Barnsley is not necessarily the world’s best known sporting mecca but will this week become the latest in a long line of World Snooker qualifying venues.

The Metrodome has previously been associated with ten-pin bowling but from tomorrow will play host to the International Championship qualifiers, where the field of 128 will be reduced to 64.

Qualifying venues are rarely popular with players, often precisely because they are qualifying venues.

Blackpool, Newport, Stoke, Hereford, Prestatyn, Burton-on-Trent…not destinations for a Michael Palin travelogue series but former qualifying venues, hosts to thousands of matches, the vast majority now long forgotten.

Qualifiers are no fun for anyone. It’s all about getting through to the main venue, in this case many thousands of miles away in Chengdu. Defeat means few people recognise you were ever in the tournament to start with.

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s qualifier is against Joel Walker, a young lad he mentored three years ago on the Riley Futurestars programme.

Judd Trump, who pocketed £125,000 for winning the inaugural staging of the event last year, faces Cao Xinlong.

World no.1 Neil Robertson takes on Li Hang of China. Mark Selby, second in the world rankings, meets Londoner Martin O’Donnell.

Where might the shocks come?

Stephen Maguire could be vulnerable against Davy Morris, a quarter-finalist in the season-opening Wuxi Classic.

Mark Allen faces China’s Chen Zhe, known as ‘Sleepy’ but looking to give the Northern Irishman a wake-up call.

Shaun Murphy has so far suffered defeat in the last 128 of the first two ranking events to adopt the ‘flat’ system so will be looking to avoid an unwelcome hat-trick against Chris Keogan.

Matches are best of 11 frames. The International Championship was a prestigious innovation last season and a welcome addition to the calendar.

Not everyone can get to Barnsley on a Tuesday afternoon to watch snooker but, for those who can, entry is free.

And on Thursday it’s the qualifiers for the World Seniors Championship with a chance to glimpse some stars of yesteryear – Mike Hallett, Patsy Fagan and Dean Reynolds among them.



There are many reasons to welcome the new Champion of Champions event.

It’s a return to host broadcasting by ITV. There’s £100,000 to the winner. It’s another tournament in the UK, the game’s traditional home.

But more than anything, it’s welcome because it’s NOT a ranking event. Instead, it is purely for the elite: players who have won titles. There’s no talk of points, seedings or cut-offs. It’s all about prestige.

Every sport has events like this. They are additional rewards for those who have been successful.

Of course, the Masters has been the sport’s leading invitation tournament for the last four decades. The Masters is special precisely because it’s for the top 16. It stands out because it isn’t a ranking event.

But so many other good and popular invite-only events have fallen by the wayside. And that’s a shame.

The Irish Masters was a terrific event. Played at the Goffs showring in Kildare – a bearpit like atmosphere – it was 12 top players and it was a huge deal for a quarter of a century.

Then in 2003 it was given ranking status and the whole feel of the event changed (though this was admittedly also due to a venue and sponsor change). It hasn’t been staged since 2005.

The Scottish Masters – first sponsored by Langs in the 1980s and then revived by Regal – was another prestigious, invitation only tournament which had its own distinctive feel. Events in Belgium, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other places all flew the flag for snooker. Look at Steve Davis’s record of career wins and at how many long forgotten titles he won.

The pioneer of invitation events is the man now broadly against them: Barry Hearn.

It was Hearn’s energy and entrepreneurship which saw tournaments taken to then unlikely corners of the globe in the 1980s: Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Dubai among them.

Hearn’s stable boasted many of the best players of the day, in particular the world no.1, Davis. What his events did was test the water and prove that markets for snooker existed in these countries. Invariably the WPBSA then pitched up and put on ranking tournaments off the back of Hearn’s initial hard work.

These days Hearn has changed hats. He is no longer just an independent promoter but the chairman of World Snooker, with 128 players to think about.

Even so, if the strategy from now on is to have a ranking event in a particular country or nothing then this seems like an opportunity lost.

You need a lot of money to stage a ranking tournament: there’s venue hire, operating costs and the prize fund, not all of which are offset by ticket sales, sponsorship and broadcast money.

Invitation events, with their smaller fields, are cheaper and have the virtue of taking the snooker temperature in any given country.

For instance, a tournament was taken to Brazil in 2011. It hasn’t been held since but does not seem to have financially damaged the governing body.

How different to the 2008 Bahrain Championship, a full ranking event which reportedly inflicted on the WPBSA a six figure loss.

Some would say that tournaments should be open to all professionals. I think most should be but there should surely also be room for eight, 12 or 16 man events which are over more quickly and showcase the star names. After all, the world no.100 currently has a choice of around 25 events to play in, hardly a famine.

One of the problems with invitation events is the thorny issue of who exactly is invited. It’s fair to say criteria for various competitions has been elastic down the years (one year Hearn shrewdly made up an eight man field in China with seven players from his stable and Rex Williams, the then WPBSA chairman).

Darren Morgan once won the Irish Masters, lost 9-8 in the final the following year and was never invited back.

Then again, it’s a harsh fact of the commercial world that promoters can invite whoever they like.

Another concern with invitation events is that without the ranking system underpinning them they are meaningless. It’s true that some have felt this way in the past, particularly when players have looked relatively uninterested, but a large prize fund tends to focus the mind.

To most TV viewers, snooker is snooker. It is meaningful if it is being played to a high standard and more so if it’s being played by people they recognise.

The main thing, of course, is that there is so much snooker now. But there’s a danger tournaments may be getting too long – the UK Championship this season will last 13 days.

It strikes me that mainland Europe is the area most ripe for some small, short invitation events.

Germany is a growth area but there are many other countries which want events but probably could not financially sustain a full blown ranking tournament or even a PTC.

History tells us that today’s invitation event is often tomorrow’s ranking tournament. This is why the door should remain open on them, or at the very least ajar.



Stephen Lee has been suspended from professional snooker for 12 years after being found guilty of seven counts of match fixing.

The ban period starts in October 2012 when Lee was originally suspended, meaning he cannot play on the tour until 2024, when he will be 50.

So this is effectively a life ban for the biggest snooker corruption case ever prosecuted.

Lee, who has also been ordered to pay £40,000 costs, has the right of appeal.



Some items of snooker news for this new week…


·         Firstly, well done to Ding Junhui for winning the seventh world ranking title of his career with a 10-6 victory over Xiao Guodong at the Shanghai Masters. This was Ding’s first major win on home soil since he captured the 2005 China Open but one suspects it won’t be such a long wait for his next.


·         Ding’s success was also good news for Shaun Murphy, who is now confirmed as part of the new Champion of Champions event in Coventry in November. With 14 of the 16 places already filled by tournament winners and only one counting event left – the Indian Open – Murphy will fill one space because he is the next highest ranked player not to have won a title.


·         The ITV4 commentary team for the Champion of Champions tournament will be Clive Everton, Neal Foulds and Alan McManus. Jill Douglas will present.


·         Some ghastly news in the Mail on Sunday yesterday that the UK house where Thai players including Passakorn Suwannawat and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon – both under investigation for match fixing – live was subjected to an arson attack in August. Investigations are on-going as to whether this is linked to the allegations.


·         The Indian Open will not be broadcast on TV in Europe and indeed the first two days won’t be broadcast anywhere, including in India. This is a welcome new event in a potentially important new market but has been concertinaed into five days with 64 players plus wildcards taking part. The final is just best of nine frames and the tournament concludes on a Friday. TV is snooker’s shop window. Snooker needs to make sure its events remain TV friendly.


·         Ronnie O’Sullivan’s follow-up to his 2003 autobiography will be released on October 10. ‘Running’ will cover O’Sullivan’s life since that first book and, as the title suggests, his love of running.


·         The second Asian Tour event of the campaign is underway in China. The excellent snooker.org is updating scores throughout.



Ding Junhui will play Xiao Guodong in the first all Chinese world ranking event final ever staged at the Shanghai Masters on Sunday.

Xiao beat Michael Holt 6-3 in the first semi-final while Ding survived a bruising, hard fought match with Barry Hawkins 6-2.

Xiao becomes the fifth Asian player to reach a world ranking tournament final after James Wattana of Thailand, Marco Fu of Hong Kong, Ding and China’s Liang Wenbo.

An all Chinese final was unthinkable before the 2005 China Open in Beijing. I don’t think many people realise how close the whole China boom came to not happening.

The China Open had been staged for four seasons up until 2002 when financial problems at the WPBSA saw the circuit start to shrink.

Two executives soon to be dismissed by the WPBSA (despite being rather good) managed to cobble together a one year deal to resurrect the event in 2005. A stipulation was that the talented then 17 year-old Ding appear in the field, so he had to withdraw from the qualifiers and play instead as a wildcard.

Hence, he received no prize money and actually went down the rankings despite winning the title. It was a sensational achievement. He beat Fu, Peter Ebdon, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry and single-handedly sparked a surge in interest – from the public and, crucially, sponsors - which has led to five ranking events in China, plus plenty more playing opportunities and prize money for players.

Ding obviously starts favourite. He has displayed great patience this week, employing a formidable safety game in among some heavy scoring. His concentration has been exemplary.

But Xiao has also impressed. He doesn’t show many outward signs of pressure. When the chance came to beat Holt he did so with a century in the last frame.

China has been waiting a while for another major title contender. Liang has gone backwards since his appearance in the 2009 Shanghai final but Xiao’s emergence could be good news for Ding – taking the pressure of expectation off his shoulders so that it can be shared with someone else.

Ding has not won a major title in China since that Beijing win eight and a half years ago but he remains a world class talent whose best may yet be ahead of him.

Either way, it will be an historic day.



So a big day beckons at the Shanghai Masters for Michael Holt and Xiao Guodong, one of whom will end it in their first ranking tournament final.

Holt showed good attitude and poise in beating Kyren Wilson 5-1. Xiao fought back strongly from 4-2 down to defeat Mark Davis 5-4, although Davis seemed to feel the pressure towards the end.

The difference between these two maiden semi-finalists is that Holt has waited a long time for it – 17 years in fact.

He has won two PTC titles, beating John Higgins in the final of one, but this week represents a huge step forward for the likeable if volatile Nottingham man.

What he seems to be doing at the moment is playing the balls rather than the occasion. In other words, he is not thinking about what it all means but just concentrating on each frame.

If Xiao wins it could set up an historic all Chinese ranking final as Ding Junhui has probably played the best snooker of the tournament and has Barry Hawkins as his opponent in the second semi-final.

That said, Hawkins has a very good record against him, winning all their TV encounters, and came back from 4-2 down to edge Mark Selby 5-4 in their quarter-final.

But whatever the ‘zone’ is, Ding looks to be in it. What’s particularly impressed has been his tactical game. Employing shrewd, mature safety he has demonstrated the patience required to win matches against world class players.

There would be no more popular winner this weekend. It’s been eight and a half years since Ding won the 2005 China Open as an 18 year-old.

The boy has become a man. He can be inconsistent but when he plays well he’s a fearsome prospect.

Hawkins beat him at the World Championship and has every reason to be confident, so it could be a great game. The first semi-final, on the other hand, is surely going to be tense with such a huge prize at stake.



Snooker needed a good day and today it had one.

The Shanghai Masters, really well attended, saw some thrilling action, close matches, exemplary sportsmanship and is left with an intriguing quarter-final line up.

The two halves are somewhat unbalanced. The top half sees four players who have never been in a ranking final. The bottom has four players who have won 18 ranking titles between them.

Kyren Wilson, at his first major venue, impressed again to see off Marco Fu, making the tournament’s highest break so far – 133 – in the process.

Wilson has done this under the old, much maligned ‘tiered’ qualifying system, which proves you can make progress whatever the format if you’re good enough, and he seems to be (as an aside, he has also impressed journalists with his easy going nature and way with words).

He now plays Michael Holt, who battled through an unbelievably tense decider to beat Martin Gould on the final pink.

Holt is much better in high pressure situations than he used to be. Gould gave it his all but eventually left the blue on and Holt did the rest. If he beats Wilson he’ll be through to the first ranking semi-final of his professional career.

Mark Davis beat John Higgins again and now plays Xiao Guodong. Davis would be favourite on paper to come through this half but that in itself brings a new pressure to bear: he must see this as a great chance to reach a major final.

Then we had the drama of the evening session in which Mark Selby did the old master of brinkmanship act to edge Robert Milkins 5-4 on the final black having trailed 4-2.

He faces Barry Hawkins, the man who knocked him out at the Crucible last season, who has moved quietly into the quarter-finals for the loss of only two frames.

Neil Robertson is hoping to do something unprecedented: win three successive ranking titles in China, having captured the China Open at the end of last season and the Wuxi Classic at the start of the current campaign.

He scrapped through to beat Mark King 5-3 and now faces Ding Junhui, who won the match of the tournament so far in beating Shaun Murphy 5-4.

This contest had it all: big breaks, good safety and bags of tension. Ding played a solid decider, at one point trapping Murphy in a fiendish snooker behind the yellow which Murphy very nearly escaped from second time around.

Shaun’s behaviour throughout this and in the moments of defeat were a credit to him and the sport. He conducted himself with great integrity, signing autographs afterwards instead of stomping off in a sulk.

The crowd loved it, they loved the match and they may be daring to hope for a Ding success at the weekend. He’s playing well enough but first has to get through a brutal half of the draw.

Off table, Ronnie O’Sullivan rowed back on his earlier comments about match-fixing in a statement released this afternoon.

Some have had a go at him for it being a PR move or done to escape disciplinary action but for me his statement is as welcome as his original tweets were unwelcome. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of contrition.

O’Sullivan’s tweets were not ‘taken out of context’ as he claims. In fact, they were taken very much in context. But I’m glad he has said what he did, even though you can be sure they won’t receive the sort of coverage the original comments did.

In general, I’m not sure it matters how long ago match fixing has happened. If there is evidence then it should be investigated, within reason – it’s a bit late to do Joe and Fred Davis for ensuring a frame of snooker lasted 15 minutes to fill the gaps between horse races on Grandstand.

Anyway, a good day and a fascinating conclusion to the tournament looms in Shanghai.



Yes, snooker goes on and the Shanghai Masters yesterday saw a terrific display and victory by Michael Holt, who beat Judd Trump 5-1.

This was a big win for Holt, who like most players needs confidence to drive his performances. To beat the world no.3 so comprehensively live on television is just what the snooker doctor (whoever he is) ordered.

Holt is very much a heart-on-the-sleeve player but not quite the jumble of emotions he once was.

The question is: can he now turn this good win into a long run through a ranking event? He’s never been past the quarter-final stage, which seems crazy for a player so talented.

I was also again very impressed by Mark Davis, who continues to prove the life begins at 40 maxim.

Back-to-back centuries were the cornerstone of him claiming a 3-0 lead over Ali Carter, although Carter missed a black in the sixth frame when well placed to make it 3-3, which seemed to give Davis second wind.

Things didn’t turn out as David Grace would have been hoping on his debut in the final stages of a ranking tournament. He lost 5-0 to Barry Hawkins, who brought his greater experience to bear.

Today, Kyren Wilson finds himself in the same boat against Stuart Bingham but does have the advantage of having recently beaten Shaun Murphy in a televised match at the Paul Hunter Classic.

A shout-out – to use a ghastly local radio phrase – to Peter Lines, who recovered from 4-1 down to beat Matthew Stevens 5-4, a massive win for the Leeds man.

Today, Ding Junhui will once again raise hopes of local success but faces a tough encounter with Dave Gilbert, who has beaten him in all three of their previous meetings.

Gilbert – in my opinion – is an example of a player better than his ranking. He can look really impressive but needs to put it all together more regularly.

Today would be the perfect time to start.



Does snooker have a match fixing problem?


Do most other sports have a match fixing problem?



Because ever since there have been games, people have cheated at games. To have even one match a year not contested honestly constitutes a problem because the bedrock of any sport is its integrity.

Ronnie O’Sullivan today issued a broad-brush allegation that there was plenty more match fixing in snooker. If he has any evidence of this he should present it to the authorities, otherwise his actions are akin to walking past a burning house and lobbing a can of petrol through the window.

O’Sullivan is the highest profile figure in the sport and he must have known before he tweeted that his accusations would receive plenty of media coverage. They should be examined and he should be asked to explain them.

In general, players should report malpractice or suspected malpractice. Too many of them live by some daft code that says a ‘grass’ is worse than someone who cheats.

This may be true if you’re 12 years old or in The Sopranos but in the world of sport the only way to stop cheating is to root out cheats. Stephen Lee isn’t a scapegoat, he’s someone who has been shown to have fixed the results of matches. Anyone else found to have done the same should face similar sanction.

O’Sullivan would be right if he claimed snooker had been historically bad at dealing with all of this.

I recall going to a tournament in Aberdeen early in my journalistic career where I was anecdotally told the results of three matches before they were played. The prevailing view backstage was that this was all a bit of a laugh, as if the players in question were entitled to lose on purpose with no consequences.

I know of a match in a ranking event where the referee afterwards went to the tournament office to state for the record that he believed one of the players had lost on purpose.

I know of another referee who actually overheard two players arranging the result of a match in a round robin tournament. His complaint went nowhere.

It’s all too easy to be sanctimonious about the Lee case but what does genuinely offend me is that he chose to fix a match at the World Championship.

I first visited the Crucible when I was 13, starry-eyed at snooker’s theatre of dreams. I knew I would never play there but Lee had talent sufficient to be world champion. Instead, he chose to dishonour the venue, the tournament and the sport.

Let’s be clear, though: sport is not pure and never has been. Neither are the people who watch it. Every human being on the planet is a mass of contradictions and paradoxical attitudes which they employ only when convenient to them.

As we’ve seen in the spheres of politics and religion, the biggest moralisers are usually the biggest hypocrites.

Why do sports people cheat? Because everyone else does. All the time.

Does it make it acceptable? No. But let’s not pretend it doesn’t go on.

Snooker does not receive anything like the media coverage it once did, certainly in the UK. All too often the only stories the general public notices concern match-fixing, which makes the link that snooker has a problem.

Actually, it has no greater problem than any other sport. Neither does it suffer from drugs use like athletics, cycling and other sports yet to properly address this issue.

But there is a more serious problem: I genuinely think some players don’t understand why it is wrong.

Players who cheat are very often – indeed almost always – influenced by the curious collection of people with whom they choose to surround themselves. So many ‘managers’ down the years have been exposed as con-artists but players have usually been the last to see it, leading to financial difficulties and, I suppose, the greater likelihood of corruption.

The explosion in internet betting has led to greater temptation but should not be used as an excuse, any more than the captain of the Titanic should have blamed the iceberg.

The integrity unit, set up after John Higgins was caught in a News of the World sting in 2010, is the most rigorous body snooker has had for rooting out corruption, although this wouldn’t be difficult as it is the only body the game has ever had for this purpose. It is certainly a welcome step up from what happened 15 or so years ago when betting was suspended on two qualifying matches and the WPBSA’s solution was to send one of its board members into the arena to watch both matches simultaneously before concluding ‘there was nothing in it.’

Niger Mawer has been forensic in gathering evidence and presenting a case. But this case has been easier to prosecute than any that demands evidence from, for instance, Asian bookmakers. The battle goes on and it’s getting harder and harder.

As a boy watching snooker on TV, I would never have believed the players I admired could be capable of cheating. Such idealism disappeared almost the minute I began working in a sport full of great people but also operating in the real world, with its often distasteful realities.

Is snooker clean? No, not completely. Neither is any other sport or, indeed, any other walk of life.

To pretend otherwise is to indulge in dangerous self-delusion. But to hope the players of the future properly regard the sport whose fate rests in their hands is to hope that the message has finally got through: making a living from the game is a privilege, not a right. Treat it with respect.



I've covered most of Stephen Lee's professional career. I was present at all five of his ranking title victories and have interviewed him many times.

His has been a fine career but today it ended in disgrace. It seems likely he will be handed a lengthy ban.

Lee was a member of the class of ’92, part of golden generation of teenagers who had grown up during the British snooker boom when the game was a major television attraction.

Born in Wiltshire in 1974, he had a multitude of junior tournaments in which to play as snooker took a foothold in the sporting landscape of the UK during the 1980s.

The junior events were highly competitive due to the sheer number of entrants and helped forge some formidable talents ready to turn professional. Lee was among the leading lights poised to do some damage in the pro ranks after he won the 1992 English amateur title at the age of 18.

And so to the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool a few weeks later where Lee lined up with hundreds of other hopefuls. The professional game had gone open the previous year and the Norbreck ballroom heaved with new faces, old stagers, solid match players and the deluded.

Lee was certainly one to watch, as were his contemporaries Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, all of whom were also taking their first steps on the pro ladder.

Lee fared well that first season, at one point winning six successive qualifying matches by way of whitewash and racking up a record run of 33 consecutive frames. He would go on to reach the quarter-finals of the European Open and finished his debut season 101st in the world rankings – higher than both Higgins and Williams.

He did not quite match the pace of O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams, either in the next few seasons or his career as a whole, but his overall record makes him one of the most successful players of the last 15 years.

Lee’s major professional breakthrough came at the 1998 Grand Prix, in which he defeated Marco Fu 9-2 in the final, a brilliant performance which included two centuries and eight half centuries.

In addition, Lee beat Fu, Stephen Hendry and O’Sullivan to win the 1999 Millennium Cup invitation title in Hong Kong. He finished runner-up in the 1999 Irish Masters – losing 9-8 to Hendry from 8-4 up – and the China Open later that year.

Lee was edged 9-8 by Higgins in the 2000 Welsh Open final. I remember his father, Colin, back then a regular on the circuit, sitting watching every ball in agony in the pressroom.

Lee, over whose silky smooth cue action many purred, was by now firmly ensconced in the top 16. In 2001 he won a second ranking title, the LG Cup in Preston. Victory was all the sweeter because of who he beat in the final.

Six months earlier, he had been beaten 13-12 by Peter Ebdon in the second round of the World Championship. In the decider, Ebdon celebrated triumphantly after potting a black to leave Lee requiring two snookers, even though the match was not, strictly speaking, over.

I was the only journalist to interview Lee afterwards. I went up to his dressing room and could see he was furious. Part of this was the disappointment of losing such a close match, but he turned his fire on Ebdon: “It was over the top. It wasn’t sporting behaviour. He should leave that kind of thing in the dressing room. I hope Ronnie beats him. I couldn’t handle it if he won the tournament.”

The summer came and went and we found ourselves at the first event of the new season, the Scottish Masters. It was Lee who immediately brought up the Ebdon incident and it was clear time had not been a healer: “If he doesn’t apologise to me then I won’t play in the Nations Cup with him” (they were due to play together for England, but the event was ultimately cancelled).

So Lee’s 9-4 defeat of Ebdon was a source of great satisfaction and proved how much – back then – winning and losing meant to him.

Lee won the 2002 Scottish Open and 2006 Welsh Open, was runner-up in the 2002 Thailand Masters and a semi-finalist at the 2003 World Championship. Having achieved a highest ranking of fifth, he remained in the top 16 until 2008, his form becoming patchier and playing opportunities fewer.

It was in the period that followed that he is judged by the investigation to have deliberately lost frames and matches.

The irony is that he was very much back to his best by the time he was suspended following a Premier League match last year.

In the second half of the 2011/12 campaign he reached the German Masters semi-finals, Welsh Open quarter-finals, World Open final, China Open semi-finals and won the PTC Grand Finals in Galway, his fifth world ranking title.

When his career came to a premature halt last October, Lee had earned just over £2m in career prize money, but we have no record of how much he spent.

Off table, like most players, he was down to earth and good company. He seemed to be well liked on the circuit.

Stories of suspicious performances emerged but hard evidence did not. Lee was arrested in 2010 but the police investigation was dropped.

The WPBSA’s integrity unit did pursue the case and the Sports Resolutions inquiry has now found him guilty of cheating the sport he once dreamed of simply being a part. The evidence against him is both damning and shaming.


Stephen Lee has today been found guilty of seven counts of match fixing and will discover his punishment on September 24.

The WPBSA statement published on worldsnooker.com details the matches and bets placed by those close to Lee.

In total, £111,000 was bet on the seven matches, with winnings totalling £97,000. On one occasion, money from a successful bet was placed in Lee’s wife’s bank account.

Lee, 39, has not played professionally since he was suspended last October after losing a match in the Premier League. The investigation into this match was subsequently dropped.

A ‘significant sanction’ is expected when punishment is passed down next week.



So to Shanghai, one of the great cities of the world and playing host to the first major ranking event for two months.

The Shanghai Masters was first held in 2007 but Shanghai had staged events before this, in 1999 and 2002. The Grand Stage is a formidable venue and the event always comes across well.

The organisers wanted nothing to do with the new ‘flat’ system because the old one worked fine for them, which is why it’s the top 16 plus 16 qualifiers.

Graeme Dott, who won the 2007 China Open in Shanghai, is never one to mince words and put it thus in a local newspaper interview last week: “It’s a proper tournament, played at a proper venue under proper conditions.”

There are also eight wildcards, two of whom could knock out Chinese players before the last 32, which seems to slightly defeat the purpose.

Ding Junhui will, as ever, shoulder much of the expectation but he’s in a tough quarter that includes Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson.

John Higgins won a terrific final last year, coming from 7-2 down to beat Judd Trump 10-9. The two could meet again in the semi-finals.

Trump certainly needs a run to get some confidence on board after a slow start to the campaign. However, it is a long season and there have only been two ranking events so far (one of which he didn’t enter).

It seems people spend the first half of every season saying, at various points, that ‘the season starts here.’ Actually it started in May, but players can’t be expected to maintain the same intensity for 11 months.

The usual suspects will provide the usual challenge. Mark Selby was champion two years ago and is in the opposite half to Higgins and Trump.

Mark Allen may not be the world’s most enthusiastic traveller but has won two titles in China and is always a dangerman.

A first round match to savour – and it’s live on Eurosport on Tuesday morning – is Mark Davis v Ali Carter.

Carter had dropped out of the top 16 while recovering from testicular cancer and had to qualify. Davis has just won not only the Six Reds world title but also the General Cup in Hong Kong, in which he once again beat Robertson in the final.

It’s also a big week for David Grace and Kyren Wilson, who have each qualified for the final stages of a ranking event for the first time, proving that, whatever the system, it can be done.

Grace is a denizen of the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds, one of the country’s oldest and certainly best clubs. He plays Barry Hawkins in the first round.

Wilson spent his 18th birthday doing a parachute jump, so can probably cope with the pressure. Indeed, he beat Shaun Murphy in Furth and provides the first round opposition in Shanghai for Stuart Bingham.

I think you only feel like a professional when you’re at a major venue, and travelling to China accentuates this. It’s a sign that you’ve arrived, but there is also much to get used to – jetlag, the red carpet treatment, playing conditions etc.

I suspect the snooker headlines this week will be dominated by the outcome of the Stephen Lee case, but the game goes on, and in Shanghai it has a great showcase. The action begins on Monday.



The Stephen Lee hearing has ended in Bristol and a judgement is expected within the next few days.

Lee was charged with several counts of match fixing. The three day hearing was heard by Sports Resolutions UK and chaired by Adam Lewis QC.

Lewis has returned to London to consider the evidence and is likely to present his verdict on Friday or possibly early next week.

Lee, a former world no.5 and five times ranking event winner, was suspended last October.