The carnage begins on Saturday in Gloucester at the South West Snooker Academy / Capital Venue as goodness knows how many amateur players set about battling it out at this season’s two Q-School events in the hope of bagging one of the final eight main tour places for the coming season.
Originally, there were of course meant to be 3 events with 12 qualifiers, just like last year, but after issuing the details World Snooker decided to chop this back to 2 events with 8 making it onto the tour, also chopping the entry fee down from £1000 to £600. I’m still not sure why they did that or what happened to the four extra places (perhaps these are the legends wildcards announced last week that we’re not allowed to call wildcards?) but that’s where we’re at.
These events also mark the beginning of some changes at the Quedgeley venue. Following Q-School and some qualifiers for the Wuxi Classic and Australian Open, this will mark the end of World Snooker events in Gloucester for good, with the annual Pink Ribbon Pro-Am tournament marking the last big event to be staged there in its current set up.
Following these tournaments they will be moving the snooker side of the business to occupy the upstairs area. There will be some structural changes but the quality of the snooker facilities will remain and the message is very much ‘business as usual’ when it comes to snooker.
The eight Star tables will continue to be maintained to the highest standards and the venue will be concentrating more on holding their own tournaments and events, staging top amateur competitions like my own and supporting the community around with various activities. It will also remain as a top class practice facility.
These changes will be put in place not long after the end of the Pink Ribbon, a tournament which will remain, though perhaps with a slightly different format in future years. The Academy (which I’ll always really refer to it as by habit) will remain very much at the ‘high end’ of snooker facilities in the UK and will continue to support both professional and amateur players. I’m really looking forward to staging the SB Classic there again this season and will be announcing all the dates shortly.
Back to Q-School matters and there is plenty of representation here from the Snookerbacker Classic Grand Finalists this year as you might expect, including the runner-up Mitchell Mann and losing semi-finalists Jamie Clarke and Ben Harrison. They all return to a venue they play very well at to try and take that leap into the main tour, all are more than capable enough of doing so. Unfortunately, this year’s champion Ant Parsons had to make some tough choices recently and decided not to enter, a decision made with lots of other important considerations in mind and not made lightly.
The SB Classic link doesn’t stop there though as the finalists from the first ever Classic are also involved. Martin O’Donnell was narrowly relegated from the tour by just a single place but will be hoping for an immediate return and John Sutton from Ireland is back after a mini-retirement to try his hand at it too.
There are many familiar names competing in the form of other relegated professionals including Tian Pengfei, Zhang Anda, Jamie O’Neill, Liam Highfield, Craig Steadman, Daniel Wells, Paul Davison, Li Yan, Chen Zhe, Sean O’Sullivan and more. They all perhaps hold a slight advantage in that they’ve come straight from the professional ranks to compete.
There are amateurs who have made strides and gained experience as wildcards this season too such as Sanderson Lam, Duane Jones, Syd Wilson and Shane Castle, who will all hope their fleeting daliance with the professional game will help them cope with the intense pressure of this minefield of an event.
There are names which snooker anoraks will also recognise like Shokat Ali, Jeff Cundy, Leo Fernandez and Lee Walker alongside many others who have the experience of former professional status to help them through the event, including Mike ‘Has anyone got a rope’ Hallett, who’s also giving it another go and my ‘dark horse’ for this Anthony Harris, who can still play a bit.
MO’D – Been there. Done that.
There is betting available on Event One at both Apollobet and Boylesports, with prices up on which four players will qualify from the first tournament. The draw for event one can be viewed here while event two can be viewed here.
So who might be worth a punt? Well at the risk of being accused of blatant favouritism I think O’Donnell has a really solid chance at the 8/1 on offer, he has a tough draw, who hasn’t? But he was playing his best stuff towards the end of the season and having spoken to him he’s been fully in the Q-School zone now for months, if he brings his A Game there aren’t many in this field that can beat him. He also has the advantage of having played and won through in this event at the first time of asking before.
In the top quarter my eyes are drawn to two players, one is Zhao Xintong, a player of immense promise and should he cope with the pressure he’ll be a tough one to stop, you can take a look at his recent results by clicking here. The other is SB Classic runner up Mitchell Mann, who is available at 20/1 to make it through this tournament. I rate Mitchell very highly indeed and I’ve seen at first hand just how good he is, he has a tough opener but if he can get his head down and play how he did on SB Classic Finals Day, he is definitely one to watch. (See comments – it seems Xintong is not playing in Q-School, I have therefore increased the stake on Mitchell)
In the second quarter, the man to beat is Paul Davison who has been priced up at 8/1 to qualify, Paul is a seasoned professional who has won through Q-School before. His experience will count for lots in this intense atmosphere and I think he’s going to be very hard to stop in Event One. Also in this section is Jamie Clarke, who finds himself right down there in Davison’s section and for me has been handed a tough test, but he plays his best in Gloucester and will be bang up for it should he end up playing the more experienced Yorkshireman. Of the bigger prices in this section and one who is in a seperate half to Davison, take a look at Michael Wild and Hossein Vafaei, both with a chance if Davison doesn’t do the business. UPDATE: Apparently Vafaei has again been refused a Visa, thanks to Monique for the information.
In section three I have already flagged O’Donnell so this leaves section four which sees Sanderson Lam attempt to make the push for professional, there are tough players in all sections but along with Ryan Causton, Sandi isn’t in the worst part of the draw. Eyes are drawn also to the names of Liam Highfield and Craig Steadman and down at the bottom of the section Zack Richardson will be quietly confident given his draw. The more you look the more potential qualifiers you see in this one but I’m going to stick with experience here and plump for the in-form Steadman.
It’s a really tough school this and many great players will leave disappointed for another year. But I can offer a slight silver lining as they’ll then all be fully eligible to enter the SB Classic again next season as well as compete in the PTC’s with the professionals. Further to this, it’s very likely that those who don’t qualify but perform the best will be making up the numbers in quite a few major professional events, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
I’d just like to wish all the best to everyone competing, but in particular those that I have got to know and class as good friends from my contact with the amateur game. If you are in the area why not pop down to the Academy to watch? It’s bound to produce some high drama. Let battle commence.
Recommended Bets: 2 points on O’Donnell at 8/1. 2 points on Davison at 8/1. 1 point on Steadman at 13/2. 1 point on Mitchell Mann at 20/1. 0.5 points on Jamie Clarke at 12/1, Sanderson Lam at 12/1 and Michael Wild at 20/1.