Happy New Year 2018

Happy2018-2018

And so, this is the last day of 2017 … a year that in many ways has been a rollercoaster on the baize, with a terrific last three months for Ronnie’s fans.

For this blogger however, as some may know, it has been a very dark and difficult year on personal level. When certain things happen, affecting people you love, taking them away from you, you realise how futile most of the spats and fallouts are, be it on social media or in “real life”. So here is my first and most important wish for all who read this blog.

In 2018, and in every day in your life, I’m wishing you health and happiness. I’m wishing you to love and being loved. I’m wishing you to enjoy the little things that brighten everyday life: a good meal with friends, a lovely walk in the woods, the first flower in your garden, the smile on your child’s face, the hug of your partner … even the grumbling of your elderly parent. Don’t take things too seriously. Be yourself. Don’t worry about opinions, don’t try to please everyone, it’s just impossible. Be true, be kind, be forgiving … 

I mean it, every word of it. Now onto more snooker drivel… snooker wishes and stuff!

Selby's prayers

picture shared by Worldsnooker on twitter
  • Ronnie to win World title n°6 … yes, I know, yesterday on twitter Ronnie said, again, that he “might” (might, not will) give the World Championship a miss but he’s got nearly four months to think about it and change his mind a 100 times, something he’s quite prone to do. As a fan I’d love to see him do himself justice and equal Steve Davis record. However, in the spirit of what I wrote above, if he really does skip this year’s Crucible, I won’t go mad. We should never forget that it’s his life, his career, his well-being, his happiness. He owes us nothing. He’s not Worldsnooker employee either, he’s self-employed. He said that the World Championship isn’t his favourite tournament; I can understand that, the pressure and demands he gets there every year, since 25 years, are unreal. The fact that the press immediately jumped on those tweets is testimony enough of the expectations people put on him all the time. But, yes, I still dream and hope for n°6.
  • A big “non betting” company/business to start to support and sponsor snooker … I have expressed my concerns about snooker’s reliance on the betting industry , and the ambiguity of their relationship, often enough, so I won’t repeat myself here. But yes, this is something I’d dearly want to see. It’s never healthy to rely on just one source of sponsoring, it’s even more risky when that source is an industry that is known to generate addictions as well as social and sometimes legal issues. Tobacco and alcohol sponsoring were clamped on. To me it’s only a matter of time before betting sponsoring is strongly “regulated” too.
  • The Seniors Tour to succeed and flourish… Every sportsperson, even the very best, one day finds themself in that position: they still love it, they aren’t quite good enough anymore to compete on the biggest scene. What then? Jason Francis, from Snooker Legends, is trying to develop a “Seniors” tour, giving both 40+ and retired pros a circuit where they can play, entertain, compete, dream and … win! This January there is one qualifying event in Beijing that attracted 80+ players. Such is the demand. This is a big financial risk that Jason took, he’s now got the support of WPBSA, but there is still so much to do. Please, go and attend one of their events. You won’t regret it!

 

Yes, I know, Mark Selby probably won’t pray for my wish n°1 to come true, but I couldn’t resist the picture. And for all the fans who love to hate him … here is what Ronnie got to say about Mark in one of the last Worldsnooker features

Ronnie O’Sullivan

Sport thrives on great rivalries: Jack Nicklaus collided with Arnold Palmer, Bjorn Borg was pitted against John McEnroe and Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are frequently the main contenders for football’s Ballon D’or.

Selby and O’Sullivan is snooker’s modern day version of the clash of the titans. The pair met in an epic UK Championship final in 2016 which produced some of the most captivating snooker ever witnessed at the York Barbican, Selby eventually coming through as the 10-7 victor.

They have now contested finals in each of snooker’s Triple Crown events, with Selby having won three of the five showpiece meetings. However, he has some way to go to reach O’Sullivan’s tally of 18 Triple Crown titles and 31 ranking wins – currently holding 8 and 13 respectively.

The Rocket had previously referred to Selby as the ‘torturer’, but in recent times has come to relish his meetings with the world number one.

O’Sullivan said: “I like playing Mark now. We get on really well. I wouldn’t say we are best mates because I don’t want to be his best friend as we are still rivals. I’d rather keep it that way so when we get on the table there is an element of wanting to beat each other. I like his mindset and he is a winner.

“I see a lot of Stephen Hendry and a lot of me in him. I’ve learnt that his style of play isn’t just based on playing against me. He plays like that against everybody. That’s his game. If he brings that game to the table, you just have to try and break it down.”

Happy New Year 2018!

2017 Awards and a Golden Turkey

It’s that time of the year again … so here we go! Those are of course my picks, personal choices. Fell welcome to come up with yours !

2017 Awards

Awards

Player of the year

Clearly there were two obvious candidates in Ronnie and Mark Selby for the reasons exposed here.

Mark won three ranking events: the World Championship, the International Championship and the China Open. He also made the final of the Championship League Snooker. You can have a look at Mark’s 2017 achievements on Cuetracker.

Ronnie also won three ranking events: the UK Championship, the Shanghai Masters and the English Open. In addition he won the Masters and made it to two other finals: the champion of Champions and the Hong Kong Masters. You can have a look at Ronnie’s 2017 achievements on Cuetracker. Ronnie also equalled or broke several records during the year: he passed the 900 centuries mark, he now holds the record of most Masters won with 7, equalled Steve Davis record of 6 UK Championships and equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of 18 Triple Crowns.

So, all things considered Ronnie is my player of the year.

Young player of the year

That’s an easy one: Yan Bingtao is my young player of the year. Look at Yan’s 2017 achievements on Cuetracker. Yan has only been a pro for one season and a half. He’s climbed as high as 26th in the rankings, he’s reached a ranking event final. He took some serious scalps during short career including Mark Selby and Ronnie. And I like his gusto, he’s a showman, he relates to the crowds. I even have a soft spot for his terrible sense of fashion!

Entrepreneur of the year

Jason Francis is my entrepreneur of the year for singlehandedly building the Seniors Tours, now supported by WPBSA. This is a fantastic achievement in a very short time span. It’s about giving opportunities to all those players who have entertained and thrilled us in their prime, who still love the game but dropped off the tour, as well as to all the amateurs over 40, who dare to dream to play a legend, in a legendary venue. Jason’s events offer the right balance between good snooker, competitiveness, fun, glamour and nostalgia.

Snooker coverage of the year

The Eurosport UK coverage of the Home Nation Series and the UK Championship. They are my pick, providing the right mix of knowledge, intelligent punditry and commentary and lighthearted fun. There is a complicity in that team that I never found elsewhere. Special mentions for Ronnie, Jimmy White, Neal Foulds and David Hendon.

Coup de coeur of the year

It has to go to this, especially the twin interview with Ronnie and Sunny Akani after their UK match. And Sunny himself. I’m a fan!

 

2017 Golden Turkey

 

Golden Turkey

That one goes to Barry Hearn for making the Shootout a ranking event.

Here we have an event that isn’t even played under the rules of snooker, with a ridiculously “short” shot-clock, over just one frame, in a drunken atmosphere. It was marred by refereeing mistakes that robbed players of earning opportunities or worse and I don’t blame the refs really because it’s humanely impossible to keep the required level of concentration and to spot everything in that circus. And it had a definite impact on who was finally at the Crucible by right.

In my eyes this event is an insult to the players skills. and hard work. It’s not even funny anymore with what is at stake. It’s just tailor-made for the bookies, as close as it can be to prostitution to the betting industry. We were told that making it a ranking event was required by the television broadcasters, probably in an attempt to get the big names on board. It didn’t really work.

And the way Hearn reacted to the flood of criticism, by organising a vote that excluded the option everyone wanted, was one of the worst pretence of “democracy” I’ve seen in this sport.

End of rant!

 

 

 

 

Looking back at 2017 on the baize

It is a bit of a bloggers tradition at this time of the year to look back at what happened over the last twelve months, good or bad. So here are my picks

The lows …

Stuart Bingham’s ban for breaching the rules over betting 

I touched the subject in this post , where you will find the full WPBSA statement. It always baffles me that pros are regularly caught in breach of these contractual rules and afterward state that they were not fully aware of them nor of the possible consequences. What makes Stuart’s case worse than the previous recent ones (Burden, Perry), is that, instead of collaborating fully with the authorities, he actually lied about a number of instances. There is no evidence whatsoever that Stuart actually tried to “fix” anything, for all we know he competed to the best of his abilities in every match, therefore we can only suppose that he was stupid in doing that, rather than plain dishonest. But still, I’m extremely uneasy with this case, as I am BTW with the constant involvement of WS with betting companies, their main sponsors, to the point that we now have events in the calendar that are clearly tailor-made for them.

Mark Williams not at the Crucible … because of the Shootout

Again, this is something I already wrote about here . I haven’t changed my mind. Making the Shootout a ranking event was a disgrace. This is one of those events that are tailor-made for the bookies. To a very large extend it’s a lottery and it was marred by refereeing incidents. It was OK with me whilst it was just an opportunity for the players to earn some money whilst having a bit of fun. It definitely isn’t now. And the way Barry Hearn responded to the criticisms that flooded the Internet isn’t going down well with me either. He organised a vote with only two options, either keep it on the calendar as a ranking event, or ditch it. There was only going to be one answer. Why indeed would players refuse an earning opportunity? The “missing option”, revert it to an invitational event, wasnt offered, and it’s the one that I firmly believe would have won the poll.

The terrible timing of the German Masters qualifiers

The German Masters is the only “high-profile” ranking event in mainland Europe. It has a decent prize money, it is held in a very special and prestigious venue, it attracts huge enthusiast crowds, especially over the final week-end … but since it’s become a 32 men event,  big names have consistently failed to qualify for it, or didn’t even enter it. In my opinion, the timing of the qualifiers, just before the Christmas break is a determining factor. It’s a shame and here are my thoughts about the situation.

Judd Trump in a crisis?

When in 2011, Judd Trump won the China Open, made the final of the World Championship and ended the year as the UK Champion, everyone thought that he would soon become a dominant figure on the tour, and a multiple Triple Crown winner. It didn’t happen. Judd didn’t do badly: he won six more ranking titles, plus the World Grand Prix in 2015, but the snooker world, and probably himself as well, expected more. This year has brought a number of causes for concern. He went out in the first round at the Crucible, beaten by Rory McLeod of all people, by 10-8, having lead 4-0. He was the bookies joint favourite and had told the press that this was “his year”. In the Northern Ireland Open he lost to Stuart Carrington by 4-2, conceding the match prematurely, spreading the balls around with his cue in frustration after  missing a pot. In the UK Championship he lost 6-2 to Graeme Dott, from 2-0, and declared later that he wasn’t enjoying playing. Judd has all the talent in the world, no question, but his temperament of late has been suspect. Maybe he is putting too much pressure on himself. I think he could do with the advises of someone like Steve Peters…

The highs …

Ronnie’s golden spell 

Since September 2017, Ronnie has made it to 5 finals, won three: the English Open with a stunning 97% pot success in the final where he missed six pots in nine frames played, the Shanghai Masters, his first title in China since 2009, having arrived at the event on the back of a bitter defeat to Shaun Murphy in the Champion of Champions final and in spite of the time difference, and the UK Championship, his sixth, a joint record with Steve Davis, bring his tally of Triple crowns to 18, a joint record with Stephen Hendry. Maybe 42 really IS  the answer to life the universe and everything …

Mark Selby’s big fight

Mark Selby defended his World crown last April at the Crucible, bringing his tally to three World titles. That in itself is an awesome achievement, but the manner of it made it even more remarkable. Mark trailed 8-3 and 10-4 to John Higgins, one of the best all rounders in the game, maybe the best, and he fought, and fought … and fought. He once again showed his extraordinary battling qualities. His style might not be to everyone’s tastes, but nobody can deny that he’s currently the biggest fighter in snooker, maybe even the biggest ever to this day.

Anthony Hamilton German Masters Champion

Anthony Hamilton, 46 years old, won his first and, to date, only ranking title in front of 2500+ at the iconic Tempodrom in Berlin last spring. He had not been in a final since 2002, he had not won a professional title since 1995. Anthony is well respected by his fellow pros, he’s a proficient break builder, but his talent had never translated into big events wins. His career over the last years had been ruined by neck and back injuries. His parents , who were not impressed by his choice of career, had never seen him play competitively, never mind win… and yet, there they were in Berlin, watching their son lifting the trophy. They had been convinced that Berlin was worth a touristic visit, with maybe a bit of snooker thrown in! It was a proud and emotional moment for the three of them. Anthony’s injuries have since returned, unfortunately, but he’s a Champion and nobody can take that away from him.

Luca Brecel wins the China Championship

Not just the feat, but the significance of it … this is a break through for young snooker in mainland Europe. Despite the lack of structures, the relatively shortage of competitions and coaching opportunities, despite the fact that snooker isn’t seen as a sport in most of European countries, making it ineligible for funding and unattractive for sponsors in search of tax rebates, young snooker players from mainland Europe can do it. That’s the big message. Belive me, it’s been heard!

Match of the year … 

Purely for the thrill, the emotions, the smiles, the mutual respect and the marvellous twin interview that followed: a young Thai street urchin meets his idol over 11 frames.

 

 

German Masters 2018 – Qualifiers

GermanMasters2012L32-7240

The two rounds of qualifying matches for the German Masters 2018 were played last week and, as a result, only seven of the top 16 players will be at the iconic Tempodrom: Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy, Barry Hawkins, Mark Allen and Mark Williams. Ronnie withdrew for medical reasons, John Higgins didn’t enter – which surprising went completely under the radars – and the others got beat. Maybe the most surprising defeats were Anthony McGill losing by 5-2 to Jimmy White and Ali Carter going out to Wang Yuchen.

At least the defending Champion, Anthony Hamilton, will be in Berlin, something that isn’t guaranteed, contrary to what happens for the Chinese events

From what I read on social media, Ronnie withdrawal, as well as a number of top players going out early over the last three editions, have a very negative impact on the tickets sales for the event. For the first three days only 1/3 of the seats were taken, and people were cancelling their plans to be there. This is a shame, and it’s unfair on everyone, the promoters and sponsors putting a lot of efforts into this, the European fans who don’t have that many events on mainland Europe soil as it is, and the players themselves.

Let me explain the last point: the top players are the ones who usually make it to the business end of tournaments, therefore they are the ones who will be most tired at the end of a very hectic first half of the season. For them to have to play two qualifying matches, at a venue that Neil Robertson compared to a morgue because there is no atmosphere (especially at this time of the year when people are busy preparing the festive holidays rather than attending snooker matches), well, it’s hard, and probably the combination of tiredness and low motivation explains why so many fail to get through. The schedule of those qualifiers is damning, and, in my opinion actually endangers the future of the tournament itself. Just as an example, based on the data available on Cuetracker, John Higgins has played 48 matches this season already, Hammad Miah has played 19, and remember that latter stages of tournaments also means longer matches. So maybe it isn’t that surprising that John gave it a miss, or that Ronnie who was in 5 finals, and won three, over about 8 weeks, traveling back and forth between China and UK, fell asleep in his chair during the Scottish Open and ultimately was probably simply too tired to compete properly in this one.

The explanation the authorities will probably give us is that there is no other spot in the calendar. Yes, the calendar is packed, including events like the Championship League Snooker, a competition tailor made for the bookies, as is also the farce – the ranking farce! – that is the Shootout. Which brings another source of worry (for me at least), namely the how much snooker is relying on the gambling/betting industry for its sponsoring and its financial survival. What if the gambling industry was clamped on like the tobacco industry was a few years ago?  I don’t see that there is a plan B for snooker should that happen. And you shouldn’t rule it out, betting and gambling are a huge and increasing social issue, with people lead by the constant advertising on television and social media by an industry that is worth billions but has only one morale: profit. Some are seriously thinking about it, even in the most lucrative sport of them all: football.

here are some links … food for thoughts

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/06/ban-betting-firms-football-shirts-labour-gambling

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2016/11/13/betting-adverts-on-tv-please-stop-we-just-want-to-watch-the-foot/

 

The Psychology of “Celebrations”

Following the Scottish Open Final, and the various reactions to Neil’s early a celebration, including an unimpressed Ronnie stating that he would see it as an admission of weakness,  Worldsnooker has published this article:

Neil Robertson’s 9-8 victory over Cao Yupeng at Sunday’s Dafabet Scottish Open final was one of the most captivating clashes in recent memory. With Robertson searching for his first ranking title in over a year and world number 67 Cao competing in his maiden ranking final, passions ran high. Fire, determination, nerves and relief were all very much on show.

In the latter stages Cao’s devastation was there for all to see, as the Australian fought back to overturn a seemingly unassailable 8-4 deficit. Earlier on, in just the second frame, Robertson punched the air with delight after depositing the black to level at 1-1.There is no doubt that the emotion and desire on display made for captivating viewing, but does celebrating during play spur on those involved or act as an impediment to their focus?

As well as being an extremely demanding sport technically, snooker delves deep into a player’s psychology. Those who can act and think most clearly under extreme pressure are usually the ones who emerge victorious. The complexity of snooker heightens the need for mental strength and focus: it’s chess in motion and poker with balls.  Can celebrating during a match be likened to letting one’s poker face slip?

Terry Griffiths is one of the most sought after coaches in the sport. He has worked with the likes of Ding Junhui, Barry Hawkins, Mark Allen and Michael Holt over recent years. By his own admission, the 1979 World Champion’s most valuable attribute is his years of experience and the knowledge he can impart on the mental aspect of tournament play. For Griffiths, the pressure cooker environment of top level snooker means players need to let their emotions out from time to time.

Terry Griffiths

Griffiths said: “They do it because they have come from a place mentally they weren’t comfortable with, but have pulled through. They have achieved something. Fists go and you give it everything to let out some emotion. Mark Selby did it against Ding at the World Championship this year. The pressure at the Crucible is unbelievable and you have to remember that. It is very important to the players and when they achieve something in their mind they outwardly show what they feel about it. This sport requires intense concentration. It is inevitable that in a moment like that it is going to come out. It’s like the shaking of a coke can.

“I remember a time when Peter Ebdon used to do it every frame! I watched him face Stephen Hendry in the final of the 1995 Irish Masters and he came from way behind, he was 5-1 down and won 9-8. I was in the press box, so had a perfect view of it. Ebdon was electric, if he potted a good ball he would be punching the air. I think the whole thing did have an effect on Hendry. I have to say I found it stimulating to watch, you were waiting for him to have a big moment so you could see him do it again. It was a first hand display of the power of the person, it was a wonderful atmosphere.”

Other coaches believe that keeping a calm frame of mind without any spikes of emotion is more likely to allow a player to achieve his potential. Chris Henry has coached the likes of Stephen Hendry and Shaun Murphy, using his innovative theories based in neural science. He also works with top European golfer Rafael Cabrera Bello. Henry trains his players to maintain a serene state of mind even under intense pressure, rather than letting emotions take control.

Henry, who spent three seasons as a professional, said: “Celebrating before the end of a match is not the optimum thing to be doing. We know in psychology about what is called the alpha brain wave state. This is a very calm, relaxed and focused state to be in. That then allows you to tap into what I call the brain software, which is a piece of software you have been writing for years. It is composed of things such as driving a car, walking or playing snooker and it lets you do these things without really consciously thinking about it. You can only tap into that part of the brain when you are relaxed. Showing emotions during a match is not advisable.

“I don’t mind my players showing a bit of positivity.  But you can boil over, which is in my opinion what Peter Ebdon used to do. He would get too excited. That’s detrimental to your subsequent performance for the rest of that match. I believe that when he became World Champion in 2002, he was at his most calm. He learned to control it.”

Last season’s 2017 World Championship involved high stakes. It was the most lucrative tournament in the history of snooker in terms of prize money, with champion Mark Selby landing a cool £375,000 for his win. With such a vast amount of money and prestige on the line, the tournament produced raw emotion from those involved.

Robertson’s display of delight in Glasgow on Sunday wasn’t the first time the Australian has shown his fire on the baize. In his epic last 16 clash with Marco Fu at this year’s World Championship, the 2010 Crucible winner Robertson roared with joy after converting the winning black in a scrappy 21st frame. It was eventually in vain as Fu went on to take the tie 13-11. When asked whether his celebrations were premature in the post-match press conference, Robertson remained steadfast in the opinion that he needs to evoke his emotions to produce his best snooker.

Robertson said: “I’ve tried to play within myself but I need adrenalin, I need to be pumped up, I need that to play well. I have to play with passion. I’m not saying that I’m going to start running around the table, but I’m going to be a lot more aggressive. In the first round I was trying to be polite, too polite, I’m going to be showing my emotion when I feel like it.”

Liang Wenbo

Commentator David Hendon has worked with Eurosport for over a decade and has called some of the most memorable moments in recent years. He was on the mic for Liang Wenbo’s thrilling victory at the 2016 English Open. Liang could hardly contain his joy, as he began rapturous celebrations before even depositing the winning ball in his 9-6 win over Judd Trump. Hendon could understand his reaction and believes that the raw emotion of competitors very much adds to the spectacle for viewers.

“It would have been awful if, having celebrated, he hadn’t potted the winning ball. Everyone’s personality is different and he is very excitable. This was the biggest moment of his career,” said Hendon. “I think people warm to that and the public likes to see someone who is genuinely happy. But it’s a good job he got the winning ball.

“In the middle of the match there is of course always the chance it could backfire. The point is: what does it do to your opponent? Does it give them a shot of adrenalin? It could make them want to come back and beat you even more. That’s what we want. We want the rivalries, we want the psychological shifts. That’s one of the reasons people watch snooker.”

Now this is an interesting read, and even more so for me as none of the interviewees even mention the type of perception I have of such gestures. Now, no doubt, there will be people telling me that I don’t understand sport … but all the same, here is how I feel about some of those “celebrations”. I’m not saying that I’m “right” here, it’s just how I genuinely feel when I see them.

I don’t mind players expressing their delight at winning, not even when it means jumping around like a crazy frog. I don’t mind the players clenching their fist after winning a particularly important frame, after a hard-fought battle, the “Yes, I did it” gesture aimed at themselves. But I totally hate the “fist pumping”, with matching face expression. I’m actually surprised that none of the interviewees see this as an aggression, an “in your face!” gesture aimed at the opponent to break them emotionally, even after the match is over, when it’s totally unnecessary. In my eyes it’s mean and bad sportsmanship. Simple as that. I hate it in any sport, and as much as I like watching tennis for instance, this is really something I dislike mightily. It’s definitely NOT what I want to see. Neil’s embarrassment at what he had done last Sunday clearly shows that he knew how it would feel for his opponent, and he went to talk to him, which he deserves a lot of credit for. But it also proves that I probably have a point about the nature of some “celebrations” …

Your take guys … and gals?

Ronnie withdraws from German Masters 2018

This was published by Worldsnooker this afternoon

Ronnie O’Sullivan has withdrawn from this week’s D88 German Masters qualifiers for medical reasons.

He was due to face Rory McLeod at the Barnsley Metrodome on Wednesday evening so McLeod has been given a bye to the second round.

The qualifiers run from Tuesday to Friday this week, with each player needing to win two matches to book a place in the final stages in Berlin (January 31 to February 4).

Fans can watch live in Barnsley for free – for the match schedule click here. Or watch live streaming at http://www.eurosportplayer.com

I can’t say I’m surprised. It was obvious that Ronnie was very tired last week and badly needed a break.