Alexander Ursenbacher has pulled out of the Matchroom.Live Championship League due to travel problems.
Switzerland’s top player Ursenbacher was due to play in Group Eight in Milton Keynes on Saturday June 6th, but was unable to arrange travel to the UK so has decided to withdraw.
He has been directly replaced in the draw by Thor Chuan Leong. Click here for the updated match schedule.
The tournament runs from June 1st to 11th. Fans can watch it from anywhere in the world – for details click here.
Unfortunately this might happen to many “international” players whenever the World Qualifiers take place, provided they do take place. Even if nobody gets relegated this time, it might be a heavy handicap for those who would be in danger of relegation next season, or with a lot of points to defend, especially as the season is likely to be a “lighter” one, with less events than usual in recent years.
Neal Foulds and Stephen Hendry had a chat on Instagram a few days ago and one of the topics they discussed was Ronnie’s chances to win another World title.
This is Eurosport report on that conversation:
Did this defeat end O’Sullivan’s hopes of breaking Hendry world title record?
Ronnie O’Sullivan has never recovered from losing 18-14 to Mark Selby in the 2014 World Championship final, according to Neal Foulds.
Eurosport pundit Foulds feels O’Sullivan has failed to cope with the pressure of the sport’s key event after blowing a 10-5 lead against Selby when he looked certain to win a sixth world title six years ago – an outcome that would have left him one short of Stephen Hendry’s record Crucible haul.
The five-times champion has recently complained about the media demands of the game and concedes he does not enjoy the World Championship’s elongated format with a top-16 seed needing to win 71 frames over 17 days in Sheffield to claim the title.
The Essex player has twice reached the quarter-finals in 2015 and 2017, but has only won six matches at the venue in the past five years including a quite dreadful 10-8 defeat to amateur qualifier James Cahill in the first round a year ago when six-times winner Steve Davis accused him of taking liberties with the game.
Foulds feels O’Sullivan – champion in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2013 – could have “one more in him,” but is not overly confident that the 44-year-old is green baize icon is up to the challenge of coping with the Crucible.
“He can definitely win it, but the pressure seems to get him to these days,” said Foulds on Instagram.
“When he played James Cahill last year, he played some odd shots in that match in that opening session.
“It is like he’s not really relishing being back there.
“Winning it five times is not bad if you don’t like it. When he lost that final to Selby in 2014, he’s not been the same player since then.
“He’s not been back to the one-table set-up (of the semi-finals and final).”
O’Sullivan has not won a ranking event in the UK since picking up the Tour Championship in March 2019 and has dropped out of the world’s top 16 on the one-year list with his lack of commitment to tournament play catching up with him.
This year’s delayed event is due to start on Friday July 31 and is likely to be played behind closed doors due to the global health crisis with the final concluding on Sunday 16 August.
“If the World Championship had happened in April, he had his best chance for three years because the pressure in a strange way was off him I felt,” said former world number three Foulds.
“The fact that he had quite a bad season, he hadn’t done much at all.
“I think he might have one more in him because I still think he is..if he is not the best player, he is still in the top three.
“Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and one or two others, but he is up there.”
Hendry feels it is astonishing O’Sullivan has endured such a baffling barren run.
“I find it astounding someone as good as him has not won it for seven years,” said Hendry. “He obviously doesn’t like the long slog of it.”
There is absolutely no doubt that that defeat to Mark Selby did hurt badly and left scars. However far too much has been made from that defeat to James Cahill. For a start, it was clear that Ronnie wasn’t well during that match. Matt Huart reported that he clearly didn’t look his usual self during the post-match press conference. It later transpired that a combination of poor health and private issues had contributed to produce a poor performance. Next, James Cahill, sure enough, was an amateur, but he had been a pro for four years before, and, during that same season, as an amateur, at the UK championship, he had beaten Mark Selby in the first round. He also pushed Stephen Maguire to a decider in the next round at the Crucible.
Let’s remember that there are only 4 players every year who get to the one-table set-up at the Crucible. When Ronnie lost to Stuart Bingham and to Ding, he lost to the better player. He wasn’t playing badly at all himself, the other guy just played better. Bingham went on to lift the trophy, Ding narrowly lost to Mark Selby who was on his way to a third title in four years.
That said, Ronnie has made no secret of the fact that he doesn’t like the 17 days long event. He also doesn’t like the cramped space during the early rounds. There are always a lot of expectations on him, and demands from the media and sponsors. That does not help either. He’s probably got more of that than any other player and it’s been going on since he turned pro nearly 28 years ago. That’s a lot to cope with for anyone, nevermind a person with well documented mental health issues.
Ronnie O’Sullivan can easily catch Judd Trump but he’s got to be all in, says Michael Holt
Phil HaighWednesday 27 May 2020
Ronnie O’Sullivan can climb the mountain once again and once again be seen as the most dominant force in snooker, but he has to fully commit to the task, believes Michael Holt.
The Rocket was rising high at number one in the world rankings in April last year, heading into the World Championship as the favourite to win it with the bookmakers.
However, a first round exit to James Cahill and a failure to win a ranking event since has coincided with the remarkable rise of Judd Trump to the top of the sport.
The Bristolian won the World Championship and has picked up six ranking titles since, cementing his spot as the best player in the game right now, while Ronnie is reeling at number six in the world.
Holt, who triumphed in a ranking event himself this season at the Shoot Out, feels 44-year-old O’Sullivan can haul in his younger rival, but he must be fully dedicated to the tour again, physically and emotionally.
‘There are players that can challenge Judd, Neil [Robertson]’s doing his best to try and catch him,’ Holt told Metro.co.uk.
‘If Ronnie wants to dedicate himself again, and not just playing but he’s got to be emotionally all in, then he could easily start catching Judd because he’s so amazing.
‘Ronnie’s strike rate for what he wins to what he enters…at one stage it’s like he was winning four out of five events he played. He was either winning it or losing in the final, everything he played in, he can do that again.’
O’Sullivan has been something of a part-time player in recent years, skipping multiple events on the WST calendar, which has possibly cost him success in the big events.
The five-time world champion has stated that he wants to return to a full-time schedule for the next two years, for one last crack at glory, and Holt believes this would be sensational news for the sport.
‘He has been retiring since he was 18,’ said the Hitman. ‘The first time I heard him say he was retiring, the year after he won the UK when he was 17, he lost and said he’s retiring. That was the first time I can remember him saying it.
‘Ever since, then he’s played snooker a lot, because to get that good you have to play a lot, don’t let anyone tell you different. But he’s talked about how much he hates it.
‘It’s a strange one because he’s got enough money to sit on a beach for the rest of his life with a Pina Colada.I think when he says he don’t love it, when you think about it logically, it’s not true.
‘It’s great news if he’s coming back full-time, it’ll be great if he plays.
‘Everybody wants to see, unless you’re playing him, a focused Ronnie O’Sullivan playing well because he’s unbelievable at the game, he’s incredible.
‘The way he’s changed his game and created the game he’s got is amazing. Anybody who plays the game can see that, and anyone who doesn’t play the game can. It’s good for the game, he’s box office.’
The Rocket is showing some renewed commitment by playing at the Championship League next week, behind closed doors in Milton Keynes, before he returns to the Crucible for the World Championship starting on 31 July.
Ronnie has won the big one five times but not since 2013, not going beyond the quarter-finals since losing the 2014 final to Mark Selby.
Holt believes the great pressure of the World Championship can wound even the greatest player, but is loathed to say the Rocket has failed on the biggest stage, given his successes there and the calibre of his opponents.
‘The thing about Sheffield is that it can be a leveller as far as everybody wants to win as much as they can want to win and everybody’s as nervous as they can be,’ Holt continued.
‘Sometimes you play Ronnie O’Sullivan in some tournament and it’s like he’s down the club. The World Championship is different because puts everyone under pressure and he might falter because the end of the day, as much as he doesn’t look it at times, he is a human being, he’s got emotions and feelings like the rest of us.
‘He’s still got a great record there, its not like he’s failed. And there’s some other great players around as well.
‘As amazing and brilliant as he is, he’s not guaranteed to win all the time. Sometimes when Ronnie O’Sullivan loses there’s a massive inquest: is he focused? Is he not trying? Which is ridiculous.
‘Maybe he just got beat by another great player, there’s some other brilliant players about who are really good and can beat anyone on their day.
‘Mark Selby beat him in the World Championship final and people said, ‘what happened there?’ What happened there was Mark Selby stood up to him and Ronnie went. End of story. He’s a human being and Mark’s an amazing player.
’ O’Sullivan’s unbelievable best sees him judged by standards that others are not, and while he might not have been at the peak of his power this season, Holt wouldn’t mind being in his shoes.
‘He’s still the greatest player there’s ever been,’ said Michael. ‘He’s done alright.
‘He’s a victim of his own success because the standard he can play at at times, you can’t see him losing, so when he does…he’s still doing alright, he’s still way above most people in the rankings.
‘Because he’s not winning all the big events people say he’s gone. I’d love to be that gone next year.’
This is a great assessment of the reality behind being Ronnie O’Sullivan, and the weight of expectations he’s carrying for almost 30 years.
I have highlighted a few bits, that I find particularly relevant.
When the World Championship will start end July – if it does – Ronnie will not be a favourite and the media focus will be on Judd Trump. That might help Ronnie big time actually. Fewer expectations, less media attention, less pressure. We shall see. I’m not carried away. The first rounds will be difficult; they always are, especially for the seeds, and it’s impossible to predict how the very unusual circumstances will affect the players. Different individuals will react differently, and the players themselves have probably no idea how they will feel and how they will cope.
In part one of a recent interview with Rex Williams by our friends at World Billiards, he explained how he first got into billiards and snooker, and the great potential he showed at a very early age. Rex made his first billiards century after just three months, and his first 500 break after three years.
The interview continues by asking him more about his greatest moments in the professional game, how he mixed both billiards and snooker, and his advice for aspiring players.
What was your most memorable World Billiards Championship win?
“The first one would have to be the most memorable one, when I beat Clark McConachy in New Zealand in 1968. McConachy was an elderly man then but still a terrific player.
The heyday of billiards was before the war. The five greatest players in the game were Walter Lindrum, Joe Davis, Clark McConachy, Tom Newman and Willie Smith. There were many other great players but those were the best. Davis and McConachy came the closest to Lindrum.
It was week’s match and very tight. We played two, two-hour sessions each day. The conditions very much suited Clark, they didn’t suit me. Clark was brought up on very slow tables because of the nursery cannons. With the present cloth today, you wouldn’t play nursery cannons, they are too fast, and you wouldn’t hold them together.”
“It was slow cushions and slow cloth. If you put up a long in-off, with the red around the centre spot or just towards Baulk, you could not play the in-off and get the red back around the table, the table was so slow. The only way you could play it was off two cushions to leave the red by the pyramid spot. This made it very difficult for me and I didn’t play anything like I could have played if it was on the conditions that I was used to playing on, but of course we were playing in New Zealand and that was how it was set up.”
After defeating Fred Davis to win the 1983 World Billiards Championship, Rex then put his full efforts into snooker, but in 1995 made an impressive comeback at the British Open Billiards Championship. At 61 years of age, his best years were behind him by his own admission. However, in this event, the game’s leading stars Geet Sethi and Mike Russell were taught a lesson by the ‘vintage’ Rex Williams, as he rolled back the years on the way to the final.
“This [1983 final] actually was the final time I played billiards and I hadn’t played for a long time until I played in the British Open Championship losing to Peter Gilchrist in the final.
I was only a shadow of a player I’d been, but I still thought I could do something even then.”
What were your highest breaks in competition and practice?
“My best break in practice was 1174. When I used to play billiards, I only used to practice billiards for about two weeks before playing in the championship. I honestly couldn’t tell you what my highest break in competition was, but I made several 500-600 breaks. Although I can tell you that when I played Jack Karnehm for a week at Chelmsford, I averaged 85, which was quite an average. This was the only time I played Jack, and Jack was a great player.
I made the second 147 break in South Africa in Cape Town, this was recognised as the joint record at the time with Joe Davis. These were the only two recognised 147’s that I am aware of, that were made with the old, heavy Crystalate balls.”
What were your best memories from snooker?
“I was a bit unfortunate with snooker because by the time we played at the Crucible, I was 44 years of age then, there had been nothing played really for years and my best years had gone.
I resurrected the World Snooker Championship in 1964 and it was played on a challenge basis. The first challenge was John Pulman against Fred Davis. John beat Fred and then he beat him again. Then I played John twice and he beat me twice.
I made the highest break in the World Snooker Championship against Fred Davis when I was about 21, I made 141. Then I beat that in South Africa when I made 142 and those were the championship records at the time.”
How did you mix both snooker and billiards, in terms of practice and cue action required?
“When I came into the game, I was a natural billiards player, but I spent most of my time playing snooker. During my snooker years I was probably only playing billiards 5% of my time whereas snooker was 95%. Fred Davis was also a natural billiards player. John Pulman was a good billiards player.
There are certain players who play snooker that would never be able to play billiards because of their cue action. There are certain players who could play billiards but who have probably never played. Ronnie [O’Sullivan] has the cue action to suit billiards perfectly. Jimmy White also has the cue action that would suit billiards perfectly.
Joe Davis was such a great billiards player but his cue action suited snooker also. Joe developed snooker. I played Joe a lot, and people often don’t realise what a great player he was.”
In general, do you think playing snooker helps a player’s billiard game? Did it benefit your billiards, in terms of honing your cueing and potting?
“It’s the other way around actually. The cue action of billiards helps a snooker player, you need that good follow through. The action of Ronnie O’Sullivan and the touch of Jimmy White would suit billiards down to the ground, and there would be other players too.
I was criticised once or twice for refusing to take a pot on at the top of the table, because I was not confident of taking the pot on, but that was complete and utter rubbish! The most dangerous shot on the table is a pot. An in-off is a piece of cake, a cannon is a piece of cake – it’s knowing where you’re going to knock the balls is the important thing – but you can always miss a pot. If you watch a player who is a good top of the table player, they’ll take a little more time on the pot. The pot can always be missed. You avoid your pots if you can. You don’t want to be playing too many pots off the spot if you are far away. You want to be playing a nice little cannon, pushing the red towards the pocket to leave an easier pot.
Generally speaking, with today’s billiards player, they would still be able to play snooker, but it doesn’t necessarily work the other way around.”
When you were practising billiards, what areas would you usually focus on?
“I would always start my practice with red ball. I would get the cue-ball and hit it up the spots. I would hit it below centre, centre, and then top, and hit it at a fair speed to try and make sure you hit the cue-ball where you are aiming to. Then I would go onto my red ball and practice that for a while, and then go on to top of the table.”
Is there any advice you would give to aspiring billiard players looking to improve their game?
In terms of getting to the top of the table: “The dangerous shot that gets you to the top of the table is the drop cannon. I always preferred to get the two object balls below the centre spot so that I could play in-off into the centre to drop the white behind the spot, and then pot red and go to top of the table. That’s a more certain way of getting to the top but you can’t always do it that way.”
“Your drop cannons are coming into it all the time. A lot of people think when you are playing a drop cannon, that you’re trying to put the white behind the spot and push the red towards the pocket. That’s wrong, I never did that. The way to play a drop cannon is to drop the three balls together, you know you will have another shot. If you try and push the red towards the pocket, it’s got to be very accurate and it can go wrong.
Playing to bring the red ball back to the middle of the table [on a long loser] is very dangerous, because the red could come around and catch the jaw of the middle pocket. If you catch the first jaw you could knock the red into Baulk, or you could knock it into the centre pocket. The way to play that shot is to play it a bit thicker than you would normally play it and bring it near the pyramid spot, and then play it back up. This is a much safer way. What you must always do in billiards, and snooker, is play the safest possible way.
The backbone of billiards is the red ball. It doesn’t matter how good you are at top of the table; you’ve got to be a good red ball player to get the balls there. Also, when you lose them at the top, you’ve got to break up into open play and then get them back. You’ve got to be able to play red ball. Every great billiards player that’s ever lived has had to be a great red ball player.
The important thing is hitting the centre of the cue-ball, you’ve got to hit that consistently. You’ve got to have a good, solid stance. You’ve got to keep your head still, if your head moves then everything moves, and you’ve got to get a nice follow through.
Sorry for the late publishing. A few things happened in the world that caught my attention… I postponed it, then forgot about it. Thanks Lewis for the reminder!
Championship League Snooker is too soon, I don’t want to add to the problem, says Anthony Hamilton
Phil Haigh Thursday 28 May 2020
All credit to tournament organisers for getting Championship League Snooker on next week, but the event should not be going ahead yet, believes Anthony Hamilton.
The veteran cueman, who has been a professional since 1991, is sitting out of the behind closed doors event in Milton Keynes because he does not want the country to rush out of coronavirus lockdown.
64 players will compete in the Championship League from 1-11 June and they will do so in a highly steralised environment, with all players, staff and officials requiring a negative test for coronavirus to enter the venue.
Hamilton is impressed by the steps taken to ensure safety by WST chairman Barry Hearn and his team, but he still feels that lockdown should be respected rather than pushing for a way out of it.
‘It’s just a personal thing, I just think it’s too early to be going back to semi-normality, playing sports,’ the world number 48 told Metro.co.uk. ‘I think we should be in lockdown for another few weeks, a month or two, because obviously we need to get rid of this pandemic as quick as possible.
‘I have got asthma so I’m semi into the danger zone personally, but I think I’d be the same anyway, it’s just too early.
‘It’s amazing what Barry’s done, how he’s got ahead of the curve a little bit, to get sport on the TV, I think it’s a bit of a genius move from him. He knows how much people are missing sport at home, so that’s good for the sport.
‘I’ve had the emails about all the procedures about all the testing, the isolation at the hotel, everyone in the venue has been tested and is clear, it’s as safe an environment as they could have got. I was very impressed. It took me an hour to read it all.
‘It did bring me round a little bit but I thought to myself, “I don’t need to play in this tournament, especially at my age, there’s no ranking points, so no losing out to the rest of the tour.” I thought it would be a little bit greedy of me to play in it, the position I’m in now.
‘I also had a little word with myself because when I went over to the Gibraltar Open in March, pre-lockdown but I thought we shouldn’t be going. I was sat on the plane thinking, “we shouldn’t be going, we should be in lockdown” because it was all happening in Italy and fate played a part because that’s where my cue got broken.
‘I don’t believe in fate, right, but that was fate saying I shouldn’t have been going. I’ve had that cue 30-odd years and it snaps on the one time I thought I shouldn’t have been on the plane. As soon as I got back from Gibraltar, I went into lockdown because we thought we should be.
’ Miraculously, master cue-maker John Parris has fixed Anthony’s cue after it’s heartbreaking snap en route to Spain and he is heading to pick it up for the first time in the coming days.
That will lift his mood which has been darkened by events over the last three months. Not usually a politically-charged observer, Hamilton has been riled by the government’s response to the global pandemic, which has strengthened his resolve to remain in lockdown.
‘It’s pathetic, the most pathetic governing I’ve ever seen, I’ll be honest,’ said the former German Masters champion. ‘The fact we had all the information previously and we didn’t react properly is an indictment on this government and how they don’t give a s**t about the public.
‘None of us are scientists, but we know how a virus spreads. You hoped that what they were doing was going to be right, but you knew in your heart they were making a massive hash of it, trying to save the economy.
‘That’s part of the reason I’m not playing in this tournament because I don’t want to add to that personally, add to that rhetoric of not doing the right thing.
‘I’m not shouting anyone down for playing in tournaments, it’s up to the individual circumstances, I just don’t want to add to it.
‘I try and steer as clear from politics as possible to keep you sane. I don’t see this as politics, because when it’s human lives it’s more than that, it’s your duty.
‘There’s so many vulnerable people that we’re losing, it’s scandalous and it’s more of a human thing than a political thing, for me. Whoever is in power, we rate them on their performance, which is a political thing, but I wish we had someone better so we would have lost less lives. I’m not left or right, we just need someone better.
‘I think it’s scandalous in the West because they’ve gone for money over lives. If it was young people dying they wouldn’t have responded this way, but the old and vulnerable have been sacrificed. I can’t believe the ruthlessness of it all. “Herd immunity” was the fancy word for culling off an older community, they knew who was going to be the herd.’
Hamilton has seen it all in his near-30 year playing career and is happy to speak his mind as an elder statesman of the game.
At 48-years-old he believes the tour is in as good a position as it ever has been, but still feels there are problems that can be ironed out, if players are listened to.
‘It’ll be good to watch something next week on the TV.. I’m often a critic of Barry and this and that, but there’s not a bad word to be said about the procedures they’ve put in place.
‘It’s just day to day issues on tour. Players don’t get treated that well these days, a lot of fines for no reason or very small reasons. I’ve got issues with pulling out of tournaments with a bad back and neck, which is chronic spinal erosion, but it seems that every time I do it’s taken on as a brand new case.
‘I’m blatantly trying to play in all the tournaments, I don’t want to pull out. I know why they bring in rules, because certain players have dropped out last minute taking the piss, big name players, but I think some common sense is missing.
‘It’s a stressed out situation every single time when you have to pull out of a tournament then you have to go to a doctor and get a new certificate every single time, send it off, wait to see if you get fined or not. It’s just a bit tiring,
‘The running of the game can be a little bit too harsh sometimes. But generally, if I was 27, fit as a fiddle and loving life, I wouldn’t believe how good things were, with all the opportunities.
‘There was a time when if you said things in the right way, things would be implemented and your views get across, but that doesn’t happen with Barry at all. He won’t listen to anything from individuals unless it’s something he wants to hear. But he gets the results in the end.’
Hamilton has one ranking title to his name after winning the German Masters in 2017, an emotional victory in Berlin after such a long wait.
Despite a lack of silverware in his cabinet, he is extremely well respected among other players and has come up over lockdown as snooker observers consider various debates with no sport to watch.
Three-time world champion Mark Williams considers Hamilton one of his favourite players to watch in the game, while Alan McManus picked him out as the player he has been most surprised never reached the elite of the sport.
The Sheriff of Pottingham (snooker’s single greatest nickname) is delighted to hear the praise from the people with opinions that matter to him.
‘I think we all know who gets respected between us, without ever hearing it first hand,’ said Hamilton. ‘You’re not going to go up to another pro and tell them how good you think you are, because you’ve got to beat them tomorrow.
‘It is nice, though, because it makes it worthwhile, getting recognised by your peers. I hear people in some sports getting bothered by what the public think, which I don’t understand, it’s like a brain surgeon getting upset about me slagging them off, I don’t know anything about it. So respect from your peers is great.
‘The way people work in sports is a bit weird because they think there’s only one or two winners. If you went to someone who’s broken their leg and said “this consultant is the 47th best in the world” they wouldn’t stop talking about it at dinner parties for years. Talk about the 47th best snooker player in the world and people think you’re a bag of shit.
‘Sports is like that, it’s the way people look at it. Rightfully so in a way, to revere the best ones. But I think anyone you see on TV doing what they do are absolute machines. There are levels above them that are semi-Gods, but everyone is brilliant.’
At 48-years-old Hamilton is still playing good stuff, despite his severely restrictive injury which limits his practice and sees him focus on stretching and fitness as much as potting balls.
More silverware is certainly not out of the question, but whether it comes or not, the veteran refuses to have regrets about a career which he has thoroughly enjoyed and is appreciating more and more as the years go on.
‘I’m not overly proud of my career when it comes to trophies, of course. But you shouldn’t have too many regrets,’ Anthony continued.
‘I lived a bit too much when I was in my prime, I was enjoying life. I don’t think you can enjoy it as much as I did and get the results at the same time.
‘As a cruel joke, as you get a bit older, more boring, more stable, and that’s when you get injured. It’s not gone perfectly for me but I’ve got no regrets because I’ve enjoyed it.
‘I’ve been in the top 10, top 16, 12 Crucible appearances and a few finals here and there. Also, just a lot of hard match snooker that you don’t see on the TV. A lot of my favourite matches have been untelevised in some sports hall round the corner.
‘World Championship losses and wins, things that haven’t been seen but will live with my till my last breath. That’s why I play snooker, for the competition. It’s for the good and bad memories, some of the bad memories are my favourite ones.
‘Some of my favourite memories are losses because the match itself was just amazing, both players at the top of their game and someone just has to come out on the wrong end of it.
‘There’s nowhere to hide, that’s why we love and hate snooker. It’s really medieval. Over the years I used to dislike a lot of snooker players but now I think they’re a dying breed of sportsperson, I think they’re really cool.
‘They work hard for not the most amazing prize money. It’s alright, better than a lot of jobs. But they work hard at a game that really doesn’t give you a lot of enjoyment.
‘It’s a tortuous thing to do and every single time they go to a tournament, all but one player comes away pissed off and you do that for 30 years. There’s no glamour, if you’re in the sport for that, you’re in the wrong sport. That’s why a lot of players don’t last that long, they get to a point and think it’s not enough.
‘The ones that last, like me, [Barry] Pinches, McManus are maybe a bit more crazy and sad than the ones that chucked it in.
’ As with many snooker players, Hamilton has a complicated relationship with the game that he has made his life. It is his chief source of frustration while also being his greatest passion and his job. After thinking about it, he does still have a great love for the game, forged through respect for the sheer difficulty of it.
‘Yeah I do, I do actually, I try and tell myself sometimes I don’t, but I do love the game. There’s nothing more humbling than playing this game, the game always wins, it’s so hard,’ concluded Hamilton.
‘That’s why we revere Ronnie [O’Sullivan] so much, because he makes this game look so easy.
‘If it was curling or something you couldn’t have the same admiration. Of course the best curler in the world is something special but there’s so many variations to this game, it’s unbelievable.’
Respect Anthony! Respect for saying those things, simply, and clearly, be it about the current pandemics and the way it’s (not) been tackled, about the current governance of the sport, the good and less good of it, about his own career, or about his sport that he loves and hates, a sport that tortures him whilst making him ecstatic, frustrates him but keeps him hooked. Snooker is a passion. It’s like a lover … the kind of lover you can’t live with without suffering, but can’t break away from because your love is too strong and they’re part of your soul.
Next time a player loses it in a post-match conference, minutes after being beaten, or maybe even after a win, but mentally and emotionally exhausted after a tortuous – or torturous – game, please remember what Antony says here, remember that they are human.
Thank you Anthony, and thank you Phil Haig too, for this fantastic piece.
davehendon · Snooker Scene Podcast episode 109 – Any Other Business
It’s all very interesting, but the first part is particularly relevant to the current situation. Here is what I grabbed from it.
The Riga Masters has been canceled.
The flat draw is coming into question: we could see a return of the tier draw, especially for Chinese events. Of course, that raises the question of Chinese players having to come to the UK to qualify for their own home events. That’s never been right anyway, but the current situation makes it even more unfair. The Home Nations themselves could have some sort of qualifiers. Part of the problem with the flat draw – with non-UK players having to travel to the UK, and, in general, all players having to travel wherever events are happening – are of course the mandatory quarantine time and the current travel restrictions in general: the logistics around it with 128 players is an issue, obviously, and the time it costs between consecutive events if played in different countries also means that the calendar has to be restructured completely. Anyway, I would welcome a return of the tier system because I strongly believe it’s a better system when it comes to young player’s development: opponents become gradually stronger as you progress through the tiers. It’s less brutal than the current system. The only thing that really should be put into place is streaming on most tables, from round one, not cubicles in Pontins in from a man and his dog. Young players deserve exposure, and many fans would love to watch them develop.
The Q-school is unlikely to happen. So there would be no relegation.
Also, the qualifiers of the World Championship could be shorted to the best of 11, just as a one-off. The players seem to be in favour of it. The format event at the Crucible would not be changed. I know that this will anger some fans, and I would hate to see it become a permanent feature, but, frankly, this year, I can’t see the qualifiers happening at all in their “normal” format. With all the measures that need to be put into place to guarantee players’ and everyone’s health and safety, it would take far too long and it would be very taxing mentally. So it’s basically having that or no World Championship.
Everyone is looking for solutions. For instance, Chinese players were talking with Jason Ferguson about having them all on the same flight, and quarantine together, maybe in a hotel, with tables installed for practice.
Another interesting part, is the one about players in the 80th, Steve Davis being the first “true professional”, and the importance of being adaptable as a player, in order to cope with whatever situation presents itself in matches.
Then there was a discussion about what treasures about the history of the game there are on Youtube. There were speaking about the mjt_snooker channel in particular. And they discussed how this is important to get new fans on board. Well, yes. but then Eurosport and WST have been chasing people putting snooker on Youtube on the ground of “rights issues”. You can’t have matches on Youtube, if people can’t upload them there, obviously. I personally believe that having them on Youtube attracts more people to the game, and ultimately brings them more customers, because, ultimately, once you get hooked to a sport, you want to watch it when it happens, and in the best quality available. I believe that they should put a clear policy into place, allowing it, under conditions: obviously one condition should be that those who do upload those videos are not making money off it, another could be that they would have to wait, say, 24 hours after the match/event before publication. Just an idea …
There are occasions in snooker and sporting history which leave an indelible mark on our minds. We are often guided through these iconic moments by eminently distinctive voices. The daunting role of providing these voices lies with the commentators…
Snooker’s now global prominence means that, along with a passionate core fanbase, there are an increasing number of viewers who are new to the sport. The role of the commentator is to inform and enhance the experience for both of these groups.
Certain commentators have gained legendary status within their chosen sports. The late Sid Waddell has the Darts World Championship trophy named in his honour, Murray Walker is known as the voice of Formula 1 and John Motson is synonymous with football’s Match of the Day.
The original voice of snooker was ‘Whispering’ Ted Lowe, known for his hushed tone and calm commentary style. Lowe sadly passed away in 2011, but his way of operating has influenced many of those who have followed him into the commentary box.
Lowe was behind the mic for snooker’s most famous match, the 1985 World Championship final. His simple utterance of the word ‘no’ when Steve Davis missed the final black in the decider, to hand Dennis Taylor the title, has reverberated throughout the sport’s history.
Current BBC commentator John Virgo has secured a reputation as one of snooker’s best. He admits that he tries to emulate Lowe by building the tension as a match ebbs and flows towards a climactic finish.
“I’ve got to be honest, Ted Lowe is the one who inspired me,” said 1979 UK Champion Virgo. “He was called ‘Whispering’ Ted because when he used to commentate on the Joe Davis matches at Leicester Square Hall, there was no sound proof commentary booth. He used to have to sit in there and keep his voice down, otherwise he would be heard. He set the tone for commentators on snooker.
“Snooker has its own niche. It isn’t like a football match and it isn’t like darts with all the noise going on. It has that hushed theatre-like feel to it. Theatre and drama are the imperative words for me. It reaches excitement levels which matches are constantly building towards. You want to portray that type of event rather than all the noise associated with other sports. Snooker crowds are selective in their responses and that builds a unique atmosphere. The Crucible Theatre epitomises that.”
In modern snooker it is rare that commentary is a one-person job. There are different ways in which the viewer needs to receive information. As a spectator the experience can be enhanced by both statistical context and expert opinion. The responsibility of providing the former lies with the lead commentator.
In the 1990s experienced snooker journalist and broadcaster Clive Everton picked up the mantel as the sport’s top lead commentator. He has been in the box for a number of snooker’s biggest matches, including Stephen Hendry’s record breaking seventh World Championship final win against Mark Williams in 1999.
One of Everton’s former protégés was David Hendon, Eurosport’s current head commentator. Hendon developed a vast knowledge of the sport through several years spent as a Press Officer for the WPBSA and then as a journalist. He still writes for Everton’s monthly magazine Snooker Scene.
Hendon, who away from snooker is also a playwright, believes that painting a narrative of the action enhances the experience for the viewer.
Hendon said: “It is about providing a context and a flow of information. People write it off as stats, but it is information. So long as you raise things at the right time it can help to create that storyline. For example, if a player is three up with four to play, it may be the case that they were in the same position three tournaments earlier and lost. If you can provide the right information to the viewer it may give an insight into how the player may be feeling and how the match may go.”
As well as helping onlookers digest the action in front of them, lead commentators must also be adept at guiding the television production between segments during play. They will have constant instructions from the production gallery coming through their headphones, telling them how long they have to speak, when an advert break will occur and when live coverage will resume.
“The thing to do is not panic,” Hendon added. “You Just need to speak clearly and learn to listen and talk at the same time. It is something you get used to I think. It is important to listen out for instructions, as plans can change very quickly. I did a Gibraltar Open match with Neal Foulds and just as we were about to sign off the producer told me that Judd Trump’s match would be taking place in 20 minutes and we would be doing it. We need to be aware of these things.
“The job in commentary is talking, you have to speak so there is no hiding. So much of it is about preparation and you can’t just simply walk in. The commentators in the lead role do a lot of research. I am the statistician for all of the TV companies anyway, so I prepare all of the player profiles. That goes in slightly through osmosis, so that definitely helps.”
The role of the analyst, or colour commentator, is usually given to ex or current professionals. Scotland’s 1994 Masters champion Alan McManus has garnered widespread acclaim for his enthusiastic and insightful style. McManus is well known for divulging his opinion on the psyche of the competitors and giving his thoughts on their approach during the game.
McManus said: “When I first started I would make simplistic statements like, he’s potted that blue and now the red at the bottom of the pack goes. Everyone can see that, you don’t need to say it. You have to try to think about the viewer as much as you can. That is difficult when you are just in a small box with one other guy. You have to get your head round the fact that whatever you say is going out to half a million people or more. You need to accept that and think about what to tell them. I tend to watch the guys not so much when they are playing a shot, but when they are in their chair, and analyse their demeanour. I think you can get a clue to how they are feeling.
“I’m a snooker fan. I get genuinely excited. Sometimes I must admit that the pressure you feel as a player inside your tummy, I can feel that in the commentary box. I get really nervous for the guy that is playing the shot. John Virgo is similar in that regard and we have done matches together at the Crucible where we were both jumping around the commentary box and getting quite emotional. It is very easy to over-speak. The best tip you can get is to put the mic down when you aren’t talking. It sounds simplistic, but you then need to have something worth saying before you turn it back on again.
“I actually really enjoy preparing for it. I’ll almost always go into the press room early before a match and jot down a few things. When I look at some of the lead commentators, like David Hendon, Phil Yates and Clive Everton, their preparation is superb. Commentating with Clive was great, I really looked forward to his opening gambit. When the handshake was done and the players were about to break off, I would always wonder what he was going to say. I would try to predict what he was going to come out with and I would never get it right. He comes out with some brilliant statements.”
There is plenty more as well. It’s a long one but well worth the listen!
Barry Hearn says World Snooker Championship will be SCRAPPED if it can’t be held on July 31, and reveals secure measures for return of UK snooker
By Joe Moore
27th May 2020
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has revealed to talkSPORT this year’s World Snooker Championship will be SCRAPPED if it can’t be held on July 31.
talkSPORT host Andy Goldstein presents Eurosport’s snooker coverage, and he caught up with Hearn on Tuesday night’s Sports Bar.
The world championship, snooker’s most prestigious event held at the famous Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, is scheduled for July 31 – August 16.
The event attracts players from all over the world, with 128 players from across the globe involved in the tournament’s qualifying rounds alone.
However, the UK’s current lockdown measures means anyone who entered the country from abroad must self-isolate for 14 days.
Hearn said he hopes the Government will reconsider those measures for top sportsmen, otherwise not only the snooker will be affected, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone could be, too.
But he has also revealed the date is not flexible and, if the current lockdown measures are not eased, it could mean this year’s championship is cancelled.
“There is no flexibility whatsoever,” Hearn told the Sports Bar.
“If it doesn’t happen that week it will be cancelled. It can’t happen this year. The broadcasters’ schedule is already set.
“It’s not just us. The same argument would apply to Formula One or whatever – you either do it or you don’t do it.”
Asked to confirm if it doesn’t happen on July 31 – August 16 then it won’t happen at all, Hearn replied: “You can take that as a 99 per cent yes. The reason I make it 99, is because you can never see 100 per cent on anything.”
Snooker is set to be the first sport to return from the UK’s coronavirus lockdown when the Championship League is held behind closed doors from next week.
The event, which will be played between June 1 and June 11 in Milton Keynes, will give sport fans a much-needed fix of live sporting action.
“We are buzzing, absolutely buzzing,” said Hearn.
“It is a terrible thing we are going through but as the lockdown has continued and you start getting used to lockdown, as a family we are just looking at new ideas. We are an event company with no events so we have to come up with ideas because what else is there to do?
“Between Eddie and his boxing plans for the back garden, darts at home from the players’ own living rooms, and now Championship League snooker being the first major sports event back post-shutdown, it’s motivating.
“It is easy to sit around on your backside and do nothing, but that is not our style. I’m really, really looking forward to action coming on ITV from Monday.”
The tournament will be played behind closed doors, with careful measures in place to ensure the health and safety of players, officials, media and other workers.
Hearn has admitted some players were ‘nervous’ about the prospect of playing again, but insisted ‘safety is paramount’ to their plans for snooker to return and believes they have created one of the safest environments in global sport.
Explaining the drastic measures in place, which involved all players being tested and then locked in hotel rooms, Heard explained:
“We started on this probably six or seven weeks ago.
“We starting getting a system in place aimed at making sure the players, my staff, the contractors, the TV guys, everybody involved was going to be safe.
“That took some time, and then we started talking to the players who are naturally nervous about coming out of their homes and mixing, so we had to make sure that safety was paramount.
“Getting everyone’s mind at rest was the biggest challenge, and we’ve come up with, without a doubt in my view, the most safe environment that you could possibly create, and I will go further and say the safest environment in sport, per say, across the world.
“We’re very fortunate because snooker is a game that can be played with social distancing, but we’re brought in a system where we have affectively created a bubble.
“We’re at the MK Dons Arena which has a hotel on site, we have exclusive use of the hotel, we have exclusive use of the venue.
As you arrive you get out of your car and are taken straight into isolation, you are tested, you’re then transferred from there to your hotel room which has been sanitised and empty for 72 hours to make sure there are no germs, and you are locked in your room and are not allowed out until the following day when your test results come in.
“If you’re negative then you’re allowed in the event, if you’re positive, you’re slung out and you’re not allowed back.
“Every single person in the place, from the kitchen staff to the cleaners, have been tested and also are in isolation for the entire 11 days of the event.
“So every single person in that building has been proven to be negative and they’re isolated and no one is allowed to leave the building for any reason whatsoever. It’s a completely secure bubble.
“So we’ve think we’ve gone as far as humanly possible, certainly further than any other sport.”
The tone of this interview, if correctly rendered by the article, tells me that Barry Hearn isn’t at all certain that the World Championship will actually be held. It’s obvious that the rather recent introduction of the “quarantine” for all people entering the UK potentially creates a major problem for the international players who need to qualify, and, Jason Ferguson, as WPBSA chairman, has made it clear that having the qualifiers, without about 40 of the players, unable to attend because they are not UK based, is a big no-no as far as he’s concerned. See this previous post. Jason wanted to sound confident, and he will certainly put every effort into this, but he’s facing a titan’s job.
Also, reading about the measures put into place, you have to wonder how players will cope mentally with the situation. I’m certain that some will find it extremely difficult. If something similar is to be replicated for the 17 days of the World Championship, and considering the much higher pressure players will be under given the status of the event, I would expect some dramatic meltdowns.
As Lewis pointed out in the commentary section, WST has been publishing a series of “Ones to watch” articles about young promising players. Reading this, it is very clear that, when it comes to young talents, Asia and Europe show more promises than the UK, which is good news for the sport, as it’s becoming truly international. However, that means that the UK centric attitude needs to go, and holding the World Championship with only the UK based players should not be an acceptable option.