Championship League Snooker 2020 (2) – Winners Week starts today

So this starts today …


Not exactly winners predictions but here goes…

Group A: expect Judd Trump, wish Barry Hawkins
Group B: expect Shaun Murphy, wish Zhou Yuelong or Shaun Murphy
Group C: expect Stuart Bingham, wish Alex Ursenbacher or Luo Honghao
Group D: expect Mark Selby, wish Graeme Dott or Mark Selby
Group E: expect Theppy, wish Theppy
Group F: expect Kyren Wilson, wish Scot Donaldson or Kyren Wilson
Droup G: expect John Higgins, wish Jamie Clarke or Martin Gould
Group H: expect Joe Perry, wish Mark Davis

Matt Huart’s view on the dominating players over the last three decades

Matt Huart looks at the class of 92, and how the likes of Mark Selby and Neil Robertson compare to them:

A Class Apart?

With each passing year, the legend of snooker’s ‘Class of ’92’ – Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams – grows ever larger as the legendary trio continue to compete at the very highest level of our sport.

But what of another notable duo who have also gone on to enjoy sustained success over a 15-year period? Below we consider the achievements of Mark Selby and Neil Robertson and ask whether they are underestimated when ranking snooker’s all-time greats.

With the dominance of Steve Davis still fresh in the memory and a new star in the form of Stephen Hendry in the midst of his golden era, the early 1990s would usher in a new generation of players, many of whom continue to compete to a high standard some 30 years on.

Of those, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams in particular have made an indelible mark upon our sport, sharing a combined 89 ranking event titles between them, including 13 of the last 23 World Championship crowns won. The trio have long since earned their places in snooker’s hall of fame and remain firmly ranked within the world’s top 16.

But while the Class of ’92 are perhaps snooker’s most famous trio, they will also be associated with some of the players that turned professional at a similar time.

In 1994 the circuit welcomed future world champion Graeme Dott and two-time runner-up Matthew Stevens, with Stuart Bingham and Paul Hunter following a year later. A further four current professionals turned professional in 1996, with Barry Hawkins and Ali Carter both going on to reach World Championship finals.

The Next Generation

It is perhaps the intake from 1998-1999 which marked the start of the next generation however, with six ranking event winners, including three world champions having first turned professional during these years.

Marco Fu, Ryan Day and Stephen Maguire have each won multiple ranking events, while Shaun Murphy has gone further still by winning nine ranking event titles to date, including each of snooker’s fabled Triple Crown Series tournaments during his career.

But – in terms of volume of ranking events won at least – there are two players who stand out with both Mark Selby and Neil Robertson having each gone on to enjoy highly successful careers in the sport. To date, the pair have each earned 18 ranking crowns and gone on to become world number one, two of the many parallels in their respective careers.

Neither had an easy journey to the top. In Robertson’s case he had the oft under-appreciated challenge of moving halfway around the world to compete in what was at the time a UK dominated sport. Twice he was relegated from the main tour, before in 2003 regaining his place and ultimately staying there ever since.

For Selby, the Leicester man had to contend with the death of his father just two months before he turned professional at the age of 16 in 1999. Already his mother had walked out on him eight years prior.

It was in 2003 however that both made a breakthrough on the World Snooker Tour, Robertson by qualifying for the Masters for the first time by winning the qualifying event, while Selby reached his first ranking final at the Scottish Open. Two years later the pair both made their Crucible debuts by qualifying for the final stages of the World Championship for the first time.

Robertson would be the first to claim a major ranking event title with his capture of the 2006 Grand Prix, with Selby reaching his first world final later in the season and going on to claim his first silverware in 2008 with the Masters and Welsh Open titles.

Since then the pair have gone on to thrive in one of snooker’s most competitive eras, both ascending to the top of snooker’s world rankings and going on to life multiple triple crown titles. They share a close head to head record, Selby ahead overall (19-15), with Robertson edging their ranking encounters (7-6).

  • 36 ranking event titles (57 finals)
  • 12 triple crown titles (18 finals)
  • 2 Champion of Champions titles
  • 11 Minor ranking event titles

Without any doubt the pair have been among the most important players of the past decade and continue to remain a force at the highest level, Selby having already claimed silverware this season and Robertson having narrowly missed out at the English Open.

But how do their figures stack up against the big three?

The Impossible Comparison

For followers of any sport the quest to rank its greats is impossible to ignore. Whether Messi or Ronaldo, Federer or Nadal, Hamilton or Schumacher – or in the case of snooker Hendry or O’Sullivan, opinions will inevitably remain divided.

This is especially so when comparing players of different eras and though Selby and Robertson have shared their careers with the Class of ’92, the circumstances when they turned professional were already significantly different.

But we are not looking to say that they were better or worse, but to try and uncover whether their own achievements are comparable and what conclusions can be drawn.


From the start of the 2006/7 season, in other words the winning span since Robertson’s first ranking title to Selby’s recent victory at the European Masters in August, we can see that the pair match up well with the Class of ’92.

During that most recent period the pair have won 36 ranking titles between them, just two short of the 38 claimed by Ronnie O’Sullivan (19), John Higgins (13) and Mark Williams (6).

With 13 triple crown titles won alone by O’Sullivan, added to four by Higgins and one for Williams, the Class of ’92 hold an 18-12 lead at the sport’s majors, while Selby and Robertson lead 11-8 on minor ranking event titles – i.e. Players Tour Championship and European Tour competitions.

The Early Years

But of course, the above comparison is not like for like, comparing arguably the peak years of Selby and Robertson, to the later years of O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams.

From turning professional in 1992, the big three secured a staggering 52 ranking titles during their first 15 years, with an even division among the trio of O’Sullivan (18), Higgins (18) and Williams (16). By comparison Selby and Robertson had won just eight between 1998-2012, six by Robertson before Selby truly hit his stride after his maiden World Championship success in 2014.

As with the previous comparison, the picture is not as clear as it would first appear as the snooker landscape has changed significantly since the early 1990s – not least because of the impact of the Class of ’92 themselves and the differences in general standard and number of tournaments available.

While it was once not uncommon to see teenagers or players in their early 20s lifting major silverware, it is now far more uncommon than in the past with Yan Bingtao’s win at the 2019 Riga Masters representing the first teenage win since Ding Junhui’s success at the 2006 Northern Ireland Trophy.

When Steve Davis claimed his six and final world title at the age of 31, or Stephen Hendry his magnificent seventh barely four months on from his 30thbirthday, few would have expected the success of the ‘older’ players that we have seen in the years since as the ‘peak’ of a player continues to be redefined.

It was not until turning 29 that Judd Trump would capture snooker’s holy grail for the first time in 2019 and he is a player now widely expected to be a leading contender for top honours for many years to come.

The Compromise

Perhaps then the most interesting comparison is of the winning span of Selby and Robertson since 2006, to the comparable period for the big three from O’Sullivan’s famous victory at the 1993 UK Championship.

On this basis the 36 titles secured by Selby and Robertson compares favourably to the 52 won by snooker’s holy trinity, while their 12 triple crown titles is on average only slightly edged by the 20 claimed by O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams.

By 2002 the Class of ’92 had each enjoyed a spell at number one, at a time when the rankings were updated once a year, while Selby and Robertson achieved that feat in 2011 and 2010 respectively.

Do They Compare?

Ultimately any such comparison is never equal and of course the legacy of any player will extend beyond mere statistics with the opposition each faced, the respective head to head records and style of play coming into the consideration.

However while the records of the legendary Class of ’92 will endure long after they are gone, it is also fair to say that the achievements of both Mark Selby and Neil Robertson during the current era should also not be taken for granted, nor underestimated.

With all five players still ranked firmly inside of the world’s top 16 in 2020, time will tell as to how their respective achievements will be viewed in the future and what the legacy will be of not only the Class of ’92, but the leading graduates from the class that followed…

Article by Matt Huart (@ProSnookerBlog).

It’s an interesting article, and very cautiously written, but one that I’m afraid is “flawed” in a way. Why? Because the class of 92 is always looked at as a kind of  indivisible entitity, however, the three of them have quite dissimilar records:

  • Ronnie has won 37 ranking events, 6 World titles, 7 UK titles. He’s also won 7 Masters.
  • John Higgins has won 30 ranking titles, 4 World titles, 3 UK titles. He’s won the Masters 2 times.
  • Mark Williams has won 22 ranking titles, 3 World titles, 2 UK titles. He’s won the Masters 2 times.

It’s obvious that Ronnie’s “weigth” in these statitistics is an important factor, especially when it comes to “majors”, whilst Mark Williams has a comparatively weaker record.

Looking at the Selby-Robertson tandem

  • Mark Selby has won 18 ranking titles, 3 World titles, 2 UK titles. He’s won the Masters 3 times.
  • Neil Robertson has also won 18 ranking titles,  1 World title, 2 UK titles. He’s won the Masters just once.

Their records are more similar although Mark Selby has performed better in majors. In fact, Mark Selby has almost won as much as Mark Williams despite being 8 years younger and he has actually won more majors.

If the comparison was made between two “tandems” – Ronnie & John Higgins vs Mark Selby and Neil Robertson – the balance would still clearly be in favour of the “92” one.

Yesterday, this stat was shared on twitter:


It’s Ronnie’s career stats.

It reads like this:

T- tournaments played
TR- ranking tournaments played
QFR,SFR,FR,WR- ranking tournaments results results
RS- raning. in the end of season
1R- number of losses in 1st round of ranking tournaments
MW- matches won(%)
FW- frames won(%)
A- didn’t participate

Actually from the start of his career, Ronnie has won at least one professional event every season, and has won at least one of the “triple crown” events in 18 seasons out of the last 27, that’s 2 out of 3.

No other player has comparable stats over the span of nearly three decades. He, REALLY, is in a class apart.

News from China …

Mei Xiwen and Zhang Anda chose to stay in China, and skip the World Championship. For the latter it meant that he was relegated from the tour.

WST went to speak to them:

Mei And Zhang Ponder Future

Chinese players Mei Xiwen and Zhang Anda have both put their snooker careers on hold while they take time at home.

Mei is ranked 63rd in the world but has not played a competitive match since the Gibraltar Open seven months ago and is yet to enter a tournament this season.

The 38-year-old returned to his home in Shenzhen when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March, and has decided to stay there for family reasons. He became a father for the first time in February, and he also helps run a snooker club in his home town.

Mei and Zhang both recently played an exhibition event at a shopping mall in Lanzhou, giving tips to young players

“I made good use of the lockdown period and spent some quality time with my family,” said Mei, who beat Ronnie O’Sullivan on his way to the quarter-finals of the English Open last year. “I spend most of my days with the baby and practise in the evenings. I like this type of life, and it helps both my family and my work.

“My job in the snooker club is mainly teaching and helping snooker lovers improve their games. I’m so happy that I’m able to help Shenzhen to develop the game of snooker as a professional player. I see some young kids at the club and they practise with me now. They have the hunger to play in competitive matches. I have reliable facilities to practise now to get prepared for the upcoming events.”

Mei intends to resume his pro career but is yet to decide when to return to the UK. “It took me four years to get to world number 55,” he added, “It feels so complicated, as I want to play in tournaments so much. I need to do that for my ranking, and also to stay match sharp.”

Zhang Anda

Zhang first turned pro in 2009 and has played at the Crucible three times. He opted not to travel to the UK to play in the Betfred World Championship qualifiers last season and was relegated from the tour. Just like Mei, he has recently become a father.

“I wanted to stay in China and recharge. I’m only 28, so I have time, I can take a year out and return to snooker in the future,” said Zhang. “My newborn son and my family need me. I always feel homesick when I’m away.

“I’m trying to make a living, not for myself but for the three of us, so I’m making the most of everything at the moment. Snooker is my job, at the moment, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be lifelong. It’s good to be living your dream.”

Zhang does intend to play in Q School in 2021 and revive his career. “I believe I can get through it, I know I have the ability,” he added. “But to be ranked 60 to 70 after spending a decade on tour, that’s not what I want. Making it through Q School is much easier than staying on tour and I don’t think I’m capable of doing the latter yet.

“I need a gap year to figure out my future plans, and I have to make some changes if I’m going to dedicate myself as a professional player. I tried a few changes in the past but I’m not the kind of person who gets used to new things quickly. There are a lot of tournaments every season and I always find myself going into one tournament without accepting the loss from the previous one.

“It will not be a bad decision, taking a year out. Maybe the only down side is not staying competitive, because I can’t stay match sharp without playing in tournaments.”

Mei has always devoted a lot of time to the younger players. He’s well respected for what he does to help them. Zhang turned pro in 2009, reached the Crucible at his first attempt and very nearly beat Stephen Hendry in the first round; the match went to a decider. It’s a bit surprising that he hasn’t done better after that. There is probably a good clue in there with him saying that he finds it hard to get over defeats and start new tournament with a “fresh mindset”. It’s also interesting that he thinks that it’s easier to get through the Q-school than to stay on the tour. I must say that the poor results of a number of “returning” players over the years tend to vindicate that opinion.

Good luck to them both, whatever they decide to do in the future.


Steve Feeney about Stephen Hendry

Steve Feeney spoke to WST about his work with Stephen Hendry 

Hendry Has Point To Prove – Feeney

Snooker coach Stephen Feeney, who has been working alongside Stephen Hendry ahead of his return to the professional scene, believes the seven-time World Champion will have doubters to prove wrong when he takes to the baize.

King of the Crucible Hendry was afforded the opportunity to return to the World Snooker Tour last month, taking up the offer of a two-year invitational tourcard. However, the Scot is yet to make his first appearance of the season. Hendry’s last professional appearance came at the 2012 World Championship, after which he announced he was retiring.

SightRight coach Feeney has been working with 51-year-old Hendry for a number of months and has been instrumental in his decision to return to the circuit.

We’ve caught up with Feeney to find out how Hendry’s preparations are going on the practice table…

First of all Steve, how has the work you’ve been doing with Stephen been going so far?

“In terms of play, the sessions that we are having are regular. He is going through the same process as Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams. We have a fixed plan. The planning for what we need to do is robust. The one main objective is for him to enjoy it. Every session we have, there is disciplined stuff and there is fun stuff.

“He still knows the shots to play. He still knows the game inside out. So he still has all of that knowledge. All that had happened is that the skill had deteriorated. His long game in practice has been phenomenal. I know when I can put somebody’s long game back together, it can translate into the rest of the game as well.”

What do you feel are achievable objectives for Stephen this season?

“Can we do what Peter Wright did in darts and win the world title at the age of 50? Stephen wouldn’t talk that way. He just loves playing the game. He is deeply competitive though. As the work goes forward, I would hope he would believe that even if it is a small one, there is a chance. The first thing is to help him really continue enjoying the game. Such is the spirit and competitiveness of this guy that winning will help him enjoy it more. For him to compete at the top level would be the icing on the cake. If he feels he can compete at the top level, he will probably feel he can win at the top level.”

How much work do you feel needs to be done for Stephen to reach his best level?

“There is work to be done, you almost look at it like a boxing match. How many hours does a person need to train to be able to put up with three minute rounds of boxing? Snooker is a worldwide competitive sport now. We know that there are some strong competitors ahead. We know he will not play until he is ready to go in at the top level. We know he is not going to want to lose and only wants to win. There is a part of it which is making me want to up my game even more than with Mark and with Ronnie. We are having great fun. I love seeing him pump the chest out when things are going right.

“I think for my part we are having conversations that matter. Conversations that respect the huge legacy that he has. To continue it in any way shape or form is about winning. In the process if he could win big, that would be pretty special. Just to see him happy in the game we are already winning. He is playing some shots that he has said he couldn’t play before. I think we are adding to the mix that this guy knows how to win. The other guys at the top of the game know he knows how to win. If we can do our stuff right and he can carry the same composure out there into matches, people will have a problem on their hands and won’t want to be drawing him in the first round at tournaments. I’ve seen the best at work, close up, and this guy is special.”

Hendry after winning his seventh world title in 1999.

How motivated are you to help Stephen to achieve and be a success on his return?

“I look at it as a fairly exciting opportunity ahead. There is a fair bit of responsibility, in terms of delivering on promises. Stephen has trusted me in terms of what I’ve said I believe can be done. I trust in him as the individual and champion that he is. Is there stuff to prove? There probably is. The fans will love to see him play. Many of the pros will be waiting for proof. We are well aware of that.

“There are some top players who will believe Stephen can never win another ranking title again. When people say to me things can’t be done I tend to think, lets have a go. Can he? There is incredible skill there. He is a seven-time World Champion and we will see how the journey evolves.”

When do you anticipate Stephen entering his first event?

“I’d be prepared to wait as long as we need to. As long as the conditions are right. If the conditions are right in terms of the venue and the opportunity, as soon as he is ready, we go. My view with Stephen is that we want to get him back into top 16 status with the standard of his play as soon as possible. That is the only way that we can be comfortable. Every practice session is geared and targeted that way and we are working hard.

“If he was to win another title, or at least if he was to be in the mix at the Crucible. Wouldn’t that be a special thing for the sport? If Stephen making the Crucible again in his career, in his 50s, isn’t special enough for the sport, I don’t know what is. If he was to come out and be the player that everybody remembers him for, or even better, wouldn’t that be good.”

Can Stephen Hendry really get back to top 16 level? I’m not sure.

When Hendry came on the scene as a young lad, he started a revolution. No  pro player at the very start of the 90th had an answer to his ultra attacking game, to his exceptional ability to slot long ones from the baulk cushion, hold for blue or black, and clear the table in one visit. But of course, the younger aspiring players learned  from him and copied his game. Answers were found. Ken Doherty beating Stephen Hendry by 18-12 in the 1997 World Final, with a high break of just 85, whilst Hendry had five centuries was a huge moment although it may not have felt that way there and then. Before that match, Hendry had reached 37 ranking finals, won 28, lost 9. From there he still reached 20 ranking finals, won 8, lost 12. He only won one “major” after that defeat, the 1999 World Championship, he had won 17 of them previously. Hendry was only 28 when Ken beat him, there is no way he was “past it”. What happened? Well, in my oponion, two things: a number of younger players came on the scene when the game was opened, became able to “copy” Stephen’s game and play it at a high level whilst they also developped the safety side of their game, something Hendry was reluctant to do AND Hendry’s confidence – which played a huge part in his ability to be a serial winner – was seriously damaged. Countless times in the noughties, I have seen him start a match strongly, miss just the one shot, and spiralling down from there. And he hated it. It was all about winning and he wasn’t winning.

Can he accept that he will make mistakes, that he will be beaten and still be able to enjoy his snooker? If the answer is yes, it could be very interesting, if not, I can’t see him playing competitively much at all.


Already thinking about the Masters

It’s only the start of the season, but in less than three months the 2021 Masters should be played in Alexandra Palace. There are only three more ranking events to be completed until the line-up is known.

Matt Huart has been looking at the “Race to the Masters”

Race to the Masters 2021: Three to Go

Already with just two events completed during this most unusual of snooker seasons, the qualification race for the 2021 Masters is already approaching a critical stage with just three events to be completed before the all-important seeding cut-off to determine the 16-player field.

Snooker’s most prestigious invitational event is scheduled to return to London’s Alexandra Palace from 10-17 January 2021 and will feature the world’s top 16 ranked players following December’s UK Championship. This period therefore includes all prize money earned at ranking events from the 2018 Scottish Open up to and including the 2020 UK Championship.

With just the final stages of the Championship League, the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship still to be completed by that point, already we can see who is safe and who has work to do if they are to qualify for the tournament.

The Top Two

While Judd Trump might be a runaway number one at the top of the world ranking list, the 2019 Masters champion is guaranteed to be seeded third at this year’s tournament.

This is because as is customary, defending champion Stuart Bingham will head the draw as top seed, while reigning world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan will be seeded second thanks to his Crucible triumph.

Safe Zone

Below the top two, with a cushion of over £150,000 to the closest players outside of the 16 incumbents, everyone as far down as 11th placed Ding Junhui(£374,250) looks to be safe for qualification, while both potential debutant Yan Bingtao (£293,000) and David Gilbert (£289,500) are both also well-placed.

Two-time champion Mark Williams (£259,750) is currently more vulnerable with £40,000 separating the Welshman and 17th position, but remains in control of his own destiny at this stage.

Danger Zone

Below him however and the battle is wide-open with just barely £34,000 separating eight places from 15-22 positions and significant prize money still to be won at the UK Championship in particular.

Currently just inside of the cut are Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (£224,000) and Gary Wilson (£221,000), with the pair both looking to qualify for the tournament for the first time this year.

Just £1,250 behind Wilson however is 17th placed Jack Lisowski (£219,750), with recent Crucible semi-finalist Anthony McGill (£209,500) also within striking distance behind.

Further back are the likes of Graeme Dott (£194,250), Ali Carter (£193,500), Joe Perry (£193,000) and Barry Hawkins (£189,750) who can also not be discounted.

The next counting event will be the Championship League (Winner’s Group) from 26-30 October which you can follow via WST.

Article by Matt Huart (@ProSnookerBlog).

Should Ronnie play in the Masters this season, he would find himself in the same half as Judd Trump. But will he play? Desmond Kane thinks that he probably will.


Ronnie O’Sullivan is adamant he will not play the Masters at Alexandra Palace in January, but history suggests it will not be a huge surprise to see him appear at snooker’s most prestigious event in the New Year, writes Desmond Kane.


It would be fair to say Ronnie O’Sullivan nailed it during his first match at the English Open, his first competitive win of the 2020/21 season. The six-times world champion recovered from trailing 2-0 against Brian Ochoiski to complete a 4-2 win on Monday evening, rolling in knocks of 51, 113, 55 and 52 after his French opponent had pieced together a run of 105 in the second frame.

In true unpredictable fashion, he did so with his nails painted pink for a breast cancer charity, a varnished performance that ended up more Harvey Nics than Harvey Chandler. A win-win situation for himself and publicity for the charity Future Dreams. Don’t be surprised to see him don the mascara quite soon.

“Maybe more guys will show some bottle and put pink varnish on! I had it done in a nail shop. I have to thank my fiancé, too. I really like it,” he told Eurosport after his victory.

He might see it as putting lipstick on a pig, but one suspects O’Sullivan prefers the ritual trudge to test for Covid-19 behind closed doors in Milton Keynes than be confronted by the K2 Leisure Centre in Crawley, a much-maligned venue for the English Open in pre-pandemic times, which he felt had a whiff of urine commenting that “every day in Crawley is a day lost in my life”.

In the current climate, he is no longer hindered by the low-level fame of fans shouting ‘C’mon Ronnie’ during matches or people seeking him out for selfies. Which just leaves the snooker and a manicure to attend to. Another win-win situation for the Rocket man.

As is standard for any O’Sullivan interview, a marvellous sporting stream of consciousness, what he is saying does not quite chime with the reality. Or which direction his future plans might take the next day, the next month or the next year. Hardened tour professionals Ali Carter, Neil Robertson and Alan McManus all felt O’Sullivan was ideally positioned to win a sixth World Championship in August, mainly due to his inimitable ability and an absence of fans in or around the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. They were proved visionaries as he fairly careered to a victory at an event that had started to look beyond him over the previous six years.

Suddenly Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles at the venue is back on the table when all had looked lost after he somehow managed to lose 10-8 to amateur James Cahill in the first round in 2019 in which the pressure valve seemed to suffer a blow out.

Which makes you wonder what course of action he will take over this campaign with the snooker season marooned behind closed doors in Milton Keynes for the foreseeable future and every event apart from the UK Championship in York in December due to bed down in Buckinghamshire.

He opted against the Masters last January due to the aggravation that the baying, sometimes boozed up, crowd brings to the Alexandra Palace, but there is a fair chance that the Barbican Centre in York and the Alexandra Palace will both provide a sobering experience, ghostly backdrops unless there is a dramatic transformation in the ongoing joust with the pandemic.

“I won’t play a lot of the events where the circus is around, unless I like the town,” said O’Sullivan prior to the English Open. “So York, I have to accept the circus there because I really love York and it’s a real good holiday for me. London, the Masters is a no-no for me, if I never played in that again I wouldn’t be disappointed.

“World Championships is a bit like that, unless Covid is still lingering around next year then I’d quite look forward to the peace and quiet in Sheffield that I had this year. I’m a lot happier when I do what I want to do and set my own rules.”

If the Masters goes ahead at the Ally Pally, it is likely to be in the same circumstances as the World Championship with no fans or no hassle which would beg the question: why would O’Sullivan not want a slice of that action?

A few years ago in Northern Ireland, O’Sullivan suggested he might miss the 2018 World Championship to film a TV series, but in the end he continued his sequence of never missing an appearance at the Crucible since 1993.

It is hardly a huge excursion to make it from Essex back to old London town for an event that still plays a huge role in his psyche having lifted the Masters a record seven times since becoming the youngest player to win the elite event at the age of 19 in 1995.

During his sabbatical from the sport in 2012/13, he even washed up at the Masters to watch a turgid semi-final between Mark Selby and Graeme Dott when there was no need for him to be anywhere near the tournament.

“I feel more sorry for Ronnie missing than anyone else because I feel it is a huge career mistake for him,” said the World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn earlier this year. Don’t expect him to make a similar call this time.

Expect to see him compete at Alexandra Palace. With or without the gloss.

Desmond Kane

I’m not so sure. Anything is possible. We shall see.

What I wonder is how it will feel to the players in Alexandra Palace if there are no spectators. The “arena” is in fact created by arranging mobile bleachers around the table, in the middle of a huge room, a bit similar to the one you see at the darts world championship. These rooms have very high ceilings, they are difficult to heat and it’s usually very cold in London in January. Without a crowd it will be even more difficult. And the atmosphere will be probably be eerie in the middle of this huge empty space. Already now players have suffered from the cold in Milton Keynes. Mark Selby said that he didn’t “feel” his fingers properly. This might be a huge problem in Alexandra Palace as well , if the usual setup is used. There might be a better alternative in using the old theatre, provided that the renovation works – in progress – can be completed in time.


It’s still big, but it’s a more intimate place, and one where it would probably be easier to create some sort of atmosphere. Whether the heating issue would be easier to solve, I’m not sure.

A wonderful interview with Alexander Ursenbacher

I stumbled upon this excellent interview with Alexander Ursenbacher and thought it is well worth sharing.

Swiss snooker star challenges British domination

Alexander UrsenbacherAlex Ursenbacher (right) shakes hands with Ronnie O’Sullivan before their match at the Welsh Open in 2019. Ursenbacher caused an upset by defeating arguably the greatest snooker player of all time. Swiss Snooker

Alex Ursenbacher recently created headlines by becoming the first German-speaker to qualify for the snooker World Championships. But can Switzerland’s first and only professional potter earn a living from what remains a niche sport in the country?

“Well I’m still living with my mum, so I think that says it all,” Ursenbacher tells in a break between playing challengers at an exhibition event in Bern.

The 24-year-old comes across more like a chirpy Cockney than someone from Rheinfelden in northern Switzerland. This is because, despite still living in Basel, he’s spent many hours in British snooker clubs, home to the world’s best players – and practice partners.

Ursenbacher says he settled in straight away. “I like the mentality. I like the banter. There’s nothing like English humour – it’s just hilarious.”

Enjoy Ursenbacher admitting, in this interview after qualifying for the World Championships, to feeling the pressure and “twitching all over the gaff” – something you probably won’t hear Roger Federer say (a gaff is London slang for a room or house).

Ursenbacher has come a long way since picking up a snooker cue for the first time aged 11. He explains how he used to play a bit of pool with his father and one day, having seen snooker on television, he suggested they try that.

“The game went on for about three hours! But I just loved everything about it. I didn’t know the rules and I couldn’t pot a ball for I don’t know how long. But when you do pot a ball it’s a good feeling. And I thought it must be an even better feeling at snooker [than at pool] because the table’s bigger.”

What is snooker, and who plays it?

The balls soon started flying in – and motivation wasn’t a problem, despite having plenty of other things on his plate. “I played tennis. I did martial arts. I played a few instruments. Football. But when I entered the snooker club in Basel there was just something about it. It was so much fun. I just wanted to keep playing all the time – I was up until 3am every night watching snooker on YouTube,” he says.

This day-and-night devotion soon paid off. “Yeah, I started winning some junior club tournaments and a year later I played my first international tournament, in Malta,” he says. “That was the under-19 European Championships. I was standing at the airport with my cue in my hand at the age of 13 and I thought, ‘I could get used to this’.”

Lack of competition

Ursenbacher became Swiss champion aged just 15, which reflects not only his obvious talent but also the lack of serious competition in Switzerland.

“For me, personally, there is no competition,” Ursenbacher says, sounding honest rather than arrogant. “I started winning everything here when I was 14. So that just shows you the standard. I mean, I’m not saying I was crap at the age of 14, but I certainly wasn’t a professional.”

Franz Stähli, president of Swiss Snooker, the national snooker association, says there are about 55 licensed players in Switzerland and about 200 players who take part in small tournaments. “So there are maybe around 250 people who play every week. Pool is a lot more popular because it’s easier, there are more places to play and there are more tables.”

Stähli, who has known Ursenbacher since he was a junior, owns Benteli’s, the snooker and pool hall just outside Bern where Ursenbacher has agreed to appear for several hours and play anyone who fancies a good thrashing. There are five snooker tables and 11 pool tables.

“Although people in Switzerland knew about snooker and played it in the 1970s and 1980s – there were some private tables in clubs – the start of the big time in Switzerland was the early 1990s,” Stähli says.

“Now it’s more the older people who play – 30 plus or the people like me who started in the 1990s. The point is that Alex has nobody to play [of his own generation].”

Ursenbacher left school at 16 but didn’t start an apprenticeship like many Swiss school-leavers. “If you’re Swiss and you finish school, you can always work. You’re probably not going to have a lot of options, but you can always earn money. So I thought why not just give snooker a good go?”

Turning pro

He turned pro in 2013 aged 17, having won a two-year card on the World Snooker Tour. He lost this in 2015, but in 2017 he won the European Under-21 Snooker Championship and re-qualified for the main tour.

Since then Ursenbacher has beaten many of the game’s biggest names, including former world champions Shaun Murphy, Ken Doherty and even snooker’s Roger Federer, Ronnie O’Sullivan.

And then, the Crucible. The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, northern England, has hosted the World Championships since 1977 and is considered the spiritual home of snooker – the sport’s Wimbledon.

At the end of July, Ursenbacher, then ranked 86 in the world, held his nerve during a gruelling qualification process to knock out several higher-ranked players and become the first Swiss player to reach the World Championship. Something very few non-Brits – and no German or Austrian – have achieved.

“I’d never been to the Crucible. I said to myself, ‘You’re only going to go there if you’re playing’.”

One possible dampener was the fact that, being held during the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no live audience – just two players, two camera operators and the referee.

“When I walked out, it was good. I was excited. But once I sat down, I realised that actually it was quite sad.” Was he nervous? “Nothing. I was surprised, actually. I didn’t feel anything. When I was 9-2 down that’s when the nerves started kicking in because I realised that one mistake now and I could be out of the tournament. But before that, I was as cool as a cucumber.”

Despite taking the first game, Ursenbacher ended up losing 10-2 to the experienced former finalist Barry Hawkins. “But overall it was definitely a positive experience,” he says.

In this video he looks back at his Crucible experience and explains what separates the men from the boys:

Earning a living

As a first-round loser in Sheffield, Ursenbacher pocketed £20,000 (CHF23,700). Eventual winner O’Sullivan left with £500,000. This is very good money compared with pool: the winner of the US Open 9-Ball gets $60,000 (CHF54,600). Mind you, these sums are dwarfed by the cheque for $3 million written to the winner of the US Open tennis championship.

He says it’s certainly possible to earn a good living from snooker, but you probably have to be in the top 30. “Obviously your goal isn’t to earn just four grand a month because there’s no pension in snooker. So you need to earn a few quid before you retire.”

To that end, Ursenbacher practises up to six hours a day, five or six days a week. “You don’t want to go to a tournament and feel rusty. You need to be hungry and push yourself all the time.” He adds that it’s very much a psychological game and confidence is vital. “In my opinion, more than 85% [of snooker] is inside the head.”

Ursenbacher’s achievement in Sheffield was no surprise in expert circles. “Insiders have long believed him capable of this. It’s very impressive to see such a talent come out of little Switzerland. Everything he did was of a really, really high standard. Even though he lost in the World Championships, it was still a very impressive match,” Stähli says.

“But he is still nowhere. His goal must be to establish himself in the top 50 over a longer period.”

Stähli, 49, used to be a strong player himself, boasting a top break of 139 (out of a possible 147 – Ursenbacher’s top break is 141). Having himself played against O’Sullivan and Scottish star Stephen Hendry, he stresses the importance of moving to Britain for young ambitious players.

“Alex still spends a lot of time in Switzerland. But what he needs is a perfect practice table. He needs competition. He needs a club with a high standard where he knows he could walk in and maybe lose ten times in one day. That’s what’s missing here.”

Plan B?

Whereas the snooker scene in Switzerland is “small but healthy”, as Stähli put it, in Asia it’s booming, especially in China. Snooker is so popular in mainland China that it’s on the school sports curriculum. More and more young Chinese players are breaking into the top 100.

“I’ve been to China seven or eight times,” Ursenbacher says. “We’re treated like kings! It’s actually quite confusing sometimes because I don’t feel like I’m a great player yet – I know I’m professional and there are only 128 professionals in the world and only 64 go to China for each event. But still, they treat us very well. Snooker’s very, very big in China.”

But all the travelling required of professional athletes is not only physically but also financially demanding. Four years ago spoke to an up-and-coming 19-year-old Swiss tennis player ranked 527 in the world (he was the highest-ranked Swiss player under 21). He said that if he was 26 and still ranked only 400 or so, he’d probably give up tennis because of the money (he’s currently ranked 549). Does Ursenbacher, now ranked 66 after his success in Sheffield, have a similar target or a plan B in case the snooker doesn’t work out?

“I’m just trying to do what I love, because if I couldn’t make a living out of snooker, I don’t know if I’d care what I’d have to do to earn money – whether it was behind a bar or behind a desk. I’m a sociable person, so I’d probably be behind a bar somewhere in a club,” he says.

“But as long as I can play snooker and make a few quid, I’m going to do that.”

[A previous version of this article said Alex Ursenbacher was not the first Swiss snooker professional because Darren Paris had played on the pro circuit in the mid-1990s. In fact Darren Paris represented England on the pro circuit before moving to Switzerland, becoming Swiss and playing in amateur tournaments. Alex Ursenbacher is the first and only Swiss snooker professional.]

It’s nice to see snooker making it into the Swiss media, and in such a positive way.

Judd Trump wins the 2020 English Open

Judd Trump came from 7-4 behind to beat Neil Robertson by 9-8 to win the 2020 English Open. He joined Neil Robertson and Mark Selby on 18 ranking titles and became the first player to win 3 Home Nations events.

Congratulations Judd Trump!


Here are the reports by WST.

Afternoon session:

All Square In English Final

Neil Robertson came from 3-1 down to level at 4-4 against Judd Trump in the first session of the Matchroom.Live English Open final in Milton Keynes.

First to nine frames this evening will collect £70,000 and the Steve Davis Trophy as well as becoming the first player to win three Home Nations events.

This pair, two titans of the modern era, have met 20 times before, with Trump leading the head-to-head 11-9. This is their third final within a year – Robertson winning 10-9 at the Champion of Champions and Trump gaining revenge with a 9-6 success at the German Masters.

Trump is playing in his 27th ranking final and aiming for his 18th title, which would bring him level with Robertson and Mark Selby in sixth place on the all-time list. He has won his last nine consecutive ranking finals – just two short of Stephen Hendry’s record of 11.

Victory would give him his first title since he won the Gibraltar Open in March; that triumph gave him a record sixth ranking title during the 2019/20 season. Bristol’s 31-year-old Trump is looking to extend his vast lead at the top of the world rankings.

Robertson is contesting his 30th ranking final and is hoping to land his 19th title, which would put him one ahead of Selby. His most recent victory came at the World Grand Prix in February.

After sharing the first two frames, Trump took the lead with a break of 59 in the third. The fourth came down to a safety battle with two reds left, and when Trump trapped his opponent in a tricky snooker he was handed the chance to go 3-1 up.

Australia’s 38-year-old Robertson fought back after the interval with runs of 75 and 128 (his tenth century of the week) for 3-3. He made 61 in frame seven before running out of position, but Trump’s counter ended on just 11 when he missed a red to a baulk corner, and world number three Robertson went ahead for the first time.

In the last frame of the session, Trump potted a fabulous long red which allowed him to lay a difficult snooker behind the brown, and from the chance that followed he made 51 which squared the match.

They return at 7pm.

Evening session:

Trump Beats Robertson In Fantastic Final

Judd Trump came from 7-4 down to beat Neil Robertson 9-8 in the final of the Matchroom.Live English Open, winning his first title in seven months.

Trump lived up to his world number one status by making a century in the deciding frame to take the £70,000 top prize and Steve Davis Trophy. He has now won ten ranking event finals in a row in a run stretching back two years, just one short of Stephen Hendry’s record of 11.

Bristol’s 31-year-old Trump moves on to 18 ranking titles, bringing him level with Robertson and Mark Selby in sixth place on the all-time list. He also becomes the first player to win three Home Nations events.

Most Ranking Titles
Ronnie O’Sullivan 37
Stephen Hendry 36
John Higgins 30
Steve Davis 28

Mark Williams 22
Judd Trump 18
Mark Selby 18
Neil Robertson 18

It’s Trump’s first title since the Gibraltar Open last March which gave him a record sixth ranking victory of the 2019/20 season. Brimming with confidence, the left-hander will be excited by the challenge of adding to his haul in the remainder of the season and stretching his vast lead at the top of the world rankings.

World number three Robertson missed out on the chance to win a 19th ranking title and first since the World Grand Prix in February. He banks £30,000 as runner-up plus the £5,000 high break prize.

Tonight’s conclusion was reminiscent of last year’s Champion of Champions final, with both players at the top of their game. On that occasion Robertson came out on top 10-9 with a match-winning century; this time the roles were reversed.

Australia’s 38-year-old Robertson took the opening frame of the evening session with a break of 56 to lead 5-4. Trump looked set to level until he missed the black on 52 in frame ten, letting his opponent in for an excellent 75 clearance.

Trump had first chance again in frame 11 but made just 8 before missing a red to a top corner, and again Robertson punished him with a 114. That put the Melbourne cueman 7-4 ahead having taken six of the previous seven frames.

A run of 76 saw Trump pull one back, and he continued his fight back after the interval as a cracking long red set up a break of 46 to make it 7-6. In frame 14, Robertson made 65 before misjudging a red to a centre pocket, and Trump eventually took it with a green-to-black clearance to level the tie.

Robertson’s missed red on 6 in frame 15 proved costly as Trump made 55 which helped him edge in front. Back came Robertson with a 125, his third century of the match and 12th of the tournament, for 8-8. But he played just one shot in the decider as his break-off left Trump a chance at a long red, which he slotted in to set a up a brilliant 114.

“It was an unbelievable final,” said 2019 World Champion Trump. “I never felt in control because Neil played tremendous snooker and scored heavily. I nicked an important frame at 7-4. I really had to dig in and I’m proud of the way I held myself together and made the break in the last frame. I was just looking for a chance, and when Neil left me the red I had to go for it.

“Neil and I have a rivalry where we bring the best out of each other and put on great matches for the fans – hopefully we can have many more. To be level with Neil and Mark on 18 ranking titles is fantastic because they are two brilliant players. I really want to win every final I get to.

“It will be tough to win another six this season but if I can keep playing well I can get somewhere near that.”

Robertson said: “I feel really good – strangely enough it’s probably the best I’ve felt after losing a final. He really had to earn it and I didn’t throw it away at any point – I was unlucky at 7-6 when I got a kick on the red, but Judd did really well to win that frame and then I didn’t really get a chance until 8-7 down.

“We were both bringing the best out of each other but he made a brilliant break in the decider. It’s great to be competing – the titles come as a consequence of working hard and applying yourself the best you can.

“I had 12 centuries in the tournament which was amazing – you’d be happy with that tally in the World Championship when you’re playing best of 19s. My game’s in fantastic shape and I’m very positive moving forward.”

It was indeed a very good final. Thanks to both players for the entertainment!