In the April issue of Snooker Scene, out tomorrow, we attempt to analyse the decline in fortunes of China's no.1 player by asking 'What's Gone Wrong With Ding?'

It's a pertinent question given his poor display today in losing to Xiao Guodong.

His top 16 place is not yet secure for next season.

Xiao played OK but was so nervous towards the end that he was clearly there for the taking.

Ding's dreadful shot from yellow to green in the last showed he was also feeling the pressure.

Something needs to happen to prevent one of snooker's brightest stars from burning out long before his time.

It's his 22nd birthday tomorrow but I doubt he'll feel like celebrating.


John Higgins has completed a remarkable recovery from 4-0 down to beat Anthony Hamilton 5-4 in the first round of the Bank of Beijing China Open today.

Many players would have given up at the interval, so credit to John, although you have to feel for Anthony whose season is now at an end.

John is killing time watching season 2 of American series The Wire in his hotel room, so he's used to tense drama.

Too many of these sort of matches aren't good for the nerves, though.


David Gray's 5-1 defeat to Tian Pengfei in the China Open yesterday means that he has been relegated from the professional circuit.

This is almost unbelievable. Gray is a terrific talent. He won the 2003 Scottish Open, reached the 2004 World Championship quarter-finals and was runner-up in that year's UK Championship.

But from a highest ranking of 10th he has suffered a dramatic decline in form.

I imagine he will carry on playing on the PIOS - what else is he going to do?

I would advise him to apply for the WPBSA discretionary wildcard as he may be in with a shout based on his career achievements.

Some would argue that he shouldn't get it as his lifestyle and lack of dedication have contributed to his downfall.

But I hope Gray can return to form.

It would be a shame to think that a player of such talent is lost to the game.


I'm told Ian McCulloch is in hospital following emergency surgery for a burst appendix.

All the best to you for your recovery, Ian.



Liang Wenbo takes centre stage in today’s second match at the Bank of Beijing China Open.

His two qualifying matches have been held over to Beijing in recognition of his growing popularity and status at home. This is something I fully agree with. Snooker needs to be doing all it can to promote itself at the moment.

I like watching Liang, although he can be a frustrating player at times.

You sometimes feel like taking him to one side and telling him to rein himself in a bit.

There’s no doubt he’s a terrific potter and very good break builder but I think most would agree he goes for too many low percentage pots.

That said, he got to the quarter-finals of last year’s World Championship playing this way so who is to say he is wrong?

He’s a real maverick, a one off. I like that and feel he could become established as one of the game’s top players in the years to come.

But he seems destined to be a player who blows hot and cold, a little like Tony Drago was during his career.

Talent is only one component – albeit a very important one – required to be successful at snooker.

The psychology of playing the game, of knowing when to attack and when to defend, also need to be learned and the younger players don’t yet have the experience to have taken all this in.

I think Liang will beat Robert Milkins – the match is live on Eurosport at 12.30pm UK time – but nothing is guaranteed and he’s so unpredictable that I won’t be putting money on it.



I very much appreciate the comments left on here and the debates they spark.

I have recently had a problem with a (very small) number of contributors and turned on comment moderation. This was because of spamming and in some cases libellous posts.

However, it is obvious this ruins the flow of responding and so I am turning it back off.

To be blunt about this: there are many, many corners of the internet in which it is possible to argue and insult one another, I hope this doesn't become one of them. I will have to delete comments that are deliberately offensive or generally out of order.

Please play nicely!


The China Open, which starts tomorrow, has a new title sponsor, the Bank of Beijing.

It also seems to have a host of associate sponsors according to the official press release.

This can only be good news and a vote of confidence in snooker, although I find some of the details a little confusing.

All are these companies putting money into the tournament? If so how much? And will the prize fund therefore be increased?


Ronnie O'Sullivan returns to Beijing for the China Open a year after his controversial exit to Marco Fu at last season's staging of the tournament.

O'Sullivan hit the headlines for his lewd comments and behaviour at his post match press conference following a first round defeat to Marco Fu.

In an interview with the Daily Express, O'Sullivan admitted his conduct was likely to attract criticism but asked fans to accept him as he is.

“You could say what I did in China was bad for the game and people did at the time," he said.

“But I’m just not the sort of person who will always do and say all the right things .

“People just need to accept me for who I am and I think they do over there. I apologised, got a rap over the knuckles and I’m sure that I will get more raps.”

Perhaps the best way to avoid 'more raps' is to behave himself in China this year.



The latest Snooker Scene podcast is something a little different as I discuss grass roots snooker - something often overlooked - with Neil Tomkins of Cuefactor.

At the end, I also talk about the best snooker websites available on the net.

To listen, click here.


This is how I see the China Open for Betfair.



Steve Davis, surely snooker's greatest ever ambassador, will soon be appearing as the celebrity guest in dictionary corner on the popular Channel 4 quiz show Countdown.

Steve's dry wit and self deprecating personality have made him a great favourite on many such programmes over the years, in particular the BBC's A Question of Sport.

He's filming his Countdown cameo next week and it will be broadcast later in the year.

Meanwhile, Ding Junhui's career is to form the basis of a new cartoon series on Chinese TV called Dragon Ball No.1.




What more can you say about the manner in which Judd Trump won the Championship League tonight?

He potted a yellow in the first frame that was one of the shots of the season and drilled in a long blue in the decider to leave Mark Selby needing a snooker, which he got before leaving the green on.

Judd is just 19 and, at 41st, the lowest ranked of the 25 players in the Championship League. This included former world champions and most of snooker's top stars.

He displayed great nerve, heart and skill to land the title and is now through to the Premier League where I think he'll get bags of support.

We'll be seeing him again in the China Open on Monday as his match in the wildcard round will be live on Eurosport.

It's a shame we won't be seeing him at the World Championship but he'll be around for many years I have no doubt.

"I hope I can get used to the shot clock," he said afterwards.

I reckon the shot clock will have to get used to him.


Luca Brecel, a 14 year-old from Belgium, has won the EBSA European Under 19 Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Brecel edged England's Michael Wasley 6-5 on the black to become the youngest ever winner of the title.

The winner usually gets a place on the WPBSA circuit but Brecel is two years too young to take his place next season.

However, this victory proves he is one to watch in the future and his progress is worth following very closely.


Barry Hearn has been presented with a Special Award by the Snooker Writers' Association.

The is in recognition of the Matchroom supremo's contribution to snooker over the last 30 years and also for his friendly attitude towards the media.

Hearn long ago realised that getting the press on side was an aid to being successful and journalists have always found him to be refreshingly direct.

If you squint, you can just about make out Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton presenting the award.


Mark Selby today compiled his highest ever break - 145 - in the last frame of his 3-1 victory over John Higgins in the Championship League.

Selby is becoming the complete player. Indeed, he resembles Higgins in his ability to match attack with defence.

He will surely go to the World Championship as one of the favourites.



The economic downturn, smoking ban and general decline in interest in snooker in the UK have led to Rileys going into administration, forcing the closure of 30 snooker clubs and the loss of around 200 jobs.

The administrators have said the future of the other 129 clubs and 1,200 staff had been secured after the sale of the firm's remaining assets, which have been bought by a new company called Valiant Sports, which includes some of Rileys' existing directors.

The clubs closing down are: Blackburn, Bracknell, Burnley, Clapham, Debden, Dundee, Glasgow (Victoria Road), Hartlepool, Hounslow, Lancaster, Long Eaton, Luton (Club Snooker), Luton (Leagrave Rd), Northampton (Derngate), Nuneaton, Oxford (Colours), Penicuik, Peterborough, Rainham, Rotherham (Kimberworth Rd), Rotherham (Doncaster Gate), Rugeley, St Albans, Scarborough, Stanford-Le-Hope, Stretford, Stoke (Fenton), Sutton Coldfield, Wakefield and Weston-super-Mare.

When people say snooker is 'dying' they have a point when it comes to the UK, where the great boom of the 1980s has long since ended.

However, overseas - particularly in mainland Europe - interest remains very high.


John Higgins today became only the third player in snooker history to have compiled 400 centuries in competition.

He made his 400th ton against Judd Trump at the Championship League.

Stephen Hendry was the first player to have reached this milestone, and now has more than 700.

Ronnie O'Sullivan was second and is currently past the 550 mark.

Higgins is well clear of Steve Davis in fourth place.



All sorts of strange things can happen in a frame of snooker and this is what makes the game so fascinating.

Two examples from the Championship League today, each involving Graeme Dott:

He needed to win one frame in his last match against Steve Davis to reach the semi-finals. He missed frame ball red in the opener with six reds remaining and Davis set about clearing up.

Eventually, Steve finished dead straight on the pink and attempted to screw the cue ball off the side cushion for the black. In doing so, he horribly - and I mean horribly - miscued but the pink somehow ran around the table and found the yellow pocket. Worse still for Graeme, Steve finished perfect on the black.

That was 1-0, Davis won the next as well and things got very tense until Dott put away the third.

The other incident came in his semi-final against Judd Trump.

He potted a red and finished touching the green so played a roll up behind the brown.

However, he nominated brown for some reason - instead of the green - and failed to reach, thus leaving a free ball.

It showed that, out there in the arena, all sorts of things cloud a player's mind.

As I type this, Trump and Ricky Walden have made a quick start to the final. Ricky made it through after potting a terrific long black to make it 2-2 with Davis before winning the decider.

Don't forget, the winners' group starts tomorrow with a place in the Premier League beckoning for one player at the end of it all.


John Parrott has withdrawn from next week’s China Open, citing a back problem.

He will start next season outside the top 48 and therefore having to win three matches to qualify for the final stages of however many ranking events are staged (six looks the likely figure). He will also receive no prize money unless he wins at least one match in each event.

The question is, how much longer is Parrott going to continue?

Once a player starts sliding down the rankings, it doesn’t get much fun. The difference for John is that he doesn’t need to carry on.

He has his BBC work, after dinner speaking and other commitments and any back problem is likely to get worse as he gets older.

I get the feeling retirement won’t be far away. Maybe he’ll give it another season but I doubt he’ll continue much beyond that.

If he does put his cue away for good, he can do so as one of the all time greats.

To have won the world title at a time where Stephen Hendry, Jimmy White and Steve Davis were all playing top drawer snooker was a considerable achievement.


A change of shirt seemed to do the trick for Judd Trump, who bounced back from a 4-0 defeat to Steve Davis to move close to a place in the semi-finals of group 7 of the Championship League last night.

Trump wore a white shirt for the Davis whitewash but changed into a grey one for the rest of his matches.

And he played very well, particularly in beating Ricky Walden 3-1, clearing up with 71 from 0-56 to win the last frame. He starts today top of the table.

Trump turned professional at 16 off the back of a very successful junior career. He did so with big expectations placed on his young shoulders.

It's amazing how quick people are to carp just because he isn't already a world beater.

Players mature at different rates. Anyone who believes that because he hasn't won a major tournament by 19 - like Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins did - he never will should think of Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy.

They were each 22 when they won their first titles. They are now respectively 2nd and 3rd in the world rankings.

I have faith that Judd will make the transition from being a great prospect to a title winner in the next few years.

Trump has been eliminated from the World Championship but will be in next week's China Open and loves playing so much that he probably would have been practising anyway.

Matthew Stevens, on the other hand, is already out of both China and the World Championship and so could be forgiven for rustiness yesterday.



Here are the top ten century makers based on all professional tournaments staged so far this season...

1) Ronnie O’Sullivan – 31
2) Mark Selby – 27
3) John Higgins – 25
4) Ding Junhui – 18
5) Ali Carter, Joe Perry - 17
7) Stephen Maguire, Judd Trump – 15
9) Marco Fu, Ricky Walden – 14

Last season, O'Sullivan made 50 in total. He will need a good run in both the China Open and World Championship to reach this figure again.

Selby is just four behind, which gives a lie to the suggestion that he is some sort of grinder, grafting out results by tieing his opponents in knots.

Perhaps more interesting, though, are the players not in the top ten who you may expect to see there.

Shaun Murphy made 24 centuries last season but has compiled only six during the current campaign.

Ryan Day constructed 20 during 2007/08 but has so far made nine this season.

Stephen Hendry, who leads O'Sullivan by 166 at the top of the list, has eight to his name in the current season.



So we're back in Essex for the final week of the Championship League in which one player is going to receive a huge boost by qualifying for the lucrative Premier League next season.

Already through to the winners' group are Mark Selby, Mark Allen, Joe Perry, Stuart Bingham, Mark King and John Higgins.

Alongside the returning Graeme Dott, Steve Davis, Joe Swail and Matthew Stevens for group 7 are young guns Liang Wenbo, Judd Trump and Ricky Walden.

For more information and how to watch the action live, go to the Matchroom website.



Today is a special open day for the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which is re-opening after the first phase of its redevelopment.

The public can turn up and have a nose around to see the new front of house area, sit in the new arena seats and inspect the new carpet, which appears to be just as gaudy as the last one.

You can read more and watch videos of the inside of the Crucible here and here.

The World Championship starts four weeks today.



The latest Snooker Scene podcast features top referee Jan Verhaas answering your rules queries.

It was cut short as Jan had to go off and referee so at the end you can hear my views on the players who have qualified for the Crucible.

You can listen to the podcast here.



How did Alex Higgins ever make it to 60?

There must have been times in his turbulent life, in which controversy, aggro and unrest have been constant bedfellows, when reaching 50 or even 40 looked unlikely.

But Higgins, who celebrates his 60th birthday today, has always been a survivor.

What an extraordinary character. He’s one of those people about which everything that has been said is probably true, or not far off, even that that contradicts the other stuff.

Higgins’s life has been well documented, not least in his own recent autobiography, ‘From the Eye of the Hurricane.’

Nobody should doubt the remarkable reaction to his emergence in the early 1970s and the way it transformed the sport from a pastime which demanded very little television coverage to a major frontline TV sport that, for a while in the 1980s, beat every other sport, including football, in the ratings in Britain.

All good stories need heroes and villains. Higgins was the villain in snooker’s rise to prominence.

Blessed with incredible natural talent, he had – indeed still has – a self destructive personality.

He has done things I would never defend, both in the sport and out in the world.

I would doubt anyone could dispute the year’s ban he was given for a catalogue of disciplinary offences during the 1989/90 season, which included threatening to have Dennis Taylor shot and punching – without any provocation – the press officer at the World Championship.

This ban ultimately precipitated the end of his professional career.

Higgins deserves little sympathy for this but it is also true that he has been sinned against.

At the height of snooker’s popularity, he was public property and newspapers were keen to exploit his reputation as a bad boy, sometimes with stories that had little basis in fact.

Hangers on and those looking for trouble or easy headlines got their claws into him.

But many have also tried to help him and been rebuffed because, ultimately, Higgins is a one off and will go to the grave doing things his own way.

He’ll be remembered for all of this but also for his snooker, which was, at times, spellbinding.

His 69 clearance to level his 1982 World Championship semi-final with Jimmy White is widely regarded as the best break ever because of the circumstances and dramatic way it was compiled.
And Higgins’s emotional capture of the title a few days later, tearfully beckoning his wife and baby daughter on to the Crucible stage, is one of snooker’s most iconic moments.

And that’s why – despite everything – the sport is lucky to have had the Hurricane.

Because, like him or loathe him – and it’s possible to do both at the same time – Alex Higgins is the most exciting thing that’s ever been seen on a snooker table.

A force of nature unpredictable, uncontrollable and, it would seem, unstoppable.



Today is St. Patrick’s Day so best wishes to snooker’s Irish contingent.

That said, they may be drowning their sorrows rather than celebrating today. For the first time since 1990, there will not be a Republic of Ireland player competing at the Crucible this year.

Fergal O’Brien, Michael Judge and, of course, Ken Doherty all failed to qualify.

Davey Morris, Vinnie Muldoon and Joe Delaney were all beaten in the qualifiers as well.

The World Championship will feature three players – Mark Allen, Joe Swail and Gerard Greene – from Northern Ireland.

I find Doherty’s sudden decline shocking. Two years ago he went to Sheffield with a chance to become world no.1. He will start next season something like 43rd.

Nobody goes on forever but this rapid plunge down the rankings is surely the fastest any snooker great has fallen.

Ken could retire tomorrow and still be satisfied with his career. He was but a callow youth when he made the trip over to the UK to live and practise in Ilford.

He remains the only player to have won the world title at professional, amateur and junior levels.

But at 39, he rightly believes he still has several years ahead of him.

I hope he does but he himself has said he will retire if he can’t rediscover his form.



I’ve always been opposed to a shot clock in snooker because it would create a false kind of the game.

I would defend its use in the Premier League because it is a non ranking invitation event and distinguishes it from all the other tournaments. It creates a unique 'brand' for the League and that is fair enough.

However, players play at their own pace. Some are fast, some are not so fast and some are slow.

A true test of a player is how they cope against all styles – including the grinders.

A shot clock doesn’t take into account the different forms of snooker. Many people enjoy watching bouts of safety play because they demand high skill levels.

If every frame was long red followed by century it would soon become boring.

Also, when players rush they tend to make more mistakes. There is a rule on time wasting at the referee’s discretion if he thinks a player is deliberately dragging a match out.

And would the conclusion of the Dennis Taylor-Steve Davis world final in 1985 have been more exciting if they were running round the table?

A permanent shot clock of 25 seconds would rid the sport of its many nuances. It would be, to use the modern phrase, 'dumbing down.'

Yes, the Premier League usually has full houses but it did before the shot clock was introduced.

Sky's viewing figures for it aren't much different to when they used to show ranking events.

So they are the arguments against, but my position has softened a little through commentating on the Agipi Masters, a 3 cushion billiards event.

In this, the shot clock is 40 seconds rather than 25 as in the Premier League.

It does make for a satisfying pace of play but players tend not to have to rush. They can take two time-outs per match.

Very few shots in snooker require longer than 40 seconds of thought. If a player is snookered, it seems logical not to impose a time limit but a clock would cut out some of the needless time wasting we have seen in recent years (no names mentioned but if you watch snooker regularly you can probably remember particular matches where this has been the case).

A 40 second shot clock would encourage positive play and without meaning that safety is a thing of the past.

Overall, I’m still against a shot clock of any length being introduced for all tournaments.

But I’m not quite as against it as I was this time last week.

Your thoughts, please…



A new jazz album has been released inspired by Ronnie O’Sullivan.

‘View From the Pocket’ is by Northern Star People and features tracks including ‘147’ and ‘Black Ball.’

Their Myspace site describes Northern Star People as “Polish hip hop musicians,” which seems an unlikely community to be into snooker but I suppose that proves Ronnie’s pulling power.

Here’s what The Guardian make of the album.



Steve Davis, the circuit's senior player, has admitted to 'shock' over the lack of a sponsor for the World Championship.

The tournament remains without a backer just five weeks before the TV stages kick off at the Crucible.

Davis, six times a winner of the title in the 1980s and a qualifier once again this season, believes the global economic crisis has had a knock-on effect for snooker.

“It’s a concern for everybody but my long term concern for the game isn’t so severe. It’s had a bit of a lease of life around the world,” he said.

“It may be that the nature of sports sponsorship is going to go through some changes anyway and the way sports generate their money may be different.

“But it seems a bit of a shock for it not to be sponsored, I must admit. I can’t quite believe that 130 hours on the BBC isn’t worth something.

“So I can only assume that in the times we find ourselves in now that no company can be seen to be throwing money around.

“I’m not too sure that if things were better that would be the case. I think somebody would say, ‘we’ve got to have this.’

“It may be that we haven’t done our job properly, I don’t know. It may be that the powers that be haven’t got enough fingers in enough pies to get to talk to the right people.

“I don’t know. I’m not saying one way or another but it’s a very tough time and this proves it.”

I understand World Snooker have had several approaches from companies wishing to sponsor the World Championship but none at the financial level they were hoping for.

I personally think they are right not to give the tournament away on the cheap.

That wouldn't solve any of the sport's long term problems.

However, it will look bad if the game's showpiece occasion goes ahead unsponsored.

It would send the message out that snooker isn't worth sponsoring, not to mention further depleting World Snooker's dwindling resources.



Our latest podcast features me answering the questions you sent in recently.

Click here to hear my views on Judd Trump, why there isn't much snooker in the papers, Stephen Hendry's silent treatment and much more.

Next week: top referee Jan Verhaas takes us through some of the lesser known rules.


Over the next four days, Clive Everton and myself will be commentating for Eurosport 2 on the Agipi Masters of 3 cushion billiards.

What is that, you may ask?

Well, the answer is one of the most skillful of all cue sports.

Carom billiards is played on a pocketless table, therefore there is no potting.

There are three balls - a cueball and two object balls. A player scores a point by making contact with the first object ball, taking it round at least three cushions and then cannoning the second object ball.

(You can come off three cushions and play a cannon from one object ball to the other as well).

This is a very tough game to master and Eurosport 2 will be covering all four quarter-finals, the semis and final live.

The coverage starts today at 5pm. Times of coverage vary over the four days depending on which country you are in.

For more details, visit the Agipi Masters site.

If you've never seen it, tune in and I suspect you will be impressed by the skill on show.



Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett, whose match at last December’s UK Championship is the subject of an official investigation by the Gambling Commission following unusual betting patterns, will play each other in the first round of next month’s World Championship.

Regardless of the result of the investigation, this is hugely embarrassing for snooker.

The sort of coverage we can expect of this match is the last thing the game needs.

Meanwhile, what a stinking draw for Stephen Hendry, who will play Mark Williams, the man he beat ten years ago to win his seventh world title.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, the defending champion, will face Stuart Bingham, who he has practised with in the past.

Mark Selby has a tough opening assignment in the shape of Shanghai Masters champion Ricky Walden.

There is certain to be a Chinese player in the second round after Ding Junhui drew Liang Wenbo.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Stuart Bingham
Mark Allen v Martin Gould
Peter Ebdon v Nigel Bond
Ryan Day v Stephen Lee
John Higgins v Michael Holt
Joe Perry v Jamie Cope
Graeme Dott v Barry Hawkins
Mark Selby v Ricky Walden
Shaun Murphy v Andrew Higginson
Marco Fu v Joe Swail
Ding Junhui v Liang Wenbo
Stephen Hendry v Mark Williams
Ali Carter v Gerard Greene
Neil Robertson v Steve Davis
Mark King v Rory McLeod
Stephen Maguire v Jamie Burnett



The last player to qualify for this year's World Championship first did so in 1979.

That man is, of course, the great Steve Davis who rallied from 5-0 down to beat Lee Spick 10-8.

It means he will be at the Crucible for a 28th time. He is 51 years of age but the sheer love he has for snooker and competition has not diminished in his 31 years on the professional circuit.

He likened the build up to the World Championship as "like waiting for Christmas."

Steve also believes the Crucible should carry on staging the championship - as seems likely - when the contract expires next year.

He said: “You throw the game’s history in the bin at your peril.

“There would have to be a very good reason for doing it. I’m not sure what that reason would be but it’d have to be big.

“I don’t know what the future of the game holds but I’d be loathe to take it away from the Crucible.”

I have to say I agree with him, unless a financial offer is made that is so big it's impossible to turn down.

What I've found here over the last three days is how much getting to the Crucible means to all players - newcomers and old timers alike.

We now know the players that will be there. Now to the draw...


Ken Doherty tonight admitted he would play next season but "not for much longer after that" following a very disappointing 10-5 defeat to Gerard Greene.

Ken's season is now over. He only won two matches and has been relegated from the top 32.

He said: “I’m on a slippery slope and I’m wondering where it’s going to finish.

“I’ll be back next season but not for much longer after that I wouldn’t have thought, not the way things are going.”

Doherty misses out on the Crucible for the first time since 1993.

As he always is, he was professional at his press conference. He didn't blame anything other than his own performance for the defeat.

But he will now have to win two matches to reach the Crucible next season and will need to find a vast improvement in form from somewhere to do so.


Joe Swail has been involved in so many last gasp victories over the years that it seems surprising he has beaten Matthew Couch 10-1 to qualify for the Crucible once again.

But Couch freely admitted he had played poorly today. "My head was in pieces. I just didn’t
have anything inside me," he said.

So Swail is through and Steve Davis is looking good to join him at the Crucible.

The snooker legend has gradually worn down Lee Spick, who led 5-0 but now trails 7-6.

Barry Hawkins just made a very good 42 clearance to snatch frame 13 on the black and lead Daniel Wells 7-6 - this after Wells had fought from 6-3 down to 6-6.


Well, you have to hand it to Steve Davis.

At 5-0 down to Lee Spick he looked all at sea but he's hit back and he's hit back hard. It's just 5-4 now and Steve must have gone favourite to win this evening.

Ken Doherty has come back to 6-3 to throw himself a lifeline.

It promises to be a dramatic final session.


Things are looking bleak for both Steve Davis and Ken Doherty.

Davis lost the first five frames to Lee Spick and seemed to be really struggling. This is something of a surprise after the way he played in the Championship League last week but this is the World Championship and Steve has bags of pride.

He's won this title six times and would be very disappointed not to be at the Crucible for a 28th time this year.

Doherty is making too many unforced errors against Gerard Greene but has at least now won a frame and seems to be getting to grips with a slow table.

I wouldn't rule out a comeback from the 1997 champion.

I like the way Daniel Wells plays. Unlike a lot of young players he doesn't just go for everything. He's more measured than that but Barry Hawkins is playing that little bit better at the moment.

Ian McCulloch started off in fine style against Rory McLeod but mistakes are now creeping in and he trails 3-2.

Joe Swail's match against Matthew Couch took more than two hours to reach the interval, with Swail leading 3-1.


It's no overstatement to say that Ken Doherty's match against Gerard Greene in then final qualifying round of the World Championship today is one of the biggest of his entire career.

The reason for this is that it could herald the end of his career if he loses.

Doherty's had a wretched season in which he has won just two matches.

If he doesn't beat Greene he will be out of the top 32 and consigned to spend even more time at the qualifiers next season, hardly a happy hunting ground for him during the current campaign.

It's therefore hardly surprising he has been putting the hours in here at the English Institute of Sport.

He arrived in Sheffield on Friday and has been practising hard every day since.

Ken's been not only a great player but also a great ambassador for the sport.

It would be sad to think there won't be at least one last great hurrah for him.



Stephen Lee was once a rising star. Now, Judd Trump is but he was beaten 10-8 from 6-2 up by Lee tonight to be denied a place at the Crucible.

And Lee was pleased. Very pleased.

Not just to win but to beat Trump.

“There’s a bit of local rivalry there and he fluked a few balls and didn’t put his hand up," Lee said.

“The boy’s good, there’s no doubt about it, but I’m glad I beat him.

“All I’ve heard about for the last five years in my area is how good he is, and he is good, you can’t take that away from the lad.

“But he’s blown a 6-3 lead today and I hope that will stick with him for a while yet. We’ve all had these war wounds to deal with."

Lee's clearance in the last frame was superb and he was, of course, buzzing with excitement to win.

But I think beating Trump is enough without having to rub it in.


Jamie Burnett’s first appearance at the Crucible since his debut in 1996 – equalling Barry Pinches’s record of 13 years between appearances – will undoubtedly be overshadowed by the thus far unresolved official investigation into the unusual betting patterns surrounding his 9-3 defeat to Stephen Maguire in last December’s UK Championship.

Jamie himself knows this because he says it is all anyone has wanted to talk to him about these last three months.

But he insists he does not have a case to answer.

“As far as the investigation is going, I don’t have any comment to make but it’s hard not to think about it because everyone wants to talk about it and it’s the last thing I want to talk about,” Burnett said.

“As far as I’m concerned it was a snooker match and I lost and that’s the end of it.

“When I’m playing snooker I’m fine, I don’t think about it, but off the table that’s all people want to talk about.

“It’s getting to be a pain in the backside but I don’t see it as my problem.

“I don’t have anything to answer for because I haven’t done anything. World Snooker can investigate it all they like. As I said at the time, if they want to speak to me they know where I am. It’s down to them.”

Some would argue the investigation should be conducted at a faster pace but I would disagree.

There should be no rush to judgement in such a serious case. As I understand it, the tapes are being studied and Burnett will be asked to give a full explanation of what happened.

This will not occur until after the World Championship so he will, rightly or wrongly, remain under a cloud during the Crucible event.


Bizarre scenes here in the press room after Liang Wenbo's 10-3 victory over Dave Harold where his press conference is translated into English by Ding Junhui.

Ding himself has needed a translator in the past but his English has obviously got better.

Liang, as he always seems to be, was all smiles after qualifying for a second successive year.

For the record, he doesn't mind who he gets in the draw and isn't going to make any predictions as to how far he will get.

"I will just go and play," he said, or rather Ding said on his behalf.

Mark Williams qualified for the Crucible for the first time after beating Tom Ford 10-5.

"Of all those who have qualified I'm probably the one they want to avoid," he said.

Written down, that sounds big-headed but that's not how he meant it and I suspect most of the top 16 would agree with him.

Who'd want to draw a twice world champion whose top 16 pressures have been considerably lifted?


An unexpected miss from Judd Trump let Stephen Lee in for a very good 60 to win the first frame of their final session.

Great crowd in again, most of whom seem to be favouring Trump v Lee and Mark Williams v Tom Ford.

Williams's attitude is playing a large part in him coasting towards the winning line. He won't have enjoyed coming here but will just get on with it without any fuss.

Dave Harold now seems powerless to stop Liang Wenbo and Ricky Walden looks much more confident than he did this morning.

I'm told by someone who watched every ball of Fergal O'Brien v Jamie Burnett that O'Brien could have been 8-1 up but for a couple of vital misses.


Mark Williams's 145 is the highest break so far and, obviously, a very good marker for the £1,000 prize for the best effort of the non-televised phase.

He leads Tom Ford 7-2 and now looks very good to qualify.

So too do Judd Trump and Liang Wenbo who hold 6-3 leads over Stephen Lee and Dave Harold respectively.

The other two matches are much tighter, though. Fergal O'Brien can't quite shake off Jamie Burnett while Anthony Hamilton is making things very tough for Ricky Walden.

Can't see either of these matches finishing early somehow.


There's a huge crowd in watching Judd Trump v Stephen Lee and they have so far been rewarded with the best snooker of the morning from Trump, whose 137 total clearance in the third frame is the highest break of the World Championship up to now.

He leads Lee 3-1 and will take some stopping, not least because he's the only player out there who doesn't seem nervous.

Anthony Hamilton and Ricky Walden are missing everything between them.

Ditto Fergal O'Brien and Jamie Burnett, although O'Brien is adept at scrapping it out when his form isn't quite there.

Mark Williams has just gone 3-2 up on Tom Ford, who left him in after twice being called for a miss when he could see reds directly.

Williams missed frame ball red with the rest but Ford could not take advantage.

By the way, Williams has never qualified for the Crucible. The first time he played there in 1997 he was already a member of the top 16.

Liang Wenbo has been tied up in knots by Dave Harold but has just edged ahead 3-2 early on in what could be a very long day.



The only sour note on day one of the final qualifying round were a few negative comments about playing conditions.

This is how Matthew Stevens saw them: “The table was atrocious. It was like playing on mud. I have changed the cloth on my practice table to replicate the conditions but this was just so slow.

“To be fair to Martin he played quite well but I didn’t feel that I could get back into it when I was three or four frames down because of the condition of the table.”

Michael Judge also complained, saying: "I ended up playing on the worst table that I have played on all year."

Of course, both Stevens and Judge lost and could therefore be accused of sour grapes.

I think this would be wrong, particularly in the case of Stevens who is always gracious in defeat.

I had heard that there had been a few moans and groans about conditions but some players adapt better than others.

Martin Gould, for instance, compiled three centuries and there was some good snooker on show in the other matches.

The difficulty if you haven't taken to a table is shutting that out of your mind when you go behind.

If you feel conditions have already beaten you then you are not going to get through.


Michael Holt, who has let demons bedevil him in the past, fought back from 7-4 down to beat Dominic Dale 10-7 and get through to the Crucible for the fourth time in his career.

In fact, Holt's had a very consistent season and will return to the top 32 having dropped out last season.

"My attitude is so much better than it was," he said.

When I asked him why, he replied, "Ten years of failure. After a while it stinks. It was getting embarrassing."

Best quote of the day came from Nigel Bond after booking his 15th Crucible appearance and his eighth as a qualifier, who said of the final qualifying round experience: "It just makes you feel sick."

Looking at the players as they came off, nerves shredded, it was obvious what he meant.

And we'll do it all again tomorrow...


Sometimes it can all come down to one ball, as looks to be the case in the Michael Holt v Dominic Dale match.

Dale was looking good for an 8-7 lead in frame 15 after clearing from the yellow but missed the black along a cushion.

After a protracted safety battle, Holt potted it and now looks a different player. He's just made a very well worked 92 for 9-7.

In the other match still on, it's hard to see Mike Dunn beating Nigel Bond.

Dunn missed the blue by such a distance in frame 15 that he burst out laughing.

Bond himself missed a slightly awkward black but Dunn failed to pot it and left it on for Bond to go 9-7 up.


Martin Gould ensured there will be at least two Crucible debutants this year after superbly finishing off his 10-4 victory over Matthew Stevens with a break of 100, his third century of the match.

Martin's game has turned round in the second half of this season and he received a huge injection of confidence in beating Stephen Hendry in last month's Welsh Open.

"After beating Stephen I watched the highlights because it was a reality check. I thought it was a dream," he said.

Like Andrew Higginson, Gould's breakthrough has come after years of toil and many setbacks.

It's a shame a player of the class of Stevens won't be at the Crucible - for the first time in 12 years - but hats off to Gould for his effort and application.

Jamie Cope, who defeated Paul Davies 10-5, didn't look like a man who'd just qualified but he tends to keep his emotions inside - not a bad thing in sport.


From the look on Andrew Higginson's face you'd have thought he'd won the World Championship after becoming the first man through to the Crucible following his 10-4 victory over Michael Judge.

Andrew turned pro in 1996. This will be his Crucible debut.

For all the various problems in the game, you can't beat the joy that comes from a moment like this.

He said: “When I first started playing snooker, this is what it was all about. You can try to win tournaments but your goal is to play at the Crucible.

“It’s taken me something like 14 attempts and I’m just ecstatic. To be able to walk through that curtain where all the greats have walked through is amazing.

“I’m just going to enjoy it no matter who I draw and no matter what happens.

“You won’t see me with a sad face at the Crucible.”

One down, 15 to go...


Dramatic moments in the Martin Gould v Matthew Stevens match. In frame ten, Stevens needed a snooker on the pink to tie and duly got it but Gould was twice fortunate in attempting the pink from distance.

The first time he fluked a snooker; the second he left the pink on the top cushion.

On the third time of asking, Gould knocked it in for 7-3. You feel it could be a big moment in the match. Everyone needs a bit of luck to get to the Crucible and he seemed to be having it there.

Andrew Higginson looks very sharp against Michael Judge. On 41 in frame ten he ran out of position on the pink but knocked in a long yellow and went on to make 77.

Paul Davies v Jamie Cope is akin to tortoise v hare but we all know who won that one. Davies pulled it back to 6-4 but Cope has just dished for 7-4.

Nigel Bond was involved in a lengthy safety battle at the start of frame ten against Mike Dunn but, after Dunn's safety error, made a very solid 85.

Mark Selby is among those watching, principally to support Michael Holt, who has started to struggle against Dominic Dale.


So what's happening here at the final qualifying round of the World Championship?

I've just watched two frames of Martin Gould v Matthew Stevens and Gould is playing superbly. He made a 113 break in the last frame of the session that was, I promise you, as good as any century you will see.

It just shows what confidence does for you. He beat Stephen Hendry live on TV at the Welsh Open and is now feeling better about his game than at any time in his career. He leads 6-3.

Watching Michael Holt play snooker is a bit like watching the dentist scene with Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. It's torture.

Holt lost the eighth frame to trail Dominic Dale 5-3. He left the arena shaking his head and returned a few minutes later, still shaking his head.

He then proceeded to knock in a nice 61 - not quite enough to make it 5-4 but he since got in again to do just that.

I hereby predict the last match to finish will be Stuart Bingham v Alan McManus if the eighth frame of their contest is anything to go by.

It appeared they were trying to put the reds back into the triangle - albeit with only eight of them on the table - but McManus is a master of tactical play and Bingham needs to make sure he doesn't get dragged into this if he is to win.

Nerves are everywhere at the English Institute of Sport. They are, of course, in the arena but also outside the arena where friends and family pace anxiously, unable to watch.

The nerves infect everyone. You feel it just watching from the back of the hall.

And they are only going to grow as the day goes on.



There could be as many as nine Crucible debutants this year.

Equally, of course, there could be none at all.

The nine players through to the final qualifying round who are yet to play in the televised phase are: Matthew Couch, Paul Davies, Andrew Higginson, Daniel Wells, Lee Spick, Martin Gould, Rory McLeod, Ricky Walden and Tom Ford.

I will be blogging from the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield and will provide little updates and interesting bits of news as the three days unfold, plus what the players really say, not what you read on worldsnooker.com.

Here’s the draw and times of play:

Sunday, 10am and 4pm
Michael Judge v Andrew Higginson
Jamie Cope v Paul Davies
Nigel Bond v Mike Dunn
Dominic Dale v Michael Holt
Stuart Bingham v Alan McManus
Matthew Stevens v Martin Gould

Monday, 10am and 4pm
Stephen Lee v Judd Trump
Mark Williams v Tom Ford
Anthony Hamilton v Ricky Walden
Dave Harold v Liang Wenbo
Fergal O’Brien v Jamie Burnett

Tuesday, 10am and 4pm
Joe Swail v Matthew Couch
Steve Davis v Lee Spick
Ian McCulloch v Rory McLeod
Barry Hawkins v Daniel Wells
Ken Doherty v Gerard Greene



You'll recall it was only a few weeks ago that Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of the WPBSA, roundly rubbished Ronnie O'Sullivan's claims that snooker was in serious trouble.

Today, Walker has told the players that the salaries of the staff and directors of the WPBSA will be reduced by 10%.

So everything's going great, then.

The truth is that the WPBSA is seriously cash strapped and the circuit will not be far from collapse if extra revenue is not found in the next year.

I feel very sorry for the staff of the WPBSA, most of whom have done nothing wrong. These are the footsoldiers, not the people who make the decisions.

Walker's letter says there will also be redundancies.

Presumably he won't be one of them.


The draw for the first round of the World Championship will be broadcast live by BBC Radio Sheffield next Wednesday at 9.45am.

The top 16 will be paired against the 16 qualifiers.

The draw has suffered from, well, let's say a few problems over the last few years.

In 2006, Michael Holt was drawn out twice live on BBC Radio 5 Live.

The following year the draw was recorded the day before it was broadcast. Ronnie O'Sullivan drew Ding Junhui and claimed it was 'fixed.'

However, last year's draw was a great success as it was streamed live on the internet from the Crucible.


The much delayed grand final of the World Series of Snooker, originally planned for the Kremlin in Moscow, will now be staged in the Algarve, Portugal the weekend after the World Championship.

The fact that it has changed venues after an initial high profile announcement is something of an embarrassment for organisers but I understand there was a very specific problem relating to the funding for the Moscow event, which would have had security implications.

The first year of World Series has proven two things:

1) It’s actually quite difficult planning and organising snooker tournaments, something the WPBSA and other promoters have also found over the years.

2) If you take snooker to places where it’s popular, people will come and watch it.

For despite the early problems, the World Series remains a good idea. Snooker on mainland Europe is hugely popular because of the widespread coverage of the professional circuit by Eurosport.

The World Series events in Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow were well attended and much enjoyed by the players.

If John Higgins and Pat Mooney hadn't taken snooker to these countries, who else would have done?

There are still areas I believe they need to work on.

One is the format. Getting local players involved is a good idea but a day of walkovers is not. I understand a qualifying system will be used this year and that should help make the action more competitive.

Also – and this applies to snooker in general – getting the media on board is vitally important to building up any sporting event.

However, anyone who mocks this new venture should go and speak to those people in Germany, Poland and Russia who had never seen live snooker before and came away with only positive thoughts about the sport.

Snooker needs as many fans, indeed as many tournaments, as it can find.

For this reason alone the World Series is worth supporting, whatever the difficulties it has experienced in its first year.


You'll recall a thoroughly fed up Scott MacKenzie announced his intention to retire from professional snooker if he failed to reach the Crucible - which he did.

However, it's not all doom and gloom down in the lower ranks.

One player who seems to be feeling positive about his career is Leicester's Andy Lee, who is interviewed in the Hinckley Times newspaper.

That said, I think Andy's ambitions may be harder to realise than he thinks.

By my reckoning, his defeat in the world qualifiers has relegated him from the circuit.



The fourth Snooker Scene podcast features Joe Johnson, the 1986 world champion, chatting about life before he turned pro, his extraordinary success at the Crucible, meeting Princess Diana and much more.

To listen, follow this link.

You will have to have registered first.

Next week: we answer the questions you sent in recently.



There’s an old saying that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Matthew Couch may appreciate the sentiment as he prepares to face Joe Swail in the final qualifying round of the World Championship next Tuesday.

Couch defeated 1991 champion John Parrott 10-3 in the qualifiers at Sheffield today.

He is through to the final round for only the second time in his career. The last time was 11 years ago and he played...Joe Swail.

On that occasion Swail won 10-3.

“I obviously hope it’s a different result this time. It would mean a lot to play at the Crucible. It’s the venue where everyone wants to have played, at least once,” Couch said.

It would indeed mean a lot to any player but especially one like Couch who turned pro 17 years ago and has kept on grafting despite several disappointments.

He was a quarter-finalist in the 1998 UK Championship and has a good record in pro-ams but reaching the Crucible would be the highlight of his career.

And he’s tantalisingly close.


In a forthcoming podcast I will be putting questions to one of snooker's leading referees.

Do you have a query about one of the rules?

Has something happened in a match that you didn't understand and would like clarifying?

If so, please email your questions to snookersceneblog@aol.com (please do not post them below).

It would be helpful if you included your name and where in the world you are.

We will need your questions by Sunday.

++ On a related theme, in today's Championship League match between Ken Doherty and Steve Davis, Ken went for a red, it jumped out of the pocket and came to rest on the cushion rail.

The ruling is that it is a foul and that the red is placed in a pocket.

If you have any questions on arcane rules such as this, email them to us.


Judd Trump and Ricky Walden are among the six players who have already booked their places in the final qualifying round of the World Championship.

Neither hung about. Trump demolished Joe Delaney 10-1 while Walden thumped Rod Lawler by the same score.

Both these young talents would enhance the televised stage but to get to the Crucible they must each beat a far more experienced opponent.

Trump faces Stephen Lee while Walden, looking for his Crucible debut, tackles Anthony Hamilton.

Rory McLeod, who lost in the final qualifying round last year, will provide the opposition for 2005 semi-finalist Ian McCulloch.

For Mark Williams to appear at the Crucible for a 13th consecutive year he must first beat Tom Ford, who came through despite a determined performance by Patrick Wallace.

Williams’s fellow former champion, Ken Doherty, needs to beat Gerard Greene to get through. The omens are good for the Dubliner: he beat Greene at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield – where the qualifiers are being staged – in the corresponding round of this season’s UK Championship.

Finally, what a great performance by young Daniel Wells, who has now won three matches 10-9.

His latest victory was over Marcus Campbell last night and has secured his place on the circuit for another season.

Wells must beat Barry Hawkins to get to the Crucible.



Steve Davis is among a list of famous redheads included in a photographic exhibition celebrating people with ginger hair.

Not that Steve’s hair is that ginger these days, but it was in his 1980s heyday.

The exhibition, Root Ginger, features photos by Jenny Wicks and is raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

She says: “Red hair is the last bastion of political incorrectness and although you cannot compare it wholly with the treatment of other minority groups I think it does illustrate how some members of society act towards people who simply look different to them.”

Davis’s name appears in a list that includes Katherine Hepburn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, D. H. Lawrence, Ann Boleyn and Sir Winston Churchill.

But as far as snooker fans are concerned, there’s only ever been one Ginger Magician.

To find out more about Jenny Wicks’s work, go to her website.



As if there wasn’t enough pressure trying to qualify for the Crucible, the World Championship qualifiers will also decide who stays on the tour and who gets relegated.

It’s very tough for newcomers to keep their places. Playing on the professional circuit takes some adjusting and there are only eight tournaments in which to do this.

Last night, Daniel Wells edged Ian Preece 10-9. This result gives Wells a chance of staying on the tour but will likely relegate Preece.

Similarly, Liu Song defeated Supoj Saenla 10-9 and will probably now keep his place while Saenla heads back to the PIOS.

Next season’s 96-man main tour is constituted as follows: the top 64 in the end of season rankings, plus the top eight points earners this season not already in the top 64, plus the top eight players from the PIOS, plus 16 players from around the world based on various qualification criteria, i.e. the IBSF world amateur champion.

I hope Wells does stay on. He’s the sort of young player snooker needs.

He was thoroughly professional throughout his year as the WPBSA’s inaugural Paul Hunter Scholar and seems to have the right attitude.

Daniel can’t quite relax yet – as if that’s possible anyway in the World Championship – but at least he’s given himself a chance.

As the qualifiers continue, more players will be thinking about their respective ranking positions.

Some will need to win to stay in the top 64, get in the top 32 or even the top 16.

Bear all this in mind when watching the scores come in.

These guys are under huge pressure. They are not only playing for a place at the Crucible but, in some cases, for their very survival in the professional ranks.


We’re back at Crondon Park for the Championship League over the next four days. There are five world champions in action this week: John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ken Doherty, Steve Davis and Graeme Dott.

We’ll also be watching Matthew Stevens, Mark King, Jamie Cope, Barry Hawkins and Joe Swail.

Already through to the winners’ group are Mark Selby, Mark Allen, Joe Perry and Stuart Bingham.

Full details here.