China Open 2019 – what is at stake …

The China Open 2019 starts on Monday and it’s the most lucrative tournament on the calendar after the World Championship. It’s also the last tournament before the World Championship, the one that will decide on the seeding at the Crucible as well as on to who has to qualify.

Jason Ferguson was in China early and, with Ding Junhui, met the media on Thursday.

In the UK however, Matt Huart, was working hard on his yearly and eagerly anticipated “Race to the Crucible” piece.

Race to the Crucible 2019: China Open Preview

29th March 2019

After Ronnie O’Sullivan’s historic victory at last week’s Tour Championship there is now just one event to go before the crucial final ranking revision to determine the seeding list for next month’s Betfred World Championship in Sheffield.

As in 2018, the XingPai China Open in Beijing will see the field compete for a huge first prize of £225,000 meaning that there is still potential for some dramatic shifts in the ranking race for Sheffield. Even at such a late stage of the season, results next week could therefore prove crucial with the top 16 players seeded straight through to the Crucible stages and all remaining players needing to win three matches at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield to join them there.

On 8 April 2019 following the China Open, the world ranking list will be revised and used to determine the seeding list for the 2019 World Championship.

By the time of the revision, prize money earned from all events during the 2016/17 season excluding the 2017 World Championship will have been deducted and replaced by that from this season’s events up to that date. This has already been taken into account on the latest provisional seedings list, to show the situation as up to date as possible.

Also note that all seeding permutations below are provisional and on the basis that all eligible players enter the World Championship.

The Crucible Draw

Each year the top 16 seeded players at the World Championship are placed in the draw in a very specific manner, for example the top seed is always scheduled to meet the 16th seed in the second round, the second seed is always poised to meet the 15th seed and so on.

As it stands, the last 16 draw (if all first round matches were won by the seeded player) would currently look as follows:

Williams (1) v Gilbert (16)
Hawkins (9) v Wilson (8)

Allen (5) v Bingham (12)
Maguire (13) v Higgins (4)

Selby (3) v Brecel (14)
Murphy (11) v Trump (6)

Robertson (7) v Ding (10)
Lisowski (15) v O’Sullivan (2)

Much can still change in China though as explained below…

Battle for Number 1

Defending champion Mark Williams is already guaranteed to be installed as top seed at this year’s World Championship but he will not head to Sheffield as snooker’s world number one.

After over four years since his victory at the 2015 German Masters, the unbroken reign of Mark Selby at the head of the rankings was brought to an end by Ronnie O’Sullivan following his success at the new Tour Championship last week. Selby does however have the opportunity to strike straight back as with O’Sullivan absent in Beijing, winning the title would be enough for him to reclaim top spot heading into Sheffield.

Williams cannot catch O’Sullivan at this event, but could take second place from Selby if he were to capture the China Open title for the first time since 2010.

The Top 16

Inevitably at this time of the year however it is not the number one race that takes centre stage, but instead the battle for the top 16 with those inside the top bracket guaranteed place at the Crucible and the rest needing to survive three best of 19 frame qualifying matches at the English Institute for Sport to join them.

The current top 12, down to and including 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham are now assured of their places at the Crucible this year.

The first player who could therefore still mathematically miss out on a Crucible seeding is Stephen Maguire, who would need to lose his opening match to Xu Si and then see at least four of the following to happen:

  • Luca Brecel, Jack Lisowski reach the last 32
  • David Gilbert to reach the semi-finals
  • Ryan Day, Joe Perry or Ali Carter to reach the final
  • One of a further 23 players (lowest Scott Donaldson) wins the title

Below Maguire, Luca Brecel is in a similar position with three of the following needing to happen if he were to lose first up to Sam Baird for the Belgian to miss out:

  • Jack Lisowski reach the last 32
  • David Gilbert to reach the semi-finals
  • Ryan Day, Joe Perry or Ali Carter to reach the final
  • One of a further 23 players (lowest Scott Donaldson) wins the title

Looking to secure a Crucible seeding for the first time is Jack Lisowski, who faces John Astley in his Beijing opener. If he were to slip up in that match then two of the following scenarios would need to happen for him to be pipped at the post:

  • David Gilbert to reach the quarter-finals
  • Ryan Day to reach the semi-finals
  • Joe Perry, Ali Carter or Yan Bingtao to reach the final
  • One of a further 23 players (lowest Andrew Higginson) wins the title

The man currently on the bubble is David Gilbert, who like Lisowski above him is looking to secure a top 16 berth heading to Sheffield for the first time in his career. If he were to stumble in his opener against Indian Open champion Matt Selt, just one of the following would need to transpire for Gilbert to be edged out in the final counting event:

  • Ryan Day to reach the quarter-finals
  • Joe Perry to reach the semi-finals
  • Ali Carter, Yan Bingtao or Xiao Guodong to reach the final
  • One of a further 26 players (lowest Andrew Higginson) wins the title

The chasing pack

In both 2017 and 2018 Ryan Day occupied 16th position heading into the China Open but this year he leads the chasing pack in 17th with at least a quarter-final run needed in Beijing if he is to stand a chance of avoiding having to qualify for Sheffield.

Behind him Joe Perry needs to reach at least the semi-finals, while Ali Carter, Yan Bingtao and Xiao Guodong must go all the way to the final.

For the rest, with a bumper first prize of £225,000 to be won next week, anybody as far down as 66th placed Dominic Dale could still mathematically break into the top 16 by going all the way by lifting the China Open title.

The Top 32

Although not as important as the battle for the top 16, the race for top 32 spots is more significant than it might first appear for the World Championship as the players seeded 17-32 will be guaranteed to avoid each other in qualifying at the English Institute for Sport.

Currently in possession of the final place by just £500 is Zhou Yuelong, although Mark Davis in 34th could rise above him by winning his heldover match against wildcard Chang Bingyu. Both Li Hang and Ricky Walden are also within a single Beijing win of pushing Zhou out if he were to win, while the third round would be sufficient for Marco Fu, Liang Wenbo and Robert Milkins.

Iran’s Hossein Vafaei must reach the quarter-finals to challenge for a top 32 spot, with Michael Holt, Ben Woollaston, Stuart Carrington, Peter Ebdon and Chris Waklein needing to make the last four.

Up to eight players could break into the top 32 by making the final, while only the title would be sufficient for the remaining players qualified for Beijing.

The Top 80

With players ranked 17-80 to be seeded in the draw for the World Championship and drawn to play those ranked 81-144, for this tournament only it is the top 80 which becomes an important bracket to consider.

Currently occupying 80th position is Sam Baird, although taking into account the suspension of Jamie Jones it is Joe O’Connor who is effectively the last man inside the seeded places. O’Connor has qualified for China and so has his fate in his own hands, but would miss out if the following were to happen:

  • Mei Xiwen reaches the last 32
  • Sam Craigie, Elliot Slessor, Rod Lawler, Craig Steadman or Soheil Vahedi rach the last 16
  • Oliver Lines, John Astley, Ashley Carty or Zhang Jiangkang reach the quarter-finals
  • Thor Chuan Leong, Jamie Clarke, James Wattana, Harvey Chandler, Kishan Hirani or Adam Stefanow reach the semi-finals

For more updates throughout the China Open, follow my live blog (to be published next week) here at or alternatively follow @prosnookerblog and @WPBSAofficial via Twitter.

Mark Allen has withdrawn from the event, for personal reasons. Mark had a brilliant first half of the season, but, since the Masters, hasn’t looked well and admitted that he wasn’t in a great place.  His battles with depression in the past have been well documented. Two players in particular could still get ahead of him before the Crucible: Judd Trump who would need to reach the semi-finals in Beijing, and Neil Robertson who would need the title. Both have been in great form recently and the possibility is real that one of them, or both would do exactly that: they are in opposite halves of the draw. Theoretically, Kyren Wilson also could get ahead of Mark by winning the title, but he’s not shown much form recently.

Currently the three in-form players – Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Ronnie – are all in the bottom half, with Mark Selby as well. Ronnie and Mark would swap their places if Mark wins in Beijing, but, whatever happens, they will both remain in the bottom half. However, Judd or Neil could still take Mark Allen’s spot – the n°5 seed – and move to the top half, sending Allen to the bottom half. That would make the whole draw a bit more “balanced”.

Interview, pictures and plans…

Whilst others are getting ready for the last event before the Crucible, Ronnie has been busy cooking, planning a break and Crucible practice and, finally, acknowledging his own status in the sport.

Ronnie has shared those images on social media, hinting at a big announcement. If the tags accompanying the images are anything to go by, this is likely to be related to the imminent publication of his book with Rhiannon Lambert “Top of your game”.

According to “The Daily Star”, Ronnie’s plans ahead of the Crucible are to chill out with a mate, and go for a bit of fresh air and sailing, before heading to Sheffield for his preparation and practice ahead of the Crucible. Taking a break isn’t a bad idea IMO. The Tour Championship was pretty intense, the World Championship will be long and demanding. Being fresh heading to the Crucible might prove crucially important.

Meanwhile Eurosport has published this interview:

O’Sullivan: Hard to argue I’m not greatest of all time

By Eurosport

Ronnie O’Sullivan has admitted for the first time he has a right to be called snooker’s GOAT as his golden 27-year career continues to glitter.

O’Sullivan holds every major record in the sport in the modern era, but continues to be two adrift of the retired Stephen Hendry’s haul of seven world titles ahead of his latest tilt at a sixth world crown next month.

His achievements include:

  • Being the youngest winner of a ranking event aged 17 at the 1993 UK Championship
  • Winning a record 19 triple crown events including seven UK titles and seven Masters
  • Becoming the first man to break the 1000 mark in career centuries
  • Making 15 competitive 147 breaks, more than any other player

But the Essex man believes it is not only the numbers that validate his claim to be called snooker’s greatest of all time after his 13-11 win over 2010 world champion Neil Robertson in last weekend’s Tour Championship final.

At the age of 43, O’Sullivan is snooker’s oldest world number one since the 50-year-old six-times world champion Ray Reardon in 1983 after his title success in Llandudno.

He has drawn level on 36 ranking event titles with Hendry, a number that could be passed if he wins the World Championship.

The five-times world champion believes style, commitment and longevity since he turned professional in 1992 put him above his rivals in the debate about who is the green baize’s best.

When asked if he thought he was the greatest, O’Sullivan – winner of the world championship in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2013 – told Eurosport: “It’s hard to argue against that in many ways, my record speaks for itself. I have every record barring the seven world titles.

“I think the thing for me is that I’ve done it in an aggressive, attacking and flamboyant way if you like, and to get results playing that style is never easy.

“A lot of players aim to stall you, and freeze the game up, and it’s a testament to your own ability to not allow that to happen, and when I’m playing well that never happens because I’m able to punch holes through them really quickly and their game plan goes out the window. “

“If I’m not playing well and clearing up in one visit and dominating the table, their confidence grows and find that’s the best way to beat me.

“But over the 25 years, I’ve pretty much had an answer for any opponent. It’s nice, I can reflect on my career now and be satisfied with it in many ways.”
“Every season there seems to be someone that’s playing well, but I seem to have always been there. It’s Mark Selby, then Neil Robertson, Judd Trump then John Higgins, Mark Williams but I always seem to be always there, so I’m happy I’ve always been able to have consistency at the highest level.”

Robertson compared O’Sullivan to Roger Federer in tennis after losing to O’Sullivan after seeing him end Selby’s four-year reign as number one despite playing in only seven ranking events this season.

“It’s nice when it comes from your peers and they’re probably the most important ones. When it comes from someone like Neil or Stephen Hendry or John Higgins it means so much more,” said O’Sullivan.

“But you have to go by your records, and being the most successful player in snooker now, it’s debatable whether it’s me or Hendry. He’s had seven world titles, whereas I only have five, but I seem to have every other record. ”
“It’s a bit like saying is (Lionel) Messi really the best player ever because he hasn’t won the World Cup? You can go on and on with that argument.

“For me Messi is the greatest player we’ve ever seen. By not winning the World Cup doesn’t change my opinion of him being the best.

“It’s difficult to satisfy some people, but sometimes it’s just nice to have your hat thrown in and be at the table in that discussion.”



World Snooker Championship to be broadcast exclusively in 65 COUNTRIES and territories in Europe, Asia and North Africa (+UK non-exclusive)
Every minute of the main tournament broadcast exclusively LIVE* on Eurosport and Eurosport Player – equating to 150 HOURS of coverage
Exclusive coverage of the qualifying tournament on Eurosport Player – in total Eurosport will screen 300 HOURS of world-class snooker in April and May
WATCH ANYWHERE, ANYTIME – all coverage simulcast on the Eurosport Player

Qualification tournament – ONLY ON EUROSPORT PLAYER
Saturday 20 April – Day 1 of the main tournament from the 2019 World Snooker Championship
Saturday 27 April – Second round begins
Tuesday 30 April – Quarter-Finals begin
Thursday 2 May – Semi-Finals begin
Monday 6 May – The final of the 2019 World Snooker Championship concludes

Check the original article for pictures and videos.

Challenge Tour 2019/20 … revisited

The announcement made about the Challenge Tour  yesterday triggered a heated debate and negative reactions from the players involved. In the face of this Worldsnooker revised their proposal promptly, looking for a balance between rewarding sustained excellence and keeping more players in with a real chance up to the last event.

Here is the revised copy:

Our announcement earlier this week about the structure for the 2019/20 Challenge Tour has prompted discussion among professional and amateur players. Taking this feedback on board and with due consideration, we have decided to amend the criteria for winning the two available World Snooker Tour Cards.

The player who finishes top of the Challenge Tour rankings after ten events will be awarded a Tour Card. The next eight players in the rankings with go into a play-off event, with the winner of that event to receive the second Tour Card. The draw for the play-off will be seeded with the player highest in the Challenge Tour rankings drawn against the eighth highest, and so on.

All other details for the 2019/20 Challenge Tour remain as previously announced.

It will include six events in the UK and four in Europe. Snooker clubs and federations will be given the chance to bid to host events. Clubs do not need to use Star tables but those in the UK must be affiliated to the WPBSA’s 147 Club scheme. The prize money for each event will be £10,000.

The field for events will be made up as follows:

UK Events
• The top 56 players from the 2019 Q School ranking list
• Eight Wildcards, to be selected with the intention to promote the development of grassroots talent
• If necessary, the last-64 round will then be topped up with players on the Q School ranking list

European Events
• The top 56 players from the 2019 Q School ranking list. All 56 will be directly entered into the last 64.
• Eight Wildcards, to be selected with the intention to promote the development of grassroots talent.
• An unlimited number of further entrants will compete in pre-qualifying stages, playing down to the available places in the last 64.

The two available World Snooker Tour Cards will be for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.

Further details including the dates and locations of the events will be confirmed when available.


Back at the top…

ROS nr 1

Worldsnooker has published this about how things stand ranking wise:

No need to look twice – you’re seeing it correctly. After 1,506 days, Mark Selby’s unbroken run at the top of the world rankings is over.

Such has Ronnie O’Sullivan’s dominance been in recent weeks that he now tops the official two year world rankings, the one-year rankings and the Coral Cup standings.

Selby’s run as top dog started at the 2015 German Masters, 49 months ago, but he has now dropped to second place. In the past four months, O’Sullivan has won the Betway UK Championship, Coral Players Championship and Coral Tour Championship, banking £445,000 from those three events to take him to number one. The Rocket is top of the rankings for the fourth time in his career and first since 2010.

He becomes the inaugural winner of the Coral Cup, having earned £280,000 from the three Coral Series events.

O’Sullivan has earned £904,500 this season, his own personal best, and is well placed to become the first player to win over £1 million in a single campaign. He is not playing in next week’s XingPai China Open, but a run to the semi-finals of the Betfred World Championship would earn him £100,000 and take him into seven figures. With a top prize of £500,000 available at the Crucible, he could end the season with over £1,400,000.

Selby would have to win the title in China next week to regain top spot.

Neil Robertson was runner-up at the Coral Tour Championship and his £60,000 moves him one place up the official list to seventh.

The XingPai China Open, which runs from April 1 to 7, is the final event in the Race to the Crucible.  The top 16 will then be handed a place at Sheffield’s Theatre of Dreams, while all other players will need to win three matches at the Betfred World Championship qualifiers.

David Gilbert occupies 16th place in the race with £300,000 and a lead of £15,000 over Ryan Day in 17th. Day needs to reach the quarter-finals in Beijing, worth £27,000, to have a chance of leap-frogging Gilbert.

With big money available in China, anyone in the field down to Xiao Guodong in 23rd has a chance of getting into the top 16 by reaching the final and earning £90,000, while anyone down to Dominic Dale in 66th could jump into the elite by winning the £225,000 top prize.

By winning in Beijing, Mark Williams could also get past Ronnie and go to the Crucible as World n°1 AND World Champion. That however would not impact the Crucible seedings as he is guaranteed to be seed n°1 being the defending champion..

Whatever happens in Beijing those three will be the top three seeds at the World Championship next months. Nobody can catch them. Ronnie and Mark Selby could swap places, should Mark win the title in Beijing.

Currently the Crucible seeding looks like this:

Mark Williams (1)
David Gilbert (16)
Barry Hawkins (9)
Kyren Wilson (8)

Mark Allen (5)
Stuart Bingham (12)
Stephen Maguire (13)
John Higgins (4)


Mark Selby (3)
Luca Brecel (14)
Shaun Murphy (11)
Judd Trump (6)

Neil Robertson (7)
Ding Junhui (10)
Jack Lisowski (15)
Ronnie O’Sullivan (2)

John Higgins can only be caught by Mark Allen, who needs the final to do so, and Judd Trump who needs the title.

Further down there can still be a number of permutations. Theoretically all player from Dominic Dale and above could still catch David Gilbert for a seeded spot at the World Championship, provided they qualified of course, and if Gilbert loses his first match in Beijing. In fact only the current top eight are safe from being caught by someone currently out of the top 16.

As it stands, Ronnie could possibly face Neil Robertson again over 25 frames, should they both reach the QF stage.

Changes to the Challenge Tour next season

A couple of days ago Worldsnooker has announced changes in the way the Challenge Tour will be competed next season:

World Snooker’s Challenge Tour will feature ten events during the 2019/20 season, with a new ‘play-off’ system to determine which two players are promoted to the professional circuit.

The Challenge Tour ran for the first time in 2018/19 as a secondary circuit below the World Snooker Tour. There were ten events, with six in the UK and others in Latvia, Germany, Belgium and Hungary. Brandon Sargeant and David Grace earned the two tour cards.

Next season’s Challenge Tour will include six events in the UK and four in Europe. Snooker clubs and federations will be given the chance to bid to host events. Clubs do not need to use Star tables but those in the UK must be affiliated to the WPBSA’s 147 Club scheme. The prize money for each event will be £10,000.

The field for events will be made up as follows:

UK Events
• The top 56 players from the 2019 Q School ranking list
• Eight Wildcards, to be selected with the intention to promote the development of grassroots talent
• If necessary, the last-64 round will then be topped up with players on the Q School ranking list

European Events
• The top 56 players from the 2019 Q School ranking list. All 56 will be directly entered into the last 64.
• Eight Wildcards, to be selected with the intention to promote the development of grassroots talent.
• An unlimited number of further entrants will compete in pre-qualifying stages, playing down to the available places in the last 64.

At the end of the ten events, 16 players will go into a final play-off tournament. These will be the winners of the ten events, plus a minimum of six players from the Challenge Tour rankings. The two players winning the semi-finals of the play-off tournament will be awarded two-year cards to the World Snooker Tour, for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.

Further details including the dates and locations of the events will be confirmed when available.

I’ll be honest, I was expecting a rather positive reaction from the players to this announcement, but that’s not what happened, at least not from UK-based players anyway.

Why was I expecting a positive reaction? Well, mainly because, with the system used this season – the top two on the money list receiving a tour card – a lot of players were basically out of contention pretty early in the season. As a result, events had rarely a full line-up and entries were very poor in some of them. Why would players pay entry fees, hotel accommodations and travel, take days off work if they have no more hope to “succeed”? Some might do it, to get good competition practice, but only if they can afford it. A play-off system will keep more players in with a real chance for longer and that – I thought – should boost the Tour.

But not so. What do the unhappy players object to?

The most “controversial” aspect seems to the fact that the ten winners would automatically go into the play-offs. The point players objecting to this are making is that a player could win the first event, not further support the tour for the rest of the season, then pitch, play, and win at the play-offs, whilst a player who did well all season could have a bad day, and get nothing for his sustained efforts. They would rather have consistency and dedication better rewarded. It’s a valid point … to an extend. I write “to an extend” because, being Belgian, I feel that the whole tour is already too biased towards UK players: the Q-school is held in the UK, and the majority of Challenge Tour events are too. So it makes it more difficult, and more costly for non UK-based players to achieve on any of the “main tour qualifying routes” and Brexit could make it even worse. It’s not a matter of dedication alone, it’s a matter of realistic opportunities.  Having a good opportunity to qualify for the play-offs by winning a “home” event could prove a real boost for non-UK players who can’t afford – or even would not be allowed – to play  in everything.

My proposal would be to keep the two spots for the two players topping the ranking list at the end of the season and add two more for the winner and runner-up of the play-offs. As it stands right now, “nominations” don’t get us to a 128 players tour anyway, and some of those nominations have – until now – never been succesful, quite simply because either the nominated players can’t afford the cost of the Main Tour and can’t play enough (think Igor Figueiredo) or are simply not good/prepared enough because they only competed against a much weaker field until they get on the tour (think African champion for instance).

Also, why have 56 out of 64 spots in every events restricted to Q-school entrants? The answer I have got to that is: “they want to be sure that the players competing are seriously aiming at become professionals”. That makes sense BUT there are other routes to the main tour, other events carrying tour cards. Why not include the players participating in those as well?

What’s your views?