Snookerbacker

May 22, 2017

Q-School Graduates 2017

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 12:13 pm

It’s been another two grueling weeks of snooker at the Preston Guild Hall which has once again seen 12 potters emerge battered and bruised from the carnage clutching a golden ticket, a ticket which ensures they will be participating in the professional snooker tour for the next two seasons at least, this time with no entry fees to be paid.

Every year the debate rages on about fairness, should there even be 12 spots available in such a cut-throat format? Should 4 players that didn’t win through automatically even get a tour card? Why isn’t the draw seeded to avoid first round matches of death? The arguments continue, but the facts are that these 12 boys have earned the right as the rules stand to compete and I for one have massive respect for all of them. It’s a brutal format and you need some major league conkerage to be able to get out of it alive (metophorically speaking of course, it’s not that brutal).

It’s a 75/25 split this season between the ‘bouncebacks’; those who fell off the tour officially just a couple of weeks before Q-School and the ‘newbies’; those to whom this is a new chapter in their lives and snooker careers. In all there are 7 English qualifiers, 1 from Wales, Germany and Northern Ireland and 2 Chinese.

So what do we know about them? In terms of the new qualifiers we’re realistically looking at ‘known unknowns’ as well as ‘unknown unknowns’, there aren’t many ‘unknown knowns’ about any of them but it’s fair to say that we know a lot more about some than others so here’s a run down of the ‘known knowns’. Get that? Of course you did.

QS1: Allan Taylor (England)

Readers of this tripe will be more than familiar with Allan, he often reminds me that the first time he was mentioned on here I described him as ‘a bit of a nuisance’ as he kept beating players in a PTC that I’d backed against him when he was a mere unknown unknown. It transpired that he and I are from the same part of the world and we have since become good buddies. He marched through Q-School One with a ‘refuse to lose’ mentality and put the disappointment of dropping out of the ranks last season right behind him to start with a clean slate. I know he’s very popular on the tour and a lot of the players will be pleased to see him back, but I want to see him do ‘mean’ a bit more on the table now. No more Mr Nice Guy, this is a job, get down to business and rip them to shreds, then come over here and give us a cuddle and squeeze of your little cheeks. Watch Allan’s reaction to coming through here

QS1: Ashley Hugill (England)

Ashley caused a stir in the 2016 German Masters when he beat Neil Robertson 5-1 to qualify, this was as a result of being a previous Q-School Top Up and he has been a regular in the early rounds of professional events ever since though only now can he attach the tag ‘main tour professional’ to his profile. He’s a Yorkshire lad but don’t hold that against him and came through Q-School 1 beating former professionals Steven Hallworth and Simon Bedford. Since the Robbo game he’s run the likes of Marco Fu and Ricky Walden close in professional events. He has two seasons to find his footing, but he already has a couple of seasons of a few matches in professional conditions behind him so he’s done a bit of prep. Watch Ashley’s reaction to getting on the tour for the first time here.

QS1: Billy Joe Castle (England)

One of the lesser known qualifiers who actually came through Q-School 1 beating two players who were later to become fellow graduates, Zhang Yong and Paul Davison. He either is or isn’t a cousin of the talented but absent Shane Castle and I’m told that Billy practices at Jason Francis’ Crucible Club in Newbury. He’s got a very ‘in and out’ kind of back catalogue which would tie in to the Shane connection in that he seems to be playing one minute and then goes missing for a bit. He played well enough in Q-School a couple of years ago but nothing that suggested that he might be a big player this time around. My guess is that if this kid sticks at it, he might be one to keep an eye on, but that if might be a big one. Watch this space.

QS1: Lukas Kleckers (Germany)       

It goes without saying that this is a huge boost for snooker in Germany. OK it doesn’t need it in terms of the watching audience which is already massive, but wouldn’t it be nice to see this enthusiasm (which it has to be said is largely from those of a ‘past their best’ age) rewarded with a few decent players on the tour to really cheer on? Lukas might not have been high up on a lot of people’s lists of potential qualifiers given his previous results, but as you’d expect, the German snooker community seem far from surprised at their man’s recent elevation. He was one of those players that Jason Ferguson gave a World Championship wildcard to a couple of years back to try and get the European nations actually playing instead of watching and you have to say now that this has proved a gamble worth taking. He’ll have the hopes, facial hair and sausages of a nation on his back and I hope he inspires a lot more of his countryfolk to come over here and throw their beach towels on the seat they want in Q School. Watch Germany’s new poster boy’s reaction here.

QS2: Duane Jones (Wales)

Another bounceback onto the tour for Welshman Jones who having lost 4-0 in Q School 1 to Jamie Clarke somehow managed to get himself together to come through the second event, by all accounts including a clearance in his penultimate match which would grace any professional hall of fame under severe pressure, all the more as he knew he had zero chance of getting through the Order of Merit. Duane’s best performance last season was a Last 32 finish in the Indian Open and it was a struggle for him towards the end of the season with no wins at all in the calendar year, giving his qualification from the second school even more weight in terms of turning things around. Like Taylor, it’s wipe the slate clean time and start again, fixing what might need fixing and grafting on, he clearly has the talent and bottle to do better this time around, maybe the scare will do him good. Watch Duane’s reaction to getting through here.

QS2: Sanderson Lam (England)  

The Panda is Back! Sandi, a part of the Northern Snooker Centre posse is another who like Jones lost heavily in the first Q-School to bounce back in this one and regain his tour place. I have to say I was surprised when I heard he’d been relegated in the first place but the damage was possibly done in his first season rather than his second. A recent last 16 showing in the Gibraltar Open and Last 32 in the China Open would usually be enough to be sure you’d still get in somehow but it obviously took Slam a while to adapt to life as a professional. But now he has another crack at it I’d expect him to improve a lot on last time. Interestingly, the man who he beat to qualify Joe Swail was the same man that put the final nail in his previous professional career coffin with a 10-8 victory in the World Championship qualifiers in April. Who’d have thought that one month later they’d be in that position? Swail of course also bounced back via the Order of Merit. Funny old world isn’t it JV? Watch Sandi’s reaction to getting back on tour here.

QS2: Paul Davison (England)

Yo-yo professional Paul ‘Snowy’ Davison could possibly (I can’t be bothered to check) hold the accolade of being the only player in Q School history to be active in every round of both events. He lost to Castle in the final of QS1 and then did it all again to beat former professional James Cahill to qualify from QS2. It is testament to his professionalism that despite knowing he was safe at the top of the Order of Merit anyway, he still wanted to win through as one of the 8 automatic qualifiers, Martin O’Donnell definitely owes him a snowball or two. Paul’s record down the years is there for  all to see and you know exactly what you are getting with him, he’s not an easy man to beat at any level and you’ll always know you’ve had a match when you’ve managed to fend him off. He’ll relish the two more years and who knows how much this scare might spur him on this time? Experience after all, counts for a lot these days, especially in the qualifiers.

QS2: Chen Zifan (China)

Our only Chinese automatic qualifier is one who has come through the ‘wildcard’ system in China, one which is much maligned by myself and thankfully this season has at last been done away with. Chen has joined the stable at Victoria’s in Sheffield and expands the wealth of talent maturing just a few hundred yards from The Crucible in Sheffield City Centre. We don’t know a lot about him and his only win as a wildcard in China over the past two seasons came against Tian Pengfei and regulars will know that I take these all-Chinese wildcards match ups with a large handful of salt. He’s beaten some decent players to get through Q-School 2 and he only lost narrowly to Jamie Cope in the first one so I’m sure there is some promise there that can only be improved upon once he’s settled in Sheffield.

1st Order of Merit: Zhang Yong (China)

Largely anonymous in his previous two seasons on the tour, Zhang Yong was consistent enough through the two events to climb back on the tour via the order of merit list. He is another however like Sandi who showed signs of improvement in the dying embers of his final few weeks with wins over Mike Dunn and Dark Mavis taking him to the Last 32 in Germany and then a late season win over Andrew Higginson in Gibraltar when all was lost. In his first year, too often his bags were packed after round one and he can only hope that the shock of falling off gives him the new lift he clearly needs. It’s tough out there and often even tougher for these new Chinese professionals, perhaps again being based in the UK with an increasing number of his friends and countrymen around him will help him start carving out a few results, but he’s not one of the Chinese players that I think is going to trouble the business end of events as things stand.

2nd Order of Merit: Sean O’Sullivan (England)

Sean ‘The Storm’ O’Sullivan returns to the tour after a poor end to his professional season saw him winning just one match in 2017 prior to Q School. Storm fell victim to Allan Taylor in the final of Q-School 1 and then Paul Davison in the second event so he’s only been beaten there by fellow graduates so won’t mind slipping in through the back door of the merit list. At 23 years young Storm has gained some valuable amateur and professional experience and has more under his belt at that age than most could dream of. He’s a very talented and level headed lad is Sean and a heavy scorer when he’s in the mood as his chart topping Q-School breaks show, I’d predict a brighter couple of years for him as his game matures and he’s one I think could kick on after this minor setback, a mere graze on the knee of the leg of life.

3rd Order of Merit: Joe Swail (Northern Ireland)

Never heard of him.

I remember once the great David Vine described the then Crucible semi-finalist as ‘everyone’s second favourite player’ and somehow I think that’s a pretty good description of The Outlaw. There’s not many if any in the game who won’t be delighted to see this fabled old scrapper with the bendy back arm who was surely born with a cue in his hand back where he belongs. The snooker tour for me is a better place with him around. I could bang on about all the great matches he’s been involved in and the drama he has created for us anoraks over the years, but I won’t, because this is about what happens from now and like Davison, Joe has the experience to make a living these days from snooker and who knows, we might not yet have seen the last of his on-screen heroics. I’d not put it past him having an Indian summer in his career, he has two years and possibly a bit on top to do it.

4th Order of Merit: Martin O’Donnell (England) 

Once The MO’D’s knees have recovered from praying all day last Saturday he can slap himself round the cheeks and get his stick out again to resume his professional career after this highly inconvenient break in proceedings. Martin like Sandi and Zhang actually saw an upturn in results as things went on last season but again it was a case of too little too late to stay on the tour, finishing 74th in the rankings at the end of last season, second only to Swail (71st) of the bounceback graduates. His results over his second season were not actually all that bad and had he had the foundation from his first season to build on he might not have found himself in this pickle. But he’s back on now and it’s just for me with Martin a case of building on his recent performances which are clearly on the up.

THE WORLD SNOOKER TOUR RESUMES FOR 2017/18 SEASON ON MAY 31ST WITH QUALIFIERS FOR THE RIGA OPEN AND CHINA CHAMPIONSHIP BEING HELD IN PRESTON CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SEASON CALENDAR.   

May 8, 2017

Form An Orderly Q

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:41 pm

The focus of snooker for the next two weeks. Nice tree.

Tuesday morning sees the start of an event which will both drive and destroy dreams as we go through the annual lottery of snooker’s Q-School, where 200 plus amateurs of differing abilities will be whittled down to just 12, who will then start their journey into the professional ranks.

It’s as harsh a format as you can imagine and even a cursory look at the first round draws in each of the events once again makes you wince at how many good players are grouped together.

But for many it’s their last chance to know what they might be doing this time next month. The choice? Preparing for the professional year ahead and looking at dates and travel plans or trying to get a job somewhere else.

Good luck with tha…(VOTE LABOUR)

The headline for the qualifiers this year is of course that they won’t have to immediately stump up entry fees, these having been abolished by Mr Hearn, who also came up with a plan for the losers here to fund it, there are no flies on him that’s for damn sure as mustard.

It’s being held at the iconic (but it has to be said quite unpopular with top players) Preston Guild Hall and includes many names that you will recognise. Tony Drago (have a watch), Joe Swail, Barry Pinches, Andy Hicks, Jamie Cope – yes that’s THE Jamie Cope, Martin O’Donnell, Allan Taylor, Sean O’Sullivan, Sanderson Lam and many more are among the former professionals in action as well as the superbly named Shaun Sultana, who on currant form should be in with a grape chance given the date.

Seriously though, who’d be a snooker player? These guys, well the ones with half a chance, are playing for their livelihood. The reality is that for the losers, which is the vast majority of them, it’s a future full of uncertainty. In what other line of work are two weeks so vital to the next two years of your life?

It’s not fair, it’s not fun but for twelve of them (the four semi finalists from each event and the four others who win most frames from the two combined) it’s the key to a couple of years of routine, something which I have always found is essential to snooker player’s mental health and wellbeing.

For what it’s worth I’ve had a few quid on each quarter in Event 1. I’ve gone for experience with Joe Swail and Andy Hicks, I’ve gone for who I think is the best Chinese hope in Chen Zifan and I’ve gone for a player I know is granite and in form on the amateur circuit Anthony Parsons.

For serious backers I’d suggest a look at Steven Hallworth given his draw but he’s too short for me to have a dabble with the size of my satchel.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I’ll watch with interest. Good luck to the boys and girl that know I’m rooting for them over the two events.     

Event 1 Draw

Event 2 Draw

Format

May 2, 2017

Downtime Musings

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:22 pm

It’s good to talk

It’s that time of the year again when snooker fans around the globe have to put up with that sinking feeling that it’s over. The World Championship has come to an end and we’re all a bit fed up aren’t we?

Regular readers of this rubbish will know that I don’t do congratulatory posts to winners, so I’ll get it out of the way that I think Mark Selby’s achievement of winning a third world title in this day and age is up there with one of the greatest in the sports history. Whatever you think of him, he’s got fierce competition in numbers these days to beat, something a couple of the other multiple world champions may not have always had.

I’ve just decided to write a few musings on snooker in general on a whim, because I feel like it and because it’s my blog and I can. 

My overriding feeling after this world championship is that I have possibly rediscovered something that I’d lost in the game. As a blogger I can’t stand the wall to wall season but as a fan it really makes you focus on the big events a lot more, which I now enjoy more than I have for a while.

My own personal World Championship experience makes me realise how lucky I am. I get to go to and see places that only a fraction of fans ever do. I meet the nicest and strangest people along the way, some who, through snooker, are now lifelong friends. That’s quite something isn’t it?

On the business side, Barry Hearn has increased prize money to levels that could only have been dreamt of a decade ago. He rubs people up the wrong way, he speaks his mind, he is sometimes incredibly rude to fans (and to me), but the fact is he has looked after the winners the way a professional sport should and for that all those who have benefited should thank him and those around him who secure the lucrative sponsorship deals.

I’m also glad that Barry (and more importantly Jason Ferguson) have realised that the sport needs help at grass roots level. Jason has pioneered some great work in the junior game, the WPBSA has also done great work promoting ladies snooker and snooker for people with disabilities, which should be applauded as they bid for Olympic recognition.

Where they have fallen short is the amateur game, which many of you know has been a passion of mine for a few years now; the SB Classic has produced quite a few new professionals who arguably, may not have got the exposure, sponsorship or confidence they needed without it. So Barry’s announcement last week of a new Challenge Tour, starting at a date after May 2018 is welcome, but we await the small print. On a personal level, it would have been nice to have been consulted on this as it’s basically an idea I came up with, but obviously it’s in hand at the WPBSA end so I wish them well and have no axe to grind as long as it benefits the sport at the right level.

Anyway, the amateurs and fallen professionals are off to The Guild Hall in Preston next week to take part in the brutal Q-School, where eight of them will leave triumphant. I might pop along if a few of my good pals reach the business end, but it’s a very tough school this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the qualifiers come from further ashore. 

I’m still not sure what the point of this post was. As pointless posts go it’s up there. But I hope it’s helped a little for those who like me, miss our April routines, yearn for longer matches at the UK Championship, lament the demise of tiered structure qualifiers and the Welsh Open, get angry at wildcards who join after the first round of qualifiers and even angrier at that ranking Sh*****out nonsense; who want flowers back in the main arenas and think best of sevens in ranking events should be criminalised. There are more of us than you think – we cherish our anoraks.

Over and Not Quite Out of Baulk.

SB

April 30, 2017

World Championship Final Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:08 am

And then there were 2. We approach the two day final which some might say is one for the purists, with the defending champion up against a four times winner who just keeps bouncing back for more.

It’s not really been a championship of memorable matches but undoubtedly the best one was the semi-final between Selby and Ding.

I’m pretty sure that had it been against anyone else Ding would be in the final, but Selby seems to summon up something, from somewhere, when he needs it most, much like his opponent today John Higgins does when he’s at his best.

There is little doubt on form who goes into this as a very strong favourite and the odds on Selby are as restrictive as I can remember in a match involving Higgins who can still be backed at 9/4 to carry off the famous trophy. But we are talking about two players here who have played a total of 201 professional frames against each other and are seperated by just a single frame, so is it as clear cut as the bookies suggest?

They met of course on and at this very stage ten years ago to the calendar weekend with Higgins winning the third of his four titles 18-13. This is the fifth time they will have faced each other at The Crucible with Higgins holding a 3-1 advantage so if you look at some of the stats out there, you begin to wonder if this really is simply a case of a Jester Coronation.

Then you have to look at how they got here. Selby was workmanlike in his first three matches, losing just ten frames to Fergal O’Brien, Xiao Guodong and a totally out of sorts Marco Fu, before being pushed to the wire by Ding and letting out a celebratory fist pump and table smack rarely if ever seen from him.

Higgins meanwhile, in what most considered to be the ‘easier’ half has had to beat Martin Gould and three seeded players in Mark Allen, Kyren Wilson and Barry Hawkins, losing just four more frames than Selby in doing so against most would agree, a far tougher foursome.

So again, a strong case can be made for Higgins based on history and what’s happened here. So why is Selby such a strong favourite?

My opinion is that Selby is now a better all round player than Higgins. Perhaps John still has the edge on shot selection and arguably is as good as Selby in the balls but tactically I think Selby is outplaying everyone these days. When it comes to bottle they are probably the best two in the business so there really isn’t a lot to choose between them at all despite John’s advancing years.

It’s a match up that I’m sure Bazza would not have picked given the choice. It will lack that razzmatazz that he thinks snooker needs more of. It’s the sort of match that staff in old people’s homes around the country will be rejoicing at as they can just plonk it on and sit the residents down in front of until the last one has nodded off while they go off shopping. Like I said in the intro, it’s definitely one for the purists.

I’m going to rely on the fact that John will come into this battling and showing that ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’ spirit that has seen him raise his game time and again when many are writing him off. I hope it doesn’t live up to expectations and is a hugely entertaining match with plenty of thrills and spills.

In terms of a scoreline I’ll go for 18-15 to Selby (14/1 best price) and him joining the elite band of the games greats who have won this great event more than twice.

Thanks for tuning in throughout the championship and for all your tweets and messages. The blog itself has hit over 85,000 visits over the course of the 17 days so you’ll be pleased to hear that you are not alone in tuning into this particular corner of the webosphere. Now for two more days and a well earned break.   

April 29, 2017

Ding Junhui Press Conference

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:26 pm

Ding is a beaten semi-finalist in this year’s World Championship, losing again to Mark Selby. Whilst being disappointed, he’s also taking some positives. I’d liked him to have won this year but I’m sure he’ll be back.

Here’s what he had to say after the match – one line struck me ‘The only pressure Mark Selby feels is winning it again’, very different to the one he feels.

April 27, 2017

World Championship Semi Final Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:17 am

The One Table Situation

It’s time for the famous ‘one table situation’ cliches to kick in as we move to the business end of things at The Crucible with five more days of snooker’s showpiece still to go. Just four of the original 144 remain (Anorak Stat Check: 143 if you remember that Patrick Wallace withdrew) and we have as strong a semi-final line up as I can remember.

I’m going to leave the big preamble and no doubt at some point I’ll refer back to Barry Hearn’s press conference yesterday and what it will mean for the amateur game in the UK and beyond, suffice to say that I’m delighted that he’s decided to give the amateur and grass roots game some long awaited and much needed TLC from 2018 onwards.

Now though to the two matches, the big question is, can anyone stop the defending champion?

Mark Selby v Ding Junhui

Since 12 months ago when these two contested a close final they have met twice more, in two finals over in China sharing the spoils. Ding won 10-6 in Shanghai and ended up in tears and lost in Daqing to a rampant Jester 10-1 and also ended up in tears. But what’s happened since then may explain Ding’s emotional state on both occasions, sadly his mum passed away from cancer at a very young age and I’m sure both matches were played out with that at the forefront of Ding’s mind so I’d discount the hammering in Daqing and instead concentrate on how they are both playing here. I’m sure it would mean everything to Ding to win this and it would be nice if he could blot out the pressures coming from China and just concentrate on what it means to him and those closest to him if he were to achieve his lifelong dream. He has conquered one goal in beating Ronnie but there is still plenty of work to do against a player who seems to be getting better and better as the years go on and is now as close to dominating the sport as anyone has been since Hendry. Selby is in fantastic form and his win over Marco was a virtuoso display from a master at his craft. I’m torn here by wanting Selby to lift a third title and climb into the next echelon of champions who have won it more than twice and my desire to see Ding win it for his mum. But if this place teaches you anything it’s that the better player usually wins over the longer distance and the better player is undoubtedly Selby this week.

Predicted: Selby 17-12.

John Higgins v Barry Hawkins

Such is the nature of snooker these days that these two have only ever met once over anything longer than best of 7, that was here in 2010 when Higgins beat Barry 10-6 in Round One before his famous second round defeat by Steve Davis. Higgins has for the first time since he last won this, brought his best game to The Crucible and like Selby looks to be destined for the final. Barry typically talked down his chances after beating Maguire but his mindset for this match may just help him if he’s going in knowing he is a big underdog. One thing that struck me about the comments after Higgins’ last match was how disappointed Kyren Wilson was in his own performance, he lamented at the number of close frames he lost and the number of chances he let slip so that perhaps tells us that despite thinking Higgins is in top form he is giving opponents rays of hope. Hawkins by his own admission will have to improve in leaps and bounds here to win but there is the possibility that his poor performance is now behind him and Higgins is still yet to bowl in a dodgy session. I think if Barry is to win this he’s going to have to rely on John having a woeful run of frames at some point and him being able to mop up the scraps he’s left. I’d like Barry to win but somehow I just can’t see it happening.

Predicted: Higgins 17-12.

Recommended Bet: Double on Selby to make more than 2 centuries and Higgins (-2.5 frames) pays over 5/2 at Bet 365 – if you fancy this but don’t have an account with them click the banner below to take advantage of a new customer offer. A mad double on the two predicted scores pays 168/1 with the sponsor.

Barry Hawkins Press Conference

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:30 am

Barry Hawkins faces John Higgins in the semi-finals and here is what he had to say after beating Stephen Maguire last night, it’s fair to say that he doesn’t sound all that confident.

April 26, 2017

Ding Junhui and Ronnie O’Sullivan TV/Press Conference

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:26 pm

Ding Junhui is through to the semi-finals again after an emotional victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan, who managed to clinch the highest break of 146 earlier today. Ding now faces the man who pipped him to the title last year Mark Selby in the semi-finals. Both semis start tomorrow. 

Mark Selby and John Higgins Press Conferences

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:15 pm

Sometimes you run out of superlatives, this was definitely the case this morning as defending champion Mark Selby produced some mind-blowing snooker to hammer Marco Fu 13-3 with a session to spare. Below he tells us how he’s feeling and we also hear from John Higgins who completed a routine win over Kyren Wilson to book his place in the bottom half semi-final.

April 25, 2017

Marco Fu and Neil Robertson Press Conferences

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:40 am

A late night last night saw Marco Fu overcome Neil Robertson. Robbo gave a very honest interview afterwards and gave an indication of things to come from him next season.

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