2020 Players Championship – Day 5

The unusual ITV schedule provided us with a QF match in the afternoon yesterday, and the first SF in the evening. You’ll find the WST reports below.

Today there is just one match, the second SF played this evening.

Afternoon session – QF – Shaun Murphy 6-2 Mark Allen 

Shaun Murphy defeated close friend Mark Allen 6-2 to reach the semi-finals of the Coral Players Championship in Southport.

The Magician will now face Yan Bingtao for a place in the final. It will be a repeat of the pair’s marathon semi-final meeting at the recent Welsh Open. On that occasion Murphy prevailed, battling from 5-4 down to win 6-5 with the clock past midnight.

Today’s victory sees Murphy extend his head-to-head advantage with Allen to 13-5, he’s now also won their last three meetings. Tomorrow’s meeting with Yan will be the 43rd ranking semi-final of 37-year-old Murphy’s career.

Murphy is already assured of his place in the eight-man series finale at the Coral Tour Championship, sitting in second position in the one-year list. However, Allen is not yet certain of qualification. The Pistol currently occupies 7th place in the live rankings with just the Gibraltar Open now left to go.

Breaks of 53 and 93 helped Murphy into a 3-1 lead as they went into the mid-session this afternoon.

After the interval Allen composed a fine break of 69 to pull within a frame at 3-2. From there, Murphy took control of proceedings. Three frames in a row, including runs of 69 and 55, saw the 2005 World Champion over the line.

“I felt happy with my game and where it is at. I was really looking forward to the match, especially with how Mark played in the first round, I was up for it today,” said Murphy. “Mark and I have a lot of respect for each other. A lot of frames had tactical play in them. That doesn’t really suit either of us but when you know each other can score so heavily that is the way it is going to go.

“I hope the semi-final isn’t the same as it was a few weeks ago. It was just carnage for us both and I think we both had a heart attack towards the end. It was after midnight, he had a birthday halfway through the game and we dredged each other down. Hopefully we can put on a good show for the crowd.”

There is not much to add to that report. Mark Allen didn’t look ill anymore but he probably wasn’t 100% yet either. Shaun has been very solid all season and the outcome never looked in doubt.

Evening session – SF – Judd Trump 6-5 Stephen Maguire

Judd Trump pulled off a deciding frame clearance, which he described as the “best of his career”, to beat Stephen Maguire 6-5 and reach the Coral Players Championship final in Southport.

With the scores locked at 5-5, it was Maguire who had the first opportunity to clinch a place in the final. The Scot broke down on 49, before Trump deposited a risky red to the middle and embarked on a sensational break.

The key shot came when Trump delicately developed the last red, leaving it over the middle with the colours at his mercy. The World Champion and world number one made no mistake, completing his run of 70 to seal a stunning win.

Trump had looked to be on course for a more routine victory in the early stages. After taking an intriguing first frame on a re-spotted black, breaks of 69 and 132 had moved the 30-year-old into a 3-0 advantage. However, a brilliant run of 56 saw 2004 UK Champion Maguire steal the fourth frame and wrest the momentum, making it 3-1.

Maguire then claimed a further four on the bounce, with contributions of 73, 67 and 70, to move one from victory at 5-3. It wasn’t to be for five-time ranking event winner Maguire, as Trump clinched the next two frames to set up the grandstand finish where he dramatically stole the win.

Defeat for Maguire acts as a massive blow to his chances of earning a place at the Coral Tour Championship. Only the top eight players in the one-year list will make it to the elite Llandudno event. Maguire currently trails compatriot John Higgins by £6,500 in 9th position. He will require a strong showing at the upcoming Gibraltar Open to book his spot.

Victory leaves Trump just one match away from a fifth ranking title of the season. That would see him equal the record for events won in a single campaign, which is held jointly by Stephen Hendry, Ding Junhui, Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan. Bristolian Trump has already notched up victories at the International Championship, World Open, Northern Ireland Open and German Masters.

Trump said: “For a deciding frame that was probably the best clearance I’ve ever made. It is definitely in the top five or top ten in any frame. It was under the utmost pressure, with what had happened before.

“I actually felt more relaxed in the decider than I had in the rest of the game, apart from the first couple of frames. Stephen put me under pressure and at 5-3 down I was gone, it was done and dusted. I managed to find something from somewhere and probably the belief of being world number one and World Champion was what helped me to make that clearance.

“It is very tough mentally and it is something that I haven’t particularly worked on, but as I’ve grown older I’ve managed to get that self belief to be able to really dig in under pressure and give myself a chance. In the past I would maybe give up a bit easier, today I really fought for it and made a brilliant break at the end.”

This is a match that Stephen Maguire should have won really. He was on the verge of victory, in the balls, leading 5-3; just two reds remained on the table, and Judd in his chair looked well an d truly gone… Stephen wasn’t in prime position to take the penultimate red, he had shown a lot of patience through the match, but he probably saw the winning line; he took it, missed it and left Judd an opportunity, both to pot that red and to develop the last one as well. Credits to Judd at this stage of the match for taking the chance, it wasn’t an easy one under the circumstances. It turned the match around. Judd is now in his fifth final of the season. He hasn’t lost in a final since the 2017 Shanghai Masters, when Ronnie beat him by 10-3. This one is his 9th final since… it doesn’t bode well for Shaun or Yan but, whoever wins tonight,  he shouldn’t think about it.

Players Championship 2020 – Day 4

I’m not sure if there is something like “International Decider Day” (*) but if there is, it probably was yesterday. Both quarter finals played yesterday followed a similar pattern: one player, playing the better snooker, took a big lead, only to be pegged back to 5-5, before winning the decider. Here are the reports by WST:

Afternoon match: Maguire 6-5 Selby

Stephen Maguire booked his place in the semi-finals of the Coral Players Championship with a thrilling 6-5 win over Mark Selby in Southport.

The Scot, who was runner-up to Ding Junhui at the UK Championship earlier in the season, will face World Champion Judd Trump in his second ranking semi-final of the season. Today’s win is 2004 UK Champion Maguire’s first over Selby since the 2016 German Masters.

It puts him in a strong position to edge into the series finale at the Coral Tour Championship. Only the eight best players on this season’s one-year list will make it to Llandudno. Maguire occupies ninth position in the live rankings and trails compatriot John Higgins by just £6,500 with this week and the Gibraltar Open to go.

Despite today’s loss Selby is assured of his place in the North Wales event. The three-time World Champion sits comfortably in third position on the one-year list after victories at the English and Scottish Opens this season.

Maguire enjoyed an electric start to this afternoon’s encounter, breaks of 67 and 73 helped him to establish an early 3-0 advantage. Selby then bossed a tight tactical fourth frame to stay in touch at the mid-session at 3-1.

Maguire moved 4-1 ahead, before three on the bounce from the Jester from Leicester levelled things at 4-4. Maguire moved a frame from victory courtesy of a fine break of 79. However, Selby typically refused to throw in the towel, claiming the 10th frame to force a decider.

It was Maguire who provided the most telling contribution in the final frame, with a break of 53, which saw him secure the 6-5 win.

Maguire said: “I don’t know what it was like to watch, but it was tough to play in. I thought I had it. I was coasting at 4-1 up and then the wheels came off. Mark did what he does and just ground it out. Somehow I managed to fall over the line.

“Before I came down here, qualifying for Llandudno wasn’t on my mind at all. Now I am in the semis I think the money jump would take me in if I win. There is only Gibraltar left. Now it will be in the back of my mind for the next match, but it is a semi-final of a major tournament and that is more important.”

Stephen Maguire said that the wheels came off, but that’s not the full story. I was watching this and Mark Selby had so much run of the balls, or rather, Maguire had so much things going against him, that I expected the latter to lose his patience and start being reckless. It didn’t happen. He stayed patient and focused and, eventually, it paid off. It’s good to see and makes the Scot a very dangerous animal.

Evening match: Yan Bingtao 6-5 Perry

After a marathon four hours and 29 minutes of play, Yan Bingtao edged past Joe Perry on the final black to book his place in the semi-finals of the Coral Players Championship with a 6-5 win.

Talented 20-year-old Yan had looked set for a far more straightforward victory, when he led former Players Champion Perry 5-2. However, his nerves were apparent when he started to stumble at the finishing line, allowing Perry to claw his way back into the tie.

Chatteris cueman Perry stole the eighth frame on the black, before a break of 72 saw him ramp up the heat on his less experienced Chinese counterpart at 5-4. The Gentleman then levelled things up at 5-5 to set up an extraordinary decider.

The gruelling 58-minute frame had looked as if it was going Perry’s way, when Yan left the final pink over the yellow pocket. However, Perry surprisingly failed to acquire position on the last ball, as the contest came down to a black-ball fight. Eventually Yan deposited a gutsy pot to the green pocket to seal a nerve-shredding victory.

Yan will now face either Shaun Murphy or Mark Allen in what will be the seventh ranking semi-final of his career. He has enjoyed a fine campaign so far, which includes winning his maiden ranking title at the season opening Riga Masters.

Today’s victory sees Yan take a massive stride towards qualification for the series finale at the Coral Tour Championship. Only the top eight players on this season’s one-year list will progress to the elite Llandudno event. Yan currently sits in sixth position as things stand.

Perry still has an outside chance of snatching a Tour Championship place, but he will now need to win the upcoming Gibraltar Open and hope other results go his way. He is in a strong position to secure automatic qualification for the World Championship, sitting in 16thspot in the live world rankings.

Yan said: “I had too many thoughts in my head and it felt difficult to win even when I was two or three frames ahead. It happens to me a lot when I am facing a match winning opportunity, especially against top 16 players. I hope I can get rid of this problem in the future.

“I’m glad to play every match in this type of tournament, because I can play top players all of the time. They are stronger players and more experienced. I’m still not quite used to the one-table setup, because I get too nervous and think too much. I feel extra pressure when it comes to the key shots.”

Perry said: “I got myself into the game. The first six or seven frames are the worst I have played in years. I lost my temper and banged my cue. I apologised for that as I haven’t done it for a long time, but I was so frustrated. I got myself together, played a bit better and I should have won. I had the pink over one pocket and the black over another and I still didn’t win. I only have myself to blame.”

That’s two very honest post-match quotes from the players. Yan Bingtao still lacks a bit of self-confidence on the big stage; the final he lost to Mark Williams in Belfast in 2017 seems to have impacted his confidence quite severely at the time. But his game shows a lot of maturity and is similar to John Higgins game in many aspects. He’s very patient and ready to grind it out. He’s only just 20 but he has this in him. He’s also a flag-bearer for the youngest generation of Chinese players, the one who shows them they can win. He’s one of them, not a half god as Ding is.

(*) there seems to be “International Days” for about anything nowadays.

Whilst in Southport, David Hendon, Alan MacManus, Phil Yates and Neal Foulds gathered to produce this podcast:

They discuss Judd Trump and his chances to win the World Championship this season,  and the fate of the Class of 92.

Well worth listening!

David Hendon sensibly reminded the others that both times that the chips were really down earlier this season, at the UK and at the Masters, Trump lost early, meaning that with all the pressure on him at the Crucible, he might struggle.

Alan McManus refuses to write the class of 92 off, but explains that, at this stage of their career they might no more be willing to spend their lives on the road and in hotel rooms. That’s probably how himself feels as well…

2020 Players Championship – Day 3

Here are the reports by WST on yesterday’s action in Southport

Afternoon session (L16)

Mark Allen is through to the quarter-finals of the Coral Players Championship after a 6-3 defeat of Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in Southport.

Victory for Northern Ireland’s Allen is all the more impressive given he has been suffering with an ear infection and conjunctivitis.

It’s an important win for Allen, who is battling to secure his place at the upcoming Coral Tour Championship in Llandudno. Only the top eight players in this season’s one-year list will earn a place in Llandudno, Allen currently occupies 7th position in the live standings.

Despite being visibly unwell at the table, the Pistol extraordinarily fired in breaks of 129, 132 and 123 on his way to establishing a 4-2 advantage.

Un-Nooh then pulled one back, before Allen moved a frame from victory at 5-3. He sealed the win with a steely clearance of 48, which saw him steal the ninth frame on the black to win 6-3.

Allen said: “If it had been any other tournament I’d have had to pull out. It was complete guesswork out there. I’ve got a bit of an ear infection, conjunctivitis and a cold. It is really affecting my balance more than anything. I had to use the table to balance or I would have just fallen over.

“I just guessed really well today. I was feeding off muscle memory and years of practise. I had no feeling out there. I am going straight back to bed to try and rest.”

Fortunately for Allen he now has the day off tomorrow to recuperate. His next opponent will be close friend Shaun Murphy, who won a thrilling clash with David Gilbert 6-5.

Murphy has enjoyed a superb season so far to move into second position on the one-year list. The Magician has notched up ranking event wins at the China Championship and the Welsh Open.

Triple Crown winner Murphy had led 4-1, before being subjected to an impressive fightback from world number 11 Gilbert who forced a decider at 5-5. In the end Murphy held his nerve, making a break of 49 whilst controlling the final frame to book his last eight showdown with Allen.

I watched the Murphy v Gilbert match and, in a way, it was a strange one. After winning a close first frame, Murphy completely dominated the early stages. He went 3-0 and 4-1 ahead. Gilbert looked out of the match. Then, I guess, he relaxed and began to score heavily. But tension returned in the decider and it showed. There is nothing wrong with Gilbert technique, it’s actually one of the best on show, but he continues to struggle to get over the line in big matches. Sightright has given him more confidence, but , maybe, seeing a mental coach would help him to acquire that little something that still holds him back under pressure. Of course winning a tournament would do that as well …

Evening session (QF)

World Champion Judd Trump defeated John Higgins 6-3 in a hard fought contest to book his place in the semi-finals of the Coral Players Championship in Southport.

It’s a fourth consecutive win for Trump over 30-time ranking event winner Higgins, in a run which includes last year’s Crucible final. The Ace in the Pack, who has 15 ranking titles to his name, now trails Higgins 13-11 in their head-to-head record.

Defeat for Higgins leaves his chances of progression to the series finale at the Coral Tour Championship in doubt. Only the top eight on the one-year list will make it to the elite event in Llandudno, with Higgins sitting right on the cut off point in eighth position. He may need a strong showing at the upcoming Gibraltar Open to secure his place.

Trump will now face either Mark Selby or Stephen Maguire for a place in the final. The world number one tops the one-year list after a sparkling season which has seen him notch up four ranking titles this season, including the recent German Masters.

Trump controlled the opening stages this evening. The Bristolian composed runs of 74 and 85 on his way to establishing a 3-1 lead at the mid-session interval.

When they returned, Scotland’s four-time World Champion Higgins began to claw his way back into the tie. He produced a superb contribution of 123, before adding the sixth frame to draw level at 3-3.

Trump edged back in front and then delivered a hammer blow by edging the tactical contest in a mammoth 38-minute eighth frame. That moved him one from victory and he saw himself over the line to secure the 6-3 win.

“It was a scrappy game, but I was in control at 3-1,” said 30-year-old Trump. “He made it 3-3 and after that the balls went scrappy and we were both fighting for our lives to get the semi-finals. I was able to find a few good pots towards the end and that got me over the line.

“It is always pretty special to beat him in any tournament. To keep that momentum playing him is very important. You don’t want to lose at any point or you lose the fear factor. This is a big tournament, so being able to beat him and keep that fear factor is important.”

This was a really hard fought match, and one John Higgins could have won if it wasn’t for the mistakes that crept in his game towards the end. I’m not sure that it’s “fear” that did it – I don’t think that John fears anyone – but he’s not confident in his game in general and not as reliable as he used to be. Judd played some superb spectacular shots in this match but they weren’t the decisive factor. It was his ability to fight that did it. If there is one lesson in this match for all pros who have to play Judd in his current form it’s this: he’s very hard to beat, but if you want to get any chance, don’t try to beat him at his “potting” game, try to impose yours, make it scrappy, break his fluency, and take any chance that comes your way.


2020 Players Championship – Day 2

Four matches were played yesterday in Southport and here is the report by WST:

Joe Perry won a pulsating clash with Neil Robertson 6-4 to book his place in the quarter-finals of the Coral Players Championship in Southport.

It’s a crucial victory for Perry, who now moves into 16th position in the world rankings as things stand. That puts him in line to edge Ali Carter out of an automatic World Championship spot, with the Captain projected to slip to 17th position.

Defeat for Robertson acts as a blow in his bid to claim the 2020 Coral Cup, which the Australian currently leads courtesy of his victory at the Coral World Grand Prix. The winner will be whoever accumulates the most prize money over the three-event Coral Series and they will also pick up a £100,000 bonus.

Despite a spectacular break of 140 from Robertson in the second frame, it was Perry who dominated the early stages today. Runs of 61, 66 and 68 helped him into a 5-1 advantage. Robertson then summoned his best snooker to stage a dramatic fightback.

World number two Robertson made breaks of 119, 127 and 84 to charge into contention at 5-4. The following frame was closely fought, but the pivotal point came when Robertson missed the final blue. That allowed Perry to clear to the black and snatch victory. Perry faces Yan Bingtao in the last eight, who defeated Kyren Wilson 6-2 this evening.

Perry said: “Pretty much all of the frames I lost, I couldn’t do anything about. Neil is just a big break making machine. He potted reds and made 100 breaks. There was nothing I could do about that, but on the whole I thought I was good and better than I have been in the last few tournaments.

“I just tried to keep myself positive and kept telling myself that the chance would come and to be ready for it when it did. I was ready for it and I took it really well but was a bit unlucky and didn’t get a cannon to finish in one visit. In the end it got a bit nervy and I had to rely on Neil missing a blue.”

John Higgins boosted his hopes of progression to the series finale at the Coral Tour Championship with a 6-2 win over fellow Scot Graeme Dott.

Higgins is currently in seventh position on the live one-year list and needs to remain in the top eight until after the Gibraltar Open to qualify for the elite Llandudno event.

Remarkably, today’s victory see’s four-time World Champion Higgins reach the 123rd ranking event quarter-final of his career.

Higgins had led 3-2 after a tense opening to this afternoon’s game. However, he took a stranglehold of proceedings by composing breaks of 84 and 60, before taking the eighth frame to secure the win.

Higgins said: “It was a big game there. Whoever won the game would be in a strong position to qualify for the Tour Championship heading into the last qualifying event at the Gibraltar Open. I am just pleased to get through. I will need to improve massively to get through again in the next round.”

Higgins now faces a mouth watering clash with World Champion Judd Trump. The Ace in the Pack secured his progression with a superb performance to see off last week’s Shoot Out champion Michael Holt 6-3.

Trump tops the one-year list after notching up four ranking titles this season and he produced some dazzling snooker this evening.

A break of 130 gave Trump the opening frame, before a sensational clearance of 64 saw him move 2-0 in front. They shared the next two frames to head into the mid-session with Trump leading 3-1.

When they returned Trump extended his lead with a break of 93. However, Holt refused to back down, compiling a stunning run of 128 to keep in touch at 4-2.

Trump moved one from victory, but Holt maintained his hopes of an upset with a brilliant clearance of 56 which made it 5-3. In the end Trump secured his win with a break of 76 to come through 6-3.

Higgins win means that Ronnie can’t qualify for the Tour Championship no matter what, but, TBH, it was never a realistic possiblity once he failed to qualifyfor this one.

Perry played strong match play to beat Neil Robertson. Neil scored 651 points in this match, to only 514 for Joe, and had three centuries, including the current tournament HB of 140, and a 84, whilst Joe’s highest break of the match was only 68 but he still lost by 6-4. This again highlights how and why the constant focus put on centuries in recent years is misleading and wrong. The goal is to win the matches, to to score the most points, and a century wins you just one frame.

Judd Trump played some impressive shots during his match but was never really under put any pressure. In fact, the frame Holt managed to win whilst I was watching was the one where he managed to break Judd’s fluency.

I rather quickly turned to the other, much more interesting, match of the evening, where Yan Bingtao played solid match snooker to beat Kyren Wilson. It’s baffling me that there is not a single word by WST about this one in their report. A good run here, and in Llandudno (*)  could bring Yan in the top 16 ahead of the Crucible and I would be delighted for him. It would also be good for the game in general. Yan is only just 20 but he’s very mature and he seems to have his confidence back. As for Kyren Wilson he’s been in and out all season, lacking consistency, producing some good matches as well some very average performances. Yesterday was an “out” day.

(*) He’s currently 6th on the one year list.


2020 Players Championship – Day 1

Despite the fact that Ronnie, the defending champion, won’t be anywhere in this competition, except on the poster, I have decided to still follow it on this blog. I’m a snooker fan, as much as a Ronnie fan.

So here goes…

Yesterday evening, Mark Selby whitewashed Mark Williams, whilst Stephen Maguire needed a decider to beat Ding Junhui.

This is the report by WST:

Mark Selby produced a superb display to whitewash Mark Williams 6-0 and reach the quarter-finals of the Coral Players Championship in Southport.

The result was a role-reversal of the pair’s first ever meeting in 1999, when Williams defeated a 16-year-old Selby 9-0 at the UK Championship.

The Jester from Leicester has enjoyed a strong season so far, winning at the English and Scottish Open to reach 4th position on the one-year list and earn his place at this week’s elite 16-player event.

Defeat for Williams acts as a severe blow to his chances of qualifying for the series finale, the Coral Tour Championship. The Welshman is currently in 13th spot on the one-year list and will now have to win the Gibraltar Open to stand any chance of edging into the top eight and sealing a spot in Llandudno.

Selby was in complete control throughout this evening’s tie, composing breaks of 60, 103, and 63 on his way to the comprehensive victory.

“I played really well from start to finish. I didn’t miss many balls,” said 17-time ranking event winner Selby. “Even at 4-0 I wasn’t getting ahead of myself. Mark was more than capable of doing to me what I had done to him before the interval. I’m really happy with the way I played and I hope I can continue that.

“In patches throughout this season, I have played as good as I possibly can. Against David Gilbert in the final of the English Open and even against Mark tonight I have played close to my best. It is there, it is just doing it consistently.”

His opponent in the last eight will be Stephen Maguire who battled back to win a 6-5 thriller against Ding Junhui.

Maguire, who lost to Ding in the UK Championship final earlier this season, had trailed 4-2 and 5-4. However, the tenacious Scot showed his steel to force a decider, where he composed an impressive break of 67 to secure victory and beat Ding for the first time in over 11 years.

As most of you probably know, I’m part of the snooker.org team and yesterday evening I was in charge of updating the scores. I decided to watch the “main match”, Selby v Williams, whilst keeping an eye on the scores of the other match.

I probably made the wrong choice: it was boring. Now, before anyone jumps on my back in anger, let me be clear: Selby played very well and there was nothing boring in his performance. The thing is, there was no fight, no tension, no suspense whatsoever. Willo was dreadful from start to finish. It’s sad to watch a great champion being reduced to this.

As I said, I was following the scores of the other match, without watching it. Maguire went 2-0 up, Ding then won 4 frames in succession to lead 4-2, only for Maguire to win the next three to lead 5-4, Ding responded to force a decider, that Maguire eventually took. So, it seems that the momentum switched from one player to the other and back a couple of times here. Ding seems to have made a 60+ break in all but one frames he won whilst Maguire took the scrappier ones.

Other than that, Laila Rouass, Ronnie’s partner, reacted to the article by the Sun, reporting alledged family issues after interviewing Ronnie’s sister. I touched on that yesterday.

Here is what Laila had to say on twitter:

Laila reacts to the Sun article Screenshot 2020-02-25 at 12.20.51

She is right of course, “using” a mentally fragile person’s vulnerability to make money of sensationalist “news” is abject. And, hopefully, the whole situation isn’t as bad as depicted in the above mentioned article.

2020 Shoot Out – Michael Holt is the Champion

Michael Holt beat Zhou Yuelong in the Final of the 2020 Shoot Out yesterday evening, and won his first ranking title in 24 years as a pro.


Congratulations Michael Holt

Here is the report by WST:

Michael Holt won his first ranking title after 24 years as a pro, beating Zhou Yuelong in the final of the BetVictor Shoot Out.

Nottingham’s 41-year-old Holt would certainly have been in the conversation on ‘best player never to win a ranking title’ but has now finally broken his duck by going one better than last year, having finished runner-up to Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 12 months ago in Watford.

The Hitman earns his biggest ever payday by taking the  £50,000 top prize at snooker’s unique quickfire one-frame knockout event.  The tournament has never been won by a player ranked inside the top 16 since it was first staged in 2011 and world number 41 Holt continues that sequence.

Holt got in first in the final with an excellent long red and made 42 before missing a red to a top corner. Zhou had one chance to counter, but after potting a red missed a tough blue to a baulk corner. Holt added 22 which was enough to secure his milestone moment.

As a massive extra bonus, Holt earns a place in next week’s Coral Players Championship by climbing to 16th on the one-year ranking list. Ronnie O’Sullivan was 16th coming into this week but now he will not have the chance to defend that title, as instead Holt heads to Southport to face Judd Trump in the first round.

The spin-offs are far-reaching for Holt as he almost certainly gains a place in the Champion of Champions event in November. For the popular potter and his heavily-pregnant wife Amy, who was among the crowd, the financial rewards are life changing.

China’s Zhou was also seeking his first ranking title but has to settle for £20,000 and another runner-up medal, having lost to Neil Robertson in the European Masters final last month. Victory for the 22-year-old would have given him that spot in Southport and also boosted his hopes of topping the BetVictor European Series rankings and taking the £150,000 bonus. Instead, that race will be settled between Neil Robertson and Judd Trump at next month’s BetVictor Gibraltar Open.

“It’s amazing just to hold that trophy up,” said Holt, who turned pro in 1996 and had lost two previous ranking finals. “The clock forces me to trust my instincts and just play what I see in front of me. It’s in me to enjoy it and embrace the crowd, which helps.  I’ve had a bit of luck but you still have to pot the balls when you get chances.

“I’m 41 but that’s not old in snooker terms and I’m still eager. I’m not weathered or tired, I still have things I want to achieve. I’m as hungry as any 21-year-old. I want to keep getting better and be as good as I think I can be and see where that takes me. I have had a lean few years and it has been hard financially, so the money is brilliant.

“I can’t wait to go to Southport now because to be in big tournaments is what you play for. It will be tough against Judd but I have never minded competing against the top players. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season now.”

Although I’m genuinely pleased for Michael, I’m rather gutted about what this means for Ronnie, as explained by Matt Huart here:

Please note that this is strictly provisional and subject to event entries:

Judd Trump (1) v Michael Holt (16)

John Higgins (8) v Graeme Dott (9)

Ding Junhui (5) v Stephen Maguire (12)

Mark Selby (4) v Mark Williams (13)


Neil Robertson (3) v Joe Perry (14)

Yan Bingtao (6) v Kyren Wilson (11)

Mark Allen (7) v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (10)

Shaun Murphy (2) v David Gilbert (15)

Players are marked in bold once their position can no longer change.

Latest qualification standings (23/02/2020):

14th – Joe Perry – £112,000
15th – David Gilbert – £104,000
16th – Michael Holt – £102,000
17th – Zhou Yuelong – £100,250 (F minimum)
18th – Ronnie O’Sullivan – £97,500
19th – Gary Wilson – £91,000 (SF minimum)
20th – Jack Lisowski – £83,750 (F minimum)
21st – Tom Ford – £83,250 (F minimum)
22nd – Zhao Xintong – £73,750 (title minimum)
23rd – Kurt Maflin – £72,000 (title minimum)
24th – Ali Carter – £72,000 (title minimum)
24th – Barry Hawkins – £69,250 (title minimum)
25th – Matt Selt – £65,250 (title minimum)
26th – Liang Wenbo – £64,500 (title minimum)
27th – Xiao Guodong – £63,500 (title minimum)
28th – Matthew Stevens – £62,750 (title minimum)
29th – Stuart Bingham – £62,500 (title minimum)
30th – Scott Donaldson – £62,250 (title minimum)
32nd – Anthony McGill – £52,500 (title minimum)
33rd – Ben Woollaston – £52,250 (title minimum)
34th – Li Hang – £51,500 (title minimum)
35th – Luca Brecel – £49,000 (title minimum)
36th – Ricky Walden – £47,750 (title minimum)
Players already out of the Shoot Out have been struck out

The sad state of affairs means that Ronnie won’t be defending his Players Championship title this week. It’s even harder to take because of the nature of this event, and because, had Ronnie beaten Kyren Wilson in the World Grand Prix, he would be 15th in this list and playing Shaun Murphy in the first round on Wednesday.

But somehow it sums up Ronnie’s season. In “proper” snooker tournaments he hasn’t done that badly: one win, the Shanghai Masters, one final, the NI Open, two semi finals, two quarter finals, two last 16 and just one first round defeat. He’s won 77% of his matches this season so far; that’s about the same success rate as Shaun Murphy; only Judd Trump and Neil Robertson have done better, and only slightly so. Reading this you’d expect him to be in the top 16 bracket in the season. He isn’t, he’s 18th.

The issues have been:

  • He hasn’t played in enough tournaments. It impacted his earning and his form.
  • Those he played in were not the most lucrative, except the one in China, where he suffered his only first round defeat.
  • His best results came in invitational tournaments.
  • When playing under pressure, he has looked more edgy and vulnerable than usual.

Ronnie would need something extraordinary to find himself in a position to defend his Tour Championship title He would need to enter the Gibraltar Open, to win the title, and hope that an all host of results go his way this week, starting with John Higgins losing in the first round to Graeme Dott, only for Dott to lose in the next round. Let’s just face it: it’s not going to happen.

So, there is probably only the World Championship remaining this season for Ronnie, provided he enters it. And he’s going to need to play more and get results next season to stay in the top 16 as he has a lot of points to defend.

What happened there? Well maybe the answer, or at least part of it, was revealed by his sister in an interview she gave to The Sun. Mark posted the link in the comments section of yesterday’s post (Shoot Out 2020 – Day 3) , and in my answer to Mark’s comment. It would also explain what happened at the Crucible last April.

Ronnie has looked edgy and anxious for most of the season, and if there are indeed off the table issues related to the family situation, it’s not surprising. Being privately happy and at peace is important and, when we are not, it impacts every aspect of our lives, including at work. We have had many examples over the years in snooker, most recently affecting Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, Barry Hawkins and Shaun Murphy amongst the top players. And there are many more, hitting lower ranked players, we rarely hear about …

So that’s how things stand. There is nothing that we can do about it, except hoping that whatever issues Ronnie is facing, they will be resolved soon, and he’ll be happy and at peace again. That’s the most important thing.

As for the Crucible, should he enter, one factor that might help him, is that this year he won’t be favourite and the media attention and fans expectations will be on others: Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy being the obvious “targets”.

Ronnie was on the counter for the afternoon review…




2020 Shoot Out – Day 3

The last 64 round, played yesterday in Watfort, saw more big names depart, including Ronnie.

Here is the report by WST:

World number 111 Billy Castle scored a second round victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan on a day of surprise results at the BetVictor Shoot Out in Watford.

The field is reduced from 32 to one on Sunday, with the winner to take the £50,000 top prize at snooker’s unique one-frame knockout tournament.

O’Sullivan’s natural fluency made him a strong contender for the title, but he missed several chances early in the frame against Castle. And when the Rocket failed to escape from a snooker, his opponent compiled a break of 43 which proved enough. Castle now meets Luo Honghao in the third round

O’Sullivan’s place at next week’s Coral Players Championship in Southport is under threat – he is clinging on to 16th place in the one-year rankings but there are nine players who can still leapfrog him.

There were thrills and spills galore on day three at the Colosseum, not least in Brandon Sargeant’s win over Ali Carter. A break of 63 looked to be enough for Carter, but Sargeant got the chance he needed with four minutes to go and made 61 before missing a tricky cut on the final black. After a safety exchange, world number 115 Sargeant rolled the black into a baulk corner for victory.

World number 83 Ashley Carty caused another upset as he knocked out three-time World Champion Mark Williams. Trailing 47-0 with two minutes to go, Williams sprinted around the table in making a break of 43, but missed a tough red to a centre pocket with ten seconds on the clock.

Three amateur players are still in the draw: Ross Bulman who beat Andrew Pagett, Dean Young who saw off Liam Highfield, and Aaron Hill who scored a superb win over Kyren Wilson thanks to a run of 47.

Two-time Shoot Out runner-up Xiao Guodong made a 101 to beat Ashley Hugill and he is one of ten Chinese players through to the third round.

One of those, 16-year-old Lei Peifan, scored a dramatic win over Kurt Maflin, who trailed 28-30 in the closing seconds and didn’t have enough time to pot the brown before the cue ball stopped rolling.

Ryan Day’s match with Joe Perry also went down to the wire, as Day came from 43-1 down to set up a winning chance, only to miss the last red when he needed two pots for victory.

Defending champion Thepchaiya Un-Nooh was beaten by Peter Lines while Anthony Hamilton made a late break of 39 to get the better of David Gilbert. Welsh Open champion Shaun Murphy made a 62 to beat Alexander Ursenbacher.

Here is how things stand regarding the Players Championship race (Matt Huart):

Below are the 20 players who went into this week’s BetVictor Shoot Out still with a chance of breaking into the top 16 of the one-year ranking list and earning a spot at next week’s Coral Players Championship in Southport.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, having been knocked out of the Shoot Out in the second round, is in 16th place with £97,500 but not yet sure of his spot in Southport.

17th – Gary Wilson – £91,000 (needed semi-final minimum) – knocked out first round
18th – Tom Ford – £83,250 (final minimum) – knocked out first round
19th – Jack Lisowski – £82,750 (final minimum)
20th – Zhou Yuelong – £80,250 (final minimum)
21st – Zhao Xintong – £73,250 (title minimum) – knocked out second round
22nd – Kurt Maflin – £72,000 (title minimum) – knocked out second round
23rd – Ali Carter – £71,500 (title minimum) – knocked out second round
24th – Barry Hawkins – £68,250 (title minimum)
25th – Matt Selt – £65,250 (title minimum) – knocked out first round
26th – Liang Wenbo – £63,500 (title minimum)
27th – Xiao Guodong – £62,500 (title minimum)
28th – Stuart Bingham – £62,500 (title minimum) – knocked out first round
29th – Matthew Stevens – £62,250 (title minimum) – knocked out second round
30th – Scott Donaldson – £62,250 (title minimum) – knocked out first round
31st – Michael Holt – £52,000 (title minimum)
32nd – Anthony McGill – £50,500 (title minimum)
33rd – Li Hang – £50,500 (title minimum)
34th – Ben Woollaston – £50,250 (title minimum)
35th – Luca Brecel – £49,000 (title minimum) – knocked out first round
36th – Ricky Walden – £47,750 (title minimum) – knocked out first round

A win yesterday would have taken McGill, Li Hang and Woollaston out of the equation, but there was no win…

The last 32 draw is good and bad news, depending how you want to look at it:

Zhou Yuelong v Jack Lisowski
Liang Wenbo v Anthony McGill
Barry Hawkins v Ben Woollaston

This means that three of the remaining nine will certainly go out in the last 32 round, but it also means the three will certainly reach the last 16 round. The first match though  guarantees that only one player will temain the the draw that would not need the title to push Ronnie out of the one year top 16.

Yesterday results also mean that, provided Ronnie keeps his 16th spot, he will certainly face Judd Trump first round in Southport, a very hard draw, but probably the best chance to beat him as Judd tends to get stronger as tournaments progress.

Regarding the match it self, here it is:

Yes, Ronnie missed a couple at the start, as did Billy  BTW. Actually, except for the first black maybe, none of those missed balls were easy, especially when you are playing in this environment and struggle for concentration. The noise was really deafening. In the session preview, ES showed Ronnie being interviewed by Rachel (ES) and telling her how difficult it is to concentrate whilst keeping track of the clock, of the scores, and of what’s the situation on the table. You can hear him here:

Eventually the early misses were irrelevant. Billy won because he laid an excellent snooker, of which Ronnie could not escape, because of the ball in hand rule, and because he held himself together and constructed  an excellent break when it mattered. He deserved the win, and good luck to him from here on!

The ball in hand rule is very harsh. In this case Ronnie played the right shot: he tried to nestle on left side of the red closest to the left side “black pocket” (as we look on TV). That wasn’t a big target. Under normal circumstances it would probably  have gone back – he had not left anything really easy – and there was a good chance for him to get it right on second time asking. With ball in hand for his opponent, it was his last telling shot. There have been plenty of other examples in this tournament. Actually Ronnie would have been better off with trying to hit one in the little cluster in the middle of the table. He would probably have left something, but unlikely to be as easy as when the opponent can put the cue ball anywhere they like on the table, and he would not have given Billy 7 points in penalty. But snooker players don’t think that way … this is a “pool” rule.

Other than that, the day produced one of the best and most satisfactory frames of the season … here are extended highlights of it

And this extraordinary, but ultimately vain, effort by Mark Williams

That’s called panache!

Now some mild stat attacks…

There are only three top 16 players remaining in the event – Shaun Murphy, Barry Hawkins and Jack LIsowski and there are still three amateurs in the draw – Aaron Hill, Dean Young and Ross Bulman – three teenagers.

There are 22 professional players from China on tour, roughly one in six, and 10 of them are still in the draw, that’s roughly one in three. they are doing well in this format.