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Sunday, 9 October 2016

Trump The European Master

Judd Trump is the European Masters champion after getting the better of Ronnie O'Sullivan,9-8 in a pulsating final in Bucharist this evening.

A final between these two always comes with the promise that there might be something special in the offing and that is certainly what we got here in a free flowing exhibition of all that is good in the game.

This was Trumps sixth ranking title and its hard to believe any of the other would have given him as much satisfaction as this one did against an O'Sullivan playing near the top of his game, in fact is says a lot for Trump that despite what his opponent was producing,it was he who produced the bigger breaks.

Into the match itself and it looked early on as if it was going to be "one of those days"for Trump as after a few slices of bad fortune he somehow found himself 3-1 down at the first midsession interval & then 5-3 down at the end of the first session.

Trump though,with what seemed total faith in his game reeled off the first three of the night to lead 6-5.,before a 72 from Ronnie stopped the rot to level at 6-6.When Ronnie then also took the next two to lead 8-6,a 29th ranking title for O'Sullivan looked assured,but back came Trump with a 109,his third century of the day,to close to 8-7.

Into the next and on the flight home it is perhaps on this one that Ronnies mind will focus when he thinks about where he lost it.On three separate occasions here Ronnie knocked in cracking opening reds,but couldn't fashion any of them into the match winning chance he needed and Trump capitalised to level at 8-8.

Into the decider and it was Ronnie again who failed to capitalise from the opening chance,before Trump took full advantage of a missed long red .holding his nerve to construct a fabulous match winning break despite the black tied up in baulk..

When Trump burst on the professional scene in 2011,you would never have though it would take him until 2016 to win a sixth ranking title,but he has perhaps at times not shown the game or his talent the respect it deserves,hopefully now though we are looking a a mature young man who will go on the fulfill his full potential in the game.

As for Ronnie,although upset that he didn't win this,he will also probably be quite satisfied with his game that seemed to be getting sharper and sharper as the week with on. On the evidence of this there is little doubt that 29th ranking title is not far away.

This of course was the first ranking event held in Romania and after a week where the the crowds and enthusiasm just grew and grew I have no doubt we will be back here for many years to come.

Finally it would be remiss of me to let the day pass without mentioning the late great Paul Hunters,whose tenth anniversary occurs today.Its hard to believe with the way the game has gone in that time that he wouldn't have been by now probably a multiple world champion.Sadly that chance was robbed from him at a much too young an age.One thing for sure though is that he would have approved heartily of the swashbuckling way this final was played today.

We now move into a manic period of tournaments with the English Open starting in the morning.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Shanghai Masters-Glory for Ding

An emotional Ding Junhui claimed the 2016 Shanghai Masters title earlier today,with a 10-6 win over world champion Mark Selby in a highly entertaining final

This was Dings 12th ranking title and ends a two year ranking title drought for the Chinese number 1 and gained him a small slice of revenge for his Crucible final loss to Selby last March.

Those two seasons had been torrid for Ding,as he seemed to lose all confidence and had fallen so low as to have to qualify for that world championship.Those days can be forgotten now though as what we saw this week was the Ding of old.

Into the match itself and though both showed themselves to be in good stroke early on with a century each,it was Selby who took the lead to the first interval at 3-1.From here though it was all Ding and as his confidence grew he first drew level at 3-3 ,before continuing to dominate,eventually reeling off five in a row to finish the session 6-3 ahead.

If we know anything about Selby though it is that he never gives in and into the evening session he made a storming start,rolling in breaks of 76,102 & 53 without reply to level it up at 6-6. 

This made the next frame vitally important and it is a testament to Dings mental strength that he could knock in a superb 97 to edge ahead again at 7-6.

That put him on the front foot again and when they resumed further breaks of 52 & 63 put him on the brink of victory at 9-6.That victory eventually came in the next,despite the best snookering efforts of Selby,as Ding sealed the 10-6 win.

This was really an excellent final and a fitting end to what has been a super week of snooker. The crowds were great and the atmosphere for the final was possibly the best we've had for a final In China.The fact that we only had 32 players at the venue really helped as it didn't have the rushed feeling we get from so many of the flat draw tournaments. It was also nice to not have best of 7's for a change.

As for the players,this was the second great final between these two in a matter of months and if the Selby v Ding rivalry was to become the narrative for the season,we wont have any complaints.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Shanghai Masters Semi Final Round Up

The final of the 2016 Shanghai Masters will be a repeat of last seasons world final as Mark Selby once again takes on Ding Junhui for the £85,000 top prize.

Mark Selby was the first player to secure his place in the final ,but only after completing a trademark Selby comeback to eventually sneak past Stuart Bingham 6-5.

This of course was a battle between the games two most recent world champions and at different times today,they each showed flashes of the form that helped them claim those titles.

First out of the blocks in this one was Selby,who,with the help of breaks of 76 & 65,went to the interval leading 3-1.When they resumed though the game changed completely as Selby's form went walkabout under a barrage of scoring from Bingham.Runs of 67 & 123 drew him level,before further breaks of 72 & 87 gave him four frames in a row and put Bingham on the brink of the final at 5-3.

As we all know by now though,there is noone in the game at the moment more dangerous when he's behind than Selby.Back he came to take a scrappy ninth,before breaks of 63 & 68 drew him level at 5-5 to force the decider.From here there was probably only one winner and the world no.1 got over the line to secure his final place.

His opponent there will be Ding Junhui who shook off the challenge of Stephen Maguire 6-3 to claim his final place.This one didn't quite have the quality of the first semi final as a cagey start saw them go to the interval at 2-2.

A counter attack in the fifth frame saw Maguire take the lead at 3-2,but that was as good as it got for the Scot as Ding took the next four to seal the 6-3 win.

So as I said this is a repeat of last years Crucible decider and I'm sure Ding will be hoping he starts this one a bit better than he did that.Lets hope he does and that both players give this tournament the final it deserves.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Shanghai Masters Quarer Finals Round Up.

Four players remain in the hunt to be crowned the 2016 Shanghai masters champion after a day of hard fought last 8 action.

The first semi final tomorrow will see the last two world champions battling it out for a place in the final as Stuart Bingham takes on Mark Selby

Bingham has shown a welcome return to form here this week,but in truth didn't have to be near his best today as Ali Carter struggled to reproduce the snooker that had seen him beat John Higgins yesterday.

Bingham took the opening two frames here to lead 2-0,before Carter got on the board taking the third frame on the black.That was as good as it got for him though as Bingham pulled away again to seal a comfortable 5-1 victory.

Mark Selby on the other hand had to fight a bit harder to reach the semi final against a stubborn Ryan Day.

This was a tight affair with Selby perhaps counting himself lucky to be leading 3-1 at the interval.The next couple were shared,before Day got back within one again at 4-3.That was as close as  got though as Selby got the frame he needed to close out the 5-3 win.

The other semi final see's home favourite Ding Junhui take on probably the player of the week so far in Stephen Maguire.

In an exciting match Ding finally ended the challenge of Michael Holt to the delight of the home crowd as he sealed his semi final spot with a 5-3 win.

It was Ding who took the early initiative here to lead 2-0,but runs of 77 & 50 drew Holt level at the interval.Ding again edged ahead with a 103 when they resumed,but back came Holt again with a 64 to make it 3-3.It was Ding though who pulled away again with a 61 to go 4-3 and he sealed the win in the next to secure his last four place.

Stephen Maguire had a much easier time of it as he swept by Michael White 5-1..

Both best of 11 semi finals take place tomorrow with Selby v Bingham up first with Ding v Maguire following in the evening.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Shanghai Masters Last 16 Round Up

Last 16 day in Shanghai and we had victory for the home favourite,good wins for the last two world champions and  the exit of a couple of the games legends legends,

The home crowds once again went home happy as Ding Junhui progressed to the quarter finals with an impressive 5-2 win over Mark Allen.

Ding had struggled in the previous round to see off Scott Donaldson ,but although he lost the first frame here he quickly found his groove to reel off four in a row to lead 4-1.A 64 was enough for Allen to pull one back in the next,but Ding was not to be denied as he took the next to seal the win

He will now face Michael Holt,who followed up his victory over the defending champion Kyren Wilson in the last round with another fine display today to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 5-2.

Although he had come through the last round by the skin of hid teeth it didn't mask just rusty Ronnie had appeared to be and against an opponent like Holt has become,you simply can't get away with that.Three frames in a row from Holt here saw him turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead and although Ronnie threatened to spark a comeback in the next,another miss on an easy black spelled the end for him as Holt cleared with 64 to seal a famous win.

A strange thing that seemed to creep into Judd Trumps game last season was a tendency for the wheels to fall off when he seemed to be completely in control in a match and that reared its head again today against Michael White.

Trump had won his first round here without dropping a frame and stormed into a 3-0 lead today,but back came White and Trump had no answer as the Welshman won five in a row to win 5-3.

He will face the maximum man Stephen Maguire who continued his fine run here this week with a 5-3 win over Barry Hawkins.

Former world champ Stuart Bingham surely must be starting to grow in confidence again as he booked his quarter final place with another solid display to overcome David Gilbert 5-2 & he next faces Ali Carter again showed his game to be in a good place beating John Higgins 5-2

World champ Mark Selby needed to produce something nearing his best to eventually shake off the determined challenge of Stuart Carrington,eventually getting over the line 5-3 & will now play Ryan Day who beat Mei Xi Wen 5-2.

Quarter finals
Michael Holt v Ding Junhui
Michael White v Stephen Maguire
Stuart Bingham v Ali Carter
Mark Selby v Ryan Day

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Shanghai Masters The Story So Far.

Three days into the 2016 Shanghai Masters and we've already had plenty to thrill what seem for once to be very healthy Chinese crowds.

Of course to begin with here,we had the dreaded wildcard round,which although nothing more than an inconvenience to most,still always seems to trip someone up.This time it was Martin Gould who went down 5-0 to 16 year old Yuan Sijan..The other thing of note from this round was a 147 from Stephen Maguire in his win over Yi Chen Zu.

Into the tournament proper then and we've already said goodbye to our defending champion Kyren Wilson who wen down 5-2 to the always tricky Michael Holt..He will next face Ronnie O'Sullivan,found some form just in the nick of time as he fought back from 4-1 to beat Liang Wenbo 5-4.

Home favourite Ding Junhui had to also use all his battling skills to eventually see off Scott Donaldson 5-4 & he will now face Mark Allen who dispatched recent Indian Open winner Anthony McGill 5-0.

Michael White held his nerve to see off Ricky Walden in a deciding frame 5-4 where by contrast his opponent in the  next round Judd Trump had a much easier time of it,easing past Ben Woollaston 5-0.

5-0 scorelines were much the order of the day as Barry Hawkins whitewashed Robert Milkins to set up a last 16 clash with the in form Stephen Maguire who dispatched new father Shaun Murphy by the same scoreline.

Stuart Bingham showed signs of a welcome return to form with a 5-0 win over Jamie Jones and he will now play David Gilbert,who turned around a 3-0 deficit against Marco Fu,winning in the end 5-4.

Also making a slow start in his match was John Higgins,who was perhaps lucky to reach his interval with Matt Selt only 3-1 behind,but the veteran Scot found his touch when they resumed to run out a 5-3 winner.

A slow start is probably not a luxury Higgins can afford in his next match though as next faces an in form opponent in Ali Carter,who dispatched Kurt Maflin with the minimum of fuss 5-1.

Ryan Day & Mei Xi Wen will also face each other after both provided the only real shocks in the first round.Day reached the last 16 with a 5-2 win over Neil Robertson  in a match that wont live long in the memory,while Mei Xi Wen beat former world champ Mark Williams 5-3.

Finally world champ Mark Selby brought the run of  Yuan Sijan to an end with a 5-1 win & will now play Stuart Carrington who beat Joe Perry 5-4..

From here the tournament now starts to up the pace with all last 16 matches taking place tomorrow.Hopefully from here the already good crowds continue to build to what could be a grandstand weekend.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Shanghai Masters Preview

Tomorrow morning see's the start of the 2016 Shanghai Masters and is the point that for many that the new season properly begins.

That might be slightly unfair,we have after all had four events already this season,but maybe its the spaced out nature of things,or perhaps indeed just my own inability to adjust to the new reality,but it just doesn't feel like things really get going until we get to this more traditional time of year for snooker.

That said though ,those who have fully embraced summer snooker have been rewarded with some fine snooker action that has already provided those perennial winners world champion Mark Selby (Paul Hunter Classic) & Neil Robertson (Riga Masters) with their first titles of the new season,as well as Anthony McGill with his first ranking title in the Indian Open and also a heart warming victory for Ali Carter in the World Open.

A bonus for the event this year is the participation of Ronnie O'Sullivan who seems set to play a far more active role on the circuit this season,but if he is to make an impact here he will need to be on it from the word go, in a quarter of the draw that also includes defending champion Kyren Wilson,home favourites,Liang Wenbo & Ding Junhui,as well as Mark Allen and Anthony McGill.

Still I expect this section to boil down to a Quarter final between Ronnie & Ding with maybe "the Rocket" who has been performing superbly in his recent exhibition series with Judd Trump to edge it
Quarter winner Ronnie O'Sullivan

If that quarter looks tough to call,then the same can be said for the next section which includes Judd Trump,recent new father Shaun Murphy,Ricky Walden, & Barry Hawkins.Following the same template as the top quarter though I think Trump too may have benefited from that exhibition series and he may well come through here.
Quarter winner Judd Trump

Into the bottom half and one of the interesting things to see this season will be just how Stuart Bingham gets on with the weight of the world crown removed from his shoulders.Here he doesn't have the worst draw with a quarter final against either Ali Carter or John Higgins looking likely.I think that will be far as he gets though and I think that this sort of best of nine event could well see John Higgins make another bold bid for yet another ranking title.
Quarter winner John Higgins

Finally the last section will surely once again boil down to a quarter final battle between Neil Robertson & Mark Selby.These matches are always a toss of the coin but perhaps Robertson will edge this one.
Quarter winner Neil Robertson

So there we have it,what promises to be fascinating week gets underway in the morning on Eurosport and even if the weather outside has turned a little autumnal,we can take comfort in what promises to be a week of top class green baize action.

Monday, 2 May 2016

World Champion 2016 is Mark Selby.

Mark Selby is the 2016 Betfred World Champion after he held off the determined comeback from Ding Junhui to claim the title in the end by a scoreline of 18-14.

Coming into this championship there were plenty of question marks over which Mark Selby would show up here after he missed the last two tournaments due to personal reason,but really we should have known better as what we got was the hard as granite match player we been used to seeing over the last ten years.

There are times in matches and indeed torunaments,where you just think this man surely can't win,but time and time again he digs deep into his reserves and produces something from nowhere to get a result.At times it isn't pretty,but much as some people complain of his style what must also be acknowledged is an unquenchable will to succeed that one can only admire.

As for the match itself the damage was really done in that early burst from Selby where he lead 6-0.From there Ding did his absolute best to get back,twice getting within one frame,but crucially Selby immediately responded on each occasion and Ding could never quite manage to get level.This happened last night when he closed to 8-7 & again today at 11-10,but each time Selby won the next two to build that three frame cushion.

Coming out for the final session the lead stood at 14-11 and that quickly became 16-11 as Selby looked to put a lid on things quickly.There was still time for one last surge from Ding.closing it to 16-14,but when a lengthy 31st frame went to Selby the writing was on the wall and he finished it in the next to seal the 18-14 victory.

A wonderful moment for Selby then,as he saluted his loved ones on potting match ball,but heartbreak for Ding who has undoubtedly been the player of the tournament.The fact he had to qualify is laughable when you see the way he played here and you would hope,with confidence now restored we will see the real Ding Junhui next season ,building towards another assault at the one big title to allude him thus far.

As for the tournament as a whole I'm not sure I agree with some of those saying that this has been thebest championship in years.Yes we did see some great snooker,but with the best will in the world and regardless of how well he played,I don't think a 45 year old Alan McManus reaching the semi finals reflects well on the quality of the tournament.

It was also once again disappointing to see the tables dominating the chat on social media.Big bounces, kicks & over the generous cut of the pockets all serve to make a game,which is decided so much on fractions,a bit of a lottery.

It wasn't all bad though and there were a few things we can all get excited about.

The emergence of Kyren Wilson has been the story of the season and here we saw again just why many are tipping this young man as a future world champion.Just how he does next season will be fascinating to watch.

Other off the table positives were the announcement of the new 10 year deal with Eurosport which may include coverage of the qualifiers for net years championship.Their dedication to snooker has been superb and such a deal can surely only see the sport grow even more on mainland Europe.Now if only they'd get rid of Colin Murray!!

Also announced today we had a two year extension to the BBC deal,which after some newspaper reports in recent months is huge a relief and the best news of all,that the championship will be staying at the Crucible for the next ten years.

So thats it for another season,as we toast again our 2016 champion Mark Selby.They say the Crucible is a marathon of the mind and this year Selby proved once again he is the sports ultimate marathon man.

Talk to ye all soon

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Final-Story So Far

Half way through the 2016 world final and things are beautifully poised as Mark Selby holds a 10-7 lead over Ding Junhui

All last night on social media the debate about who would win this match centred on the key question of how ding would handle his first world final playing someone with the game & experience of. Selby.From this the overriding opinion was the for him to have a chance Ding needed a good start to settle down.Unfortunately for him the complete opposite happened.

It was indeed Selby who took the opener,but Ding looked set to level at 1-1 when potting the black off the last red to leave Selby needing a snooker,It was just one snooker though and Selby got it before clearing the colours to lead 2-0. That soon became 4-0 as Selby started to boss things and Ding's looked increasingly desperate.

Things didn't improve much for the Chinese when Selby won the next two as well to go 6-0.That really should have become 7-0,but with the help of a missed blue from Selby, Ding took it to get off the mark and also the next to finish the session 6-2 behind,a result,which all things considered, wasn't the worst in the world for him.

Into the night session and a complete sea change..Selby,having looked every inch the world number one in the afternoon now started to look a little edgy,despite taking the opening frame of the night to go 7-2 & in contrast Ding started to find the break building prowess that had got him here in such style as he took the next three to close within two at the interval,the score now 7-5.

Selby again stretched his lead to three going 8-5,Ding now had a bit of momentum and won the next to close to 8-6. He looked as though he was comfortably on his way to  winning the next,but having potted frame ball red he missed an insurance red down the cushion leaving Selby needing two snookers,As we know thats a dangerous thing to do against Selby and 45 minutes of safety play ensued before Ding eventually potted the pink to close within one at 8-7.

It served to knock him out of his rhythm though and Selby took full advantage to grab the last two of the night to hold that 10-7 overnight lead.

So Selby will start tomorrow needing eight more for his second title.For Ding it will be a case of trying to win the afternoon session and going from there.A fascinating day lies ahead.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Semi Final Round Up Plus Final Preview

Ding Junhui will face Mark Selby over the next two days for the £330.000 top prize and more importantly the title of 2016 Betfred World Champion.

This will be Ding's first appearance in a world final after many years of struggle at the Crucible and perhaps the way he held off the determined comeback of Alan McManus,never losing his focus in what was a superb match,that has been the main difference this year.

This was really a cracking match from the very beginning with Ding at his free flowing,break building best,rolling in four centuries in the first session to lead 6-2

When that lead became 9-3 in the second session ,it looked as Ding may be heading for a second session to spare victory in a row,but McManus has in many ways been the story of these championships & he continued to roll back the years,claiming the next four to finish the session just two behind at 9-7.

Into the third session and McManus closed the gap to one at 9-8,but Ding regained his grip to take the next three to lead 12-8.Mcanus wasn't quite ready for the fairytale to end though as he rallied again to close to 12-10.

Ding,who must have been wondering what he had to do to shake off this veteran Scot,won the next to lead 13-10 and then in what was probably the pivotal moment of the match,he clinched the last of the session on the black to lead 14-10.

This proved a bridge to far for McManus today and it was Ding,who,collecting a record seventh century of the match along the way, sealed the win 17-11.

The other semi final between Mark Selby & Marco Fu always had the look on paper that it may be a more methodical affair and so it proved in a match that can prob be best described as "one for the purists"

This one was tight the whole way through with Selby,holding the advantage after the first session at 5-3,only for Fu to win the second session by the same score to level it up at 8-8.

Neither player was playing at the top of their game here as the score moved on t 10-10 at he interval,then 11-11 and eventually 12-12 as Selby took a 76 minute final frame of the morning to leave it all square.

Into the final session and what was effectively now a best of nine.To be fair to both players the standard improved slightly,but what didn't change was the fact that  they could still not be separated. as the score went 13-13,14-14 & 15-15.

Now though that little bit of experience that Selby has of winning here just began to show and he edged ahead again at 16-15 7 in another frame that lasted over an hour Selby eventually got over the line to win 17-15

So what can we expect in the final,Well undoubtedly the favourite based on a evidence over the past fortnight is Ding.He has looked back to his very best in among the balls,as evidenced by his phenomenal break building stats,but more than this,as I said above,his focus has been exceptional.It can't be a coincidence that he has had the services of Terry Griffiths in his corner.

As for Selby,well he hasn't been playing anywhere near his best,but how often has he won tournaments where he has seemed to have no form at all.What he does have of course is an amazing will to win and a never say die attitude.Also having won the title here two years ago he knows what it takes to lift this title.

This final will be intriguing to watch but I just think that maybe Ding's time has come and wouldn't it be well deserved  

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

World Championship Quarter Finals Round Up & Semi Final Preview.

After two days of the most extraordinary days of snooker action four men remain in the hunt for the 2016 world title and each will just be starting to feel that this may just be their year.

Alan McManus at 45 bridged a 23 year wait for another chance at the single table set up with a hard fought 13-11 win over John Higgins.

This one looked on paper as though it would be a tough old fashioned tussle and so it proved as we started the night with Higgins leading 9-7.The first four were shared to eave it 11-9 to Higgins at the interval.

At this point though something unexpected happened,just when we were expecting the four time champ to seal the deal,he actually was the first to blink as runs of 71 &52 firstly drew McManus level and then a 128 & 60 saw him over the line to a famous victory 13-11.

In the semi final he will face his fellow qualifier Ding Junhui who had things a who had things a whole lot easier as he swept past Mark Williams 13-3.The first four frames here were actually shared,but from here Ding upped a gear to go through with a session to spare.

So hard as it is to think of Ding as a qualifier,he actually is and as such we are guaranteed someone who started in Ponds Forge getting into  in the final.Mcmanus will no doubt feel he is riding the crest of a wave here this week,but in reality.will Ding ever have a better chance of claiming the games big prize

Score prediction Ding wins 17-8

Marco Fu reached the single table set up for the first time in ten years with what the record books will show as a 13-11 win over Barry Hawkins,but that doesn't even to begin to explain just what a match this was.

Indeed how different it all looked in the early stages,as Hawkins,still recovering from his marathon match in the previous round couldn't get going early on ans Fu lead after the first session 7-1.

That became 9-1 this morning when Fu took the opening two frames,but Hawkins at the time managed to firstly stave off the humiliation of losing with a session to spare by winning the next three to make it 9-4 & then the last two of session to give himself a squeak at going into tonight at 10-6.

Out they came for the final session and it was again Hawkins who ramped up the pressure on Fu with runs of 50,75 & 85 putting him back within one at 10-9.

Fu was now visibly under the most extreme pressure,but breaks of 50 & 93 moved him to the hill at 12-9.Into a lengthy 22nd frame where Fu had the chance to claim victory on the green,but he missed and it eventually went to Hawkins to make it 12-10.That became 12-11 in the next & it looked for all the world like we were heading for a decider when Hawkins lead by 60-0 in the 24th,but Fu,who had now gone 41 mins without potting a ball,rolled in a superb long red & then produced as big a bottle clearance as we're ever likely to see to to win a classic 13-11.

He will next face Mark Selby,who like Fu built a big lead early on and held his nerve when things got close later. Selby had not looked anywhere near his best in his first two matches here ,but was more like his old self here in opening up a 6-0 lead over Kyren Wilson.

Plenty of people have compared young Wilson to Selby and the way he battled in this one you can see why.After getting off the mark by taking last two of first session to go 6-2 he got back within two in the next at 8-6,but Selby took a crucial last two of the session to lead again by four at 10-6.

Into the morning and the writing was on the wall for Wilson when Selby moved it to 12-6,but Wilson had one more trick up his sleeve,knocking in a new tournament high break of 143.That was to be his last hurrah though as Selby sealed the win in the next 13-8.

So its Selby v Fu for a place in the final. Obviously the betting here will favour Selby,but he has looked poor at times this championship & taking for granted that Fu can recover from tonights game mentally,he may shock a few here.That said though I still think Selby will have a enough to prevail
Score prediction Selby 17-13

Monday, 25 April 2016

World Championship Day 10 Round Up

Day 10 and the most dramatic day of the tournament so far,as the hot favourite for the title Ronnie O'Sullivan,went down 13-12 to Barry Hawkins in a real Crucible classic.

Hawkins had lead 5-3 in this one after they had shared the second session he lead coming into tonight 9-7.Its funny how often you see in these long matches that an early lead can last the whole way through a match and it seemed to be happening here as twice Ronnie got within one,only for Hawkins to win the next to keep the gap at two going to the interval 11-9.

Out they came to play to a finish and what looked the decisive moment as Hawkins moved within one of victory at 12-9.This was not a case of Ronnie been disinterested and just how much he wanted this was evident as two quickfire frames brought him within one again at 12-11.

Hawkins had a chance to seal the victory,but after a kick he never gained full cueball control and when he presented Ronnie with one last chance he duly took it to set up dramatic conclusion.

Into the decider and it was Ronnie who potted the initial red,but failing to get position on a baulk colour a tense safety battle ensued. With only a few reds in the open it looked like whoever got the first scoring chance would be in pole position and when Hawkins got in,he build a lead that despite his best efforts Ronnie could not retrieve.The final nail in O'Sullivan's coffin came when in potting a red the cueball went in off and Hawkins was left with the easiest of match ball reds to claim a famous 13-12 win.

So Hawkins marches on to the quarter finals and can take great pleasure from the fact that not only has he laid some of his "Ronnie ghosts" to rest,but he did so against a Ronnie playing very very well.If that doesn't give him confidence going forward,nothing will.

With Ronnie now gone suddenly the bottom half of the draw looks very open and those left will start to maybe fancy their chances.That will certainly be the case for Kyren Wilson who held off a Mark Allen comeback to book his last 8 place.

Starting off this morning with an 11-5 lead Wilson was a big favourite to advance,but just as he had done last night Allen won the first four of the day to pull back within two again at 11-9.

The interval though once again checked the Ulstermans momentum and Wilson held his nerve to take the two he needed to win 13-9.

There will also be those who feel that this may just be the year that Ding Junhui finally makes a charge at the games biggest prize after seeing off Judd Trump here 13-10.

This one had not been the free scoring match we.had expected early on,but that changed this morning as both men started to fire in the big breaks.The tone for the session was set in the opening frame with Ding first in with 65 only to see the frame go to Trump with a 70.Ding though quickly re-established his four frame lead with a 72 and moved to the hill with a 91,his lead 12-7.

Trumps back was now very much against the wall,but to his credit he came out fighting.Runs of 61,56 & 88 saw him claim three in a row as Ding looked to be feeling the pressure,but the Chinese managed to hold himself together to win the next and win the match 13-10.

Ding can now look forward to facing Mark Williams in the quarter finals ,but for Trump its a case of back to the drawing board.He has played it down since,but surely the fact he lost four frames in a row following his interval Twitter spat with Dominic Dale during the first session cannot be discounted as coincidence.Maybe he needs to learn how to focus more during a game. If he doesn't change something we may well be looking back at 2011 as the closest he's got to winning a title that for so long looked to be his birthright.

Meanwhile making his way serenely through the tournament is John Higgins who clinically saw off Ricky Walden to set up an all Scottish quarter final against fellow veteran Alan McManus.

Starting the night 10-6 ahead Higgins took the opening frame to go 11-6.Walden to his credit managed to pull two back to make it 11-8,but runs of 92 & 99,either side of the interval,saw Higgins home with a comfortable 13-8 win.

So eight men start out tomorrow maybe just feeling this could be their year.Whatever happens we have a few very interesting days ahead.

Quarter Final Draw
Alan McManus v John Higgins
Ding Junhui v Mark Williams
Marco Fu v Barrly Hawkins
Kyren Wilson v Mark Selby

Sunday, 24 April 2016

World Championship Day 9 Round Up

Day 9 at the championship and although officially no match finished today,in three of the four matches its going to take a major turnaround tomorrow to change what looks like the inevitable results.

Lets start though with the one that could be about to produce the biggest shock of all,as Barry Hawkins leads Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-7 .

Hawkins of course started today with a 5-3 lead and will no doubt have settled in his mind to share todays session 4-4 and that is exactly what happened.Apart from laying the ghost of his crushing Masters final defeat,Hawkins will also be taking great heart from the fact that he is currently leading a Ronnie playing in the balls as well as ever.The difference here is that every slight mistake from Ronnie is been punished.It makes for fascinating final session between these two tomorrow evening.

As for the other matches,well they seem all but decided as the leaders in each hold big overnight advantages.

John Higgins kept up his challenge for a fifth title by extending his lead over Ricky Walden to 10-6.
Starting at 5-3 the first four were shard to leave it 7-5,but it was Higgins who took three of the next four to stand just three more frames from securing his place in the last 8.

On paper the tie of the round looked to be the clash between Ding Junhui & Judd Trump and although this one hasn't yet turned into the free scoring match we might have expected,I'm sure Ding wont mind as he holds a 10-6 lead going into tomorrows final session.

Looking even better is Kyren Wilson who is six clear of Mark Allen at 11-5.This was an extraordinary match with Wilson amazingly taking an early 7-0 lead,before Allen got off the mark in the final frame of the session to trail 7-1.

Into the night and Allen began to fight back,taking the four to the interval to stand just two behind at 7-5.Things were now perfectly poised,but although he had his chances Allen could not close the gap any further and Wilson pulled away again to build what is surely an unassailable 11-5 lead.

With no morning session all four of these matches play to a finish tomorrow afternoon and evening

Saturday, 23 April 2016

World Championship Day 8 Round Up

Day eight at the championship and we now have half the quarter final places filled after a day of  real tense dramatic Crucible finishes

2014 champ Mark Selby booked his place in the last eight tonight,but only after coming through a real dogfight with Sam Baird

This one was real nip and tuck in the first session and it started out again here this morning as they shared the first four to make it 6-6..From here what looked a decisive move from the world number one took him three clear at 9-6..Baird though kept his hopes alive,winning the last of the session to make it 9-7

Into the night and again Selby seemed to take control going four clear at 11-7,but from here Baird dug deep and started to drag his way back.11-7 became 11-11 as Selby showed signs of real struggle,losing the lengthy frames that are normally his forte.

Another shock was now on the cards ,but Selby is never beat till the very end and he dug deep into his reserves to take the two he need to advance to the next round with a 13-11 victory.

Earlier in the day the old man of the tournament Alan McManus reached the quarters for the second time in three years with a hard fought 13-11 win over Ali Carter.

The 45 year old started the day trailing Carter 9-7,but after winning the first of the morning with a superb black,he also took the next with a century before adding the next two to go to the interval 11-9 up.

Carter managed to stop the rot in the next to close to 11-10,but a close 22nd frame was decided with a McManus fluked snooker on the brown which put him on the brink at 12-10.Carter did rally again to claim the next with a century,but the Scot would not be denied and as he won the 24th frame to seal the 13-11 victory

Another player proving the myth that this is a young mans game is Mark Williams,who this morning held off a brief Holt rally to secure his last 8 place with a 13-8 victory.

Starting the final session with a 10-6 lead ,Williams took the first to extend that to 11-6.Holt now with nothing to lose suddenly started scoring and runs of 75 and 109 pulled it back to 11-8.

Into the next and Holt was well in again,but just when it was starting to look that this may become interesting,Williams nicked it in typical style and duly took the next as well to claim the 13-8 win.

In matches that started out today ,those who were already giving the trophy to Ronnie O'Sullivan were given something to think about as Barry Hawkins took the last three of the session to lead 5-3 overnight,

Also holding a 5-3 lead is John Higgins who just about deserved to have that edge after a quality first session against Ricky Walden.

Friday, 22 April 2016

World Championship Day 7 Round Up.

Day seven at the Crucible and I thinks its fair to say that when the story of this years tournament is written,todays action wont feature too prominently,but this can often happen in a long tournament and we still had some potentially big stories developing.

In the only match to finish today Marco Fu overcame a neck injury to become the first man to reach the quarter finals with a 13-9 victory over Anthony McGill.

Starting the day with a 5-3 lead Fu saw the first three frames of the morning go to his opponent to trail 6-5,,but took the next to level things up at 6-6. From here Fu took three of the last four to share the session and retain the two frame lead he held at the start of the day leading now 9-7.

Into the night and although McGill took the opening frame to reduce his arrears to 9-8,Fu stretched away again to move to the brink at the interval at 12-8.On resumption McGill made it 12-9,but Fu took the next to seal the win 13-9.

In other matches yet to be completed Ali Carter and Alan McManus shared the second session to leave Carter still leading by two at 9-7.They play to a finish in the morning.

Also in the morning 2013 champ Mark Selby will be looking to assert some authority on his match with Sam Baird after failing to shake off his less experienced opponent this afternoon,the eight frames shared 4-4.

Things are looking much better for another former champ though,as Mark Williams recovered from a sluggish start against Michael Holt to turn an early 4-1 deficit into a 10-6 overnight lead.

They play to a finish tomorrow afternoon where on the other table,tournament favoutite Ronnie O'Sullivan starts out against Barry Hawkins.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

World Championship Day 6 Round up

Day six at the Crucible may have brought the end to the first round at this years championship,but boy did it go out with a bang on the most dramatic day of the tournament so far.

In what was the match of the tournament , Kyren Wilson enhanced his growing reputation in the game with a hard fought 10-9 victory over Joe Perry in the most dramatic  of circumstances.

Starting out tonight with just the minimum between them,Wilson leading 5-4,this had the look of a game that would be close and what transpired was a night of punch & counter punch as these two battled it out for the final place in the last 16.

Into the action and the first four were shared to leave it at 7-6 to Wilson going to the interval.When they resumed ,it was Perry who took the next two to lead 8-7.From here though Wilson showed just what he was made of,producing two super clearances to edge ahead again at 9-8.

The next frame was one of those frames you only seem to get at the end of long format matches,as both players fought tooth and nail for 57 minutes,before Perry finally potted the pink to force the decider.

So we got the decider the match deserved and although it wasn't quite as dramatic as the previous frame,both players did spurn good chances,before a fluked snooker proved a bridge too far for Perry,who could only hit and hope his escape.From it he did manage to hit a red,but leaving Wilson on he held it together to seal a fantastic win.

Before this it had seemed to story of the day was  Judd Trump,who battled his way back off the floor to beat Liang Wenbo 10-8

Starting the day at 6-3 Liang must have been sniffing that a big win was on the cards and when he won the first to go four clear at 7-3 it seemed another seed may be heading for the exit door.
Trump was really under it  here and really should really have lost the next as well,but Liang has at times in the past struggled to put matches away and it was to happen here as he let several good chances slip,the result been instead of 8-3 we had Trump closing to 7-4.

This was to prove just the lift that Trump required and,starting to look more like his old self he reeled off the next four as well to lead for first time at 8-7.Liang did win the 16th to make it 8-8,but it proved only a blip as Trump marched on the second round,taking the next two to win 10-8.

He will now face Ding Junhui in a match that promises to be a cracker.

Of the second round matches that started today,Fu and Carter hold slight advantages over their respective opponents,,McGill & McManus,both leading 5-3,but there is a long way to go in both.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

World Championship Day 5 Round Up.

Day five at the championship and as the first round draws to a close many will be just starting to wonder,could this be the year Ding Junhui makes a real challenge for the games biggest prize.

On paper his match today with Martin Gould always looked like it could be a tasty one and so it proved as it ebbed and flowed al day to the delight of the packed crowd.

Into the match and it was Ding who got off to a flyer,with only an horrendous kick on the pink stopping him from leading 3-0.He steadied himself though to lead 3-1 at the mid session interval,On resumption,the next four were shared,before an astonishing 111,that really had to be seen to be believed brought Gould within one at 5-4.

In to the night session then and the momentum seemed to be with Gould as he won he three of the first four to lead for the first time in the match at 7-6.

Then came what appeared to be the pivotal moment as leading by 46 with only one red remaining,Ding somehow managed to lose the frame to trail by two at 8-6,

Just how would the Chinese respond after such a hammer blow? Well the answer was by stepping up and producing his A game

Runs of 132 & 84 drew Ding level at 8-8,before another century put him ahead again at 9-8.Gould had now not potted a ball for half an hour,but although he did have his chance in the next, a missed final red was to be his last chance as Ding cleared the colours to win 10-8.

Ding will no doubt be filled with confidence and its possible that his early exit in so many tournaments this season could prove to be a blessing in disguise as he has very few miles on the clock this yr.

Looking at the draw.most would have looked at a possible round two clash between Ding  &Judd \Trump as a tie not to miss,but an all Chinese affair is looking the more likely as Liang Wenbo opened up a 6-3 overnight against Trump this afternoon in an at times scrappy session.Trump will certainly have to up his game when they resume tomorrow afternoon if he is to avoid joining the growing list of seeded casualties.

Another seed with work to do is Joe Perry who lost the last three of tonights session to trail Kyren Wilson 5-4 overnight.

Elsewhere in other matches that finished today,Mark Allen quickly booked his last 16 place,taking the four frames he needed to beat Mitchell Mann 10-3 and Barry Hawkins set up yet another Crucible encounter with old adversary Ronnie O'Sullivan,finishing off his match against Zhang Anda 10-5.

Tomorrow of course we only have two sessions as Round one draws to a close and the opening shots of round two are fired in anger.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

World Championship-Day 4 Round Up

Day four at the Championship and although the shocks have been plentiful already this week I think its safe to say that today we had the biggest so far as the 2010 champ & second favourite for the title this year,Neil Robertson crashed out 10-6 to Michael Holt.

Holt has been playing well of late and with a recent tv victory over Ronnie to his name started confidently in this one,quickly establishing a 3-0 lead.Robertson though started to find his scoring boots and with fine runs of 60,101 & 107 drew things level at 3-3.

It now seemed he had weathered that early storm,but Holt came out strong in the next,taking it with a 115 of his own,before also claiming the next to go 5-3 & then the last of the afternoon on the black to again lead by three at 6-3.

Into the evening then and despite what had gone before Robertson was still favourite with the bookies to advance to the last 16.This however is a very different Michael Holt to the fragile player of old and  in a series of closely fought frames he moved himself to the brink at the interval leading 9-4.Robertson to his credit managed to pull two back when they resumed,but it was too little too late as Holt took the frame he needed to record a famous 10-6 win.

Huge disappointment for Robertson who has never really been able to reproduce since,the form he showed in winning the UK last December.It'll be a case of back to the drawing board for him as he tries to get to the top of the mountain again,For Holt though he can now look forward to a last 16 clash against another left handed former world champion,Two time winner Mark Williams.

Elsewhere two other former champions built on large overnight leads to book their place in the last 16

Coming into this mornings session with a 7-2 lead Mark Selby's thoughts would have been on putting this to bed quickly,whereas his opponent Robert Milkins would have been setting himself a target of winning the first mini session 3-1 to get back in the match.As it happened Milkins did even better than that,flying out the blocks to take the first four frames in little over an hour to pull himself back within one at 7-6.

This game was now very much back in the balance and the first frame after the interval took on monumental importance.Thankfully,from Selby's point of view he took it to stop the Milkins surge and duly went on to take the  two as well to seal his place in Round two,winning in the end 10-6.

Also holding a 7-2 overnight lead coming into today was John Higgins,but despite losing the opening frame of this afternoons session to Ryan Day,there was to be no sweat lost for the four time champ as he reeled off the next three he needed to record a 10-3 victory.He can now look forward with confidence to a last 16 clash with Ricky Walden later in the week.

Finally in matches that started today both Mark Allen & Barry Hawkins enjoy overnight 6-3 leads over Mitchell Mann & Zhang Anda respectively

Monday, 18 April 2016

World Championship Day Three.

The first of three Mondays at the championship and a day after one legend officially hung up his cue,three more of the all rime greats showed today that their is still plenty of life left in them yet.

Ronnie O'Sullivan is a short price with most bookies to claim a sixth title here and it could be argued he may well claim that title with out again facing an opponent playing as well as David Gilbert did here.

The fact that today started with Gilbert somehow 6-3 down after a first session where the Tamworth native was the top of his game was a mystery and he kept up that high standard this morning to push Ronnie into producing his best to eventually win 10-7.

Of course by now the result is only secondary as Ronnie will once again be grabbing the headlines tomorrow for the wrong reasons after refusing to speak to the media following the match.He can expect a hefty fine from World Snooker for this and you really have to wonder at times why he brings these things on himself.

Elsewhere his fellow veteran Mark Williams quickly booked his place in the last 16,turning a 7-2 lead into  a 10-4 win over Graeme Dott & John Higgins looked in superb form this morning as he opened up a 7-2 lead over Ryan Day.

In the evening matches Michael White looked as though he may have weathered the storm against Sam Baird when he turned a 5-4 overnight deficit into a 7-6 interval lead,but not for the first time,that 15 minute break changed things as Baird reeled off four in a row when they resumed to run out a 10-6 victor.

On the other table,recent two time ranking runner up Ricky Walden was having a real battle against Robbie Williams as both men struggled for form.Walden looked in real trouble here when he trailed 7-5,but a four frame burst moved him within one of the win at 9-7 and although Willaims produced a great century to get back to 9-8,Walden got over the line in the next to win 10-8.

In the other match started today Mark Selby seemed a bit rusty early on following his recent absence from the game,but seemed to warm to the task and opened up a comfortable 7-2 lead over Milkins at end of play.

So that was that for today.Tomorrow see's two more of the real fancies for this tournament entering the fray as Mark Allen & Neil Robertson cue up for the first time at this years championship.It'll be interesting to see if the betting markets are correct.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

World Championship Day Two.

Day Two at the 2016 World Championship and although we saw two more big names topple ,for a certain generation there is one story today that outranks all others,the official retirement of Steve Davis.

Steve of course has been all but retired since he lost his tour place in 2014,but now in the light of the recent passing of his father Bill he has made it official.

To fully document just what Steve Davis has done for snooker both on and off the table over the last 38 years would take far more than a mere blog post so lets today  just simplly say thank you to "The Nugget " and wish him a long and happy retirment from the table.

Back to the action on the table and after yesterday seeing last years champion bow out,today we saw the man he beat in that final also exit the event as Shaun Murphy went down 10-8 to Anthony McGill.

McGill was the story of the tournament here last year when he knocked out Mark Selby,before falling to Murphy in the quarters.On the back of that then it must be said he's had a disappointing season,but there s something about this venue that agrrees with him and he starting this morning 5-4 behind,he recovered from losing the first frame this morning to reel off the next four,with some superb all round matchplay to lead 8-6.

From here,in typical Murphy style, Shaun twice got back within one with runs of 88&70 ,but could never just get level and it was McGill with breaks of 117 & 97 who closed out the match to win 10-8.

In the other match to finish today Alan McManus got the better of the battle of the Scots as he beat Stephen Maguire 10-7.

This is McManus's 20 appearance at the Crucible and the 45 year old needed all that experience as Maguire threatened a comeback comeback when the score went 7-6 from 7-3. at the mid session interval.Maybe it was a case of the break in play coming at the right time as McManus took the next two to go 9-6 and although maguire won the next,it was the veteran McManus who closed out the win 10-7.

In other actiuon Ronnie O'Sullivan somehow finds himself leading 6-3 against David Gilbert who was playing superbly at time.They play to a finish in the morning.Mark Williams is in an even stronger position against his fellow former world champ Graeme Dott,the Welshman leading 7-2.

The other two games that started today are much closer affairs with two more seeds in some trouble as Ricky Walden & Michael White both trail their respective opponents Robbie Williams & Sam Baird by the odd frame 5-4.

All of those matches finish tomorrow as two more big guns ride into town to start their camapaigns in the shape of John Higgins &Mark Selby. Another great days action ahead.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

World Championship Day One

Day one at the Betfred World Championship and we have already lost our defending champion as Stuart Bingham went down 10-9 to Ali Carter in a real Crucible thriller..

Bingham has really struggled under the weight of the crown this season and that more than any "Crucible curse" would have been his main concern as he headed towards Sheffield this week.With this in mind he would surely have preferred an easier opponent than Ali Carter against who he has very poor record.

His certainly wouldn't have felt any better early on as Carter won frame after frame to lead 5-1.Bingham though rallied to take the last three of the morning and finish the session just the one behind at 5-4.

That quickly became 5-5 when they resumed in the evening,but it was Carter who pulled away again to lead by three at 8-5 going to the interval.Things were now looking ominous for Bingham,but he wasn't going to give up his title without a fight & producing glimpses of the form that saw him lift the trophy last year he came back to draw level at 8-8 and then take the lead for the first time since the opening frame with a century to lead 9-8.

Carter was now looking jaded as his exertions in the qualifiers seemed to have left their mark,so its then all the more remarkable that he somehow managed to dig deep again to draw level at 9-9 with a break of 102.

Into that decider then and although he didn't clinch it in one visit a useful early visit from Carter with the balls going awkward was enough to give him the advantage he needed and he eventually got over the line to win 10-9.He'll now await the winner between the two Scots Maguire & McManus in the last 16 with McManus currently with the edge leading 6-3.

For Bingham it will be a case of looking forward to next season where he will hopefully find the freedom in his game again now unburdened by the responsibility of the title.One thing for certain though is that although he will no doubt be disappointed with how he played in his year as champion,he can certainly look back with pride a the way he represented crown.

In a new departure this year we had two matches finishing on the opening day and the other one was certainly a much more one sided affair as Marco Fu swept past Peter Ebdon 10-2.Fu was simply superb here & although possibly helped by an opponent in Ebdon who was drained from his tough week at the qualifiers, two centuries and four more 70 plus breaks speak volumes about how well he played

Fu can sit back tomorrow morning and watch Shaun Murphy & Anthony McGill fight it out for the right to face him in round two.Murphy holds a slender 5-4 after their first session this afternoon.

A dramatic day one then with two players safely through to the last 16 and they will be joined by two more tomorrow.Also of course in the afternoon we have the first appearance of Ronnie O'Sullivan.It'll be interesting to see just how up for a titl at a sixth title he is.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

World Championship Preview

So here we are on the eve of the annual snooker extravaganza at The Crucible theatre with 32 players still dreaming of lifting that famous trophy on the first Monday in May.I must admit I have found a large part of this season to be pretty uninspiring,but often the long matches bring out all that is best in the game and I have no doubt it will do so here again.

In many ways this could well have been the shortest preview I've ever written,because I am firmly of the opinion that if the Ronnie 'Sullivan we saw at the Welsh Open shows up at The Crucible,he will win this in a canter. His performance that week was not just miles ahead of anything else we've seen this season,but was up there with the best we've ever seen in the games history.That win of course came on the back of a sixth Masters title in January and confirmed that when in the mood there is still noone near him.This in addition to a favourable enough draw to at least the quarter finals makes him a worthy favourite & maybe,if your someone who likes a bet at a short price,possibly worth a wager,I've certainly seen worse 7/4 shots.

That said though,if that Ronnie doesn't show up I think we have possibly the most open World championship we've ever seen,with possibly up to 10 other real contenders for the crown of which these are the most probable

Suppose the obvious place to start is with defending champion Stuart Bingham,who shocked the snooker world last year with his run to the title.Unfortunately for Stuart the heightened expectation that comes with the crown has weighed heavily on his shoulders this season and he has really struggled to get any sort of run going.This plus the dreaded "Crucible curse" would make him becoming the first first time winner to defend the title seem very unlikely,but who knows,he climbed the mountain once so why not again.

The man most people see as the the main threat to Ronnie is the 2010 champion Neil Robertson. Robertson looked to be playing as well if not better than ever when he lifted the UK Championship last December and although his form has tailed off a bit since  he may well be just concentrating on peaking at the right time.He certainly will have to be at his best in what looks the most competitive quarter of the draw.

Next in the betting and also in that quarter is Judd Trump, who finally got back to winning ways,lifting the China Open title for a second time a couple of weeks ago.Trump though has had a very in and out sort of season and on that evidence its hard to imagine him getting through this championship without having a few mini crises along the way.How he ultimately does will depend on how he handles them.he has at such times in the past been found wanting.

Last years runner up Shaun Murphy by his own admission struggled for a long time to get over that defeat,but produced a commanding performance in winning the World Grand Prix last month and will once again be eyeing up another run at the title here with a potential quarter final against Ronnie in the offing

 The big story early in the season was the re-emergence of John Higgins who was showing that life can at least begin again at 40,as he won the Australian Open & the International Championship before pushing Robertson harder than anyone else at the UK.Since then though that odd silly miss has crept into his game again and I just have my doubts that he can sustain his form long enough these days to challenge at the business end.

Its seems strange to have gotten this far through my preview without mentioning Mark Selby,but such has been his lack of form this season it is easy to overlook the 2014 champ.The fact that he pulled out of the most recent events for personal reasons you have to just wonder if his mind will be fully on the job here.If its not a potentially tricky first round opponent in Robert Milkins was the last thing he wanted.However if he is up for this he will prove as difficult to beat as always.

The spectacular fall from grace of Ding Junhui has been sad to watch this season and even a recent rally in form wasn't enough to spare him the indignity of having to qualify for the championship. To his credit though he knuckled down to fairly breezed his way through the qualifiers and it may well be having come here in years past with massive expectations on his shoulders,that this may turn into a blessing.He will need to hit the ground running though as he faces German Masters champ Martin Gould in round one before a potential clash with Trump in round 2.

Of the others recent Player Championship winner Mark Allen may well see this as his best chance of winning the games biggest prize,especially if Selby in the same quarter fails to shine & maybe Ricky Walden could put his recent final defeats behind him to produce a run.

All in all a fascinating 17 days ahead with the following my recommended value bets

Ricky Walden to win his quarter 11/2

Mark Allen to win his quarter 5/2

Round One Lucky 15 : Ebdon (9/4) Carter (7/5) Perry (10/11) McManus (9/4)

Monday, 22 February 2016

Welsh Open,A Ronnie Masterclass

Ronnie O'Sullivan last night produced a stunning fightback to claim a fourth Welsh Open title with a 9-5 victory over Neil Robertson.

This was a final match up most snooker fans had been waiting for,with Robertsons performances in the Champion of Champions & UK Championship putting him forward as perhaps the one payer around who could challenge "the Rocket".

There seemed to be some validity to these claims as he opened up early leads of 3-1 & 5-2,but Ronnie took a vital last frame of the afternoon session to go into the evening just two behind at 5-3.

Into the night then and it was Robertson who got in first again,but when he failed to make the most of his chance in the opening frame,Ronnie capitalized and that was to be that,with O'Sullivan finding his groove again and the normally unflappable Robertson wilting a little under the pressure..All this meant was,what had looked like been a thrilling night turned into a procession as Ronnie went through the gears to secure the title.

Where exactly do you even start summing up how well Ronnie played this week? From the very first match,with all its "146" controversy,he just looked in complete control around the table.This was as close to snooker perfection as we are ever likely to see.

Last year at this event Ronnie was not a happy bunny,dismissing the venue as been like "playing in a shopping centre",but this week he just exuded confidence and calmness and really never looked in danger.

As for the tournament as a whole,it was really great week.I'm still not a fan of the best of 7's for the early rounds and some of the scheduling towards the end of the week seemed to have little logic to them,but in terms of the action we saw it was arguably the tournament of the season so far.In the end we even had our  147 as Ding produced the moment of magic in his quarter final against Robertson.Ultimately he lost the match,but after a tough season for the Chinese superstar,this may be the lift he needs to get back on track.

He though,like the others will have to find something special if they are to compete with Ronnie the way he's the moment.Last month he won a sixth Masters title without ever really been near his best,but here was practically unplayable.This may be the last time we see him before the  Crucible, if he doesn't take his place in the World Grand Prix,that this win qualified him for,but wherever it is lines up next he will start a a warm favourite and playing like this will take all the beating.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Germa Masters Final.Gould Does It

Martin Gould is the 2016 German Masters champion ,after he completed a 9-5 victory this evening against Luca Brecel in front of a full house at the Tempodrom in Berlin.

This was a case of third time lucky for Gould,who had fallen short in his two previous final appearances,but perhaps it was those experiences that gave him the edge,as after a nervy first session, he really came into his own tonight with some superb single potting.

The match itself today started slowly for both players,but Gould found himself 3-1 up at the interval and moved it on to 5-3 at the end of the afternoon session.From here he pushed on when they resumed to extend that lead to 7-3 and although Brecel did manage to put two more frames on the board,the result was by now not in doubt as Gould sealed a famous 9-5 win.

This was a real triumph for Gould who has threatened on many occasions in the past to make the breakthrough to the next level in the game only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Here though,in a tournament where so many of the games top stars failed to perform to their best,Gould has been a rare exception and is a well deserving winner.This also means he can be removed from the lists of "best player not to have won a ranking event" we snooker nerds like to come up with in our off time.

As for Luca Brecel,well this young man showed once again here in reaching the final what a raw talent he is.The hope now would be that he can smooth the rough edges off his game,because if he can,he will be challenging for titles for many years to come.

So what of the tournament as a whole? Well when this tournament started with a bang a few years back it immediately established itself as one of the highlights of the snooker calendar,but despite a wonderful venue & great crowds we still have the problem of the first couple of days where things just seem a little rushed,also it would be nice if there was a way of having more than one televised table.

As for the tv coverage,Eurosport once again brought us some of their own brand of studio analysis and although this time we were spared Colin Murray doing the presenting,I'm not sure Matt Smith is the right long term presenter,at least though, this time with him, it was actually watchable.It would be great if they can just get this final part of the puzzle correct and find a top quality anchorman,because the actual analysis from Jimmy,Ronnie & Neal was superb.

Anyway such is the way the season goes from now Gould wont get much chance to celebrate this title as the tour rolls on this week to the Shootout this weekend & the Welsh Open starting on the 15th.Who is to say on this evidence Gould wont be making it back to back titles there.



Saturday, 6 February 2016

German Masters Semi Finals Round Up

Both Martin Gould and Luca Brecel will tomorrow play in the biggest match of their careers as they battle it out for the German Masters titles after coming through two gruelling semi finals today.

In the first match of the day Martin Gould reached the third ranking final of his career,with a 6-2 win over Graeme Dott.

In a tournament that has been all about the shock results,these two were surprise winners last night, with Gould edging out Trump 5-4 & Dott recording a comprehensive 5-1 victory over his fellow Scot Stephen Maguire.

These wins,as well as events in the other half of the draw,would have meant both these men waking up this morning feeling they had a real chance of claiming this title.It is with this in mind and the added pressure of the single table set up in this imposing arena that maybe we can forgive them for what was an extremely edgy match of not high quality snooker.

What quality there on show did come from Gould though and with a high break of 87 he took a 4-0 lead to the interval.

Dott got off the mark in the next,but a 53 from Gould was enough to restore his four frame lead at 5-1.Dott did pull one further frame back,but a scrappy eighth went to Gould on the pink to seal the 6-2 win.

Into the second semi final and a hope that two of the games young rising stars might serve up some better fare,but sadly we were to have more of the same as Wilson & Brecel struggled to show their real talents in what turned into another hard slog

A lengthy first frame went to Brecel on the black and this set seemed to set the trend for what turned into a real war of attrition.The scrappy snooker continued to the interval with Brecel playing slightly the better & this been reflected in the scoreline with the Belgian leading 3-1.

Wilson got back to within one taking the next to trail 3-2.before Brecel knocked in his highest break of the night,a 67 to lead 4-2.

Wilson,despite struggling in vain to find any form,somehow got himself back within one at 4-3.but another timely break,this time a 63 moved Brecel within one of the final at 5-3.

Both had their chances in the next,with first Luca looking like clearing and then Wilson countering,but the key moment came when Wilson failed to cut a tricky green and Brecel cleared to pink to seal the 6-3 win.

So tomorrow will see the crowning of a new ranking event winner ,with Gould hoping it'll be third time lucky & Brecel looking to make history as the first player from mainland Europe to claim a ranking title.Lets hope both players can put todays slog behind then to produce the final that this event,this venue and these fans deserve.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Masters Final King Ronnie the Sixth

Ronnie O'Sullivan is the 2016 dafabet Masters champion,taking the title with a straight forward 10-1 victory over Barry Hawkins.

This title will have all the more significance for Ronnie,because it draws him level with Hendry on six Masters wins.He will surely now fancy his chances of beating that record in the years to come and who's to say he wont such was his dominance here today.

The match itself began with a lengthy  first frame that went the way of Hawkins,but that was to be as good as it got for the left hander playing in his first Masters final,as Ronnie found his scoring boots to lead 3-1 at the interval.

Things went from bad to worse for Hawkins when they resumed, as Ronnie,without really been put under any pressure started to pull away at his ease to finish the afternoon leading 7-1.

This one was now as good as over and any slim chance Hawkins may have had of mounting a comeback quickly faded when a fluked pink eventually gave Ronnie the first of the night.That made it 8-1 and the end was to come soon enough as Ronnie got the two frames he needed for an easy 10-1 win.

It was hard not to feel a little sympathy for Hawkins who has played superbly all week,but maybe we just saw evidence here again as to why he has never made that big leap that he undoubtedly has the talent to make. It just seems his Achilles heal is an inability to follow up one big win with another.

As for Ronnie,well what can you say.This is of course not the first time he has claimed a big title after a long lay off,but that should in no way take away from the achievement. His touch here this week was at times not what we've come to expect,but what was consistent in all his matches was his application and this,along with a long game that was as good as its ever been,set him apart from the rest.

Looking back on the tournament as a whole,we have been treated to a week of high quality snooker.with some real fine matches.The venue once again showed itself to be perfect for snooker,but judging by how annoying the odd shouts from the crowd were,we can forever put to bed any idea of a "darts atmosphere" been needed for snooker!

The one slightly worrying thing again,was like at the final stages of the worlds,the pockets seemed to be a little on the generous side and although this helped promote high scoring matches,I'm not sure the sport is best served by it.

Thats a debate for another day though,so for now lets salute our champion.He may not be the world champion or the no.1 in the rankings,but does anyone really think he's not the greatest?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The Masters Semi Finals Day

Ronnie O'Sullivan will face Barry Hawkins in tomorrows dafabet Masters final after a day of thrilling semi finals action at the "Ally Pally".

Barry Hawkins reached his first final here with a hard fought 6-4 win over Judd Trump in what was a exceptionally high scoring match.

With the memory of his superb performance against Robertson yesterday fresh in the mind,Trump started the day as a warm favourite,but he could do nothing in the opening two frames as Hawkins flew out of the traps, knocking in back to back centuries (130 & 128) to lead 2-0.

Hawkins was also in first in the next before an unexpected miss allowed Trump a chance to counter which he duly did with 51 and he followed it up with 58 to level it up at 2-2.

Hawkins was first in when they resumed with 74 to edge ahead at 3-2,but runs of 103 & 72 gave Trump the lead for the first time at 4-3.

Hawkins though has been in superb scoring form this week and runs of 78 & 100 put him ahead again at 5-4.The tenth frame was to be the only one that didn't feature a 50 plus break but it was to prove the most dramatic,as Hawkins cleared from the last red including a great blue,to seal a place in the final 6-4.

So maybe a slight case of "after the lord mayors show" for Trump today,but that is to take nothing away from Hawkins who thoroughly deserves his place in the final.

There he will face Ronnie O'Sullivan who had to dig deep to finally see of Stuart Bingham in a hard fought semi final.

To have a chance here you figured Bingham needed a good start and although the first four frames could have each gone either way it was Ronnie who lead at the interval 3-1.

Although he has been scoring alright this week Ronnie has never really had the cueball on a string the way we normally expect from him,but a fluent 121 in the next moved  him 4-1 up.

Bingham got in first with 67 in the next,but when Ronnie got the snooker he needed on the last red ,he duly wrapped up the frame to go 5-1.

It was surely now only a matter of time,but Bingham to his credit dug deep & with Ronnies concentration gone walk about he took the next two to close to 5-3.

The ninth frame was another close dramatic one,but a superb long red from under the black cushion, which Ronnie stunned in to stay on the blue,proved the telling moment as he cleared the colours to win 6-3.

Tomorrows final then will see Ronnie play in his his eleventh Masters final take on Hawkins playing in his first.Ronnie will obviously then start as a warm favourite,but Hawkins has been in fine form all week & if he can stick with Ronnie through the first session who knows?

Whatever happens lets hope for a great final to round off a great week.

Friday, 15 January 2016

The Masters Day Six.

Day six at the 2016 Masters and after another great day in whats been a great weeks snooker,four men remain to battle it out over the weekend for £200,000 top prize.

It has been the case all week that the afternoon session has been where all the good snookers been at,but today brought that to a whole other level,as Judd Trump & Neil Robertson served up a match that will live long in the memory.

A nervy opening frame that went the way Judd was quickly forgotten as 104 from him in the second opened up a 2-0 lead. Robertson,who swept all before him towards the end of 2015,knew now he was in a match,but having got off the board in the next,he knocked in a tournament high break of  139 to go to the interval at 2-2.

In what was already,a high quality match the standard was to go through the roof when play resumed.
Judd got in first with 105 to make it 3-2 and that became 4-2 when he rolled in a 78 in the next.

From here back came Robertson with a 100 of his own to close to 4-3 and when he also took the next ,we were level again at 4-4.

Both players now ere cuing beautifully and it was Trump who edged ahead again in frame nine,topping Robertsons high break from earlier with a 140 of his own to go ahead again at 5-4.Robertson though was not finished as a run of 78 drew things level again at 5-5 to give us the decider that this match deserved.

The way these boys were playing a one chance frame always looked likely and so it proved as Trump cut a wonderful red to the middle pocket and went on to seal the win with a superb 129,his fourth century of the afternoon and the sixth of an extraordinary match.

This was one of those performances from Trump that can only leave you scratching your head as to why he hasn't won more titles,but one things for sure,if he was to repeat this level on a consistent basis he would very quickly become the man they all have to beat.

Of course one of the vagaries of this game is that it could all change by the time he cues up against Barry Hawkins tomorrow and that was certainly the case in tonights quarter final as John Higgins looked a poor shadow of the player man who cued so well against Liang on Wednesday.

The writing was on the wall early on in this one as from the off Higgins looked to be having "one of those days" and the world champ Bingham seeing this,visibly started to show some form which has been missing for most of this season..

It was Bingham who eventually took the first,after both had had chances, but Higgins got off the mark in the second to make it 1-1 and the next two were also shared to send them in at 2-2.

In recent seasons Higgins has been dogged by the "unexpected miss" when seemingly in perfect position,but having seemingly gotten over that this season it returned to haunt him tonight,as he saw each of the next two frames slip by when he really should have clinched both. 

Bingham,now 4-2 up and brimming with confidence knocked in a 70 in frame seven to move within one of a place in the semi finals at 5-2.Higgins did briefly threaten to mount a comeback,taking the next with a 120,but that was to ba as close as he got as Bingham got the frame he needed to seal a 6-3 win.

His reward for this victory over one of the games all time greats,is a semi final tomorrow night against maybe the greatest of them all - Ronnie O'Sullivan..

This could be one hell of a weekend of snooker!!

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Master Day Five

There is nothing that captures a sporting publics imagination quite like a rivalry between two top players with completely clashing styles and if you can add to that a little needle,you have the recipe for sporting gold.

That is the reason that even after thirty years the BBC still saw enough in the Davis v Higgins battles of the early 80's to warrant the commissioning of a new drama about it and its the reason that the Ally Pally was packed to the rafters today for its modern day version ,as Ronnie O'Sullivan faced off against Mark Selby.

The last time these two had met was in the 2014 world final,when Selby came back to beat Ronnie and lift his first world crown.It could be argued that O'Sullivan has never fully recovered from that defeat so todays match up was always going to be a big occasion.

Early on here and despite a couple of 50 plus contributions both looked to be struggling to fully settle as they shared the opening two frames to leave it 1-1.From here though it was Ronnie who stepped it up with runs of 69,54 & 58 to go to the interval leading 3-1.

On resumption a 61 from Selby narrowed the gap to 3-2 before a quickfire 100 from Ronnie restored his two frame cushion at 4-2.

The next was the longest frame of the match as things got a bit scrappy,but it was eventually decided when Ronnie,with what was perhaps the most impressive part of his game today,knocked in another superb long red to go to the hill at 5-2.

The one thing we all know about Selby,and Ronnie  more than most,is that the Leicesterman never gives up and he pulled the next back with  68 to close to 5-3.

That comeback seemed to gathering yet more momentum as he was first in with 70 in the next,but Ronnie was not to be denied as he cleared with a magnificent 73 to clinch the frame and match 6-3.

He now awaits a semi final clash with either his old rival John Higgins or the world champ Stuart Bingham and whichever it is we're surely in for another thriller.

Into the night session then and here we saw Barry Hawkins take on Mark Allen.

Allen,who beat the defending champion Shaun Murphy in the last round,got off to the perfect start here with a century to take the opening frame,but that was as good as it got for him early on as Hawkins hit back to win the next three to lead 3-1 at the interval.

Hawkins was looking more comfortable with every shot now and also took the next to lead 4-1.

From here Hawkins did show signs of a slight wobble,but Allen simply wasn't playing well enough to capitalize and although he pulled one back Hawkins ran out a comfortable 6-2 winner.

Tomorrow see's the remaining quarter finals taking place with another mouthwatering afternoon clash,with perhaps a little needle, as Neil Robertson faces Judd Trump and in the evening John Higgins facing Stuart Bingham

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Masters Day Four

Day four at the 2016 Masters saw the conclusion of round one,with two of the games biggest names booking their places in the last 8.

It has been the trend so far this week that the thrillers have all been in the afternoon session and that was to continue today as John Higgins & Liang Wenbo produced a match up of the highest quality.

Higgins,with two titles already under his belt this season,has looked to be back to something nearing his very best and got he got off to the perfect start here with a century to lead 1-0.

Liang though has been playing pretty well himself of late and buoyed on by his run in the UK he hit back to take the next two to lead 2-1.Higgins though was striking the ball beautifully and another century,this time a 104 brought him level at 2-2.

The trend continued after the interval,with Higgins scoring the heavier (75 & 133) to edge ahead and Liang refusing to roll over to level things up at 3-3 & 4-4.

Higgins got the upper hand again with an 85 to go 5-4 up and was first in in the next only to get a kick and allow Liang the chance to counter.He could only manage 53 though and when he missed a green along the baulk cushion the end was nigh,Higgins duly cleared to the pink to book a last 8 clash with the world champ Stuart Bingham.

Into the night session & once again we had an unexpected early finish as Neil Robertson thrashed a badly out of sorts Marco Fu 6-0.

There not much to really say about this one, Robertson looks in fine stroke again as he was when he lifted last months UK title,but really he was put under absolutely no pressure.That surely wont be the case when he faces Judd Trump in the quarters on Friday.

Before that though,we begin the Quarter finals tomorrow with the much anticipated clash between Ronnie O'Sullivan & Mark Selby in the afternoon with Mark Allen taking on Barry Hawkins tomorrow night.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The Masters Day Three

Day Three at the Masters and there was one thing on everyones mind,the return of Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Today he faced off against his old foe Mark Williams in a match that on paper promised much and did not disappoint.

The question been asked was,despite his fine form in Crondon Park last week,would Ronnie be sharp enough after 8 months away from the main match arena?Well  we got our answer to that question straight away as he took the opening frame in convincing fashion to lead 1-0.

That quickly became 2-0 when he took the next on the colours and it looked for all the world like becoming 3-0 only for Ronnie to miscue on the black and Williams cleared to get off the mark.Williams also took the next to send us to the mid session interval at 2-2.

The Williams momentum continued when play resumed as he took the lead for the first time at 3-2 and the Welshman seemed to be warming to the task as he also won the next to extend his lead to 4-2.

What could Ronnie do?well he did what we've so often seen him do in the past.He turned it on.

Breaks of 104 & 60 quickly drew him level at 4-4,before another century,this time a 117 put him one from victory at 5-4.

Into the tenth frame we went then and what a dramatic frame it proved to be,Williams was first in with 50,only to gift Ronnie a chance to comeback and clear for the match.He looked set to do so,but ran out of ideal position on the last red with his break also on 50 and when he failed to cut it in Williams pounced to make it 5-5.

The crowd were by now on the edge of their seats as the players came to table for the decider.Here it was Williams who got in first,but he failed to make it count and when he later failed to make a plant when left with little chance but to attempt it Ronnie produced a superb 62 to seal a thrilling 6-5 win.

Job done then for Ronnie,but if tonight is anything to go by,he'll have to be at his very best in the next round,because Mark Selby looked back to his very best easing past Ricky Walden 6-0 to book his quarter final place.

It was actually Walden who got in first here with a run of 52 ,but that was to be as good as it got for him as Selby cleared with 71 to lead 1-0.He seem to be inspired by this as he stormed into a 4-0 lead with further runs of 113,66 & 81.

He couldn't quite keep up the scoring after the interval,but by then Walden was a broken man and Selby ensured an early night sealing the 6-0 win.

That leaves just two place left to be filled in the last eight and that will be done tomorrow when John Higgins faces Masters debutant Liang Wenbo in the afternoon and Neil Robertson play Marco Fu  tomorrow night.

Monday, 11 January 2016

The masters Day Two

Day Two at the Masters then and the tournament is  beginning to take shape with four big names now into the Quarter Finals.

For the second day in a row we were served up a high quality afternoon session as Judd Trump battled it out with Stephen Maguire for a place in the quarters,

Just how good a match this was was evident at the interval as Maguire somehow found himself  3-1 behind despite having had three 50 plus breaks.Trump extended his lead when they resumed,a run of 69 extending his lead to 4-1.but far from discouraging Maguire this seemed only to stir him on as with breaks of 92,74 & 56 he levelled the game up at 4-4.

Trump by now must have been wondering was history repeating itself after he had seen a similar lead slip against Liang in the UK Championship,but it wasn't to happen here as a 60 break edged him ahead again at 5-4 & he took the next to seal his place in the next round with a 6-4 win.

There he will meet the winner between Neil Robertson & Marco Fu. whose match brings round one to an end on Wednesday evening.

In the evening session  Barry Hawkins finally won his first ever match at The Masters beating Joe Perry in a topsy turvy encounter.

Hawkins was the quicker out of the blocks here,taking the first two frames to lead 2-0,but the momentum seemed to shift towards Perry then as he won the next three to lead 3-2.That lead really should have extended to 4-2 in the next,but it was Hawkins who took it to make it 3-3 and he kicked on from there to also take the next three and book a quarter final against Mark Allen with a comfortable 6-3 victory.

So perhaps an earlier than expected finish to day two only serves to give us more time to concentrate on tomorrows afternoon session and the return to the main stage of Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Masters Day One

A mixed first day at the 2016 Masters then saw an afternoon of high quality snooker followed by an evening session that is best forgotten. 

First up in the afternoon Mark Allen brought a quick end to any hopes Shaun Murphy had of making it  back to back Masters titles.with a 6-4 win in a thrilling opening match of the tournament.

Though both players did start off a little tentatively here,it didn't take long for both to find their scoring boots and a series of good breaks,the best of them a 137 from Allen,brought us to the interval at 2-2 Allen added a 91 to go 3-2 ahead when they resumed,before an extraordinary frame 6 which came to an abrupt end.when Murphy fell foul of the three miss rule to extend Allens lead to 4-2.

The Northern Irishman took the next with a run of 104 to go within one of victory at 5-2,We've often seen with Murphy though.that these situations can bring out the best in him and it appeared it might be happening here again as breaks of 67 & 100 closed him to within one again at 5-4.

That was where it was to end though as Allen took a scrappier tenth frame to seal the 6-4 win and book his place in  the quarter finals where he'll meet the winner of Barry Hawkins & Joe Perry.

The second match of the day saw the clash of two players,in world champ Stuart Bingham & Ding Junhui,who would have come here this week hoping a good run might kick start,what for both has been,a very poor season so far

It is perhaps then with this in mind that it was little surprise to see such a scrappy match unfold this evening.Indeed the main highlight of the first four frames came when having potted 15 reds & blacks Bingham missed a difficult yellow to bring his maximum attempt to an end on 120. He still though did enough to lead 3-1 at the interval.

Things didn't improve much then either as Ding,without really upping his game at all, took the next two to level at 3-3.That became 4-4,before a lengthy ninth frame which Bingham nicked with a brown to pink clearance to edge ahead again 5-4.The tenth was another long frame,but Bingham did enough to win in and clinch his place in the quarter final with a 6-4 win.

All of course which means further despair for Ding in what is turning into a season to forget and a some small encouragement for Bingahm who was winning his first match at the Masters for ten years.He will though need to improve a lot if he is to trouble either John Higgins or Liang Wenbo in the next round.

The first round action continues tomorrow with Judd Trump facing Stephen Maguire in the afternoon and Barry Hawkins playing Joe Perry in the evening.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

2016 Masters Preview

Snooker in London in mid January can only mean one thing and that is that its time once again for the games biggest invitational event,The Masters at Alexander Palace.

Of course by its nature,this tournament is a showcase for the games top 16 players and as such in theory should mean everybody has equal billing,but really there is really only one place to start.

Ronnie O'Sullivan thrilled snooker fans & I dare say the tournament organisers when he announced in early December that he was returning from his self imposed exile in time to compete here.His first competitive action came in the German Masters qualifiers & although his lack of match sharpness there saw him exit in round 2,he certainly showed a vast improvement just this week,as he won 8 matches out of 8 in winning Championship League Group One.A repeat of,not just that form,but also his seemingly relaxed attitude around the table will make him hard to beat this week.

Others though will have plenty to say about that assessment & Neil Robertson will surely feel a repeat of the form he showed in last months UK championship will see him go close to another title here

The same can be said for John Higgins who,with two titles under his belt already this season,can probably count himself a tad unlucky to have lost to Robertson in that UK.

Also throw into the mix the defending champion Shaun Murphy who was superb here last year,Mark Selby,who regardless of how he's playing,is always a danger in this event ,as well as a couple of players like the world champion Stuart Bingham,Judd Trump & Ding Junhui who will all feel they've something to prove here this week and we're left with potentially the most exciting week of snooker we've seen in a long time.

The action gets under way tomorrow afternoon with Shaun Murphy starting his defence against Mark Allen.Let to games begin!