Ronnie O’Sullivan has won 23 of the 71 frames he needs to capture a fifth world title so still has a long way to go but the manner in which he clinched victory over Ali Carter last night makes him the man to beat.

The old O’Sullivan swagger returned and he put on a show. This is the sprinkling of stardust the circuit has been missing.

The season may yet end rather like that infamous series of Dallas when Bobby Ewing, who had been killed off the previous year, returned in the shower, thus rendering the previous 12 months irrelevant.

The truth is, nobody stepped up and grasped the mantle when O’Sullivan was gone. All the ranking titles were shared around equally between a group of top players but the Rocket’s shadow had never gone away.

He has to beat Stuart Bingham to reach the semi-finals. Bingham is not a tortured soul when it comes to snooker. Far from it: he loves it more than is possibly healthy.

He beat O’Sullivan in the 2010 UK Championship but has lost their four other meetings. I was impressed by how Bingham attacked in the final session against Mark Davis and tried to win the match rather than trying not to lose it.

Judd Trump v Shaun Murphy should make many a mouth water. These are two players who attack the balls and neither lacks in confidence or would fear playing O’Sullivan.

I expect this match to feature either player dominating for spells, winning a run of frames before the momentum shifts. Trump looks to be playing as well as he has since he won the International Championship last November. Murphy has kept his powder dry all campaign but maybe this is the one for him. It will surely be close.

Michael White is the only qualifier to reach the quarter-finals. But it’s not true to say he has nothing to lose. He does: the match.

White, 21, has come this far and is not just ‘in it for the experience.’ He wants to win the title. Ricky Walden stands in his way.

Walden came through a nervy one last night against Robert Milkins and there is pressure on him as favourite, although the fact he has won two ranking titles points to his ability in big matches.

Ding Junhui toughed his way through against Mark King and will surely have a more free flowing match with Barry Hawkins, who remains a dangerman and one not to be under rated.



The new Champion of Champions event announced today and to be staged in Coventry in November promises to be a prestigious affair with £100,000 to the eventual winner.

The 16 player field will comprise the winners of all major tournaments this season. I suspect the last two world champions will be invited if the current one doesn’t defend his title.

The format of play is knockout but played in a sort of group format: two last 16 matches over best of 9 in the afternoon with the respective winners to play a best of 11 quarter-final in the evening and so on until the four semi-finalists are known.

Hearn has gone for a long final – best of 21 or 23 – as an antidote to the shorter formats which have become the norm in recent times. There will be no shot-clock or change to the established rules.

Hearn has conjured this up from nowhere, another positive move under his chairmanship. It is a little like the old World Matchplay he promoted and screened on ITV and today he dropped a heavy hint that ITV4, who recently dipped their toe in the snooker waters with the World Open, will be host broadcasters.

I can’t see why any invited player would turn this down. As a Midlander, it’s also nice to see the area rewarded with a tournament as interest in snooker here has always been high.

Hearn was at the Crucible today and rubbished claims that ‘burnout’ had affected top players at the World Championship, or rather blamed them for not managing their careers better.

I don’t think tiredness comes just from playing so much and the mental reserves it saps. It’s also the travelling, particularly to China, which can play havoc with the body clock.

Snooker players won’t get much sympathy I suspect from hard working people earning far less money but it is becoming a challenge in terms of how many events to play and when to take a backseat.

Then again, it’s nice to have a choice.

Hearn also said that he thought toilet breaks had become excessive. I agree with him, but this will be difficult to regulate.

Some players seem programmed to go out after every frame. Neil Robertson twice went out during frames during the World Championship.

However, snooker players do drink a lot of water, and nerves often lead to even more sipping for want of something to do.

You can’t guarantee when someone does or does not want the toilet. Referees maybe need to use their discretion in monitoring this.

Hearn’s point is a fair one: TV companies pay fortunes to televise snooker and don’t want to be looking at an empty arena or waiting ages for a player to return.

Intervals – which TV never asked for – at the Champion of Champions have been discarded to ensure continuous play.

But...when you gotta go, you gotta go.


After no finishes at all at the Betfair World Championship yesterday there are four today.

This great behemoth of a tournament isn’t the easiest to schedule but yesterday felt a bit like an exercise in treading water with no exciting finishes to savour.

That said, the afternoon session was terrific, with Ronnie O’Sullivan holding off a determined Ali Carter and Ding Junhui romping back against Mark King.

O’Sullivan and Ding lead 9-7. Ricky Walden is 10-6 up on Robert Milkins while Stuart Bingham and Mark Davis are 8-8 so some close finishes are likely today.

The BBC yesterday ran an informative feature presented by Steve Davis on Joe Davis, the original World Championship promoter and its first champion.

Judd Trump tweeted: “To get new interest in snooker bbc put on a documentary from 3million years ago great way to get kids interested.”

Well, not three million years ago (when the leading player was Tyrannosaurus Rex Williams) but less than a century and, more importantly, about a man who founded not just the championship but a professional sport from which Trump is now benefiting handsomely.

Who should the Nugget have done a feature on instead? Kanye West? Or maybe someone off Hollyoaks?

In fairness to Trump he’s not the first player to take little interest in the game’s rich history. Roger Lee once ran the Heritage Room at the Crucible, a popular hangout for those keen to learn more about the sport’s origins.

A well known player was being shown round one year and, on observing a pair of old ivory balls, likened them, for reasons still unknown to this day, to the testicles of a former commentator.

It somewhat detracted from the gravitas of the artefacts. Indeed, many could never look at them in the same way again.

The BBC can’t win really with its features. When they are jokey they are accused of dumbing down. When they are serious they are accused of being boring.

One year Phil Yates and myself were, in a feature cruelly unacknowledged by BAFTA, dressed up in anoraks and given arcane stats to read out, like a pair of snooker trainspotters. In fairness, we did not need to undertake a Daniel Day Lewis style method acting process to achieve this transformation.

We were roundly rubbished in The Times 'Sport on TV' column, in particular for affecting ‘low droning voices.’ Pretty cutting, not least because they were our actual voices.

Another year, Phil was dressed up like Deep Throat from All The President’s Men, taken to a car park and, in the short intervals when a nearby drunk kept quiet, addressed the camera to give out facts about little known Icelander Kristjan Helgason.

He doesn’t get much acting work these days.

By the end of today we will know the quarter-final line-up. It won’t be one many would have predicted before the event began.

A week today it’ll be the climax of the World Championship. I think we need a good last week to make it a vintage tournament.

Barry Hearn will be at the Crucible today to make some announcements including, I understand, a new tournament next season in the UK where the appetite to watch the game remains strong.

Then again, it has been around for three million years.



This is turning into one of the strangest World Championships ever.

The formbook has not so much been thrown out of the window as Fed-Ex’d to Pluto. Big names have tumbled and some old stagers have come to life.

Mark Selby was the latest top player to be beaten yesterday, 13-10 by Barry Hawkins.

Selby was bad beyond belief. Hawkins didn’t play particularly well either but credit to him for getting the job done.

The consensus seems to be that Selby was burnt out by playing so much snooker.

I’m naturally suspicious of consensuses. They are designed to prohibit any contrary view, regardless of its merit.

Judd Trump, who played terrific stuff last night to defeat Marco Fu 13-7, was of the opinion that players like Selby and Neil Robertson had paid the price for playing too many tournaments.

But the players lower down who are doing well have if anything played even more snooker and are match fit as a result.

Anyway, coming into the World Championship Trump had played 92 matches this season and Selby 91.

That said, a long campaign of snooker will sap mental reserves. In tennis and golf, top players tend to pick and choose events, concentrating on the majors. There’s nothing to stop snooker players doing the same. The new prize money ranking list will make this easier – if they win a big event they can dodge a couple of smaller ones.

Lower down the rankings players will have to enter pretty much everything to protect their positions.

But the increase in snooker has certainly helped the likes of Mark Davis (40), Mark King (39), Robert Milkins (37), Stuart Bingham (36) and Barry Hawkins (34).

It’s stretching things a tad to dub them snooker’s version of Dad’s Army but they are now all playing the best snooker of their careers – well into their careers.

Davis, Milkins and Hawkins all belong to OnQ Promotions, whose director of coaching is Terry Griffiths, the 1979 world champion and a Yoda figure within the game due to his mentoring skills.

All three have thanked Griffiths for his help. I think he has made two big differences in their games.

One is just giving them confidence and support. The other is in shot selection. If you look and Milkins and Hawkins, their safety is excellent. They don’t go for rash balls and they don’t lose discipline.

As for Trump, I was struck by how well he spoke afterwards. He knows he can win the thing, he also knows it’s up to him rather than fretting about who he plays and how they play.

At 23, tiredness is less likely to affect him. He’s seen many of his rivals fall by the wayside but the path isn’t completely clear yet: Ronnie O’Sullivan, fresher than anyone, is leading 5-3 overnight against Ali Carter.



Ronnie O’Sullivan has had a week off since he played his last match. Then again, he’s had a year off since he played his last major tournament so it’s unlikely to make much difference.

However, the World Championship becomes more of a test when you get up to best of 25 frame matches. There is time for things to happen, time for things to go wrong and, crucially, time for the pressure to come on.

As Shaun Murphy said last night, this is why you play snooker, for experiences like this.

Carter’s long game was excellent in his first round match against Ben Woollaston. He has never beaten O’Sullivan in a big event but this represents one of the best chances he will get.

He has drawn Ronnie twice in a final, when anyone would find it hard to beat him over four sessions. So early in the tournament, though, where there are still nerves and some uncertainty about the strength of his game, and this is unlikely to be an O’Sullivan procession.

In fact, it has the potential to be one of the matches of the tournament.

There is always anticipation when O’Sullivan plays and sometimes awe. I remember standing in the photographer’s booth at the Crucible watching the third session of his semi-final against Stephen Hendry in 1999, possibly the highest quality session there has ever been at snooker’s theatre of dreams.

These two players served up a remarkable spell of break building, O’Sullivan missing the pink on 134 in one frame. It’s sessions like these which keep you coming back for more.

We haven’t seen the same quality this year. Some players clearly aren’t happy with conditions. At the qualifiers there was talk that the balls are too light, a possible reason for kicks.

However, we also saw yesterday that the Crucible carpet produces static electricity. If Graeme Dott was getting shocks, it isn’t too much of a stretch to assume that this is also causing dodgy contacts.

We’re not even halfway through the World Championship yet but the subplots are bubbling along nicely.

Michael White, at 21, is in the quarter-finals on his debut. Again, there was much chatter about his opponent but White’s achievement is notable and he is in such an open section that a semi-final place is very possible.

Murphy won a snooker war of attrition to see off Dott last night. His 13-11 win was gripping in the way these lengthy World Championship matches so often are.

You can’t beat a close finish when everything is at stake.



First off, well done to Robert Milkins, a player who seemed to have completely fallen away but who yesterday produced arguably the win of his career over Neil Robertson.

This was a tense old afternoon’s snooker. Robertson was unable to dominate early on, grew visibly edgy and Milkins held his nerve to win 10-8.

Second round matches continue this morning but there are also activities going on around the World Championship.

Snooker, as a professional sport enjoying much TV exposure, has a platform by which to reach beyond just blokes potting balls.

Yesterday, World Snooker launched an initiative to get snooker into schools.

Those with a Daily Mail view of the world will tell you nobody under 20 can spell or add up and that this is all down to the fact you can no longer belt kids with, well, a belt and probably colour television as well.

It plainly isn’t true but maybe sport can be about more than physical activity and be used to bolster maths teaching and also pass on the values of sportsmanship and good mental attitude.

Today is ladies day at the Crucible, a new idea to encourage participation from women and girls.

Reanne Evans won her ninth world title a couple of weeks ago. She made two centuries in the final but received just £400.

20 odd years ago a promoter by the name of Barry Hearn got the women’s World Championship on TV with a five figure first prize. Its dominant player Allison Fisher, beat several leading men but, when the game went open, failed to make much impact in ranking tournaments and headed to the USA to play pool.

Back in 1997, the WPBSA took the ladies game under its wing. Major finals were staged during World Snooker tournaments, including at the Crucible.

There were two problems. The conditions were so different to the usual clubs the women played in that they could not produce a very high standard. In turn, public interest was low.

The women were cut adrift in 2003 and have organised themselves since but the number of entries has dwindled this season.

Many women watch snooker, both on TV and live in arenas. However, there has been an historic problem in the UK with participation, largely due to the nature of snooker clubs in years gone by which were distinctly male domains.

Any woman can turn professional. Evans has been on the tour before but struggled. She has entered Q School this year.

Also today, Street Snooker returns to Sheffield in Millennium Square. This is a target practice game that involves kicking or throwing a ball against a snooker-inspired green wall to strike round snooker ball coloured targets, earning varying points. The aim of the game is for players to build a highest break by hitting the red triangle followed by a colour to see who can achieve the highest consecutive score.

The idea is to combine snooker with physical activity and has been played by thousands of people around the UK already. Alfie Burden, himself a former junior footballer, is one of their ambassadors.

On Sunday there will be activities for Paul Hunter Day linked to the Foundation linked to this much missed player’s memory.

All of which is very laudable as this great championship continues. There are many people who have supported snooker so it’s good to see the sport support people who need it.



Judd Trump and Ding Junhui have been the season’s two heaviest scorers. Trump yesterday made his 56th century of the campaign in beating Dominic Dale 10-5. This sets a new record for a single campaign, surpassing Mark Selby’s 55 last season, but Ding, a 10-5 winner over Alan McManus, has made 53.

Trump has come good again after a few tournaments in which he failed to shine. He looked super confident against Dale and, though it’s still early days, many are already looking forward to a semi-final with Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Next for Trump, though, is Marco Fu, who felt the pressure before seeing off Matthew Stevens 10-7, having led 9-4.

Our old friend ‘clincher’s disease’ seemed to play a part here. Some players would have you believe this anxiety doesn’t exist. It does, and not just in snooker or even sport.

Put simply, it’s getting close to achieving the thing you want and, therefore, becoming worried you won’t achieve it, thus affecting your ability to achieve it.

In life it could be going over to chat someone up and fluffing your lines. In snooker it has led to many a collapse.

Anyway, Fu won and can test Trump, but the latter’s heavy scoring and reborn confidence will make him favourite.

Ding was given a battle by McManus, who will look back on the second half of the first session as his bad spell. Ding won all five of these frames, otherwise it was closely matched.

Sam Baird, like many a debutant before him, struggled last night as Stuart Bingham coasted into an 8-1 overnight lead, which he’ll be looking to convert this evening to set up a meeting with Mark Davis.

Neil Robertson and Robert Milkins return this afternoon after playing out an entertaining first session in which Robertson built a 5-2 lead with the aid of a wonderful 143 total clearance – the highest break so far – only for Milkins to close to 5-4.

Tonight it’s time once again for Poom to shake the room.

Dechawat Poomjaeng became an unlikely cult hero during his 10-9 win over Stephen Maguire and now faces Michael White, who at 21 is looking to continue his own Crucible adventure.

Has there ever been a second round match at the Crucible between two players outside the world’s top 40? Or who are each appearing in the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time?

It’s a clash of the unknown quantities. Some are saying that Poomjaeng has effectively had his final and may now struggle but it’s worth pointing out that the Thai won four matches to qualify for Sheffield and is really match fit.

The other second round match to start today features two former champions: Shaun Murphy, the winner in 2005, and Graeme Dott, who superseded him as champion in 2006.

We’re up to best of 25s now which tells you the World Championship is starting to get serious.



Dechawat Poomjaeng: comedy genius. That seemed to be the view of the Crucible crowd after the maverick Thai clinched a dramatic 10-9 victory over Stephen Maguire last night.  

Poomjaeng’s facial expressions and general behaviour were certainly different to what we’re used to but what the audience appreciated was the fact that he was so obviously enjoying himself and, in turn, they were also enjoying it.

There had been the usual over reaction to one slow match (Dott v Ebdon) earlier in the day. The fact is, Poomjaeng wasn’t much quicker than Ebdon, it’s just that he entertained.

He now plays Michael White in an unlikely last 16 encounter with one of these unheralded potters on course for the quarter-finals.

Ali Carter will provide the second round opposition for the defending champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan, after completing a 10-4 victory over Ben Woollaston.

Carter began the night with a century and won two close frames to effectively put the result beyond doubt. His long potting was particularly strong.

Ding Junhui impressed against Alan McManus, making two centuries in building a 7-2 lead. Judd Trump also got going after the interval, making a 142 total clearance, the highest break so far, to lead Dominic Dale 6-3.

Last night, Mark Selby’s highest break was only 46 but he still fashioned a 6-3 advantage over debutant Matt Selt.

By way of build up, Selt had provided the press with details of his fall-out with Trump, which read like handbags at dawn or, perhaps in the case of Trump, designer handbags at dawn.

Such is the froth that surrounds the event. All that really matters is how you play and Selt struggled badly early on before making a better fist of it after winning his first frame, the sixth.

The last two first round matches start today. Neil Robertson, many people’s pick, faces Robert Milkins, back at the Crucible for the first time in eight years.

Stuart Bingham meets Sam Baird, who like Poomjaeng won four matches to qualify for the Crucible.



Mark Davis and Mark King were not generally touted as pin-up boys for the Betfair World Championship before it began but they each proved yesterday that hype means nothing: it’s results that counts.

John Higgins didn’t lose his first round match, Davis beat him. When the chance came in the last frame, Davis made 87 to win 10-6 and was fully deserving of his victory.

Davis is surely the only snooker player who has started producing his best form at the age of 40. It has been a long time coming but he has every right to enjoy it.

Higgins seems to be in a similar quandary as Mark Williams: players who have scaled the ultimate heights but who are now struggling for form.

It happens to all the greats in the end. The question is to what extent they can stem the decline.

King finished really strongly against Mark Allen, winning 10-8 from 8-6 down. A battler of the old school, King, 39, is a tough match player and ultimately made more of his chances when the pressure came on.

What can we make of these two results? Ultimately grand analysis is pointless. The player who played better in each match won. End of.

Speaking of the end, it came surprisingly quickly last night for Graeme Dott in his extra session against Peter Ebdon, who had rallied from -2 down to 6-6 in the morning.

The big frame was the 13th, which Dott won after needing a snooker. Resuming with an 8-6 lead he felt more confident when they finally came back out to play.

Dechawat Poomjaeng became something of a darling for the audience yesterday due largely to his positive attitude and general sunny character.

The Thai entered the arena with a smile on his face rather than a chip on his shoulder and carved out a surprise 5-3 lead over Welsh Open champion Stephen Maguire.

This may still be overturned today but it was nice to see someone so obviously enjoying themselves and cherishing the chance to tread the Crucible boards.

Today authentic title contenders Ding Junhui, Judd Trump and Mark Selby all enter the fray although, as we have already seen, nothing is guaranteed.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of one of the great moments in snooker history. On April 23, 1983 Cliff Thorburn compiled the World Championship’s first 147 break during his second round match against Terry Griffiths.

The Canadian grinder fluked a red and painstakingly completed the perfect run of 147. It took a long time but this allowed the tension to build.

Play between Bill Werbeniuk and David Taylor on the other table stopped to allow Thorburn full concentration. Werbeniuk famously peaked around the arena partition to keep an eye on his compatriot.

As Thorburn stood over the final black, BBC commentator Jack Karnehm summed up the mood of those watching with a simple ‘good luck, mate.’

Thorburn potted it and sank to his knees in triumph before being bear-hugged by Griffiths and Werbeniuk.

It was a magical moment in a magical time when snooker on TV was still relatively new and the players grateful for their opportunities.

If you have a few moments, watch it again here:



Many felt Jack Lisowski would make an impression as a debutant but it was Michael White who proved the star of the show at the Betfair World Championship yesterday.

White, 21, marked his Crucible debut with a 10-6 defeat of Mark Williams. It is tempting to view this as the passing of the baton from one Welsh generation to another. Indeed, Williams’s first win at the Crucible in 1997 came at the expense of Terry Griffiths, who then retired.

There was much discussion afterwards about the plight of Williams but White deserves some praise. He took his chances in an alien environment, making good on his long held potential.

The BBC dug out an interview John Parrott did with young Michael and Judd Trump from a decade ago in which their boyhood love of snooker shone.

Perhaps now White has the taste for the big time he can start to climb the rankings like Trump did.

As for Lisowski, he was beaten 10-3 by Barry Hawkins but can console himself that many great champions have lost their opening match at snooker’s theatre of dreams.

Shaun Murphy won the long old scrap which was the first frame against Martin Gould last night and afterwards looked a lot more confident and cued really well, winning 10-5.

Ricky Walden completed his heavy 10-1 defeat of Michael Holt, whose frustration rang out in an honest press conference in which he pondered his inability to replicate qualifying form at venues.

Off table, the big news was World Snooker’s decision to write to the BBC and complain about its coverage of Saturday’s closing session.

BBC2 broadcast the Ronnie O’Sullivan-Marcus Campbell match from 7-8pm, coming off air with the scored poised at 9-3 for a 35 year-old edition of the sitcom Some Mothers Do Ave Em. There was no coverage on the red button.

Barry Hearn apologised to snooker fans on Twitter and said he was writing to the BBC.

It is certainly true that the BBC have something of a love/hate relationship with snooker. They made the game popular. They still show many hours of it. This year, their coverage on network television has significantly increased.

The coverage is produced independently of the corporation with great professionalism. In Hazel Irvine they have one of the hardest working presenters in sports broadcasting.

But at other times the BBC gives the impression it is a little embarrassed by the sport. I watched the sports news on BBC1 last night and there was no mention at all of the World Championship, but we heard about pretty much everything else that had happened in the world of sport, including gymnastics and diving.

I am not a fan of the BBC website’s Ben Dirs, the tone of whose articles are all the same: that someone needs to come along and save this silly sport because it is in dire trouble, be it Mark Allen (twice), O’Sullivan or White, who is today rewarded for the best moment of his career with a long, patronising ramble about his physical appearance.

Is it too much to ask that the BBC gives its readers a proper analysis of how snooker has changed in recent years – the good and the bad – rather than constantly presenting snooker as somehow being in peril?

It isn't only snooker fans who pay the licence fee but the decision to leave O’Sullivan’s match at 9-3 was bizarre bearing in mind the amount of build-up to his return the BBC had undertaken. Also, to leave for an old repeat was crass and they surely could at least have stayed for a few more minutes to see if O’Sullivan would win 10-3.

However, the BBC schedule has been known for at least two weeks. World Snooker could have seen this coming. The time to write to the BBC was before the championship began.



Ronnie O’Sullivan should be satisfied with his overall level of performance in becoming the first player into the last 16 of the Betfair World Championship last night.

O’Sullivan beat Marcus Campbell 10-4. Campbell had chances before the first interval to exploit the defending champion’s rustiness but O’Sullivan made a couple of good clearances and after that the match felt like a procession.

Ronnie has always talked from the heart and afterwards expressed regret that he had not signed the players' contract at the start of the season, claiming he had been badly advised.

O’Sullivan doesn’t play again until Saturday so it would be nice for the media and everyone else  in the meantime to turn their attention to the 30 remaining players.

Among them is debutant Michael White, who provided evidence last night that he could cause an upset against his more celebrated fellow Welshman, two times world champion Mark Williams.

White leads 5-4. Will this afternoon see a passing of the Welsh flag from one generation to another or will experience tell?

Jack Lisowski, of whom much was expected, potted some really terrific balls but still ended his first session with Barry Hawkins trailing 6-3.

We’ll see plenty more of Lisowski at the Crucible in the future but possibly not this year. Hawkins didn’t seem in the least affected by the stylish potting on view.

Ricky Walden has already set a good target for the highest break prize with his 140 total clearance against Michael Holt. Walden’s handsome 8-1 overnight lead will surely be converted into victory.

But Shaun Murphy may have to cut out the unforced errors if he is to hold off Martin Gould, whom he leads 5-4 after their opening session. The big frame here was the third, which Murphy won after needing a snooker to prevent himself going 3-0 down.

This morning, Graeme Dott and Peter Ebdon lock cues. Their 2006 world final was absorbing and gripping or turgid and boring depending on who you listen to. Personally I like to see a variety of styles and hope there will always be room for the sport’s unremitting hard men.

Ebdon deserves praise for securing a 22nd straight Crucible appearance, bettered only by Stephen Hendry’s 27.

Dott was simply dreadful against Joe Perry last year but has good memories of playing Ebdon here and will surely be up for the challenge.

John Higgins, his form patchy of late, could be vulnerable against Mark Davis, who held his nerve to beat him in the UK Championship last December.

It was an interesting first day but this is a long tournament. It’s hard to judge the field until they have all played.

Two weeks today the final will begin...but there’s a lot of snooker to be played before then.



The atmosphere for Ronnie O’Sullivan’s entrance into the Crucible this morning will surely feel more akin to a world final but when the cheering stops and the snooker starts it will quickly become apparent whether the defending champion has it in him to threaten for title no.5 this year.

It’s been said all week, by Peter Ebdon and others, that he’s playing well in practice. Of course he is. Everyone is. But this isn’t practice, it’s intense competition.

The last player to defend the world title was Stephen Hendry in 1996. The last defending champion to get past the quarter-finals was O'Sullivan himself - 11 years ago.

In Marcus Campbell, O’Sullivan has a stubborn, experienced opponent but not a dangerous young prospect playing fearless snooker. At least Ronnie knows what he’s going to get with the Dumbarton man.

O’Sullivan has beaten Campbell four times in four meetings. The Scot is a tough match player but if O’Sullivan starts to score then a shock defeat seems unlikely.

There should be a sweepstake on how quickly it is mentioned that Campbell once beat Hendry 9-0. It remains a remarkable scoreline but there are caveats.

The first is that it was untelevised. The second is that Hendry was struggling at the time. The third, and perhaps most significant, is that it was 14 and a half years ago.

In fact, Campbell has played much better these last few years than he was back then. He’s got himself into the top 32 late in his career and was a semi-finalist in a ranking event for the first time at this season’s Wuxi Classic. Just last month he reached the quarter-finals of the China Open.

One of the advantages he has is that he practises with other hardened Scots – John Higgins, Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott.

O’Sullivan has generally talked down his chances this week while most other players have been talking them up. I think he’ll win today but it’ll be interesting to see what sort of performance he produces. If it’s vintage O’Sullivan it could really put the frighteners up the rest of the field.

The other match this morning sees Ricky Walden, winless at the Crucible from two previous appearances, against Michael Holt, who reached the second round in 2005.

Two former champions are in action later when Shaun Murphy winner in 2005, faces Martin Gould, a very dangerous qualifier, and Mark Williams, world champion in 2000 and 2003, tackles young Welshman Michael White, who will be hoping to emulate his good friend Jamie Jones, a surprise quarter-finalist last year.

Also, Barry Hawkins takes on Jack Lisowski, a really attacking and aggressive player of whom great things are expected.

Many future world champions bombed out in the first round on their debuts – Steve Davis, Hendry, O’Sullivan, Higgins, Murphy and Neil Robertson to name a few.

Others, such as Ebdon, made sensational debuts. A lot of people are tipping Lisowski to do some serious damage but I’m sure he won’t be taking Hawkins lightly.

The snooker is all over the BBC and Eurosport for the next 17 days. Whether you are playing, officiating, spectating at the Crucible or with your feet up in front of the TV at home, I hope everyone enjoys the World Championship. It remains a really special and exciting event and this is a great time of the year for the world of snooker.



And so the dust has settled on the qualifiers, the final touches are being applied to the arena, players are practising, fans are packing for Sheffield and everyone is wondering what the 2013 Betfair World Championship will bring.

If it’s anything like Crucibles of years gone by then it’ll be high quality snooker, drama, entertainment, controversy, joy, elation, mental implosions, bust-ups, sportsmanship, late nights and plenty more besides.

One of the dictionary definitions of Crucible is: “A place or occasion of severe test or trial.”

You don’t say.

This small theatre-in-the-round in Sheffield is an unlikely sporting Mecca but though it has been renovated and the cast of characters and sponsors have changed over the years, there is a timeless quality to the place.

This is because the World Championship has constancy. Its format, aside from a slight lengthening of the semi-finals, has remained the same for the last 30 years. All champions in the live television age have basically had to pass the same test.

This is a tournament in which careers are defined for good or ill. Jimmy White won more titles than Joe Johnson but is forever known as the six times Crucible runner-up, and Joe for winning as a 150-1 outsider in 1986.

Ghosts of the past haunt the Crucible corridors but we have no need to wallow in nostalgia. The class of 2013 are more than capable of putting on a show to remember.

This season’s titles have been shared around the game’s top stars like a subconscious game of poker, with nobody willing to show their hand until the biggest event of them all.

Throw in the ultimate curveball in the shape of a returning Ronnie O’Sullivan, pictured here with the Betfair Golden Cue, presented to whoever makes the highest break, and you have a pot bubbling with possibilities.

Most people seem to think the top seeds will be relatively untroubled in the first week, but the point about shocks is that you don’t see them coming.

There are six debutants desperate to make an impact. There are also older warhorses for whom time is running out.

There are former champions and players who observers feel could be champions. For them all, the test is the same.

Because however much is made of who you are playing, snooker is the ultimate individual sport. You are entirely alone and, at the table, it is down to you.

So many players exit tournaments disappointed not at how well their opponent has played but by their own performance. Playing well is hard enough at this exacting sport but playing well under pressure is what separates the greats from the rest.

So there’s one more sleep before it all starts again; before lives are shaped forever by what happens on the 12 x 6.

The Crucible will lie silent tonight but tomorrow, and for the next 17 days, it will be alive again to the sound of balls being potted and dreams being made...or destroyed.



Judd Trump is my last pick as a Crucible contender and a player I have long believed could be world champion, ever since I first saw him play at the age of ten.

All ‘natural’ talents have had to work hard, and Trump is no different, but there is no doubt he seems to have an innate aptitude for snooker.

He has always had an equally large appetite for playing. Indeed, it has been his life since boyhood and, despite the trappings of success, it still excites him, just as his brand of snooker excites so many.

Some have criticised Trump’s ultra attacking style of play, usually people who have never won anything, in snooker or any other walk of life.

The truth is, he can play however he likes. It’s worked pretty well for him so far.

Stephen Hendry drew similar criticism when he broke through. Some in the game couldn’t believe he had the nerve to go for everything and, of course, pot most.

In fact, he was – laughably, looking back – labelled the ‘worst ever world champion’ in 1990 by a couple of former players.

Trump is yet to be world champion but came very close two years ago, running John Higgins to 18-15 in the final.

Last year, the wheels came off against Ali Carter. Trump led 12-9 but lost 13-12. The pressure came on. It was the end of the honeymoon.

This season he won the International Championship, plus a PTC in Bulgaria. By Christmas he had made 40 centuries but he has only made 14 since.

His season definitely dipped noticeably after losing 6-5 from 5-2 up to Mark Joyce in the first round of the UK Championship. Since then, aside from a run to the Welsh Open semi-finals, Trump’s form has not been good.

But the World Championship stands alone and there’s no reason to believe he can’t have a good run at the Crucible. What he has on his side is youth and the confidence which goes with it.

Since Ronnie O’Sullivan’s hibernation, Trump has been the go-to player for feature writers and it could work in his favour that O’Sullivan’s return have sent them all scurrying back to the defending champion, leaving Trump to prepare for the World Championship away from all the hype.

This is only Trump’s fourth Crucible appearance. On his first he was 17 and there for the experience. In 2011 he played as China Open champion and was hailed for bringing a fresh approach to the game.

Last year he was regarded as one of the favourites, as he is this year. He at least has the experience of playing in the World Championship as one of the hunted to call on.

He has the ability to obliterate opponents when scoring heavily but his tactical game is also very sound.

Like any other player this year, it’s just a question of whether or not it all comes together in sustained spells in these long matches.

If it does, Trump has every chance to make good on his long held potential.



Mark Selby has already won the season’s two biggest titles and is world no.1 so heads to the Crucible as one of the bona fide favourites for the world title.

He has not dominated the campaign but that spell in December and January, when he also won a European Tour event in Germany, was evidence of his ability to roll up his sleeves and get stuck into winning titles. He wasn’t necessarily at full flight but he did what he had to. He won.

If Selby does the hat-trick he will join a very special club. Only Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry (twice) and Mark Williams have won the UK, Masters and world titles in the same season.

Selby has not lit up the circuit in recent tournaments but that may be a blessing in disguise because mental stamina is a must for the 17 day marathon of the mind.

What a difference a year makes. Last year he turned up in Sheffield unable to play properly due to a neck complaint. In 2013 he goes there with a great chance to seize the most famous trophy of them all.

Selby’s game is far from one dimensional. He can scrap things out, and often does. He can make things difficult. He can force his opponents to lose their rhythm.

But he can also score heavily. He is the only player ever to make six centuries in a match at the Crucible. For the last two seasons he has recorded more century breaks than anyone else.

This is a (Steve) Davis, (John) Higgins-like game which, allied to a big match temperament, makes Selby hard to beat.

But his great asset is also his attitude. He has a genuine love of snooker. He enjoys playing because he loves the game.

He may enjoy the financial rewards that come with the job but he isn’t in for this. He doesn’t obsess about prize funds. He doesn’t claim he’s worth more than he’s getting.

In short, he’s playing for the right reasons. He was even sat at home watching the qualifiers. I know this because he texted me to query an obscure fact I had given out.

He was right, I was wrong. He’s a fan as well as a player.

But for all this, winning the World Championship has eluded a long list of players who seem to have been good enough to win it. Only one player can triumph each year. Selby is in a tough quarter alongside Mark Allen and Ding Junhui and there’s no reason to suppose it will get any easier thereafter.

He often gets embroiled in close matches and wins many of them. He’s a master of brinkmanship but over the long Sheffield fortnight this will be mentally draining.

The World Championship is the greatest test of any player’s career. Is Selby really up to it?

This year we may find out one way or another. He has the titles and the game to suggest he can do it.

But, of course, he still has to do it, and there are plenty of talented cuemen standing in his way.



“Some days you’re the bug and some days you’re the windscreen.”

This is how Ronnie O’Sullivan, at a press conference at the Irish Masters, once summarised the vicissitudes of life as a top sportsman.

O’Sullivan was the windscreen at last year’s World Championship, winning the title for the fourth time in 20 Crucible appearances, wiping out everyone in his path.

For once, his threats to walk away from the game proved to be accurate. But the old maxim that absence makes the heart grow fonder appears to be true in O’Sullivan’s case.

Despite announcing last November that he would not play again this season, it was obvious when he turned up to watch some of the Masters – Mark Selby v Graeme Dott at that – that O’Sullivan was missing snooker.

During one tournament he was texting one of the commentators with his views of what was happening and what certain players should be doing. The lure of the arena with its attendant buzz was too much to resist.

And now he’s back. Having played only one PTC match all season, O’Sullivan returns to where he belongs: centre stage at the home of snooker.

The atmosphere at 10am on Saturday for his first session against Marcus Campbell will surely be electric. Even the BBC, who hasn’t shown the start of the championship live on network television for a quarter of a century, will be on at 10am on BBC2.

But how will O’Sullivan do? Could he conceivably win a fifth world title having barely played since capturing a fourth?

The simple answer is yes, he could. In fact, his very absence for the last year could make him more dangerous than ever.

Why? Because nobody quite knows what to expect. There is no form guide to go on. There are no results to pick over.

Some would argue that he will be rusty, that he will have lost ground on his rivals. Others would say he will be easily the freshest and that, anyway, he plays on inspiration not form.

O’Sullivan has not simply lain idle for a year. He’s been practising. He’ll be in shape.

He won’t, of course, be match fit like the players who have been competing on the circuit but I do believe that if anyone could win the world title having not played for a year, Ronnie O’Sullivan is the man.

He once won the Masters the week after smashing up his cue. It’s exactly the sort of challenge he enjoys attempting to rise to.

He doesn’t come into the World Championship this year worn down by snooker and waiting for the season to end. This is his season.

He’s beaten Campbell four times out of four. If he comes through on the first day the event gets tougher, the opponents get sharper. Any frailties and in particular rustiness are ripe for being exposed.

In some ways O’Sullivan has always been the unknown quantity. You see him play sometimes and think he should never lose. At other times he struggles - with opponents and his own often fractious emotions.

You never know what you’re going to get but this season is slightly different: he could have sat the Crucible out. He hasn’t.

That, for his rivals, already sounds ominous.



The first round draw has been made for the Betfair World Championship.

Ronnie O'Sullivan v Marcus Campbell
Ali Carter v Ben Woollaston
Stuart Bingham v Sam Baird
John Higgins v Mark Davis
Shaun Murphy v Martin Gould
Graeme Dott v Peter Ebdon
Matthew Stevens v Marco Fu
Judd Trump v Dominic Dale
Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins
Ricky Walden v Michael Holt
Mark Williams v Michael White
Stephen Maguire v Dechawat Poomjaeng
Mark Allen v Mark King
Ding Junhui v Alan McManus
Barry Hawkins v Jack Lisowski
Mark Selby v Matt Selt


John Higgins has done little of late to suggest a fifth world title success is likely but form is not necessarily relevant for the Scot.

He was the best player of the 1997/98 season when he won his first world title and again in 2005/06 when he lost in the first round.

A year later he turned up in Sheffield after a far from outstanding season and won a second title. In 2009, he wasn’t pulling up trees and won again. Two years ago he was the player to beat and nobody did beat him.

It would be foolish to write Higgins off. He knows exactly how to win at Sheffield. If his game comes together he is capable of beating anyone. Many players will tell you he and Ronnie O’Sullivan are still the best players in the game.

Indeed, they have won the title five times between them from the last six stagings of the World Championship and this year are drawn in the same quarter, 17 years after their first Crucible meeting.

What Higgins has is the ability to mix it better than most. He always seems to know what the right shot is and invariably plays it. He has an iron tactical game and can score as heavily as anyone.

Last year he bombed out 13-4 to Stephen Hendry in the second round. It was a poor display devoid of any rhythm or confidence.

Earlier in this campaign Higgins was playing well, particularly to win the Shanghai Masters, but his concentration seems to have wavered too often since, leading to wild inconsistency of performance and results.

At the Crucible Higgins seems to play well or well below par. He is as likely to lose in the first round this year as win it.

And in some ways for a multi champion to be such an unknown quantity makes him dangerous. He, and O’Sullivan, have what most players in the field do not: an aura built on reputation. It’s one of the reasons Hendry was still doing well in the tournament after his peak.

So the form may be patchy but the record is not. Higgins’s claim on a fifth title cannot merely be dismissed because he has struggled of late.