2020 Championship League Snooker (2) – Day 6

Here is the report by WST on yesterday’s action in Milton Keynes:

Stuart Bingham and Xiao Guodong are the latest players to make it through to Stage Two of BetVictor Championship League Snooker after topping their groups on Friday, live on Matchroom.Live.

Bingham opened the day’s play with a 3-0 win over Pang Junxu and later defeated James Cahill by the same scoreline, meaning he’d only need a frame in the final match against Yuan Sijun.

Yuan had lost his first fixture 3-1 to Cahill, but remained in contention by beating Pang by the same scoreline. He needed to beat Bingham 3-0 to advance, but in fact it was Bingham who won all three frames.

“I’ve been working hard on my game with my new coach Gary Filtness and the way it started off today, it was good,” said Bingham.

“The second match, the first frame could have gone either way but luckily for me it went my way and I carried on. To be in the next stage starts the season off with a good vibe and I’m looking forward to the next few weeks.”

On table two, China’s Xiao held his nerve to get the win he required in the group decider against Hossein Vafaei. The Iranian had impressed in beating Jak Jones and Farakh Ajaib 3-1, results which meant only a draw against Xiao was required. But the Chinese star proved his quality with breaks including 79 and 49 to win 3-0 and top the group.

BetVictor Championship League Snooker continues on Saturday with Graeme Dott, Liang Wenbo and Jack Lisowski among those in action. Coverage of both tables is available at Matchroom.Live, with UK television coverage on Freesports.

FINAL GROUP STANDINGS

Group 12

P W D L FW FL +/- PTS
Stuart Bingham 3 3 0 0 9 0 9 9
James Cahill 3 2 0 1 6 5 1 6
Yuan Sijun 3 1 0 2 4 7 -3 3
Pang Junxu 3 0 0 3 2 9 -7 0

 

Group 18

P W D L FW FL +/- PTS
Xiao Guodong 3 2 1 0 8 3 5 7
Hossein Vafaei 3 2 0 1 6 5 1 6
Farakh Ajaib 3 1 0 2 5 6 -1 3
Jak Jones 3 0 1 2 3 8 -5 1

Note that at the time of writing, the group 18 table, as published on the WST site, doesn’t take the last match of the day into account, a match that Farakh Ajaib won by 3-0. I have made the necessary corrections, in red, in the table above. It makes a big difference for Farakh Ajaib and Jak Jones, because Farakh is now third in the group, meaning he gets £1000 for his efforts and the matching ranking points, whilst Jak Jones gets nothing.

It’s good for Farakh Ajaib to get someting positive – a win and some money – out of his first day competing as a professional. I only saw him play a few balls yesterday, but he looked solid enough, and beating Jak Jones by 3-0 is an excellent result.

I watched Group 12, and from the very first balls, it was obvious that Stuart Bingham was in fine form. He dominated the group from start to finish.

James Cahill is a player I don’t rate that high. He’s more than capable to play brilliantly and has taken his fair share of big scalps, but he seems to rarely produce that sort of form when he’s the favourite in the match, or away from the television table. Yesterday he did win his matches against both his younger Chinese opponents, but he still didn’t convince me.

Neither Yuan Sijun, nor Pang Junxu played well yesterday. For Pang it was his first day as a pro and this can be intimidating, for Yuan it was a bad day in office for some reason. Yuan, who is currently ranked 45th in the World, can play much better than he did yesterday. I can only suppose that his preparation wasn’t ideal.

European Masters 2020 added to European Series

The 2020 European Masters has been added to the European Series … oh wonder!!!

Here is the announcement:

Bet-Victor-European-Series-Trophy

BETVICTOR TO SPONSOR EUROPEAN MASTERS

NEWS September 18th, 2020

WST is delighted to announce that BetVictor will sponsor next week’s European Masters world ranking event, and the tournament will become part of the 2020/21 BetVictor European Series.

The BetVictor European Masters will run from September 21 to 27 at the MK Arena in Milton Keynes, with Neil Robertson defending the title against the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Selby, John Higgins, Ding Junhui and many more. In all there will be 128 players in the field for the Eurosport-televised event.

The BetVictor European Series was introduced last season, with an massive bonus of £150,000 on offer. World number one Judd Trump landed the bonus by winning the final event, the BetVictor Gibraltar Open.

The BetVictor Championship League Snooker, which got underway this week, has also now been added to the series. So the counting events are as follows:

2020 BetVictor Championship League Snooker, September 13-20, September 28 to October 5 and October 26-30
2020 BetVictor European Masters, September 21-27
2021 BetVictor German Masters (Dates TBC)
2021 BetVictor Gibraltar Open (Dates TBC)
2021 BetVictor Shoot Out (Dates TBC)
2021 BetVictor Welsh Open (Dates TBC)

The player earning the most prize money across those six events will bank the bonus.

WST Chairman Barry Hearn said: “We are thrilled to once again join forces with BetVictor for the European Masters. It’s an incredibly strong field with the top 49 players in the world rankings among the 128 in the line-up. There are also four exciting young amateur talents from continental Europe in the draw. Television viewers around the world will enjoy snooker returning to their screens with the 2020/21 season already underway.

“We have seen sensational figures for our global linear and digital audience in recent months. The world is going through tough times, but snooker is leading the way in the return of live sport and providing fans with coverage. That’s why BetVictor want to work with us on a wide range of events, because our audience is growing and we are meeting challenges with innovation.

“The BetVictor European Series is a superb addition to our tour because all 128 players are in with a chance and they will be counting their prize money and watching their place on the Order of Merit throughout the six events. Hopefully it will go right down to the last match, as it did last year when Judd Trump had to win the final tournament and did just that.

“We look forward to working with the BetVictor team on another fantastic season.”

 

2020 Championship League Snooker (2) – Day 5

Zhao Xintong and David Gilbert progressed to the second round yesterday. The first knew he had qualified after only four matches were played, the second needed the very last frame of the day to go through.

Here is the report by WST:

David Gilbert won the final frame of his group decider against Lu Ning to advance to Stage Two of BetVictor Championship League Snooker at Stadium MK on Thursday.

The world number 11 had earlier beaten Aaron Hill 3-1 and drawn 2-2 with Xu Si. China’s Lu matched those results, which meant their end-of-day clash was a straight shootout to top the group. Gilbert had the highest break of the pair, meaning he would advance in the event of a draw, unless his 98 was beaten by Lu.

The Chinese star fell 1-0 behind but responded with a 70 break to level before taking the lead in the third. He then had a golden opportunity to advance, but a missed blue left the door open for Gilbert, who closed with a 77 to progress.

“I’m very lucky to get through, I didn’t play very well,” admitted Gilbert. “We had so long off and then I put a lot of effort into the World Championship so to go out first round, I was devastated.

“I had a bit of time off and it took me a while to get back into it but I’ve practised hard the last couple of weeks and have been looking forward to getting my cue out. My attitude was terrible today so I really need to have a word with myself.”

On table two, Zhao Xintong had Group 10 wrapped up after just four matches had been played. He defeated amateur Oliver Brown 3-0 in the group opener and later beat Nigel Bond 3-1. An earlier 2-2 draw between Bond and Liam Highfield meant that when Brown and Highfield also shared the spoils, Zhao was confirmed as the group winner.

BetVictor Championship League Snooker continues on Friday with former event winner Stuart Bingham among those in action. Coverage of both tables is available at Matchroom.Live.

FINAL GROUP STANDINGS

GROUP 10

P W D L FW FL +/- PTS
Zhao Xintong 3 2 0 1 6 4 2 6
Liam Highfield 3 1 2 0 7 4 3 5
Nigel Bond 3 0 2 1 5 7 -2 2
Oliver Brown 3 0 2 1 4 7 -3 2

 

GROUP 21

P W D L FW FL +/- PTS
David Gilbert 3 1 2 0 7 5 2 5
Lu Ning 3 1 2 0 7 5 2 5
Aaron Hill 3 1 0 2 5 7 -2 3
Xu Si 3 0 2 1 5 7 -2 2

I watched group 21.

David Gilbert was favourite but didn’t have an easy passage, and at times, sitting in his chaor, he looked bored and somehow upset. I wasn’t surprised by the fact that Lu Ning gave him a very strong challenge. Lu Ning is extremely resilient, and anyone who was there will remember his battle with Scott Donaldson in the last round of the 2019 World Qualifiers. He ended up losing that match by 10-9, but he had trailed by 7-2 and 9-4. That tells you something about the guy. Lu seems to have been around for ages, but he’s only 26.

That group featured two young players: Xu Si, 22, and new professional Aaron Hill, 18.

Xu Si has a lot of qualities, but he seems vulnerable under pressure and, although it’s only the first event of the season, he seems already stressed by the fact that he is in his second year of his two years tour card and needs really good results to stay on the Tour. He didn’t get that yesterday and his game deteriorated as the day progressed. Ahead of his last match yesterday, he was still in with a chance to win the group. A win in his last match would have given him 5 points. Had Gilbert and Lu ended on a draw – which they eventually did – all three would have got 5 points, with Xu going through thanks to a great 121 break, the highest of the group. A draw with Aaron would still have guaranteed him 1000 points, and possibly 2000, depending on the Gilbert-Lu match. But he lost, despite getting some good opportunities.

For Aaron Hill, playing as a professional for the first time, it was the opposite. He got better with every match, and eventually got his first win as a pro. The commentators were praising his tactical nous and maturity, and rightly so. I wasn’t that surprised though. Whenever I’m watching Irish players, I always have that feeling that they are a bit “old school” and not that obsessed with centuries. Aaron is in that mould and it could serve him very well now that he’s a professional and bound to face some hard match playing “oldies” …

 

2020 Championship League Snooker (2) – Day 4

Day 4 in Milton Keynes saw Matthew Selt and Shaun Murphy progress.

Here is the report by WST:

Shaun Murphy and Matthew Selt won their respective groups at BetVictor Championship League Snooker to progress to Stage Two, where they’ll join Zhou Yuelong and Dominic Dale in Group B.

Murphy met Martin O’Donnell in what was a group decider, although just a point was enough for the former World champion, while O’Donnell needed the win.

Both players had earlier beaten Jimmy White and tour rookie Peter Devlin, but Murphy had done it without dropping a frame, meaning he would finish ahead of O’Donnell should the final match be a 2-2 draw.

However, that didn’t come into it as Murphy saw out a 3-1 win to advance to the next phase of the tournament.

“I am pleased that my game seemed to be there today, I hit some really nice shots among some bad ones and I am through to the next phase,” said Murphy, who was visibly limping at the table during his matches.

“I suffer from Achilles tendonitis and it’s something which has flared up since lockdown. When it comes it is very, very sore and there’s not much I can do about it. I felt it flare up when I was practicing yesterday and tried to ice it as much as I could. It’s painful but we are so fortunate in these times to still have tournaments to come to that you have to just keep pushing on.

“I was chasing snookers in the last frame and didn’t know I was through at the time. I didn’t realise when he missed the pink in the last frame how important that was.”

On table two, Matt Selt took top spot in Group 8 with 3-1 wins over Gao Yang and Si Jiahui before drawing 2-2 with Ben Woollaston to confirm his place in the next phase.

BetVictor Championship League Snooker continues on Thursday with coverage of both tables available at Matchroom.Live.

FINAL GROUP STANDINGS

Group 7

P W D L FW FL +/- PTS
Matthew Selt 3 2 1 0 8 4 4 7
Si Jiahui 3 1 1 1 6 5 1 4
Gao Yang 3 0 2 1 5 7 -2 2
Ben Woollaston 3 0 1 1 4 7 -3 1

 

Group 8

P W D L FW FL +/- PTS
Shaun Murphy 3 3 0 0 9 1 8 9
Martin O’Donnell 3 2 0 1 7 4 3 6
Jimmy White 3 0 1 2 3 8 -5 1
Peter Devlin 3 0 1 2 2 8 -6 1

Again, I only watched one table yesterday, table 2 where group 7 was competing.

For some reason, I found it rather hard to watch. There was little fluency. Matthew Selt played OK. Both young Chinese players showed great potting ability, but were lacking in all other aspects, especially Gao, which is entirely normal given that he’s only 16 and this was his first outing as a professional. Si Jiahui showed great resilience.

What happened to Ben Woollaston since his Welsh Open final in 2015 is hard to understand. I had some hope that he might be coming back when he made to the final Group in the 64 men CLS last June and nearly won it, but now here he is finishing last of the group, with one draw and two defeats. Maybe he just gave priority to spending time with his young family during the inter-season break and didn’t practice much? Still it’s worrying, especially as he also lost heavily in his first match in the World Championship qualifiers in July.

Also regarding Anthony Hamilton … here is the link to a very good interview with Phil Haigh

I picked those two excerpts – bold added by me

‘Obviously Matchroom and World Snooker are run by the same person [Barry Hearn] so it doesn’t make much sense to me,’ Hamilton told Metro.co.uk. ‘ I was down to play this Sunday in the Championship League then the Monday next week in the European Masters. In 24 hours the policy changes, within the same venue.

You’re not supposed to say anything about it, but it’s absolutely nuts, it doesn’t make any sense at all.

and

The former German Masters champion has dismissed the suggestion that he was just out to win some prize money in qualifying, but is not surprised that the WST chairman saw it this way.

‘I fully expected it because we know what Barry’s like,’ Anthony said. ‘For him to be philosophical or phlegmatic about it would be the opposite of what he normally is.

‘I pulled out of the the World Championships before I knew I’d get any points or money and I thought I’d get a fine as well. At the time I probably thought it was 80% likely I’d not get the prize money, the points and I’d get a 500 quid fine on top, and despite that I thought  it was the right decision to pull out.

‘I knew that there would be a crowd, but I foolishly, naively assumed that the safety measures would be more stringent. I assumed there might be a glass partition like in NHL, or maybe no one in the first six rows, something like that.

‘I only saw the seating plan on the day I was travelling to Sheffield for testing, that was the first time and that was the day I decided it was not safe. I got really anxious about it and just felt I had to do the right thing for me.

‘He [Hearn] made his mind up that that’s the way I was thinking but he’s just making his own news.

‘Come on, I haven’t been to the Crucible for 12 years, why wouldn’t I want to play? At 49 I may well not get back there again, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m doing alright for money, I’m not falling off the tour. If I didn’t want to play I wouldn’t have entered, I’m not that sort of guy.

‘But unfortunately for me Barry’s got all the platform to say this and that and I didn’t think it was worthwhile putting my point out there, you get in a tit-for-tat with him, you’ll come off second best.

Anthony Hamilton withdraws from the 2020 CLS after learning that players are not tested

This was revealed yesterday, late evening, by Hector Nunns who spoke to Anthony

COVID BLAST

Anthony Hamilton pulls out of snooker opening event over virus testing concerns

ANTHONY HAMILTON has blasted snooker bosses for their inconsistency over tournament Covid-19 testing.

The Sheriff of Pottingham controversially withdrew from the World Snooker Championship over health and safety concerns following Crucible plans to have limited crowds.

Anthony Hamilton
Anthony Hamilton decided not to play the World Championships because there was supposed to be limited crowds – Credit: Getty Images – Getty

He has now pulled out of his group matches on Sunday in the season-opening Championship League in Milton Keynes.

The 49-year-old has shielded over the summer with asthma and is angry players are not being tested in the behind-closed-doors event – unlike at next week’s European Masters.

The world No.40 – who has been replaced by Daniel Womersley – said: “The reason for withdrawing from the Championship League was the lack of Covid-19 testing. Pure and simple.

“With my position with asthma and other things, the lack of testing made it too dangerous to play.

So that’s why the referees have to wear masks then…

Temperature checks won’t help detecting a case of asymptomatic infection, or a very recent one, so the risk is real. I can’t blame Anthony and others may think twice too.

It’s a very difficult situation for everyone. The severe shortage of tests in the UK is very likely the reason for this decision (and the underlying UK govt relaxed guidance). Snooker players are self-employed and they need to eat and pay their bills. WST, and in this case, Matchroom as well are trying to offer them the opportunity to do so. Everyone is trying their best surely. I just hope that nobody will get infected and ill.

Four young Europeans invited to the 2020 European Masters

WST has invited four young European players to compete in the 2020 European Masters next week:

Four of the best up-and-coming players from continental Europe have been awarded places in next week’s European Masters world ranking event.

Frenchman Brian Ochoiski, Austria’s Florian Nuessle, Belgium’s Ben Mertens and Poland’s Antoni Kowalski are all among the 128-man field for the tournament which runs from September 21 to 27 in Milton Keynes.

These were the highest-ranked players from mainland Europe on the 2020 Q School Order of Merit and all four have accepted invitations from the WPBSA to compete in the event.

Ochoiski showed his talent at Q School last month, winning nine matches in three events and getting to the final round of the third. The 21-year-old from Longeville finished second in the Q School list so may have the chance to play in several ranking events this season. Next week he will face Jack Lisowski in the first round.

Mertens became the youngest player ever to win a match in the World Championship in July when, age just 15, he beat James Cahill 6-2 in the first qualifying round. He reached the semi-finals of both the European Under-18 and Under-21 Championship last season. Read more about him here. Mertens will take on Robert Milkins in the opening round in Milton Keynes.

Nuessle, age 18, has won the Austrian National Championship for the last four consecutive years. He was runner-up at the European Under-18 Championship in 2018 and the following year he represented his country at the World Cup. Read more about him here. His first round opponent will be Mark Allen.

Kowalski underlined his potential at the World Championship qualifiers when he scored a superb 6-4 first round win over experienced pro David Lilley. The 16-year-old went on to reach the penultimate round of the first Q School event before a narrow 4-3 defeat against Michael White. He won his first Polish national title earlier this year. He will face Sean Maddocks in round one.

WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: “We are delighted to give these four incredibly gifted young players the chance to compete in a major event. It gives them vital experience which will help them to develop their careers, and the chance to test their skills on the world stage. Each year we are seeing more and more talented players coming through in continental Europe and that helps our sport as grow as a global force. I look forward to seeing Brian, Ben, Florian and Antoni in action next week and wish them the best of luck.”

The European Masters will be broadcast on Eurosport, with further broadcast details to be announced soon.

And you can read more about Brian Ochoiski here.

At least there will be some European feel to this event and I’m glad that the wilcards have been given to young players.

They all face a tough challenge, although I fancy Antoni Kowalski to give Sean Maddocks a few problems.

Playing Jack will probably suit Brian. They are both attacking and Brian will likely get some openings. Up to him to take the chances.

Ben and Florian are both against very experienced opponents, in Robert Milkins and Mark Allen. Robert Milkins showed this week that he’s in good form, but if he has a day off, Ben is very capable to take advantage. I just hope that both Ben and Florian play well and show their potential. Anything more would be a big bonus!

2020 Championship League Snooker (2) – Day 3

Yesterday, Dominic Dale and Zhou Yuelong advanced to the second round of  CLS in Milton Keynes.

Here is the report by WST:

Dominic Dale and Zhou Yuelong are the first players through to Stage Two Group B of BetVictor Championship League Snooker after topping their respective groups at Stadium MK on Tuesday.

Dale edged out amateur Leo Fernandez in the decisive match of Group 5 on the main table. Fernandez had earlier claimed shock 3-1 wins over Stephen Maguire and Louis Heathcote to take charge of the group.

Two-time ranking event winner Dale had beaten Heathcote 3-0 and drawn 2-2 with Maguire, setting up a dramatic match with Fernandez to determine who would advance. A point would be enough for the amateur, while Dale needed a win.

It was two-time ranking event winner Dale who took the first two frames, but Fernandez wasn’t going down without a fight and took the third to keep his hopes alive. However, Dale’s experience proved key as he won the crucial fourth frame to top the group on seven points.

“I am delighted to get through,” said Dale. “I have put some work in on the practice table. I started off in the first match with a cue action I had set myself to use for the season, but felt it wasn’t me and went back to my old one part way through the match. I was really focused, careful and diligent out there and it certainly worked today.

“I went into the last match thinking a draw was enough and as I started the first frame I realised I had to win. I couldn’t get in first in either of the first two frames and was behind in both. Finally, the fourth frame I got in first and I made a decent break and kept the pressure on.”

On table two, China’s Zhou progressed with five points having beaten Gerard Greene 3-0 and drawn 2-2 with Zhao Jianbo and Ricky Walden. Tour rookie Zhao could have taken top spot if he had won his last match against Greene, but he drew 2-2 which wasn’t enough.

BetVictor Championship League Snooker continues with Group 7 and Group 8 on Wednesday. Action on Table 1 sees Shaun Murphy, Martin O’Donnell, Jimmy White and Peter Devlin compete in Group 8. Table 2 showcases Matthew Selt, Ben Woollaston, Si Jiahui and Gao Yang.  Coverage of both tables is available at Matchroom.Live.

FINAL GROUP STANDINGS

GROUP 5

P W D L FW FL +/- PTS
Dominic Dale 3 2 1 0 8 3 5 7
Leo Fernandez 3 2 0 1 7 5 2 6
Stephen Maguire 3 0 2 1 5 7 -2 2
Louis Heathcote 3 0 1 2 3 8 -5 1

 

GROUP 6

P W D L FW FL +/- PTS
Zhou Yuelong 3 1 2 0 7 4 3 5
Zhao Jianbo 3 1 2 0 7 5 2 5
Ricky Walden 3 1 1 1 6 6 0 4
Gerard Greene 3 0 1 2 3 8 -5 1

This time both groups were “decided” on the very last match, in group 5 on the very last frame even!

I only watched Group 6 matches. I expected Zhou to win this group and he did, but it wasn’t straightforward by any means. It wasn’t in his hands in the end, as he had to wait for the result of Zhao Jianbo v Gerard Greene to know his own fate.

Three players played well in this group, bearing in mind that this is the first event of the season: Zhou, Zhao and Walden.

I’m glad to see Ricky playing well again. It’s easy to forget that Ricky has three ranking titles to his name, and three more ranking finals. He also won a PTC. Some five years ago he was still a top player: in March 2015, he was ranked number 6 in the world, he’s now number 46. Health issues and injuries ruined it for him. In the last year he has shown signs of improvement. At his best, he’s very, very good to watch.

I was impressed by Zhao Jianbo. Of course his inexperience showed at times, but his long potting is deadly and he showed maturity and application beyond his years.

I didn’t see a ball of the other group, but a few thoughts looking at the results… Dominic Dale has never been in the top 16, but he has won two ranking events, the 1997 Grand Prix (he beat John Higgins) and the 2007 Shanghai Masters. He’s a very hard match player. He might be funny off the table, he’s deadly serious on it. Nobody should underestimate him … and everyone should remember that, should Dominic win the event, he’ll probably insist on singing a few!

Louis Heathcote and Stephen Maguire were clearly disappointing. Regarding Maguire I have no clue how and why the player who won the Tour Championship morphed into the player we saw in Sheffiled just a month later. Well, maybe I have, but let’s not go that route (nothing to do with bookies) … As for Louis Heathcote, rookie of the 2019/20 season, I just hope that this isn’t an early sign of something we have seen only too often in the past: a player playing brilliantly in his first season, then unable to replicate the performance in the next one, when the pressure of getting into the top 64 kicks in.

As for today, my attention will be on group 7.