Snookerbacker

August 11, 2017

The China Championship

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:28 am

The impressive arena in China

Snooker’s new Evergrande China Championship took place for the first time in 2016, as an invitational event. It was staged in the city of Guangzhou in the Guangdong Province of South East China where John Higgins beat Stuart Bingham 10-7 in the final.

This year it becomes a world ranking event, contested by 128 players with total prize money of £700,000 with the winner’s cheque of £150,000. Qualifying took place in Preston back in June and the final stages get underway on Wednesday 16th August with the final being played, oddly, the following Tuesday.

It might be just me here but I think this tournament represents a huge chance missed by China. Despite the impressive prize money the format is much the same as all their other events and doesn’t stand out at all from the crowd. Had it been kept as a 16 player invitational event it could have been billed as The China Masters and acted as a real stand out early season event in the calendar for the current top 16 players.

Instead, 64 of them plus a few wildcards whose matches were held over from Preston pile into the arena to play yet another conveyor belt event with most of them playing on outside tables. I’m beginning to get very bored of this format, it’s not appealing from a spectator point of view, it’s not unique and quite frankly it’s a bit of a switch off. But as one person pointed out to me the other day when I asked them about the possibility of getting involved in snooker sponsorship, we’re now being seen very much as a ‘bookies game’ and the more matches there are, the better for the bookies. I think we’re now all clear that this is the path that the sport has decided to follow.

Of course, it is slightly hypocritical of me to deride this. After all, a major part of this blog in the past has been betting focused. But I like to think that in building up the blog to what it was in the past there was also a love for the sport that might have shone through the murky waters of recommended accumulators. Betting on snooker is fun, but for me the focus is now on this side of the game too much and we’re forgetting that fans like a bit of variety as well as having a few quid on to heighten interest.

However, one thing China is good at is attracting sponsors from outside the gambling sector, something that we in the UK seem to find impossible to do. While Jason Ferguson beavers away trying to get snooker recognised as an Olympic sport, we continue to go cap in hand to any betting firm that will have us to sponsor events in the homeland of snooker, there’s something there that doesn’t quite sit right to me.

Anyway, there are still fans out there who enjoy this kind of format I am sure so it’s only right that we take a look at the draw and see what we can find.

For the China Championship draw click here.

I’m going to stick to one player in each quarter and there are some decent odds around in the outrights on some big names that I think need to be thrown in. In the top quarter I quite like the look of Stephen Maguire (40/1) who will be there pushing hard for his Masters place having had a decent finish to last season and a solid enough start to this, I think he’s got a tournament in him this season. The draw could also have been harsher for Ali Carter (66/1) who finds himself in a very winnable section of the draw, he’s not had a great start to the season by his standards and I’m sure he will be focused on maintaining his top ten place with a run in this having decided not to defend his World Open title that he won in China last season.

In the bottom half it would be no surprise to see the lesser spotted Ronald go deep in this, particularly given Judd’s recent display following his laser eye surgery, which may take some getting used to under the brighter TV conditions that he will inevitably find himself playing under, but in quarter three I’m looking lower down at Marco Fu (28/1) for a bit of value from a winnable section. Finally down in Higgins’ section I’ll take a punt on new dad Mark Allen (50/1) to keep the nappy budget afloat with a decent run.

I also have to avail myself of the ridiculous 400/1 on Ghou Yolonge (or Zhou Yuelong as World Snooker insist on calling him). OK he’s in Selby’s mini section of the draw but he’s improving in leaps and bounds and I’d be gutted if I missed out on his first big breakthrough, which I am convinced is just around the corner.

It’s all covered by Eurosport, the opening sessions of the day’s play at some ungodly hour when only the most avid fans or insomniacs are awake in my part of the world, it’s high time China towed the party line and changed their clocks to European time if you ask me.

July 31, 2017

Nine Days in Preston

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 11:46 am

Snooker seems to spend a lot of time in Preston these days. The once iconic Guild Hall is increasingly now seen as the go to place for Qualifiers and this next week and a half is no exception with no fewer than three events holding their opening rounds there before the main events in India, Belgium and China take place.

It’s been a funny old month on the baize. The Hong Kong Masters seemed like a great success with huge crowds turning out to watch Neil Robertson triumph, it’s just a shame that we weren’t able to watch it with the exception of a dodgy streamed site. Then we had the World Games where Kyren Wilson bagged a gold medal and Ali Carter the silver and at the same time over in China, England led by Ronnie O’Sullivan beat the home team in a Ryder Cup style event that I knew absolutely nothing about, so while there has been a lot of snooker going on, it’s not exactly been high profile when it comes to a global audience.

It’s back to the qualifiers this week though as the Indian Open, the European Masters and the World Open kick off. The World Open replaces the Shanghai Masters on the calendar which sadly is no longer on the schedule.

This is a shame as it was always seen as the best event there was in China by the players who seemed to love going there, instead they will have to return to Yushan which saw outbreaks of food poisoning last year in the middle of nowhere when Ali Carter took the title, one that he’s decided not to defend this time. Ronnie O’Sullivan is also nowhere to be seen and hasn’t entered any of the three events, perhaps a sign that he’s going into semi-retirement mode again and picking and choosing when and where he plays, he is another who expressed disappointment at the scrapping of Shanghai.

Whilst Preston isn’t universally popular with the players, one thing it remains is an excellent venue for fans to go and watch and with tickets as low as £5 for a whole day’s worth of action where you can flit from table to table effortlessly if you are in the area it’s well worth a visit.

The draws are contained in the links below if you can make out the names, it seems that several of the keys on the World Snooker computer are missing so it might be time for Bazza to fork out for a new one with all that dosh he’s been raking in. It all gets underway on Tuesday and runs rights through until the middle of next week. The India and Europe events are all played over the best of seven while the World Open is played over the best of nine.

Click here for the Indian Open Draw

Click here for the European Masters Draw

Click here for the World Open Draw

Click here for the format for all three events

July 18, 2017

The Hong Kong Masters

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:12 am

Marco will be sporting his massive watch during the event.

It’s a new event on the calendar this week, though rumours I am hearing are that it’s a strictly one-year only affair as the crème brûlée of the snooker world jet to Hong Kong for the invitational Hong Kong Masters which sees 7 of the world’s top 8 players in action alongside bums on seats man Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The bad news is that the coverage of this in terms of TV seems to be severely restricted, which is a shame as apparently it’s a huge deal over there and a sell-out, with tickets trading on the black market at many times their face value, kind of like if Viagogo ever got let out onto the streets.

Crowd favourite will undoubtedly be Marco Fu, the local man has been described this week as the greatest ‘athlete’ that Hong Kong has ever produced. ‘Athlete’ is a little misleading as anyone who knows Marco or has witnessed him around venues would probably describe him as more of a chilled out tortoise than a frantic hare, but it’s a good headline.

The one player from the top 8 who is missing is Ding Junhui. Ding commands a fee of around £85,000 for appearances in China and Hong Kong and this by all accounts proved too steep for the organisers who told him where he could shove his appearance fee. But it’s still a stellar line up playing in front of presumably humungous crowds so it’s a shame that we can’t get to watch it as I love a good invitational tournament to break up from the sardinefests so prevalent of late.

Anyway, a list of the players and the matches are detailed below. I think as an interest you could do worse than take a punt on Marco rising to the occasion at a fairly generous 11/1, with Ronnie at 5/1 an attractive proposition too considering Mark Selby is playing his first tournament back from nearly losing a toe by dropping something heavy on it, presumably his wallet. Ronnie as we know thrives in the invitationals with the big crowds and I wouldn’t put it past him tottering off with the trophy and first prize here after putting on a show for the adoring fans. Anyway it all kicks off on Thursday.

• Current World Champion and world number one – Mark Selby
• Four-time World Champion and world number two – John Higgins
• 2017 Players Championship winner and world number three – Judd Trump
• 2017 World Grand Prix winner and world number five – Barry Hawkins
• Former World Champion and world number seven – Neil Robertson
• Former World Champion and world number eight – Shaun Murphy
• Five-time World Champion – Ronnie O’Sullivan
• Hong Kong’s top player and world number six – Marco Fu

First round draw (all times are UK time):

Best of 9 Frames

Barry Hawkins v Marco Fu (July 20th at 7am)
Mark Selby v Neil Robertson (July 20th at 12 noon)

Judd Trump v Shaun Murphy (July 21st at 7am)
Ronnie O’Sullivan v John Higgins (July 21st at 12 noon)

Semi Finals and Final are Best of 11 Frames.

July 7, 2017

Break Off

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:25 am

Snooker always takes a back seat for me at this time of year and this year is no different. I gave the sport the same approach last season and found that it heightened my enjoyment of the events I look forward to most, namely The UK Championship, The Masters and the World Championship, including the brilliant qualifiers.

I also enjoy a few of the ITV events too so all in all for a snooker fan and blogger who has been there, done that and bought several anoraks that suits me just fine.

Thing is though, I’m increasingly growing more nostalgic these days about snooker. I’ve always of course, since the early days of this website made more than a passing nod to the golden era on the table, but now I seem to be experiencing something of a neo-nostalgia as I think back to the exciting time of starting this up and joining what I still believe was the golden triangle of snooker bloggers alongside Dave Hendon and Matt Pro Snooker.

Between us we seemed to have it covered. Dave had the inside track and journalistic prowess to bring even the most seemingly pedestrian stories to life, generating discussion in the days well before the snooker community descended on Twitter, he’s now busy putting his wordsmithery to far more constructive use as a playwright, gaining many plaudits already in a short time, while still keeping his eye in on the baize with Eurosport and his regular podcasts.

Matt of course was where you went for stats and in particular rankings nuances which sometimes only he seemed to understand fully. His seemingly endless stream of factual and statistical knowledge and enthusiasm fed a hungry crowd of anoraks more than they could chew and his site definitely contributed hugely to the growth of snooker in the UK and further afield in recent years, it also helped increase sales of anoraks across Europe by 23.6%.

This festering corner of the information super highway was where the less discerning reader would end up, for tittle tattle, gossip, the odd pisstake and a little bit of betting. The angles were covered and the daily stream from each of us seemed to confirm what for me was the golden era in snooker based websites.

As with all people wearing rose-tinted spectacles. I don’t think the overall feel, not necessarily standard of website, is quite the same. I can’t really pinpoint why that is but Dave packing in his to join the excellent Inside Snooker with Hector Nunns, another site which now unfortunately only appears sporadically, seems to have started the domino effect. Matt has swapped his anorak for a shirt and tie and has since joined the WPBSA and maintains their website with a familiar slant on rankings, whilst I, well, I’ve just lost a little bit of my early spunk and don’t post anything like as much as I used to these days. 

There are still of course many excellent websites out there covering the sport and all have their avid readers and fans, there is also of course the excellent Cue Tracker which must get tremendous traffic when the big events are on, but it’s fair to say that the snooker community these days tends to do its communicating with the rest of the waking (spellchecked) world via Twitter.

In my opinion, Twitter has also peaked in terms of its snooker community and while there remain some very interesting, shrewd, witty and light-hearted tweeters there are far too many idiots getting involved and unfortunately still a few players on there who just don’t really get how they ought to be portraying themselves as professional sportsmen, with sometimes fickle fans hooked on their every word and viewpoint. Also, and I am of course guilty of this, it’s not focused only on snooker and inevitably leads to other discussions/arguments, most notably politics in my case where I seem at odds with a vast majority of the snooker tour in believing the UK is a country being laughed at for it’s collective stupidity. But like all things, even if the UK regresses back to the stone age the sport will evolve into something else and people who love it will find other ways to communicate why they do.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts I had while I struggled to sleep last night, the others were far too rude to write down pre-watershed and I’m pretty sure one of them is probably illegal in some countries, but the message from me is that it’s all about the future and not about the past. Just because I’m getting a bit jaded with something it doesn’t mean that everyone is. The World Cup is currently being played in China but it’s appeal isn’t really for me, the Shanghai Masters appears to have been scrapped from the calendar which is a shame as I used to like that one, but there are new events planned in new places so I’m sure it’s all in hand. Everything changes.

I’ll be back here when I find an event I’d like to get involved in and the mood takes me. I’ve threatened retirement from blogging too many times to think that this time I mean it and the fact that I’ve written this largely to fill a messy gap that was bugging me on the front page from a tournament a few weeks ago tells me that when the time is right I’ll be back. Until then….    

June 21, 2017

The Curtain Raiser: Riga Masters Opens New Snooker Season

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:50 am

After a week long worth of qualifiers in Preston to establish the starting fields in both this and the China Championship in August, the real curtain raiser for the new season starts on Friday with the Riga Masters from Latvia, which will be fully covered by Eurosport.

Essentially this event is a slight teak on the old PTC format thankfully with one less round at the venue, opening up with 7 tables in action, followed by 5, before it moves to two main tables for the last eight onwards. They’ve also made the semi-finals and final a little longer than the seven frames format in that they are now the best of nine.

Neil Robertson returns to the scene of his most recent trophy, strange to think that having started the season so well he was to not lift any more silverware over the course of a long season, while battling with his very modern addiction, that of video games, which put him off stride on the table and led to an ultimately disappointing season for the Aussie. Do we have a new curse? Who wants to win this if your season goes tits up afterwards?

Contrast this with Mark Selby, snooker’s most recent millionaire who won a total of 5 titles last season including 2 of the big 3, he’s got so much dosh these days that he can afford to pick and choose his events this season and despite entering this he is a late absentee. Apparently however this is no summer holiday choice on the part of The Jester, Mark has apparently carelessly dropped an unspecified but I assume fairly heavy object on his toe, so misses this because of injury rather than choice.

I’m not going to be covering the best of seven frame events this season, they don’t really interest me and in a way it helps me look forward to the events that I always enjoy. I’ll probably watch a bit of it if I am sat in front of the telly at any point but for me the snooker doesn’t really get interesting until it starts getting a little cooler and the nights become a little darker and earlier, not when it’s blazing sunshine outside.

But that’s not to say it won’t be a decent event for those that choose to watch it, but from a betting point of view I’ll probably just stick to the outright market as I find the best of sevens very unpredictable and am seeing less and less value in the match betting as the bookies become a bit more savvy to any potential ringers out there. But at big prices, the ‘one in each quarter’ tactic looks to be the way forward for this event, especially given the lack of big names in the field.

The flatter playing field is definitely more evident nowadays and the old adage that anyone can beat anyone has never been truer within the lower ranks especially, so match betting in short formats in snooker these days is a slippery slope to being a bookies mug punter in my opinion, though we do often see the cream rise to the top at the business end of things.

If you are planning to duck in and out of events this season as I am you can take a look at the full calendar for the season here.

Riga Masters Outrights: Stephen Maguire (12/1), Mark Williams (20/1), Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (100/1), Hossein Vafaei (125/1). 

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

Here’s the Eurosport TV schedule for the Kaspersky Riga Masters in the UK.

Friday 23 June

0900-1145 LIVE day one on Eurosport 1
0900-2000 LIVE day one on Eurosport Player
2145-0045 Day one on Eurosport 1

Saturday 24 June

0900-1245 LIVE day two on Eurosport 1
0900-1300 LIVE day two on Eurosport Player
1630-1825 LIVE day two on Eurosport Player
2110-2300 Day two on Eurosport 2

Sunday 25 June

0900-1300 LIVE quarter-finals on Eurosport 1
1430-1700 LIVE semi-finals on Eurosport 2
1830-2130 LIVE final on Eurosport 2

May 30, 2017

One Week in Preston: Riga and China Qualifiers

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 1:01 pm

All focus on Preston again this week.

The snooker season gets underway in Preston on Wednesday with a week of qualifiers for two events, the Riga Masters and the China Championship. The final stages of Riga will take place at the end of June and the China Championship will conclude in mid-August.

As there is currently an election on in the UK I’m putting in place a policy of my own this season. My manifesto states that I’m not going to cover any of the best of seven events in any great detail. It worked last season and made me look forward more to the events with the longer matches, I don’t like the short matches so I’m not going to bother with them, simple as that.

So for the first event, the qualifiers for Riga, I’m giving it a wide berth. However, when the matches revert to Best of 9 frames for the China event I’ll post up a few predictions when the bookies get their act together and price them up.

It’s fair to say that quite a few of the game’s big names have decided very much like myself to not get involved in Riga, there’s no O’Sullivan (unless you count Sean), Higgins, Trump or Ding so a somewhat depleted field are competing in that one, with a lot of the places being made up by the Q-School Order of Merit list posse, who remember still have to pay entry fees unlike the main tour professionals, who now enjoy free entry to all the events they want to enter.

All those names missing for Riga do appear in the first round draw for the more lucrative Chinese event which is hardly surprising given the £150,000 first prize. This of course is the event which last year was a highly entertaining invitational tournament won by John Higgins, but this year as originally planned it reverts to a flat field ranking event for all the 128 tour players. Personally I think they missed a trick here to establish a Chinese Masters type equivalent and keep it as an invitational for the top 16, that seems to me to be a gap in the market that a big Chinese sponsor might want to plug.

So, despite the rest of us sitting outside in the vain hope that we might see that big round yellow thing in the sky for more than a few hours a month, the potters are back indoors and hard at it on the baize. If you want to check out the full season calendar and plan ahead to times when snooker feels like it should be on click here to do so. Just an opening season punt below, let’s see if we can start with a winning bet.

Riga Masters Roll Up: Pays nearly 11/2 – Yan Bingtao, Stuart Bingham, Peter Lines, Sam Craigie and John Astley. Add Chris Wakelin for a 13.5/1 Acca. Then Add Zhao Xintong for a 31.5/1 Acca.

Check Oddschecker for Best Odds Available.  

Click here for the updated Riga Masters draw

Click here for the updated China Championship draw

Click here for the format

The qualifying rounds run from May 31 to June 6 at the Guild Hall in Preston, with the winners going through to the final stages. Tickets for the qualifiers are available now, for details CLICK HERE for the Riga qualifiers (May 31 to June 2) and HERE for the China qualifiers (June 3-6).

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 twelve 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.   

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