Snooker News – Unhappy Maguire and WST Classic

Following the announcement that the 2023 Turkish Masters was canceled, there was discontentment amongst the players, understandably.

Stephen Maguire was particularly vocal as he spoke to Phil Haigh:

Stephen Maguire launches scathing attack on snooker bosses

Phil Haigh Friday 27 Jan 2023 12:04 pm

2019 Betway UK Championship - Day 11
Stephen Maguire is frustrated with the current state of the World Snooker Tour (Picture: Getty Images)

Stephen Maguire has taken aim at snooker bosses, claiming the game is dying and those running it are not doing their jobs after the recent cancellation of the Turkish Masters.

It was announced earlier this week that the event in March has been scrapped due to funding problems, which has left a significant gap in the calendar for some players.

Anthony Hamilton explained that he currently has no matches scheduled between the Shoot Out this week and World Championship qualifying in April, a situation a number of players find themselves in if they haven’t qualified for the German Masters or Welsh Open.

With the string of big-money Chinese events still not back on the calendar due to Covid, players feel less busy now than they have done for years.

World Snooker Tour have confirmed that the Turkish Masters will be replaced on the calendar, so there will be more playing opportunities, but until that competition is announced, Maguire is sceptical.

The former UK champion played in the Shoot Out this week for the first time since 2015 and did so because he sees a lack of opportunities to play elsewhere.

The Scot says he spoke to people at the top of the sport at the start of the season and was made promises over tournaments, which he feels have been broken.

I have to because there’s no tournaments,’ Maguire told Metro.co.uk about his rare Shoot Out appearance. ‘I don’t want to play in it, don’t like it, but there’s no tournaments coming out. I can’t be selfish for my family, so I need to play in the tournament.

It’s dying, the game’s dying right in front of us. I spoke to the suits at the start of the season and they promised me there’d be tournaments on. Turkey was always a question mark and it’s turned out to be cancelled, so the suits aren’t doing their job, which isn’t good for the players

They might find a replacement, but it’s against time now. Is it going to be a best-of-five, a league, a PTC? It’s not good enough, definitely not good enough

I spoke to [WST chairman] Steve Dawson, [WST president] Barry Hearn, [WPBSA chairman] Jason Ferguson, I told them I didn’t want to speak to the press, I wanted to speak to them man-to-man, which I did. 

They all gave me the same answer: we’ll look after you, the tournaments will be there, don’t worry

The tournaments aren’t there, so there’s something wrong at the top of the game. It’s worrying for players. It’s not good enough for most of the tour. I’ve either been lied to that things will be ok, or they’ve just not been able to fulfil it. Something’s wrong.

I’ve never spoke to you like this, but the game’s dying right in front of our eyes. They have to do something, there’s something wrong. If somebody doesn’t do their job, in any walk of life, they get their ass kicked or they get the sack.

Players down the rankings who have failed to qualify for the German, the Welsh and the upcoming Players and Tour Championship are facing a lengthy spell without earning any prize money.

Hamilton explained that his last prize money came at the UK Championship in November, and while no more has arrived because he has lost matches, Maguire says this is not a problem that only a few players are facing, but many on the professional tour.

Am I going to tell my kid, or anyone tell their kid, to play snooker because it’s a good living? Is it a good living? Of course it’s not,’ he said. ‘We’ve put loads into the game, 30 years of my life, I love the game. But we’re not getting any help at all here.

There’s people out there ranked 28-29 in the world, looking at getting jobs. People from the outside think, “what a life you’ve got.” How can you be 20-odd in the world of supposedly a global sport, looking at getting a job, something’s wrong. The game’s dying, there’s no other headline.

[Waiting] January to April for a wage. That’s not a professional sportsman. The guys who are playing in the World Championships in April, they’re going to be playing their first or second rounds to pay back the loans they’re getting [a £20,000 guaranteed for each player this season]. Is that a professional sportsman? It’s just not.

The 41-year-old is not only frustrated with the reduced playing opportunities, but the nature of some of the tournaments now, with qualifying for the Home Nations events away from the main venues, in anonymous cubicles in front of a handful or no people, weeks before the actual event.

Streaming these qualifiers represents a revenue opportunity for World Snooker Tour, but Maguire questions where that money is going, he also wonders how the Turkish Masters can sign a five-year deal and be cancelled after just one event, similar to the announced 10-year contract for a Saudi Arabia Masters which has never emerged.

They’re making good money out of streaming, that’s why they fill the calendar up and it looks busy from the outside,’ he said. ‘They’re making money from the qualifiers, they’re getting their wages, where’s the money going? 

They’re cutting tournaments. There’s supposed to be contracts out there. Turkey was a five-year deal, Saudi was 10 years and they just cut them like that.

I played a couple of qualifiers, I can’t even remember where they were, it was pointless, it was daft. When the tournament came up, I couldn’t remember who beat me. It wasn’t me being horrible, it was just that far away. It’s rubbish.

On his own solution to the problems, Maguire says: ‘I’d cut the tour. Snooker is not big enough and I’ve said it for years, its not big enough to sustain 128 players. There isn’t 128 players out there who can play on the main tour. That might sound horrible, but there isn’t.’

Maguire has had a very poor season by his standards, sitting 58th on the one-year ranking list, so disappointing results have certainly contributed to how little he has played this season.

The other end of the scale, though, is Mark Allen who is top of the one-year list having won the UK Championship, Northern Ireland Open and World Grand Prix this season, earning over £500,000 in prize money.

The Pistol does not think the tour should be cut in numbers, but does agree with Maguire that the calendar should change, with all players going to main venues, as much as possible, and qualifiers replaced by other events on the calendar.

On Maguire’s idea to cut the tour, Allen said: ‘We disagree on this because I think if you cut the tour, the sport as a whole looks worse. A global game, with only 64 pros? I think that looks terrible

But all this qualifying in front of streaming cameras in Wigan, Barnsley, Leicester, that’s awful. Get everyone to the venue and then fill the calendar up, those qualifying weeks, put new events on. I’m not an advocate of cutting the tour, but you can’t have people playing the Welsh Open in Leicester, you can’t do it, it’s no good for the UK events.

I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ve been extremely selfish and unaware of what’s been going on because I’ve been doing alright. I know I’m in the Players, the Tour, but I talk to Jordan [Brown], to Stevie, who’s not had the best of years, and I know there’s not a lot

I think I’m super busy because I’ve been doing alright, but if you’re not doing alright, you’re struggling, there’s no in between. I don’t think there’s any in between.’

WST have responded to Maguire’s comments, stating that the Turkish Masters will indeed be replaced and that in many ways snooker is in very good health, given the challenges that emerged from the pandemic.

A World Snooker Tour statement read: ‘We share the player’s frustrations in the loss of the Turkish Masters from the tour this season. This event will be replaced, with further details be announced shortly.

We have recently enjoyed a fantastic resurgence in snooker’s popularity in the UK, smashing ticket records for many of our events. In January alone we have seen massive crowds at the Cazoo Masters, an 81% increase in fan attendance at the Duelbits World Grand Prix, and we have sold out the final day at the BetVictor Shoot Out. This pattern is repeated on every event in the UK this season, with previous attendance records broken. People are choosing to spend their hard-earned money by coming to watch snooker.

Our television viewing audience is also thriving. A peak of 2.5 million people watched the Masters on BBC, while last week’s World Grand Prix final on ITV peaked at nearly 1 million.

This is a very tough economic climate. The pandemic led to us being unable to host events in China, which previously made up 30% of the prize money available on the tour. But despite the global recession, we have been able to drive up prize money for the other events over the past two seasons. This means that when China events do return to the tour, we will be in a far stronger position than we have ever been.

The prize money available to the top players remains extremely high; Mark Allen has earned over £500,000 from ranking events alone this season. We appreciate that lower down the rankings, players have lost certain earning opportunities. But prize money for ranking events which all 128 players can compete in is now 71% of the overall total, compared to 68% pre-pandemic.

The opportunities are there for everyone on the tour – there are 12 ranking events this season which all 128 players can compete in, not including the Duelbits Series which are for the top performers on the one-year list. Snooker is a meritocracy and rewards those who are winning matches.

The initiative this year to provide a prize money guarantee to all tour players, ensuring that they have at least £20,000 over the season, has given players the security of knowing that they have an income and they can budget their season around this.

We are proud to have built a sustainable business where prize money is growing, where players have a guaranteed income and which captures the imagination of the fans.

Unfortunately this narrative doesn’t fit the story being peddled by a few players who have experienced the highs at the top of the sport in the past and now choose to criticise snooker rather than play a part in our journey forward.’

That may seem extreme from Maguire, but it’s not and many players will feel the same. It’s also honest from Allen to admit that he may have been blind to it because he’s doing well. And I understand WST position although the bit I have put in bold is at the heart of the issue: the prize money distribution is far too top heavy.

A replacement for the Turkish Masters has since been announced:

New WST Classic Added To Snooker Calendar

A brand new world ranking tournament, the WST Classic, will be staged in Leicester in March.

The 128-player knockout event will have total prize money of £427,000 and a top prize of £80,000. Open to all tour players, it will run from March 16-22 at the Morningside Arena.

This tournament, which replaces the Turkish Masters, will be best of seven frames from the first round up to the quarter-finals, then best of nine for the semi-finals and best of 11 for the final.

The top 64 players will be seeded in the draw, based on the seeding cut off after the Duelbits Players Championship, with all other players drawn at random.

WST Chairman Steve Dawson said: “We are pleased to add the new WST Classic to the calendar and to provide an extra earning opportunity for the players. Last week we had to cancel the Turkish Masters after several months of trying to get that event over the line, which was disappointing for us and the players. It was always our intention to replace that event and fill the space in the calendar.”

Details of whether the event will be open to fans, as well as how to watch online, will be announced soon.

It’s not fantastic, but it’s better than I expected.

As a side note… when Ronnie said, a few times, that he wouldn’t advice his kids to play snooker professionally, he was crucified by fans and fellow pros alike, most notably by John Higgins. Stephen Maguire here is saying the same … and no one bats an eye. Their motives are the same though: they don’t see their sport as providing financial security unless you are are the very top. Every parent wants the best for their kids, they don’t want them to struggle to make ends meet every month. The fact that Ronnie is at the top for nearly 30 years doesn’t mean he’s blind to the situation faced by lower ranked players.

Day 3 at the 2023 Shoot Out

After three days of a bit of everything, the field is now reduced to 32 players and we will go through no less than 5 rounds today.

Here is the draw for the last 32 round:

he draw for the last 32 of the BetVictor Shoot Out has been made.

Jak Jones v Xu Si
Fergal O’Brien v Julien LeClercq
Lukas Kleckers v Yuan Sijun
Dylan Emery v Noppon Saengkham
Cao Yupeng v Ali Carter
Fan Zhengyi v Michael Holt
Liam Highfield v Martin Gould
Mark Williams v Dechawat Poomjaeng
Michael White v Alexander Ursenbacher
David Grace v David Lilley
Joe Perry v Chris Wakelin
Tom Ford v Vladislav Gradinari
Zhou Yuelong v Gary Wilson
Mark Davis v Jack Lisowski
Daniel Wells v Ben Woollaston
Dominic Dale v Asjad Iqbal

And the WST reports on what happened yesterday

Afternoon session

Iqbal Keeps Run Going

Pakistan’s Asjad Iqbal reached the last 32 of a ranking event for the first time with a marvellous break of 64 to beat Jimmy Robertson in the second round of the BetVictor Shoot Out.

Iqbal is playing on the pro tour for the first time this season after coming through Asia-Oceania Q School in 2022, and has enjoyed some impressive results, notably beating Barry Pinches and Gerard Greene to reach the third qualifying round of the UK Championship.

And the 31-year-old has shown his quality on live television this week in Leicester, seeing off David Gilbert in the first round and then coming from 33-9 down to beat Robertson with an excellent clearance.

Michael Holt, who won this event in 2020 before being relegated from the tour two years later, scraped past Robbie McGuigan. Holt led 16-8 when he went in-off, gifting his opponent a chance, but McGuigan potted just one red before missing the pink and that proved the key moment.

I am absolutely blessed!” Holt told Eurosport. “If you want to have a run in this tournament you need a bit of luck. In this format you are always so close to losing. You have to take it for what it is, you have to embrace the atmosphere and enjoy the chaos.

Julien LeClercq made the highest break of the day so far with a 93 to beat Haydon Pinhey. The tour rookie from Belgium said: “I am very happy to win the frame in one visit. The crowd is so funny and I really enjoy it. I am starting to win more matches and get confidence.”

David Grace trailed Ashley Hugill 42-46 with the clock running down, but enjoyed a massive fluke on the last red, escaping from a snooker, and added the black for victory.

Mark Davis compiled a run of 66 to knock out Shaun Murphy, while 2014 Shoot Out winner Dominic Dale made a 42 as he beat Ken Doherty.

Ali Carter came from 37-0 down to beat Gerard Greene while Fergal O’Brien made an excellent 65 to beat Jackson Page.

I have no clue why someone put the first c in Julien’s surname in capital… anyway. Julien’s 93 break attracted a lot of praise from Neal Foulds in commentary. It was indeed a fantastic break to make under any circumstances, even more so in the middle of this circus.

WST shared these short videos on their YouTube Channel:

David Grace extraordinary fluke

Iqbal’s comeback and winning break

Evening Session

Wonderkid Gradinari Wins Again

Teenage starlet Vladislav Gradinari scored another impressive victory at the BetVictor Shoot Out, beating Victor Sarkis to reach the last 32.

On Wednesday, Moldova’s 14-year-old Gradinari became the youngest player to win a televised ranking event match when he knocked out Ng On Yee. And the Leeds-based cueman showed his potential again by beating Sarkis in a close match, making a crucial break of 28 to set up a third round tie with Tom Ford.

I tried to be as calm as possible and pot some balls,” Gradinari told Eurosport. “I am trying to go as far as possible, this is the dream. I can’t wait for tomorrow, I’m very excited. I look forward to a bigger and more noisy crowd.

The other 14-year-old in the second round, Riley Powell, was beaten in a Welsh derby by Daniel Wells.

Charismatic crowd favourite Dechawat Poomjaeng reached the last 32 of a ranking event for the first time since 2016 by beating Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in an all-Thai battle. Un-Nooh trailed 57-1 but fought his way back into the frame and had a chance to snatch it in the dying seconds, but ran out of position from brown to blue, then missed a difficult blue to a baulk corner.

Poomjaeng will now face three-time World Champion Mark Williams, who survived a late scare to beat Dean Young. Williams led 45-19 when he missed a red to centre, and Young had a chance for glory but failed to pot the last red along a side cushion, when he trailed by four points with a few seconds remaining.

Williams is the only top-16 ranked player left in the field other than Jack Lisowski, who beat Adam Duffy to earn a meeting with Mark Davis.

On Thursday, Reanne Evans became the first woman to win a match in this event, but tonight she was no match for Gary Wilson, who compiled breaks of 44 and 39.

It’s a great atmosphere and a great tournament, you’ve got to have some fun,” said Wilson, who won his first ranking title at the BetVictor Scottish Open in December. “Winning a tournament was something I wanted to do for a long time but I was soon back down to Earth and I’ve had a few bad results since. No one can take that victory away from me but I’m still the same player, you need to play well otherwise you have no chance. Getting into the top 16 in time for the Crucible is a big goal as I have not done that before, but I need to win matches first.”

Vladislav Gradinari comes across as a very level-headed, mature beyond his years boy. Victor Sarkis, despite the defeat looked the happier and more excited of the two!

Poomy got the crowd in a frenzy right from the start. Theppy looked philosophical and slightly amused, literally sitting on the fence. When he got the opportunity presented itself though, he played very well … he almost caused an “upset”. The crowd was clearly willing Poomy to win. Today we have Willo vs Poomy in the afternoon. It’s gonna be interesting that one: the “King of cool” vs the “Master of mayhem”.

Day 2 at the 2023 Shoot Out

The first round concluded yesterday evening at the 2023 Shoot Out in Leicester providing more surprises, “first times”, drama and laughter. All the detailed results are on snooker.org.

The reports by WST, as usual, cover only a fraction of what happened in the circus … sorry, in the arena.

Afternoon session

Shoot Out Success Is Life Of Riley

Riley Powell became the second 14-year-old to reach the second round of this year’s BetVictor Shoot Out as he knocked out five-time ranking event winner Kyren Wilson.

On Wednesday, Vladislav Gradinari became the youngest ever winner of a televised ranking event match when he beat Ng On Yee. Teenager Powell is just two months older than Gradinari and turns 15 in August this year. He has an ideal environment to develop his skills on the baize as he comes from Tredegar in South Wales and practises with the likes of Mark Williams, Lee Walker and Jackson Page.

World number eight Wilson, who has won just three matches in this event since 2017, opened with a break of 30, but Powell battled his way back into the frame. Wilson led 31-18 when he potted a long red but went in-off, and his opponent’s run of 19 got him into the last 64.

That was amazing, the best event I have played in,” said Powell, who won a Welsh under-16 event to earn a place in the field. “The crowd were so good. I had a couple of early mistakes but then got back into it. I just tried to enjoy the occasion and I loved every bit of it.

I soon as I started playing snooker I loved it. Mark Williams has been fantastic with me, I’d like to thank him, Jackson and Lee for all the help they have given me. Any practice I can get them with is fabulous, I have learned a lot from them. I want to be world number one and World Champion.

Michael Holt won this event in 2020 before dropping off the pro tour two years later. He is in the field this time as one of the amateur top-up players, and proved he still thrives in the format as he beat Lei Peifan with a 116 – a strong contender for the £5,000 high break prize.

Another former Shoot Out champion now playing as an amateur, Michael Georgiou, is also into round two as he beat Tian Pengfei with a break of 46.

Dominic Dale and Matthew Stevens contested the first blue-ball shoot out of this year’s event, after finishing tied 49-49. Dale was five points ahead during the regulation frame when he missed the blue, and Stevens potted it to force sudden death. But the former Masters and UK Champion missed the extra blue twice, allowing Dale to progress.

Rebecca Kenna came close to becoming the first woman to win a televised ranking event match, but narrowly lost out to Yuan Sijun. Kenna trailed 43-44 with just over a minute to go when she missed a tricky black on a break of 28. That proved crucial as Yuan potted the last red and added the points for victory.

Potting boffin Callum Beresford, who has just finished university exams in mechanical engineering, constructed a break of 45 to beat Zhang Anda. Fan Zhengyi made a 63 to win a Chinese derby against Ding Junhui, while Zhou Yuelong came from 46-0 down to beat Duane Jones with a run of 78.

Rebecca really impressed despite the defeat. She has only recently acquired a star table and get it installed so that she can now practice in professional conditions. If what we saw yesterday is anything to go by, it’s paying off. Rebecca is running her own business in parallel to trying to grow as a professional player. That’s not easy and she deserves every credit for her efforts.

Here is Riley Powell’s effort, shared by ES on their YouTube channel:

The young man showed a lot of maturity in his post-match interview.

And here is Michael Holt 116 from the same source:

Probably the most baffling aspect of the above report is that there is no mention of Dechawat Poomjaeng performance. Maybe that’s because the guy, or gal, in charge of the reporting didn’t really know what to make of it. So, here is is, again from ES YouTube channel:

All credits to Si Jiahui who managed to see the funny side of it.

Evening session

Landmark Win For Evans

Reanne Evans became the first woman to win a televised ranking event match as she beat former World Champion Stuart Bingham in the first round of the BetVictor Shoot Out in Leicester.

It’s a first win in a pro event for Evans since 2017, and she also becomes the first woman to win a match in the Shoot Out. The 37-year-old looked composed throughout the tie and won 60-8.

I felt comfortable,” said the 12-time Women’s World Champion. “If you get in early you want to make a break and get your cue action going. Then Stuart missed a few and left them on for me to win the frame. I have been working for the last three or four years and it has not happened for me. I am just waiting for it to go in the right direction, fingers crossed it will come one day.

I am never usually one for the Shoot Out, it is so noisy out there, you don’t know what’s going on. But it was a good atmosphere tonight and I won so I enjoyed it.

Four-time World Champion and local favourite Mark Selby lost to Mark Davis in an exciting finish. Selby led 20-17 with a minute to go, but then missed a straight-forward red to a top corner. Davis potted red, green and red to edge it 22-20.

Xiao Guodong made the second century of the day, 106, though he missed the chance to eclipse Michael Holt’s target of 116 for the £5,000 high break prize when he failed to pot the final blue.

Farakh Ajaib trailed Chris Wakelin by seven points with just seconds remaining when he smashed into a cluster of reds and fluked one to a top corner, then potted the pink to leave the scores tied. But he then missed the blue in the sudden death shoot out and Wakelin potted it to advance.

Pakistan’s Asjad Iqbal scored a surprise victory over David Gilbert, winning 35-30 thanks to a late break of 15.

I couldn’t find any “legit” footage of the second session on YouTube so far.

Asjab Iqbal was absolutely beaming after his win. I used to be extremely critical of the Shoot Out, but the sheer joy on some of the lowest ranked players after a win vindicates its staging really. These guys spend hundred of hours practising, play most of their matches on and outside table away from the spotlight. They deserve to take centre-stage and enjoy the fans cheers once a year.

Second round draw was made yesterday evening:

BetVictor Shoot Out Second Round Draw

The draw for the last 64 of the BetVictor Shoot Out has been made.

Jordan Brown v Yuan Sijun
Ken Doherty v Dominic Dale
Julian LeClercq v Haydon Pinhey
Mark Williams v Dean Young
Sam Craigie v Lukas Kleckers
Michael White v Callum Beresford
Barry Pinches v Cao Yupeng
Shaun Murphy v Mark Davis
Joe Perry v Jamie Jones
John Astley v Dylan Emery
Gerard Greene v Ali Carter
Chris Wakelin v Alfie Burden
Jak Jones v Michael Georgiou
David Grace v Ashley Hugill
Vladislav Gradinari v Victor Sarkis
Jamie O’Neill v Martin Gould
Ben Woollaston v Rory McLeod
Steven Hallworth v Noppon Saengkham
Daniel Wells v Riley Powell
Michael Holt v Robbie McGuigan
David Lilley v Elliot Slessor
Xu Si v Xiao Guodong
Jack Lisowski v Adam Duffy
Gary Wilson v Reanne Evans
Jackson Page v Fergal O’Brien
Ben Mertens v Fan Zhengyi
Asjad Iqbal v Jimmy Robertson
Ross Muir v Tom Ford
Zhou Yuelong v Robbie Williams
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Dechawat Poomjaeng
Liam Highfield v Louis Heathcote
Robert Milkins v Alexander Ursenbacher

I have highlighted some that attract my attention.

The two Belgian rookies are still in the mix. Ben vs Fan could be a cracker. Fan yesterday showed the type of snooker that won him the European Masters last season, Ben always goes for his shots. This should be good.

Vladislav Gradinari and Victor Sarkis were both “story makers” on the first day. It’s a bit of a shame they have to clash in the second round.

The all-Thai clash between Theppy and Poomy promises to be absolutely bonkers.

Day 1 at the 2023 Shoot Out

After one day at the Shoot Out in Leicester, we are only half-through the first round.

All detailed results are available on snooker.org

There were 32 “matches” played yesterday, and the reports by WST only cover a fraction of it. That’s understandable. Here goes anyway…

Afternoon session:

Moldovan Sensation Sets New Record

Vladislav Gradinari, who turned 14 just three months ago, became the youngest player to win a televised match in a ranking event by beating Ng On Yee in the first round of the BetVictor Shoot Out.

The Moldovan teenager, who moved to England two years ago, is into the last 64 in Leicester and will play his second round match on Friday. Despite his inexperience and the pressure of the shot clock, Gradinari looked calm and composed at the table, and a break of 21 helped him to victory over three-time Women’s World Champion Ng.

It feels amazing, I played my best game,” said Gradinari, who won an English Under-14 event to earn a wild card into this week’s tournament. “I had some shots and I potted them.

Snooker is not really popular in Moldova, we only have three or four tables there. We are trying to improve the level there.  I started watching on TV because my mum and grandad watched snooker. I started playing snooker at the age of seven. I am now living in Leeds and practising at the Northern Snooker Centre. I am doing everything possible now to become a professional player. I can’t wait for the second round here.

Defending champion Hossein Vafaei fell at the first hurdle, losing to Shaun Murphy. Both players missed chances before Murphy snatched the tie in the last two minutes with a break of 28.

Amateur Robbie McGuigan, the 18-year-old two-time Northern Ireland Amateur champion, beat Hammad Miah with a break of 39.

Ben Mertens came from 21-0 down to beat Anthony Hamilton with a break of 34, while BetVictor Welsh Open champion Joe Perry compiled a run of 58 to knock out Luca Brecel.

Three-time Crucible king Mark Williams, runner-up to Vafaei last year, set an early target for the £5,000 high break prize with a 98 to beat Craig Steadman.

Shared by ES on their YouTube channel

Hossein Vafaei suffered a big piece of bad luck

This is Vladislav winning contribution

For some reason Vladsislav reminds me a young Stephen Hendry. I was not around snooker in the Hendry late 80th, early 90th but I’ve watched quite a few footages and, yes, there is that intensity, the focus, the will to win and the courage to take the shots to do just that.

Evening session:

Brazil-iant Debut Win For Vitinho

Victor Sarkis is living his dream by playing on the World Snooker Tour, and scored his first win by beating Mark Joyce to reach the second round of the BetVictor Shoot Out in Leicester.

Sarkis, known as Vitinho in his native Brazil, won the Pan-American Championship in 2021 to earn a tour card. The 31-year-old wasn’t able to make it to the UK until late 2022 but is now playing in every tournament and the charismatic cueman was thrilled to beat Joyce 18-14 in a low-scoring frame and earn a place in the last 64.

I really enjoyed it and I’m very excited to play again on Friday,” said Sarkis, who now lives in Darlington. “I really like the atmosphere with a lot of noise, I am comfortable with it. I used to look at the TV or YouTube when I lived in Brazil, and see Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan or Mark Williams. Three months ago I was flying to England to dream my big dream, and now I’m here. In my first match, I was playing Xiao Guodong. I looked at the WST logo and it was real. Now I’m really enjoying it and I want to get more experience and share that with my friends in Brazil.

Here is Victor’s postmatch (WST)

One of the most dramatic matches saw Jack Lisowski beat Mark Allen (shared by ES on their YouTube Channel).

And Willo’s 98

Overall I enjoyed that first day. There were some lovely moments in addition to Victor’s and Vladislav wins. Ken Doherty dancing whilst joining Rachel and Jimmy in the studio, totally unaware that is was live on TV was hilarious. We got to see a lot of young players in action. Ben Mertens played a very good frame to beat Anthony Hamilton (But why had they to meet in the first round ??? 😢)

Overall the crowd wasn’t too bad. I saw nothing aggressive, nor did I see drunks misbehaving badly. Janie Watkins and myself have very bad memories of the second shoot out in that respect. We were there to do a job, we were abused, showered in beer whilst trying to protect our cameras, idiots threw broken glass at us. WST security had to step in in the person of big Mark Williams to protect us.

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”.