Snooker (not great) news and a lovely podcast

The Scottish Open 2018 starts today, and maybe not surprisingly, Ronnie has withdrawn from it. Surely winning the UK Championship yesterday has taken a lot out of him and he deserves a break. His next event will probably be the Masters in January.

Meanwhile, this podcast by Rhiannon Lambert and Ronnie is worth a listen, especially with the end-of-year celebrations, and over-eating coming soon!

FoodforThoughts

Regarding the sports itself, it was announced in the media last week that a ban will be enforced on adds for gambling and betting on TV during sports events. There were many articles in the press about it, and this is one of them, by the Guardian.

UK betting firms back live sports advertising ban

Online gambling firms such as Bet365, William Hill and Ladbrokes agree ban amid fears of impact on children

Online gambling companies have agreed in principle to a voluntary “whistle-to-whistle” ban on advertising during live sports, in an effort to address concerns about their impact on children.

Companies such as Bet365, William Hill and Ladbrokes would agree not to advertise during live sports, including after 9pm if the event started before the watershed.

While the proposals have yet to be approved, they are likely to be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the five major gambling industry associations next week, with a view to implementing the ban within six months.

A senior gambling industry figure said he would be “surprised and disappointed” if the measures were not agreed and said that while not every online betting firm would support them, all were likely to comply.

“It would be a very brave company that would stick its head above the parapet in isolation,” he said.

The whistle-to-whistle ban, which excludes horse racing, would involve the industry falling into line with Labour party proposals.

The advertising proposals, first reported by the BBC, have been put forward by the Remote Gambling Association (RGA), which represents online betting firms.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said: “I’m delighted that gambling operators have adopted Labour’s proposal of a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertising during live sport.

“With over 430,000 problem gamblers in the country, many of them children, the number of adverts during live sports had clearly reached crisis levels.

“There was clear public support for these restrictions and I’m glad that for once the industry, led by [the RGA], has taken its responsibilities seriously and listened.”

Several chief executives in the gambling industry, including the bosses of William Hill and Paddy Power Betfair, have said they would support greater restrictions on advertising to protect children.

Concern about the normalisation of gambling has risen due to the sheer volume of ads during televised sport.

Research by the Guardian during the World Cup found that children were “bombarded” with 90 minutes of gambling adverts during the tournament.

Shares in gambling companies fell on reports of a plan that would restrict their ability to reach TV viewers, while broadcasters are also likely to take a significant hit on lost advertising revenue.

One senior executive at a media agency told the Guardian that gambling ads were worth £200m to broadcasters last year, with the majority going to Sky and, to a lesser extent, ITV.

Online gambling companies are thought to have learned a lesson from the resistance shown by the Association of British Bookmakers, which fought tooth and nail against the cut in maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals.

Their campaign was ultimately unsuccessful and caused considerable damage to the industry’s reputation over efforts to prevent curbs on machines that the government branded a “social blight”.

RGA chief executive Clive Hawkswood is thought to be determined to get the measure approved by the gambling industry before he steps down in January.

It requires agreement from the National Casino Forum, Association of British Bookmakers, Bingo Association and the amusement arcade body Bacta, although their blessing is likely to be a formality as the online industry is by far the biggest TV advertiser.

The RGA has also put forward other proposals but is expected to stop short of adopting Labour’s stated policy of banning gambling companies from sponsoring football shirts.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, spokesman for campaign group Fairer Gambling, said: “This is long overdue but to be truly effective it should have also included bans on shirt and league sponsorship and pitch-side rolling displays.”

This is indeed good news as far as I’m concerned, and it’s not just about children either. But for snooker, a sport that is relying so much on the gambling industry, at least outside China, this might be only the start of a massive issue, very similar to what happened with the tobacco ban. If the bookies see their TV adds cut off, they will be less likely to sponsor live sporting events because the whole point for them is to expose their “brand” and promote their “products”. This was coming, and it baffled me how much in denial so many fans were when I raised the point earlier. I very really hope that WS will act wisely and diversify their sponsoring sources. And it might not be that easy because the strong association with the gambling business has created an image already that many other businesses don’t want to be associated with, especially in mainland Europe.

Speaking of mainland Europe, Snookerstars have announced on Facebook that the Paul Hunter Classic 2019 will take place, but as an invitational event for 16 players only. I’m not sure at this stage what the status of the event will be, nor if it will still be a pro-am. My guess is that no amateurs will be involved in the main competition. This is both a good news and a bad news. Good because I really feared that he would disappear entirely, bad because this was the best pro-am you could play in, or watch, and it has been ruined. Making it a full ranking event, without the financial backing to attract top players has killed it. And getting financial backing from sponsors in mainland Europe is extremely difficult (see above!)

 

More on Ronnie’s “Breakaway” Ideas

This is the full interview that started it all

Ronnie told more to BBC about his “Breakaway” plans 

Ronnie O’Sullivan ‘ready to go’ with breakaway snooker tour

And here is another account, as reported by Hector Nunns

‘You don’t see Leyton Orient playing Barcelona’: Ronnie O’Sullivan threatens to start breakaway snooker tour over number of events

  • Ronnie O’Sullivan is ready to form a breakaway ‘Champions League-style’ tour
  • He is unhappy with the number of events on the calendar and travelling required
  • Five-time world champion wants to get the world’s best players to join him

Ronnie O’Sullivan threatened to start a breakaway snooker tour after keeping his bid for a record seventh UK Championship title alive on Sunday.

The Rocket edged past Irish veteran Ken Doherty 6-5 to reach the third round at York’s Barbican Centre. But five-time world champion O’Sullivan, 42, then urged fellow ‘Class of 1992’ member John Higgins to join him in creating a separate Champions League of snooker.

A dejected Higgins, 43, claimed that he was close to retirement and lacking form and motivation after losing to Alan McManus on Saturday night.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has threatened to start a breakaway 'Champions League-style' snooker tour

Ronnie O’Sullivan has threatened to start a breakaway ‘Champions League-style’ snooker tour

World No 4 O’Sullivan has been fiercely critical of World Snooker in recent weeks over venues, formats and large fields — but believes he can find a solution.

‘It is very sad when you see someone like John Higgins talking about retirement,’ he said.

‘I will talk to him and find out what he is thinking. But if he wants to play and finds the tour a grind, I am waiting for four or five unhappy players because I can’t play on my own. I am ready to go if there was another platform. If there are people who are fed up and want to play a Champions League-style thing with titles, money and trophies in good venues — it is possible but I need players.

‘It is a big ask — they would have to give up a tour card and not play in the World Championship. And you have to have something to offer them to come over. But I have talked to possible backers.

‘If John is at that stage that he doesn’t want to play on this tour for whatever his own reasons are, then there is an opportunity because I think he would still like to play.

O'Sullivan also urged fellow 'Class of 1992' member John Higgins to join him 

 

O’Sullivan also urged fellow ‘Class of 1992’ member John Higgins to join him

 

‘The unhappier players are, the more they would like to play some snooker rather than retire. John doesn’t want to retire I think, but he doesn’t want to be on the slog that there is.’

O’Sullivan outlined his plans for the new tour, saying: ‘I see an ATP style, best of the best — or people can watch the 128 players on the regular tour. I want to play in quality events, eight of the best. I just need players.

‘You don’t see Leyton Orient playing Barcelona, Messi would be demotivated doing that. So there is space for a 128-player tour, and then a creme de la creme. I wouldn’t be doing the Ryanair service. There are a lot of other players who are kind of a little bit unsettled as well. The more unhappy the players are, the more the chance we can maybe do an alternative tour.’

O’Sullivan added: ‘You have the Chinese kids who have been banned recently, which was maybe a bit heavy, and a couple of top-ranked Chinese players are tired of the travelling.’

O'Sullivan beat Ken Doherty to keep his bid for a record seventh UK Championship title alive

O’Sullivan beat Ken Doherty to keep his bid for a record seventh UK Championship title alive

 

World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn hit back at O’Sullivan for his remark about Chinese stars Yu Delu and Cao Yupeng, who have been banned for a combined 16 years for match-fixing.

He tweeted: ‘Harshly! Are you serious? Cheats were exposed and punished. Please keep such stupid comments to yourself. You are getting ridiculous, and I expect better from a player of your standing. Enough.’

And 1997 world champion Doherty, questioned if a rival snooker tour would succeed.

‘I would be sad if such a breakaway happened, you need those players on the tour. I couldn’t see how it would work, it has been tried before in other sports and it hasn’t always worked.

‘I don’t think the public would like it, they want to see them play in all our blue-riband events, this being one of them. Why break away when you could go on and create more history?

‘And I honestly don’t think John Higgins would be up for it anyway,’ said Doherty.

Now I’m really not sure that involving players who have been banned for match fixing is a great idea.

Anyway, it’s clearly just an idea for now, nothing actually decided and sealed. Also, it’s not meant to be a replacement for the main tour, there is no ambition to create a rival professional body, more like a platform where players who feel that the current structure of the main tour doesn’t suit them, could play and earn some cash. If the idea comes to something – which I doubt at this stage – it’s likely to attract older players, with an established CV, who want to put their families and some me-time ahead of  running all around the world week-in, week out, to earn more money and titles. How many are into that sort of state of mind, I’m not sure.

Anyway, this is Judd’s Trump reaction on Eurosport . Obvioiusly a very different perspective, but then Judd is young, he doesn’t have children and he’s not been around in the ninethies which is the era Ronnie clearly is nostalgic about.

Trump says the conditions are good but that’s clearly not Mark Allen’s views

And someone who clearly has changed his perspective since having a child is Ding. Ding this season has cut on his schedule in the UK.

As for what Hearn reacted to, here it is

Screenshot 2018-12-02 at 19.04.45

Ronnie didn’t elaborate further and got a lot of stick for this. But not everyone thinks it’s “ridiculous”. Neil Robertson obviously has a more nuanced opinion and was interviewed about the issue. Unfortunately I couldn’t find that interview anywhere, which is a bit strange. Asked what he said, this was his answer on twitter:

Screenshot 2018-12-03 at 01.00.27

 

Cao Yupeng and Yu Delu banned

This was published today by Worldsnooker

WPBSA Disciplinary Hearing Result

At hearings that took place on 21st September and 2nd November 2018 before a three person Independent Tribunal Chaired by David Casement QC, Cao Yupeng and Yu Delu admitted breaches of the WPBSA Members Rules.  This followed a lengthy investigation by the WPBSA Integrity Unit working with Sportradar Integrity Services and with support from the SBIU at the UK Gambling Commission. 

 In the case of Yu Delu the Tribunal found that he engaged in deliberate and premeditated corruption to secure substantial financial gain for his friends/associates and himself. He was involved in match-fixing on five occasions in five tournaments and his activity covers a period of 2 and a half years and he did this for substantial reward. He also admitted lying to the investigator, failing to cooperate with the investigation and betting on snooker when prohibited from doing so.

The finding of the Tribunal was that the starting point for Mr Delu was a suspension of 12 years. He was given credit for his plea of guilty, albeit late in the proceedings, and the actual sanction imposed was a suspension of 10 years and 9 months to run from 25th May 2018 until 24th February 2029. He was also ordered to pay £20,823.80 towards the WPBSA costs.

In the case of Cao Yupeng, he admitted to fixing the outcome of three matches in 2016 and failing to fully cooperate with the WPBSA inquiry.

 The finding of the Tribunal was that the starting point for Mr Yupeng was a suspension of eight years. He was given credit for his plea of guilty which reduced the suspension to six years. Of that period he will serve a suspension of two and a half years unconditionally. The remaining three and a half years shall be suspended provided there is compliance with the written terms agreed between Mr Yupeng and the WPBSA to provide significant assistance to the WPBSA in its anti-corruption work.

Provided Mr Yupeng complies with his written agreement with the WPBSA, his suspension will run from 25th May 2018 until 24th November 2020. He was ordered to pay £15,558 towards the WPBSA costs.

Jason Ferguson Chairman of the WPBSA said: “It is very sad when talented players are attracted to the opportunity to make money from fixing matches. The WPBSA has very effective prevention and monitoring processes that protect the sport. Where players ignore this, they risk their careers and they will be caught. Cao Yupeng has shown true remorse and he will assist the WPBSA in player education and in its fight against corruption, which is reflected in his reduced sanction.

“The sanctions handed down to these players by the Independent Tribunal reflect how seriously the WPBSA treats such cases. This was a lengthy and difficult enquiry for which the Tribunal commended the WPBSA for its skill and professionalism in the investigation and presentation of the case.”

The full findings of the Independent Tribunal can be found here.

WPBSA -v- Yu Delu – Decision on Sanction

WPBSA-v-Cao-Yupeng-Decision-on-Sanction

Both Players have 28 days to appeal the decision of the Tribunal

 

 Yu Delu charges admitted

1. That you agreed to fix the outcome of your match with Martin McCrudden at the Indian Open Qualifiers on 12th February 2015 in breach of Rule 2.1.2.1 ,

2. That you agreed to fix the outcome of your match with Dominic Dale at the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany on 29th August 2015 in breach of Rule 2.1.2.1 ,

3. That you agreed to fix the outcome of your match with Ian Glover at the Welsh Open in Wales on 15th February 2016 in breach of Rule 2.1.2.1 ,

4. That you agreed to fix the outcome of your match with Michael Georgiou at the European Masters Qualifiers on 4th August 2017 in breach of Rule 2.1.2.1 ,

5. That you agreed to fix the outcome of your match with Kurt Maflin at the Shanghai Masters on 15th November 2017 in breach of Rule 2.1.2.1 ,

6. Between June and October 2017 you were approached to fix a match that you were to play in and you failed to report the approaches within 24 hours to the Company Secretary or Tournament Official in breach of Rule 4.1 of the WPBSA Members Rules.

8. That you failed to cooperate with the investigation by failing to provide material that was requested of you during the investigation in breach of Rule 4.4 of the WPBSA Members Rules.

9. That you have been betting on snooker in breach of Rule 2.1.1.1 of the WPBSA Members Rules,

 

Cao Yupeng charges admitted

1.That you agreed to fix the outcome of your match with Ali Carter at the Welsh Open in Wales 15th January 2016 in breach of Rule 2.1.2.1 ,

2. That you agreed to fix the outcome of your match with Stuart Bingham Indian Open Qualifiers on 30th June 2016 in breach of Rule 2.1.2.1 ,

3. That you agreed to fix the outcome of your match with Stephen Maguire at the UK Championships in York on 24th November 2016 in breach of Rule 2.1.2.1 ,

4. That you failed to cooperate with the investigation by failing to provide material that was requested of you during the investigation in breach of Rule 4.4 of the WPBSA Members Rules

 

WPBSA Betting Rules extracts:

  1. Betting misconduct

2.1   It shall be a breach of these Rules for a Member to do any of the following:
2.1.1 Betting:

2.1.1.1 to place, accept, lay or otherwise make a Bet with any other person in               relation to the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the        Tour and/or any Tournament or Match in events sanctioned by the               WPBSA, WSL or WBL;

  • Corruption:

2.1.2.1  to fix or contrive, or to be a party to any effort to fix or contrive, the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match;

  1. Reporting Breaches
    • In the event that a Member is approached or solicited in any way (whether directly or indirectly) to influence the outcome or conduct of any game of snooker or billiards whether or not in return for payment or any other form of remuneration or benefit (an “Approach”), that Member (the “Reporting Member”) shall report such an Approach to the WPBSA (via the Company Secretary or a Tournament Official) as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event not later than 24 hours after any such Approach being made. Further, the Reporting Member shall provide the WPBSA (via the Company Secretary or a Tournament Official) with all information in his or her knowledge relating to the Approach and shall co-operate in any subsequent investigation and/or other action(s) arising out of such a report
  • Each Member shall co-operate with the WPBSA in any investigation carried out by the WPBSA under the provisions of these Rules including (but not limited to):
  • Providing a written statement setting out in detail all of the facts and circumstances with respect to any alleged breach;
  • Attending to answer questions and provide such information at a time and place determined by the WPBSA
  • Providing to the WPBSA upon its request any documents, information or any other material of any nature whatsoever held by the Member; and
  • Procuring and providing to the WPBSA upon its request any documents, information or any other material of any nature whatsoever not held by the Member which the Member has the power to obtain.
  • Providing the WPBSA with access to all records relating to the alleged breach. This includes, but is not limited to; betting accounts, bank records, telephone records, internet service records, social media accounts, email and other records stored on phones, tablets, electronic devices, computer hard drives or To facilitate this, the Member will surrender any such devices for examination by the WPBSA or its representative.

The full WPBSA Members Rules can be viewed here.

The CBSA, the Chinese Billiard and Snooker Association, issued similar bans, which means that they won’t be able to play in China either.

I believe that the huge difference in the ban length comes from the very different circumstances and attitude of the players. Cao pleaded financial difficulties, that were real, showed remorse and accepted to collaborate with WPBSA to educate young players in order to try to avoid similar situations in the future. He also didn’t commit any further offence from 2016 on.

I honestly think that paying the first round losers a minimal wage may help prevent such situations. Not in every case but in quite a few. It wouldn’t be “rewarding mediocrity” because the players who don’t win matches won’t stay on the tour whatever. After all it takes two to play a match, and by playing, the players bring value to the tournament, and the sponsors. They should get something for it. Barry Hearn’s comparison with golf doesn’t hold water: in golf where the ball ends is entirely in the player’s hand, in snooker the situation on the table when a player comes to it, depends on their opponent at least as much as on themselves. In addition golfers play for a performance level, snooker players have to beat an opponent and that can be harder or easier depending on the luck of the draw.

Day off in York

Yesterday was a day off  in York , as BBC was installing their lighting and cameras.

So I thought that I could maybe gather a few interesting bits

Luke Simmonds enjoyed his match against Ronnie (source BBC)

UK Championship: Luke Simmonds says it was ‘worth £200 entry fee’ to play Ronnie O’Sullivan

Former world amateur champion Luke Simmonds says it was “worth the £200” entry fee to play Ronnie O’Sullivan at the UK Championship in York.

Simmonds, 38, won the first frame against ‘The Rocket’ but O’Sullivan recovered to ease into round two 6-1.

The game’s governing body, World Snooker, last year abolished tournament entry fees for tour professionals but amateurs still have to pay to enter.

“It was good experience and worth the £200,” Simmonds told BBC Radio Solent.

“In years gone past, I think it was £600-£700 to enter. I knew when I entered that it wasn’t a random draw because it was seeded, so I knew I would be playing one of the top two or three in the world.”

Despite feeling he got value for his money, Simmonds – who beat Ryan Day to win the World Amateur title in 1998 – questioned why non-professionals have to pay entry fees to round out the field of 128 players.

He added: “It’s a bit strange to me, they abolish the entry fees for the tour players but the top-ups still have to pay to enter.”

A break of 56 gave the Isle of Wight factory worker the first frame at the Barbican on Thursday and, after O’Sullivan levelled, 128th seed Simmonds had chances to win the third.

However, six-time UK champion O’Sullivan pinched it before pulling away to win with breaks of 97, 118, 112 and 77 – despite saying he felt unwell during the match.

O’Sullivan has courted controversy with comments about lesser-ranked players in the past but Simmonds said the world number three offered plenty of praise after their first-round encounter.

Simmonds added: “He said I cued really well and he couldn’t understand why I’m not on the main tour. He was good, bless him. I was pleased with how it went and I enjoyed it, it’s just a shame that I didn’t play a little bit better.

“Even though he had three frame-winning breaks, there were some opportunities for me to change the course of the frame. But he just mops them up and you have to take your chances when they come along.”

Shaun Murphy takes a trip to Paris (source BBC)

Olympics could become pinnacle of snooker – Shaun Murphy

Shaun Murphy
Shaun Murphy has long backed the sport’s bid for Olympic status

Former world champion Shaun Murphy says Olympic snooker could become more important than the World Championship, as cue sports aim for Paris 2024.

The World Confederation of Billiards Sports (WCBS) – the body representing snooker, billiards and carom – is making a bid for Olympic recognition.

An effort to have snooker played at Tokyo 2020 failed.

Murphy, who won the 2005 world title, said: “The World Championships is our pinnacle but that could change.”

The 36-year-old Englishman added: “The cue sports family has to go into the Olympics. It is never just going to be snooker, billiards or nine-ball – it has to be them all together.

“If we could get in there and that iconic gold medal was an opportunity, I think that would be a massive game-changer.”

A screengrab of Shaun Murphy's tweet about being at the launch of billiard sports' bid for Olympic recognition in Paris on Friday
Shaun Murphy tweeted about Friday’s launch in Paris

Billiard sports launched its bid at a ceremony at the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Friday, with backing from the French Billiard Federation.

The combined cue sports bid is “in a significantly stronger position” than the snooker one which failed three years ago in the cycle for Tokyo, according to the WCBS.

It highlighted the global audience and participation levels of cue sports as one of the bid’s major strengths.

“The sport has never been in a stronger position to take its rightful place on the Olympic programme,” Jason Ferguson, president of the World Snooker Federation said.

And here is what WBSA reported about this

Snooker Supports Paris 2024 Olympic Bid

  • 30th November 2018

Billiard sports launched its bid to become part of the Paris 2024 Olympic Sports programme today at a special ceremony at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Hosted by the Billiards 2024 Committee and supported by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) and World Snooker, the event represents a significant milestone billiard sports’ bid for inclusion at the Paris 2024 Games.

Among those present were WPBSA Vice Chairman Nigel Mawer QPM and former world professional snooker champion Shaun Murphy, who joined senior representatives from the Fédération Française de Billard (FFB) and other international organisations to support the bid.

Billiard sports previously applied to join the Olympic programme for the Tokyo 2020 Games and three years on is in a significantly stronger position to be successful as cuesports continue to grow globally.

The first step to securing Olympic status for 2024 was taken earlier this year by the World Confederation of Billiard Sports (WCBS), the umbrella organisation representing snooker, billiards and carom, when the formal submission for billiard sports to be included as an additional sport at the Paris Games was made with the full cooperation of the FFB.

A sport for all

Snooker in particular has a proven track record of staging high-quality international events with the World Snooker Tour now comprising 27 major tournaments around the world, with a television reach of 1.6 billion homes. The sport is played in approximately 100 countries with players from across the globe regularly participating.

The sport is strongly represented at both professional and amateur levels and under the guidance of former WCBS President Jason Ferguson and former General Secretary Maxime Cassis, was successfully included at the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw at which leading professional Kyren Wilson of England won the prestigious gold medal.

Snooker’s International Federation the World Snooker Federation (WSF) has since brought together professional and amateur bodies, including women’s and disability organisations, providing opportunities for all to compete on the same field of play.

WSF President Jason Ferguson said: “Today represents an important landmark in what is a serious bid for the inclusion of billiard sports at the Paris 2024 Games. With the levels of participation in our great sport consistently increasing and new opportunities being created by the WSF and its partners for people across the globe to be able to pick up a cue, the sport has never been in a stronger position to take its rightful place on the Olympic programme.”

Following today’s announcement of the bid, next year will see a further demonstration event staged in Paris which will showcase the Olympic values of billiard sports.

For more information about the Billiards 2024 Committee and please visit: https://billiards2024.paris/

I’m not really sure how snooker would really fit into the Olympics: it would necessary be short formats and I would be very surprised if the TV coverage was anything but minimal. However, being recognised as an Olympic sport would probably mean that it would be recognised as an actual sport in mainy countries where, for now,  it’s just seen as a game. That in turn would mean access to funding for grassroot and development, something that  is badly needed but not currently available.

Alan Taylor’s Impressions 

As for Worldsnooker … they went for a christmas meal (and drinks I guess)

Worldsnooker Xmas Meal 2018

 

Catching up with last week action

There was no actual main tour competition last week, although the Macao Masters was of course a sanctioned event. Nevertheless there was a lot of snooker being played!

Ken Doherty won the CRS World Seniors UK CHampionship in Hull

He beat Igor Figuereido by 3-1 in the final. You will find all the scores, images and footages on my  World Seniors Tour Blog … make sure you follow all the links

Barry Hawkins won the individual event at the Macau Masters, beating Mark Williams in the final. It seems that this event was very well organised and a lot of fun!

All the results and some footage, notably of the team event can be found on snooker.org

On Yee Ng won the Australian Women’s Snooker Open 2018

On Yee Australian Open 2018 Champion

Again all detailed results can be found on snooker.org.

 

“Me and the Table” by Stephen Hendry

HendryBook

In a couple of hours the Seniors UK Championship 2018 will start, and once again, Stephen Hendry will pick up his cue and try to win. I thought that this is a good time to share my thoughts about his biography “Me and the table”

The first thing I’ll say about Stephen Hendry’s biography is what it is not: you won’t find any detailed analysis of any match played by the great man, neither will you find much about the most significant shots he played. If this is what you are after, this book isn’t for you.

What this book IS though, is a recollection of Stephen Hendry’s psychological and emotional journey from the carefree debuts on the small table he got as a Christmas present, to winning everything, to not winning anything and, eventually to retiring,  and going to  promote and play 8-balls Chinese Pool in China. Stephen Hendry takes us with him through the kaleidoscope of his emotions: excitement, hope, realisation of his own talent, reaching his goals, the years of invincibility, the first doubts, the denial, the pain, the depression, and finally a kind of acceptance. It’s quite engrossing and certainly portrays a man very different from the “Iceman” image he carried around  for most of his career. Reading this book you won’t learn much new about his matches, but you will certainly come to know and understand the human person behind the cue much better.

Stephen Hendry also opens up about some aspects of his private life, and his relationship with his manager and some of his fellow players.

Here is a good interview Stephen did about his biography

Stephen Hendry: ‘Yips trivialises it. It was much more than that’

The seven-times world champion on his duels with Davis, Higgins, White and O’Sullivan and how his famed mental strength disintegrated leaving him no choice but to quit
Stephen Hendry has not lost his competitive streak. ‘Steve Davis let it go years ago but it still hurts me, watching people win at the Crucible.’
Stephen Hendry has not lost his competitive streak. ‘Steve Davis let it go years ago but it still hurts me, watching people win at the Crucible.’ Photograph: Tom Jenkins/Guardian

“It was a mixture of embarrassment, anger, frustration, sadness, everything,” Stephen Hendry says as he remembers how his dominance of snooker unravelled into, in his mind, a shambling wreck of a game. When the end came, in the quarter-finals of the 2012 world championships, Hendry was so besieged by psychological demons “there was nothing positive left”.

Hendry’s favourite sportsmen are Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Nick Faldo and AP McCoy and he was once as imperious as they had been. He holds the record for the most world titles, with all seven being won in the 1990s, and he was world No 1 for eight successive seasons. But the great champions feel it most when vulnerability takes over.

“It started about 12 years before the end,” Hendry says of his slow decline. “Of course it’s psychological and, when you strike a cue ball, you’re supposed to accelerate through the ball. But as you tighten up you end up decelerating. By 2012 my game was shot. You’re sitting on your chair watching players leagues below you play shots you can’t. That destroyed me.”

In his new book, which provides graphic insight into this implosion, Hendry accepts that people compare his condition to a golfer’s ‘yips’. He scrunches up his face. “That trivialises it. I hate the word because it’s much more than that.”

It resulted in humiliation for Hendry. He had to qualify for his final world championship by playing at the Institute of Sport in Sheffield instead of his beloved Crucible. “It felt degrading. That’s no disrespect to other players but I had owned the Crucible for a decade with seven wins and two finals.”

Hendry ground his way through qualifying and in the first round against Stuart Bingham at the Crucible he sank a 147 maximum. Hendry had already decided to retire and become an ambassador for 8-ball pool in China. “I got to the Crucible having flown to China and back, with one day there to meet my new employers. Somehow the 147 came about. It was amazing because, of the 36 shots, only six were played properly. My game had debilitated so far it was mostly shots I wasn’t hitting properly. I’d given every shot a pint of blood to get it in the pocket. The outsider was probably saying, ‘That’s amazing.’ Inside, it felt horrible.”

He beat John Higgins in the second round but, 3-0 down to Stephen Maguire in the quarters, it was over. “Clearing up in the fourth frame, I knew if I didn’t get perfectly on the blue I’d leave myself this pink. So consequently, on the brown, you’re thinking about two shots later and ‘I can’t play it.’ I was finished.”

He lost 13-2 to Maguire and retired but Hendry had suffered worse moments. “The lowest was losing [to Robert Milkins] in China. It was such an embarrassment. In China they called me the emperor of snooker but I kept losing in the first round. I broke down. It’s the only time I’ve cried from losing. Milkins is a journeyman, someone you should never lose to.”

Hendry does not mean to sound cruel towards Milkins – but he is intent on describing, with crushing honesty, how far he fell. “I loved being the best player in the world. There was no pressure staying there. I’ve heard [current World No 1] Mark Selby say: ‘It’s hard being the target man.’ I loved it.”

He admired the way in which Woods, at his most swaggering, rarely looked surprised or elated when winning. “I really empathise with that. When you get a trophy why go jumping and crying? Winning’s a great feeling but everything else is an anticlimax. I really had to force a smile because winning was my job.”

In his book Hendry details the way in which his manager, Ian Doyle, controlled him. Doyle even made Hendry break up with his girlfriend, Mandy, because he believed the young Scot should be consumed by snooker. Later, when he had finally married Mandy, Hendry horrified Doyle by mixing with other players. But Hendry believes now that losing his Ice Man image undermined him.

“Without a doubt. In the 90s I never socialised with other players. That changed. I wanted to spend more time in the players’ lounge. I became friendly with Mark Williams. There’s no doubt it affected my invincibility. Ronnie O’Sullivan is still the best player in the world on his day now and he doesn’t mix with the players. You need that coldness. But I missed out as a teenager and thought: ‘I want to enjoy being with people and going out for dinner.’ It was to my detriment as a competitive animal.”

During his 26-year career Hendry straddled different eras and faced a range of compelling players from Alex Higgins to O’Sullivan. He describes how drink once ran through the game. “Jimmy White and the others would have half a lager while playing. Bill Werbeniuk had to start drinking four hours before a match. He had this condition where he either took beta blockers, which were banned, or alcohol to calm his heart rate. If he had a match at 10 in the morning, he got up at six to start drinking beer. Alex obviously liked to drink. Sometimes we practised and he used the table to hold himself up. But he still played unbelievable snooker.”

Stephen Hendry after beating Jimmy White 18-17 to win his fourth world crown in 1994. ‘I really had to force a smile because winning was my job.’
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Stephen Hendry after beating Jimmy White 18-17 to win his fourth world crown in 1994. ‘I really had to force a smile because winning was my job.’ Photograph: Michael Cooper/Getty Images

Higgins was initially kind to Hendry but “it turned to resentment. He directed it at Steve Davis and then me because Alex believed he made snooker. In a way he was right. But when he wasn’t as good as us he couldn’t cope.”

Hendry was still disappointed when many younger players failed to travel with him to Belfast for Higgins’s funeral in 2010. He feels even deeper affection for White, his boyhood hero, whom he beat in four of his seven world championship final victories.

“He’d get introduced and 95% of the audience would go mental. I’d walk down the stairs to the odd boo. I liked it – being the bad one, the one who’s going to beat him. But you’d never hear a bad word from Jimmy about anybody. Higgins used to be nasty – but if Jimmy said anything, it was in jest. And he took losing with such grace.”

He smiles with nostalgia rather than in judgment. “Kenny Dalglish said: ‘Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.’ Jimmy was an amazing loser. I’m sure inside he was devastated but he never showed it. If I’d had lost that final, I would be inconsolable.”

Hendry was still a teenager when Davis demolished him in every frame of a six-game exhibition. “I hated it, losing to Steve night after night but I would do the same in his position. I’d be willing to kill the young upstart every night.”

Davis did not compliment Hendry when the Scot finally beat him – and Hendry shared that mentality. “I’d practised with John Higgins for years and when he became world champion I couldn’t congratulate him. A normal person says: ‘Well done.’ I couldn’t. It didn’t matter if it was my best friend, my brother, I didn’t want anyone else to win. It still hurts me, watching people win at the Crucible. Steve let it go years ago. That’s why he played longer than me. He treated it as a day out. I could never do that.”

Hendry and O’Sullivan have fallen out occasionally but now “we get on”. Mates is probably too strong a word because Ronnie is complex. There are times you’ll be his best friend and times he’ll virtually not say hello to you.”

There is, instead, respect and rivalry. “Ronnie’s the best player I’ve ever seen and people forget I actually played him. I was obviously on my way down and he gave me some hammerings.”

Hendry responds emphatically when asked what would happen if he and O’Sullivan met each other at their very peak. “I believe I would win. If we had a four-session match, where things change, I would back myself every time. I was stronger mentally. But he’s more talented than me, making shots left-handed and sinking a 147 in 4½ minutes. My fastest maximum would be over nine minutes.”

Flying to China 15 times a year, to promote Chinese pool, and working as a UK snooker pundit, Hendry admits that, “compared to the 1990s life now is dull. Back then you were the world’s best player. Nothing could touch you. I’ve not got a bad life now but I have days where I think: ‘What is there to look forward to? What’s the buzz?’”

He takes solace in his belief that, as arguably the greatest snooker player in history, his world championship record of victories remains safe. “I can’t see anyone beating it. O’Sullivan’s got five. He can do it if he keeps playing. But there are four others playing at that level. At his absolute best Ronnie wins. But he’s getting to that age where he’s not doing it often. He’ll talk all sorts of bullshit, saying he doesn’t care about the record. But deep down he wants to beat me while, of course, I want to hold on to the record.”

Hendry sounds, briefly, like a perennial winner again. But he is too likeable now not to give in to honesty as, considering his involvement in a new senior circuit, he admits his game is still ruined. “I’ve played it a few times and in practice I’m fine because no one’s watching. But once it starts I’m totally embarrassed by my shots. It’s horrible.”

The 49-year-old former world champion laughs ruefully. He then shakes his head when asked if he will ever free himself of these demons. “There’re probably people out there who think they can cure me but it’s a mental thing. At exhibitions I have a couple of drinks before I play to relax. It works sometimes but that’s not a way out. I have to live with it now.”

I really liked the book, but can’t help wondering whether Stephen Hendry would have been able to re-invent himself the way Ronnie has done with the help of Steve Peters. In his biography, he tells us that he turned to various people in order to get help. But the help he was looking for was mainly aimed at changing his game in order to recapture his confidence and invincibility feeling. He wasn’t ready , or able, to try to change his own mentality nor his own expectations. “I didn’t want to go there” is a sentence that comes around a few times in this book.

I certainly recommend every snooker fan to read this book.

Baize news

There is plenty of snooker, and snooker news this week, although no main tour action

Ronnie’s management has confirmed that he will be at the Champion of Champions as we expected. They posted this on various social media:

Semi-final finish for Ronnie in the English Open, lots of positives and a 15th professional maximum break along the way.

On to the next one – Coventry in 2 weeks for the Champion of Champions 🚀

EnglishOpen2018-ROSSF-2

Some of the main tour potters play this weeek at the Macau Masters. This is what Worldsnooker published about this new event.

Next week’s D88 Sports Macau Masters will feature top stars including Mark Williams, Barry Hawkins and Marco Fu.

The tournament at the JW Marriott Hotel in Macau is on October 24 and 25. It starts with a team competition involving Williams, Hawkins, Fu, Joe Perry, Ryan Day, Zhou Yuelong, Zhao Xintong and Zhang Anda.

That will be followed by an individual six-red competition. This will start with a match between the two lowest ranked players, Zhao Xintong and Zhang Anda, with the winner going through to face the next-lowest, Zhou Yuelong. The sequence continues with the winner of the penultimate match to take on Crucible king Williams.

The 2018 Macau Masters is the first World Snooker sanctioned tournament to take place in Macau.

The commercial director of sponsor D88 Sports said: “We are very happy and excited to be involved in the world’s most gentlemanly and elegant sport. We are deeply in love with this sport and will spare no effort to promote the development of snooker and present a great tournament. We hope all of you will harvest success and joy in the game and we believe it will be a visual feast for all.”

A spokesman for World Snooker added: “We feel that the Macau Masters has the potential to grow into a regular event on the World Snooker Tour. We hope it will be a fantastic tournament for the players and fans.”

Somehow it is the successor of the UK v China Challenge held over the summer last season. You will be able to follow the event on snooker.org.

The Ladies are in Australia. More info on this one can be found on WPBSA 

Australian Women’s Snooker Open 2018

  • 9th July 2018

World Ladies Billiards and Snooker (WLBS) and the Australian Billiards and Snooker Council (ABSC) are today delighted to jointly announce that a World Women’s Snooker Tour event will be staged in Australia for the first time ever later this year.

The Australian Women’s Snooker Open will take place from 25-28 October at the Mt Pritchard District and Community Club, known as “Mounties” in the western suburbs of Sydney, Australia. The tournament will become the third event of the upcoming season and be open to women from across the globe. The event will carry full ranking status, ensuring that it will immediately become a highly sought-after title on the tour.

Mounties is a community club offering full facilities such as four eateries, licensed bars, ten full-size snooker tables and much more. The tournament will be sponsored by Mounties and will carry a total prize fund of AUD$9000.00, with AUD$8000 to be won in the main event, including a top prize of AUD$3000 for the champion. A further AUD$1000 is allocated for the Challenge Cup event for players who do not qualify for the knockout rounds of the main competition.

Australia has a strong history on the women’s tour, with Lesley McIllrath one of just two non-UK winners of the World Women’s Snooker Championship (alongside current champion Ng On Yee) following her title triumph back in 1980. In more recent years Jessica Woods has also enjoyed success both at home and abroad, recently claiming her fifth national women’s championship winning 21 of the 24 frames that she played.

Mandy Fisher, WLBS President said: “It has always been an ambition of mine to see a World Women’s Snooker Tour event take place in Australia and therefore I could not be happier with today’s announcement. This is an important milestone in our history as we continue our global expansion as a body and I would like to thank both Frank Dewens and World Snooker Federation Treasurer Mike Peachey who have both contributed significantly to helping make this prestigious new event happen.”

Frank Dewens, ABSC President said: “It is indeed a great pleasure in opening up our Women’s Australian Open Snooker Championship to the world. We are looking forward to seeing the best women players in the world competing against Australia’s best.”

Further information, including full entry details will be released in due course.

The draw is available on snooker.org, as will be the results when they become available.

And Finally, the Credit Risks Solutions Seniors UK Championship will start tomorrow in Hull. Again the draw is on snooker.org as will be the results.

I’m in Hull, and I will be taking pictures, at the gala dinner tonight, and at the event in the coming two days. You will find my pictures and reports on my seniors snooker tour blog

This event will be broadcasted by Freesports.tv, s, at least in the UK fans will be able to watch it on TV and/or on Internet.

Jimmy White is the Defending Champion.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures I took yesterday around Hull…

More are available here on my Facebook page. You don’t need to be on Facebook to browse through the album.