Ross Muir is set to return to the World Snooker Tour after he defeated fellow Scot Michael Collumb 5-1 in the final to win the 2023 EBSA European Amateur Snooker Championship.
Organised by the European Billiards and Snooker Association, over 170 players from 40 different nations took part in the 32nd edition of this prestigious continental event which was this year being held at the Dolmen Hotel in Qawra, Malta.
Muir had no problem qualifying for the knockout rounds after topping his group with four wins from four. He went on to eliminate Umut Dikme (Germany) 4-2, George Pragnell (England) 4-0, former finalist Heikki Niva (Finland) 4-2, Shachar Ruberg (Israel) 4-3 and then two-time winner Robin Hull (Finland) 4-1 in the semi-finals.
On the other side of the draw, current Scottish national champion Collumb – who also enjoyed a 100% record in the groups phase – denied recent Q Tour Playoff winner Ashley Carty (England) on his way to the last four where he ended the challenge of Irish youngster Ross Bulman, 4-1.
The first all-Scottish final in the tournament’s history, Muir started strong as breaks of 55 and 88 helped him establish a 2-0 lead.
Collumb got on the board with frame three, but Muir clinched a tight fourth frame from behind to go into the mid-session interval two up before reaching the target of five on resumption.
After agonisingly finishing second on this season’s Q Tour and just missing out on automatic promotion, this triumph in the Mediterranean for the 27-year-old means he will be back in the big time as he secures a two-year professional tour card for the 2023/24 and 2024/25 seasons. The Edinburgh cueist last appeared on the sport’s top tier in 2019.
Muir becomes the fourth player from Scotland to win the title, and the victory caps an incredible championships for his nation after under-16 and under-21 glories at the same venue for Jack Borwick and Liam Graham, respectively.
Congratulations Ross Muir!
I’m very happy for Ross who has somehow been forced out of the professional game because of health issues. He’s obviously been working very hard to regain his tour card and has got a lot of good results in recent months. I’m wishing him the best as he return where he belongs to, the Main Tour.
The bad … Mark Kings suspended on suspicion of match fixing
WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson has today taken the decision to suspend Mark King from attending or competing on the World Snooker Tour with immediate effect.
This follows an initial investigation of irregular betting patterns reported to the WPBSA on the match between Mark King and Joe Perry at the Welsh Open on 13th February 2023.
The suspension will remain in place until the conclusion of the investigation or any subsequent charges that may or may not be brought. Mark King has the right to appeal this decision.
This is another blow hitting the sport we love. This particular match had been discussed on social media indeed and there are call for Jason Ferguson to quit because, allegedly, he didn’t act swiftly enough in this case, and indeed the 10 Chinese players case. I’m not sure about that. It’s one thing to suspect or even know something, and another thing to have enough solid proof to take actions that are bound to be legally challenged if not supported by substantiated evidence.
Acquiring such evidence might take some time. In some cases it might even prove impossible. We have had cases in the past, in snooker, of situations where everyone was convinced that results had been manipulated but actual solid proof could never be sufficiently established. You can’t break someone career, and life, on suspicions no matter how strong they are.
Mark King is a former betting addict. My first thought reading the news was: “Did he have a relapse? Did he put himself is such dire financial situation that he saw no other way out of his problems?”. Hopefully answers will come soon. No matter how bad the answers they can’t more damaging than being in a limbo that only feeds speculations and conspiracy theories.
Some of the stuff published here today were shared some days ago but I preferred to think about it a bit before sharing it.
6-Reds World Championship in Bangkok (so far)
The first day of action already concluded and the defending Champion, Stephen Maguire is already out. He is playing in Group A and has lost both his matches today. The same in true for Mink. Those two play each other in their last match and neither can progress to the next round. Ding and Zhang Anda are certain to progress to the knock-out stage.
In Group B all four players have played one match. Thepchaiya Un-nooh and Tom Ford, who replaces Luca Brecel, won very comfortably, by 5-0 and 5-1 respectively. It’s a very good start of course but, on paper, everything is still possible.
All players in Group C have played two matches. Hossein Vafaei has won both. He beat John Higgins by 5-1 and Poramin Danjirakul by 5-2. Both Hossein’s victims did beat Ken Doherty, who can’t now qualify for the knock-out stage.
Only two matches were played in Group D. Judd Trump whitewashed Ricky Walden whilst future professional Ma Hailong defeated Kritsanut Lertsattayatthorn by 5-1.
It’s a similar situation in Group E except that the matches were closer. Robert Milkins beat Matt Selt by 5-2 whilst Chris Wakelin beat Dechawat Poomjaeng by 5-4.
In Group G as well, only two matches were played: Noppon Saengkham beat Jordan Brown – who replaces Shaun Murphy – in a deciding frame. Stuart Bingham got the better of Mahmoud El Hareedy, He beat him by 5-1.
Groups F and H haven’t started yet.
Table 1 is shown on Eurosport/Discovery+. Table 2 is shown on Youtube. Tables 3 and 4 were streamed on Facebook.
The Thai love a grand ceremony… the trophy was brought to the venue by a military parade!
And more about yesterday and players greeting the fans
Yesterday, Ashley Carty won the Q-Tour Play-offs and regained his professional status
Ashley Carty defeated Florian Nuessle 5-2 in the final to win the 2022/23 WPBSA Q Tour Playoff at the Q House Snooker Academy in Darlington and secure a two-year professional World Snooker Tour card for the 2023/24 and 2024/25 seasons.
Carty was relegated from the sport’s top tier only last year, but the Englishman bounces back quickly after emerging from the 16-player playoff in England’s north-east.
Heading into the event as the number 12 seed after semi and quarter-final finishes on the Q Tour this term, the 27-year-old’s playoff challenge was nearly over before it really began, as he found himself 3-0 down to Farakh Ajaib in the opening round.
However, Carty conjured up a brilliant comeback with a trio of half-centuries as he ousted his opponent in a deciding frame before eliminating youngster Hamim Hussain 4-1 in the last eight to reach Finals Day.
A winner on the English Amateur Tour this season and of the English 6-Red Championship only a few weeks ago, Carty needed to show more mettle as he fell 2-0 down to number one seed Ross Muir in the semi-finals. Once again, he was up to the task as he strung together four consecutive frames to advance into the final as a 4-2 victor.
Waiting for Carty in the title match was 21-year-old Nuessle, who was making the most of his very late call-up to the event after Daniel Wells’ withdrawal on Friday morning.
The reigning six-time Austrian national champion dispatched Josh Thomond 4-0 and Liam Davies 4-3 on Saturday before ending the hopes of Steven Hallworth 4-1 in Sunday’s last four to stand one further win away from becoming a professional for the first time.
Former Crucible qualifier Carty took firm control of the final early on as breaks of 71 and 55 helped him establish a 3-0 lead in the best-of-nine frames encounter. He also crafted a run of 57 in the fourth frame, but Nuessle potted brown, blue and pink to take it and get on the board.
Carty re-established a three-frame cushion with frame five and was within a few pots from victory before Nuessle cleared with a 25 to stay alive. However, Sheffield star Carty was not to be denied, as he wrapped up the win with the aid of a 58 break in frame seven.
Following his triumph, a jubilant Carty said: “It will probably take a few weeks to fully sink in but I’m just over the moon really. I’ve been working really hard lately on and off the table, and it’s really pleasing that it’s paying off. I feel that I’m in a good place at the minute and playing really well.”
Responding to the emotions he felt when 3-0 down to Ajaib in his opening match, Carty described: “It seems ages ago! At 3-0 down I was really nervous, especially in the first two frames I was shaking like a leaf and missing too many balls, but Farakh was giving me opportunities and I knew I had been playing well in practice so I knew to just quicken up a little bit and get into a good flow.”
Reacting to his return to the professional circuit and what it represents, the champion also said: “It means a lot. It has been a tough year financially but it’s been a big learning curve. I know where I have gone wrong for the last four years so hopefully, I can put that right now and kick on.
“This season on the amateur scene has taken me back to my junior days but it’s given me a kick up the backside and made me realise that I wasn’t putting enough work in as I should have done. In a way, it might have helped me.
“I’d like to say big thanks to my sponsors Celtic Surveys because without them this season probably wouldn’t have been possible to practice everyday and put the hard work in. I’d also like to say a big thank you to my friend Kev who had a word with me a couple of months ago and made me put some hard work in and it’s definitely paid off.”
Florian was understandably disappointed to lose in the final but, on social media, stated that he had to take a lot of positives from the week-end and that he was grateful for the opportunity.
Sport Resolutions have appointed Ian Mill KC to chair the Independent Disciplinary Hearing for the ten snooker players charged with serious breaches of the WPBSA Conduct Regulations. A date of 24th April 2023 has been set for the start of the proceedings.
The players will remain suspended until the outcome of the Independent Disciplinary Hearing is published. They will therefore not participate in any remaining World Snooker Tour events during the 2022/23 season, including the 2023 World Snooker Championship.
So, the hearing will start right in the middle of the 2023 World Championship. That’s very unfortunate and I hope it won’t overshadow the most important tournament of the season too much. The timing means that 7 out of the ten players concerned are certain to be relegated from the tour. The Q-Schools, played right after the World Championship are part of the current season and therefore none of them will be allowed to play in those events even if the hearing finishes in time and some of them are cleared of any wrongdoing. It’s very unlikely but it would be very harsh and unfair.
Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao are not in danger to be immediately relegated, but could still get long bans of course. Lu Ning on the other hand is likely to get a long ban and, even if he doesn’t, he might find himself out of the top 64 depending on other players results.
This came out today in one of the snooker news feeds I follow. It gives an update about the timing of the hearing and it’s not great. It also features an interview with Tian Pengfei who is, obviously concerned with what the future holds.
Snooker World Championship to clash with match-fixing hearing after delays
A delay to court proceedings will mean the 2023 Snooker World Championship will be played with the fate of 10 Chinese players hanging in the balance after they were charged with match-fixing
This year’s World Championship is set to be overshadowed by the hearing for the 10 Chinese players suspended and charged with match-fixing offences.
The snooker authorities had hoped to stage the independent tribunal by March, to at least have a chance of the process being tied up before the blue-riband tournament. But delays have seen the provisional scheduled date pushed back until the end of April, with the Crucible extravaganza starting on April 15.
Ronnie O’Sullivan will be going for a record eighth crown in Sheffield, in an event that is the biggest and best showcase of what the game has to offer. After the hearing there will be time needed for the panel to arrive at their decision, publish the verdicts and agree on sanctions – with then possible appeals to follow.
Former Masters champion Yan Bingtao, Lu Ning, Zhang Jiankang, Chen Zifan, Chang Bingyu and Zhao Jianbo were charged with fixing a match. And former UK champion Zhao Xintong, Liang Wenbo, Li Hang and Bai Langning were charged with being concerned in fixing someone else’s match.
World Snooker Tour also need the situation resolved as soon as possible with one eye on getting the tour numbers right for next season after the World Championship. Five of the players charged are based at the Di.ng Junhui Snooker Academy in Sheffield, including Zhao Jianbo, 19, and 20-year-olds Bai Langning and Chang Bingyu.
Senior pro and world No41 Tian Pengfei, 35, also based at Ding’s but not in any way involved, said: “It has been a tough time for the Chinese players, of course the ones suspended and charged – but also the others as well.Tian Pengfei highlighted snooker’s match-fixing scandal as a difficult period for Chinese players—including those who aren’t implicated.
“We came here all feeling really good, over together from China living here and then had the pandemic for two years. Most of us stayed here without going home with the quarantine rules. And the news was of course not good at all. We will have to see in the hearing if some people have made big mistakes.
“It isn’t good for the sport, or any of the players. We know there are many good Chinese players. Some of those suspended have won very big tournaments. And in the recent Welsh Open even without any of the 10 suspended, there were still three Chinese players in the quarter-finals.
“I have been speaking to Ding Junhui, and we have been trying to look after the young players coming up through his academy. I am one of the more senior players now. Ding and I have a responsibility to set an example. We try to do that, but this situation is very tough for snooker across the world and especially in China.
“I do think there will be changes to try and make sure nothing like this will never happens again. Some of the players suspended are very young, and others like Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao have won Triple Crown tournaments. They are superstars in China.
“So it has been a big shock, and it is very sad. I just hope World Snooker do the right things and something good can come out of this.”
Don’t stop at the somewhat click-bait title. This piece actually does put the current issue into perspective and it also confirms some of the things Ronnie and Judd hinted at when they said that snooker will survive.
Match-fixing scandal threatens to turn snooker’s boom into bust
Concerns grow over the influence of organised crime in snooker, following charges against 10 Chinese players.
Match-fixing charges against 10 Chinese snooker players in the biggest corruption scandal to engulf one of the world’s fastest-growing sports has left fans and organisers fearful for the future of the game.
The players, including 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao and that year’s UK championship winner Zhao Xintong, have been suspended as part of an investigation into claims of “manipulating the outcome of matches for betting purposes” by the integrity unit at the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).
The revelations have raised questions about the influence of betting syndicates often run by organised crime gangs on a sport with a growing global following.
The rise of snooker – a game invented by British army officers in India in the 1870s – has largely been fuelled by a growing interest in the sport in East Asia, particularly China.
Once largely confined to the United Kingdom and Ireland, where it came to attract large TV audiences in the 1980s and 1990s, snooker’s wider growth was driven by the emergence of Asian players, such as Thailand’s James Wattana and Ding Junhui of China, whose 2005 China Open victory at the age of 18 kick-started a Chinese snooker boom.
The sport is now played by more than 120 million people worldwide and attracts TV audiences of 500 million. It is striving to complete its image transformation from a game played in smoky back-street halls by vying for inclusion in the 2028 Olympic Games.
“Snooker underwent a transformation from about late 2009 when Barry Hearn took control of the professional game,” said Marcus Stead, editor of Snooker Scene magazine, referring to the businessman credited with popularising the sport in Britain in the 1980s who became the WPBSA chairman two decades later.
“The game was at a low ebb but there’s now a lot more snooker being played. If you go back to the so-called golden age of snooker in the 1980s, most of the players were from Britain or Canada or a few from South Africa.
“It’s now much, much more global. The sheer number of players in China is absolutely enormous. You’ve also had growth in continental Europe and Australia.”
While some have questioned whether this growth has left snooker open to match-fixing, experts in sport integrity say it is at no greater risk than many other sports.
“Snooker is not the most at-risk or most affected sport,” said Tom Mace, director of global operations for integrity services at Sportradar, the sports technology company that monitors betting and worked on the WPBSA investigation.
“Because of the scale of this current action and the WPBSA’s strict zero-tolerance approach, where you’ve got 10 players from China being suspended, it may appear that snooker is the most at-risk or affected sport compared to others but from our perspective that’s not the case.
“It currently sits seventh in our all-time list in terms of matches detected per sport. The likes of football, tennis, basketball, table tennis, ice hockey all have higher numbers of suspicious matches detected. Snooker is not exceptional in terms of match-fixing risk.”
Sportradar’s 2021 annual report on betting corruption and match-fixing recorded 903 suspicious matches in 10 sports, across 76 countries – a record over the 17 years it has monitored sports integrity.
The company, which has its headquarters in St Gallen, Switzerland, estimated these matches generated some 165 million euros ($180m) in match-fixing betting profit. As the world’s most popular sport, football accounts for 694 suspicious matches, or 77 percent of the total, followed by basketball with 62 and tennis with 53.
This means one in every 200 football matches monitored by Sportradar in 2021 was suspected of being influenced by match-fixing.
The propensity for betting-related corruption is closely tied to the level of gambling associated with a sport. So while snooker’s risk is not as high as some other sports, “it does have a very consistent and very strong global betting coverage”, according to Mace, largely due to the fact that it is popular in places where there is a well-developed betting culture.
As an individual sport, snooker is vulnerable to fixing as a single player has a greater influence on a match than in team sports. While match-fixing is a global phenomenon – Sportradar’s report found Europe accounted for more than half of fixed matches – there is a perception that Asian snooker players touring far from home are susceptible to approaches from criminals.
“The 10 players who’ve been suspended are all young Chinese players,” said Snooker Scene’s Stead.
“They’re thousands of miles away from home, a lot of the time their English isn’t particularly good, they’ve only got each other for company and they’re not being managed particularly well.
“That leaves them very vulnerable to being approached by well-connected people from the Chinese criminal fraternity,” added Stead.
“The implication has been that these young Chinese players had been told there would be unpleasant consequences for themselves and their families if they didn’t do as they were told.”
An independent hearing will evaluate the evidence against the 10 players, who face lengthy bans from the sport if they are found guilty.
There are also concerns about the effect the scandal could have on the sport’s following in its largest market.
“Yan Bingtao is spearheading a generation of Chinese players at the moment who are said to be the future of the sport, so this news comes as quite a disappointment, mainly to [fans in] China who follow these players and hold them in high regard,” said Shabnam Younus-Jewell, host of the BBC’s Framed podcast.
“Over in China, because snooker is such a massive sport out there – they absolutely love it, kids play it in schools – there will be a real feeling of dread there about what’s going on,” she added.
“This feels like a huge investigation, one of the biggest carried out by the WPBSA, and there’s a feeling – people have called it a dark day but it could be more than that … It’s a really difficult and quite a murky situation.”
Many acknowledge that the WPBSA has done much in recent years to tackle corruption, with clear rules and methods for informing the authorities about approaches to throw games.
“If you are approached you’re supposed to inform them using a confidential phone line or email address and the procedures make it very clear that if you are found guilty you will face a very long ban, which will ruin your career,” Stead said.
However, the disparity in earnings between those at the top of the sport and those who fail to progress in tournaments is thought to be an element driving corruption. Of the 130 players on snooker’s main tour, fewer than half earned more than 40,000 pounds ($49,600) prize money last season, from which travel and accommodation costs must be paid.
“For risk profile, we look at the betting coverage versus the wealth of the athletes, how much money players earn,” said Mace.
“In snooker, the top 16 are fairly comfortable but if you look at the prize money distribution and players’ earnings, once you’re outside of the top 16 or top 32, these players are not making huge money.”
“We live in a dreamworld, if we think we can eradicate [corruption] completely, there still needs to be a greater investment in this on a global scale. It’s now on the agenda and there are not many sports that don’t recognise it as something they need to tackle and invest in but still the money needs to improve,” Mace added.
Highlighting some parts in bold/underline is my doing.
Again a lot of the quotes above hint at a strong possibility that some, if not all, of the currently suspended players might have been forced into this, as Ronnie and Judd both suggested in their reactions immediately after the suspensions were announced.
They are easy preys for crooks when they arrive in the UK. Just imagine … you’re a teenager, you barely speak the language, your family is on the other side of the world. The money you earn, if any, may seem to be a lot at first, and there are many temptations around, nice clothes, restaurants, maybe the casino … But the cost of living is much higher than at home. Before you know it, you have debts. And there comes a fellow citizen, an adult, who lives in the country for while, offering to help you… It’s easy to fall in that trap.
Of course we have to wait for the full investigation results. Meanwhile, I think that we should keep an open mind. I have read things like ” But how??? Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao have been earning good money from the sport!”. That’s true, they have earned good money in the last couple of years, but maybe the facts that they are investigated for are older than that, dating back to a time when they weren’t earning much.
Following a detailed investigation by the WPBSA Integrity Unit, working closely with Sportradar, the WPBSA has decided that ten snooker players have a case to answer in respect of the following alleged breaches of the WPBSA Conduct Regulations.
Liang Wenbo has been charged with being concerned in fixing matches and approaching players to fix matches on the World Snooker Tour, seeking to obstruct the investigation and failing to cooperate with the WPBSA investigation.
Li Hang has been charged with being concerned in fixing matches and approaching players to fix matches on the World Snooker Tour, seeking to obstruct the investigation and betting on snooker matches.
Lu Ning has been charged with fixing a match and being concerned in fixing matches and approaching a player to fix a match on the World Snooker Tour, seeking to obstruct the investigation and betting on snooker matches.
Yan Bingtao has been charged with fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour and betting on snooker.
Zhao Xintong has been charged with being concerned in fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour and betting on snooker.
Zhang Jiankang has been charged with fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour, failing to report approaches for him to fix matches and betting on snooker matches.
Chen Zifan has been charged with fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour.
Chang Bingyu and Zhao Jianbo have each been charged with fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour
Bai Langning has been charged with being concerned in fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour.
The players are currently suspended from attending and competing on the World Snooker Tour and in other WPBSA governed events until the conclusion of the hearing or hearings and the determination of this matter.
This matter will be referred to a formal hearing before an Independent Disciplinary Tribunal that will take place at a venue and on a date to be confirmed.
THE WPBSA Conduct Regulations
Part 1 WPBSA Conduct Regulations – Betting Rules
2. Betting and Corruption Misconduct
2.1. It shall be a breach of these Rules for a Member to do any of the following:
22.214.171.124. to place, accept, lay or otherwise make a Bet with any other person in relation to the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match in events sanctioned by the WPBSA or its affiliates
126.96.36.199. to fix or contrive, or to be a party to any effort to fix or contrive, the, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match
188.8.131.52. to solicit, induce, entice, persuade, encourage or facilitate any Member to breach any of the foregoing provisions of this paragraph 2.1.2.
184.108.40.206. to engage in any other conduct (ie beyond that specified in paragraph 2.1) that is corrupt or fraudulent, or creates an actual or apparent conflict of interest for the Member, or otherwise risks impairing public confidence in the integrity and/or the honest and orderly conduct of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match
2.1.5. Attempt or complicity:
220.127.116.11. to attempt to act, or to agree with any other person (whether or not also a Member) to act, or to intentionally give the impression to any other person that the Member is attempting or agreeing to act in breach of these Rules
Part 1 WPBSA Conduct Regulations
4.2. Any Member becoming aware of an Approach (as defined in clause 4.1 above) being made to another individual shall report such Approach to the WPBSA (via either the Company Secretary, a Tournament Official or the Anti-Corruption Hotline) as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event within 24 hours of becoming aware of such Approach.
4.4 Each Member shall co-operate with the WPBSA in any investigation carried out by the WPBSA under the provisions of these Rules including (but not limited to):
4.4.1. providing a written statement setting out in detail all of the facts and circumstances with respect to any alleged breach 4.4.2. attending to answer questions and provide such information at a time and place determined by the WPBSA 4.4.3. providing to the WPBSA upon its request any documents, information or any other material of any nature whatsoever held by the Member and
4.4.4. procuring and providing to the WPBSA upon its request any documents, information or any other material of any nature whatsoever not held by the Member which the Member has the power to obtain and
4.4.5. providing the WPBSA with access to all records relating to the alleged breach. This includes, but is not limited to; betting accounts, bank records, telephone records, internet service records, social media accounts, email and other records stored on phones, tablets, electronic devices, computer
So… here we are.
Clearly Liang Wenbo and Li Hang should get very lengthy bans if a lifetime ban isn’t a realistic option in law.
I’m not entirely sure what “concerned” means in this context. Does it mean that they were aware of approaches or actual fixing and failed to report?
There are a variety of offences indeed. Apparently, Bai and Zhao Xintong did not fix any match. Chang Bingyu and Zhao Jianbo fixed just one match. The above does not say if they the were or may have been coerced into doing so.
The three older players are also (probably) guilty of obstructing the investigation.
It’s quite awful but at least it’s in the open and hopefully snooker can move on once the hearings are done and their outcome made public.
Shaun Murphy believes that success at the highest level is “just around the corner” and his 6-4 victory over Neil Robertson at the Cazoo Masters suggested that the Magician is getting back to his best.
Robertson’s title defence failed to go beyond the opening match at Alexandra Palace, though he was barely able to prepare for the contest having suffered from the effects of a bout of flu over the Christmas break. After falling 5-1 behind he rallied to 5-4, but eventually Murphy crossed the winning line to set up a quarter-final with Kyren Wilson or Stuart Bingham.
Murphy has struggled with neck pain and a loss of form over the past two years and hasn’t reached a final since the 2021 World Championship. Last summer he had gastric sleeve surgery to lose weight, and in recent weeks he has shown more regular glimpses of the game which won him the 2005 World Championship and 2015 Masters. He was a quarter-finalist at the Cazoo UK Championship and came within a few balls of beating Mark Selby in the last 16 of the English Open.
“I haven’t forgotten how to do it, I’m just not as used to doing that as some of the top guys,” said 40-year-old Murphy. “If I can get on a run, as Mark Allen has done this season, I could take some stopping. Something good is coming for me, my game is trending the right way. I have been practising very hard and something is around the corner.”
Robertson started brightly as a 73 clearance gave him the opening frame, but Murphy responded with breaks of 98 and 53 to go ahead, and he also got the better of a scrappy fourth frame to lead 3-1. In the fifth, Murphy missed a straight-forward green when he led 61-42, and Robertson had a chance to clear, but his attempt to roll the final pink into a top corner stayed in the jaws. Murphy potted the pink to snatch it, then compiled a run of 100 in the next to lead 5-1.
The Englishman might have settled the tie in frame seven, but again missed the green to a baulk corner, trailing 39-60. Robertson took advantage to close to 5-2, and that sparked his fight back. A run of 84 gave him frame eight, and in the next he potted 13 reds with blacks before missing a tough long red on 104.
And Robertson had first clear chance in frame ten, but overcut the blue to a centre pocket at 35-0. Murphy replied with 54 before missing the penultimate red, but he was let off the hook as Robertson potted the red then failed on the blue. This time world number 11 Murphy took the chance to finish the tie.
“I’m delighted,” he added. “It looked like we are going to a decider. The break I made in the last frame, I’m very proud of that to be able to stand up under pressure. It’s up there with my best wins in the last couple of seasons. To beat the defending champion, centre stage, in the first match of the tournament, is very pleasing.
“You have to enjoy the performance element. I love walking out there in front of a live crowd and the fans are unbelievable here. It was a privilege to play for them. The World Championship will always be top dog but this is a very close second.”
Robertson, who beat Barry Hawkins in the final last year, said: “I was proud of myself to get four frames. I made a real push to try to make a 147 at 5-3, that would have been amazing. I was physically absolutely exhausted, destroyed. I was ill over the Christmas and New Year period and haven’t recovered. It’s really disappointing because at the UK Championship I had a really bad cold, so that’s two big events which have been heavily impacted. There’s nothing I can do about it because my daughter brings home viruses from nursery. I was only able to practise for 45 minutes for a couple of days before today.”
It was obvious from the start that Neil Robertson wasn’t well. He wasn’t well during the 2022 UK Championship either. His explanation is that his daughter brings viruses back from the nursery. I have been there, it’s true that kids do bring viruses home but is it explanation enough for him to be affected that badly? I’m not sure. It seems to me that his immune system isn’t responding as strongly as it should. This is one of the adverse effects of unduly long periods of lockdown IMO. Our bodies only build immunity by being exposed to “the enemy”. Lockdowns and masks were needed at the start of the pandemics to “contain” a very dangerous virus until it was better “understood” and treatments and vaccines became available, but not after that stage was reached.
Hossein Vafaei’s Cazoo Masters debut turned out to be one of the best nights of his career as he scored two centuries in a tremendous 6-2 victory over Mark Selby.
A week ago, Vafaei was not expecting to play in snooker’s biggest invitation event, but when Zhao Xintong was suspended he was next in line, and got the call up to join the field at Alexandra Palace. The first Iranian to play in the tournament, he grasped the opportunity with a superb performance to comfortably beat one of the all-time greats.
The past year has seen world number 19 Vafaei make giant leaps forward in his career; he won the Shoot Out in January, made his Crucible debut in April and has now won a match in front of nearly 2,000 fans at this famous venue. Next, the 28-year-old will face either John Higgins or Jack Lisowski in the quarter-finals on Thursday evening.
Selby won the English Open before Christmas but this is a blow to his return to form and a result which extends his poor recent record at the Masters – the three-time champion has not reached the semi-finals since 2014. The world number two has lost his last his three meetings against Vafaei, including defeats at the UK Championship in 2021 and 2022.
The opening four frames tonight were shared, Vafaei making the bigger breaks with 52 and 107. In frame five, Vafaei came to a tough table with seven of the 12 reds close to cushions, but fashioned a magnificent 99, one of the best breaks of the season so far.
The sixth came down to the last two reds and Vafaei, leading 58-31, got the better of a tactical exchange and added the points he needed to lead 4-2. Selby looked set to pulled one back until he ran out of position at 48-8 in the seventh, and he then made a safety error which handed Vafaei the chance to make an excellent 65 clearance.
A missed long red from Selby early in frame eight proved his last opportunity as Vafaei closed out the contest with a 104.
“When I got to Alexandra Palace yesterday I was buzzing,” said Vafaei. “I had dreamed about playing here many times. There is so much history behind this event and if you want to be a good player you have to show yourself in front of the London fans. It was amazing, when I play at a venue like this, my best comes out. If you get involved with the fans, they will love you. I was sitting in my chair and people were asking me in between frames to take a picture with me! I got lots of positive energy from them so I had to give something back.
“If I didn’t believe I could win this tournament, I wouldn’t be here. I think I belong here, the way I played and I felt comfortable. I don’t want the tournament to finish in the next round, I want to stay as long as I can.
“I tried my best to make my people proud. This is what I can do for them, I just want to be with my people.”
Selby said: “Up until 2-2 I felt I was the better player. At 3-2 down I missed a red, and after that little things went against me. A couple of times I went into the pack and didn’t land on anything. When Hossein got his chances he took them well.”
This didn’t come as a surprise to me at all. In my preview, I had mentioned that Hossein had beaten Mark the last two times they had played, both times in big events – the 2021 and 2022 UK Championships – and both times in “best of eleven” matches. Make that three now. Hossein is clearly a “big occasion player” and Mark is not back to his best either.
WPBSA Chairman, Jason Ferguson, was interviewed by the ES team, ahead of the event. Of course it was about the “elephant in the room”, the match fixing ongoing investigation. ES shared the interview on their YouTube channel:
Obviously, Jason can’t reveal too much until the inquiry is over. Maybe the most interesting part of this interview is his statement about the “timing”: we should know much more by the end of this month.
Yesterday also saw the conclusion of the sixth and last Q-Tour event of the season. Martin O’Donnell beat Ross Muir in the final yesterday evening, and, as a result, earned the 2 years tour card, starting next season.
Martin O’Donnell has defeated Ross Muir 5-1 to win the sixth and final event of the 2022/23 WPBSA Q Tour. The victory means that O’Donnell will finish top of this season’s Q Tour Rankings and will return to the World Snooker Tour from the start of next season.
A professional from 2012-2014 and 2015-2022, O’Donnell has enjoyed an impressive campaign on the WPBSA Q Tour, highlighted by victory at Event 2 in Brighton which helped him to sixth position in the rankings prior to the final event.
In the final he faced Scotland’s Ross Muir – top of the rankings since his victory at the very first event back in September – who was also competing in his second final this term and was looking to regain his professional status for the first time since 2019.
It was O’Donnell who made the perfect start with a total clearance of 142, followed by breaks of 54 and 50 on his way to a 4-0 lead at the mid-session interval. Muir claimed the first upon the resumption of play to keep his hopes alive, but it was ultimately England’s O’Donnell who would claim a tense sixth following a safety battle on the final red to ensure that his absence from the main tour would be limited to only a single season.
“It is really nice,” said O’Donnell shortly after the final. “It has been a lot of hard work since I dropped off the tour and it’s nice that it has paid off so quickly and I have finished at the top of the Q Tour this season.
“The standard [on Q Tour] is really high, that surprised me actually. I dropped off and I came to these and there are a lot of good players. A lot of good players that I hadn’t seen before and it’s hard. With the best of fives, it’s granite on the Saturday and you can lose at any moment, so you can’t get carried away.
“I took a bit of time out after I dropped off and wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. I didn’t want to give up. I ended up changing my cue which has given me a new lease of life and I have also got my head down and tried to think a lot more positively and not really worry about consequences – which I did when I was on tour.
“I got caught up and worried about stuff, but you drop off tour and life goes on. You don’t realise it sometimes when you are on tour, I’ve got two kids, beautiful fiancé, good people around me and they pick you up and reassure you that you can do it. We all believe that I should be playing snooker and luckily now I have got my tour card back and hopefully I can kick on.
“I need to improve myself every day, keep a good routine and keep doing the right things and just enjoy it. When you do all the right things you go to tournaments and you do enjoy it because you know that you are so prepared so it takes away a lot of the anxiety.”
The manner of O’Donnell’s triumph was all the more impressive as the former Shoot Out semi-finalist had previously missed out on competing in the penultimate event of the season due to illness, which saw him lose ground to some of the players around him. He revealed after the final, however, that this gave him added motivation heading into the decisive competition in Leeds this weekend.
“I missed the last one through sickness,” added the 36-year-old. ” It was the first competition that I have ever missed through being sick, but once I got better and then I checked what happened in that event, to be honest I was quite delighted that it was still in my own hands. I knew that if I could meet Ross [Muir] in the final and beat him, that I could still qualify, so I just thought ‘get my head down, come here and give every ball 200%’ and see where it would take me.
“I am super proud with the way that I have dealt with my emotions this week. In the past, missing that last tournament from being in a good position would have affected me. But I used it this time to motivate me and just say ‘it’s in my hands, go there and leave it all on the table and if it doesn’t happen there is still the playoff’ and thankfully it has paid dividends.”
O’Donnell was one of 13 players who came into the final event in contention to claim the automatic tour card, but there were just three remaining on the final day with Billy Castle also still in range of top spot.
The trio each won their quarter-finals to progress to the last four, but it would be Muir who would account for Castle following a dramatic deciding-frame in their semi-final, while O’Donnell edged fellow former professional Steve Hallworth 4-2 to reach the title match.
The highest ranked 16 players who did not qualify, will at least have the consolation of having earned a place at the Q Tour Playoffs later this season, with a chance to earn the second World Snooker Tour card available through the Q Tour. Simon Bedford entered the final day needing to win the tournament to oust 17th placed Peter Devlin, but he too would fall to O’Donnell at the quarter-final stage.
The 2023 WPBSA Q Tour Playoffs will be held from 4-5 March 2023 at the Q House Snooker Academy in Darlington and the draw will be published in due course.
Congratulations Martin O’Donnell
Commiserations to Ross Muir who had been the best over the series.