The Year 2022 – The Ugly

This one is of course about the match fixing inquiry that lead to the suspension of eight Chinese players.

Before I start … I’m very aware that the way my mind functions and the way I see things is not always in line with the opinions and beliefs of most people and I expect some of you, maybe many of you to disagree with some of the ideas I will express hereafter. I’m not trying to convince anyone, I’m not expecting you to change your mind about this affair. What I’m asking you though is to read this piece with an open mind, think about it before replying, and if you chose to comment to do it without aggression.

It all started with Liang Wenbo

On the 4th of June 2022 WPBSA decided to suspend Liang Wenbo for a duration of 4 months. The motive of the suspension was that he had brought the sport in disrepute, which he accepted. Liang had been convicted by Sheffield Magistrates Court for domestic-related assault by beating where he pleaded guilty. He was fined a total of £1,380 and given a 12-month community order. He had been caught on CCTV, in the streets of Sheffield, beating up a woman and dragging her on the ground.

WPBSA was criticised for not handing him a harsher punishment. Jason Ferguson explained that the only motive they could use against Liang was that he had brought the game in disrepute, because the assault itself had previously been dealt with by a different authority, namely the Sheffield Magistrates Court. It is a general principle in law that you can’t be judged twice for the same offence. That said, Liang’s “punishment” ordered by the Magistrates seems very “light” considering the nature of the offence. But, we can’t really judge on that because we don’t know the full facts. We don’t know anything about the situation in the family, if, for instance, there were tensions or conflicts. Violence in a family can take many forms and is not necessarily physical. One of my sisters worked as nurse for many years in one of the biggest hospitals in Brussels, at the A&E, and told me that as much as 40% of the cases of domestic violence they had to deal with involved a male victim, and in the majority of those cases the nature of the violence was not “physical”, it was primarily psychological. She also told me that males were often embarrassed about being abuse victims and only asked for help in last resort. I’m not saying that this was the case in Liang’s family, all I’m saying is that the rather lenient punishment may have been motivated by a situation that we are not aware of and that we have no particular right to know about.

That said, Liang has always been rather “volatile”, but in recent times he had appeared increasingly unstable. I know for fact that I’m not the only one to have noticed the signs.

Now … a personal and, likely, highly unpopular opinion. Many of those snooker fans who asked for Liang to be “hanged and quartered” are big fans of Alex Higgins. I know how Alex changed the game, I admire the way he played when at his best, but I also read his bios, read Jimmy White’s bio and Jason Francis’ book about the origin and development of the “Snooker Legends”. In the latter Jason explains why he had to sack Alex after just one show. The truth is that he was a charismatic snooker player but a terrible human being, He could be nice and generous when he wanted to but, more often than not, he was manipulative, obnoxious, dishonest, violent and… he was a women beater as well. The fact the he was a drunk and a gambler is no excuse for his “problems”, that was part of the Problem (with capital P), and Alex never really tried to change either. I don’t do double standards … I’m not getting this, guys.

But back to Liang … as he came back to play but not for long. Indeed on 27 of October 2022 WPBSA issued a new statement, suspending Liang again, this time for “allegations of misconduct”. The suspension duration was not specified but it would last at least until the end of the investigation regarding those allegations.

The nature of the “misconduct” was not specified either but it became rapidly clear that this had something to do with “manipulating the result of matches”, in other words match fixing.

Then in December, as the investigation progressed, WPBSA issued no less than three more statements: on 9th of December, on 12th of December and on 23d of December . Other than Liang Wenbo, seven other Chinese players are now implicated: Li Hang, Lu Ning, Zhao Jianbo, Bai Langning, Chang Bingyu, Yan Bingtao and Chen Zifan.

We don’t know much details about the allegations, but here is what we do know:

  • Of the first five listed above, three are implicated about only one match. One of them denies the allegations.
  • Chang Bingyu is one of the three who are investigated for just one match. He doesn’t deny the facts, he will accept his punishment, but he explained that he was threatened by Liang Wenbo into doing it. Liang denies these allegations.
  • From what transpired on weibo, the facts incriminating Yan Bingtao are not very recent, they happened before he won the 2021 Masters, nearly two years ago.

All those players have now been suspended by CBSA as well.

One (ex) blogger on twitter reacted to Chang Bingyu’s “defence” by saying it’s all nonsense and an attempt at “damage limitation”. That person claims that had Chang just said no, nothing would have happened, Maybe, but I wouldn’t be so sure as Liang’s family is very wealthy and likely has “connections”. I’m not thinking “mafia” but I’m thinking influential people who could help or destroy a career.

It’s easy for a mature man, established in his own country to see it that way. But things look very different for a young lad – Chang is just 20 – away from his family in a foreign country. His command of English is probably rather basic. Like all citizens of countries living under an authoritarian regime, he wouldn’t trust the police, especially if the “other party” is a wealthy man with “connections”. And some stories in the news about how the police, in the UK, sometimes treats persons belonging to “minorities” will do nothing to help his confidence. Unless Liang is indeed proven innocent regarding these threats allegations, I believe Chang when he said he was scared and it’s a very uncomfortable feeling.

Shaun Murphy is never afraid to voice strong opinions and here he what he told the media:

Specifically for players who are found guilty of match fixing, they should never compete on the professional tour ever again. A complete life ban – from professional and amateur snooker. 

Their existence in the snooker world should be terminated. So strong is my feeling on it, it’s part of the reason, a multi-faceted reason, it’s part of why I resigned from WPBSA board many, many years ago. 

You know, I knew too much about what was going on with certain players who were under disciplinary inquiries. As a board director I was privy to information that the media and the public aren’t. 

For me it will be completely black and white. I know the world has gone greyer over the years, we have gone from an old fashioned black and white view of the world to quite an opaque one, often for the better. 

But I think cheating is one area where we should be a bit more black and white

If you are found guilty through the correct processes, if you are given the chance to defend yourself, and found guilty of match fixing, then in my opinion that should be your involvement in the snooker family finished. 

I am someone who tries with every fibre of my snooker being to help try to make this game better.

I have joined the board and sat on the players’ commission and everything I have tried to do in my professional career is to leave snooker in a better condition when I walk away from it compared to 1998 when I turned pro

You know things like what have happened in the past week with all the announcements of the players again – and we understand due process, they are innocent until proven guilty – it’s just heart-breaking.  

The people who matter the most, the fans, it just leaves that shadow of a doubt when they are watching what is arguably the hardest single player sport on the planet, such a skilful game

There is that little doubt when a player misses a pot that they think they should get – things like this sows that seed of doubt among the public

Did they really miss that? Was that on purpose? It’s heartbreaking for a player whose first love is snooker

It’s reputation around the world, we trade off that gentlemanly image, if these players are found guilty, then in my opinion they have no business being part of the snooker community anymore.” 

In principle, I agree with Shaun but would I feel uncomfortable if this was applied here, especially when it comes to the younger ones and in particular if it is proven that some of those players have been threatened. I also feel uncomfortable with the fact that such radical call has never been made when UK players have been under suspicion in the past. Some of them got away very lightly IMO, and before anyone digs that out again, it’s NOT John Higgins I’m about here.

When it comes to the Chinese players, UK fans appear to be far less forgiving or forgetful. Dishonesty is an individual trait, not a racial or national feature. Being away from their family, in a foreign country and culture, with a poor command of the local language makes non UK players more vulnerable to approaches by unscrupulous individuals, especially if they are fellow citizens.

I would be happy if there was a statement by WPBSA stating that, from January 1, 2023 every proven attempt to manipulate the outcome of a match will be punished with a life ban. For past occurrences though, the approach should be what it has been so far and punishments proportionate to the offence.

For the record…

The longer suspension ever imposed in the past was Stephen Lee’s in 2013.

Stephen Lee has been banned for 12 years after being found guilty of seven charges of match-fixing. The 38-year-old was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges by an independent tribunal last week. The tribunal chairman, Adam Lewis QC, also ordered that Lee pay costs of £40,000. The player plans to lodge an appeal against Wednesday morning’s decision.

Lee, the former world No5, was found guilty of match-fixing charges relating to seven matches in 2008 and 2009. The matches in question were three in the Malta Cup in 2008, two in the UK Championship in the same year, one in the 2009 China Open and one in the 2009 world championship.

A statement from the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) said: “The suspension is to be calculated from 12 October 2012, when the interim suspension was imposed. Therefore Stephen Lee will not be able to participate in snooker before 12 October 2024.”

The WPBSA had been seeking a lifetime ban but the organisation’s head of disciplinary Nigel Mawer insisted the 12-year suspension was effectively the same thing.

We did say we were seeking a life ban because if it was seven matches that had been fixed including during the world championships. But in effect it is a life ban because I think it is highly unlikely that Stephen Lee will be able to come back to the sport at this level.

We don’t take great pleasure out of that – this is a case of a fantastic snooker player who has thrown it all away through making the wrong decisions. It is only human to have a degree of sympathy for him and it is going to be very difficult for him but we have to send a very strong message that match-fixing is not going to be tolerated. To my knowledge this is the longest ban ever handed down and there are £40,000 costs to pay too if he ever wants to come back.

It’s worth noting that there had been strong suspicions about the outcome of other matches played by Lee, notably at the Premier League Snooker but that were not taken into account when the 2013 decision was made. Lee was making a good living from the game as well.

Also, Lee has got himself in trouble again after that. He got two more criminal convictions:

Indeed, On 9 June 2014 Lee pleaded guilty to fraud at Swindon Magistrates’ Court and was fined £110. Lee had sold his personal snooker cue to a Facebook fan for £1,600 but when he failed to deliver the cue the fan reported the matter to the police. Lee was also ordered to repay the £1,600 cost of the cue.

Also on 12 April 2018 Lee was arrested in Hong Kong following an immigration raid at a billiards hall. Lee was charged with teaching snooker without a work permit and appeared in court on 14 April where he pleaded not guilty to breaching the conditions of his tourist visa. Lee was forced to surrender his passport and was bailed until June. Lee changed his plea to a guilty plea on the first day of his trial, and the case was dismissed after he agreed to a 12-month good behaviour bond of HK$1,000 (£95).

So, given the current “jurisprudence” in the sport, giving a frightened young lad a life ban for fixing one match in a relatively minor event would definitely be over the top and when the same person who dismissed Chang’s fears, said on twitter that Lee was a “small time fixer”, I’m seriously nonplussed.

Also, Nigel Mawer said they wanted a life ban, but eventually that’s not what Lee got and I’m not sure why. At the time, it looked indeed very unlikely that he would come back to the sport at 50 … BUT … we now have three players aged 47 in the top 8 of our sport, and Jimmy White still playing at 60. Things may be get “interesting” in 2024/25, especially if life bans are actually handed to the Chinese players. WPBSA might have a bit of a headache if Lee decides to enter the Q-School.

And about the Q-School … we also had the “Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon” affair.

Thanawat had qualified for this season and the next via the Asia-Oceania Q-School. He wasn’t given a tour card though … instead he was sent to face the disciplinary committee.

Here is WPBSA statement

WPBSA Statement – Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon

 WPBSA Statement 18th November 2022

 The WPBSA and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon

 At a hearing that took place before the independent WPBSA Disciplinary Committee on 25th October 2022, Tirapongpaiboon admitted serious breaches of the WPBSA Conduct Regulations. This followed investigations, working closely with Sportradar in 2013, 2015 and 2022. 

 As a result of the decision of the WPBSA Board to refuse Tirapongpaiboon membership of the WPBSA in June 2022, he fully cooperated with the new WPBSA investigation into match fixing. He admitted to fixing the outcome of six matches between 2013 and 2015.

 The finding of the Tribunal was that the starting point for Tirapongpaiboon was a suspension of nine years. He was given credit for his plea of guilty which reduced the suspension to six years. Of that period, he will serve a suspension of two years nine months unconditionally. The remaining three years and three months will be suspended, provided there is compliance with the terms agreed between Tirapongpaiboon and the WPBSA to provide significant assistance to the WPBSA in its anti-corruption work.

Provided he complies with his agreement with the WPBSA, his suspension will run from 15th June 2022 until 14th March 2025. He was ordered to pay £1,925 towards the WPBSA costs.

Jason Ferguson Chairman of the WPBSA said “This case shows that if a player chooses to fix a match they will be caught, no matter how long after the event. Thanawat has shown true remorse and wants to help ensure that other players do not make the mistakes that he did as a young player by assisting the WPBSA in its player education program. This has been reflected in the sanction. This case shows how seriously the WPBSA treats match fixing.”

The full findings of the Independent Tribunal can be found HERE.

Tirapongpaiboon has until 1st December 2022 to appeal the decision of the Tribunal.

 Tirapongpaiboon charges admitted:

  1. That you fixed the outcome of your match with Noppon Saengkham at the Australian Open Qualifier in Gloucester on 1st June 2013 in breach of Rule
  2. That you fixed the outcome of your match with Ross Muir at the Shanghai Masters Qualifiers in Doncaster on 7th August 2013 in breach of Rule
  3. That you fixed the outcome of your match with Ding Junhui at the China Open Qualifiers in Gloucester on 16TH February 2014 in breach of Rule
  4. That you fixed the outcome of your match with Martin Gould at the Welsh Open in Wales on 19th February 2014 in breach of Rule
  5. That you fixed the outcome of your match with Stuart Bingham at the UK Championship in York on 25th November 2014 in breach of Rule
  6. That you fixed the outcome of your match with Martin O’Donnell at the PTC European Tour 2 in Furth, Germany on 28th August 2015 in breach of Rule

For the avoidance of doubt, Tirapongpaiboon’s opponents in the matches in question were not involved in any way in these rule breaches.

WPBSA Conduct Regulations extract:

  1. Betting misconduct

2.1   It shall be a breach of these Rules for a Member to do any of the following:

  • Corruption:  to fix or contrive, or to be a party to any effort to fix or contrive, the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match;

The full WPBSA Conduct Regulations can be viewed here.

And of course, this very recent decision makes a life ban very hard to justify for the eight currently implicated – should they be found guilty – unless something extremely serious came to light.

As a conclusion …

WPBSA has a duty to protect the integrity of the game, but they also have a duty to care for their members. If the ongoing investigation uncovers individuals or groups of individuals who approach(ed) young vulnerable players and coerce(d) them into manipulating the outcome of matches, WPBSA has a duty to try and sue them. If Liang is found to have threatened some of his young fellow citizens, he definitely should get a life ban from the sport. His victims (if any) though should get ONE second chance. Any (proven) recurrence should lead automatically to a life ban barring proven truly exceptional circumstances.

Snooker News – 29 December 2022

Snooker will be back right after the New Year celebrations and the first big event will be the 2023 Masters. WST has confirmed what we all expected.

David Gilbert will replace Yan Bingtao in the draw.

Gilbert Joins Cazoo Masters Field

David Gilbert has been awarded a place in the 2023 Cazoo Masters and will face Mark Williams in the opening round at Alexandra Palace in London on Tuesday January 10th at 7pm.

Click here for the updated draw

Gilbert directly replaces Yan Bingtao, who was suspended by WPBSA on December 12th. Yan’s 14-day window to appeal the suspension has now passed. Gilbert was 17th in the world rankings at the cut-off point for the Cazoo Masters so he is the next player in line.

Tamworth’s Gilbert reached the semi-finals on each of his previous appearances at the Masters, in 2020 and 2021.

WPBSA/WST have also published the draw for the Q-Tour Event 6

Q Tour Event Six Draw

Tournament information including the draw and format for the sixth and final event of the WPBSA Q Tour is now available to view via WPBSA SnookerScores.

The event will take place at the Northern Snooker Centre, Leeds and will run from 6-8 January 2023.

Q Tour is one of the premier pathways to the World Snooker Tour with two professional places to be won across the season. Sean O’Sullivan and Julien Leclercq both earned main tour cards via the Q Tour last season.

This season’s first five events were won by Ross Muir, Martin O’Donnell, Farakh Ajaib, Billy Castle and Daniel Wells.

Unsurprisingly all the winners so far are British, all are male and all are former pros.

In fact all players in the top 16 Q-Tour rankings are British, only four have never been pros and only one of those is teenagers. The highest ranked “non-UK” players are Florian Nuessle (Austria), Gao Yang (China) and Brian Ochoiski (France) and they are 19th, 20th, and 21st in the Q-Tour rankings.

And, the final piece of news I’ m sharing in this post is a sad one and was shared by WST on Christmas’ Eve : Frank Adamson passed away.

Frank Adamson Passes Away

Frank Adamson, a renowned coach who worked with players including Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Lee and Jack Lisowski, has passed away at the age of 93.

Adamson, from Bristol, was well known in snooker circles as one of the sport’s best coaches. He helped countless young players to improve their technique.

O’Sullivan said: “Frank was a great student of the game, and knew his stuff. If it wasn’t for Frank, I don’t think I would have won one world title. So Frank helping me out enabled me to win seven. We worked so hard for a year. It was amazing. It was probably the best and the hardest time of my snooker career. I knew I had to sort my game out, and I knew he was the person to do it. So big love and respect to Frank, and his wife Loretta. Amazing family. Amazing couple. Love him to pieces. I loved his cheese and ham sandwiches. Just a great guy. Sorely missed.”

Daniel Wells, who was coached by Adamson, said: “Frank was an incredible coach and he had the ability to work with players of all standards, from beginners to World Champions. He dedicated most of his life to snooker and helped so many players. He was also a lovely guy and he will be missed by everyone who knew him.”

Coach Nic Barrow added: “Frank was instrumental in helping me understand the game as a player. He later spent many years helping me find my own coaching style and methods. He always viewed himself as a student of the game first and foremost which is why I trusted him so deeply. I told him on more than one occasion, that if I had to have another Dad, I would want Frank to be my Dad.”

WST and WPBSA send our condolences to all of Frank’s family and friends.

There were plenty more heartfelt tributes on social media, including by Paul Mount who in the days set-up the wonderful South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester and was manager to many great players, as well as from Andrew Norman who worked closely with Paul.

The Year 2002 – The Bad

Ongoing Schedule Issues

Just like last season, the structure of the calendar has attracted criticism. The first ranking event of the 2022/23 season was again the ranking Championship League Snooker. The event has its merits in that the first phase guarantees all those who enter three matches against other players of various strength. This is beneficial for the young and the rookies. But it drags over several weeks and lacks intensity. Although there was snooker nearly every day in July, for most players involved it was actually just one day of competition. Also bizarrely, the European Masters Qualifiers were sandwiched in the middle of it.

The Asia Oceania Q-School was played after the UK based Q-Schools, That didn’t leave much time for the laureates to sort their visas and other things they needed to be able to move to the UK. As a result, all of them missed the early 2022/23 events. If anything, knowing that the administrative formalities are inevitable and time consuming, WPBSA/WST should schedule this event ahead of the UK Q-Schools.

Also there were overlapping events, something I can’t remember happening in previous years. Stephen Hendry felt forced to withdraw from the UK Championship because his first qualifying match was scheduled during the Champion of Champions final and he was contracted by ITV to work as a pundit in that event. Hendry got a lot of stick for putting his punditry work ahead of his match, but I perfectly understand his decision. Snooker is not what allows him to make a living nowadays. In addition, the whole issue could probably have been easily sorted by talking about the situation before the format was decided.

Still No Chinese Events

Live is back to (almost) normal in most of the world after the covid-19 pandemics but in mainland China stringent restrictions still apply, most notably long quarantine periods on entering the country. This is understandable in a country that isn’t rich and has one of the largest populations in the world. In urban areas the density of population is huge. In rural areas, distances are huge and medical resources scarce. Therefore the main effort is on trying to control the contagion and the propagation of the illness. It’s the right thing to do, we get that.

But for snooker this has been a bit of a nightmare. We had five very lucrative events happening in China before covid and for the all the players the current situation means that huge earning opportunities have gone missing. For most Chinese players it also meant living in the UK for the best part of the year without an opportunity to actually go back “home” and maybe see their family. This has certainly be taxing on their mental well-being.

Nobody is to blame but it’s not great on so many accounts. Yesterday, Shaun Murphy tweeted that China has now decided to scrap the mandatory quarantine. If true that may be the first step towards a “return to normality” but I don’t expect this to be a fast process. If we have the Shanghai Masters running smoothly at the start of next season, I will be happy. There no certainty though as, since the covid related restrictions have been lifted in China last week, cases have surged and I wouldn’t be surprised if the government soon reinstantiates the said restrictions.

Dull Depressing Qualifiers – Home Nations, European Masters and more

The current qualifying process for the flat draw events is not ideal to say the least. The qualifiers are held well ahead of the events – one to two months ahead usually – which does not guarantee that the in-form players will be at the main venue. They are more often than not held in rather uninspiring venues. Usually there are three or four matches played by session and very little, if anything, on offer for the fans on site between sessions. As a result, although they have been open to the fans, these qualifying events have not attracted many of them at the venue. It’s all quite dull and depressing for the players. All this is in stark contrast with the UK and World qualifiers, with a lot more tables in operation, and longer formats, there is always something happening somewhere for the fans to enjoy.

Robert Milkins’ Drunk Antics in Antalya

Robert Milkins did himself no favour when he got very drunk at the start of the 2022 Turkish Masters in Antalya. An inebriated “Milkman” got into a spat with local fans, then with Jason Ferguson, before going to the toilets where he passed out, fell and hurt himself. He needed to be taken to hospital and have his stomach pumped. Add to it that the majority of Turkish citizens are muslims and alcohol consumption is against their religious principles and you get a right mess, exactly what you want when you just organised a ranking snooker tournament in the country for the first time. The snooker authorities were not impressed, a sobered Robert Milkins was deeply ashamed and very sorry for the trouble he caused. Despite all that the event was a success!

Gibraltar Open Woes

The 2022 Gibraltar Open turned into a disaster. This tournament was in fact the last of the “PTCs”, being contested over best of seven frames from start to finish . With little prize money on offer – reaching the semi-finals was “worth” only £6000 – many players withdrew, notably Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Kurt Maflin, Anthony McGill, Sam Craigie, David Gilbert and Anthony Hamilton.

Then bad weather conditions further conspired against the event and its organisation as a “red sand storm” led to a number of flights being diverted to Málaga, where players travelling on non-British passports, and without a Schengen visa did not meet the Spanish government visa requirements and had to return to the UK. Hossein Vafaei , Li Hang, Pang Junxu, Wu Yize, Xu Si and Si Jiahui were all flown back to the UK.

Eventually the big beneficiary of this disaster was Robert Milkins who redeemed himself after his Turkish Masters antics by winning the title, his first.

The is no Gibraltar Open this year. I doubt that there will ever be another one in this format in the future.

Reactions to Jamie Hunter’s First Title

Jamie Hunter plays on the World Women Snooker Tour where she is currently ranked 5th in the rankings.

2022 Should have been a glorious year for Jamie who won three titles: the 2022 World Women’s Billiards Championship, the 2022 US Women’s Open and the 2022 Australian Women’s Open. Instead her successes triggered a barrage of abuse and hateful reactions. Jamie is a transgender woman and some women players, most notably Maria Catalano, argued that she should not be allowed to compete on the women’s tour as, fundamentally, she is a man and that gives her unfair advantages. While this argument is valid in many physical sports, I don’t think there is a case for it in snooker and in particular when it comes to Jamie who is certainly no “Mister Muscle”. She is shorter than me and I’m just 1.67 m high. She is slender and I would be surprised if she weights much over 55kg, if that. Jamie who has struggled with her gender identity all her life, and works very hard to earn her successes at snooker, was deeply hurt by the whole situation.

Decline of the Seniors Tour

There were only two main events on the Seniors Tour in 2022 and, so far, only one is scheduled in 2023. This is NOT because there is a lack of interest. The first Open Series event attracted a huge field. The two “main” events that were held, the UK Championship and the World Championship were successes. I had any number of questions about the situation by readers of my blogs. So then, what is happening?

I don’t have a complete answer to that but, obviously the whole covid crisis has done a lot of damage. Also, I know about some of the issues that Jason Francis is trying to solve. When the decision was made to allow professional players over 40 and outside the top 64 to compete on the Seniors tour, it looked like a great idea and made it easier to get legends like Jimmy White, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry in events without needing to seek permission each time. Most importantly it was meant to allow the older pros to prepare smoothly for their retirement from professional snooker, knowing they would get another tour to play in and some earning opportunities coming with it. But the professional Players Contract currently limits what can be done to promote the Seniors tour. Typically professional players can not appear on stream or television, unless no professional event is running at the same time and they were granted permission by WPBSA/WST. In the first years of the Seniors tour, Jason used to stream the qualifying events. He can’t do that freely now. Visibility is essential for the development of any sports circuit and for Seniors snooker the opportunities have been seriously limited by these constraints. Not being visible also limits the amateur players opportunities to find sponsors. What’s the point to pay someone for wearing your logo if nobody is going to see it?

Stephen Hendry’s Wild Card

Stephen Hendry didn’t make the most of the wild card he got at the start of the 2020/21 season. He didn’t play much at all. He accepted a new one for this season, promising that he would play more but has only played three matches so far, and won just one frame. He seems to lack any sort of dedication or motivation.

What’s the point really? For me it’s not about him taking the spot of some youngster eager to play, because he’s not: the tour is supposed to be open to 128 pros and the three wildcards come on top of that. The “top-ups” have no “right” to be on tour, and when offered a spot in a draw, it’s an opportunity they are given, nothing more. What annoys me is that I don’t understand why he accepted that second tour card. When he took the first, his alleged “goal” was to return to the Crucible. He doesn’t like the way his last match there as a pro went, and I understand that: I was there, I watched it and it was a complete capitulation. As soon as the first mistakes crept in, there was no fight at all. That’s not how a great champion wants to bow out. But now, even that goal seems to have faded away.

This is what he had to say in a recent chat on YouTube as reported by “the Mirror”

Stephen Hendry lifts lid on underwhelming snooker comeback in candid chat

Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry has toiled on his return to action after being handed a wildcard two years ago by former World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn

Hendry has opened up on his uninspiring return to snooker

Stephen Hendry has opened up on his underwhelming snooker return – insisting his plan was never to make a committed comeback to the sport.

Seven-time world champion Hendry’s return to the main tour has fallen completely flat after the initial excitement surrounding his wildcard given by World Snooker in 2020. The legendary Scot, 53, has toiled on his uninspiring return to competitive action after his retirement in 2012 – winning just three of his 14 matches.

And he was whitewashed 5-0 by Welsh veteran Matthew Stevens in German Masters qualifying in his latest humbling, mustering a high break of just 32. Hendry is now a prominent pundit and preferred TV duties to competing in the qualifying for the UK Championship last month, a decision met with backlash in snooker circles. 

And the youngest ever Crucible winner has now given his verdict on somewhat of a half-hearted comeback, in a candid chat with pro Matt Selt on his Cue Tips Youtube channel

I don’t prepare so I can’t expect to do anything to be fair,” Hendry said. “We love golf don’t we… and golf’s a massive distraction.

Unless I take it seriously – even playing like two hours a day or one hour a day for a whole month – that would be something.

But I can’t expect to just turn up. The players are good and the safety has improved and the scoring has improved. But I watch the players play and think if I put some work in I could get results.”

Hendry has been a shadow of the player who dominated the sport in the 1990’s and remains without a win all season. But he admits that he struggles to get motivated to compete in obscure qualifying venues and less glamorous events.

I’m not saying I could win but that’s not why I came back,” he added. “People seem to think it’s a comeback – it’s not. It’s just a wildcard to play in events.

I came back to get the experience of playing in venues again with crowds, not to go to Wigan and play in a leisure centre. No disrespect to Wigan but that doesn’t really get me going.

You wonder what he was expecting really? To have his matches held-over to the venues? Also all thoughts about a Crucible return have disappeared it seems. It’s disappointing, it’s sad.

The Year 2022 – The Good

In this piece I want to look at the good things that happened in snooker in 2022

The guaranteed £20000 income

That announcement by WPBSA/WST was probably the best news of the year in my views, and a massive step in the right direction for the sport and the players. It’s particularly important for the young players and those from outside the UK who, because of the UK centric organisation of the sport, have either to move to the UK and live as ex-pats or to travel back and forth every odd week. Both “solutions” come at a high cost financially and emotionally. At least, this will help with the financial side of the situation. And it’s only right. They earned their professional status – well most of them did – and it takes two to play a match. No matter how well both may play, one will lose. Both though will have contributed to the tournament, both have brought value for the fans, the venue, the broadcaster. It’s only right that they get something for it, if only to cover their basic expenses. It’s NOT “rewarding mediocrity”, it’s recognising their efforts and contribution to the sport.

The tiered qualifiers for the UK Championship

Since the format of the event had been shortened to best of 11, the UK Championship had clearly lost in prestige and many fans were struggling at still seeing it as a “Major. Also the strict seeding system, imposed by the BBC who didn’t want to cover the first round, but still wanted all top players at their television stages had produced more than a reasonable share of boring complete “mismatches”. The decision to adopt the same tiered qualifying system as used for the World Championship has worked a treat. It’s been years since we sensed such a buzz around the UK Championship early stages. Part of that buzz came from the excellent coverage of the qualifiers on Eurosport and on Facebook, supported by the never fading enthusiasm of Rob Walker. I hope this format becomes the “permanent” one for this event as it’s so much better on all accounts.

The Asia-Oceania Q-School

It had been promised years ago and it was long overdue. Thanks to the efforts of the Thai hosts of the event, a lot of matches were available to watch on Facebook in a very reasonable quality. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality on show, certainly in the latter stages of the event, and the four laureates are certainly at least as good as your average UK Q-School qualifier. Mohammad Asif is a quality player who regularly reached the latter stages in IBSF events for years, and, of course, we got Dechawat Poomjaeng back! 👏

The first Turkish Masters

Going to new places is always a good thing for any sport and the 2022 Turkish Masters in Antalya was certainly a success. Antalya is a lovely place and the event was well supported by the local fans. UK fans may not be aware of it but Turkey has an old and rich tradition in billiards, more specifically in carom and three-cushions. Turkey had and has some of the very best exponents in the latter discipline, most notably the extraordinary Semih Sayginer, Mister Magic. So, it’s not surprising that snooker was appreciated. Judd Trump offering the fans a 147 in the final, en route to victory was the icing on the cake.

The return of the Hong Kong Masters

The 2022 Hong Kong Masters saw the return of professional snooker on Chinese territory for the first time since the covid crisis began. It was far from easy to organise but it ended up being a fantastic success story. The final, where Ronnie beat the local favourite, Marco Fu was played in front of the biggest crowd ever recorded for a snooker match with nearly 9000 persons attending in the venue. The atmosphere was incredible. It was a dream final. Earlier Marco had delighted his fellow citizens by making a 147 during his match against John Higgins.

WBBSA/WST efforts to improve “hospitality” at events.

This has been ongoing for some years, but it was really apparent at the last UK Championship. There is a real effort by the snooker bodies to improve the fans experience. In York, the setup in the arena had been completely rethought and the fan zone “extended”. Top coaches and top players made themselves available to meet the fans, discuss with them, demonstrate their skills and give “hands-on” advice. The fan zone is not a new feature, and the coaches “on duty” have always been dedicated, but in York it grew to a new dimension and it was hugely appreciated. Judd Trump is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s always ready for those things and his desire to grow the sport is genuine. One area where improvement is still needed though is the quality of the food on offer for the “ordinary” fan. It’s quite baffling that in so many venues that are primarily sports halls or leisure centres, the food on offer, if any, is very mediocre, basically “fast food” stuff. Yes, there are practical reasons for that, but surely it can be improved.

The 900

The latest but certainly not the last of Jason Francis’s brain-children, the 900, has been a blast. You have to admire Jason’s energy, creativity, love for snooker and communicative enthusiasm. He found sponsors, he found away to stream the event, he got Rachel and Fouldsy on board in the studio, Lee “the Shirt” Richardson everywhere, Billy Castle in the com box… All the players involved loved it. And we as spectators loved it too. There was good snooker, there was drama, there was a shared passion all around. It was diversity at its best: young prospects, seasoned players, veterans, women and men, able-bodied and disabled … all first and foremost snooker lovers and players. The only “downside” for me was the schedule. It was midnight here when the streaming started. It does take something special to get me staying awake up to 3 in the morning… well, this did. 😂

The growing “Podcasts Scene”

Yes… growing! It’s not just that quality podcasts have multiplied, they get longer and bigger by the week. A special mention here for Phil Haigh, Nick Metcalfe and David Hendon. All year long we enjoyed quality interviews, informed opinions and well thought-out analysis.

Rescuing Snooker Scene

When it was announced that, because of Clive Everton’s poor health, Snooker Scene would be discontinued, for many snooker fans it felt like the loss of a dear friend, for many even the loss of a “childhood friend’. This should have been expected – Clive turned 85 last September – but it still came as shock. But thanks to Nick Metcalfe, and the team he gathered around him, the magazine will live on and Dave Hendon still contributes. The first “post-Clive” issue is already in the hands of the grateful fans. Thank you.

Tomorrow I will look at the “bad” or at least “not so good” things that happened in snooker in 2022. I will leave the current match fixing inquiry out of that post though, as I reserve it for the final piece of this mini series. It will be branded as the “ugly”.

The Year 2022 – The Winners

This piece is the first of a small series looking at the highs and lows in our favourite sport, snooker, during 2022. The focus here will not be solely on those who won at the table, but also on those in snooker who won important personal battles.

When reading this, keep in mind that those are only my personal views, not some kind of “truth”. So … here goes.

The first-timers

Hossein Vafaei – 2022 Shoot-out

The Shoot-out is not the most prestigious event, many, including me, are of the opinion that it should not be ranking, but this was a remarkable, and difficult, victory for Hossein Vafaei and not just because he became the first Iranian player to win a professional ranking tournament.. This whole year has been extremely difficult for him. His beloved grand-mother had past away just before the tournament and a tearful Hossein dedicated his win to her. The political situation in his country has been awful and he recently admitted to being terribly worried about his loved ones and crying watching the news. In comparison a snooker title looks quite unimportant but to achieve it under the circumstances deserves respect and praise … no matter some of the questionable opinions he expressed 😉

Fan Zhengyi – 2022 February European Masters

Fan’s first ranking title came as a total surprise. Nobody, except, maybe, those practising with him, expected it. His win over Ronnie in the final was seen as a big shock. Of course, it was in a way, but the signs were there from the start of the week. Indeed, en route to the final, he had beaten Aaron Hill, Kyren Wilson, Yan Bingtao, David Gilbert and Graeme Dott. That’s him overcoming five top 20 players, including three top 16 players during the week. The pundits didn’t rate fan at all. One reason for that was that he hadn’t scored many centuries during his pro career thus far. What they apparently didn’t know is the story behind it: in an interview with Liu Song in China, he had explained that he deliberately avoided making centuries, wanting his first professional century to be a 147. After the 2021 World Championship, he dropped the idea… Fan hasn’t done much since and this is probably not that surprising. He’s a shy character and all of a sudden the spotlights and expectations were on him. He needs more time to adjust to this new situation.

Robert Milkins – 2022 Gibraltar Open

The Gibraltar Open is not the most prestigious tournament in the calendar. It is actually the last event still played under the old “PTC” format. But, for Robert Milkins, winning it at 46 years of age, it was the best achievement of his career, especially after what had happened at the 2022 Turkish Masters only a couple of weeks before. Robert indeed had let himself down badly when he became heavily inebriated in Antalya, caused havoc, got into a raw with fans and then collapsed in the toilets, hurting himself. Rob is not a bad guy, not at all, and he was deeply ashamed afterwards. In Gibraltar, he redeemed himself big time.

Gary Wilson – 2022 Scottish Open

Gary Wilson is a very talented player, we all knew it. Most notably he had reached the semi-finals at the Crucible in 2019. He was beaten at that stage by Judd Trump who went on to lift the trophy that year. But Gary had also been very inconsistent throughout his professional career and had opened up about his struggles with depression and other mental health issues. His pride and sheer joy lifting the Stephen Hendry trophy were heartwarming.

The Serial Winners

We had two serial winners this year.

Neil Robertson was probably the best performer of the first half of the year, winning the 2022 Masters, the 2022 Players Championship and the 2022 Tour Championship. In the latter he beat John Higgins by 10-9 in the final, having trailed 9-4. In 2022 Neil has won 39 of the 50 matches he played. He has reached no less than seven semi-finals.

Mark Allen has dominated snooker since the start of the 2022/23 season. He’s far ahead of everyone else in the current one year list: he has earned himself 405000 points … Ryan Day is second wit a comparatively meagre 136500 points. Mark has won two titles this season: he has defended his Northern Ireland crown and has won the 2022 UK Championship. He has won 31 of the 39 matches he has played so far this season. But, more importantly, Mark has won his personal battles, sorting out his private life and getting much, much fitter.

The Goat – Ronnie O’Sullivan

By winning his 7th World Title at the Crucible last May, Ronnie has definitely cemented his place as the greatest of all times … for now, because, of course, such a status stands only ever until someone does even better. But it will take some beating this one! He now owns nearly every record in our sport: most World Titles (7- joint wit Stephen Hendry), most UK Championship titles (7), most Masters titles (7), most ranking titles (39), most “Triple Crowns” (21), most centuries (en route to 1200…), most maximums (15) … and more. He’s won two more titles this season already: the 2022 Hong Kong Masters and the 2022 Champion of Champions.

This is how David Hendon, writing for Eurosport a couple of days ago, was reflecting about Ronnie’s status in snooker:


Ronnie O’Sullivan won a seventh world title in 2022. It confirmed his greatest of all time status, writes Dave Hendon. Yet, as ever with The Rocket, that only tells half the story. The 47-year-old Rocket, Hendon writes, manages to be both a figurehead and a rebel at the same time, simultaneously putting snooker on the map and then scribbling over it.

Ronnie O’Sullivan began 2022 as most people’s pick for snooker’s GOAT but with a nagging reason to dissent from this view: he had six world titles to his name while Stephen Hendry had won seven.

Any doubt as to his status was removed by O’Sullivan’s magnificent triumph at the Crucible in the spring, the crowning moment of his whole career which reduced him to tears in the arena and the Eurosport studio.

This was the real Ronnie: passionate, committed and emotional. The World Championship, with its prestige, profile and length of matches, is like no other event. It’s like climbing a succession of mountains, having to survive various rockfalls along the way.

Throughout the 17 days O’Sullivan’s focus was exemplary. There were no major slips on table or off it. Judd Trump came back at him on the final day but O’Sullivan recovered his composure in the concluding session. 

Seventh heaven had been a long road. There was a time when some doubted, given the turmoil his life was in off table as a young man, whether he would even win one world title.

But O’Sullivan has proven to be snooker’s great survivor, coming back time and again from all manner of setbacks, controversies and his own love-hate feelings about the sport to dazzle us once more. This year, he cemented his place at the head of the pantheon.

The World Championship is snooker’s ultimate prize, far outstripping any other. It is a such a Holy Grail that players unsuccessful in Sheffield can end up being defined by coming up short, as Jimmy White will attest. Therefore, a Crucible win can make up for deficiencies elsewhere. It can also mask the true picture.

Between winning his sixth world title in 2020 and seventh in 2022 O’Sullivan played in 29 tournaments and won only one of them, last season’s World Grand Prix. The last event he captured played under the flat draw format in which every player comes in at the last 128 stage was the UK Championship four years ago.

So although O’Sullivan dominates the headlines, he is not actually dominating the sport. Nobody is, because the standard through the ranks is now so high that lower ranked players are more than capable not only of causing upsets but of winning titles. Fan Zhengyi, a completely unheralded player stationed 81st in the rankings, was the best example of this when he beat the Rocket in the European Masters final last February.

Where O’Sullivan can still be backed to come good is in an environment which feels special, in which his stature is amplified, hence he triumphed at the Hong Kong Masters this season, an elite event which attracted a record live audience of 9,000 people. He also won the Champion of Champions, another one-table, big money tournament designed for the best.

The everyday events which form the bread and butter of the circuit do not get his juices flowing as much after 30 years on tour, so in these he tends to be vulnerable.

It makes sense. If he put as much intensity into every event as he did the Crucible this year he would burn out. His strategy instead is to treat tournaments as mini-breaks, not putting too much pressure on himself. He checks out the route for his morning run, finds a local coffee shop and also plays a snooker match or two.

At this stage of his career, enjoying the experience of being at tournaments is as important as whether he wins them, although he is clearly still a competitive animal in the arena, often berating himself for mistakes and talking down what appear to mere mortals to be strong performances.

But when he gets knocked out he is usually gracious. In fact, most of his uncomfortable interviews come when he has won.

He has received criticism from fellow players. Hossein Vafaei bizarrely called for him to quit the game before the World Championship. Shaun Murphy questioned a perceived lack of gratitude towards snooker at the UK Championship.

Some players feel O’Sullivan receives special treatment. In some ways they are right, but then again he is special. It’s always his face on the posters, his name in lights. He is used to sell a sport from which many others make a good living.

Snooker will ultimately survive without him, but it will miss him. It should count itself lucky that his popular brand of play and at times eccentric personality continues to bring in huge audiences. There is ample room for others to shine, and they do, but many fans still come to events first and foremost because of him.

So what does 2023 hold? O’Sullivan’s profile is set to grow further with the release of the Netflix documentary filmed last season, which includes his Crucible triumph.

It will bring him – and snooker – to new audiences, so promises to be a positive for the sport, although it will doubtless also touch on the aspects of the game that he dislikes.

The paradox of O’Sullivan is that he manages to be both a figurehead and a rebel at the same time, simultaneously putting snooker on the map and then scribbling over it. Yet the game still runs through his veins. The many retirement threats have come to nothing. He is 47 now but plays like a young man. There is no obvious decline. His eyesight is good and he keeps himself physically fit.

The truth is, through his own remarkable achievements O’Sullivan has reached the enviable position of having nothing left to prove. Any title he wins now is only adding to a formidable legacy of greatness.

The last question mark against him was removed in 2022. On snooker’s most revered stage, our sport’s great survivor outlasted them all, and proved beyond any reasonable doubt that he is the best there has ever been.

And more …

Of course there were more winners this year, here is the complete list (source

Special mentions to …

Joe Perry who won his second ranking title at the 2022 Welsh Open, at the age of 47. Only Ray Reardon did better: he was 50 years old when he won his final ranking event in 1982… Joe does a lot for the game, and for the young aspiring amateurs. Without his help Neil Robertson may never have fulfilled his huge potential and may never have achieved what he has in our sport. He deserves more recognition for his contribution to the game than he actually gets from the fans.

Mark Selby who won the last event of the season, the 2022 English Open ending a bare spell that lasted over a year and a half, but is also winning a much more important battle against depression and has found the courage and strength to talk openly about it.

In the coming days I will publish three more pieces about the year 2022 on the baize: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Stay tuned…

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah

Today, 25th of December, most Christians celebrate Christmas, although part of the Orthodox community will celebrate it on the 6th of January. This year, the Jewish community also celebrates Hanukkah, from the 18th of December to the 26th of December. And, of course, many non-believers celebrate too because it’s an opportunity to meet family and friends, to share a meal, to have a drink or just to enjoy some good time with people we love.

I explained yesterday that I’m alone on my island at the moment and yesterday evening I decided to just have a walk around the village with my camera. There are very few people around this time of the year. Only one “taverna” was open, and the bakery. Although we have at least a dozen churches in the village, there was no midnight mass. I met countless cats but no human except at the bakery, where Koula, who runs it with Manolis, her husband, knowing that my family is away, invited me for lunch today. We have known Koula and Manolis for nearly 20 years. Their children, and mine, were kids at the time, today I shared the Christmas meal with the whole family, from “Thia Theoni”, Koulas’s mother and the “auntie” for everyone in the village, to her whole tribe of grand-children. I counted 10 of them. That’s how life is still lived here and long may it last. Eucharisto Koula 💖

Anyway… here are the pictures taken yesterday night, No flash, no tripod. Just what caught my eye on the moment and a rare “selfie”

Happy celebrations everyone, enjoy and cherish those moments !

2023 Six-reds World Championship Qualifiers

Yes, I know… everyone is preparing for Christmas and I come up with stuff about qualifiers for a 6-reds tournament in Bangkok. That’s what happens when you’re alone at home on a day like this…

Don’t pity me. I’m very happy. My five rescue cats are adorable. My island is peaceful and the sceneries are unique and wonderful. Every day I look at the caldera and every day I’m in awe. Every day I’m grateful for being generally healthy and in good shape, for the pure and beautiful light, for the fresh products at the market, for the still mild and sunny weather and the kindness of my neighbours.

Thanks to nowadays technology, I’m in contact with my loved ones in Brussels daily and in a few weeks they will be here to stay with me for a while. Life is good. I’m a very lucky girl …

So… forget the baubles for a few minutes … and back to the balls

This was posted by WST a couple of days ago

Six Red World Championship Qualifiers Draw

For the first time, the Six Red World Championship has a qualifying process, with the four winning players to go through to the final stages in Thailand.

The qualifying event will run from 7 to 9 January in Barnsley.

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

The final stages in Bangkok will run from 6 to 11 March, 2023. While this is a non-ranking tournament, the qualifying event gives all players the opportunity to compete, earn prize money and potentially a place in the televised stages in Thailand.

Leading players in the qualifying rounds will include Stephen Hendry, David Gilbert, Ryan Day, Ali Carter, Joe Perry, Ricky Walden, Gary Wilson and Marco Fu.

So, Stephen Maguire, after well over three years will finally be able to try to defend his title! He won it it in September 2019!

Now … those four qualifiers are set to join a set of 16 (?) players who “automatically” qualified. Who are they? I have no clue. I looked up WST site, I looked up Wikipedia, I searched the Internet … in vain. Surely they can’t just be the top 16??? Anyone with a clue, or link, please comment!

Anyway… that’s not the only mysterious/baffling thing about this announcement and event.

So, Stephen Hendry is one of the leading players? He is even the first one named in that list? Stephen Hendry had a glittering career but this season he has so far only played three matches, lost them all and won just ONE frame. How on earth is he a leading player? And will he even actually play?

Those qualifiers also overlap with the 2023 Masters. That’s the second time in a season that had more holes in the calendar than the proverbial Gruyère that events overlap. You will tell me that I should be happy that the 6-reds World Championship will actually be on – and I am – and that there aren’t that many holes in the calendar from now on but still …

Then to manage a field of 120 players WST had to dig really deep into the Q-School order of merit! There is one player in this list who I know for sure hasn’t won a single frame in the three 20221/22 Q-schools combined and their only 4 points came from an opponent no-show and this person is playing another amateur. Aside of that there are also some really though first round clashes between pros.

There is no mention if/where those matches will be streamed, so I suppose they won’t be. It’s a shame. I quite like the 6-reds because quite often even with just one red remaining the frame isn’t over.