Snooker – A Sport in a Crisis

The 2023 Shoot Out gets underway this afternoon. The event is supposed to be fast, furious, crazy and fun. Many players though are not exactly feeling much optimism at this moment in time. The truth is that Snooker is in a crisis and the malaise many feel for a long time has been exposed when it was announced that the 2023 Turkish Masters is canceled.

Anthony Hamilton has been talking about it with Phil Haigh:

Anthony Hamilton: ‘Snooker’s not flying, it’s a thin veneer between success and disaster’

Phil Haigh Tuesday 24 Jan 2023 9:59 pm

2022 Scottish Open - Day 1
Anthony Hamilton has seen it all in snooker since turning pro in 1991 (Picture: Getty Images)

After this week’s news that the Turkish Masters will no longer be happening in March, many professionals face a quiet few weeks ahead and Anthony Hamilton feels it is symptomatic of ongoing problems on the World Snooker Tour.

The 51-year-old has been on tour since 1991, so has seen plenty of ups and downs in the sport and he reckons we are witnessing something of a decline right now.

The loss of the string of big tournaments in China due to the pandemic is an ongoing problem for the sport, and with events not cropping up to replace them, it is a tough time for those outside of the sport’s elite.

While those riding high in the rankings are more than busy enough with limited-field events, many on the tour are short of playing opportunities and the cancellation of the Turkish Masters is a real blow.

Hamilton, ranked #40 in the world, plays at the one-frame Snooker Shoot Out this week, but after that faces a break of over two months before playing in World Championship qualifying, as he has not qualified for the Welsh Open or German Masters.

World Snooker Tour are looking into a replacement event to take the Turkish Masters’ place in the calendar, but things look bleak for some professionals if they are unsuccessful.

We’re playing in a tournament so we’ve got to be happy haven’t we?’ Hamilton told Metro.co.uk of his trip to Leicester for the Shoot Out.

Unless they fill the gap with some poxy Championship League or whatever, as it stands, certain players like myself won’t be playing for 10 weeks now till the World Championships. 

A lot of us will put the cue down for a month and pick it back up again for the Worlds. It’s not great is it? I’ve not won a match for quite a while now [UK Championship qualifying in November], when I play in the Worlds it might be close to six months since I’ve won a match

That’s something that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. It is what it is, I guess, I’ll get enough practice in for the World Championships. The only good thing is that no one will be particularly sharp.

I’m getting my cue out for the Shoot Out, but I can’t really be bothered because it’s going to go away for a month. Unless they get something on, whatever it is, anything would be better than nothing. It’s hard to muster up any real enthusiasm unless you’re in other tournaments like the top players are. The rest of the tour are in a bit of a malaise.

The calendar doesn’t appear empty between now and the World Championship starting in April, but the upcoming Players Championship just features the top 16 on the one-year ranking list, followed by the Tour Championship which is just for the top eight.

2022 Scottish Open - Day 1
Hamilton started this season with some solid wins, but has struggled for results since November (Picture: Getty Images)

Players down the rankings are short of earning opportunities and Hamilton expects some will be turning to part-time jobs, which, in turn, will harm their snooker.

If this was like five years back and I had no money in the bank…that’s a position a lot of pros will be in now, you would seriously have to think about going to work behind a bar just to pay the bills,’ said Hamilton. 

It’s hard to do both, when you’re young it’s possible because you’ve got the energy to practice and work, but when you’re getting on it’ll be detrimental to your snooker because who’s got the energy to do both? 

‘It’s not going to kill you, don’t get me wrong, but it might be five per cent off your snooker and that’s enough to not earn anything from snooker.

I’m playing alright, but I haven’t been paid since the UK in November. That could be five months in between cheques. I’ve lost matches, of course, but you’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough money in the bank. You need a float, because this could happen every year. If you’ve not got a float you’re f***ed.

2022 Scottish Open - Day 1
Hamilton has been to the World Championship quarter-finals four times (Picture: Getty Images)

My hat goes off to players, I know them personally, who’ve got young kids. When I was their age and I could play, I still didn’t have the balls to think that I could start a family off the back of this job

It never materialised anyway, but I used to think to myself, “If I had two kids, I don’t think I could guarantee getting them through from snooker.” I probably could have done, but that’s the thought process you have, even as a good player. It’s an easy life in some ways, because you’re not told by The Man what to do but you’ve got no guarantees, that’s the tough part.

But that’s what sport is, really. Other than football and a few others, it’s working class and you’re basically gambling whether you get paid or not. That’s the decision you make when you get good, whether you want to deal with it or not. We might moan about it, but it’s our decisions ultimately.’

The Sheriff of Pottingham has no intention of turning his back on the sport he has dedicated his life to and he hopes there are brighter times ahead, but he certainly sees a dip at the moment, which he traces back to the retirement of Barry Hearn, who was the sport’s driving force until 2021.

The tour is going downhill a bit now,’ he said. ‘It was always going to when Barry retired, or semi-retired. He’s not pushing forward with the job of finding money, there’s no one better at it. As always, the most annoying people on the planet get s**t done. He’s certainly got his merits.

Snooker’s not flying. You listen to some people and it sounds like it is, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s a thin veneer between success and disaster at the moment, if you ask me.

It’s not all bad. Snooker is in a better state than it was before Barry arrived because it was on its knees then. But it’s not all roses like some people would have you believe

I understand where they’re coming from, because they have to get sponsors interested, but every now and then they need a dose of reality, and the reality is a lot of players are on their arse. That’s the reality.’

Anthony is not the only one feeling that way. As it happens, there was a discussion going on on twitter yesterday, after someone pointed out that currently only 54 players, out of 131, have earned over£20000, the amount guaranteed by WPBSA/WST. It goes to show how very much needed that move by the governing body was and is. But £20000 is only £1666.67 per month and that’s not much at all especially if you have a family to support. Let’s not forget that from these £1666.67, we need to subtract their professional expenses (travels, hotels, practice fees).

There were calls to bring back the PTCs. Of course a return of the PTCs would get the players playing. The truth however about those events is that to break even the players had basically to reach the last day. The vast majority of players were out of pocket playing in them. Ronnie at the time spoke about “buying ranking points”, there was a lot of truth in that. Also those short events were not cheap to organise: they required a lot of tables and fitters to take care of them, a big venue, many referees. I know first hand that the events in Belgium, despite huge crowds, and massive support from amateur players, were a financial loss for the organisers. Bringing them back is not sustainable, at least not in their original form.

The return of the Chinese events would be a big help. For now, only the Shanghai Masters, with its 16 players field, is on the cards. It’s some light at the end of the tunnel but it isn’t enough. Also it remains to be seen how the current match fixing affair, involving ten Chinese players, will impact the collaboration between WPBSA and CBSA, if at all. For now it seems that CBSA is very keen to get the sport clean and to bring ranking events running again in China.

But WST needs to work hard on bringing more events to mainland Europe. It’s a matter of credibility if you call yourself “WORLD” tour but it’s not that easy. Brexit certainly doesn’t help and finding good sponsors – away from the betting/gambling business – isn’t either.

Our sport for sure has some serious challenges to face…

For some reason all those thoughts brought back this song by Bob Dylan into my head …

Yes, it’s old, it’s been first published in 1962 and, yes, I’m old enough to remember the first time I heard it on the radio back then. It’s still relevant… even in snooker.

Snooker News – 24th of January, 2023

I could/should have published this yesterday but as we had two day without live snooker, I kept a few things for today.

Congratulations to Mink, 2023 WWS Belgian Open Winner

Here is the report by WST:

Mink Rules In Bruges

Mink Nutcharut defeated Wendy Jans 4-1 to win the Belgian Women’s Open for the first time at The Trickshot, Bruges.

A repeat of the 2022 World Championship final, the match would have the same outcome as Mink recovered from the loss of the opening frame to prevail following an exciting three days of snooker in Belgium.

The victory sealed back-to-back titles on the World Women’s Snooker Tour for the 23-year-old for the second time (2022 British Open-World Championship), and her fifth career ranking event title in all.

Her performance in Belgium also sees the Thai star climb to a new career-high ranking of number two following the tournament, ending the nine-year duopoly of Reanne Evans and Ng On Yee, with Ng dropping to third.

Mink impressed throughout the tournament as she whitewashed Nikolya Broyak, Emma Parker and most notably 12-time world champion Reanne Evans in the semi-finals to progress to the title match.

Awaiting her would be Belgian number one Wendy Jans who having progressed from the group stages without the loss of a frame, emerged from a tricky last 16 tie against England’s Tessa Davidson, before adding the scalps of Mary Talbot-Deegan and most notably Rebecca Kenna, following a tense deciding frame, to reach the final. Kenna herself had already come through a dramatic quarter-final against Ng On Yee, defeating the three-time world champion for the first time in 13 attempts on Tour.

It was Jans who dominated the opener as she restricted her opponent to just five points, but from there it was Mink who imposed herself upon the match, ultimately sealing a 4-1 victory with a break of 53 in what would prove to be the final frame.

The highest break of the tournament was also constructed by Mink as she compiled a run of 94 during her last 16 match, having missed the pink for what would have been a century break.

SIDE-TOURNAMENTS

England’s Tessa Davidson defeated compatriot Mary Talbot-Deegan 2-0 to win the Seniors competition in Belgium and further consolidate her position as the number one ranked player in the over-40s category.

Davidson defeated Belinda Focquaert of Belgium, before avenging her defeat to Diana Schuler at last year’s Scottish Open to reach the title match. Talbot-Deegan had herself seen off Michelle Cohen and Sarah Dunn on her way to the final, but it was Davidson who would claim her seventh Seniors crown from eight tournaments contested during the past 12 months.

The Challenge Cup tournament for players who did not reach the quarter-finals of the main tournament, was won by Belgium’s Emilie Demeester, who was competing in her first WWS event. She defeated Emma Powers-Richardson, Sarah Dunn, Jasmine Bolsover and in the final Nikola Broyak to take home the title on her debut.

As always, World Women’s Snooker would like to thank everyone who has supported the tournament, including our host venue The Trickshot, owned by Olivier Vandebohede, who was presented with a commemorative plaque by WWS President Mandy Fisher after the tournament.

The WWS Tour returns in just over a week’s time with the Asia-Pacific Women’s Snooker Championship, to be held at the Mounties Club from 31 January – 3 February 2023.

A few words about Wendy Jans… she’s 39 years old now. She lives in Neerpelt, in Belgium, where she runs an excellent snooker club, “De Maxx”.

Between 2003 and 2022, she has competed in 13 IBSF Women World Championship Finals, winning 8 of them. She did beat Mink for the title in 2022.

Between 1999 and 2021, she has competed in no less than 20 EBSA Women Championship finals, winning 13 of them.

Wendy has also competed in 19 Belgium National Finals, winning the title a staggering 17 times.

That’s quite the CV and it could have been even bigger if Wendy had got more support/sponsors. There have been international titles that she was unable to defend because she didn’t have the financial means to attend the tournaments.

Wendy is a very, very good player and, if she was based in the UK, she would probably be on the main tour currently.

It was another Belgian , Emilie Demeester, who won the Challenge cup. Belgium, a small country, has three players on the main tour, all young: Luca Brecel, Ben Mertens and Julien Leclercq. There IS a huge potential for snooker in mainland Europe but the strong UK centric nature of the main tour, as well as the fact that all European Q-Schools and most of the Q-Tour events are played in the UK are not helping to develop it.

Stephen Hendry fined … for being Rubbish

No, no, no… it’s not about his poor performances on the baize. Here is the explanation thanks to BBC

Stephen Hendry fined for pulling out of tournaments to appear on ‘The Masked Singer’

Stephen Hendry

Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry says he was fined for pulling out of snooker tournaments in order to appear on ‘The Masked Singer’.

Hendry, 54, was unveiled as ‘Rubbish’ on the ITV celebrity singing show on Saturday night.

The Scotsman was fined by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) for pulling out of events that clashed with filming.

You’re dying to tell people what you’re doing but you can’t,” he said.

WPBSA rules state if a player pulls out of a tournament after the draw has been made there is a standard fine.

I do have wildcards to play in some events and I actually pulled out of a couple and got fined by the WPBSA,” said Hendry.

And I couldn’t tell them why because this recording was going on and I couldn’t obviously say why I pulled out. I just said ‘Look, I can’t play the tournament’. So, yeah, it was, very, very, very strange.”

‘The Masked Singer’ sees celebrities wear elaborate costumes and face masks to hide their identities. They then anonymously perform a selection of songs live in front of a studio audience and panel of celebrity judges, who vote on which celebrity to unmask.

I have been asked to do the other reality shows, but the thing that appealed to me about this one obviously was the fact that you are in a costume. Nobody can see you,” added Hendry.

And obviously (there is no) stress – this is not a singing competition, it’s just a show that you just go in this costume and have fun.

My son texted me and said ‘I’ve watched the show every week. I love it. I can’t believe you’ve done that‘.

He didn’t even have a clue so the feedback and the reaction was incredible.”

Frankly WST, this is rubbish! Be good sports … put that money (back) in the bin!

Ronnie’s new book

This came up in the news yesterday and was shared on social media by David Hendon

Seven Dials pots snooker legend O’Sullivan’s uncompromising memoir

Seven Dials has landed Unbreakable, the “raw, fascinating, and uncompromising” memoir from snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Vicky Eribo, executive publisher, acquired world all-language rights from Jonny Geller of the Curtis Brown Group. It will be published in hardback, export trade paperback, audiobook and e-book on 11th May.

In a career spanning more than three decades, O’Sullivan’s journey to becoming the greatest snooker player of all time has been filled with extremes, the publisher’s synopsis begins. A teenage snooker prodigy, he turned professional with the highest of expectations.

“Together with a challenging personal life, [this pressure] catapulted him into a life of excess and addiction,” it continues. He was winning titles—his first within a year of turning professional—but losing himself and his game as he tried to block out mental pain and misery. While O’Sullivan appeared to be at the top of his game to spectators, these were the moments when he felt at his lowest. In the year 2000 he started rehab and began the journey to get his life back.

The publisher said that Unbreakable takes the reader inside the mind of one of Britain’s most-loved sporting icons, with the book framed around the lessons he has learned from his extraordinary career.

“With this book he takes us beyond the success and record-breaking achievements to share the reality—and brutality—of what it takes to rise to the very top. With these stories and techniques, he hopes to help readers navigate their own personal challenges and obstacles and in turn reach their maximum potential.

“This is Ronnie O’Sullivan as you’ve never seen him before: unflinchingly honest, often vulnerable and always inspiring,” the synopsis concludes.

Eribo said: “If you think you know Ronnie O’Sullivan’s story, read this book and think again. Providing an extraordinary insight into the mind of one of the most fascinating sporting greats of all time, Unbreakable is a sports memoir unlike anything you’ve ever read before. It’s an intoxicating, compelling and incredibly immersive read and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be welcoming Ronnie back to Orion for what we are confident will be one of the biggest autobiographies of 2023.”

O’Sullivan said: “A lot has happened in the 10 years since I last told my story. Unbreakable is both an account of this journey and an honest insight into what it has taught me. I hope that reading stories of the lessons and techniques I’ve learned on and off the table will help readers find their own path to being the best versions of themselves.” 

O’Sullivan’s first memoir Ronnie sold 72,762 copies via Nielsen BookScan TCM across all editions, and his second 2013 memoir Running has sold 55,017 copies.

And this…

The 2023 Turkish Masters is cancelled

This was announced by WST this afternoon

2023 Turkish Masters

WST has taken the decision to cancel the 2023 Turkish Masters, following discussions with our partners in Turkey.

We have made every possible effort to keep this event on the calendar over the past nine months, since the inaugural Turkish Masters took place in March 2022. Unfortunately, attempts by the local promoter to guarantee adequate funding for the event have been unsuccessful. WST always seeks assurances over the viability of events for its players and unfortunately on this occasion, these assurances could not be provided in the timeframe necessary for this event to be delivered.

The event was due to take place from March 13-19 and we are now exploring all options for an alternative event to be staged between the end of the Six Red World Championship and the Duelbits Tour Championship.

This probably explains why we still had no news about the draw when the qualifiers were scheduled in about two weeks from now.

Mark Allen is the 2023 Grand Prix Champion

Mark Allen beat Judd Trump by 10-9 yesterday evening – or was it early this morning? – to win the 2023 World Grand Prix. This is his third ranking title this season and that makes him only the tenth player in snooker history to have won three titles or more in one season.

Congratulations Mark Allen

Here is the report by WST:

Allen Edges Trump In Epic

Mark Allen captured the ninth ranking crown of his career, after holding off a stirring Judd Trump fightback to win a classic Duelbits World Grand Prix final 10-9 in Cheltenham.

Northern Irishman Allen had looked set for a comfortable evening’s work when he led 7-2. Bristolian Trump had other ideas and came roaring back into contention and set up a grandstand finish, with the backing of a rapturous local support.

The Ace in the Pack put on a supreme display of break building on his way to forcing a decider. However, the final frame became a nervous and tense affair. Both players spurned chances as they jostled to make a match winning contribution. Eventually a missed yellow proved to be Trump’s undoing. Allen stepped in and composed a break of 52 to get over the line and claim the title.

Victory for the Pistol is a continuation of the best season of his career so far. For the first time he has now won three ranking titles in a single campaign. Allen defended his Northern Ireland Open title in October, beating Zhou Yuelong 9-4 in the final. The former Masters champion went on to defeat Ding Junhui 10-7 in the UK Championship final in November to claim Triple Crown silverware for the second time.

This all comes off the back of a strict fitness regime over the summer, which has seen Allen shed nearly six stone. He has also started working with sport psychologist Paul Gaffney to improve the mental side of his game. That work has clearly paid dividends, given the £100,000 top prize is now set to move Allen to a career high world ranking of third.

Allen is also a runaway leader on the one-year list, with this evening’s victory taking him past the £500,000 barrier for the season. Meanwhile Trump will move into the top eight thanks to taking the £40,000 runner-up prize. That stands him in position to secure a place in the remainder of the Duelbits Series. Only the top 16 qualify for the Duelbits Players Championship, with the best eight progressing to the Duelbits Tour Championship.

Trump will be disappointed not to have picked up silverware in his home event. He now trails Allen 13-11 in their head-to-head record. However, it’s been a superb fortnight for the 23-time ranking event winner, having won the Masters last weekend. Trump beat Mark Williams 10-8 in an epic final at Alexandra Palace to capture the Paul Hunter Trophy for a second time.

Allen got the better of a cagey afternoon, where both players struggled to settle in the early stages. He eventually pulled away to establish a 6-2 lead. The evening action couldn’t have been any more different, with four of the first five frames being won to nil with big breaks.

The opening frame saw Allen extend his advantage thanks to a break of 88 to move 7-2 ahead. Trump then burst into life with a superb run of 140 to equal the highest break of the tournament and reduce his arrears. He then made it 7-4 with a contribution of 108.

Trump had the first opportunity in the 12th, but narrowly missed a long red. Allen punished that in the most brutal fashion possible, firing in a sublime 141 to surpass Trump’s highest break tally and move 8-4 up heading into the mid-session interval.

When play resumed Trump fired his way back into contention, crafting breaks of 51 and 87 on his way to claiming the next three frames to pull within one at 8-7.

The sixteenth frame then saw Trump attempt an ambitious four-ball plant, which he missed. However, a fluke enabled him to continue his run and compile 57 to finally restore parity at 8-8.

Allen was the first to move one from victory after taking the 17th frame. Trump refused to back down and a break of 76 took the match into that dramatic final frame. Eventually it was Allen who hauled himself over the line.

Judd got on a run and he is hard to stop when he is like that. His safety improved as well. These things are never easy. Yes it would have been nicer to finish it in one go in the last frame, but to get over the line after being so far ahead shows the strength in character that I’ve got,” said 36-year-old Allen.

There were a number of times I thought I had him in all sorts of trouble and he won three frames from crazy reds. That puts you under pressure, because your safety needs to be perfect. He has won everything the game has to offer so you are expecting that. It’s still not nice to have to put up with it though.

I chatted to my psychologist at 6-2 and not that we were being negative, but he said I get to test myself if he gets back into it. If I go ahead and win 10-2 that is great. However, if it goes close it is another challenge. If I am up to that then brilliant and if not then we will try again next week. It is really clear things like that he is trying to get me to enjoy, the battle. It didn’t turn out to be the best final frame, but ultimately I got the job done.

I’m thinking so positively all of the time. Even when my game isn’t there, I am thinking clearly. I am choosing the shots that are best for the occasion and how I am thinking on any given day. He has helped me get there. It has been a proper team effort. Sorting a lot of problems off the table has meant I can focus on snooker again and that is great.

Trump said: “I had my chances in the last frame. I was just trying to make a fight of it and trying to give the crowd something to cheer about. The support was amazing.

I want to say congratulations to Mark. Although, I felt I had chances to win, he was very solid all day and put himself in that position where he had a few chances to get over the line.”

There was an extended discussion on twitter yesterday about Mark Allen’s game in this match. Being now living in Greece I was watching on Eurosport, with Philip Studd in the commentary box. Philip is a massive Judd fan but he had no criticism about Mark’s game. It seems however, from what transpired on twitter, that on ITV the commentators and or pundits were quite negative about it, stating that Mark was unnecessarily and deliberately slow and negative in his shot choices. This all started already during the first session, a session Mark won by 6-2. At the end of that session, Mark’s AST was 25 seconds and something … Judd’s was 27 seconds and something. Go wonder… It is true that Mark was taking a bit more time than in the past to consider his options but he was by no means slow. He wasn’t trying to “freeze” the game either by putting balls on cushions. He was not taking unduly risks but why would he? Especially knowing how good a potter Judd is. I really, really do NOT understand what could be seen as wrong in his approach.

One tweet in particular made me smile in disbelief. Mark Allen was accused to be more negative than Mark Selby ever has … I would suggest to those tempted to agree with that assessment to try and find a footage of the 2013 Masters semi-final between Selby and Dott, and Dott’s full press conference after that match. I found back the Eurosport report on that match. I was there, I saw it “live” although there wasn’t much life left around Ally Pally by the end of that match. Mark was putting every ball safe, usually glued on a cushion, leaving it to Graeme to try and take them out in the open, only for Mark to put them back on cushions more often that not. Mark was picking the pieces one by one. He did what he needed to do to win, but the people were leaving en masse, some of them even mid frame. To be fair to Mark Selby, he isn’t playing like that anymore these days, although he’s still a master tactician. He said it himself after that match, he didn’t enjoy it. He was torturing himself as much as he tortured his opponent and the crowd. That wasn’t good for anyone.

I’m not a “Selby hater”, I have met Mark many times and I like him. I like him as a person. I admire his courage, his tenacity, his will to win and his tactical skills. But there were times where the snooker he played was absolutely gruelling and he would probably be the first to agree with this assessment.

Day 6 at the 2023 World Grand Prix … and elsewhere

There was only one match played in Cheltenham yesterday, the second semi-final at the 2023 World Grand Prix and it was won by Judd Trump who beat Shaun Murphy by 6-2. I was expecting a much closer match, but Shaun missed too many balls you would expect him to get more often than not. In an honest admission on social media, Shaun explained that not having won much in recent times is affecting his confidence and that he cracked under the pressure yesterday.

Here is the report by WST:

Trump Sets Up Allen Showdown

Recently crowned Masters champion Judd Trump is through to the 37th ranking final of his career, after beating Shaun Murphy 6-2 in the last four of the Duelbits World Grand Prix in Cheltenham.

The Ace in the Pack now faces a blockbuster title match against player of the season so far Mark Allen, who himself has picked up tournament wins at the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship. They will do battle over the best of 19 frames for a top prize of £100,000.

Bristolian Trump will enjoy a strong local support tomorrow, when he will be aiming to capture a title for the second consecutive week. He won an epic Masters final with Mark Williams 10-8 last Sunday. However, 2019 World Champion Trump knows he will have to be on his game again, with Allen leading the head-to-head record between the pair 12-11.

Regardless of the outcome in the final, Trump will move into the top eight of the one-year list thanks to the minimum £40,000 prize on offer tomorrow. That puts him in position to qualify for the remaining events in the Duelbits Series. Only the best 16 will make it to the Duelbits Players Championship, with the top eight in attendance for the Duelbits Tour Championship.

This evening’s win for Trump avenges defeat in his most recent meeting with Murphy, where he lost out 6-5 at this season’s UK Championship. Murphy’s wait for a first major title since the 2020 Welsh Open goes on, but he does move from 14th to 11th position in the live one-year list standings thanks to the £20,000 he’s earned for reaching the semi-finals.

Trump got off to a fast start this evening, taking the opening two frames to establish an early 2-0 cushion. Murphy replied with a stunning 140 break, the highest of the event so far, to reduce his arrears to a single frame. However, Trump fired in a run of 85 in the fourth to lead 3-1 at the mid-session interval.

After play resumed 23-time ranking event winner Trump stretched his lead to three with a century contribution of 112 to make it 4-1. Murphy took the sixth and had the first opportunity in the seventh, but broke down on 38. Trump clawed his way back into the frame and crucially took it to move one from victory at 5-2. Runs of 33 and 32 were enough to see him over the line and secure his place in the final.

“You always feel like it is going to be tough against Shaun, so to win so easily is always a bonus. That saves a little bit of energy for the final now. I’m pleased with how I played. I scored very heavily when I got in and took my chances. Long potting wasn’t amazing, but it was good enough in the end,” said 33-year-old Trump.

“It is never nice to lose to someone and it is always an aim to make sure that doesn’t happen twice in a row. It is nice to get that one out of the way. I felt good out there and comfortable. I’ve taken a lot of confidence from the Masters win and hopefully I perform well in the final.

“I’ve always had good games with Mark Allen and there will be many more to come. This is another big one. He’s the player in form this season, he’s won a lot of events and he looks good every time he comes to the table. It is important for me to go out and play my own game and try to control the table, not let him dictate things. Hopefully I can find some form with my long potting overnight.

“This event is very close to home for me, as close as it gets. I’ve had amazing support all week. I was crowd favourite against Shaun and no doubt everyone will get behind me in the final. It does make you try that little bit harder. It just fills you with confidence when you’ve got everyone backing you.”

I don’t expect Mark Allen to crack today. I would be very surprised if it’s a one-sided match though.

Meanwhile away from Cheltenham…

I want to wish a very happy new year to all my Chinese friends and readers of this blog.

May it be a creative, prosperous and happy one for all of you and those dear to you.

On a completely different topic, there is a very popular program on ITV, inspired by a Korean show. It’s called the “Masked Singer” and yesterday it was revealed that Stephen Hendry was a contestant.

This video was shared on social media

Stephen got both praise and stick for this. I will say, good on him. He was having a lot of fun apparently and why not? Also I like it that he choose to be “Rubbish”. Snooker is far too serious these days and this is no dafter than “Snooker Loopy”.

Day 5 at the 2023 World Grand Prix

The as ever bizarre ITV schedule is such that we had two quarter-finals yesterday afternoon and a semi-final in the evening. Today, only one match is scheduled, in the evening, the semi-final between Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy.

This is WST report on the afternoon QFs

Murphy Fired Up For Trump Showdown

Shaun Murphy defeated Anthony McGill 5-4 in a thrilling quarter-final at the Duelbits World Grand Prix in Cheltenham and afterwards fired a warning shot at semi-final opponent Judd Trump.

The last time Murphy and Trump met was at the UK Championship in November, when the Magician prevailed 6-5 in a pulsating last 16 tie. Following today’s quarter-final win, 2005 World Champion Murphy stated that he wouldn’t be intimidated by recently crowned Masters champion Trump. He said: “I think he’s won a lot of matches this week on reputation. I think people have collapsed against him. I won’t be collapsing. He will have to beat me.”

Murphy is aiming to end a title drought which extends back to before the coronavirus pandemic struck, when he defeated Kyren Wilson 9-1 in the final of the 2020 Welsh Open.

Former Crucible semi-finalist McGill’s last piece of silverware came all the way back at the 2017 Shoot Out. However, he has shown signs of a return to top form this week. The Glaswegian revealed earlier in the event that he has started working with 2002 World Champion Peter Ebdon and wins over Gary Wilson and Sam Craigie will have been cause for encouragement.

The first part of this afternoon’s match was dominated by Murphy. After sharing the first two frames, he claimed the third on the pink. The nine-time ranking event winner then crafted a contribution of 95 to head into the mid-session with a 3-1 cushion.

When play resumed McGill showed his class, with breaks of 102 and 99 to restore parity at 3-3. Murphy once again hit the front with a break of 61, but McGill refused to fade away and a break of 108 took the match into a deciding frame. It was Murphy who took it with 81 to set up his showdown with Trump.

I’m elated. Any time you play Anthony you know you are going to be put through the mill. He is very good in all areas of the game, a very nice guy and a real professional. He always prepares properly and plays the right shots. This week he has been going through players like a hot knife through butter. I knew that I needed to have my A game and that is probably the best I’ve played all week,” said 40-year-old Murphy.

Lifting trophies is what we do it for. It isn’t for the accolades or the money, it is to take the trophy home. We were all young kids starting out on the junior tour, who wanted the medal at the end of the day. We are all still the same. Nobody wants to come here and finish second, third or fourth. It means nothing to anybody. There are four of us left, someone is going to win it and that might be me.

I am in a very lucky position, because I’ve won a lot of professional events over my career, all of the majors. I am in that position of not being in under pressure to win in a particular week. I know I’m going to win soon. I know my game is good. Whether it is this week or not, I’m not sure.

World number four Trump earned his place in the semis with a 5-3 win over Xiao Guodong.

The Ace in the Pack landed his second Masters title last Sunday at Alexandra Palace, when he defeated Mark Williams 10-8 in an epic final. He appears to be carrying that momentum over to this week.

Tomorrow’s meeting with Murphy will be the 53rd ranking semi-final of Trump’s career. He leads the head-to-head with Murphy 11-9, but has lost three of their last four matches.

Trump made breaks of 68, 59, 65 and 117 on his way to today’s win. The Bristolian will enjoy a strong local backing tomorrow evening in Cheltenham, when he takes on Murphy over the best of 11 frames for a place in the final.

I came a bit as a surprise to me that the report focusses mainly on Shaun who played on table 2 but I’m happy with that. I’m also happy with the result. For some reason I always find Anthony McGill hard to watch. I know he is a good person, he does a lot for disabled children at the Minnesota Fats snooker club in Glasgow, I know he has been helping Ukrainian refugees in the most concrete way … but I’m unable to enjoy his game. I think that Judd vs Shaun will be a better game to watch.

In the evening, Mark Allen put an end to Noppon Saengkham dream run

Pistol Reaches Cheltenham Final

Number one seed Mark Allen stormed to his fourth title match of the campaign, after thrashing Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham 6-1 in the semi-finals of the Duelbits World Grand Prix in Cheltenham.

Allen is already the runaway leader on the one-year list, having picked up silverware at the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship this season. The eight-time ranking event winner was also runner-up at British Open earlier in the campaign. Today’s win sees Allen make the 17th ranking final of his career so far.

The Northern Irishman now faces either close friend Shaun Murphy or Masters champion Judd Trump in Sunday’s final, which will be contested over the best of 19 frames for a top prize of £100,000. If Allen were to win it would see him pick up three ranking titles in a single season for the first time in his career.

Defeat sees a magical week end for Saengkham. He beat Mark Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams to reach the semis of a ranking event for the fourth time in his career. However, he is still to reach his first final.

Allen stamped his authority on this evening’s encounter right from the outset. Breaks of 73 and 66 gave him the opening frames, to establish an early 2-0 advantage. A contribution of 58 saw Saengkham get a frame on the board. However, Allen then fired in 78 to head to the mid-session 3-1 in front.

There was no let up when play resumed, with Allen hammering home a superb break of 127 to extend his advantage. Saengkham had several chances in the sixth, but spurned them with Allen eventually clinching the frame on the pink to move one from victory at 5-1. He got himself over the line at the first time of asking by taking a 33-minute seventh, to emerge a 6-1 victor.

I punished Noppon for some errors that he hasn’t been making so far this week, so all in all I’m very happy,” said 36-year-old Allen. “I had in the back of my mind that I played him in the semis of the British Open and I beat him 6-1 there. I had those sort of thoughts in my head, that if I could get off to a fast start he might be thinking about that. Maybe that is what happened out there.

Judd Trump is the man of the moment, the Masters champion and it is a match I always look forward to. The crowd is always really good in matches against him. We’ve grown up playing junior snooker together and know each other’s games inside out. I would need to play better than I have done so far this week though.

Nothing against Judd. I would love to see Shaun in the final just for the bragging rights. It would be so painful to lose that final knowing I’m going to get slaughtered on social media for months and years after. It would be good to lose to such a close friend if that was the case. It will be a tough match whoever comes through.”

Noppon didn’t start well, he was first in, twice, missed a routine black, left everything, and that set the tone for the rest of the match.

Mark Allen was impressive, as he has been all season. This is the first time in many years that I really fancy him to do well at the Crucible. In previous years, I always thought that he wasn’t fit enough for the test of stamina that is the World Championship. That has changed this season. He will be the man to beat in Sheffield IMO.

2023 World Grand Prix – Taking stock of the results so far

The news about the max fixing crisis have overshadowed the current tournament, the 2023 World Grand Prix and it’s a shame because there has been a lot of excellent snooker on show. I have to admit that the latest developments around the match fixing enquiry have affected me more that I thought it would, and going by reactions on social media I’m not the only one in that situation. But let’s forget that for a moment…

You will find all the detailed results on snooker.org

I covered the opening evening and first full day here.

The report on Ronnie’s win over Barry Hawkins is here

The report on Ronnie’s defeat by Noppon Saengkham is here

Other than that…

On what happened on the second full day, here are the reports by WST and some personal comments

Afternoon session

Patience Key For Magician

Shaun Murphy scored a 4-0 win over Ali Carter on day three of the Duelbits World Grand Prix in Cheltenham and afterwards admitted he needs to remain patient in his quest for a first major title since 2020.

Murphy has stated he is extremely happy with his game at present, but has been outdone by a number of top level performances in recent tournaments. The most notable of those losses was a 6-0 whitewash at the hands of Stuart Bingham at last week’s Masters. The last time Murphy picked up professional silverware was at the 2020 Welsh Open, shortly before the pandemic hit.

The 2005 World Champion still has work to do in order to secure his place in the remainder of the Duelbits Series. He currently sits in 14th position on the one-year list. The top 16 progress to the Players Championship and only the best eight will earn a place in the Tour Championship.

Breaks of 91 and 65 helped Murphy on his way to this afternoon’s victory. In the 22 years since they first met on the professional circuit, it is the first time there has ever been a whitewash in a match between Murphy and Carter.

I’m really pleased and it has carried on the form I’ve shown for most of this season, when I’ve been allowed to play! In some of the matches I’ve had in recent weeks I haven’t been allowed to play and you can’t win from your chair! Given the chance, I can still do it, ” said nine-time ranking event winner Murphy.

The patience required in snooker is the biggest test of all. We did a school visit at the Prestbury St Mary’s in Cheltenham yesterday and I was really hammering home the point about perseverance, resilience and never giving up. I think to some degree that’s been my challenge this season. Having prepared well, constantly practised hard and sacrificed quite a lot to make a physical difference to myself, some of the matches I’ve lost have been hard to take. You have to keep dusting yourself down, getting off the floor and keeping going. I know that if I keep doing the right things, eventually it will pay off.”

Glasgow’s Anthony McGill scored an impressive 4-1 win over recent Scottish Open winner Gary Wilson to book his place in the last 16.

McGill, who made the semi-finals of the Northern Ireland Open earlier in the season, composed breaks of 69 and 76 on his way to victory and now plays Sam Craigie, who beat Tom Ford 4-2.

After the match, the two-time ranking event winner revealed that he has been working with 2002 World Champion Peter Ebdon, who is also in the corner of world number 12 Jack Lisowski.

McGill said: “We’ve just seemed to get together for a little bit. It is worth trying. I think John Higgins has mentioned there are a lot of players looking for that edge. I’m no different. I’d love to be doing better than I am. Peter has been there, done it and got the t-shirt. He is helping me a lot.

You look at players like Ronnie O’Sullivan and think there is something magical about him, whereas I look at Peter and think I could get as much out of my ability as Peter has. He is a good guy to have in my corner.

This afternoon’s other game saw Luca Brecel beat Welsh Open champion Joe Perry 4-1. The Belgian now plays Judd Trump in the last 16.

I’m not sure I’m thrilled about the news that McGill is now working with Ebdon 🙄 … Ants is already more than capable enough to turn any match into an exhausting grinding fest, he doesn’t need to get any help to improve on that. That said, this week, that’s not the way he’s played. His scoring has been very good.

Evening session

Superb Saengkham Downs Rocket

Thai number one Noppon Saengkham recorded his first ever victory against seven-time World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, coming through a 4-2 winner at the Duelbits World Grand Prix in Cheltenham.

The shock win continues Saengkham’s excellent showing so far this week. He’s already beaten four-time Crucible king Mark Selby 4-1 in the opening round and now progresses to face an in form Mark Williams in the quarter-finals.

Saengkham had lost all three of his previous encounters with 39-time ranking event winner O’Sullivan, but today’s result sees him finally get a win over the Rocket.

O’Sullivan now has it all to do to qualify for the next stage of the Duelbits Series, the Players Championship. Only the top 16 on the one-year list will earn a place in Wolverhampton and the 47-year-old must at least make the semi-finals of the Welsh Open to stand a chance of qualifying.

It was O’Sullivan who made the strongest start this evening, with a break of 70 to take the opening frame. Saengkham had an opportunity to take the second, but broke down on 53 and O’Sullivan stepped up to make it 2-0.

From that moment it was Saengkham who took a stranglehold on proceedings. Breaks of 68 and 96 helped him into a 3-2 lead and a superb long range pink in the sixth got him over the line a 4-2 victor.

I feel over the moon, because Ronnie is a hero for all snooker players. It isn’t easy to beat him. I had to beat my heart first,” said world number 33 Saengkham. “I still want to win a trophy. I want this week to be my week.

It is a good test for me to beat Ronnie. I had to do something to beat him. I had to beat him to help myself to do something bigger in the future. It is a good day for me.

Williams continued his sparkling run of form to set up a meeting with Saengkham, scoring a 4-0 win over Ding Junhui.

The 24-time ranking event winner made the final of the Masters on Sunday, but was narrowly beaten 10-8 by Judd Trump. Williams showed no signs of a hangover in his opening match this week, beating Welsh compatriot Jamie Jones 4-1.

This evening’s tie saw Williams dominate in the break building department. Runs of 67, 65 and 69 helped him establish a 3-0 lead and he had looked like easing over the line in the fourth, before breaking down on 57. Ding battled back into the frame and got down to the final black. However, he eventually left a roll up safety short and handed Williams the tie.

Local hero and world number 12 Jack Lisowski kept his run going with a 4-2 win over China’s Zhou Yuelong. That sets up a quarter-final clash with number one seed Mark Allen, after the Northern Irishman beat Joe O’Connor 4-3.

The way Ding lost the last frame is something you won’t see often. He had the possibility to extend the match, the last black was over the green pocket, he played it slowly and the cue ball didn’t reach! Ding looked like he was playing well again in the first half of this season. I can’t help to wonder how much the current match fixing scandal is affecting him. Probably a lot because the majority of the players involved play at his Academy. That’s such a shame.

On what happened on the third full day, here are the reports by WST and some personal comments

Afternoon session (the last session of the last 16 round)

Trump Reaches Quarters

Judd Trump whitewashed Luca Brecel 4-0 to earn his place in the quarter-finals of the Duelbits World Grand Prix.

The world number four arrives in Cheltenham off the back of what he describes as the “biggest win of his career”. Trump edged out Mark Williams 10-8 in an epic Masters final to lift the Paul Hunter Trophy for a second time at Alexandra Palace last Sunday.

The Juddernaut continued his momentum with an entertaining 4-2 win over Iran’s Hossein Vafaei in round one, but faced what looked to be a stern second round test this afternoon against Belgium’s Brecel.

The Englishman wasted little time in securing victory. He took a clean sweep of the frames thanks to breaks of 57, 62, 72 and 79, with the match lasting just an hour and 14 minutes. He now faces a quarter-final tie against Xiao Guodong, who beat Ryan Day 4-1 this afternoon.

Trump said: “I’m probably playing a little bit better than I did last week. I’m scoring a bit heavier. I should have had a maximum in that match and I should have had a century in the last frame as well. I still get a bit disappointed when I’m not clearing the table up. The hard work was done and the frame winning breaks were done. It would have been nice to do it in style but another winning performance.”

Shaun Murphy scored a 4-2 win over Kyren Wilson to earn his place in the quarter-finals. The Magician composed breaks of 79 and exactly 100 on his way to winning.

Englishman Murphy needs a strong showing this week to ensure he continues progressing through the Duelbits Series. The 2005 World Champion currently sits in 14th position on the one-year list. Only the top 16 will make it to the Players Championship, with eight making the finale at the Tour Championship.

Next up Murphy faces Scotland’s Anthony McGill up next. McGill was in fine form during a 4-0 demolition of Sam Craigie. The two-time ranking event winner fired in breaks of 78, 55, 131 and 76 on his way to victory.

Luca Brecel played some outstanding safeties in that match but didn’t score enough when he had the opportunity. That was quite unexpected. Maybe he’s working on his safety game and is a bit in a transition period.

Evening session (first of the Quarter Finals)

Saengkham Continues Dream Run

World number 33 Noppon Saengkham scored his first ever victory over three-time World Champion Mark Williams, winning 5-3 at the Duelbits World Grand Prix in Cheltenham to reach the semi-finals

The Thai has enjoyed an extraordinary run so far this week. He beat world number two Mark Selby for the first time in five years in the opening round, before a first ever win over 39-time ranking event winner Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semis and a maiden win over Williams this evening.

Saengkham is through to the semi-finals of a ranking event for the third time. His previous last four appearances came in 2018, when he was knocked out in the last four of the Welsh Open and World Open and he also made the semis at the 2022 British Open earlier this season. However, he is still chasing a first appearance in a ranking final. He now faces number one seed Mark Allen, who he lost out to in the semi-finals of that British Open.

Williams will have to wait a bit longer to cash in on his fine form and capture silverware. He went on a sparkling run to the final of the Masters last week, but lost out 10-8 to Judd Trump in an epic title match.

Saengkham started quickly this evening and made a break of 93 to take the opener, before adding the second to lead 2-0. Williams dug in to claim a fragmented third and then composed a break of 85 to take the fourth and restore parity at 2-2 heading into the mid-session interval.

They traded the next two frames, with Saengkham then taking the seventh to move 4-3 in front. The eighth frame came down to the final ball, with Saengkham potting a superb pink into the right middle and then depositing a cut back black to get over the line a 5-3 victor.

I am very happy today. It is a very big win to beat Mark Williams. I tried to protect every ball, but his long potting is so good.” said 30-year-old Saengkham. “I have had a very good performance this week. I am so happy. I still can’t believe it because in the last few months I haven’t been on form. I am here now and it is amazing.

I have three experiences of semi-finals. This time I will try my best. I have good experience now. I will enjoy and keep smiling. I think this week is going to be my week.”

Allen earned his place in the last four with a gruelling 5-4 win over Jack Lisowski, which took four hours and 21 minutes.

The Northern Irishman has been the form player of the season so far, having notched up wins at the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship to top the one-year list. However, he had to summon all of his battling abilities in tonight’s game.

The pair traded 95 breaks to share the opening two frames. Lisowski then made it 2-1 by taking the third, before a marathon fourth. The frame lasted 58 minutes, with a portion of that being taken up by a debate over the award of a free ball, which Lisowski eventually elected not to take. It was Allen who took it in the end to go into the mid-session all square at 2-2.

World number five Allen won two of the next three to move to the verge of victory at 4-3. However, a stunning contribution of 68, with the balls in difficult positions, saw Lisowski force the decider. A break of 67 in the final frame was the decisive blow which got Allen over the line to book a last four meeting with Saengkham. Afterwards the Antrim cueman emphasised the importance of being able to battle when not at your best.

Allen said: “To be honest it is more important having a B game. You probably play your very best a couple of times a season, or a handful of times a year. You need to have that B game and sometimes your C game to get through. If you can nick those matches when you aren’t at your best it turns your season around. Two years ago I had a terrible season, because I lost almost every decider I played. I wasn’t getting on the right end of those close games, I’ve got on the right end of nearly every one this season. It makes a huge difference.

Noppon is a class player. He is much improved and someone I rate very highly. I played very well against him in the semi-finals of the British Open. I need to play something like that to win tomorrow. He looks like he’s absolutely flying this week. I maybe need to try to do a bit of what I did tonight and keep him off the table.

For all those who downplayed Noppon Saengkham merit this week, there you have it. You don’t beat Mark Selby, Ronnie and Willo in the course of half a week if you don’t play very, very well. Noppon has been aggressive all week, his long potting has been deadly and his break building excellent. Mark Allen is clearly aware of that and his plan is clear: he will be on a mission to prevent Noppon to play. That’s what he did against Jack Lisowski yesterday, with partial success but enough to win more frames than him. And of course, he scored well when in as well.

Also, many UK viewers have complained because table 2 is not available to them. They are right. OK ITV is the main broadcaster, but if they don’t show it, why can’t it be made available on another platform?