The 2023 Players Championship so far

I haven’t got much time to watch the action this week, but here is how the 2023 Players Championship unfolded so far. All reports below were shared by WST.

Monday 20 February – evening

O’Connor Stuns The Pistol

World number 37 Joe O’Connor took full advantage of narrowly qualifying for this week’s Duelbits Players Championship by beating top seed Mark Allen 6-3 in Wolverhampton.

With the best performing 16 players of the season earning a place in this week’s elite event, O’Connor only just gained his spot by edging out three-time World Champion Mark Williams by £500.

The Leicester cueman clinched qualification with a fine run to the quarter-finals of last week’s Welsh Open. He has had the best campaign of his career so far this term, having also been runner-up to Gary Wilson at the Scottish Open before Christmas.

This evening’s win means O’Connor will now rise to a career high ranking at the end of the week. He’s guaranteed to move to at least 33rd position in the world rankings.

Meanwhile Allen will remain comfortably in first place on the one-year list and is assured of being top seed at the Duelbits Tour Championship in March. The Antrim potter has enjoyed a superb season, having racked up silverware at the Northern Ireland Open, UK Championship and Duelbits World Grand Prix.

Breaks of 63 and 64 helped O’Connor make a flying start this evening by moving 3-0 ahead. Allen showed his steel and fired in 85 to stay in touch at the mid-session, trailing 3-1.

When play resumed O’Connor re-asserted his authority and went 4-1 up. However, Allen immediately responded with a run of 91 to claw another frame back.

O’Connor moved to the verge of victory with a superb break of 132 to make it 5-2. Although Allen took the eighth, a clearance of 45 saw O’Connor steal the ninth on the colours and emerge a 6-3 victor. He now faces either Jack Lisowski or Luca Brecel in the quarter-finals.

I’ve played a pretty solid match. I don’t think Mark was at his best, but fortunately he gave me a couple of chances I wouldn’t get when he is at his best and I managed to punish him,” said 27-year-old O’Connor.

This is massive for me. It is my first time at the Players Championship, on the main table against the best player of the season by a mile. I’ve turned up, played some good stuff and nicked some frames.

In practice I have been working on shots that have cost me frames and matches. That seems to have instilled a little bit of confidence knowing I have an all-round game now. My game has been at a good place for a while now and it has just been about waiting for the wins to come.”

On the other table, second seed Ryan Day scored an impressive 6-2 win over recently crowned Shoot Out champion Chris Wakelin.

Day has enjoyed a fine season thus far. It was highlighted by winning his fourth ranking title at the British Open, where he defeated Allen in the final.

The Welshman top scored with a break of 103 this evening. He progresses to the quarter-finals, where he takes on either Mark Selby or Shaun Murphy.

Tuesday 21 February afternoon

In Form Murphy Ends Selby Streak

Shaun Murphy ended a four-game losing streak against Mark Selby, emerging a 6-3 victor in their first round clash at the Duelbits Players Championship in Wolverhampton.

It’s Murphy’s first ranking event win over Selby on UK soil in 18 years, a run dating all of the way back to the 2005 Grand Prix. Selby’s recent four-game win streak against Murphy in all tournaments included a famous 18-15 win at the Crucible in the 2021 World Championship final.

However, today’s loss is a big blow for the Leicester cueman’s chances of qualifying for the Duelbits Tour Championship. Only the best eight players on the one-year list earn a place in Hull. Selby remains in seventh position, but Murphy is now hot on his heels in eighth.

The win sees Murphy recover quickly from a disappointing loss on Sunday evening in the Welsh Open final, where he was on the wrong end of a 9-7 scoreline against Robert Milkins. The Magician now progresses to this week’s quarter-finals and will play Ryan Day next.

Breaks of 72 and 75 helped nine-time ranking event winner Murphy to take the first three frames of the afternoon, before four-time World Champion Selby stole the fourth on the black to head into the mid-session 3-1 behind.

When play restarted, Murphy fired in a break of 92 to move 4-1 ahead and the 40-year-old was soon one from victory when he made it 5-1.

Selby showed his usual grit and determination to take the seventh and the eighth frames, but Murphy wasn’t to be denied and came through a 6-3 victor.

I’m very happy. The result on Sunday against Robert had a huge impact on the draw. I then had to face one of the hardest players in the tournament and one of the hardest players of my career,” said 2005 World Champion Murphy.

I certainly know that he has had the better of me more times than the other way round. We’ve been playing each other since we were ten years of age and we know each other very well on and off the table. I would pay tribute to Mark by saying that, for all those young players watching and trying to improve, he has never played a single shot in his life he hasn’t given 100% attention to.

Anyone who plays accuracy sports understands that one of the big pats on the back you give yourself is where shots go exactly where you want them. Not just in the pocket, but exactly where you aim. A lot of my shots are going exactly where I want them. There are a few that aren’t which are a bit rogue, but I am working on them. In general my form has been good all season. It feels as if I’m getting to a crescendo moment and a win is around the corner.

On the other table, world number seven Kyren Wilson eased to a quarter-final berth with a 6-2 defeat of Zhou Yuelong.

Wilson is the third seed this week after securing the European Masters title earlier in the season, thrashing Barry Hawkins 9-3 in the final.

The Warrior showcased his break building best this afternoon, firing in breaks of 76, 50, 100, 63, 121 and 51 on his way to victory. Next up Wilson plays either Ding Junhui or Gary Wilson in the last eight.

Tuesday 21 February Evening

Milkins Maintains Winning Feeling

Man of the moment Robert Milkins admitted that the thought of defeat was a distant one this evening, as he kept up his momentum with a 6-5 win over Tom Ford at the Duelbits Players Championship in Wolverhampton.

The Gloucester cueman enjoyed the biggest moment of his career on Sunday, when he claimed his second ranking title after defeating Shaun Murphy 9-7 in the final of the Welsh Open. Following this evening’s deciding frame win he said: “When you are winning, it is hard to lose.”

Milkins scooped a huge £230,000 payout following his triumph in Llandudno, which included a £150,000 BetVictor Series Bonus. He’s now certain to be present for the upcoming Duelbits Tour Championship in Hull and is looking good to secure his place in the world’s top 16 and automatically qualify for the World Championship.

Next up this week Milkins faces an intriguing quarter-final showdown with the man he pipped to that bonus, Ali Carter. The pair met in the semi-finals of the recent German Masters. On that occasion Carter won out 6-5 and went on to claim the title.

Ford was the losing finalist in Berlin and suffered more disappointment this evening, with Milkins edging through in a final frame.

Runs of 62 and 70 helped Milkins into an early 2-1 lead this evening, but Ford pegged him back just before the mid-session and restored parity at 2-2.

When play resumed the standard went up and notch and the pair engaged in a break building battle. Milkins took the fifth to regain the lead, before a break of 68 saw Ford draw level again at 3-3.

The recently crowned Welsh Open champion edged back in front with a break of 53. However, Leicester’s Ford replied with 71 in the eighth to make it 4-4. Milkins then moved one from the win, only for Ford to force a decider with a contribution of 60.

It had looked as if Ford was going to take the lead for the first time at the vital moment, but he missed an easy red to the middle when leading 36-0. Milkins clinically punished that mistake with a break of 74 to secure the 6-5 victory.

I don’t know what has happened. Like I say, when you are winning it is hard to lose. Little things went my way tonight and in the end I scraped through,” said 46-year-old Milkins.

I was sitting back when he was in the balls at 5-5. Normally I would be thinking about wanting him to miss. I’m not even that bothered. It has been such a long journey over the last few weeks. It has been amazing.

I’d like to think that win will help me. Maybe not right this second, but if I get in a position at the World Championship to win against a top player, maybe I can push on rather than be negative.

I’m coming off the back of the biggest win in my career. If I can’t believe in myself now, then I never will. I am looking forward to the next round.

On the other table, Carter earned his quarter-final spot with a nerve shredding 6-5 defeat of 2019 World Champion Judd Trump.

The win is Carter’s first over Trump since 2016, in a match over the best of seven frames or longer. The Captain was beaten by Trump in the World Grand Prix final back in 2019.

A dramatic final frame in this evening’s encounter saw Carter leave Trump requiring two snookers on two occasions. Both times he got them on the colours to leave the match in the balance. However, Carter eventually deposited a tricky blue to the right middle to get over the line.

Carter said: “Judd had me in all sorts of trouble all night. His safety was unbelievable and he will be disappointed to have lost there, I would have been if I’d have lost. I got the job done in the end.”

Wednesday 22 February afternoon

Brecel Scores Crucial Win

Belgian number one Luca Brecel took a huge step towards progressing to the Duelbits Tour Championship, after an entertaining 6-4 win over Jack Lisowski at the Duelbits Players Championship in Wolverhampton.

Brecel captured his third ranking title earlier in the campaign with victory at the Championship League. He was also runner-up to Mark Selby at the English Open, but is yet to confirm his qualification for the elite Tour Championship.

Only the top eight players on this season’s one-year list can make it to the series finale in Hull next month. Shaun Murphy’s first round win over Selby yesterday had seen him leapfrog Brecel into 8th position. However, today’s win for Brecel sees him move back in front.

Defeat for Lisowski leaves his Tour Championship hopes hanging by a thread. The six-time ranking event finalist now slips to 10th position on the live one-year list and only a deep run in the WST Classic can give him a chance of clinching a top eight spot.

Brecel made a fine break of 99 to take the opener this afternoon, before Lisowski responded by taking the next two and lead 2-1. However, they went into the mid-session level after Brecel fired in a run of 83 in the fourth.

When play got back underway Lisowski regained the lead thanks to a contribution of 85. Brecel did level up, but a century run of 104 from 31-year-old Lisowski saw him move ahead again at 4-3.

From there it was Brecel who charged to the line. Breaks of 78 and 58 saw him move 5-4 ahead, before a dramatic 10th frame. Lisowski had a chance to force a decider, but missed a straightforward red to the middle on 49. He lost the initiative in the frame and Brecel got himself over the line a 6-4 victor. He now faces a quarter-final with Joe O’Connor.

We both wanted to win to get into the Tour Championship, so it was quite an important game. I am happy with how the game went,” said 27-year-old Brecel.

It helps fighting for the Tour Championship and having something to play for, if you can handle it. I am going to be quite motivated tomorrow. I will enjoy it as well. This is a big tournament and everyone wants to do well here.

Some people say it is all about winning but I don’t think so. There is more to it than that. If you watch football and see Messi and Ronaldo play it is different. People want to see entertaining football. If you have nice pots and nice breaks, that is the game me and Jack play. That is good for the crowd. It is what people expected before the game and we delivered.”

On the other table, Scottish Open champion Gary Wilson secured an impressive 6-3 win over 14-time ranking event winner Ding Junhui.

Wilson is also battling for a Tour Championship berth and today’s result keeps his hopes alive. The Wallsend cueman now faces Kyren Wilson in the last eight.

Wilson composed breaks of 61, 88 and 115 on his way to this afternoon’s victory and play’s his namesake in the last eight on Friday at 1pm.

And the quarter-final started on Wednesday 22 February, evening

Captain Cruises To Semis

Ali Carter thrashed Robert Milkins 6-1 to make the semi-finals of the Duelbits Players Championship in Wolverhampton.

The win acts as revenge for five-time ranking event winner Carter, who was narrowly pipped to a £150,000 BetVictor Series Bonus last week by Milkins. That came after the Milkman scored a stunning second ranking event victory at the Welsh Open, to catapult himself to the top of the series standings.

Carter had looked set to scoop the bumper payout for himself after his recent win at the German Masters. It was the Captain’s first ranking silverware since 2017. Following a 6-5 win over Milkins in the semis, he thrashed Tom Ford 10-3 in the title match.

This evening’s defeat brings Milkins’ sparkling run of form to an abrupt halt. However, both players look almost certain to qualify for the elite Duelbits Tour Championship, having maintained their positions inside the season’s top eight money earners.

Carter now progresses to the semi-finals where he will face either Luca Brecel or Joe O’Connor. If he were to win the event it would see him pick up two ranking titles in a single season for the first time in his career.

A break of 66 was enough for Carter to take the opening frame. The second was a more attritional affair, but Carter eventually took it, after 36-minutes of play. The Chelmsford cueman then claimed the third with a break of 98 to make it 3-0.

The last frame before the mid-session saw Milkins launch his cue in disdain after an error, but he got another chance and ensured he headed into the interval just 3-1 behind.

When the players returned it was Carter who blitzed his way to the finish line. He crafted breaks of 65 and 75 on his way to three on the bounce and came through with the 6-1 win.

Carter said: “I played great stuff tonight. I was really solid and I couldn’t fault my safety play. He produced some great safety as well, but when I got my chances I took them and I could count on one hand the amount of mistakes I made.

He didn’t pinch the bonus from me, he won the tournament. He thoroughly deserved the bonus, but that is in the past now and there is no point worrying about it.

It wasn’t the easiest of weekends. I obviously wanted to win the money, of course I did and anyone would have in my position. However, I like Rob and he won so good on him.

The confidence is really high. It is one match at a time and four matches to win the tournament. I’ve got two under my belt and it will be a tough game on Friday night. I’m going home for a couple of days now and looking forward to coming back.”

I didn’t watch much at all, so can’t comment on the matches. All the same here are some “random thoughts”

  • From what I see Joe O’Connor is coming off age. He’s 27, it took him longer that many expected, but I would say that the opposition in the mid rankings is now stronger than ever.
  • Nice words from Ali about Rob Milkins and “the bonus”. Ali appears to be in a better place and more relaxed than he has been for a long time. I hope it lasts and his health problems are behind him.
  • Mark Selby seems to struggle badly. Other than the 2022 English Open this season has been quite “a low one” for him. Of course his health is much more important than any game of snooker.
  • Shaun Murphy took offence of some Jill Douglas commentary about “lapse of concentration” and caused a storm in a glass of water…

One thought on “The 2023 Players Championship so far

  1. Yes, but Shaun Murphy doesn’t do himself any favours by expressing forthright ‘opinions’ by going on the attack. What’s extraordinary is that whilst doing a lot of work for the BBC, he still doesn’t appear to understand the interview protocol or have a sense of self-awareness. He should be careful: the BBC won’t like conrtoversy from their broadcasters.

    But I’m afraid in the last few years there have been rather too many aggressive or dismissive interviews given by some of the top players, and it’s getting worse. On a brighter note, they have at least started interviewing Chinese players. They are always respectful and polite.

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