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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Nugget & I, A Fans Story fully Updated

Five years have now passed since I first posted this personal tribute to "The Nugget" and it remains to this day the blog for which I've received the most feedback .Of course with the passage of time some of what I've written no longer applies,but for this update I've decided to leave the original article untouched.However I have added at the end the most glorious postscript.

"How many times have I been here before" That was the  thought that went through my head last Thursday as the clock ticked past midnight  and Steve Davis completed his stirring comeback from 3-1 down to beat Jamie Jones 4-3 in the ET3 event in Doncaster. He would go on to the last 16 on Saturday where he was narrowly defeated 4-3 by Marco Fu,but that is not what I'm here to write about,rather this is an account of how in an ever changing world "The Nugget" has remained the one constant in my life for the last 35 yrs.

Thinking about it maybe is was always going to be thus,as September 1978 was not only the month Steve turned professional but also the month of my birth.This happy coincidence has meant my life has run in parallel with the career of the great man and boy what a career it has been.

Obviously at this remove it would be impossible to remember the exact moment I started to watch snooker and follow Steve,but I do have vivid memories of the "85" World final and was sufficiently interested in it to remember been possibly the only Irishman crying for Steve (I was only 7) when Taylor potted that black to lift the title.

My other memory from this time was a trip to Dublin on the eve of my First Holy Communion and walking half the city with my ever so patient parents,as we searched in vain for a blazer with a black waistcoat so I could look like the main man on my big day.To my disgust the nearest we could find was a maroon one which I refused to wear as it was too "Alex Higgins"!

Moving on the next thing to cross off the list was to see him play As i've said before i was lucky enough to live within a few miles of Goffs,the home of the Irish Masters,so to my delight that chance came in 1987 when,with my father,we made the first of what was to become an annual pilgrimage to semi finals Saturday.His opponent on this occasion was Terry Griffiths and after Steve had recorded a 6-2 win I remember queuing for his autograph and only his,as after Steve signed my book I took it and walked away just as Terry was getting ready to scribe his name on it.

The 80's drew to an end with Steve claiming a 6th World title with his most comprehensive win to date,an 18-3 victory over John Parrott.Surely,I thought,as the new decade began that this dominance of the game was set to continue!

Of course we now know it didn't .A combination of the arrival  in the big time of Stephen Hendry (God how the 12 year old me hated him) and an alignment problem meant the man who had been almost unbeatable was now just another one of the pack. Titles were still won,but they were becoming fewer and further between.It should be noted that a despite this,a run of consistent form in 1994 had him just one victory away from regaining his World no.1 ranking but his world championship semi final defeat to Hendry meant that this would never again be the case.

The 90's rolled on and I would be lying to say it was always easy to watch,as it seemed at times that Steve's biggest opponent was not the man sitting in the opposite chair,but instead the ghost of his former self.That said though,as is often the case,this only made the victories,when they did come,all the sweeter.

The most sparkling of these at this time was his epic B&H Masters triumph over Ronnie O'Sullivan in 1997 at the old Wembley Conference Centre. This had looked most unlikely as Ronnie,playing snooker from the Gods raced into an 8-4 lead.Steve was not for lying down and he fought back to win 10-8.By this stage I had long given up watching the match from my armchair and was now kneeling in front of the tv willing every pot in.I think i still have the final stages on video somewhere.

Into a new century we moved and Steve seemed to change his outlook towards the game.Gone now the shackles of trying to compete with the past,but in their place an acceptance that everything must pass and a desire to keep trying to be competitive against a new generation of players.

This new approach has on occasion produced some stunning results,like his fabulous run to the final of the UK Championship in 2005 and his memorable second round victory over defending world champion John Higgins at the 2010 World Championship.(I'm not too proud to admit that this one also brought a tear to my eye) I for one couldn't think of  better way to sign off if indeed this is to be his last hurrah at the Crucible

As for me my one remaining wish  was to get a chance to play a frame against the great man and.thankfully that opportunity came in an exhibition,when I outbid all my rivals in a auction(I wont say how much I paid) to get that chance.The frame itself is something I will never forget as I struggled  to control my shaking hands to play my opening shot.Steve to his credit gave me a generous handicap and plenty of chances which,as I managed to start potting a few,was enough to see me win the frame.The result was only secondary though to the thrill of playing the great man and to be honest I would have been equally happy to have sat there watching Steve knock in a century against me.

Thats it then and here we stand on the 22nd August 2013 the day of Steve's 56th birthday and he is still holding back the tide with the occasional displays of brilliance.

As for myself I have finally accepted that I'm not going to make it on the baize and have instead turned my hand instead to writing about the sport I love.Obviously to that end I have to try and be as impartial as possible when composing articles but I hope having read this you will forgive me,if every so often,that goes out the window when The Nugget is playing.

August 2018
As we all know time or tide wait for no man and a slump in form during the 2013/14 season meant a strong world championship performance was needed to keep Steve on the tour. Unfortunately,despite one more heroic display, that had us once again on the edge of our seats, he went down 10-8 to Craig Steadman and so dropped out of the top 64.He did get a reprieve,when Barry Hearn announced the legends wildcards, but in truth he was probably only going through the motions at this stage & when he lost to Fergal O'Brien in the Worlds qualifiers in April 2016, a month after the sad death of his father & greatest supporter Bill, retirement seemed inevitable.He finally announced it at the Crucible, where he got to parade the famous trophy one more time to the rapturous applause of the crowd & i'm sure I wasn't the only one watching with a tear inn my eye an era drew to a close.

And that should indeed should have been it,but in January of 2018, when Stephen Hendry was forced to withdraw from the Senior Irish Masters,Steve was convinced to dust off his cue one more time and return for a last hurrah to  the scene of so many of his triumphs in the past at Goffs Co.Kildare.

The return to this stage seemed to once again inspire Steve as he swept past Denis Taylor 3-1 in his first match & followed that up with a 3-0 victory over John Parrott  in the semi final. The strange anomaly of all the years I had seen Steve play here was that we had never got tickets for the final,but that wasn't to happen again this time, as 31 years after the first,I made one final pilgrimage to see the "The Nug" .

As I walked in past the beautifully manicured hedges that surround this wonderful sales ring & past the statue of the horse Be My Guest,my thoughts drifted back to all the times I had walked this way in with my own late father.Boy how he would have loved to have been with me that night as Steve once again produced some superb snooker to beat Jonathan Bagley 4-0 to claim the Senior Irish Masters title in what was his last ever competitive snooker match.This really was the stuff of fairytales.

And so, this time, that is that ,What is left for me to say but simply, thanks Steve.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

World Championship The Talking Points

So as Mark Williams puts some clothes back on & the dust settles on another world championship, what exactly did we learn over the last two 17 days?

The Class of '92
In the piece I wrote in the wake of last years final ,I suggested that after seeing the way that Higgins faded on the final day against Selby,we were perhaps now at the stage where the games biggest prize might just be beyond these three great champions. Well how wrong was I, as Higgins & Williams once again proved the old adage of form been temporary ,but class been permanent.The way this year went whose to say this wont be be witnessing something similar next year?

Ronnie O'Sullivan
The main surprise ,after the sensational season he's had, was just how limply Ronnie, exited the tournament in round two.It is ever more likely that his final defeat in 2014 to Selby will be the closest he gets to a sixth world crown. However seeing his two oldest rivals contest the final may just give him the push he needs to really make one more concerted effort to get back to the Crucible summit & it will be interesting to see if his playing schedule next season is built around peaking in late April.

Mark Selby
Its been a strange season for Selby,who on the face of it had a decent campaign by picking up the International Championship & China Open titles, but elsewhere largely having a miserable time of it. In one prediction I did get right,I said in my preview that if he were to be vulnerable it would be in the early rounds and so it proved as Joe Perry dumped him out on the opening day.

It would be foolish to suggest that this heralds the end of Selby as a major force in the game, but you just wonder if we have been spoilt by the standard that O'Sullivan, Higgins & Williams have maintained into their 40's. This has not been the norm and at 35 Selby is older than Davis or Hendry were ,when their game went into terminal decline.Of course the game is different now,with more tournaments putting less emphasise on long periods of heavy practice & not really the talent coming behind that they were faced with, but I'm just saying, though I do see plenty more titles in Selbys future, it would be dangerous to just presume his best form will automatically return.I think this is even more so the case with 36 yr old Neil Robertson.

Beaten semi finalists Wilson & Hawkins
Its a rare thing to have two cracking semi finals at the Crucible ,but that's what we got here as Wilson & Hawkins pushed their opponents all the way.

It has been a difficult season for Hawkins off the table, but he showed his liking for the Crucible to again make a bold bid for the title. The fact he just came up short again in the semi final will be gut wrenching for him & you just wonder how many more times he can go to the well here and recover from the disappointment.

Wilson on the other hand gave the impression here that he will be contesting at the business end of this championship for many years to come.A great break builder, he is calm under pressure and has a self belief that he will win that never comes across as cocky.He will have learnt a lot from his first experience of the single table set up here and I would be shocked if he's not a major contender in all the big events next season as well as back at the Crucible.

Ding & Trump
Another year, another chance slips by for the two most talented players currently at the top of the game yet to claim the world crown.After two great runs at the title in the last two years,it seemed Ding had laid his Crucible ghosts to rest, but they came back to haunt him in abundance here as he bowed out tamely to Hawkins in the quarter finals. The most disappointing thing about him here was to see just haw little fight there was in him when Hawkins started to pull away.He would do well to spend his summer studying how John Higgins handles adversity as with his current attitude it would be hard to see him ever lifting the trophy here.

Judd Trump is another a the stage in his career where the world title, that at one stage seemed his destiny, is something that will forever allude him.Here again this year he was very lucky to escape from the first round against debutant Chris Wakelin ,before finally bowing out to John Higgins in a decider in the last 8.This on the face of it, was a good performance, but it was his comments, once again,  about his opponents "luck" that struck me. This seems to be a trend with Trump in recent times after defeat, he blames everything bar his own shortcomings for his defeat. If this sort if attitude continues to go unchecked he will continue to be the sports top nearly man.One "Triple Crown" title is a poor return on his talent. It may be up to someone in his circle to start pointing out some uncomfortable home truths to him.

So thats it then, as a season dominated by the over 40's ends with Mark J Williams deservedly getting his name on the sports most famous trophy for a third time, we are as always left with a mountain of questions as to what the new season will bring.Lets hope whatever happens it will prove as enjoyable as the one just past.Enjoy your summer.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Mark Williams 2018 World Champion

Mark Williams is the 2018 world champion after finally seeing off John Higgins 18-16 in one of the best finals we've seen here in many years,

The story of the season has been the resurgence of the "class of 92" so it was, in retrospect, not that big a surprise to see two of them in the final, but perhaps what we might not have expected, was just how much both men would have left in the tank after 17 days of intense competition.

Starting out today Williams would have been delighted the way he rallied to claim that 10-7 overnight lead, having been earlier pegged back to 7-7, and things just got better straight out the gate today as he took the first four frames to the interval to lead 14-7.

Williams was now looking a man completely at one with his game as he serenely floated around the table,there was even whispers of it finishing with a session to spare, but  we should know by now, you count out John Higgins at your peril.Back came the Scot after the interval,but although he did take three of the next four, he still had it all to do trailing 15-10 coming into the night session.

What Higgins needed to produce tonight was a perfect session of snooker and it certainly started that way, with a 131 in the opener to close to 15-11.The next two frames followed a similar pattern, as Williams was suddenly struggling to get over the line in frames and two big dishes (67 &82) from Higgins saw him close to with two at  15-13.

Amazingly he also took the next to the go to the interval just the one behind at 15-14 and then followed it up with a 62 break when they resumed to draw level at 15-15.

Just what was going through Williams head at this stage is anyones guess,but having lost 8 of the previous 9 frames, he showed just why he has won so many big tournaments over the years to steady the ship and edge ahead again at 16-15,

A 100 break in the 32nd frame moved him to the brink at 17-15 and the title looked all but his as his break reached 63 in the next, only for him to then miss match ball pink.Higgins being Higgins cleared nervelessly with 65 to make it 17-16.

By now we were wondering what else could happen in this one,but in got Williams again in the next and this time there was no mistake as he sealed the title with a fine break of 69.

So a third world title for Williams, 15 years after his second  and one year after failure to qualify for the championship had him contemplating retirement. Whether this revival is entirely down to his devotion to the "SightRight" techniques or the fact that trying something new just gave the encouragement to practice seriously again its impossible to know, but what it has done is provide one of the games greats with a boost of confidence that has seen him back in the winners circle three times this season, including the biggest one of all.

For Higgins after all he has battled, not just in this match, but at various times over the fortnight, this will be a crushing defeat. He will look back at the slow start he made yesterday as perhaps the key moments in this match and although he can be rightly proud of how he fought his way back into it, you just wonder if now after a second world final defeat in a row ,if a fifth title will just prove beyond him.

We must finish though, by again saluting our champion. It was so nice to see his family living every shot from the balcony,especially when you remember that for his kids, this is their first time seeing him on top of the world. It also serves as a timely reminder for a newer generation of snooker fans, who perhaps don't pay due respect to the past, that when we dine out on talk of the games all times greats, Mark J Williams deserves his place at the table.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

World Final Day One.

Nostalgia was very much the order of the day today,as we started the best of 35 final wondering,would we be seeing John Higgins lift the trophy for a fifth time, 20 years after winning his first or would it be Mark Williams claiming a third title 15 years after his second?

For all though that these two are the oldest pairing to reach a final in Crucible history,,there is no fluke about it, as both have shown all season that they are still forces to be reckoned with in the game and have at various times in the last two weeks produced some of their very best snooker.

The question starting out today,was just how much they both had left in the tank for this one,with focus especially on Williams following his late night finish in the semi final.

Any worries on this score were quickly put to bed though as Williams settled immediately  to lead 4-0 and it was  Higgins who was struggling to find his touch. We knew however it would only be a matter of time before he did and having got off the mark in frame five,he took three of the next four to trail by two at the end of the first session, the score 5-3.

Into tonight's nine frame session and if the afternoon was about settling, tonight was about showing they meant business ,as the standard noticeably went up a notch. Here the four frames to the interval were shared to move the score along to 7-5,but when Higgins then took the next two to level at 7-7 you sensed he might be finally getting on top.

Williams was having none of it though as he responded to Higgins's equalising century with one of his own to regain the lead at 8-7, before also taking the next to extend it to 9-7.

One frame left then and although both had chances it was again Williams who took to just edge the session and extend his overnight lead to three again at 10-7.

So advantage Williams then,but this one is a long way from over and since we're dealing in nostalgia, wouldn't it be nice if we had a final frame decider for the first time in 16 years

Saturday, 5 May 2018

SEmi Hinal

The 2018 world final will be a case of back to the future as John Higgins faces off against his fellow "class of 92" graduate Mark Williams for the games biggest prize.

First up John Higgins reached his seventh Crucible decider after a hard fought victory over Kyren Wilson..I said in my preview of this match that if Wilson were to win this, he probably needed a good start to capitalise on any tiredness Higgins may have been feeling after  his last eight tussle with Trump, but although Higgins was visibly showing signs of fatigue, Wilson couldn't make the most of it and Higgins would have been delighted to emerge with a 5-3 lead from the opening session.

This turned out to be the key moment in this one as,try as he might over the following two days Wilson was continuously playing catch up. If the match against Trump showed Higgins's at his determined best,this match showed  just what a dogged matchplayer he can be,even when not at his best For large parts of this match Higgins scoring just wasn't there,but he kept eking out the frames he needed to maintain his advantage throughout.

Starting today he still lead by two at 13-11 and by the mid session interval that had moved along to 15-13.From here it was fight to the line and as so often in the past This was where Higgins showed his class,knocking in breaks of 100 & 98 to seal a 17-13 win.

So for Higgins a chance to right the wrongs of last years final defeat to Selby, for Wilson some time to reflect on a season that saw him reach a Masters final & experience the one table set up at the Crucible for the first time.He can take a lot of positives from what he did here & it would be a shock if we don't see at the business end here for many years to come.

The other semi final seemed to following a similar pattern as Hawkins opened up an early two frame lead at 5-3,that turned into 9-7 & 13-11 over the next two sessions.

The standard had been pretty high in this in this one over the first 24 frames,but with a place in the final at stake, that was not to continue into the final session.

Twitching was the name of the game as the last session turned into a bit of a slog with both players struggling to find some rhythm. It was Williams though who was putting the frames on the board and he levelled things up at the interval at 14-14.

Best of 33 had now become best of 5,but by now nothing was coming easy to either of these two great competitors.Hawkins did edge ahead again at 15-14,but William again drew level ,before taking the lead for the first time in the match at 16-15.

The next frame was a long tense affair,but eventually Williams potted a marvellous long pink and then rolled in the black to  reach the world final for the first time in 15 years.

So will it be a 5th title for Higgins or a 3rd for Williams?
Well after 15 gruelling days of competition, the world final always to some degree comes down to who has the most left in the tank and this time that might be even more relevant than ever .These two great champions have been pushed to the limit at various times over the fortnight and it could very easily boil down to who has something left for one last push to the top of the hill.

It is for this reason I just favour Higgins, he has the most recent experience of these back to back four session matches and although he did fade on the final day against Selby last yr,I still think he will have enough in reserve for another world crown this time score prediction 18-13

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Quarter Final Round up plus Semi Final Preview

And then there were four, after a day that delivered three one sided victories,but one dramatic finish that had the Crucible rocking.

On paper the match up between John Higgins & Judd Trump looked to be the tie of the round and boy was that to be proven to be correct,in what was a match for the ages.

Higgins had reached this stage with some superb snooker in his opening two matches , whereas Trump had largely struggled to reach this stage.

For all that though, it was Trump who got off to the better start to lead after the first session 5-3. When he extended that lead to 7-3 this morning  he looked to be taking control, but we should know better at this stage than to write off Higgins & back he came to not only draw level ,but to maybe consider himself unfortunate not to lead 9-7.

That last frame of the session did go to Trump though to leave it 8-8 and present  us with a mouth watering best of nine for a place in the last four.

Into the night then and it was once again Trump who stamped his authority early to lead 11-9. Higgins though did yet again what great champions do when their back id to the wall, he knuckled down and fought back , taking the next three to lead 12-11.

Higgins was in first in the next,but this time it was Trump who showed the type of  character that he has so often in the past lacked to clear to the blue and force the decider.

Higgins would not be denied though and he made the most of his second scoring chance to secure a hard fought 13-12 win.

In the semi final he will face the youngest man left in the tournament, in Kyren Wilson.

Wilson reached the single table set up for the first time with a sparkling 13-6 victory over Mark Allen. 

Many , myself included , thought this would be a closely fought encounter,but a superb second session saw Wilson establish an 11-5 overnight lead and the from here the result was never in doubt.

Talking of one sided matches, Barry Hawkins once again showed his liking for this place with a 13-5 demolition job on Ding Junhui.

Following Ronnies  exit  in the last round many were predicting that this would be the year that Ding finally delivered the games biggest prize,but having looked in fine touch in the earlier rounds ,he was once again found lacking when the pressure came on and really bowed out here quite tamely.If this is something he wants to rectify,he would do well to watch a recording of John Higgins tonight

Hawkins will face Mark Williams,whose revival has been one of the stories of the season and the Welshman will be quietly  fancying his chances of a third world title here after another strong finish to see off Ali Carter.

A close finish had looked on the cards here also, but starting the night leading 9-7 Williams floated his way to a 11-7 lead that left the result in little doubt.Carter dug deep to close to 11-8,but that was to be his last frame of the match, Williams running out a comfortable 13-8 winner in the end.

So what of the semi finals. Well the old sentimentalist in me would love to see a Higgins v Williams final,but really such is the degree of respect in the snooker world  for all four of these competitors, no matter who wins it will be a great story.

As far as predictions go I think the key question in the Wilson v Higgins match will be just how much that last eight match took out of the veteran Scot.

Of course it is a four session match over three days,but we have seen time and time again just how important those early exchanges can be. I think if Higgins can at least stay close in the first session tomorrow he may just have a bit too much experience at this level for his young opponent.
Prediction 17-12 Higgins

If that one is hard to call then the match between Hawkins & Williams is nearly impossible.

Hawkins has of course been a regular at the business here in recent years,but perhaps the main difference this year is the fact that he has reached this stage without much drama and as a result will have plenty more left in the tank.

For Williams,I think, in recent years he has felt that these days were behind him and now finding himself here again he wont want to give it away easily.

For that reason I just favour the Welshman to edge this and give us that dream final ,but it will be close Prediction 17-15 to Williams

Monday, 30 April 2018

World Championship Day 10 Round up + Quarter Finals preview

Eight men remain in the hunt to be crowned world snooker champion this night week and it must be said, a case can be made for all of them.

Before we get into what might happen in the last eight though, we'll quickly run through the last of the round two action today.

Judd Trump finally showed up in his match against Ricky Walden to run out a somewhat comfortable 13-9 winner in the end.

This one had given every appearance in the first two sessions that it would be a lot closer than this,but things turned decisively in frame 18 when,leading 9-8 & building a nice early frame lead,Walden went for a kamikaze red to the middle.He missed and trump cleared with a superb 66 to level at 9-9.

From here he never looked back an ran out an easy winner.

Also Mark Williams produced his best snooker of the match in the final session as he recorded a 13-7 victory over Robert Milkins & Ding quickly got the frame he needed to beat Anthony McGill 13-4 .

So into the quarter finals then and first up we have a repeat of the Masters final as Mark Allen once again faces Kyren Wilson

This could be a real cracker from two player who I think are well suited to the multi session format.Allen has produced his best snooker,since that Masters victory,here this week & Wilson hasn't been under any pressure as he breezed through the opening rounds.

This is possibly the hardest match to predict,but I just think that when it comes to it, that Mark Allen may just have that little bit extra to see him over the line.
score prediction 13-11 to Allen

Also in the top half of the draw we have a repeat of the 2011 final here as John Higgins faces Judd Trump.

The way he played in that championship it seemed only a matter of time before Trump claimed the crown,but here we are seven years later and he's yet to get that close again.

Higgins of course reached last years final & looked for a long time like the winner, only to run out of steam on the last day.

This week Higgins has been at his supreme best yet again in demolishing Jack Lisowski 13-1 whereas Trump has seemed , at various times in both his opening matches, to be all at sea.He did however produce his best snooker at the end of his match with Walden and if he can carry that confidence forward he could give Higgins plenty to think about.

Higgins will rightly start as favourite in this one,but he can these days throw in an odd shocker and anyone thinking of backing the odds on should be conscious of this.

That said, I think  with Trumps confidence seemingly so fragile at the moment,Higgins is just the player to capitalise and I predict he'll win 13-7

Into the bottom half and an intriguing clash between Ding Junhui & Barry Hawkins 

After a number of years of struggle here,Ding has in recent years shown a real liking for this place and here faces someone else, in Hawkins, who comes alive at this venue.

This again is tough to call,but I think Ding has shown enough here in that last two seasons to suggest he really has learned how to manage this tournament.I expect him to show that gain here and run out a comfortable winner 13-6

Finally after accounting for one legend Ali Carter faces another in Mark Williams. Williams has had a great season and although he hasn't quite shown it here this week, he's reached the quarter finals with some ease.

Carter of course reached this stage by finally recording a first career victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan , in a tense affair and it remains to be seen just whats left in the tank for the battle ahead.My feeling is that this might just be a case of "after the lord mayors show" for Carter & I think Williams will win 13-9

It all gets underway at 10am Tuesday

Sunday, 29 April 2018

World Championship Day 9 Round up.

Middle Sunday at the championship and in theory a day with no match playing to a finish,but others had different ideas.

After the elimination of the hot favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan here yesterday at the hands of Ali Carter ,it was perhaps time for someone to step to fill the void at the top of the market and today we saw two real contenders stake that claim.

John Higgins has of course been here many times before and showed himself to be in fine form here yesterday as he opened up an 8-0 lead over Jack Lisowki. The four time former champ was in no mood to hang around today either, as he extended that lead to 10-0 when they resumed. Lisowski did at least manage to avoid the whitewash, taking the next with a fine run of 81, but a 100 from Higgins in the next was followed by a tournament high break of 146  to make it 12-1.He could only manage 73 in frame 14 but it was enough to see him through with a 13-1.

So last years runner up is into another quarter final here and who can say, the way he played today that a fifth world title isn't in his sights.

It did look for a long time like we would have two matches today would be  finishing with a session to spare ,but Ding  Junhui fell one short of this against Anthony McGill, albeit all but over with the Chinese star holding a 12-4 advantage

Ding was simply superb in the first session here as he stormed to an 8-0 lead and although he took his foot off the pedal tonight,make no mistake, Ding is here with the full intention of claiming that elusive first world title.

In the other round two matches playing to a finish tomorrow a real slog looks on the cards as Judd Trump & Ricky Walden head into their last session locked together at 8-8.

This one has been a nervy affair all day with both player producing moments of brilliance,but also throwing in some shockers.It would certainly be no surprise to see this one go all the way to a decider.

Things look a little more comfortable for two time champion Mark Williams who holds a 10-6 overnight lead against Robert Milkins. Williams has not been at his best in this one,but as so often with him he is still doing enough and surely a last eight encounter with Ali Carter awaits.

Of course with only two session tomorrow we can all have a bit of a lie in before it all kicks off at 1pm

Friday, 27 April 2018

World Championships Day 7 Round up.

Day seven and we have the first man into the quarter final plus the hot favourite for the title in a bit of trouble.

Mark Allen is into the last 8 after a strong final session performance to see off the challenge of Joe Perry 13-8.

Allen had held a 5-3 lead overnight,but Perry started the better this morning,knocking in a couple of centuries on his way to 6-6 at the mid session interval.

Allen took the next two when they resumed to lead again 8-6,but Perry rallied again to hit back & level it up at 8-8.

Things now seemed beautifully poised going into tonight,but Allen was in no mood to hang around and quickly took the five frames he needed to secure a 13-8 win,sealing it a fine break of 122..

So the Masters champion marches on and with the confidence a major win can bring,he will  be starting to fancy his chances here as we move in the second week.

It may be a case that by tomorrow afternoon,a number of players will be fancying their chances here if Ali Carter can hold his nerve & secure a first ever career victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan from a position of 9-7 ahead.

Indeed it could have been a whole lot better for "The Captain" who after starting the night session with a 5-3 lead,took the first three of the night to lead 8-3.

Ronnie looked completely off his game,but managed to nick the last before the interval to trail 8-4.

From here Ronnie knew he needed to win the next mini session at least 3-1 & suddenly finding his potting,if not his normal pinpoint positional play,thatsjust what he did. He may well have won all four,but for a kick on 54 in frame 14,but he'll be relieved to be still in with a chance when they play to a finish tomorrow afternoon.

Also playing to a finish tomorrow are Barry Hawkins & Lyu Haotain in a match that followed a similar pattern to the above game, this time it was Hawkins who lead 8-3 only for his young Chinese opponent to fight back to trail also by two at 9-7 overnight.

Elsewhere Kyren Wilson holds a 5-3 lead over Jamie Jones after the opening skirmishes in their encounter.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

World Championship Day Six Round Up.

Day six at the championship,the end of the first round & by far the most dramatic day of the tournament so far.

Judd Trumps dreams of winning a first world title are still alive,but only just after he fell over the line to beat Chris Wakelin 10-9 in as dramatic a late night finish as we will ever see.

It had all looked to be going so well for Trump when he extended his overnight lead to 8-4,but back came Wakelin to level it at 8-8 and it was now game on.

Trump has a recent history of been vulnerable when an opponent fights back against him,but he held his nerve to lead again 9-8.

Wakelin looked to be in to level in the next,but a miss allowed Trump the chance to counter.All seemed to be going well until a poor positional shot on the brown,led to finishing the wrong side of the blue,which led to a long pink and finally a tricky black to the centre which he missed & Wakelin potted it to force the decider 9-9.

Into a decider then and after all that had gone before in the it was never going to be a clean kill.Both player now punch drunk from the previous two hours drama both had chances,but a simple missed red from Trump looked to have presented Wakelin with a clear chance for victory.

Trump slumped in his chair could hardly look,but Wakelin somehow managed to go in off the pink and Trump was back with a chance for redemption.There was to be one more twist though as he failed to get position on match ball green to leave Wakelin just about alive. Unfortunately for him an attempted double on the green knocked in the black to leave him needing  a snooker and another foul on his next visit left needing two.

He did manage to get one snooker back,but he never got near another one &Trump eventually potted brown & blue to seal the 10-9 win.

Mighty relieve for him then ,that he hasn't exited in the first round for a second year in a row & who knows maybe this night fortnight we will be hailing him as our new world champion,but he'll certainly have to play better than this to do it.

Up to that thriller it had looked as though the main story of the day was going to be the magnificent performance from Anthony McGill,who produced a stunning comeback from the dead to edge out Ryan Day 10-8.

Day had held a 6-3 lead overnight,but although the first four were shared this afternoon to move the score along to 8-5,there were just the signs that Day wasn't in the same touch he has shown in his recent tournament victories & maybe McGill sensed that as well when they resumed as he slowly started to fight back.

Fight back is exactly what h did as he amazingly took the next five frames to seal a 10-8 victory.

In the second round matches that started today Mark Allen leads Joe Perry 5-3 & Lyu Haotain will be delighted to be only 5-3 down to Barry Hawkins  having trailed at one stage 4-0.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

World Championship Day Five round Up

Another day,another former world champion  exits the stage at the 2018 world championship,as Neil Robertson joins the growing number of seeds to fall at the first round stage.

Starting the day trailing Milkins 3-6 Robertson knew he needed a good start today and thats what he eventually got,taking a lengthy first frame of the  day and then adding the second to close within one at 5-6.

He was also first in in the next,but when he couldn't take advantage Milkins pounced to open a two frame lead again and never looked back, taking the next three for a comfortable 10-5 win.

A miserable end to a difficult season for Robertson,who missed out on a place in the Masters and although he did manage to  regain his top 16 place with a win in the Scottish Open he never really kicked on from it.There have of course also been off the table issues which no doubt will have taken their toll on him & hopefully things for all concerned will have improved by the start of the new season.

For Milkins this was a repeat of his first round victory over Robertson here in 2013 and he can now look forward to a second round clash with two time champ Mark Williams.

Williams had started the day with a comfortable 7-2 lead over Jimmy Robertson,but there were just signs early on that their might be a bit of life in this one as Robertson took the opening two frames to close the gap to 7-4, indeed he was unlucky not to have been left an easier chance from a wild Williams effort on a red,but when he failed to pot one Williams rediscovered his grove to roll in a 140 and settle his nerve again.

Another century followed in the next to make it 8-4 & although Robertson pulled one more back the match was all but over & Williams duly got the frame he needed to seal the 10-5 win.

Meanwhile John Higgins was made to sweat a little more then he probably expected against Thai debutant Thepchaiya Un-Nooh,who delighted the crowd this evening with a wonderfully refreshing devil may care attitude that had the four time champ, momentarily at least,on the ropes before his experience ultimately told.

Starting the night session trailing 6-3 Un-Nooh to hit the ground running & thats just what he did.taking three of the first four played,knocking in two centuries,one of which was a missed 15th red of a maximum attempt and thrilling the crowd with some spectacular potting all of which left him trialling Higgins at the interval by one at 7-6.

Theres not much though that Higgins hasn't seen at the Crucible at this stage and the wily Scot duly dug in when they returned to extend his lead again to 9-6 & although Un-Nooh did pull one more back,Higgins got the frame he needed to reach the last 16 with a 10-7 win.

Elsewhere Judd Trump holds a 6-3 lead over Chris Wakelin,who marked his debut with a wonderful break of 141 & Ryan Day also holds a 6-3 advantage over Anthony McGill.Day also now holds the current high break with fine 145 to finish the session.

Tomorrow see's those two matchs conclude as well as the opening session of the Perry v Allen & Lyu v Hawkins second round best of 25's.Things are starting to hot up.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

World Championship Day Four Round Up.

Day four at the Crucible and another former champ exits the tournament,as three more players booked their places in the last 16.

Stuart Binghams hopes of a strong finish to his interrupted season were dashed today at the hands of Jack Lisowski.

Lisowski has been a much talked about player over the years,but despite his obvious ability it looked like hi would forever be a talent unfulfilled.Lately though there have been signs that he may be just getting to grips with the game and he impressed here again with a fine display to beat the 2015 champ.

This was as free flowing a match as we have seen here this year,,with fluent break building from both men serving up a real treat for for the crowd & it was perhaps Bingham who emerged from their morning the session the happier,taking the last two of the session to trail by just one at 4-5.

Into the night session and a tight finish looked on the cards as the first four frames were shared to move the score to 7-6,but it was Lisowski who pulled away when they resumed after the interval to move within one of victory at 9-6.

Bingham did pull one back to trail 9-7,but Lisowski got the frame he needed to seal the 10-7 win.

In other matches played to a finish today.Ding Junhui was in no mood to hang around as he quickly turned an overnight 6-3 lead against Xiao Guodong into a 10-3 win & Ricky Walden proved to strong for Luca Brecel,eventually seeing off the young Belgian 10-6.

Elsewhere,two time champ Mark Williams fine run of form shows no sign of coming to and end as he opened up a 7-2 lead over Jimmy Robertson & the other Robertson in the draw,Neil is also in real danger of bowing out to the man who also eliminated him in the first round in 2013, He trails Robert Milkins 6-3

Monday, 23 April 2018

World Championships Day 3 Round Up

Day Three at the championship and another big name bites the dust,but two of the dark horses for the title both progressed.

Shaun Murphy became the third seed to bow out of this years championship, losing out in a decider to Welshman Jamie Jones.

Jones had announced himself on the games biggest stage here  in 2012 with a debut first round victory over Murphy & history was to repeat itself here,but only after a titanic battle over two enthralling sessions.

Out of the heat of the battle when he reflects on this match Murphy will look back on a couple of occasions where he seemed to be taking control of the match only for his opponent to fight his way back into it.

The first of these was in yesterdays first session, where he was pegged back to 5-4 from 5-2 and the other was today, where having shared the opening two frames, Murphy hit top gear,rolling in back to back centuries to lead 8-5 to the interval.

If at this stage we had not had an interval he may have closed things out, but as we see so often, that 15 minute break can change things & it certainly did here for Jones,who found some scoring of his own to take the next three to level at 8-8.

Murphy did stop the rot to edge ahead again at 9-8,but a superb 124 from Jones levelled it again at 9-9 and he controlled the decider to seal a famous 10-9 victory.Next for him will be a last 16 clash with Kyren Wilson.

In other matches played to a finish ,Barry Hawkins celebrated his 39th birthday with a hard fought 10-7 victory over Stuart Carrington

"One for the purists" is the kindest way to describe this one as a morning session pulled ashore a frame early, turned into a late night slog,but it was Hawkins who  pulled it together when things started to wrong from 7-3 up to 8-7 & he produced some of his best snooker in the last two frames to see out a 10-7 win.

There were no such worries for Mark Allen,,who will be delighted to have seen off  a potentially tricky opponent Liam Highfield with some ease to set up a round 2 clash with Mark Selbys conqueror Joe Perry.

Starting out this morning with a 6-3 deficit Highfield needed a quick start and that's what he got with a fine 99,but when a tight second went to Allen,the writing was on the wall & the man from Northern Ireland quickly closed out a 10-5 win.

Elsewhere in matches that started out today,Ding Junhui survived an early scare against Xiao Guodong coming from 2-0 down to hold a 6-3 overnight lead, which is also the score by which Ricky Walden leads Luca Brecel.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

World Championship Day Two Round Up

Day two at The Crucible and after all the drama of yesterday, which saw the elimination of the top seed Mark Selby, all eyes were on this mornings session to see if no.2 seed Ronnie O'Sullivan was going to follow him.

It was way back in 1982 that we last saw both top seeds go out in the first round & Ronnie showed that he was in no mood to see it repeated here as he flew out of the traps. Trailing Maguire 6-3 overnight,a 3-1 mini session was the least he could afford and that is exactly what he got with \Maguire only taking to last before the interval to hold the slimmest of advantages at 7-6.

That was to be as good as it got for Maguire though as Ronnie reeled off the next four when they resumed to seal a 10-7 victory.

So the stat books can be put away for now and maybe the most impressive thing about Ronnies display was the way he dug in when things got tough. That can only bode well for his chances here over the next fortnight.For now he can enjoy a couple of days rest before a second round clash with Ali Carter.

Carter had also started the day trailing 6-3 to Graeme Dott,but just like Ronnie he got going quickly to level it up at 6-6.These two have a history of close matches and one of those tight,dramatic Crucible finishes looked on the cards here as they traded blows over the next four frames to make it 8-8.

Carter though had looked the more likely to score in the balls all day & that proved to be the deciding factor as runs of 56 & 63 saw him over the finish line 10-8.

In other matches to finish today Lyu Haotian made it a Crucible debut to remember as he swept to a 10-5 victory over Marco Fu.

Starting with a 6-3 overnight lead, the 20 year old Chinese was in no mood for a long night as he took the opening two frames to lead 8-3. Fu to his credit never gave up though and thoughts of his amazing comeback against Brecel here last year started to resurface as he closed to 8-5.There was to be no fairytale comeback this time though as Lyu impressively closed out the match with runs of 79 & 61.

He can now look forward to a second round match against either Hawkins or Carrington. As for Fu, hopefully the summer can see a return to full health for someone who is a class act on and off the table.

Also through to the last 16 is Kyren Wilson who carried a 7-2 lead over Matthew Stevens into tonights session & quickly dispatched an under the weather opponent 10-3.

Elsewhere in matches that started out today, Masters champ Mark Allen will be delighted to hold a 6-3 advantage over a potentially dangerous opponent in Liam Highfield,but Shaun Murphy wont be sleeping quite so easy after letting an early advantage slip to only hold a 5-4 lead overnight against Jamie Jones

They will both finish tomorrow where we also see four more matches starting out including the campaign of Chinese no.1 Ding junhui.


Saturday, 21 April 2018

World Championship Day One Round Up

Day one at the 2018 world championship & if the next 16 days are as dramatic as this one we are in for one hell of a tournament.

There really is only one place to start and that is with the news that we will be crowning a new world champion, as Mark Selby's two year iron grip on the title came to an end at the hands of Joe Perry.

Selby has had,by his standards,a poor season,but having produced something like his best form in capturing the China Open two weeks,it seemed that once again he was peaking at the right time.Still though I couldn't shake the feeling that if he were going to be vulnerable here then it would be in the early rounds and so it was to prove.

Last year on the opening morning Selby steamrolled a clearly tired Fergal O'Brien,but signs were on it here early on that this would not be as straight forward, as Perry flew out of the traps to lead 4-0 going to the first mid session interval.Such is the reputation that Selby gained for himself over the years, that when he put the next two on the board to close to 4-2 when they resumed, it seemed that it may be a case of panic averted. Perry though was cuing superbly and runs of 59,84 & 109 moved him 7-2 clear at the end of the session.

A major story was now brewing and when Perry took the opener of the night session to extend that lead to 8-2, victory seemed all but assured, Selby though had one more bit of fight in him and with the enormity of what was happening seeming to suddenly dawn on Perry, Selby battled to the next two to close to 8-4. If at this stage he could have also taken the next to get within three at the interval,then maybe we may have had a different story,but instead Perry dug in to take the next with a run of 76 to move within one of victory at 9-4 & he sealed a famous win when they resumed, the score for the record 10-4.

A miserable day for Selby then in what, bar a couple of exceptions, has been a miserable season. It will be interesting to see how he responds next season without the weight of the world crown on his shoulders. For now though we must concentrate on the present and Joe Perry can look forward to round 2 clash with Allen or Highfield.

With that story developing from the morning,all eyes were on the other hot favourite for the title, Ronnie O'Sullivan when he started out against Stephen Maguire  this afternoon and "The Rocket" has a bit of work to do when they resume in the morning.

Just like in the Selby match the underdog took an early 4-0 lead here,but helped by back to back centuries Ronnie fought back to within one at 4-3. Maguire though  took the last two of the session to go clear again at 6-3.They play to a finish in the morning and by lunchtime tomorrow we may well be looking at a championship with both the hot favourite eliminated.

Elsewhere we also have two other seeds in real danger of going out at the first hurdle as Marco Fu & Ali Carter each trail 6-3 at the end of their respective first sessions.

Fu of course has been out of the game in recent times with serious eye problems and will need all his
years of experience if is to turn it around against the Chinese debutant Lyu Haotian,who joined the exclusive list of player to make a century in their first Crucible session.

Carters opponent comes from the other end of the experience spectrum and it will take some effort from him to come back against the 2006 champ Graeme Dott.

The one seed who looks comfortable is Kyren Wilson who holds a commanding 7-2 lead over Matthew Stevens.

So that was day one and all eyes tomorrow will be on the morning session to see if Ronnie can keep his hopes of a sixth title alive. If he can't then we are looking at possibly the most open championship in history.

Friday, 20 April 2018

World Championships 2018 Preview

Well after a season of ups & downs,with a few breakthrough performances,some of the games bigger names struggling,but mostly the dominance of the "class of '92",who refuse to go away,we arrive at Sheffield with 32 players still dreaming of lifting the famous trophy come the first Monday in May.

The Favourites
If the betting is to be believed this years championship is a two horse race between Ronnie O'Sullivan & Mark Selby. Ronnie comes here on the back of what on paper has been his best ever season with 5 ranking titles already under his belt.He has at times been simply unplayable & perhaps more significantly he seems to have found a perfect balance in his life on and off the table which is key for him.If he can produce that sort of form again here surely a sixth world crown is well within range.

While Ronnie this season has cemented his place as the games greatest ever exponent,talk of Mark Selby deserving a place among the all time greats quietened down as he endured a season to forget.He did win the International Championship in November,but there followed a series of early round exits as he struggled to get a foothold in any tournament. This was until of course the newly revamped China Open a fortnight ago,where after a slow start in the early rounds,he suddenly clicked into gear to clinch the title with a run of impressive displays,to put himself right on target to launch his title defence here.

If Selby is to be vulnerable here it may well be in the early rounds again,with a potential 2nd round clash with Mark Allen on the cards.If he  gets through to the second week he will take a bit of stopping again.

The Contenders
Though if I'm honest I would be shocked if neither of these two made the final,the level below them in the betting, we have a few hoping to take advantage of any slip ups that may occur.

This season has also seen those two other greats from "'92",John Higgins & Mark Williams enjoy some title success,with Williams in particular playing his best snooker in many seasons.I just wonder though,great as they've been this year if either still has another world title in them.Higgins came here last year in probably better form than he does this,but just couldn't see it out in a final its hard to think a few years ago he would have lost.That was a big blow to him & I'm not sure he believes himself he can win another one.

Williams too for all his brilliance this year has also had those odd bad days from nowhere & its hard to imagine him getting through  here without one awful session that may wipe his chances.

Third in the betting on many lists is Judd Trump,who has had only an ok season by his lofty standards.His problem has seemed at times to be that he is in a rush to beat everybody and once someone starts to dig in against him,his confidence appears to be so fragile that he can't handle it.If he can get it together a good run is possible,but I'd fear for him again against any of the games real match players.

You can't look through the contenders without considering Ding Junhui,who was runner up here two
years ago and was arguably the best player in last years championship.He seems to be putting some eye issues early in the season behind him & I wouldn't be surprised if he made another bold attempt here again.

If we're considering Trump  & Ding then we have to also look at our Masters champion Mark Allen.For many years people had Allen down as a potential "Major" winner and he finally fulfilled that potential last January & though his form since then has nose dived slightly,he will come here with some confidence & wont be intimidated by that potential round 2 clash with Selby.

A player with great course and distance form in recent years is Barry Hawkins,who has finally started to find some form in recent months after an understandably poor season coming on the back of a family tragedy last year.Looking at the draw it wouldn't be a surprise to see reach another semi final here,but I would be surprised if he went further than that.

Elsewhere I suppose we have to mention the likes of former champions Shaun Murphy & Neil Robertson, but both come here with season disrupted by various off the the tale issues & again it would be a surprise to see them involved at the business end.

Outside of the players listed above,there may well be someone who will shock us all,but I can't find them!

Here are a few recommended bets for a bit of financial interest.
First round Lucky 15
Lyu Haotian 13/8
Graeme Dott 5/4
Ricky Walden 11/10
Jack Lisowski 6/4

Ding to win his quarter 5/2
Outright betting: Mark Allen e/w 28/1

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Masters -A few other talking points

As Mark Allen wakes up this morning as the sports latest Triple Crown winner and the dust settles on another great Masters tournament,here are a few other things that might be worth thinking about from the week.

1.The worrying form of Mark Selby.
When Selby won his third world title last May and more or less cemented his place at the top of the rankings for the foreseeable ,there was a clamour to get his face chiselled on our sports fictional Mt Rushmore alongside Davis,Hendry,O'Sullivan & Higgins, such talk has been proven to be a bit premature as,apart from his International Championship win,it has largely been a season to forget.A decision not to enter the NI Open to prepare for the UK Championship backfired when he exited in the second round, & another early bath here have left him with a little bit to prove in the coming months.That said he has done it before & I probably still see him as the most probable world champion again come this May.

2.Ding's slump continues.
Going back again to last years world championship and although Selby was the victor,there is a real argument so say that Ding was actually the best player in that tournament. A victory in the World Open in September seemed to be the perfect start to the season for him,but since then he has really struggled. Of course there is a genuine excuse,as he developed an eye infection,which was is obviously debilitating to a snooker player,but he just looked a bit resigned here last week.Hopefully this was not a sign of things to come & he can get his spark back,because in full flow there are few better players to watch building a break.

3.The class of '92 still a force in the game.
As we had already seen this season,with all three in the winner enclosure,Ronnie, Higgins & Williams are not quite done with the game yet and here again they proved that with, Williams beating Selby,Higgins reaching the semi final & Ronnie's demolition of Fu in the first round. We also saw in their defeats that they are all just reaching the poor performance from nowhere stage,but you would certainly be surprised if at least one of these three didn't lift another trophy before seasons end.

4.Trump still has a lot to learn
Back in 2011,when Trump reached the world final I will admit I was among those who thought we were witnessing the emergence of the games next dominant force.That seemed to be confirmed later that year when he lifted the UK title and into the 2012 Masters where he defeated Ronnie in the quarter finals,his star just seemed to be rising & rising.Then came the semi final against Robertson,where its widely accepted that the wily Aussie did a number on him & I think there we have the Trump career "butterfly moment"I fully believe had he won that title we would now be looking at a multiple Triple Crown instead of someone who has had a good career,but one that promised so much more.

There is of course still time for him to turn it around,but he will need to improve on the attitude he has shown in recent times.Far too often from him we have seen a glass chin when someone is coming back at him and the way he seems to have decided to combat this is by trying to force his way over the line, for a perfect example of this,look back at the red he took on when leading Wilson 5-2 on Saturday.For some time I've felt that Trump would benefit greatly from getting a few people in his corner who will tell him what he needs to hear rather than what he wants to hear.Listening to his rather petulant display in his post match press conference has only further convinced me that that is the case.

5 Where are the great young talents?
One of the reasons I saw Trump as the next dominant force was the apparent lack of top talent coming behind him and  the fact that in 2018,Wilson became the first Triple Crown finalist born in the 90's,rather proves that point. Hendry made a comment last week that he can't see where the next multiple Major/20 time ranking winner is coming from and its hard not to see his point. On evidence to date it seems inevitable that we will be looking to China to produce that next champion. I think we are now heading for a period of transition in the sport in the coming years as the greats we are used to slowly drop away with as yet no obvious replacements coming through.

Finally once again we return to the table condition at a major tournament.In recent years,I think particularly in the big BBC events we have seen pockets that were certainly on the generous side.Its even got to the stage where the commentators aren't even bothering to trot out the old "much tighter than club pockets"defence.To my mind this seemed to all start around the time that our bookmaker sponsors started putting up charity money for century breaks to be broken.That may be a coincidence,and I genuinely hope this is a table fitting problem & not a policy decision taken in the mistaken belief that all snooker fans want to see are big breaks flying in.It must be said after all the talk early week here,the changing of the cushions seemed to alleviate the issue somewhat.

So anyway these are just my few thoughts on the last week.Feel free to comment or add some of your own to these.From here for the pros,its onto the China open qualifiers,which have taken on added significance with yesterdays prize money announcement,

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Final.

Mark Allen tongight claimed the  2018 Masters title after a hard fought 10-7 final victory over Kyren Wilson.

Allen,the world no.8 has been the standout player here all week,making the stage his own with some fabulous displays in the previous rounds and again doing so today when it mattered most.

The match itself wont go down as a classic in terms of quality ,but boy did both these players battle hard,neither leaving anything on the table.

A close match was always on the cards you felt and with the first session shared at 4-4,we were set tonight for a grandstand finish.

Here it was Wilson who struck first,winning lengthy first of the session to go 5-4,but Allen seemed to settle into rhythm the quicker, taking the next three to the interval to lead 7-5.

When he also took the next in two scoring visits,it looked as though he might run away with it,but Wilson showed against Trump yesterday that he relishes a battle & bravely fought back to within one again at 8-7.

Allen though would not be denied & he took the next two to seal a famous 10-7 win.

In doing so,he became the third player from Northern Ireland,after Alex Higgins & Denis Taylor to lift the masters title & the fact its 40 years after Higgins did it makes it all the more special for him.

As for Wilson,he showed again here this week just what a talent he is and also what a dedicated professional he is.He also just seems like a real nice fella and you hope this experience will push him to the next level in the sport,competing for titles on a regular basis

The final word must go to Mark Allen though.I have stated on many occasions that I thought The Masters was the Major he had the best chance of winning,but over the years he has been unlucky to so often lose narrowly to players playing at their absolute peak.Listening to his podcast interview with Dave Hendon during the week,he talked about the ease with which he won his first ranking final & how in a way, he'd have preferred it to go close to see how he could withstand the pressure. Well tonight,on one of the games biggest stages he  did just that & who is to say this wont be the victory to catapult him to the very top of the game.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Masters Semi Final Round Up.

A thrilling day of semi final action at the "Ally Pally" has left us with one guarantee and that is that we will be adding new name to The Masters roll of honour tomorrow, as Mark Allen faces Kyren Wilson for the £200,000 top prize.

It seems strange when you consider there is only two years between them,but in terms of experience it very much seemed "an old master against the young pretender "scenario as Judd Trump faced off against Kyren Wilson in the first of the semi finals today.

This was of course Wilson's first experience of a major semi final and the pressure seemed to be getting to him early on here as he struggled to keep the cue ball under control .Trump was well worth the  3-1 lead he took to the interval.

Wilson did look to be finding his range when they resumed with an 81 closing the gap to 3-2,but Trump took full advantage  of his chances in the next two to pull clear again 5-2.

At this stage two things were needed for Wilson to get back into the match,firstly he needed to start taking his chances & also he needed Trump to make mistakes,amazingly in an extraordinary hour of snooker both these things were to happen.

Into frame eight still with the match at his mercy Trump took on a very low percentage pot on a red,missed it and in doing so spread the pack far & wide.This was the sort of gift wrapped opportunity Wilson wanted and he duly cleared to make it 5-3.That quickly became 5-4 & then 5-5 as he forced decider  without Trump potting ball for over 30 minutes.

Into the decider then & it was Trump who got in first,but he could only make 23 before breaking down The crucial moment was to come a few shots later though as,faced with an awkward safety from the side cushion,Trump had what can only be described as a rush of blood to the head.With a few safety options available he for some reason,best known to himself, took on a near impossible plant.The resulting miss presented Wilson with the chance he needed and he calmly knocked in a 71 to seal a famous 6-5 win.

A great victory for Wilson then in what is only his second appearance at the Masters,as for Trump you have to wonder at this stage if he will ever reach the heights that his talent deserves.

The second semi final had a lot to live up to as Mark Allen ,fresh from his victory over Ronnie in the previous round,faced another of the all time greats in John Higgins.

For the longest time I've felt that if there was a "Major" win in Allen,that it would be the Masters and after losing the opener here,he quickly found his stride again to lead 3-1 t the interval.

Higgins reached a career landmark when they resumed,as he hit the 700 career century mark with a fine 131 that more importantly got him within one at 3-2,but Allen responded to take the next two to move to the brink at 5-2.

There was still time for Higgins to get his 701st century (a 127),but there was to be no repeat of this afternoons heroics as Allen took the next to seal his final place 6-3.

So not the final many would have predicted at the start of the week,but what a fascinating match up it promises to be. Both have shown in different ways that they are well able for the pressures that these occasions bring and I wouldn't be surprised to see this one go late into the evening tomorrow.That sai,if forced to pick a winner I think I'll give the edge to Allen on experience alone.It will be close though and maybe,20 yrs after one of the games most famous final frame deciders we could be in for another one tomorrow.

Friday, 19 January 2018

The Masters Day 6 Round Up.

Day 6 at The Masters and after the shocks of yesterday,today we saw two of the games real big guns bring it to the table

First up this afternoon we had a real mouthwatering clash between two of the players who have been enjoying a fair deal of success this season,as Judd Trump faced Shaun Murphy.

The attacking prowess of these two players is well known,but perhaps the fact that the elimination of Ronnie from the tournament yesterday has turned peoples attention to the other contenders was weighing on both their minds as the opening exchanges were scrappier than we would have expected.

Scrappy as they were though,those sort of frames still have to be won and was Trump who took the early initiative to go the interval leading 3-1.

Murphy took the first when they resumed to close to 3-2,but it was this point that this one really started to catch fire .

Trump was the first to find his spark with a run of 91 to lead,4-2,but back came Murphy with breaks of 95 &59 to level it up at 4-4.

The momentum now seemed to be with Murphy,but Trump was not done with yet,as he saved his best till last with two classy breaks of 111 & 113 to claim a 6-4 win.

I don't think i;m being unfair when I say in similar situations in the past Trump has shown himself to have a bit of a glass chin,so he will be pleased with how he finished this off when the pressure came on. He will come out tomorrow afternoon as a warm favourite to beat Kyren Wilson and reach his first Masters final.

The one anomaly on the otherwise glittering CV of John Higgins,is the fact that he has only two Masters titles to his name,but maybe that is a record he could put straight here this weekend after producing a typical Higgins display to dispatch Ryan Day in the last of the quarter finals here tonight.

After watch his fellow "class of 92"legends exit the tournament yesterday Higgins would have been all the more determined to avoid the same fate and duly took the opener.

Day responded with an 83 to level at 1-1,but that was a good as it got for the Welshman Higgins found another gear,knocking in breaks of 61,63,65113 & 80 to run out a convincing 6-1 winner.
He will now face Mark Allen tomorrow night in what promises to be a cracker.

So a great semi final Saturday in store and here are predictions for what should be two tightly contested matches

Score Predictions : Judd Trump 6-3 Kyren Wilson
                                 John Higgins 6-4 Mark Allen

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Day 5 Round Up

Day 5 at The Masters and yet again proof if proof were needed as to just how unpredicatable this game can be.

After everything we had seen from Ronnie in his first round match here,it was no surprise that he started a warm favourite against Mark Allen this afternoon and although it was expected that the Ulsterman would put up more resistance that Fu had on Tuesday,most expected Ronnie's quest for an eighth title here to continue without much hassle.Allen though had not read the script.

The first frame saw both players have their chances,but a run of 75 saw it go to Ronnie.Allen though showed in his own first round victory over Brecel that,given his chance,he was also in fine stroke & a 65 quickly drew him level at 1-1.

Allen was now fully settled and he hit Ronnie again in the next with a 115 & followed it an 85 to lead 3-1 a the interval.

Ronnie,it must be said was certainly looking a little under the weather here and he certainly was getting plenty of time in his chair to think about it as an 81 moved Allen 4-1 ahead.

This was now a full blown crisis for "the Rocket" and for once his game just wasn't there to respond as the score moved to 5-1.From here he didn't have to wait too long to be put out of his misery as Allen claimed the next to seal a famous 6-1 victory

Into the night then and another of the games legends,Mark Williams was also hoping to build on an impressive first round  victory over Mark Selby,against his young opponent Kyren Wilson

It is of course 20 years now since perhaps the most famous Masters final of all when a fresh faced Williams beat Stephen Hendry on a respotted black and I suppose the main difference between the Williams of then and now is that now he can have an odd day when he goes to the well and finds nothing.Today was one of those days.

This was a scrappy match from the start,but it Wilson who was potting the balls that mattered as he moved clear at 4-0 to the interval.When they resumed Williams did scrape a frame,but by then a 63 had already seen Wilson get to within one of victory & he secured his semi final spot in the next with a 76.

So not the winners today that we were expecting,but it certainly leaves the tournament wide open and no doubt Shaun Murphy & Judd \Trump who meet in the afternoon & John Higgins & Ryan Day who play tomorrow night will all now be fancying their chances of claiming the title here on Sunday.Things just got a whole lot more interesting!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Masters Day 4 Round up.

Day four at The Masters and the end of the the first round matches leave eight men still in the hunt to be crowned champion here next Sunday.

The one thing you expect at The Masters,when you consider that it represents a gathering of the games top 16 players, are tight well contested matches and that and that is what we've been treated to here this week,with of course the exception of Ronnie's demolition job  on Fu yesterday.For a while this afternoon it looked as if Shaun Murphy was following suit,but such assumptions were to underestimate the fighting qualities of Ali Carter.

Into the match then & after a closely fought first frame,it was Murphy who found his groove the quicker.stomping around the table with his trademark confidence,quickly establishing a 4-0 lead going to the interval..

There has been talk in recent times as to the need for a mid session interval in the modern game,but I for one would hate to see it disappear from the game,as,giving a player a chance to regroup can so often change the direction of the match completely.

That was certainly the case here,as a refreshed Carter started to find his range with runs of 99 & 110 reducing he arrears to 4-2. Murphy did steady the ship in the next 93 to go 5-2,but back came Carter again taking the next two to close within one at 5-4.

So very much game on again at this point and had the cueball just slipped past the black instead of glancing it from Carters initial long red,who know what would have happened,but it did glance it & when the next real chance went to Murphy,he made no mistake,knocking in a match winning break of 76 to seal the 6-4 victory.

Relief in the end for Murphy then who has been having a very consistent season and he can now look forward to a quarter final against Judd Trump on Friday afternoon

Onto the evening match then and the all Scottish clash between John Higgins & Anthony McGill. In a match like this between two of the games hardest match players,there was never going to be any quarter given or asked for and a proper old fashioned snooker match was what we got.

A couple of closely fought opening frames went to Higgins to lead 2-0,but when he missed a pink from off the side cushion in frame three it eventually went to McGill and he also took the next to go to the interval at 2-2.

When they resumed it was again McGill in the ascendancy as he also took the next two to lead 4-2.Worrying times for Higgins ,but you don't win as much in the game as he has  without turning around an odd crisis and that is what he did.a made it 4-3 ,before a 147 attempt in the next failed on 81.The important thing was the frame though and now on a roll he took the next to lead again 5-4.

McGill was in first in the next,but when he broke down on 41,Higgins made the most of the chance that came his way,sealing the frame with his second bite of the cherry to go through 6-4.

Tomorrow we have the start of the quarters with all eyes on the afternoon match between Ronnie O'Sullivan & Mark Allen with a not to shabby evening session between Mark Williams & Kyren Wilson to follow.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Masters Day 3 Round Up.

Day three at the Masters & all eyes were on the hometown favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan to see if the defending champion could pick up where he left off before Christmas in his quest here for an eighth  Masters title. The answer we got was pretty emphatic.

This was quite simply a flawless display of snooker and there was nothing his opponent Marco Fu could do about it. The tone for the afternoon was set in the opener with a smooth as silk 120 & it was quickly followed by an even smoother 121.

So 2-0 in no time at all and that quickly became 3-0 with runs of 74 & 50 before another century (112 )in the next set us the the interval with a scoreline at 4-0 a pot percentage at 99% & an opponent yet to pot a ball.

Fu did at least manage to register some points when they resumed, but punch drunk from the opening exchanges,he never looked like making an impact in the match and further breaks of 75 & 53 from Ronnie ,put him out of his misery 6-0.

Ronnie spoke after of not feeling well in recent days and to be honest,on this display it may well be the only thing that stops him here this week.

This evenings match was always likely to be a closer affair with both Barry Hawkins & Kyren Wilson looking to put some disappointing recent results behind them here on one of the games biggest stages.

Hawkins,a finalist here in 2015 certainly got the faster start and may will have been disappointed that breaks of 131 & 120 were only good enough to get him to the interval at 2-2.

When they resumed it was Wilsons turn to start rolling in the big breaks,but the result was the same as frames were traded again to leave 4-4.

To this point this had been a high quality match,but perhaps understandably,considering the importance of this match to both,the standard started to drop and things got a bit edgy.It was Wilson though who held it together the best and he potted the balls he needed to seal a 6-4 win & set up a last 8 encounter with Mark Williams.

So all this leaves two places left to be filled in the Quarter finals and they will be filled tomorrow when Shaun Murphy faces Ali Carter in the afternoon & John Higgins takes on Anthony McGill in the evening

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Day Two

Day Two at the Masters and contrasting fortunes for two of the games big starts who were hoping to kickstart the second half of the season here this week.

Ding Junhui has really been having a torrid time of late and with that in mind i'm sure he would have ,if given the choice,picked someone else to play in his first match here rather than Ryan Day who has been a bogeyman to him on some of the games biggest stages in the past.

Day has always been one of those players who on his day you don't think he will miss,but when things are going badly looks like someone down the club.Today looked like it was going to be one of the latter as Ding flew out the blocks to a 3-0 lead.Day needed to do something quick and he did,taking the last before the interval with a 79 to trail 3-1.

That seemed to light a fire under Day and two beautifully crafted centuries (125 & 105)drew him level at 3-3.

Three in a row for Day then and that would become five in a row thanks to two extraordinary incidents with Ding.Firstly a lengthy 7th frame was decided when Ding miscued on the final red,leaving a free ball and he then saw then the next frame go a begging  when he brushed off the blue while trying to cue over it with the rest. All of which meant Day now only needed one more for victory at 5-3.

A 100 from Ding in the next closed the gap to 5-4 ,but there was to be no comeback as Day took the next with a 115 of his own to seal his victory 6-4.

Into the night match match then and what on paper looked like the potential tie of the round as Trump faced  off against Liang Wenbo.

For someone of Trumps talent,his record in this tournament over the years has been disappointing & that coupled with a few incidents in recent months where he has been creating headlines for the wrong reasons may have him feeling he has something to prove here this week.

He certainly started off the better in this one with a series of big breaks giving him a 3-1 interval lead in what seemed like the blink of an eye and an early night looked in store as that quickly became  5-1 when they resumed.

Liang though wasn't finished with yet and as so often happen when you get to the nothing to lose stage, his arm freed up.Breaks of 58 & 51 got him off and running,before two of the most beautifully constructed centuries ( 139 & 116) you could wish to see saw him back within one at 4-5.

It was very much game on again now and \when Liang knocked in a long red in the next he was unfortunate not to finish on a colour.Three minutes of thinking time followed ,before he decided to put all his eggs in one basket,taking on an ultra difficult green. Unfortunately for him it proved one pot too far and he missed it gifting Trump an easy opener from which he ran out the match with 85.The score in the end 6-4.

Finally again today we saw the subject of the overly generous pockets causing a stir.This has been a bug bear of mine in recent seasons and its nice to see it getting some proper discussion on tv for a change as up to now we've only heard the whole tournament v club table argument.That of course misses the point as at the top level even the slightest fraction can make such a difference.I may be wrong on this ,but it seems to happen more in the BBC tournaments than any of the others.This may be with the mistaken belief that all the casual viewers want to see is big breaks..I think this would be an incorrect assumption.

Anyway things roll on tomorrow with a certain defending champion entering the arena in the afternoon session.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Day 0ne

Well.its been a while.but where better to kick-start this blog again than at the start of a new year and at the beginning of one of the best weeks on the snooker calendar.

As if to confirm just what a special tournament this is,the draw threw up a potential classic for the first match and for once we were not to be disappointed.

Mark Selby started this season as the world champion and with an unassailable lead at the top of the rankings,but the International Championship apart,things have not been going according to plan with a decision  not play the Irish Open to concentrate on the UK backfiring when he exited early on to Donaldson.

Mark Williams on the other hand has been having his most consistent season in years and ended a seven year wait for another ranking title in that Irish Open.

Just what an afternoon we were in for was apparent straight from the off when Williams floated in a beautiful 135 to take the opener and followed it with a run of 89 to lead 2-0.

Selby had done nothing wrong so far though and when his chance came two 70 breaks in three frames either side of the interval saw him move 3-2 ahead,before Williams hit back with 81 to level things up again.

This was high class stuff from both,but it was Selby who seemed to have made the decisive move when he took the next two to move within one of the next round at 5-3.

That looked be all she wrote for Williams as Selby got in again in the next and seemed to be clearing for victory when a kick on a red put a stop to his gallop and Williams made the most of his reprieve to clear,before also taking the next to force the decider at 5-5.

When these two met at the Masters last year it was Selby who came out the right side of a decider and after Williams had failed to make the most of an early chance here,Selby seemed to have done all the hard work again,only to miss the last red along the top cushion and the Welshman cleared to record a 6-5 win.

He can now enjoy a few days back at home in Wales before returning on Friday to face the winner between Hawkins & Wilson.

The other match today brought together two of the games real fluent breakbuilders,as Mark Allen faced Luca Brecel in What was the Belgians Masters debut..

It was strange then that after some fine early play from both,leaving the scores tied at 3-3,it was a lengthy seventh frame that was to prove the pivotal one.Here both players missed several chances,before it was eventually decided when Brecel unluckily saw the white drop into the middle pocket after a superb pot on the brown.This left him needing snookers,but he never got the chance to play for them as Allen cleared to go 4-3.

That seemed to knock the fight out of the young man and Allen quickly made it 5-3 before a run of 120,his second century of the match,saw him over the line 6-3.

For a number of years I've felt that the Masters represented Allen best chance of a "Major" and I still think that though if it is to be this year he may well have to defeat the defending champion & player of the season so far,Ronnie O'Sullivan in the next round.That is providing of course that Ronnie gets the better of Marco Fu first

So we're off and running at the 2018 Masters and tomorrow we can look forward to seeing two of the games biggest names who may feel they have something to prove here this week,as first up Ding Junhui faces Ryan Day & in the evening Judd Trump takes on Liang Wenbo.