The 2023 Masters – Previews and Thoughts

The 2023 Masters starts today. As usual the build-up has been rather big.

Hereafter you will find some pieces that I found worth reading or watching.

Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty share memories of the past Masters and give their predictions. It’s worth noting that this video was made before Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong were suspended.

The whole “cuetips” channel by Stephen Hendry is interesting and very enjoyable.

Jimmy White, speaking as an Eurosport pundit, feels that it’s important for Ronnie to win this Masters, or, at least to win a big tournament soon. Neal Foulds tips Ronnie to win it.


Jimmy White and Neal Foulds have given Eurosport their predictions ahead of the Masters in January as Ronnie O’Sullivan leads an entry list packed full of the biggest names in the sport. White believes that the onus is very much on his good friend and fellow Eurosport expert O’Sullivan, with the event acting as the perfect preparation for his attempt at an eighth World Championship title.


Eurosport expert Jimmy White has said that winning the Masters will be very important for Ronnie O’Sullivan ahead of the World Championship.

O’Sullivan will be eyeing a record eighth crown at The Crucible in January as he attempts to pull away from fellow legend Stephen Hendry’s tally of seven in Sheffield.

The Rocket has always regarded the Triple Crown as very important in his annual schedule.

For White, it is important that O’Sullivan works hard on his game in the lead-up to the Masters to ensure he finds his very top level at the start of the action, particularly because that could aid his preparations for the World Championship.

With the star-studded field set to take to the tables at the Masters, White is confident that it will be an enthralling event with Judd Trump and Mark Allen among those set to compete with O’Sullivan for an important title in the snooker calendar.

Every match is like a final,” White told Eurosport about the Masters. “You have got the best players in the world playing.

It’s the Triple Crown with big prize money and big crowds. I am looking forward to seeing Ronnie O’Sullivan. 

Hopefully, he gets himself in tip-top condition, practises hard over Christmas and gets ready for it because, for me, he needs to win a big tournament, like the Masters, going into the World Championship.

“Judd Trump is really struggling for form. He is practising hard, he is just not getting any results. He is putting in all the work, but he just seems to be getting beaten in the latter stages of tournaments. He is getting to around the quarter-finals, but not the semis or finals.

Mark Allen has been the player of the season. He has won so many tournaments and been so consistent.

You would always fancy now that he would be there or thereabouts.”

Asked for a predicted winner, White added: “When Ronnie lost in the UK [Championship] to Ding 6-0 I think he had had enough snooker after winning tournaments.

He will get his nut down and practise really hard. I expect him to be in tip-top condition for this Masters so I am going to go with O’Sullivan.

Neal Foulds said: “I have to be predictable and say I think Ronnie. We have seen him not fully geared up, but the Masters is on his hit list so I am going to play it safe and say Ronnie can win it for the eighth time.

Jimmy mentions that Judd Trump has been struggling for form. Maybe, but if what we have seen this week in the 2023 traditional CLS is anything to go by he’s put the work in over Christmas. He was impressive in winning Group 4. That said, there is little pressure in the CLS. Alexandra Palace will offer a completely different challenge.

Mark Selby and John Higgins looked sharp as well. Opening up about his mental struggles seems to have liberated Selby. Higgins, on the other hand, is clearly going through a confidence crisis. He has changed his cue action, his bridge being now very, very short. Such action usually helps with accuracy, but is very limiting when it comes to cue power and it’s also very easy to cue down low on the ball as the cue is inevitably a bit “elevated” with the bridge so short.

They mention Mark Allen as the player of the season so far, and Mark has once more been open about his past struggles and the help Ronnie offered him.

Mark Allen reveals how Ronnie O’Sullivan helped him through divorce

Allen’s snooker career is back on track after a turbulent few years in his personal life and he credits close friend O’Sullivan with helping him

Mark Allen has opened up about Ronnie O’Sullivan helping him get through his divorce (Image: Tai Chengzhe/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

Snooker star Mark Allen believes he is now a “different animal” after experiencing a difficult couple of years.

Allen split from his wife Kyla McGuigan in 2020 after seven years together and declared himself bankrupt the following year despite having banked around £3.5m in career winnings. 

The 36-year-old said he had “overspent in every aspect of life” and struggled with the legal costs of his divorce.

However, he credits a chat with seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan for helping him through his divorce and getting his life back on track. 

Allen lost five stone over the summer and he has since enjoyed an impressive season, winning the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship.

I know I’ve had a few run ins with Ronnie over the years on the table, but away from the cameras and one on one he has always been really good to me,” Allen told World Snooker Tour. 

Any time I’ve asked for something, he’s given me his time.

“When I left my marriage, he was one of the first players to message me and say to ring if I needed him. That speaks more to me about who he is as a person than how he behaves when the cameras are on.

I think sometimes he plays up, to get people talking. I wasn’t surprised that the conversation happened. We sat in his room talking for 45 minutes to an hour discussing all kinds of different things.

It wasn’t all snooker related, there was lots about life in general. It was great for him to give me time, especially as he was pushing for the seventh world title.

He was doing his documentary as well and none of those cameras were there, which meant we were able to properly chat. He is a good guy off the table.

He added: “I always felt like I was pretty strong mentally but I think everything that has happened over the last two years has made me even stronger. I am working with [sports psychologist] Paul Gaffney as well and I feel like I am a different animal.

Mark Allen is certainly a contender for the title but he’s not in the easiest part of the draw. I would be very surprised if Ryan Day was to beat him, but he’s likely to face Judd Trump next. Their head to head is pretty “close, Allen leading by 16-14 but Judd beat him by 6-5 in the Masters last year. I think that match is very hard to predict. And Neil Robertson is in that half of the draw as well.

David Gilbert got an unexpected chance to play in the Masters this year. Nobody really fancy him to win it, including himself. Going by this interview, he’s really been to dark places in recent years:

‘I don’t want to be that idiot walking out of matches’ – Dave Gilbert returns to the Masters after a bad year

Phil Haigh Thursday 5 Jan 2023

2022 Cazoo UK Championship - Day 4
Dave Gilbert has reached the Masters semi-finals on both his appearances in the event (Picture: Getty Images)

Dave Gilbert is getting an unexpected crack at the Masters at the start of 2023 as he looks to put months of struggling behind him by getting back on course on one of snooker’s biggest stages.

The 41-year-old has benefited from Yan Bingtao’s suspension due to the ongoing match-fixing investigation in the sport, taking his spot at Alexandra Palace as he was next in line in the rankings.

It is a third time at the prestigious event having reached the semi-finals on both his previous visits in 2020 and ’21.

After a tricky year or so that has seen the Farmer struggle for results and deal with distractions off the table, it is a shot at putting a spark back into his career, and his life in general, after some low points in recent months.

‘Obviously last year, 2022, was a poor year on the table and a lot going on off it,’ Gilbert told ‘I bought the snooker club [Potters in Swadlincote] and chucked all my time into getting this place up and running. A lot of late nights in here, through the night, trying to get it painted, decorated and sorted. I didn’t expect to have so much interest in it, but it took over life.

I was playing quite well, won a tournament, then things changed, my priorities changed, I’ve had things going on off the table, like everybody else, we all have life struggles at times. I’d like to have done things differently but I’m just trying to get my head back down from now.

I’m just trying to sort myself out, everyone goes through problems, people don’t see that, they think you just pick a cue up and turn up and you’re in a good frame of mind. I haven’t been in a good frame of mind for a long time.

I’m actually getting a bit of help, through World Snooker, that’s been good to talk to somebody. The club’s all up and running now so I’ve taken a step back with that, it’s doing really well, so that’s another thing off my mind. If I want to be a good snooker player, because I do take pride in how I play, I know the effort levels it takes and I need to put a hell of a lot more  into that, I need to have less distractions.

But I have really missed being able to play snooker. I’m sick of being crap, I am, it’s quite boring now. Since I got the email to say I was in the Masters, I’ve probably played more in the last five days than I have in the last five months.’

Things were obviously not right with Gilbert on more than one occasion this season, delivering a couple of notably downbeat interviews at tournaments, but most obviously when he walked out of a match mid-game.

Gilbert missed a ball at 3-2 down to Andy Hicks in German Masters qualifying and shook his opponent’s hand despite it being a race to five frames.

He is yet to discover his punishment for the early concession, with World Snooker Tour moving to help him out with any ongoing issues, but he is left embarrassed by what happened.

That isn’t a normal thing to do. I’m embarrassed about it. I took pride in becoming a better pro and I’ve spunked it all away the last 12 months,’ he said. ‘People are looking at me funny, I’ve been doing  quite a few daft things that are out of character, just by being in a bad frame of mind. World Snooker got in touch with me, asked how I was, they suggested ringing this number, Sporting Chance and I’ve been speaking to someone locally. It’s been nice to get a few things off my chest and clear myself out.

I’ve said to her it disappoints me how I’ve behaved and acted lately. I don’t want to be that idiot that’s walking out of matches or falling out with players, getting the hump all the time and acting like a brat. I don’t want to be that person. Snooker’s done some crazy things to me over the years, it’s a real love-hate relationship, it makes me someone I’m not. I had loads of good advice when I was a kid and didn’t take any. There’s a lot of good people out there who can help you think better. I wish I’d done it a lot sooner.

2019 Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day 15
Gilbert memorably made the semi-finals of the 2019 World Championship and suffered an emotional deciding-frame defeat to John Higgins (Picture: Getty Images)

I’ve felt like walking out a lot. There’ve been times before I’ve felt like I’ve had enough and it ain’t for me today. I shouldn’t have turned up that day, I was very agitated in myself, hadn’t slept well. It was as early as the first frame, I missed a pink in the middle, it drifted uphill and I could have walked then

I’m in Andy Hicks’ pocket, I can’t beat the guy, he must laugh every time he draws me. It’s nothing personal to Andy and I apologise to him, World Snooker, the people who support me. I don’t want to behave like that, but for reasons I don’t really want to talk about, I didn’t want to be there that day.

Off-table issues make snooker a near-impossible task at times, but on top of that Gilbert is a character prone to slumps in mood, which is far from helpful on the baize, especially when it has never really been addressed.

I’m just a very up and down guy,’ he said. ‘I’m either all in or nothing at all. It’s well renowned that I haven’t got the best attitude at times, I know that and it’s something I’ve worked very hard on to improve.

I was playing really well because I thought better. That certainly helps, when you think clearly. It’s a spiral because I take pride in how I play and when I’m not playing how I can I get very frustrated, disappointed in myself. I’ve not been very kind to myself for quite some time, I need to sort that out.

It’s obvious to everyone I haven’t been in a great headspace for a while. I think I’ve probably always been someone who suffers from something, I don’t know what that something is, I’ve always been a self-sabotager.

I don’t know. It’s thoughts I’ve probably had forever because I’m like a f***ing yo-yo.

‘I’m old school, farmer’s background, you just get on with life. My old man lost his arm when I was three and he was back at work within two weeks. Me just not wanting to play snooker for a day isn’t really a thing. But things haven’t been right between the ears, and speaking to the people that World Snooker have put me onto has been good.

2022 Cazoo British Open - Day 1
Gilbert takes on Mark Williams in the first round at the Masters this year (Picture: Getty Images)

There is intense frustration with the situation because after years of being something of a journeyman, Gilbert appeared to have unleashed his vast potential, reaching three ranking finals and a World Championship semi-final from 2018-19.

Working with coach Steve Feeney, sticking to routines in practice and his home life and generally being an entirely dedicated professional got him to the elite of the game. It is no incredible secret, but as it began to unravel, he has not been able to stop the slide.

I was doing everything, everything I could,’ he said. ‘Happy home life. Pure focus on trying to be a better snooker player and person. Fit as a fiddle. Ate well, slept well. Regimented with my practice, I put everything into it.

Them two or three years, 2018-Covid. That was the start of my downfall, Covid. I felt very bitter, lost a lot of money I’d worked hard for. Lost a sponsorship deal, hated being locked up, that was the start of my issues and problems, I went off the rails for a little bit and started doing things out of character.

I’d love to piece it together again. Waking up one morning and getting back into that routine again. I’m in the Masters and I’m in the Grand Prix because of what’s gone on. I don’t just want to turn up and hit balls, I want to turn up and play properly, give myself a chance, because I can play the game a little bit. I’ve proven that to myself, that’s what I always wanted to do. I’d love to get my old routine back.

There is obvious frustration within Gilbert and a fair amount of frustration for those who want him to do well as there seem to be clear answers to the problems, but mentally it is proving tough for the Farmer to get the tractor back on the tracks.

I don’t know if I can get back to where I was,’ he said. ‘I hate being rubbish, I hate not feeling confident in myself, it’s horrible. It weren’t that long ago I used to walk into places and be thinking this could be my week.

It’s not fun being a number. Nicking one or two matches and thinking it’s great. That’s boring, it’s not for me. Feeling like you can contend is a real nice feeling to have. When I was 10 or 12 in the world or whatever, I felt I can play well enough here to win this event.

Can I get back to it? You can’t guarantee anything. I know what effort I used to put in, I don’t even know I’m prepared to put that in. I might be what I am now.

I think my life would be better if I did though. I loved being fit and healthy, I felt fantastic in myself. I loved the gym, I need to get back to that, cleared my mind of other stuff. Obviously he’s a fantastic player anyway, but it’s no coincidence Mark Allen has lost all this weight, cleared his mind a bit and he’s winning everything. It’s what I need to do.

It’s pretty easy really. I know the answers to me own problems, I’ve just not put them into place.

The Masters could be the start of that process, an unexpected boost and the first of a few milestones to aim at between now and the end of the season which might just focus the mind and bring a bit of cheer to what has been a miserable time for a very popular player.

I feel lucky to be in the Masters, it’s a huge opportunity. I want to practice again, I need to practice,’ said Gilbert. ‘I might not be able to compete anyway, but I want to give it a go. I want to end this year at the Crucible, I want my top 16 spot back properly.

Clearly, Gilbert is far from his best, mentally, physically and as a player. It’s good though that WPBSA has taken action to help him, and that he’s accepted that help. It’s good that the stigma about men’s depression is not has strong as it once was. It’s still hard for most guys to speak about it, Mark Selby recently admitted that it felt as the “bravest thing” he’s done. I remember, when Ronnie spoke out, over 15 years ago, the general reaction was scorn: “He’s never done a real work for a day in his life, he should be sent down the mine to learn what “hard” means. What is he complaining about? He’s got plenty of money. Everyone has their problems, take it on the chin.”. Fortunately things are changing, and Ronnie has played his part in raising awareness and helping others who struggle too.

A lot of pundits are expecting Ronnie to do very well then. His form hasn’t been great this season, except in the big invitational events that have inspired him. Also, he has a very good record at the Masters. Me, personally, I’m not sure of anything. I’m also not sure that “playing in his backyard” helps him. I have heard from him many times that it came with a lot of hassle because every one “around” him was asking for free tickets and favours and he’s not wanting to go that route. Jimmy White said the same about the hassle for tickets in his bios, only he actually tried to please everyone. We shall see.

6 thoughts on “The 2023 Masters – Previews and Thoughts

  1. On one hand, as Monique mentioned, Ronnie has talked a lot in the past about how there are too many demands on him and his time at the Masters for him to really enjoy (or play his best at) the event.

    On the other hand, he seems to be prioritizing the invitational events over the ranking events so far this season, so maybe that will continue with the Masters.

    I also note that there don’t seem to be any interviews of Ronnie posted on the Internet heading up to this year’s Masters, which gives the impression that perhaps he is laying low and avoiding the media and trying to focus entirely on playing snooker…

  2. Higgins also said that the 5 finals he lost and especially the world championship semi he lost against Ronnie did him in and will look for some sport psychologist’s help.

  3. Um. It just sucks going old(especially 40 is a quite a big limit, if someone does not have (enough) fitness training. Whereas small symptoms starts to get big and you know something is going wrong but not always cureable.)

    For Ronnie, his real work was/is snooker!(I think he definitely trained more than 8hours back then in order to achieve that the skill of a professional and then he can train less now. Like Zhao did a 40 something poting the ball in the same pocket!)
    I think he is now trying to grip the fitness and mental side rather than “endless training” in snooker. (in a high age of 47! I am now 38 and even have some pain in finger due to excessive work-5/6 hours clicking mouse in photoshop and school work – in computer for 20+ years! So I believe every professional have something in them…as they work harder than I do and the stance is quite harmful!)

    Seen some comments from Youtube citing Hendry suffered from hips – I thought doctors were not good back then.(If they do not get the sick healed, it is difficult to do expected results-winning a title and result in depression! It was around 7 years Hendry did not win a ranking title before his first retirement!)

    • I never heard Hendry saying he suffered from hips, he does not mention that in his bio either. What he said is that he suffered from “yips” which is a kind of mental block that prevents players to deliver the shot. An extreme case of that was Liu Song. He was practicing at the Grove and Django Fung told me that he was awesome in practice, but the block was so strong that he couldn’t play at all competitively. He’s now a well appreciated commentator in his country, China. Hendry’s case was not as bad, but he became unable to play some shots because of it.

      • -_-); yipships. I think I need a brain check. Haha!

        but he became unable to play some shots because of it-> the difference between a finalist and a winner >_<.

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