Why he could miss out...

He's played just one PTC match all season. He could be rusty and may have lost ground on his main rivals.


Why he could win the World Championship...

It's his time. Selby has won both the UK Championship and Masters this season. He's risen to the challenge of the BBC events and could be motivated by the chance to become only the fourth player to claim a triple crown. He's a true big match player.

Why he could miss out...

The world rankings say he is the man to beat. His position as world number one could weigh heavy on his shoulders. You cannot dispute his desire, but will he want it too much?


Why he could win the World Championship...

He's been there and won it before. He knows he can go the distance and is one of the the best all-rounders: a terrifying long potter, a heavy scorer, an astute tactician and rock solid under pressure.

Why he could miss out...

In developing into a more rounded player, he sometimes has the tendency to play too negatively. He is better when he's on the attack and sometimes bogs himself down. 


Why he could win the World Championship...

He still plays fearless snooker. He's like a steam train when he gets going, potting every ball in sight. He looks like he's learnt plenty of lessons from his defeats this season and is maturing nicely. He likes to put on a show. If he starts well, the whole crowd will get behind him.

Why he could miss out...

The battle wounds of this season's action could take effect. He's struggled for form in the last two BBC events. It could be in the back of his mind. He wants this title badly. After coming so close in 2011 and being another year older, he could snatch at his chance.


Why he could win the World Championship...

He knows exactly what it takes. He has won the World Championship four times and can intimidate his opponents with reputation alone. He knows how to win matches in any kind of form. He can mix great safety with attacking intent. He plays the percentage game and almost always plays the right shot. 

Why he could miss out...

Lack of rhythm. Higgins has been very inconsistent this year. His results and performances have fluctuated. He doesn't arrive at the tournament in full flow.


Why he could win the World Championship...

He is one of the best break builders around. On song, he looks unplayable. He flicks into gear and motors on with his faultless technique.

Why he could miss out...

He has often struggled with the pressures of playing at the Crucible. When he is tested mentally, he has been known to wilt. He hasn't proved he can survive the length of test this event requires.


Why he could win the World Championship...

He produces his best when he goes out on the attack. He can rattle off frames quickly when he's full of confidence and his gameplan pays off. He's one of the hardest working players around. He'll be ultra prepared and knows what it's like to the win the big titles, so never lacks motivation.

Why he could miss out...

He's been a nearly man this season. His consistency has been superb but has he lost too many matches at the business end of events?  His tactical game sometimes comes up just short against the very best players in the world. 


Why he could win the World Championship...

He has unbelievable self belief. He has all the attacking talent and a massive heart for the battle. He'll give every ounce he has towards the fight and has played very well this season.

Why he could miss out...

He can struggle with life away from home. He could find it difficult when he's not playing his matches. He needs to find a way to keep up his stamina to stay level headed. 


Why he could win the World Championship...

He could switch on to float mode and wipe out anyone. He has won two world titles in the past and doesn't expect another. He won't be putting too much pressure on himself and can be dangerous if he enjoys himself. 

Why he could miss out...

He's lost a lot of form this season. It's been a while since his last real commanding performance. Some of his self belief has gone missing.  


Why he could win the World Championship...

He will gear himself up for a battle. He doesn't care if he's not given the tag of a favourite. He often saves his best for the Crucible and will never give in.

Why he could miss out...

There are more fluent players bidding for the title. Although he is a very strong player, he may run out of steam if too many of his matches go tight.  


Why he could win the World Championship...

His recent capture of the Welsh Open title has got him back in the winners' circle. He's found the taste for silverware again and will want more. He has lost out in two World Championship semi-finals now and should be ready to build on his previous experiences once the tournament reduces to one table.

Why he could miss out...

He sometimes struggles to keep his temperament in line. He is very critical of himself and can quickly become frustrated if he's not playing his best.

Monday, 15 April 2013

World Championship opening press conference

BREAKING NEWS: Crucible draw

Judd Trump v Dominic Dale
Mark Williams v Michael White
John Higgins v Mark Davis
Barry Hawkins v Jack Lisowski
Stuart Bingham v Sam Baird
Matthew Stevens v Marco Fu
Ali Carter v Ben Woollaston
Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins
Mark Selby v Matt Selt
Ricky Walden v Michael Holt
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Marcus Campbell
Shaun Murphy v Martin Gould
Ding Junhui v Alan McManus
Stephen Maguire v Dechawat Poomjaeng
Graeme Dott v Peter Ebdon
Mark Allen v Mark King

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Crucible qualifiers: part 3

The final line-up for the World Championship is really taking shape now.

Some more impressive performances this evening saw the number of qualifiers swell.

Here's a round-up of the next batch of players getting geared up for the Crucible...

Sam Baird

A long, hard week ends with the ultimate snooker reward for Baird. He's come through all four rounds of qualifying to reach the World Championship for the first time. He's beaten Chen Zhe 10-7, then negotiated deciders against both Peter Lines and Rory McLeod, before rounding off his great path with a 10-3 demolition of Joe Perry. Sam has a balanced and well honed all-round game but appears to be quite reliant on confidence. This week, he's got on a roll and ended with a flourish. Baird's blessed with composure beyond his years and now has the chance to show he belongs with the top professionals. When he qualified for the Welsh Open in 2012 he was unlucky not to knock out Mark Selby in round one. First and foremost he should enjoy his Crucible experience and then who knows what might happen.

Marcus Campbell

The experienced Scot has made it through to the Crucible for the third time in the last four years at the expense of young Liam Highfield, who he beat 10-4. Campbell has become a really difficult player to beat in the qualifiers over the past few seasons, but will be keen to show more of his best at the big venue. His recent trips to the Crucible have not been the most successful. He lost to Mark Williams 10-5 in 2011 and then claimed just one frame against Shaun Murphy a year later. The surroundings should be more familiar to him these days. He will be hoping to put in a much more confident display. At his best, he is a tricky matchplayer to beat.

Dominic Dale

It's a hat-trick of Crucible appearances coming up for the Spaceman. The former World Championship semi-finalist is back at the venue that matters and will be hoping for a kinder draw this time. He's played Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump in the first round for each of the past two years and, despite giving it his all, has just come up short. Dale was hitting the ball very well throughout to beat Alfie Burden 10-5, but most of the damage was done in the opening session. He scored the heavier of the two players which helped him to open up a 7-2 lead that he showed no signs of letting slip.

Robert Milkins

The Milkman will not be Mr.Popular right now. He put an end to what would have been an emotional return to the Crucible for fans' favourite Jimmy White. He ran out a fairly comfortable 10-5 winner against the Whirlwind in the end and won't be worried one bit about what the crowds think. This is the first time Milkins has reached the Crucible in eight years. His last appearance back in 2005 saw him trounced 10-1 by Mark Williams, so it's fair to say he has unfinished business. This run to the World Championship has been well on the cards this season. He's enjoyed good form and has rekindled the fear factor around his game. Milkins is a heavy scorer and great aggressor. He's been in full flow again. He's reached the Welsh Open and Wuxi Classic quarter-finals, gone to the last 16 of the World Open and China Open, as well as qualifying for the PTC Grand Finals, UK Championship, Shanghai Masters, German Masters and International Championship. He's been one of the most feared players in the qualifying stages this season and has the chance to finish strongly.

Martin Gould
There was nothing straightforward about Martin's journey to the Crucible. He had to play three sessions before eventually seeing off Rod Lawler 10-7. This was a match that produced a great clash in style and pace. Gould looked like he might lose out in the early stages but found a way and battled his way across the line. It's great to have the Pinner Potter in the draw. He is great attacking player who can light up the place and get the crowd going. He lost out to Dave Gilbert a year ago on his first appearance as a top 16 seeded player. He was quite low on confidence then and is maybe the kind of player who thrives under the pressure of being the underdog. He'll be paired with one of the top players in the world in round one and could take great motivation in the chase.

Peter Ebdon

The 2002 world champion had to stave off an attack from of the real dangermen in the qualifiers. He beat Norway's Kurt Maflin 10-8 in a hard fought contest, but has never been afraid of a good old graft. Maflin looked in great form en route to the final round, potting balls for fun and putting together some impressive breaks. But Ebdon has got his head down on the practice table in recent weeks and is looking sharp ahead of the Crucible. This will be his 22nd consecutive year playing in the World Championship.

Mark King 

King went the distance before seeing off Yu De Lu in a tight contest. He would have been hoping to make his passage easier than a 10-9 thriller, but there really is no better feeling than this kind of win. The fight will go on for King when he steps out into the arena. He's been involved in some epics down the years but has never been past the second round. He has plenty of war wounds and will make sure that whoever he comes up against will be hard pressed for the win.

Crucible qualifiers: part 2

More drama this afternoon on the road to the Crucible.

The fight to make it to the World Championship rumbles on, but three more have secured their places...

Alan McManus

A long-awaited return to snooker's holy grail for the former Masters champion and two-time World Championship semi-finalist. McManus hasn't played at the Crucible for seven years. His last appearance came in 2006 and it's great to see him back. In a year when it looks as if the qualifiers will be dominated by new faces and young promise, McManus' passage is on behalf of the old guard. This week, he's beaten Aditya Mehta 10-9, Nigel Bond 10-8 and finished off his run beating Tom Ford 10-5. The Scot appears to have maintained his commitment and love for playing the game. He's showed some resurgence this season and will get a big cheer on his return. He's one of the real veterans.  

Mark Davis

Some will say that justice has been served here. Davis has had an incredible season and only missed out on automatic seeding for the World Championship because of Ronnie O'Sullivan's late announcement to defend his world title. The 40 year old has found the form of his life this season. He'd never been to a major ranking event semi-final before the start of the campaign. He's now been to three, including one in York at the UK Championship. He'll remember this season forever. He's had great highs. Something would have been missing if he'd not found his way to the Crucible, though. His 10-6 win against Liang Wenbo has secured his place. He had a slight lead throughout, guarded it well and then as the winning post came in sight motored to victory. This was a very experienced performance against a dangerous opponent who has been involved in some great Crucible moments in recent years. 

Matt Selt

Another debutant at this year's World Championship. Selt is ready to fight out it out at the Crucible after beating 1997 world champion Ken Doherty 10-9 in dramatic fashion. He led the Irishman 9-4 and was on the cusp of victory before being pegged back and eventually snatching the match in the deciding frame. He showed great bottle in the end after having to weather an almighty fightback. Selt will win many admirers after this pressure-fuelled win. His game is built on a sound safety foundation. He is a bit of an old-school player. He isn't reckless and doesn't try to force the issue. Instead, he shows great discipline and waits patiently for his chances. When they come, he proved he can attack. This was nearly a match Selt would remember for all the wrong reasons but now he can be relieved. Reaching the Crucible is a great way for him to finish a season which overall has been a bit disappointing. He has had little joy in the PTCs and hasn't reached a major venue since progressing to the Australian Open quarter-finals last summer. It will be interesting to see how Selt fares on the biggest stage. He has a solid game. He is confident and resolute.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Crucible qualifiers: part 1

How was today for great entertainment?

Six of our 16 qualifiers for this year's World Chmapionship were decided - and four of them will be making their debut at the Crucible.

It feels like times are changing as new blood forced their way through to snooker's premier stage.

To kick off the OnCue guide to the qualifers, here's a bit more information on the half a dozen who have made it so far...

They're an exciting bunch.

Make sure you're back tomorrow for more top class action on the old green baize...

Dechawat Poomjaeng

An incredible effort this week from Poomjaeng. He's won four matches to reach the Crucible for the first time and become only the third Thai player to compete at the World Championship, following in the
footsteps of James Wattana and Tai Pichit. Coming through every round of the qualifying roster is no easy task, but at times he's been in cruise control. A 10-3 win against Jamie Cope saw him over the line and he also enjoyed 10-4 wins versus Michael Leslie and Anthony Hamilton. Dechawat's biggest test of the week came against Liu Chuang who forced him all the way to a decider. Poomjaeng is 34 years old but only in his second season on the main tour. He has been incredibly consistent throughout this campaign and has already played at both the German Masters and China Open venues. This is by far the feather in his cap. Not many people will fancy his chances but he's a calm player who gives every shot great attention.

Jack Lisowski

Jack's qualification for his maiden World Championship feels like the inevitable. Anyone who has watched Lisowski this season can see he is a player coming of age. He has reached the UKPTC1 final, qualified for the UK Championship and, more recently, beaten close friend Judd Trump and Mark Davis to make it to the quarter-finals of the China Open. Back-to-back 10-4 wins against James Wattana and Fergal O'Brien have seen him get the better of experienced fellow professionals and book his place at the Crucible. Lisowski is seen by many as one of the real stand out names in a cluster of young players breaking onto the scene. He is a brave and exciting young player who will be ready to take on anyone. He plays the game with plenty of attacking intent and will add a real edge to the World Championship. This is a big moment in his career but hopefully the start of something even greater. He thinks big and wants to reach the very top. There's no reason why he can't.

Michael White

Another debutant and another player the top seeds will want to avoid in the first round. The 21 year old Welshman is a great talent and is already no stranger to the major venues this venue. This will be his fourth of the season. He is a strong long-potter plus a quick and heavy scorer. He's been knocking on the door for a while and now has the chance to showcase his ability on the biggest stage. Michael has beaten Anda Zhang 10-5 and Andrew Higginson 10-4 this week and seems to stick by his own game no matter who he comes up against. He won't give his Crucible opponent any more respect than they deserve and looks pretty natural in front of the TV cameras. A fans favourite in the making.

Marco Fu

This is a 12th appearance at the Crucible for a more experienced Fu. The Hong Kong potter is a class act and showing all the right signs in time for the big event of the season. He recently reached the German Masters final and was striking the ball very well to beat Dave Gilbert 10-6. He's been hard at work on the practice table in the build-up to the qualifiers and has great pedigree. He's proved himself at the big tournaments before and will be a match for anyone.

Michael Holt
One of the real bright characters on our circuit who will add some charm to the World Championship. He survived a scare to make it to the Crucible, though. From leading Mark Joyce 8-0, he eventually got over the line 10-7 and will be making the trip to Sheffield for the first time since 2010. Anyone who follows Holt on Twitter will know how much he wants success and here he has another chance. On two of his previous attempts at the Crucible he's lost out to John Higgins who has gone on to win the title. There's no such thing as a favourable draw at the venue these days for the qualifiers but, on song, Holt will be in with a chance.

Ben Woollaston

Great joy for Leicester's Wollaston who was the sixth man to make it to the World Championship but, remarkably, the fourth debutant already. He prevailed in a top quality contest between him and Ryan Day. He made three centuries and eventually came through 10-9. The most impressive aspect of his performance was his inability to be shot down by nerves. Ben is a very pragmatic and thoughtful player. He managed to keep this in check even when the pressure cranked up in this tense battle. Earlier this week he knocked down Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-3. Woollaston is rated very highly by some hardcore fans of the game. His game has come on leaps and bounds even throughout this season. He looks a completely different proposition. He has fashioned his solid game based on percentage play to a new level. He can attack when he has the chances and play safe when he needs to. If tonight's almost unshakable performance is anything to go by we could have a real steely battler on our hands.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The Crucible is calling

A place at the Crucible is within touching distance.

Just one win - and ten frames - separates this year's World  Championship hopeful qualifiers and a place at the sport's master showpiece.

So close yet so far. Thirty-two players face just one hurdle to make it to the most important venue of the season, yet cooped up in the famous old cubicles they are miles away from the spectacle that awaits at the Crucible.

The glitz and glamour of a place on snooker's premier stage is just around the corner yet before they earn the right to play to compete alongside the world's very best, a monumental test must be overcome.

The World Championship qualifiers promises plenty. Drama, pressure and numerous twists and turns. The final two days of auditions for the Crucible is often so exciting it rivals the great event itself.

A pivotal chapter towards this year's World Championship tale is about to be written.

As usual, the cast bidding to make it all the way to the best snooker event of the year is as intriguing as always.

Leading the line is six-time Crucible finalist Jimmy White. He's had a great week. Two wins down and just Robert Milkins stands between him and what would be a popular return to Sheffield for the first time since 2006.

The Whirlwind has the whole snooker world behind him but faces his biggest test so far.

Three men fighting for the right to play at the Crucible have been here all week. Liam Highfield and Sam Baird are two promising young players who have both encountered tense deciding frame battles but are living to tell the tale and showing more of their great promise.

Dechewat Poomjaeng has also been here for the duration and has looked as cool as anyone, progressing where others have wilted.

Kurt Maflin has been among the best performers of the week, but isn't the only exciting talent bidding to make it the full way.

Jack Lisowski and Michael White are well talked about contenders. Liang Wenbo and Yu De Lu have shined. David Gilbert is eyeing his second successive season at the Crucible. Alfie Burden has already showed he has the staying power and Ben Woollaston is rated by many.

But there are 16 players coming in fresh and without any form this week behind them. Who will get themselves over the line?

Here's the full line-up for the final World Championship qualifying round:

Ryan Day v Ben Woollaston
Andrew Higginson v Michael White
Ken Doherty v Matt Selt
Fergal O'Brien v Jack Lisowski
Jamie Cope v Dechewat Poomjaeng
Michael Holt v Mark Joyce
Marco Fu v David Gilbert
Tom Ford v Alan McManus
Martin Gould v Rod Lawler
Mark Davis v Liang Wenbo
Mark King v Yu De Lu
Marcus Campbell v Liam Highfield
Joe Perry v Sam Baird
Dominic Dale v Alfie Burden
Peter Ebdon v Kurt Maflin
Robert Milkins v Jimmy White

Who will it make it to the Crucible? Here are my picks: Day, M White, Selt, Lisowski, Cope, Holt, Fu, Ford, Gould, Wenbo, King, Campbell, Perry, Burden, Ebdon and Milkins.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Barry rings more changes

Barry Hearn has never been afraid to ring the changes since taking charge of snooker.

Today, World Snooker announced some exciting new plans for next season's calendar.

Here's a rundown of the key talking points...
  • Total prize money for the 2013/14 season will be £8 million compared to £6.4 million in 2012/13
  • Barry Hearhn wants to increase prize money to £10 million, after inheriting the sport with a prize pot of £3.4 million
  • All 128 tour professionals will enter at the first round of all but three major ranking events. The exceptions are the World Championship, Shanghai Masters and Australian Open
  • The UK Championship and Welsh Open will have all 128 players compete at the venue
  • Six other ranking events will have 64 players compete at the venue
  • No matches will be held over at any ranking events
  • No qualifiers will be held in cubicles. They will all be open plan events
  • All qualifying events will be open to the public. They will held across the UK, not at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield
  • Wildcards will continue. There will only be four wildcards in events in China, instead of eight
  • No ex-tour players can be wildcards
  • The wildcards will play a random player drawn professional from the bottom 32 seeded players
  • Once a professional has been drawn against a wildcard they are exempt from playing against a wildcard for the rest of the season
  • The EPTCs will be renamed to European Tour Events. There will be eight in the season, with six live on TV and two streamed. They are all open to the public
  • The APTCs will continue as Asian Tour Events. There will be at least four
  • There is more prize money in every ranking event
  • The winner of the 2014 World Championship will earn a record £300,000 
  • The winner of the 2013 UK Championship will earn £150,000
  • The winner of the 2014 Masters will earn £200,000

Click here to read all the changes to next season's calendar in further detail.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The long road to Sheffield

It's only a fortnight until the curtain comes down at the Crucible for this year's World Championship.

The showpiece event of the season is next on the agenda and it's always perfect to finish the season on a real high. But it's not all about what goes on at the main venue.

The World Championship qualifiers proper begin today and run until 14 April. There's plenty of snooker to be played before the final 32 players are confirmed at the Crucible. There will be great matches, twisting plots, high amounts of tension and huge pressure.

The qualifiers are also played under a longer format. The quality and drama is always high and the entertainment value is right up there alongside other main events in my opinion.

The great thing about the World Championship qualifiers is that it means so much. Everything that's been so far this season goes out of the window. This is a chance for every professional player to wipe the slate clean and make their mark.

Qualifying for the Crucible can be the icing on the cake of a good season, a run that salvages a poor season or even the chance to make the leap to the big time.

Some real talented players will be fighting for the place on the sport's premier stage. Some need just one win, others need four. It will not be an easy journey for anyone.

If you haven't watched the World Championship qualifiers before, I urge you to embrace it this time round. You can sign up to World Snooker streaming service to watch selected matches with commentary and follow the action on Twitter too. Coverage of the qualifiers is better these days that is has ever been.

There are plenty of players to watch. Can Luca Brecel get there for a second season running? Can Cao Yupeng find his form again? Will Jack Lisowski make the step? Then there are India's Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta. Ian Burns and Michael Wasley have also enjoyed great maiden seasons on the circuit as well. These are just a few players I will have my eye on. But this week everyone becomes a contender.

It's a chance to shine. Let the battle commence.