Snookerbacker

January 31, 2017

German Masters Preview – Starts Wednesday

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:11 pm

I like German people, OK their ancestors royally messed up a bit with their chosen leader in the dim and distant past, but, like who hasn’t done/isn’t still doing that? But at least they learned by their mistakes and have made up for it now so it’s nice that they have been rewarded with one of the best snooker tournaments on the calendar in the shape of The German Masters which may or may not be available on Eurosport to Sky customers from Wednesday in the UK. Keep that Chromecast Dongle handy all. UPDATE – It has been announced that Eurosport will remain on Sky.  

I had the pleasure a few years back when Ali Carter won this of attending the venue and it’s absolutely fantastic for a snooker fan. It reminded me then of the iconic Preston Guild Hall back in the day. Vast, incredible atmosphere when full and the presence of well-behaved, knowledgeable snooker fans, though with a little more facial hair on display than in Preston it has to be said.

Whether it is quite so popular with the players is open to debate, whilst the venue is in my opinion the best snooker has to offer, it’s not ideal for lighting on the outside tables in the odd hexagonal set-up and there has been the odd moan here and there in the past about this. But like I say, for the snooker fan it ticks pretty much every box.

Martin Gould won his first full ranking event here last year of course and will be hoping to reverse a woeful run of form so far this season which has seen him slide out of the top 16. It’s down to the last 32 after the qualifiers were played pre-Xmas so it’s a nice number to house and far more befitting of the venue than trying to cram 128 in there like sardines. It’s also best of nines up until the semi finals so what’s not to like?

Here is a look at each quarter, click on the match for the head to head record.

QUARTER 1

Martin Gould v Jamie Jones
John Astley v Ricky Walden
Ryan Day v Mark Allen
Robin Hull v Jimmy White

It’s been a bad start to the week for Jimmy White, his flat went up in flames earlier today and he’s lost a lot of his personal belongings, though he did point out that his cue is OK and nobody was hurt, Jimmy being Jimmy, in that order. Hopefully he can put it out of his mind and enjoy a rare foray into the last 32 of a main event, he faces Finland’s Robin Hull in a match sure to capture the imagination of the European crowd. Whoever wins that match may face arguably the man to beat in this section Mark Allen, he has Ryan Day to take care of first though so it’s no certainty that the Northern Irish man will be progressing if he gets Day on one of his less careless days. It’s wide open this section and a chance for Gould to kick start his season, his first round opponent Jamie Jones made a 147 the other day when playing Michael White in practice so he’s obviously cueing well and on current form I’d have to take Jones to end Gould’s defence here. In terms of a quarter winner, I’m going to plump for world number 17 Ricky Walden who is long overdue a run in something and usually starts playing a little better at this point in the season as the fixtures really rack up, he’ll also be wanting to get back in the top 16 over the next few weeks to avoid Ponds Forge in April.

Predicted Quarter Winner: Ricky Walden

QUARTER 2

Tom Ford v Peter Ebdon
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark King
Stephen Maguire v Ali Carter
Akani Songsermsawad v Zhao Xintong

Two names that you might not expect to see in the final stages in the bottom match but both are emerging talents and perhaps this could be the week that one of them really crashes onto the main scene in style, I’m more familiar with Xintong but would be foolish to have a wager on it as I’d have no real confidence in the bet. Ronnie and Kingy of course go way back and it’s surprising to me that they have met so few times and only twice in the last decade. There are some bragging honours to play for here too as they are 4-4 on the head to heads and King will be looking to join a very exclusive club of players that have the upper hand on The Rocket in their match ups. He usually plays well at this venue does Mark and has the wind in his sails this season, perhaps a shock isn’t totally out of the equation here, it’s the first time they have met since Ronnie wrote rude things about him in his autobiography too, so even more incentive for The K-Dog there. Stephen Maguire is desperate for results, his ranking is way too low for a player of his ability but Ali Carter will be a tough nut to crack in his opener, two old sparring partners again there and I’m sure each are eyeing this as the key match in their mini-section. We never know what to expect with Peter Ebdon, the vegan potter faces Tom Ford for a possible tussle with Ronnie and I fancy him to win that one at least, in fact this quarter has the possibilities for some real old school rivalries to be renewed, it’s a very tough one to call.   

Predicted Quarter Winner: Ali Carter

QUARTER 3

Stuart Bingham v Zhang Yong
Marco Fu v David Gilbert
Michael Holt v Stuart Carrington
Dominic Dale v Yan Bingtao

The recent rather quicker performances of Marco Fu and his programmable potting wrist clock have really grabbed the headlines of late. Marco has vowed to be faster and more attacking for the rest of his career and it’s clear to me that he is a much better player for it and a lot easier to watch, he plays dangerman Dave Gilbert who can beat anyone on his day and most recently pipped Marco in a decider in China, I’d watch that rather than bet on it as it could go either way. If people were to make a list of ‘most likely new winner of a ranking title’ it’s a pretty sure bet that Michael Holt’s name would be high on it, he has a winnable section here and possibly, just possibly this might be a good week for him, I’d take him to come through that mini-section at least. Ballrun Bingham has lost a little bit of his strong early season form but the new dad has had a bit of a break to put that right and you can’t put a good man down for long, again this is a very difficult section to predict even without factoring in the unpredictability of how Dom Dale will play but I’m going to give Holt another crack.

Predicted Quarter Winner: Michael Holt

QUARTER 4

Neil Robertson v Ben Woollaston
Barry Hawkins v Michael White
Anthony Hamilton v Mark Williams
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Mark Selby

Barry Hawkins Masters adventure ended in heartbreak again this year when he clutched defeat from the jaws of a place in the final against Joe Perry, Barry is no stranger to big fightbacks but he’s bounced back before and doesn’t seem the type to dwell too much on such matters, he also holds a handsome head to head record over his first round opponent as does Neil Robertson over his so I expect those two to line up in the last 16. Anthony Hamilton will as usual be trying his hardest to make ends meet but MJW is still such a fierce competitor I can’t really take The Sheriff to shoot him down early doors. That leaves Selby, the best player in the world without a doubt and totally adored in Germany, trust me I’ve witnessed it, but what a tricky opener he has against Un-Nooh, who is a bit like snooker’s version of a tap, you turn him on and he’s relentless with flowing, warming snooker but if there’s a blockage he turns stone cold. No idea who will win that one but I’m going to go against Selby this week for a change.   

Predicted Quarter Winner: Barry Hawkins

Recommended Bets: Each way outrights on Walden 28/1, Carter 33/1, Holt 50/1 and Hawkins 22/1. Single on the winning quarter to be Quarter 4 at 13/8.

First Round Acca: Walden, Holt, Allen, Hawkins and Williams pays nearly 5/1. Singles on Jamie Jones 7/5, Ali Carter 30/29, Peter Ebdon 11/9, Mark King 6/1.

 Click here for the Order of Play

The tournament runs from February 1 to 5 at the Tempodrom in Berlin. Tickets are still available – for details click here

January 29, 2017

New Beginnings and Uncertain Futures

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:36 pm

Shaun to the Rescue

There have been a couple of off-table developments over the last week that look to change the face of one existing governing committee and establish another exclusively for the players. There has also been one not so forward looking piece of news that may affect snooker, through no fault of its own, negatively in the short, medium and perhaps even long term. 

The WPBSA announced the other day the formation of a new Players Commission, replacing the old Players Forum, you know, the one which nobody ever attended and then went on Twitter to moan instead. Heading this new venture up is none other than Shaun Murphy, never short of an opinion or ten and for me a natural choice to hear the concerns of the players and communicate them in a more structured manner than a tweet might to the big wigs.

Murphy will be joined by fellow professionals Ken Doherty, Alan McManus, Dark Mavis, Mark Williams, Mark Allen, Joe Perry, Rory McLeod and Peter Lines. So they’ve got two of the games biggest moaners on board in Allen and Perry, with MJW there to presumably wind everyone up, Angles and Rory there to ensure the meetings last at least a week, the first with his opinions and the second deliberating what he is going to say, Ken there for the jokes and Mavis and Peter to make the tea, the perfect mix.

On a serious note, it’s good that some thought has been given to this and hopefully it will be the start of a more productive and communicative relationship between the players and the bosses, which can sometimes spill over into the public domain which, while entertaining for gossips like me, never really does anyone any good in the long run. It’s also encouraging that Shaun is keen to address the issues in the amateur game in the UK, something that he and I have some firm and strikingly similar opinions on.

The other appointment concerns the WPBSA Board itself, with Angles putting on another hat and pair of tartan strides to replace Steve Davis on that. He’ll certainly be busy but if there is one thing that Alan is not lacking it’s passion. I’ve heard him in person at the back end of a press conference giving his opinions on the sport in a well thought out way and I’ve also had chats with him about the state of the amateur sport north of the border, he’ll be a great addition to the board and I’m sure will bring that passion to the table.

In slightly less positive news this week the future of Eurosport in the UK on Sky services is in severe doubt and as things stand it could be lost from the platform in a matter of days as part of an ongoing dispute between Discovery, which owns Eurosport, and Sky. It’s unclear exactly who is getting greedy here but the sticking point is the money that is being offered and taken by both parties to keep the service.

I’d not presume entirely that Rupert Murdoch’s global corporate giants are trying to get it on the cheap but it wouldn’t surprise me, either way, the loss of this service will damage the viewing figures for snooker in the UK, to what extent we can only guess. Will subscriptions to ES Player via one of those dongle thingamybobs rocket on the news that it might be the only way for some to watch the snooker on the TV, rather than their devices? My guess is no, so the 10 year much heralded deal that Bazza secured just a few months ago now isn’t looking quite as lucrative to the sport as it did then. Watch this space.

Anyway, on the table the German Masters starts on Wednesday and I’ll get a preview up on here for that beforehand, it’s on Eurosport though whether Sky customers will be able to see it remains to be seen.

January 24, 2017

The China Open Qualifiers

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:30 am

Today sees the start of four straight days of best of nine frame qualifiers for the China Open, played at the iconic Guild Hall in Preston and featuring most, if not quite all, of the sport’s top players in action.

I won’t be covering these in any great depth on here though may post the odd bet up here and there on Twitter with them being over a decent length. You can take a look at who plays who at what time here and you can keep up with the live scores here. There is also live coverage on the usual bookie sites if you’d like to take a look at that and if you are in the area, having been to Preston earlier in the season it’s a great set up that allows you to stroll around high up to your heart’s content viewing every match. Well worth a day out.

January 22, 2017

The Masters Final

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:13 am

A feast of snooker yesterday saw Ronnie O’Sullivan and Joe Perry come out winners resulting in them locking horns in today’s Masters final, yesterday was as good a day of snooker as you could wish for with both semi-finals tipped on a couple of shots, so much so that it could easily have been the two defeated players lining up today.

The afternoon match centred around tip talk, snooker is very odd in that respect, Ronnie decides that he doesn’t like his tip when he’s 2-1 down to some sensational stuff from Marco and so he asks for the interval to be brought forward, which of course they agree to because he’s who he is and the rest of the match on the BBC at least is spent talking excitedly about his tip. I mean can you imagine such animation if a golfer changed his driver, a darter changed his flights or a footballer changed his boots? And who says snooker is for geeks? 

Debate will no doubt continue as to whether he should have been allowed to do this, particularly as the tip was not damaged, but JP in particular was flabbergasted that Ronnie could so much as function above dribbling mess mode after this epic transformation which I found a little over the top, as did Ronnie who when quizzed on how he could produce such a superlative display after this crushing blow merely said ‘it’s because I’m quite good John’, well nobody can argue with that. 

After his elated BBC interview where he claimed he was a ‘very lucky boy’, the Jekyll and Hyde of snooker went over to the more blokey den of Eurosport and decided to let rip on the referee, Malta’s Terry Camilleri, you know, the one who let him leave the arena even though his tip wasn’t damaged? Yes, him. Well apparently he’s ‘not good enough to be refereeing a major semi-final’ and ‘makes too many mistakes’, I’m sure Marco would agree with the latter given that he shouldn’t have allowed Ronnie to dictate when the interval was because he didn’t think he was going to win.

But the referee wasn’t the only one in the unshaven Rocket’s firing line as he also decided that one of the photographers behind the scenes was ‘a fucking nightmare’ saying as such to his face (fine in the post no doubt). According to Ronnie the hapless snapper or ‘dude’ as he preferred to refer to him ‘needs to learn the etiquette of the game’ and ‘needs to keep still until the shot is over’, this from the same man who frequently says he wants snooker crowds to be more like the darts…presumably waiting until he’s played his shot to dress up as a chicken, drink 35 pints of lager and spew up within touching distance. 

I’ve often wondered why they really need a photographer constantly taking pictures at the snooker. Almost all the time the photo’s are pretty mundane, standard fayre of a player playing a shot. I mean there are only so many times you can take a photo of someone playing snooker before it becomes pretty dull. You might get the odd facial expression here and there but overall do they really need to be there for the whole match? Particularly if they don’t have a suitable booth from which to snap away like they do at The Crucible, which clearly they don’t have here.

Anyway, once Ronnie had produced the goods against Marco the stage was set for good mates Joe and Barry. Joe producing the mother of all fightbacks from 2-5 down needing a snooker and much to the wrath of over £63,000 worth of punter’s bunce from the 1.01 backers on Betfair; another crowd of people I will never really understand.

Barry has form in clutching defeat from the jaws of victory and we can only hope that this latest one won’t scar him too much. He is a pretty laid back character but last night has to hurt given that he was more or less into the final earlier on in the evening. But it was a great performance from Joe and he’ll be over the moon with his performances this week and deserves his place in the final.

Joe hasn’t beaten Ronnie for 8 years and the head to head record is heavily weighted in favour of The Rocket. They had a memorable tussle at The Crucible in 2014 which Ronnie came through 13-11 on his way to the final but their two meetings since have been pretty one-sided affairs.

So who wins today? Well, though Joe I’m sure will be dangerous given that he is probably just delighted to be here, Ronnie has a tip he’s happy with, he’s clearly now getting back to his best and he’s got a commanding head to head lead so you have to suspect that the form book will hold up. I’ll go for a 10-5 victory for Ronnie (Best Price 13/2) in front of his adoring supporters, some of whom belong in a zoo in my opinion along with the ‘get in the hole’ golf tossers and those who dress up as chickens and the like at the darts.

Enjoy the final, it’s been a cracking week and following this and some qualifiers in Preston we are off to Berlin for the German Masters, another highlight on the calendar. If you’re a BBC only watcher but have enjoyed the week, why not give that a go on Eurosport from 1st February, it’s a great event and very well attended.       

January 21, 2017

The Masters Semi Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:40 am

The Business End

We’ve reached the business end of things at Ally Pally with Ronnie O’Sullivan, Marco Fu, Barry Hawkins and Joe Perry still left in it, perhaps not the four names people might have expected to still be battling away this weekend.

I don’t know about you but I’m sensing a bit of a shift in the pecking order these days, obviously Selby is still, despite his performance yesterday, the man they all have to catch but in the past it’s been more or less established that Robbo, Ding, Judd, Ronnie, Murphy and Higgins are generally the next in line on people’s ‘best player’ list, followed by a whole bunch of them including Bingham, Carter, Fu, Hawkins and similar names.

But I think we are seeing that established order smashed into by both Hawkins and Fu, who now for me can justifiably claim to be solid top 6 players, I’m not just saying that based on this tournament, I have been thinking for a while that the two of them are probably higher up than their ranking might suggest.

Anyway, enough of my inane rambling, let’s get to the matches, starting with this afternoon’s between Ronnie and Marco

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Marco Fu

It’s fair to say that Ronnie has pretty much bossed the head to heads between these two for the past few years, the old version of Ronald used to struggle a bit to cope with Marco, but since the new improved version has kicked in he seems to have his measure, demonstrated most recently in York with a semi-final deciding frame win the UK in December. Ronnie has also beaten Marco 6-1 here so is there any hope of a turnaround here? Well, speaking bluntly, yes there is. Marco has been the player of the tournament so far and is now on a huge winning streak given his success in Scotland before Christmas, his huge watch has been set to ‘lampshade mode’ now for weeks and if he gets the settings right today I think he’s got a pretty good chance of winning. Ronnie has not been anywhere near his best and has benefited from Liang’s carelessness and Robbo’s lack of form to get here. I don’t think I’ll be alone in backing Marco today, at 7/4 I’d say that’s a value bet.

Prediction: Fu 6-3 

Barry Hawkins v Joe Perry

It’s an old pals act tonight as these two line up for a place in the final. Barry (or Basil) has the edge in the head to heads over Perry (or Pele) but there isn’t much in it so I’d say you can just disregard this and look at this based simply on their form coming into this. Joe flattened an already flat Ding Junhui last night and will be delighted to be here given that he wasn’t expecting anything of himself this week. Barry meanwhile played some very solid stuff against Mark Selby and will be looking to make it two finals in two years, possibly against the same opponent. I’ve been guilty in the past of under-rating Hawkins, I’ve just never really seen him as a really top player but I have now changed my mind, I think he’ll be pretty tough to beat here so I’m going to take him to be lining up for another crack at the trophy on Sunday.

Prediction: Hawkins 6-3

Recommended Bet: Singles on Marco Fu (-1.5 frames) at 11/4. Barry Hawkins (-1.5 frames) at Evens. A double on the two.

January 19, 2017

The Masters Quarter Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:07 am

One of my pet hates when it comes to reading snooker blogs is that long, blindingly obvious preamble that you have to write to introduce a post. Yes, we all know that it’s Day 5 of The Masters, yes, we all know that the next two days sees the 4 semi-finalists being decided, yes, we are all aware that every match that the BBC has covered in the afternoons has gone to a decider so they are obsessed with deciders even though the evening matches have been pretty one-sided by comparison. There is no need to harp on about it when all the readers really want to do is have a look at the match previews and agree or disagree with your predictions. It’s where a lot of blogs switch me right off so I don’t bother reading on, so you’ll never catch me falling into that tired old trap. Oh no sir.

Anyway, it’s Day 5 of The Masters and today sees the first two quarter finals with tomorrow seeing the next two which will decide the four sem……etc. etc.

I’ve taken a look at each match individually below and if you click on the match it will transport you to a fantasy world of anorak heaven where you can get lost in Statland for as long as you like, courtesy of Cue Tracker. Here we go.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Neil Robertson (Thursday 1pm)

Right, let’s get this out of the way, Ronnie is very very lucky to still be here. But for Liang Wenbo shitting himself he’d be back to his bed for the week like he was all over Christmas watching boxsets. But once he saw that Wenbo was reverting to type his final frame performance on Sunday was pretty flawless, but overall he played pretty poorly. By contrast Robbo has been hard at it over the yuletide season and the fruits of his labour were clear to see in his defeat of Ali Carter. What followed was Robbo at his geeky best talking about his unhealthy obsession with video games, a topic I know next to nothing about and by the sounds of it at least I have made one right life choice. These two last met in Romania in October and Ronnie whitewashed Neil over this distance but two years ago here Neil inflicted a heavy 6-1 defeat on The Rocket so that makes them about quits. For me you have to take into account the previous round here, I disagree that Liang missing that black is some mystical sign that Ronnie’s name is on the trophy, he’s full of cold and he’s not at his best, Neil looks up for it at last and was keen to remind us after Ali’s match that he’s still a top player, despite his current lowly ranking. I fancy Robbo to send Ronnie packing today, but in the tradition of the week given the strange pattern of events I’ll take him in a decider.

Prediction: Robertson 6-5.

Marco Fu v Mark Allen (Thursday 7pm)

Strong performances from both players in the first round coming through deciders sets up a mouth watering clash tonight. Marco to me looks a totally different proposition since his win in Scotland and it’s almost now like he goes into every match expecting to win, maybe it’s his lucky massive watch. Allen has never been short of bottle and he proved again in his win over Higgins that this is never the factor in him not winning, he’s attacking and when the pressure really builds on the big stage against the best players, more often than not he delivers. Head to heads don’t tell us a lot and are pretty even, it’s quite surprising how few times they have faced each other but the only time they have done so at The Masters saw a 6-4 win for Marco at Wembley Arena. I’m going to favour Marco again here as something tells me his trophy lifting this season isn’t done yet and I’d not be at all surprised if he did it again this week. In the spirit of patterns I’ll stick with the same scoreline as 2011.

Prediction: Fu 6-4. 

Joe Perry v Ding Junhui (Friday 7pm)

Joe Perry produced an almost flawless performance in the first round which might have gone unnoticed given it wasn’t the ‘big draw’ match of the round. He hardly missed a ball and played like someone without a care in the world, later admitting that he’s been so poor lately that he came here expecting nothing, how many times have we heard surprise winners say that over the years? Ding played well enough against Kyren and did what he had to do to win but it has to be said that Kyren did give him quite a few chances that Joe possibly won’t here. Ding is ahead on the head to heads but Joe has won their last two meetings, including here a couple of years back. Ding’s record at Ally Pally is poor and I just think Joe has the wind in his sails here so I’m going to stick with The Gentleman.

Prediction: Perry 6-4. 

Barry Hawkins v Mark Selby (Friday 1pm)

The Jester again proved to any remaining doubters that he’s the best there is in the game at the moment in coming through his first match. OK, he was helped along the way by a kick but even his opponent MJW afterwards conceded that he was beaten by one of the greats of the game, even comparing him to ‘the big four’ in his formative years of Ronnie, Higgins, Hendry and himself. He truly is the Master of Brinkmanship and only a very brave man would bet against him these days, he should really be starting every tournament as favourite but he still isn’t, though for how long that lasts who knows (you can still get 5/1 on him for Sheffield, take it). Barry produced the goods against Murphy, he had a bit of run but he also played pretty good stuff and he’ll be confident of upsetting the odds here. Predictably as it’s a BBC match in the afternoon, again I am going to plump for a decider and we all know what happens in Selby deciders at The Masters.

Prediction: Selby 6-5. 

Recommended Bets: Trebles and an Acca on the four recommended winners, acca pays over 18/1. Acca on all matches having more than one century pays over 11/1. 

January 18, 2017

Snooker Legends Launches Revamped World Seniors Championship

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:58 am

Some off table news this morning as Jason Francis, the founder of the hugely successful Snooker Legends Tour has announced the revamping of the World Seniors Championship which he will be running this year. It’s a new and exciting model with the necessary nod to nostalgia that perhaps it lost when it opened up to main tour professionals, one of whom at the ripe of age of 39 ended up winning it.

There are at least two reasons to get excited about this new development. Firstly, it is open only to amateur players, whether they have been on the tour in the past or not, the only criteria being they must be 40 or over, so this really opens it up to some of the old guard who I know still like to keep their eye in. Secondly, the eventual champion will not only carry off a £10,000 first prize but they will also receive a place in the Betfred World Snooker Championship qualifiers at Ponds Forge in April, with the chance to compete to make it to The Crucible.

The format sees four qualifying events in Newbury, Leeds, Dublin and Nuremburg in Germany, players can enter as many of the qualifiers as they like for £100 per entry. Matches will be the best of 5 frames but if the match goes level at 2-2, a black ball respot will decide the eventual result. The qualifiers from each of the venues will then go forward to the main event at Baths Hall in Scunthorpe to join the seeded legends to battle it out for a place at Ponds Forge and the big prize.

Another headline grabber here is the presence of the Number 1 seed for the event Stephen Hendry, who will be competing in Scunthorpe hoping to recreate some of his glory days and give the World Championship another go, it would be quite something if he got to Ponds Forge and he’d definitely be a player to avoid if he gets to anything like his top game.

The event also sees none other than the Great WT, Willie Thorne dusting off his wand for the finals in Scunthorpe where he’ll join Hendry, JP, Cliff, Dennis, Bolton Stud Tony Knowles, Joe Johnson and Patsy Fagan alongside the qualifiers from the 4 events.

I know Jason is very excited about this, but it’s not without its financial risks so please do whatever you can to support the event. I think it’s definitely reigniting this to what it was meant to be in terms of nostalgia, which of course Jason does best, but the prize is really not to be sniffed at and the chance to play at Ponds Forge adds that competitive element to it.

It’s a bit of a ‘Road to Wembley’ type scenario being set out and I’m sure there are a few over 40’s out there who will fancy their chances in this, I’m thinking of players like Darren Morgan who I’m sure will have his name down for this pretty sharpish. One thing is for sure, whoever ends up winning it will not be a pushover at Ponds Forge and will stand a realistic chance there.

You can read the press release here which also contains the terms and conditions of entry. Entries will open on Monday, I’ll post the link to enter on here.

January 11, 2017

The Masters Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:34 pm

The Potters are heading to the Palace

Well would you Adam and Eve it? It’s only that time of year when we head to ole Laandan Taan and feast our mince pies on the delights of ‘Ally Pally’ for The Masters snooker. Hopefully they will have had enough time to clean up all the piss stains and vomit residue left behind by those common ‘working/under class’ rabble that frequent the ‘darts’, making way for the altogether more gentlemanly and ladylike and slightly obsessive attendees who visit our far superior sport in their droves and their anoraks. The pints and nuts are replaced by Bovril and fruit bonbons and the raucous roars by polite applause at deft safeties, dump shots and well judged positional cannons, we are just so much more civilised than that other shower and long may that gulf between the two sports live.

Last year saw Ronnie O’Sullivan at his brilliant best romping to the title with an absolute walloping of the hapless Barry Hawkins who didn’t show up for the final, but one year on it’s now become a worryingly long time for the avid and sometimes rabid fans of The Rocket since he’s had a trophy in his hands. Perhaps this is the week he can rediscover the winning formula and stop this increasing talk of his playing career in gradual demise? Mostly, I admit, from this corner of the blogesphere in the hope it might not be true and I’m wrong like I was about Higgins. 

As ever there are plenty there to try and stop him getting his mits on the Paul Hunter Trophy, in fact, I think I’m right in saying that for the first time in Masters history every player involved this year has won at least one ranking title. Of course, this is largely due to the amount of snooker there is these days but it’s still quite a stat nonetheless and just highlights what a quality field we have lining up, starting on Sunday afternoon with the said Rocket Ronald taking on Liang Wenbo, who is making his second appearance at The Masters following his breakthrough into the top 16 for the first time last season. He has since of course captured his maiden ranking title at the English Open in Manchester.

There are a few ‘regulars’ that are missing out this year after an undignified topple down the rankings, we have no Ricky Walden or Stephen Maguire, two players who we are used to lining up with the game’s elite. Indeed in Maguire’s case you need to go back to 2003 for the last time he didn’t compete at The Masters, he made his debut in 2004 and has been an ever present since then until now; his current ranking of 25 not helping his cause. In Ricky’s case, his run of four consecutive years in the top 16 has come to an end although at 17 he was pipped to the final place by that peskie newbie Kyren Wilson.  

Kyren is the only debutant in London this year, his win at the Shanghai Masters in 2015 saw him zoom up the rankings, he’s managed to hang on to his top 16 place for this being around £30k ahead of Walden and he also plays on day one against Ding Junhui, so Sunday sees a big day for the Chinese snooker fans as well as for Kyren on his first visit to the sacred palace of potters.

This is one week in the snooker year that I always look forward to, we get to see every match and every ball potted in the company of the usual crew at the BBC, or if you prefer, Eurosport. Of course the BBC can be trusted to deliver the goods along with the V-Neck sweaters, slapstick/crap mid-sesh features, tales about ill or dead/soon to be dead golf buddies and Cliff Thorburn in the afternoons, with the Red Button on hand for the evening. I’ll probably stick with JV, Dennis, giggling Ken, JP’s eyebrows, Hendry’s acerbic put downs, Hazel’s filofax of facts, my mate Steve and the rest of the gang in the afternoons before tuning in to Eurosport for the evening with all the grown ups, as long as Phil Studd isn’t commentating with Mike Hallett on those (hint hint if you are listening – please split them up my ears can’t handle it).

I’ve taken a look at each match individually below and if you click on the match it will magically take you to the head to head record and a journey through anorak paradise courtesy of Cue Tracker, the only thing you can’t analyse on there is respective shoes sizes, you have everything else at hand to form your punting or non-punting opinion. It goes without saying that when you get the cream of the crop together in a competition the betting gets very tough indeed, but here goes some misguided opinions anyway. Now sit back and enjoy a feast of snooker at one of the best venues on the tour, it all starts on Sunday so get the snacks in for some proper winter snooker. 

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Liang Wenbo – Sunday January 15, 1pm

Liang – Bonkers

In common with most players on the circuit Liang Wenbo’s head to head statistic against Ronnie doesn’t bode well for his chances here. Their matches of late have tended to be close though which tells me it’s usually getting over the line rather than ‘rabbit in the headlights’ syndrome that’s mostly to blame for Liang. His newly found winning formula can in part be attributed to his opponent here who seems somewhat intrigued by the bendy faced Chinese player, so much so that Ronnie decided to take him under his wing and give him a few tips. Watch this match closely in terms of body language, I’ve never seen Ronnie smile at anyone the way he smiles at Wenbo during play, it’s very unusual for him to show any emotion during a match these days in particular a smile. My guess is that Ronnie enjoys his match ups with this quirky ‘marmite’ type character, which is probably why he usually beats him and probably will again here.

Match Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-4 

Neil Robertson v Ali Carter – Tuesday January 17, 7pm

It’s 4 years and 8 meet ups since Ali managed to turn over Robbo, he’s lost most of his matches against him on the big stage including a 6-1 drubbing here two years ago. To be fair they were pretty level pegging until Ali’s much documented health problems but lining up against someone who has beaten you on the last seven occasions you have met might just niggle slightly. Robbo himself though isn’t at his best yet this season, we are used to seeing him in the later stages routinely but for whatever reason it isn’t clicking for him as yet and his ranking is as low as I can remember it for quite a while. Ali has a ranking event win under his belt already this season from capturing the World Open, this of course got him here, but his results since then have been a bit patchy and you get the feeling that both these players need the timely confidence boost that a win here will bring. I think this one could go close but I’m just going to take Robertson to edge it, either way, if O’Sullivan is waiting, book your seat on the sofa for Round 2.

Match Prediction: Robertson 6-4 

Judd Trump v Marco Fu – Tuesday January 17, 1pm

Marco was is great form in Scotland when capturing the Home Nations event over there, his comeback in the final against John Higgins must have really given him a boost as he has lost his way in the past in big finals and it may be a real sign that he’s ready to win a real biggy. He can also take heart that he’s beaten Judd at this stage here before three years ago in a decider, he’s in form and he’s got that to his credit. Judd has been pretty consistent this season so far and of course won over in Romania but his form just before the Xmas break losing 5-1 to Tom Ford and his poor showing in the UK Championship means he’s got a bit to prove here. At the start of the season a few of his peers were saying that this could be Judd’s year, if it is to be so, he’ll want to bag another title before going to Sheffield and until then this is the biggest, but I have to say, I think Marco with the wind in his sails could upset the applecart here. Perhaps a quiet ‘under the radar’ few months might help Judd focus on the ultimate goal in April, it worked for Selby last year after all.

Match Prediction: Fu 6-3

John Higgins v Mark Allen – Monday January 16, 1pm

Moneybags

Plenty of people became superlatived out in that run just before Xmas that Higgins put together. His confidence grew in direct correlation with his bank balance (I’ve seen the graphs) as he once again turned back the clock to show us all what a fantastic winner and competitor he is. His last two matches against Mark Allen he has won with a bit in hand though Allen did turn him over here at this stage two years ago. Higgins doesn’t have a ‘great’ Masters record, although it’s still better than almost every player who ever picked up a cue, much like Steve Davis who despite winning everything else under the sun didn’t always perform at his best in this. But Higgins hasn’t come into it playing as well as he is now for some time. Allen’s season can at best, by his standards, be described as OK, he’s got to a couple of quarter finals, one semi in the Champion of Champions but he’s not reaching the heights of previous early seasons just yet. You have to stick with Higgins here and he’d be my pick for the winner of the top half of the draw.

Match Prediction: Higgins 6-2 

Stuart Bingham v Joe Perry – Monday January 16, 7pm

Joe Perry holds the bald head to bald head advantage between these two familiar faces, Bingham of course has now leaped above Joe in snooker’s hall of fame but the two of them through the years have been pretty evenly matched and probably been labelled in the same bracket of player for the vast majority of their careers. It’s funny when one player of two who have met a lot suddenly makes that giant step up like Stuart did, does Joe think it could or should have been him? Does he think any differently when playing Stuart since he became a world champion? Does Stuart now consider himself a rung above on the ladder looking down? Oh, the complex mind of a snooker player….Anyway, I digress. Stuart was very consistent in the early part of the season with semi-final and final appearances but he’s yet to lift a trophy since his Crucible triumph which must niggle a little, Joe has had some disappointing results since reaching the final of the World Open and will be hoping 2017 marks a new start for him. I find this one quite difficult to call but just on current form and consistency I’ll stick with Stuart.

Match Prediction: Bingham 6-4 

Ding Junhui v Kyren Wilson – Sunday January 15, 7pm

Debut boy Kyren hasn’t played Ding since the Quarter Finals of his Shanghai Masters triumph and Ding seemed to be in a bit of a sulk following his crushing loss to Mark Selby in the final of the International Championship in front of his home crowd, a 10-1 loss that seemed to deeply affect him emotionally and since then he’s not really been his normal self. You’d hope that the former Masters champion has had some time to reflect on that over the break and realise that after all it’s just a snooker match and lots of people would find it very difficult to cope with Selby when he’s on a mission, it will be interesting to see what happens next time the two meet given that The Jester also ended Ding’s world champion dream last May aswell, he’s probably sick of the sight of him. Anyway, I’ll trust to luck that Ding’s head is back on straight and if it is I’d expect him to win here with a little bit to spare.

Match Prediction: Ding 6-3 

Shaun Murphy v Barry Hawkins – Wednesday January 18, 7pm

Of the 11 meetings between the pair, Murphy has won 9 of them. OK, it is skewed a little by the smaller events but if you look at what I’d term meaningful head to heads Murphy still leads 5-1. I wonder why that should be given that Barry is a well established top 16 player? Maybe it’s one of those hoodoo’s that certain players have over others or maybe the style of play Barry adopts which is usually fairly attacking just suits Shaun? Who the devil really knows? Murphy can probably count himself a little unlucky this season so far to have lost in a couple of great matches to almost flawless performances, most notably for me Bingham in the China Championship earlier in the season, but there are those who continue to mumble about him just being too attacking and needing to tighten up a bit and dare I say it, be more like Selby and less like, well, Murphy. This match closes the first round and I just get the feeling that it might be one of the best of the eight, I can see it going to a decider and if it does I’ll count on the hoodoo to see Murphy throothroo.

Match Prediction: Murphy 6-5

Mark Selby v Mark Williams – Wednesday January 18, 1pm

The Master of Brinkmanship meets the laid back Welshman for the 26th time in their careers with the head to head extremely close both in terms of matches and frames played, Williams slightly ahead on both. Quite amazingly for people like Dennis, when I’d say it was more ironic really, MJW was the last player to have held all the ‘big three’ titles at the same time; the World Championship, the UK and this. But Selby is now in a position to also do just that and join an extremely elite group of players to have done so, with MJW being handed the chance to retain the status quo by beating him here. To give you an idea of how elite a group this is, Ronnie’s name ain’t down so he’s not comin’ in. Will this add to the pressure for Selby? Well MJW had better hope not as that is when The Jester thrives, to me he is the closest we have had to a dominating player since Hendry. His consistency is now as strong as ever, he is light years ahead on the money/ranking list and unlikely to be toppled for at least two years from his perch and he has to be the fancy in the bottom half to get to the final. It would be nice to see him join the club in arguably a more competitive era of snooker than that of Hendry and Davis, though perhaps not Williams. Even so, maybe then, deservedly, he will finally be accepted as one of the sport’s ‘greats’, just not by Ronnie’s fans. 

Match Prediction: Selby 6-3

Outright Bets: Mark Selby at 4/1 and John Higgins at 9/1.

Recommended First Round Acca: Ding, Higgins, Selby and Fu pays 15/2 at Marathon Bet.

I will be tweeting daily handicap/century doubles throughout the first round. 

January 3, 2017

Alfie Burden handed Suspended Suspension

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:37 pm

Alfie – Careless

As sporting heists go this one has to be up there with the daftest. Alfie Burden was today handed a 6 month suspended suspension and fined £5000 for breach of the betting rules of the sport.

‘He got off lightly’ I hear you cry. ‘Always knew he was bent’ I hear you roar. ‘What about Stephen Lee?’ I hear from somewhere near Trowbridge, but when you read past the headlines you see that all Alfie is really guilty of is being incredibly stupid and deciding that when the governing body say that players can’t bet on snooker, he thought they weren’t talking to him.

It turns out that The AB of London Town has been punting away without a care in the world, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the sport is in the grip of the bookies and sooner or later someone who knew the rules would find out.

The facts of the case are that between 30th September 2006 and 4th February 2010 the hapless Alf placed in the region of 50 bets on snooker with an online betting operator. Between 30th September 2006 and 22nd November 2007 he placed 5 bets on his own matches. In each case the bet was for him to win as was part of an accumulator with other snooker matches from the same tournament, so at least he wasn’t backing the other fella.

Between 5th July 2013 and 29th November 2016 The AB placed 36 bets on snooker with another online betting operator. The bets were mainly accumulator style bets. None of these bets involved his own matches, but it did include bets on tournaments he competed in.

In an ironic and slightly cruel twist, the governing body have decided to tell everyone what a terrible judge Alfie is and reveal in the official statement that ‘Mr Burden’s betting on snooker has been largely unsuccessful. He has bet a total of £25,003.03 on snooker since 2006 and has to date has lost a total of £2,995.27’.

It goes on that ‘there is no suggestion whatsoever that Mr Burden was doing anything to influence match outcomes or engaged in any corrupt activity, he was solely betting on snooker’.

So is the sentence fair? I’d say the only thing he has done wrong is ignore the rules and for that he’s paid £5000 and had his reputation mildly soiled, but not irrecoverably damaged.

Alfie, you balloon, what were you thinking? Next time just give me a shout and I’ll put it on for ya…only jokin.

What’s the point of The Championship League?

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:30 am

Happy new year everyone, I have decided to return from my period of snookerless joy and merriment to ponder a question which I have been mulling over now for quite a while, namely, what is the point of snooker’s Championship League?

There was a time when this oddly formatted event was needed and necessary, it offered players who weren’t up to much the chance of winning a few quid in more or less practice type surroundings at Crondon Park in Essex. The venue itself became synonymous with the event with its mock tudor beams and oversized armchairs, Dave Hendon, a staple there from the very start also made much of the legendary breakfasts that he feasted on every morning before a busy day in the commentary box.

The first couple of events, where 2-2 draws were possible, were not without some controversy too, at one point the match results were so hooky that Bazza himself had to pay a personal visit to warn all players that were not trying their best in every match to watch their backs, he’d got wind that they’d been colluding and he had to put a stop to it, after all, there were people out there gambling their hard earned on match outcomes and it had to be straight as an arrow.

Therein lies the main purpose of the event, underlined by the fact that now they have moved from the intimacy of Crondon to the arena venue of the Ricoh in Coventry (RIP breakfast), where incredibly, but in keeping with the Crondon tradition, nobody is allowed inside to watch. This is because it’s a bookies event, nothing more and nothing less, I remember a firm I used to be in regular contact with telling me that they took more money on a winter’s Monday morning of Crondon matches than they did on the World Championship final the same year.

It’s now in its tenth year and once Bazza took over at World Snooker he quickly ensured that it became part of the official calendar, rather than the original version which was an independent event run by his Matchroom Group, it’s sole sponsor. Again, this makes the event unique, it does not really have a sponsor but can make revenue by selling the stream to the bookies, who seem more than prepared to cough up, presumably because their profits more than cover the outlay, everyone is happy, well, everyone that is except the desperate degenerates that would gamble on two flies crawling up a wall and throw bad money after bad gambling their conkers into the ground on coin toss matches.

It’s telling that the field for the early groups this year is mostly made up of middle ranking players rather than the big guns that have come in to steal the spoils in previous years, in that way I suppose it’s nice that those who are struggling financially at least get a chance to add to the coffers.

So should snooker fans support it? Well, I’m not sure it matters if they do or they don’t, the majority of punters gambling on these matches online probably don’t even know the rules and certainly wouldn’t have an opinion on whether the Shootout should be a ranking event or not, they just view it like those table tennis or badminton matches that pop up on the streams from time to time between two faceless nobodies who bring with them the chance to have a bet.

I’m not bothered either way about it, you could get on your high horse about the morality of staging an event with a sole purpose of lining pockets and fleecing the addicts but that would take away from the fact that it also provides a useful income for players living on the breadline, of which there are many. Perhaps it should be an event only for those outside the top 16 or 32? I’m sure this would make little or no difference to the gambling community and it would possibly make for more interesting viewing for snooker fans, seeing players not used to lifting trophies competing for a life changing amount of money and a title. 

So what have we learned in this past few minutes? Well not a lot, but the point of the championship league I think can be summed up in one word, coincidentally Bazza’s favourite word. Money.

Here endeth the lesson.

All the details about this year’s Championship League are here. I’ll see you at The Masters.

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