It may be a packed calendar these days but even snooker stops for Christmas as another year draws to a close.

It has been a busy one in the snooker world with new tournaments, new champions and several familiar faces continuing to perform to the highest standards.

John Higgins maintained his golden form of the back end of last year as 2011 began, winning the Welsh Open, the Hainan Classic in China, the Scottish Professional Championship and the World Championship.

It was an emotional time for Higgins. His father’s death hit him hard and he needed the break when it came in May. That he has not been quite as intense since is not that great a surprise.

His old adversary, Mark Williams, won what was arguably the best tournament of the year, the German Masters, which proved that talk of a snooker boom in Germany was no myth.

The crowds turned out in huge numbers in Berlin and witnessed an engrossing final in which Williams outmanoeuvred Mark Selby 9-7. It allowed the Welshman to return to the world no.1 spot, a remarkable turnaround in fortunes having dropped out of the top 16.

His tenure as world no. l ended, though, when Selby overtook him. As if to rub it in, Selby edged Williams 10-9 in the Shanghai Masters final, a match which turned on a bizarre incident in which Selby’s hit-and-hope shot shifted the psychological momentum.

It was proof that sport, for all its skill, can be decided by the unexpected. This, of course, is why it remains so popular with the watching millions.

Williams also lost in a decider to Stuart Bingham at the new Australian Open in Bendigo, 9-8 from 8-5 up. This tournament was an example of the further international reach snooker is now enjoying.

There were many matches to savour this year and a general feeling that the standard of play has increased.

And yet the player who more than any other turned snooker into the attacking game it is today went backwards.

Stephen Hendry lost his place in the elite top 16 and will find it very difficult to regain it.

But 2011 will be mainly remembered as the year a new star was born on the big stage.

Snooker players and fans had been aware of Judd Trump’s audacious talent for years but he had yet to marshal it in any meaningful way.

That changed in Beijing when he combined his incredible potting game with some rock solid safety to win the China Open.

It was a foretaste of what was to come on the biggest stage of them all. In the pressure cooker of the Crucible, Trump was a revelation.

A hero for the Twitter generation, his progress to the World Championship final was a breath of fresh air for the sport.

He ultimately fell short as Higgins, burning with determination, secured his fourth world title. However, the Scot was right to identify Trump as the star of the tournament and a player around whom much of snooker’s future prosperity will be built.

Higgins, Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan are all now 36. These three outstanding players of the last 15 years broke through during the last major shake-up of the circuit when the game went open 20 years ago.

Now that it is undergoing another transformation, Trump is poised to be its leading light. His UK Championship success earlier this month rounded off a terrific year, for him and snooker.

The players deserve great credit for bringing the sport to life. There is now a distinct group of characters at the top of the game, all fiercely talented, battling for titles. Such is the standard that you can play great in the first round and lose. Any title these days is hard earned.

Off table, Barry Hearn continues to innovate, like a one-man runaway train the players are trying to keep pace with.

There seems to be three categories of player now: those who want to play all the time, those who give the impression they hardly want to play at all and the majority who want to play regularly but preferably without going skint in the process.

There will be more money for PTCs next year, with at least two British PTCs being cut, but expenses are a serious issue and will remain so the more tournaments that are staged in far flung locations.

But this is the problem of starting if not quite from scratch then from a low base. Prize money on the circuit has almost doubled in two years. It will continue to increase but the age of guarantees is over. More than ever, snooker has become the survival of the fittest.

Anyone who believes things were better before Hearn’s arrival needs a serious reality check.

After years of understandable complaints about too few playing opportunities there is a rebuilding process underway but some people seem to believe everything should be perfect immediately.

If the sport had been run properly in the past there would be no need for Hearn to step in at all.

Consider the following from the last year: major tournaments in Germany, Thailand, Australia and Brazil, live internet streaming of every event, record ticket sales, increased viewing figures, more sponsorship revenue, more prize money, more TV events...if people can’t celebrate any or all of these then it says more about them than the current state of snooker.

In 2012 there will be further new events. Hearn and his team are in discussions with promoters in countries including Singapore and Canada. I understand China is likely to get two new ranking events, one with a six figure first prize.

The globalisation of snooker continues apace, years and years later than it could have, but happening all the same.

World Snooker recently revealed that their revenue from overseas television sales five years ago was just £50,000. Now it is £2.5m. This proves that the sport is becoming truly international, although it can only claim this with credibility when the circuit includes more players from outside the UK.

The sport is on a sound financial footing. More care needs to be taken with the structure of the calendar but there is now a momentum behind the circuit, regular snooker not just for players but TV viewers too.

It’s not all perfect. There remains concern about too much meddling with snooker’s traditional elements. The game itself is still the biggest asset the sport has, more than any player.

There is still much sneering in the media, when they bother to cover snooker at all.

There are still rows and controversies and cock-ups and problems...as there are in every other sport.

But there is much to look forward to in 2012, which may prove to be snooker’s busiest year yet.

All that remains for me this year is to wish all you blog readers a very happy and peaceful festive period.

Merry Christmas, happy new year and thank you for reading.



Among the more intriguing suggestions from World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has been his stated intention that all players should start tournaments in the same round.

This is a long term plan and one which will be controversial. It illustrates a divide in professional sport between what is considered ‘fair’ and the commercial realities which sustain the level of prize money available.

An example: the circuit is set to increase to 128 players. However, the Crucible can only take 32 players under its current format.

Therefore, if every player entered the World Championship in the same round we could be left with a field of unfamiliar names.

So what, you might argue. The best will come through, the others will fall by the wayside.

Well maybe. But when snooker is relying on revenue from broadcasters and sponsors, the importance of star names cannot be underestimated. These are the players which draw viewers, interest sponsors and persuade TV companies to screen tournaments.

Ever since a professional circuit was established there has been protection for higher ranked players, but they have earned this by starting at the bottom and rising up the rankings.

For many years the top 32 players in the world were exempt until the last 64 stage, where they usually had to win one, sometimes two, matches to reach the televised phase of ranking events.

This changed around a decade ago after pressure from broadcasters who found several top players were missing from line-ups of tournaments that they (the broadcasters) were effectively bankrolling.

So it was that the top 16 became exempt until the last 32. The knock-on effect of this has been a labyrinthine qualifying system which has arguably made it harder for players to come through, creating stagnation in the game.

Hearn’s argument is that players should not be seeded through to the final stages but earn their place. Top players would doubtless say they have already earned their place by securing such a high ranking.

However, although there is qualifying for Wimbledon, Federer and Nadal don’t get put through to the last 32, they start in the last 128 with everyone else.

The difference, though, is that Wimbledon is televised from this point. For the World Championship to be run along the same lines it would need to be played in a much bigger venue and have its matches dramatically shortened, neither of which would be popular with players or fans.

What has been interesting about the PTCs, certainly the televised ones, is that the top players invariably come through and win. I think this would still happen under Hearn’s radical plan, but many would also fall by the wayside.

This would help new faces emerge but could equally lead to a situation where the general viewer doesn’t really recognise anyone due to there being so many different faces on their TV screens.

A player’s perspective on all this will of course depend on where they are ranked. A top 16 player would, I suspect, be appalled by the prospect. Those further down the list would be more likely to relish it, although the idea of playing Judd Trump in the last 128 isn’t really one to punch the air about.

I think Hearn will find it difficult to persuade broadcasters of this shift, regardless of its merits.

If you are paying millions for the right to show a tournament you also have the right to expect the elements which draw in viewers and – like it or not – that includes star names.

But that is not to say the system cannot be altered to reflect these changing times. Perhaps a couple of ranking events should be played like this, preferably all at the venue with no need for qualifying at all.


Tom Ford won his second PTC title and the first on television with his 4-3 defeat of Martin Gould in the 11th tournament of the series in Sheffield last night.

It wasn’t a great final but it was a confidence boosting achievement by Ford, a player who has long threatened to break through in a big tournament.

In fact he has nurdled his way up into the top 32, a position he has consolidated with wins in the qualifiers and now has the PTC grand finals to look forward to.

Ford beat Judd Trump and Graeme Dott en route to the final and in the end he finished off well in the decider.

There were the usual online sneers and snipes at the event from people whose main contribution to the sport seems to be to run it down and look only for negatives.

Yes, it was a rather low key affair but it was never originally intended to be played in Sheffield. It was a fallback which ensured television coverage.

And Eurosport’s figures on Saturday were extremely high, which proves that there is a great appetite for any sort of snooker and that the more tournaments that are shown, the more this appetite remains.

Trump is bringing people to the sport, of that there is no doubt. Whenever he plays the figures go up.

But it also seems to be true that viewers want to watch snooker and that who is playing does not necessarily matter.

This has been one of the positives of the PTCs: it has illustrated the strength in depth which exists in the game.

Ford was not among the favourites at the start of play but he took his chance and well done to him.



When Mike Dunn made his maximum break in the German Masters qualifiers a few weeks ago I wrote of how relatively rare this feat still is.

Dunn's was the 79th 147 on the official list. Yesterday Ding Junhui made the 84th.

It was his second in just three days and last night against Stephen Hendry he seemed determined to make another.

This was a risky strategy but it ultimately made no difference as Ding won 4-2. Perhaps he had just got the bug but he could only have split the £500 with himself.

There will be more maximums very soon, of that I have no doubt. The players are playing more often and are thus sharper. In the PTCs they tend to play a more open game.

But what is rarely said is how good the conditions are. These superfine cloths are conducive to heavy scoring.

With the old heavier balls and thicker cloths such feats of break-building would be more difficult, but the game has changed and is more attacking.

Standards rise in all sports. They have in snooker in that more players are now producing high quality stuff.

There have now been 42 maximums on television. This is still not all that many but, obviously, can only increase.



After the brilliant UK Championship this week’s PTC action is not so much after the lord mayor’s show as after the show that follows the lord mayor’s show.

It will difficult, for instance, for Judd Trump to get himself into the same frame of mind as he experienced in York.

But it is the chance for someone to earn a £10,000 Christmas bonus in Sheffield. That’s in PTC11 at the weekend. First today comes the reduction of the field for PTC12 down to the last 16, which will be played in Germany next month.

And there are of course rankings issues to be decided in both these events. The main intrigue surrounds Ronnie O’Sullivan, who can lose his top 16 place if a combination of Stephen Lee, Mark Davis and Ricky Walden do well.

O’Sullivan has himself done well in PTCs this season and, having already qualified for the grand finals, has not entered the last two, but this has turned out to be a big risk.

The new ranking system does not offer the old protections but O’Sullivan would have been in trouble under any system: from seven major tournaments last season he lost in three first rounds and didn’t play in two other events.

No objective person could argue that he isn’t good enough to be in the top 16 but it is only by playing – and winning matches – that any player will keep their place.

You can follow the various rankings machinations at this excellent rundown at Pro Snooker Blog, whose commitment to this cause is exemplary.

PTC11 is live on Eurosport from Saturday.



Judd Trump is the latest star to shine in snooker’s glittering firmament but for all the attention cuemen such as he attracts the test of a player is what they achieve on the table.

Trump’s performance today in winning the williamhill.com UK Championship was at times breathtaking. His shot-making, flair and courage under pressure mark him out as the standard bearer for the new era.

He has helped get people talking about snooker again. Who could fail to be entertained by the way he plays the game?

Nobody can say for sure who will win the World Championship. The example of Jimmy White tells us this.

What we can say is that Trump will go to the Crucible next spring as one of the big favourites to land the greatest prize of them all. That he is good enough to is not in doubt.

I first saw him play when he was ten. He won the English under 15 national title at Gateshead and needed the rest for every other shot.

The following day he lost in the English under 13 final and took it badly. This was a good early sign. Even at that age snooker clearly mattered. This was not just a hobby.

When he was 13 I saw him beat Mike Hallett 4-1 to win the spring Open at Pontin’s in Prestatyn.

I suspect he remains the only winner of this huge pro-am to celebrate by going on the swings.

I knew then that he was special. It wasn’t just his talent. There was something in his manner. He was dedicated and seemed to believe in himself. He wasn’t going to be the type to waste what he had.

Much of this is of course down to his family. His father Steve drove young Judd up and down the motorways of the UK every weekend to junior tournaments, in particular those organised by Malcolm Thorne in the East Midlands.

They enabled Trump to improve and get used to competition snooker. He formed friendships and rivalries with players he would encounter in time on the professional circuit.

I never doubted he would make an impact as a pro, but the year he has had has been beyond all expectations.

What has impressed me is the way he has developed his all round game. He has good tactical knowledge, as he displayed in winning the China Open, and is comfortable on the big stage, not shrinking from the limelight but embracing it.

Like most players he suffered some early setbacks on the main tour. The free flowing snooker he had always played was in short supply in the qualifiers, where hard-as-nails seasoned players kept him glued to the back cushion and frustrated him.

It was an apprenticeship all players must serve but led some to question whether he had been over-hyped.

In fact, Trump developed at his own pace. He enjoyed good practice facilities at Keynsham Snooker Centre and support from Derek Curnow but, like many of his age, wanted to reach out on his own.

He moved to Romford where he practises at The Grove and shares a house with Jack Lisowski.

He could not have chosen a better sparring partner than Jack, a level-headed young man dedicated to his snooker.

The image of the ‘playboys’ is mainly ironic. I’m sure they do enjoy themselves – as they should – but snooker clearly comes first.

But he has overcome his early shyness and developed into a confident talker, at ease with the media and their growing demands.

Judd seems to have good people around him. It will be hard not to let some of the attention and adoration go to his head, but in my experience a snooker club is a place where you will soon be given a reality check if you start believing your own publicity.

The tabloids will have their fun with him but the truth about Trump is that he is a nice young man, close to his family, who enjoys playing snooker.

And he is unbelievably good at it.

That Mark Allen could play as well as he did, making four centuries and still losing, shows how impressive a display it was.

With success comes negatives too. He will inevitably invite jealousy, carping about minor things, judgements from those who have never met him, hangers-on and those who want a piece of him for the wrong reasons. But the positives far outweigh all this. He is inspiring people who may have drifted away from snooker or never much been interested before.

The best part of it is this: if Trump’s professional career were a day it would still be morning.

There is still so much more to accomplish.



Today’s williamhill.com UK Championship final pits two young, exciting, attacking players against each other in a fitting climax to a brilliant tournament.

Judd Trump has been joined in the final by Mark Allen, who displayed poise, purpose and great sportsmanship last night in beating Ricky Walden 9-7.

The irony of Allen’s comments about Barry Hearn is that he is exactly the sort of player Hearn is looking for to take the game forward.

He has terrific skill and like those other Northern Irish ranking event finalists – Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor and Joe Swail – is a fighter.

He also has something about him as a person. I was impressed by his behaviour last night when he queried whether a red apparently moved by the referee had been pottable in its original position.

Allen was certainly used to winning before turning professional, which is one of the reasons he made such an immediate impact.

Allen captured the Northern Irish amateur title at every age level and went on to win the European junior title, European amateur championship and IBSF world amateur championship.

In his first match on TV he beat Steve Davis as a wildcard for the 2005 Northern Ireland Trophy. The next day he beat John Higgins.

He has always believed in himself and relishes competition but does not seem to enjoy the life of a professional.

I get the feeling Allen loves playing in big matches, it’s the slog of the circuit he dislikes.

He was reportedly unable to get on the plane to China last season for the Hainan Classic invitation tournament. This led to treatment for depression.

He seems happier now. Terry Griffiths is in his corner, which is a positive, and he has every reason to believe he can capture his first major title today.

Trump of course will be very difficult to beat. I don’t think he has played quite as well as he did at the Crucible but he has demonstrated fine battling qualities alongside his wonderful shot-making.

He really does seem to love everything about life as a pro. He also understands that being a snooker player is about more than just playing. Trump entertains. He interacts with fans on social media. He is a star.

He has had a fine year and it can end on a real high with him joining the list of greats on the UK Championship roll of honour.

This final could be a hard-hat area the way these two play; a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it parade of audacious potting and big breaks.

It promises to be a pulsating end to what has been a memorable week in York.



We were reminded last night as to why best of 17s have been so popular.

The standard of the Judd Trump-Neil Robertson semi-final wasn't always the highest but the drama quotient was off the scale.

Credit to Trump for his bottle in the last frame as he avoided a doubtlessly nervy decider. I'm not sure if this was naughty snooker but it was certainly entertaining, not least because the length of match allowed the drama to build through the day.

Today's semi-final pits Mark Allen against Ricky Walden.

Allen is appearing in his sixth ranking event semi and is still yet to win one. Walden is through to his first major semi-final since he won the 2008 Shanghai Masters.

It seems to me Ricky plays better against top players, possibly because he knows that he has to.

When he won in Shanghai he beat Stephen Hendry, Robertson, Steve Davis, Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan.

This week he has already done for Stephen Lee, Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy and has at times cued superbly.

Confidence is obviously a very important component in snooker. Walden has been in a PTC final, made a 147 and generally grafted out some encouraging results below the radar. He has brought these positives to York.

Allen won everything he could as an amateur and I've never been in any doubt that he will be a winner of major titles as a professional.

He possesses great talent but also great heart. He's a fighter and it's surely only a matter of time before he breaks his semi-final hoodoo.

I think this could be another close match. I hope so. We've seen a terrific tournament already and it deserves an exciting denouement.



Good news folks - the best of 17 UK Championship starts here!

And what a great first semi-final, pitting Neil Robertson against Judd Trump, a battle of the left-handers.

They met of course on the first day of last season's World Championship but that was an entirely different scenario. Robertson was under massive pressure as a first time defending champion and Trump was full of confidence after winning the China Open.

Trump should still be full of confidence after his three centuries yesterday against Stephen Maguire. This was his brand of 'naughty snooker' which I suppose is a bit like sexy football in that you know it when you see it.

Robertson looked very relaxed against Ding Junhui and is having a good, solid season of it so far.

He has the long potting prowess of Trump but is generally more measured. It may all come down to the extent to which young Trump pushes the boat out and how successful he is at this strategy.

He will surely be right to play his natural game and to his own strengths.

Robertson is a big occasion player. He has never lost a TV final from the eight played and this will feel like one: 17 frames in a one table setting against an exciting talent such as Trump.

The stage is set for a potential classic, and the good news is that we get two sessions of it.

Ricky Walden's great run continues and if he wins the title he is in line for a Masters wildcard, as it was stipulated a qualifier would get an invite to the game's leading invitation event if they landed the UK crown.

Mark Allen produced a brilliant finish in a tense and absorbing contest against Marco Fu to reach the sixth ranking event semi-final of his career.

He plays Walden on Saturday in what represents a big chance for a player with a lower profile than many in the game to earn a place in one of snooker's showpiece occasions.



So we're down to the last eight of the williamhill.com UK Championship at the Barbican Centre in York and the race for the title is still wide open.

Judd Trump, still standing despite a couple of scares, faces Stephen Maguire, who has at times looked superb.

Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui, the game's two outstanding non-British players, clash cues in what could be a terrific battle.

Ricky Walden is through to only his third major quarter-final since he won the 2008 Shanghai Masters and tackles Shaun Murphy, much relieved to beat Martin Gould 6-4 from 5-0 yesterday.

Mark Allen played very well to see off Ali Carter and Marco Fu finished strongly against Mark Selby, who must have been disappointed by his performance.

Carter didn't take the defeat well. He announced his retirement on twitter, effective from the end of the season.

I've heard too many players say they will retire over the years to take this deadly seriously as the vast majority never do.

Most probably want to but what else will they do? In Carter's case, of course, he could fly planes but I suspect when the disappointment subsides he will have a rethink.

The huge numbers of people who have been watching at the Barbican are interested in the snooker but nothing gets a sport wider media coverage like a good old fashioned ruck.

The Allen-Barry Hearn rumpus is rumbling on in frankly hilarious fashion. Hearn calling the Northern Irishman a 'silly little boy' and Allen responding by wearing a gag to his post match press conference last night.

This is all essentially flim-flam but you'll have noticed the newspapers are full of this every day.

Speaking of which, Mark Williams was tweeting between frames yesterday, a practice which will no doubt be banned on the basis that it runs the risk of people enjoying themselves.

Mark's tweets were pretty ripe but they made me laugh because I could imagine him saying them out loud.

We should accept the players for the people they are, rather than trying to mould them into a series of dull clones.

Yes, the corporate image of snooker is important but if we cry out for 'personalities' we shouldn't deride the players for showing some.



The Judd Trump-Ronnie O'Sullivan match lived up to its billing with a wonderful afternoon's entertainment.

It seems whenever these two meet there simply aren't enough frames to savour the majestic potting, break-building and drama they serve up between them.

O'Sullivan was unlucky to suffer that kick in the deciding frame because it looked like we were heading for a re-spot finish.

Afterwards there was another retirement threat from O'Sullivan, who first said he would quit the game after losing to Ken Doherty in the 1994 UK Championship quarter-finals at the age of 18.

I've heard it many times since but one thing I would say is that whenever Ronnie has said it, I think he has believed it.

He may well want to walk away but perhaps the fear is this: if he does quit and still doesn't find what he's looking for without snooker, what then?

He talked about the lonely life on the snooker circuit, which it certainly can be. After the best part of 20 years slogging around I can well understand why Ronnie isn't looking forward to more of the same.

Something tells me he won't be short of offers as he searches for a partner, though.

Trump has ridden his luck this week - as often happens to players who end up winning the title.

The same could be said for Ding Junhui, who survived a second successive deciding frame finish to see off Matthew Stevens, who was nicely in during the last but missed a black off its spot.

At night, John Higgins didn't look his old self but Stephen Maguire was superb in building a 5-1 lead. Higgins started to come back at him but Maguire held on well to win 6-4.

It's about time he won another major title. His last was three and a half years ago but Maguire looks highly tuned in this week.

Neil Robertson is having a cracking season and did for Graeme Dott 6-3 in last night's other match.

The second round is completed today. Mark Williams stuttered against Joe Jogia and faces in Ricky Walden a player who has seen his confidence return.

Shaun Murphy will have to contain Martin Gould, for whom confidence is at an all time high having joined the top 16 and won £25,000 in the recent Power Snooker.

Mark Selby will be favourite against Marco Fu but Ali Carter v Mark Allen is harder to call.

Meanwhile all the off-table nonsense continues to swirl around. Mark Allen has been reported to the WPBSA's disciplinary committee following his outburst on Monday, not for his comments but for the language he used.

If every player who swore in press conferences, interviews or on social media was fined then World Snooker could fund at least one full ranking event.

And I'm always a little wary of the old catch-all charge 'bringing the game into disrepute.'

I've been waiting years for someone to bring snooker into repute.



Another very interesting day in York has left us with a stellar line up for the williamhill.com UK Championship.

Judd Trump looked vulnerable against Dominic Dale, who played good match snooker to build a 4-2 lead before Trump enjoyed some outrageous good fortune on the way to winning 6-4.

In frame seven he had two flukes, including a ludicrous one on a pink, which helped turn the match. There seem to have been more timely flukes in this tournament than any other all year.

It sets up a mouth-watering encounter today with Ronnie O’Sullivan, just one of many seriously enticing second round matches at the Barbican Centre.

Ding Junhui struggled in the first round against Mark Davis but has a good record against Matthew Stevens, who scored heavily in beating Marcus Campbell on Saturday night.

Neil Robertson beat Graeme Dott in the 2010 World Championship final, which dragged on until close to 1am. The good news this time is that neither will be knackered after 17 days of snooker and their contest could be a thriller.

The same goes for John Higgins’s match against his fellow Scot, Stephen Maguire, who has a good record in this event and is capable of matching Higgins in the hard snooker stakes.

So today features eight players who between them have won 11 UK titles and nine world titles.

Mark Williams is probably glad of a day off after almost buckling last night against Joe Jogia.

The key word here is almost. Williams came through in the end, much to the delight of the legions of people who seemed to have backed various accumulators of which his match was the last.

Williams often does this: plays patchy stuff early in a tournament and then gets better and better. He’s still wonderful to watch when he’s playing his best and still a real dangerman for the title.

The venue has been packed out and the tournament is proving so popular that extra tickets have been released to meet demand.

But this is snooker and therefore it wouldn’t be right if someone hadn’t had a bleat up about something.

Yesterday it was the turn of Mark Allen, who expressed the view that Barry Hearn is ruining the sport and should go.

I don’t know Allen or profess to know what he wants from the game but I’ve been working in snooker for 14 years and there has never been a time when all the players have been happy.

There are either too few tournaments or too many. They are either too long or too short. There are either too many in the UK or too many abroad. The calendar is either too spaced out or too hectic. The top players are either getting too much money or should get more. It’s either unfair that all the matches aren’t on TV or unfair that the matches aren’t longer and played in cubicles.

And so on and so on and so on.

By the way, this isn’t limited to the players. On my very first day in the media centre I witnessed two seasoned journalists arguing about who had the best chair.

It taught me well and I have moaned about pretty much everything ever since, the main difference being that, quite rightly, nobody pays any attention to what I say and that I know a good thing when I see it.

Allen said that Hearn was making snooker too much like darts, with drunks shouting out. In fact, this has only happened at the Shootout – a huge rater for Sky – and Power Snooker, an independent promotion which Allen will presumably not be playing in again.

Hearn has not done himself any favours by being so publically dismissive of the players but they claimed they wanted more tournaments and he is working very hard to provide them.

If certain players worked as hard at their games and being professional in every sense of the word they may be more successful.

The main problem is that snooker players aren’t used to be being told what to do. Previously if they didn’t like the guy in charge they voted him out and replaced him with someone else, who they also then voted out before repeating the process over and over again until almost every potential sponsor had lost interest.

That was the environment that led to Hearn taking full control of the sport, without any prospect of being ejected. If the players had run the game properly there would have been no need to turn to him in the first place.

Anyway, all that is a sideshow. We have a fascinating tournament in progress and this is all the general public is interested in.

And there is much to grab their interest in York this week.



It was another day of terrific entertainment at the Barbican in York as the williamhill.com UK Championship once again provided value for money.

Mark Selby did for Ryan Day in no time at all, winning an edgy first frame and then motoring as Day struggled.

Ronnie O’Sullivan played some sublime stuff in dispatching legend Steve Davis 6-1, potting a yellow in one frame with the cue ball in the jaws of a baulk corner pocket which had to be seen to be believed.

The first, and so far only, top 16 casualty was Stuart Bingham, beaten 6-4 by Marco Fu. The key frame here was the sixth in which Fu was called for a foul when leading by 61 with 59 on, meaning Bingham could win.

The Aussie Open champ set about clearing up but lost prime position from green to brown, missed the brown and a grateful Fu made it 3-3.

Buoyed by confidence, he went for his shots and his eventual victory was not a huge upset given his record.

Ali Carter v Robert Milkins wasn’t great fare but victory clearly meant a lot to Carter. At night, Martin Gould came through against Peter Lines and Shaun Murphy survived a bit of a mid match scare against an obviously promising Li Yan.

The first round concludes today. Centre stage in the afternoon session are Judd Trump and Dominic Dale, who will be hoping to continue the recent form he showed in reaching the final of PTC10.

Mark Allen would be expected to come through against Adrian Gunnell, as would Mark Williams against Joe Jogia.

However, Stephen Lee’s match with Ricky Walden could well be much closer. Walden looks to have come back into form and, like Fu beating Bingham, it would not be a big shock if he triumphed.

Crowd support has been terrific, although some people have commented on the Barbican’s squeaky stairs.

Off table noise is always a bone of contention in snooker because it is quiet most of the time.

There was once a match at the Crucible where an elderly couple were sat in the front row, the wife eating a bag of sweets.

It led the late, great referee, John Street, to turn to the husband and remark: ‘Sir, could you please keep that bag quiet.’

Thankfully no offence was taken.



An enthralling first day's play at the williamhill.com UK Championship proved that snooker can still do what television sport is supposed to: provide great entertainment.

The quality of snooker was high, there was plenty of drama and, just as importantly, it was packed out at the Barbican Centre in York.

The UK Championship was always well attended at York and I'm sure it would have been for best of 17s, but it's equally true to say that the best of 11s, though hard to swallow for diehard snooker fans, did not put the general public off. Today is a sell-out.

The first two matches went the distance. Ding Junhui fluked the final pink to beat Mark Davis 6-5, harsh on the Sussex professional but he was man enough to admit afterwards that he had missed his chance to win 6-4 and also missed a straight blue with a chance to clear in the decider.

Similarly, Rory McLeod missed the black off its spot with a good opportunity to beat John Higgins in their decider and was later another victim of a fluke as the defending champion scraped through.

It seems that after all the PTCs the top players have come to York focused for a really big event and that was certainly the case for Graeme Dott and Neil Robertson, each serene in making progress against Matt Selt and Tom Ford respectively.

Matthew Stevens made breaks of 140 and 136 while Stephen Maguire played good, hard match snooker and potted some vital pressure balls to see off Stephen Hendry.

It looked as if the five times champion might pull it out the fire after rallying from 3-1 down to 3-3 but the odd shot here and there lets Hendry down these days.

Today's big match pits Ronnie O'Sullivan against his boyhood hero, Steve Davis, who hasn't beaten him for 13 years.

Li Yan, the unknown quantity having qualified in his first season, faces Shaun Murphy, the 2008 champion.

And there's a very interesting start as Mark Selby, the world no.1, meets Ryan Day.

Some great snooker ahead, then, and what undoubtedly adds to it is the atmosphere. When people want more calling out and noise they are ignoring the power of reverential silence. It is forbidding and adds to the pressure, reminding players that they are out on their own.

When punctuated by bursts of applause, the odd gasp and even an embarrassed cough or two it ramps up the dramatic tension.

But there was one incident yesterday that reminded everyone that for all the various points of view and petty squabbles in snooker, it really is just a game.

Marcus Campbell had travelled for years to tournaments with his friend, Martin, who died suddenly yesterday in the tournament hotel.

To his credit, Marcus still played but his mind was obviously not on snooker. My condolences go to him.



Rory McLeod often gets stick for the pace at which he plays but it’s only three years since he made three successive centuries against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the UK Championship and, as his results show, he is a dangerous player.

John Higgins found his concentration sorely tested by playing McLeod over three sessions at the Crucible last season before ultimately coming through. Their match in York today is only best of eleven but Higgins has not yet come to life during this campaign and can’t afford to let McLeod start to boss the style of match.

Not that this will be easy to do against Higgins, who has enough class and patience to see off the McLeod threat.

It would be a surprise if Mark Davis, who perennially seems to be on the brink of joining the top 16, beat Ding Junhui, but not a huge one.

Ding won the UK title in 2005 and 2009 and is an awesome break-builder and great front runner.

Davis, then, needs to get on top of him early on. Very easy to write, not so easy to do against a great talent like Ding.

Neil Robertson has had an excellent time of it in the PTCs and will be expected to come through against Tom Ford, a player who has got himself into the top 32 but not someone who has often produced the goods on TV.

Matt Selt is much improved in recent seasons but it seems like an age since he was in the quarter-finals of the Australian Goldfields Open (it was actually July).

He’s up against the iron-willed Graeme Dott this afternoon, a player as tough as anyone and particularly good at winning the key psychological frames, the ones that hurt.

Some people feel Stephen Maguire’s match with Stephen Hendry is the tie of the round. When they played at last season’s Welsh Open, Hendry kicked off with a maximum, after which his game all but disappeared.

Maguire can be a little erratic but has a very good record in the UK Championship and will probably be too strong for Hendry.

When Maguire was a teenager he spent many hours practising with the then world no.1, picking balls out and learning about top level snooker. But that was a long time ago and fortunes have changed for both men.

Tonight’s other match pits Matthew Stevens against Marcus Campbell. I remember watching Marcus win their World Championship final qualifying round match in a decider not so long ago but this is on television, where Stevens would be expected to come to the fore.

There is apparently no partition between tables at the williamhill.com UK Championship, which is good for spectators as they can keep an eye on both tables but, I suspect, not entirely to the liking of all the players.



So the williamhill.com UK Championship is here and we’re set for a fascinating nine day’s snooker.

It’s been three months since the last full ranking event. No disrespect to the PTCs, Premier League etc but this is what it’s all about: a major tournament, the game’s top players and all the drama and subplots that ensue before the winner is crowned.

There has been much fulmination about the reduction from best of 17s to best of 11s and I’m sure there will be plenty more.

Well, not from me. I didn’t agree with the change but that won’t stop me enjoying the tournament. It is what it is, it's not going to change now so just try to enjoy it.

The one good thing is that all matches are now televised, which is fairer than playing half on TV and half round the back in a cubicle.

Although fewer frames in theory means the lower ranked players have a better chance against the top seeds, we saw last season in the best of five World Open that qualifiers had several chances to cause upsets but felt the pressure of TV attention.

I’d be very surprised if the winner on Sunday week did not come from the list of usual suspects.

There are many questions to be answered...

Can John Higgins find that intensity he displayed last year to defend his title?

Can Ronnie O’Sullivan transfer his Premier League form into a fifth UK victory?

Can Neil Robertson maintain his excellent performances so far this season?

Can Stephen Hendry or Steve Davis, in that hoary old cliché, roll back the years?

Can a rank outsider have a good run?

Some have raised eyebrows about the BBC times, but it will still be on the red button (one channel on Freeview) and the BBC website.

There is also extensive live coverage on Eurosport and live streaming on liveworldsnooker.tv for those outside Europe.

York is a lovely place, particularly just before Christmas. It’s great to have snooker back at the Barbican.

And it’s great to have another major tournament on our screens. So wrap up warm, and enjoy the snooker.



Barry Hearn is not a man troubled by uncertainty.

“I always listen to other people’s opinions but if I disagree with them then I disregard them immediately,” he told me.

The interview was conducted as the World Snooker chairman dashed between meetings. It was just another day for Hearn: up early, into work and on with business, a business which has been incredibly profitable since Matchroom was founded over 30 years ago.

Hearn rode the crest of the snooker wave in the 1980s before conquering new lands, some of them mainstream like boxing and others niche such as poker and fishing. He carries with him a first rate reputation as a wheeler and dealer, gregarious front man and lover of innovation.

Self confidence is not something lacking in the Hearn repertoire and neither should it be. Yes, he talks the talk but his record proves he has also walked the walk.

But an increasing number of players are finding cause to criticise him as the wind of change runs through professional snooker. John Higgins last week reportedly claimed the UK Championship had been ‘ruined’ by the decision to reduce it to best of 11 frames from its traditional best of 17.

It is a change that has left many appalled, but Hearn sighs deeply before answering the charge that the game’s second biggest event has been downgraded.

“This is a great example of why snooker players should play snooker and leave commercial decisions to people qualified to make them,” he said.

“You have to take note of moving trends and remember that the customer is always right. The viewing figures and ticket sales are our customers, are what we listen to.

“I don’t want to say we were fortunate that the BBC signed a new contract but let’s put it this way: we are grateful of their support.

“For the UK Championship they wanted a result in every session and best of 11 was actually stretching it as far as we could.

“People may not like it but across all sports there is a move towards faster action. We have never got near to the ticket sales we have achieved this year. People know that they will come and see a result.

“It sounds to me like John Higgins is completely removed from reality. He’s a great player and is entitled to his opinion but we’re a commercial sport. If he and others want bigger prize funds then they have to live in the real world.

“To be honest, what they want is almost immaterial to me. I have to transform snooker and I know what I’m doing. If that sounds big-headed, well, tough. I’ve been doing it for 35 years and I’ve been successful.”

What, then, of the World Championship, which currently runs for 17 days over long matches where it sometimes takes days, never mind sessions, to reach a result?

“We will leave the World Championship virtually untouched because it’s proved itself,” said Hearn, who featured in a famous Crucible cameo when he barrelled across the stage in 1981 and nearly knocked Steve Davis over after his young charge became world champion for the first time.

“It’s a bizarre tournament in a way, the fact you can play a match for three days, but it works.

“But you can’t expect nothing to change otherwise the game will die. If that happens the likes of John Higgins will have to get a job, and they won’t like that.”

Hearn tells me he has a “skin like a rhinoceros” but he does sound genuinely frustrated when I raise the subject of complaints about the PTCs.

“What people don’t seem to understand is that we have a proper commercial plan,” he said. “It’s a five-year plan and the PTCs are here for five years. We haven’t even reached the end of year two yet and they’re already moaning. Wait and see where we are after five years.

“Peter Ebdon got it right two years ago. He told the EGM they were giving me control of the game forever. Correct, and I know the way to go. I know exactly what I’m doing because I’ve done it in darts and elsewhere.

“The PTCs will evolve over time. Players complain about them but they forget they are sharper than ever because they’re playing all the time and they forget that winning the £10,000 first prize – which is a lot of money to a working man – qualifies towards playing in a bigger tournament where the first prize is £75,000.

“The European PTCs have been a great springboard to showcase the game in Europe and explore the market there. Those events will grow but we need the players to support them.”

Hearn says he takes an hourly interest in the fast moving administration of the professional circuit. “Yes, I make mistakes,” he admitted in a rare moment of self reproach. “As Aneurin Bevan [politician and founder of the National Health Service] said, if you haven’t made 11 mistakes before breakfast then you’re still in bed. But I have so many ideas and most of them are good.”

One such idea will not go down well with top players. Hearn’s long term plan is to have all players start in the first round in all tournaments, as happens in the PTCs.

How he will sell this to broadcasters who want the big names guaranteed on their screens is another matter, but Hearn believes snooker has been a cosy closed shop for too long.

“I will eventually move it so that every player comes in at the first round stage, no seedings, no exemptions,” he said. “There’s been too much protection in this game. It’s a long term project and top players won’t like it but it’s much fairer, just like the new ranking system is.

“Eventually everyone will play in the first round. The sport hasn’t been vibrant enough, there have been too few new faces coming through. It’s been a closed shop largely and there have been too many obstacles.

“This will be good news for the new players and youngsters but I also believe the prize money structure should change. There should be more given to winners and less lower down.

“When the history books of snooker are written, the few years before I took over will be looked at as snooker in its death throws. It was going nowhere.

“So many things were being done because they had always been done and people seemed content to basically just divvy up the money and keep everyone sweet.

“It was run like a boys’ club. In five years time the sport will look completely different. There will be a tournament every week, just like golf, just like tennis.”

In the face of all this, I suggest the bullish Hearn isn’t bothered by public criticisms from leading players, but he disagrees.

“I am bothered by them because they are damaging. These negative comments have a direct commercial impact with sponsors,” he said.

“It seems to me a lot of top players would rather be at home in bed than go out to work like the rest of us.

“The players job is to keep their mouths shut and play snooker. Mine is to provide them with the opportunities to do that, which I am doing.

“You can’t just take from life. You have to put in as well. If it means the inconvenience of playing in lower prize money tournaments then so be it. They should think about the bigger picture, about where the sport can go.

“Some of them seem to want everything now. Well, that won’t happen but at the end of five years the sport will have been transformed. The prizes will be there for those who want them and are prepared to work for them. Some players seem to think I should just send them a cheque every month.

“I know I can do it, but the players have to play their part too. I may sound over confident but that’s 35 years of being successful for you.”

Snooker, though, is a difficult and cut-throat sport. Many players are left out of pocket through the expense of travelling to tournaments that do not carry large financial prizes.

Does Hearn have sympathy? Up to a point.

“It’s tough, of course, but at the end of five years there will be a tournament every week and the players can choose what they want to play in,” he said.

“I don’t mind people losing money playing if that’s their chosen path, if that’s what they want to do with their lives, but it’s my responsibility to give them the chances and reward them if they are successful.

“In golf, if they get their tour card they know it will cost them £70,000 a year in expenses and if they don’t make the cut they won’t get paid but if they do well they will become very wealthy. That’s sport. We’re not here to protect anyone but we should reward people who do well.”

If what Hearn says is right then snooker in 2015 will indeed look very different: a 12-month global circuit featuring tournaments big and small.

It may be that some big names get swept away in this revolution, but this has happened before. 20 years ago when the game went open many of the familiar faces from the boom years of the 1980s disappeared and were replaced by young stars, some of whom are now approaching veteran status.

Ray Reardon, in fact, retired in protest at the influx of new stars, each turning professional based on paying entry fees rather than ability.

The sport has done well to survive the various troughs of recent years. It went through some bad times but is still standing, and with European and Far Eastern interest is set to flourish again.

This is how professional snooker is now: changes, challenges and a hectic playing schedule, plenty for people to adapt to and much to be questioned as well.

We can judge the success of the Hearn plan when it is complete but one thing is clear: whether people in the snooker world agree with him or not, he isn’t going anywhere and he isn’t going to change course.

That’s never been the Barry Hearn way.



PTC 12 in January will consist of only 16 players at the venue in Fuerstenfeldbruck, Germany due, apparently, to the unsuitability of the venue to hold the usual 9-10 tables required for these events. I understand this anomaly came to light at a recent site visit by organisers.

The WPBSA’s response was to announce a reduction of the field down to 16 immediately before PTC 11 in Sheffield in the week following the UK Championship.

They then announced a ‘consultation’ with players, the result of which is to stick to the original plan.

Although this is all rather unfortunate there are a couple of upsides: 1) all matches from the last 16 onwards will be on television and streamed; 2) UK based players losing in the early rounds will not incur the same level of expenses going to Sheffield as they would in Germany, although this isn’t much consolation to German amateurs.

Leaving aside the point that the venue should surely have been checked out much sooner, the WPBSA had to do something and I would say have come up with a reasonable solution, although the ‘consultation’ should surely have come before announcing alternative dates, not afterwards.

This taps into something I’ve been hearing about rather a lot. Not so long ago players were sent a letter on various matters, one of which was that the WPBSA staff preferred communication via email because HQ ‘is not a call centre.’

No it isn’t. But equally the players pay membership fees and should reasonably expect genuine queries to be dealt with. We’re talking here about their professional lives, the way they earn their money to provide for themselves and their families.

One of the problems is that World Snooker’s staff have been cut down to the bone – at a time where there is more to do than ever. In my experience they are not underworked, certainly not the officials out on the circuit who slave away in tournament offices for little thanks.

I know some players now find dealing with the governing body a bit impersonal, especially those being fined for tournament withdrawals without getting any sort of hearing.

And the situation surrounding PTC 12 seems to underline something many people are saying: that there are too many PTCs.

However, many of those coming up with easy solutions are not in possession of the full facts. World Snooker has contracts with Eurosport and Perform based on supplying a particular number of tournaments to be broadcast or streamed, so cutting back is not the simple option many assume.

Personally, I would suggest eight PTCs – five in Europe and three in the UK (with at least two of those in Gloucester) – with money saved by scrapping four put into the remaining eight.

But that’s easy to say. The commercial realities do not necessarily allow such changes [I of course haven’t seen the full contracts so am not fully sure how this stacks up].

Meanwhile, well done to Ricky Walden for compiling a 147 break in PTC10 yesterday, and to David Gray who did so in qualifying earlier in the week.

It was probably inevitable after I mentioned how relatively rare maximums are that we should have had three in a single week.



John Higgins grew up watching Steve Davis and marvelling at his achievements and the clever, calculating, formidable way he played the game.

So when Davis referred to him as “the greatest player ever” after the Scot’s fourth world title victory last May, Higgins was understandably overjoyed.

“To be honest that meant more to me than winning trophies,” he told me. “I know a lot of people won’t agree with him. They’ll say Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan or Steve himself, which is fair enough.

“But for me to hear that from Steve, who was and remains my hero in snooker, was really special. He’s a complete one-off and an inspiration.”

Higgins, like Davis before him, plays the classical game. He always knows the right shot and, though it might not always come off, almost always plays it.

He took a dim view of the recent Power Snooker, in which many of the finer points of the game were discarded. “In the words of Sir Steve Redgrave, if you see me anywhere near it again you have my permission to shoot me,” Higgins said.

“Credit must go to Rod Gunner for getting it on. It’s good for young players but it wasn’t my thing at all. I won’t be playing in any more of them.”

And as a traditionalist, Higgins is also unhappy that the forthcoming UK Championship has been reduced to best of 11 frames from best of 17.

“I’ve always played best of 17 at the UK Championship and it’s lost prestige now. It’s more like the Masters in my eyes,” he said.

“Barry Hearn is doing a great job as chairman of World Snooker but I wished he had spoken to the players first about this, because most aren’t in favour. He hasn’t given a proper reason yet for the change.

“I would rather have played a best of 17 qualifier to get to York than go there for best of 11s. I know the BBC want the top players guaranteed, but in the past they chose four players to play on TV in the last 32 and maybe could have done that again.

“Barry is a great promoter and doesn’t need to be coming to snooker players to check 99% of his decisions, but this is one he should have asked us about.

“I think Barry thinks people’s attention spans in the UK can’t handle longer matches. But I think you could lengthen matches in other countries. I hope we have a longer format tournament somewhere abroad.”

Higgins stresses he is not about to join the increasingly vocal group of players complaining about various aspects of Hearn’s tenure.

“Barry is the best man for the sport and snooker is moving in the right direction. I would give him 8/10 so far,” he said.

“Our sport couldn’t have got much worse but there was an appetite out there, in Europe and elsewhere, for the game. It just took someone with the skill to make it all work, which Barry has.

“If someone rang up to get a tournament on in Brazil he’d be on the first plane over there to get the deal done. He has an ego as big as Don King’s, so he wants to do as well as he can, for himself and the game. That’s what we need.”

Speaking of Brazil, Higgins did not enter the new invitation event there in September, citing the crowded calendar. Hearn publicly criticised him and other players for not supporting this new tournament.

“Barry took a pot-shot at us over Brazil, and probably rightly so because you do need top players to go to new places, but he’s made mistakes as well with the calendar. He’s trying to grow the sport but he has to try and manage the calendar better, otherwise you will get players not going.

“The game is heading in the right direction but it will involve more travelling, and you don’t enjoy that so much as you get older. The future of the game is the younger players, like Judd Trump. They don’t mind travelling so much but the top players will be picking and choosing the tournaments they play in.

“With my ranking, in the next couple of years I can do that, but if you fall down, like Ronnie O’Sullivan has, you don’t get so much of a choice because you don’t want to drop out of the top 16.”

Higgins returned to the circuit just over a year ago following his suspension and played like a man possessed, winning six titles big and small including the world and UK titles.

He put absolutely everything into every match, a level of commitment that it was impossible to sustain, particularly after the end of season break.

“It all frazzled my brain,” he said. “I put so much into my professional life that my personal life suffered.

“After the World Championship it was as if my brain exploded. I couldn’t have kept that intensity up and it’s taken a while to get back on an even keel.”

At 36, he is not at an age where snooker players improve. Usually they are entering some sort of decline by now, although there is no evidence of that with Higgins.

Like Davis before him, his all round game should keep him in good stead to compete at the top level for many more years, if he has the appetite to do so.

“Someone pointed out to me that I’ve won world titles in three different decades, which is some achievement. But I know I will be falling away soon,” he said.

“You want to fight it off. You want to be trying to fight to improve, but you know it’ll happen because it happens to every player. Like a golfer losing your length off the tee, you notice it happening with certain parts of your game.”

As for York, his UK Championship defence starts against Rory McLeod, a methodical, tough as old boots campaigner who Higgins battled against in a lengthy second round tie at the Crucible.

“You know what you’re going to get with Rory,” Higgins said. “At the Crucible I saw what he did to Ricky Walden in the first round, the way he got into his head, and I knew I couldn’t let him dictate the match against me.

“I think Rory deserves great credit for getting through the qualifiers. He rarely loses a qualifying match. He doesn’t seem to play as well at the venues but I think he will do one of these days. But you have to concentrate on playing your game your way.”

The way Higgins plays is still what most players aspire to. His ‘slow’ start to the season is a bit of a myth. He’s already done enough to qualify for the PTC grand finals and, of the two full ranking events, he’s been in a quarter-final.

There is no reason to believe he won’t come right for the big events of which, despite its reduction in frames, the UK Championship remains a test of skill and nerve and a prestigious title to win.

“I’m confident in my form,” Higgins said. “The PTCs are mainly about jockeying for position to get into the finals but top players tend to raise their games for the major tournaments.”



And the pattern continued as the new decade began with John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams winning the first three UK titles between them.

Higgins had been replaced as world no.1 by Williams but beat the Welshman 10-4 in Bournemouth shortly before flying off to get married.

By the time of the 2001 UK Championship, O’Sullivan had become world champion, later than his two great contemporaries but, like them, the fulfilment of a great potential.

For once, the top eight in the world rankings all reached the quarter-finals in York in a great championship, which included 9-8 wins from 8-4 down in the last eight in one memorable night for O’Sullivan against Peter Ebdon and Williams against Stephen Hendry.

O’Sullivan would beat Williams in the semis while Ken Doherty came through against Stephen Lee, but the expected dogfight in the final never materialised as O’Sullivan turned on the style to blow away the Irishman 10-1. As Doherty put it: “He completely embarrassed me, just destroyed me.”

O’Sullivan’s title defence would end at the hands of Drew Henry the following year but Doherty once again reached the final, this time against Williams, who won their long, absorbing battle – a portent of the world final to come later in the season – 10-9.

Matthew Stevens had been in the group of players to come through after Higgins, O’Sullivan and Williams and despite his capture of the Masters and some near misses in the World Championship was yet to win a world ranking title.

He finally put this right by winning the 2003 UK title, beating Hendry 10-8 in a final in which each player played well in spells before being pegged back by the other.

The 2004 UK Championship was distinguished by having not a single top eight player in the quarter-finals. It was a strange event to be at because, from very early on, the winner seemed clear.

Stephen Maguire had reached the British Open final in Brighton shortly before York and beat O’Sullivan on the opening day with a first rate performance.

As various top stars fell by the wayside it was hard to see the Scot losing in the form he was in and he swept through the field, demolishing David Gray 10-1 in the final.

The 2005 event was the 25th anniversary of Steve Davis’s first UK triumph but few could have expected the great man to feature so prominently.

In fact, he played as well as he ever did. He produced a great finish to beat Maguire 9-8 from 8-6 down, 145 total clearance and all, and then beat Doherty and Hendry to reach a tenth UK final, 15 years after his ninth.

It was a fairytale run but did not have a fairytale ending. Ding Junhui, the 18 year-old China Open champion, beat him 10-6 in the final.

Ebdon’s 2006 capture of the UK title brought the curtain down on a high quality final few days, which included his excellent semi-final win over Higgins.

In the final, Ebdon defeated Hendry, who had reached the semis in bizarre circumstances after O’Sullivan prematurely conceded their quarter-final match trailing just 4-1.

A year later and O’Sullivan was UK champion for a fourth time, beating Maguire 10-2, although his big test came in the semi-finals where, held to 8-8 by Mark Selby, he made a 147 in the deciding frame.

Speaking of deciders, Shaun Murphy outlasted Marco Fu 10-9 to win the 2008 title after a war of attrition, which finally ended when he fluked match ball.

The 2009 final should have gone to a decider too but Higgins missed what appeared to be a routine brown against Ding, who duly beat him 10-8.

However, Higgins would secure a hat-trick of UK titles in 2010 after an improbable 10-9 victory from 9-5 down to Williams.

He is one of 17 men to have won the UK Championship in its 34 stagings. In this time it has changed sponsors and venues and trophies but remains a prize much cherished from among the array of silverware available on the professional circuit.

The UK Championship has a prestige that can’t be denied and a history that can’t be erased, even if the format has been changed in 2011.



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s capture of a remarkable tenth Premier League title tonight reconfirms him as the king of the shot-clock.

Ding Junhui didn’t enjoy much luck but he was also well below his best and O’Sullivan played confidently, his long potting particularly strong.

He has now won this title seven times in the last eight years. The 20 second shot-clock favours him because of his quick, instinctive snooker brain but this is not the whole story.

I think the League also appeals to O’Sullivan because of the nature of the format. This restless spirit gets easily bored and loathes hanging around in hotel rooms for days at a time during longer tournaments. Many other players feel the same but handle the boredom better.

The Premier League, by contrast, is a series of one night stands: pitch up, play, go home. O’Sullivan in fact went home after his semi-final win on Saturday evening before returning for the final.

Ronnie is 36 next week. He remains a fascinating figure, who seems to attract unquestioning love and vitriol in equal measure.

Both viewpoints are as hidebound as the other. The only way to assess someone’s personality and career is objectively.

In my objective opinion Ronnie is the most charismatic snooker player I’ve ever met, probably the best too in terms of sheer skill.

He is a complex man and I wouldn’t claim to understand him but I like him and I respect him for his ability, his achievements and his entertainment value.

I think sometimes commentators can be too gushing about him – doubtless I have been guilty of this – but he does play the game in a particularly attractive way, and there is more often than not the sense of a wider drama, that something, anything, may happen.

This heady mixture is what draws the crowds and the attention. Snooker would go on without him but would miss him badly.

What’s interesting, though, about the Premier League is that it doesn’t seem to have a bearing on any other event. It’s out on its own. O’Sullivan won the title last year but then lost in the first round of the UK Championship.

He needs to do better at York next week because his top 16 seeding for later in the season is not yet guaranteed.

There aren’t 16 better snooker players than Ronnie in my view but a combination of withdrawals and early round defeats have left him needing some solid performances to stave off an unthinkable relegation from the elite bracket.

His career has been one of peaks and troughs. There have been seasons when he’s been unstoppable and those where he has looked like he’d rather be anywhere other than on a snooker table, with results to match.

The good news for his many fans this season is that he has already won two PTCs from three finals, is consulting with Dr Steve Peters and seems focused.

Whatever he says, he can still play this game to a standard most can only dream of.

He will probably find the tenth PTC of the season, already underway in Sheffield, difficult to be totally motivated for (and won’t be alone in that) but it will be interesting to see what he does at the UK Championship.

And as everywhere else, all eyes will be on this authentic superstar of the green baize.


When Steve Davis, who reigned for a decade, met Stephen Hendry, the boy who would be king, for the 1990 UK Championship crown it was clear that this was no ordinary final.

The two players entered Preston’s Guild Hall arena to the strains of Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best.’ At two decades remove few could argue it was an apposite choice.

It was an engrossing match, perhaps the best ever UK final, and Davis got his nose in front at 15-14 before Hendry demonstrated why he became what he became.

Clearing up with 57, Hendry potted a great all-or-nothing blue with the rest under pressure and went on to take the decider with a break of 98.

It was not only the fact that he potted the blue, it was his self belief, his unshrinking desire to take it on, regardless of the consequences of missing.

John Parrott reached the top perched between two eras, as Davis began to fade and Hendry took over. Parrott possessed great nerve and a competitive spirit which helped him become world champion in 1991, and he emulated Davis and Hendry by winning the UK title in the same calendar year as his Crucible triumph.

Parrott beat Jimmy White 16-13 in the final. It was the latest defeat for White in a major final but he would have his moment in the sun in 1992 when he turned the tables on Parrott, beating him 16-9.

On the trophy, it reads: ‘1992 – Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White’, an exception for the most popular player in the game.

In 1993, the decision was taken to reduce the final from two days to one, from 31 frames to just 19.

But this in no ways undermines the extraordinary achievement of Ronnie O’Sullivan in winning the title at the age of just 17.

O’Sullivan had been groomed for stardom from a young age and given every advantage in his quest for glory, but snooker is an individual game out in the arena – you against the other guy – and in this case the other guy was Hendry.

Displaying maturity beyond his years, O’Sullivan took the game to the world champion and beat him 10-6. Amid all the many, many words written about him, he isn’t lauded enough for this.

The 1994 UK Championship final produced a break building record that still stands to this day as Hendry compiled seven centuries, although his margin of victory over Ken Doherty was 10-5.

This was Hendry at his relentless best: long red, ton, job done. A year later he drubbed Peter Ebdon 10-3 to win UK title no.4.

A fifth would follow in 1996 in the most high profile match he would ever play against John Higgins, whose consistency and mature game was marking him out as someone who could take over from his fellow Scot as snooker’s top dog.

Hendry scrambled through 10-9. He reached three more UK finals but failed (so far) to equal Davis’s record of six titles.

In 1997, O’Sullivan beat him again but, mired in depression, he withdrew from the 1998 event, which Higgins won with a 10-6 defeat of Matthew Stevens.

The tournament produced a remarkable first round reverse for Hendry, 9-0 to Marcus Campbell. He would go on to win a seventh world title at the end of the season but there were signs that, as the decade drew to a close, his reign, like that of Davis ten years earlier, was coming to an end.

Mark Williams won the 1999 UK title, beating Stevens 10-8 in the final. The last three UK Championships of the 90s had been won by O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams: the three players who between them would dominate the game as the new millennium dawned.



Though it may not have been apparent at the time, Steve Davis was in the right place at the right time: a talented young snooker player turning professional just as the sport was beginning to move forward.

A student of technique, he had something less definable, a quality of personality which enabled him to retreat into his own mind when the chaos of snooker, with its heady mix of skill, pressure and luck, was all around him.

Barry Hearn, his gregarious manager, had the opposite persona to his shy young charge. Hearn came from a working class background but went into accountancy on his mother’s advice: “you never meet a poor one” she had told him.

He purchased a string of snooker clubs and in Davis identified a rare character, and someone who would work as hard as was necessary to achieve his goals.

They were part of the Romford mob, a brash crowd who would reap the financial rewards of a sport swiftly demanding serious TV time.

In 1980, the BBC upped its coverage of the UK Championship from three days to nine. Davis won it, beating Alex Higgins 16-6 in the final. It was the first of more than 80 titles he has won thus far.

A demonstration of his growing confidence and status came in the semi-finals where he demolished Terry Griffiths 9-0.

In the 1981 final Davis, already world champion, steamrollered Griffiths again, 16-3, to defend his title.

Griffiths got some sort of revenge in 1982, beating Davis 9-6 in the quarter-finals, and in the final edged Higgins 16-15 from 15-13 down in what one newspaper dubbed ‘The Shoot-out at the UK Coral’ – the bookmakers having come in as title sponsors.

The 1983 final still provides great memories for Higgins’s loyal army of fans. If snooker was a soap opera than Higgins was Dirty Den: mad, bad and dangerous to know. Davis, on the other hand, was Ken Barlow: boringly dependable.

The point, though, is that while Den was killed off (twice, in fact), Barlow is still going strong to this day.

In 1983, it looked as if the player given the ironic nickname ‘Interesting’ would prevail after Davis raced into a 7-0 lead.

But Higgins was never better than in a fight and he roared back, his supporters with him for every ball, to win 16-15, one of his greatest ever victories and one of snooker’s most pulsating finals.

The rematch came a year later but fizzled out, Davis winning 16-8. He was deep in trouble in the 1985 final against Willie Thorne, who led 13-8 only to miss a straightforward final blue and lose the frame.

Davis scented blood and launched his own fightback, winning 16-14 in a defeat that almost came to define Thorne’s career.

A fifth UK title came Davis’s way in 1986 when he defeated Neal Foulds 16-7 in a tournament best remembered for Higgins’s headbuttting of the tournament director, which led to a £12,000 fine and five-tournament suspension.

A sixth title was secured when Davis beat Jimmy White 16-14 in 1987, which he described afterwards as “the highest standard match I’ve ever played in.”

It was ten years since Patsy Fagan had won the inaugural UK Championship and collected a winner’s cheque for £2,000. Davis’s prize was £70,000, a sign of how snooker had gone forth and multiplied in the intervening decade.

Indeed, it seemed as if Davis’s run of success would go on and on. However, a few weeks before his sixth UK triumph, an 18 year-old Scot named Stephen Hendry had won the Grand Prix.

Hendry had many of the same qualities Davis possessed: self assurance, a strong work ethic, in Ian Doyle a canny manager and, of course, the talent on the table to succeed.

He swept Davis away 9-3 in the 1988 semi-finals but his coronation was not to be. Doug Mountjoy, at 46 and ten years on from his first UK title capture, instead authored a remarkable fairy tale by winning it again.

Dropping down the rankings and apparently into the autumn of his career, Mountjoy went to see Frank Callan, a Blackpool fishmonger and astute coach who set about rebuilding his game.

After the first day, the final was poised at 7-7, but Mountjoy pulled away in style, winning all seven frames of the third session and compiling three successive centuries.

Hendry recovered to 15-12 but Mountjoy duly completed an emotional 16-12 victory.

Hendry’s time would come, though, and indeed did a year later when he won the last UK title of the 1980s with a 16-12 defeat of Davis.

He had beaten him before but never over this distance in a match of such importance.

It was symbolic of the changing of the guard at the top of snooker: the Davis era of dominance was over and the Hendry years had begun.



The countdown to the UK Championship starts here! (apart from all the other places it has started).

In four articles I will provide a brief history of the tournament, divided into four decades: the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

The UK Championship was born in 1977 and first played at the Tower Circus in Blackpool.

Let us pause for a moment to consider what the professional game was like in those days. There were no calls for fewer tournaments or a better structured calendar: there was no calendar, really, to speak of, just a small handful of events for low prize money.

However, the BBC’s interest in tournament snooker was growing. Having already agreed to provide full ball-by-ball coverage of the forthcoming World Championship, they elected to screen the final of the UK Championship.

It was originally solely for players from the UK and Ireland and hence did not become a ranking event until 1984 when it was opened up to all (and renamed the UK Open, incidentally, although it reverted back to its original name in 1992).

That first final was between Patsy Fagan and Doug Mountjoy, who had already won the Masters and beaten John Spencer, Willie Thorne and Alex Higgins to reach the UK final.

Fagan was a talent not long out of the amateur ranks, hardened by money matches and ready to make his way as a professional. He won 12-9. His reward was £2,000.

A year later the tournament relocated to Preston Guild Hall, which would become as synonymous with the UK Championship as the World Championship became with the Crucible.

Fagan lost in the first round to David Taylor, aka the ‘Silver Fox’, who reached the final where he was beaten 15-9 by Mountjoy.

The 1979 UK Championship will be remembered for a bizarre incident which left John Virgo doing an unplanned sprint through the Guild Hall’s adjoining shopping centre.

Virgo was through to the final – the biggest match of his career against the then world champion, Terry Griffiths.

He was doing well, too, leading 11-7 and requiring only three more frames for victory in the final session. However, the BBC’s Grandstand programme had requested a 12pm start rather than 1.45 – as it had been all week – and Virgo had not checked the schedule.

Having failed to show up at the venue he was phoned at his hotel some 15 miles away not long before the start. A manic dash to the Guild Hall ensued by he arrived 31 minutes late and was docked two frames.

Griffiths, always a sporting sort, campaigned on Virgo’s behalf but to no avail. Hardly surprisingly the Welshman won the first two frames and was thus level at 11-11 going to the interval.

Still unhappy that he could win in these circumstances, Griffiths knocked on Virgo’s dressing room door during the break and suggested they split the prize money, a well intentioned gesture that was nevertheless met with a blunt response from Virgo: “you haven’t won it yet.”

Griffiths led 13-12 but Virgo, his composure now restored, won the final two frames for his unlikely 14-13 victory.

The first prize was still only £4,500. Clearly, snooker was still growing in popularity but was yet to receive the huge cash injections that would see the sun shine permanently on the sport and its top players in the decade to follow.

Two men in particular would bask in the riches soon to be on offer. Mountjoy’s title defence had ended in the first round to a 22 year-old ginger-haired lad named Steve Davis, backed by his garrulous manager, Barry Hearn.

As one decade ended and a new one began, they were poised to change snooker forever.



Mike Dunn’s 147 break in the German Masters qualifiers tonight proves two things: that the standard throughout the ranks is high and that maximums are still relatively rare.

There are a number of players who have been on the circuit a while who get routinely written off as ‘mediocrity’ or ‘deadwood’. People ask what they have done for snooker.

Well the answer to that is this: they have played it. True, professional sport relies on its star names for commercial appeal but snooker would be nothing without the many foot-soldiers who comprise the tour.

They can all play to a much higher standard than many realise. Hopefully the introduction of streaming for the qualifiers has illuminated this. Just because they aren’t all tournament winners doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be respected.

(Neither, incidentally, should they be artificially propped up. Money in sport should be earned through performance.)

Dunn had never previously made a maximum in a tournament but will now be placed on a list of players, some legends, others long since forgotten, to have achieved the perfect run.

We are fast approaching the 30th anniversary of snooker’s first officially ratified 147 break, made by Steve Davis at the Lada Classic in January 1982.

Since then there have been hundreds of thousands of frames of professional snooker played around the world, yet Dunn’s 147 was only the 79th maximum in the game’s history.

Make no mistake: it is still a very difficult thing to accomplish. In a match environment more so.

Ken Doherty says that the biggest regret of his entire career is his missed black for a 147 at the Masters at Wembley in 2000. He has woken up in the middle of the night thinking about it.

Cliff Thorburn became world champion in 1980 but he is still best known for making the first 147 at the Crucible in 1983.

Whenever Kirk Stevens is mentioned so is his white suit and maximum break at the 1984 Masters.

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s five minute, 20 second maximum at the Crucible in 1997 is rightly talked about as a remarkable exhibition of skill.

Dunn’s 147 was not made in such lofty surroundings but it is still a significant personal achievement.

It’s a shame so many people immediately began to bellyache about the fact there is no financial prize for making one in the qualifiers, as if everything has to be about money. Dunn didn’t make the break for cash (though he would obviously welcome it), he did it because it’s a holy grail in our sport.

Whether there should be a prize or not, the feat of accomplishing a maximum break in competition is one all snooker players aspire to and most don’t achieve.

So Dunn can be proud to have done so.