Betfred.com World Championship
The last stretch of the 17-day marathon is in front of us, though for Judd Trump the finish line must still look a long way ahead. He needs eight more frames today to become the second youngest ever World Champion, just a few months older than Stephen Hendry was in 1990. He has lit up this tournament with his devastating and stylish brand of snooker, and he must feel that the only fitting ending to this remarkable story would be to lift the trophy tonight. But Higgins, the established master, will not lie down and let the young pretender take the crown. The three-times champion looked jaded last night, perhaps the cumulative effect of draining battles against Rory McLeod, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Williams. But he will surely summon one final and massive effort to overturn the 7-10 deficit. Over the past six months, Higgins has shown an admirable capacity to clear his mind when he is involved in a match, and focus on nothing but the job in hand. He will be fiercely determined to stop a free-flowing opponent in his tracks. It looks sure to be a fascinating climax to the snooker season.
Betfred.com think that Trump is likely to finish the job. They rate him 8/13 odds-on favourite, with Higgins 13/10 against. The shortest priced scorelines are 18-14 and 18-15 to Trump, and 18-16 and 18-17 to Higgins, all at 7/1.
Some very funny (if somewhat controversial) suggestions for lyrics for the new version of Snooker Loopy are on Snookerbacker's blog.
Here are the key stats going into today's final...
John Higgins is playing in his fifth World Championship final. He beat Ken Doherty in the 1998 final, Mark Selby in 2007 and Shaun Murphy in 2009. The only final he lost was against Ronnie O'Sullivan in 2001. Victory would give him his fourth title, moving him one ahead of O'Sullivan and make him the only player other than Stephen Hendry (seven) and Steve Davis (six) to lift the trophy more than three times at the Crucible. Age 35 and 11 months, he could be the oldest winner since Dennis Taylor in 1985.
Victory would give Higgins his 24th ranking title, leaving him just four behind Davis (28), though still a long way behind Hendry (36). It would be his third ranking title of the season, as he also won the 12BET.com UK Championship in December and the Wyldecrest Park Homes Welsh Open in February. He has won 17 of his last 18 matches in ranking events.
Wishaw's Higgins has conceded 36 frames on his way to the final.
The Scot will be ranked No 2 in the world at the start of next season (behind Mark Williams) regardless of the outcome.
At 21 years and 254 days, Trump is the second youngest ever world finalist, after Stephen Hendry who was 21 years 106 days when he won the 1990 final against Jimmy White.
Trump, who comes from Bristol but now lives in Romford, is the 26th player to play in the world final at the Crucible. It's the second year in a row that a player has come from the qualifying rounds to reach the final, as Graeme Dott did so last year.
The left-hander will be ninth in the world rankings, regardless of the final result.
He is aiming for his second world ranking title, having scored his maiden success at the Bank of Beijing China Open last month, beating Mark Selby 10-8 in the final.
Both players won an event on the Players Tour Championship Series this season: Trump at EPTC1 - the Paul Hunter Classic - and Higgins at EPTC5 on his comeback from a six-month ban.
Trump has conceded 34 frames en route to the final.
Betfred were offering 2/5 on Higgins before the match started, with Trump 7/4
What an impressive start to the semi-finals by Judd Trump, who did not look remotely intimidated by the different atmosphere of the one-table set-up. His century break in the second frame finished with some flamboyant exhibition style pots, which caused Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry in the BBC studio to compare him to a young Jimmy White. Judd is being watched here by dad Steve and brother Jack. In 2005, Jack suffered a brain haemorrage which threatened his life, but fortunately made a full recovery. He is also a talented snooker player and won the English under-15 title in 2006, but has since turned his attentions to golf.
Following the visit of Jarvis Cocker last night (look out for a picture of him on this website tomorrow), today we had boxers Kell Brook and Ryan Rhodes among the crowd. Celebs heading for the Crucible over the weekend include Westlife's Shane Filan and BBC newsreader Huw Edwards.
Just an update on the rankings situation: Mark Williams will finish the season as World No 1, with Mark Selby No 2 if both Ding Junhui and John Higgins lose in the semi-finals. Ding and Higgins can both go ahead of Selby by reaching the final. Another by-product of Selby's defeat last night is that he will miss out on next season's Premier League, with World Seniors Champion Jimmy White invited instead.
Up until the end of the first semi-final session, we've had 59 centuries. The record of 83 is surely out of reach, but ten more would make it the second biggest total ever. Here's a list of the totals over the past ten years:
Eight players still in the Championship, and by the end of today we'll be down to four. Mark Williams looks strong favourite to be the first man through to the semis. He finished the second session superbly last night against Mark Allen, winning the last three frames to lead 11-5. Victory would put the Welshman into the last four for the first time since he won the title in 2003.
Ronnie O'Sullivan has been dishing out plenty of praise on Twitter this morning. A few excerpts: "Nice to see Ding playing well...He is my Chinese brother." "Williams is looking good...Class act he is. Also Trump is doing what I thought he was capable of...Great talent!!" The Rocket also reveals that he had three boiled eggs with toast for breakfast, then his tea went cold. Bit too much information perhaps.
The prize money at this stage goes through the roof, at least doubling in every round. Losing quarter-finalists get £24,050, if they win they are guaranteed £52,000. The runner-up gets £125,000 and the winner £250,000.
Williams' run to the last four means that Mark Selby is the only player who can beat him in the race to become the new World No 1. If Williams loses in the semis and Selby wins the title, then the Leicester player will top the list. But Selby is currently 7-5 down to Ding, so Williams may already have done enough.
Could we have asked for a better quarter-final line-up? Four excellent matches in prospect, and all of them tough to call. Judd Trump looks his usual happy-go-lucky self at the venue this morning, he's having the time of his life and just can't wait to get back out in the arena. His opponent Graeme Dott is like his favourite drink Irn Bru: made from girders. Dott will make it as difficult as he can for Trump, and the determined Scot will take some stopping as he strives to take another step towards his fourth Crucible final. The other match this morning is a battle of the two Marks, Allen and Williams. Like Trump, Allen has already exceeded his own expectations, and that makes him a dangerous opponent with nothing to lose. Williams has looked very, very solid so far but is about to undergo his toughest test of the campaign.
As of the start of play this morning, Betfred make Mark Selby the 11/4 favourite for the title. Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins are 4/1, followed by Williams 5/1, Ding Junhui 13/2, Trump 10/1, Dott 12/1 and Allen 16/1.
Barry Hearn will be here at 12pm for a press conference, with a few more announcements lined up. Look out for those on the main news page later today.
In total we've had 44 centuries in the first two rounds. Mark King still leads the way with his 138. The last time that the highest break of the tournament was under 140 was 1987, when Steve Davis topped the list with 127.
Hundreds of you have entered the competition to win a John Parris cue, so no doubt it will be calculators at the ready over the next couple of days as you work out the total number of points scored in the four quarter-finals.
Before the start of the evening session, Rob Walker finds a fan in the crowd with what is surely the poshest name of anyone who has ever been to watch snooker: Jonathan Lycander Minstrel Roach-Ellis.
Plenty of good stories for the press today, but surely the biggest is the fact that Stephen Hendry, snooker's greatest ever player, may have just played his last match at the Crucible, and indeed his last professional match. After losing 13-4 to Mark Selby, he said he would think about it over the next few weeks, and that the result of the Ding v Bingham match would be a factor, as victory for Bingham would knock Hendry out of the top 16. There was a sense of finality about the post-match press conference, with Hendry asked to reflect on his Crucible achievements. The fact that he admitted coming here without realistic hope of winning the title was significant, as he has said in the past that once the hope is gone, the motivation for him to continue dies with it. At the end of the press conference, the Scot was given a round of applause by the media: a poignant moment.
Hendry will be seen again at the Crucible this year as he'll be back for the semi-finals to commentate for BBC.
Jonanthan Liew has an entertaining piece in the Telegraph today, in which he places Judd Trump in the centre of a Venn Diagram with circles marked 'Outrageous Talent', 'Great Name' and 'Amazing Hair'. He says Trump "has the entertainer's touch, the magician's patter and the raw, skittish electricity that are a requirement of any sportsman with designs on the public's affections." Liew adds that with a name like Judd Trump, "he should be picking pockets in a Dickens novel." In contrast, the Star lead with the headline 'Ronnie: Essex Amy Saved My Life' - based on a tweet from O'Sullivan about the TV Show 'The Only Way Is Essex'
The Telegraph also reports that Steve Davis will host a prog-rock music show on BBC Radio 6 this summer, filling in for Jarvis Cocker when the Pulp singer goes on tour. Davis has plenty of experience behind the mic, as for several years he has hosted a weekly show on Phoenix FM, which goes out in the Brentwood area.
Sheffield Steelers ice hockey players Rod Sarich and Kevin Bolibruck are in the media seats tonight, watching Ding Junhui v Stuart Bingham.
So, half way through the Championship, and what a good one it has been so far. Close matches, top class snooker, big names in form, interesting off-table stories, a row about slow play and much more. Nine more days of this to look forward to.
Four frames have been completed this morning, and John Higgins and Ding Junhui are yet to get on the scoreboard. They trail Rory McLeod and Stuart Bingham respectively 2-0. No one is giving McLeod a chance of beating Higgins, but would it be any more of a shock than Steve Davis ditching the Wizard at the same stage last year? One thing's for sure, Higgins will have to remain patient through the scrappy frames, and wait for his chance to string some breaks together.
What an extraordinary frame to finish off the Mark Selby v Stephen Hendry session. Selby needed four snookers at 22-70 with one red left. He got two, then fouled the pink himself, then got three more and cleared up to win. Throughout Hendry's career, he has rarely played for snookers when he's needed more than one, preferring to get on with the next frame. The cat-and-mouse stuff has never been a strong part of his game, mainly because he didn't need it when he was blowing opponents away with barrages of high breaks. Would Selby have played on needing four snookers against John Higgins, Steve Davis or Ken Doherty? Not a chance. But it's the Leicester player's own break-building which will make the headlines as he became the first player to make six centuries in a match as the Crucible. For Hendry, it's very much a taste of his own medicine. He still holds the record for the most tons in one match, as he made an amazing seven in beating Doherty 10-5 in the 1994 UK Championship final.
In winning the last two frames of their afternoon session, Shaun Murphy has kept his tie with Ronnie O'Sullivan very much in the balance. O'Sullivan leads 9-7: with the same advantage he lost 13-11 to Mark Allen in the last 16 in 2009 and 13-11 to Selby in the quarter-finals last year.
Martin Gould starts 11-5 down today against Judd Trump, but will have no doubt that the scoreline can be over-turned. That's because he lost 13-12 to Neil Robertson, from 11-5 up, a year ago.
It's Barry Hawkins' 32nd birthday today, and it will be an extra special celebration tonight if he can beat Mark Allen. Hawkins leads 5-3 and Betfred.com can't decide who's favourite to win the match, so they're both 5/6.
Plenty of coverage in the papers today, most of it previewing Ronnie O'Sullivan v Shaun Murphy, which promises to be one of the best ever second round matches at the Crucible. The Sun go with the headline He's Ronnie of Spartacus - Murphy Ready For Ronnie Duel. And in the Express and Mail, Murphy talks about his intention to go into politics once his snooker career is over. "I'd like to blow politics apart, go in and tell everyone how it is," says the 2005 World Champion. "Maybe I'd start my own 'Truth' party. If you're doing that, you'd want the top job, so I'd probably want to be Prime Minister."
Trump's dad Steve is up in the Crucible balcony watching his son - and how proud he must be. Judd's parents have never had a holiday abroad because they devoted all their resources into the young talent's snooker career. Now the rewards are coming.
Allen v Hawkins is being played in a good spirit. In the last frame of the session, Hawkins flukes a snooker on the last red and gives Allen a cheeky smile. Allen escapes and flukes a snooker back and turns to his opponent with eyebrows raised.
Murphy looks shaky in the early stages against O'Sullivan. He had half a dozen chances to win frame three but didn't take them and is now 3-0 down. No fireworks so far from the Rocket but he's not needed to play that well. A lot of people have backed him to make a 147 during the tournament following a very generous offer of 20/1 from Betfred. Meanwhile, the fine weather has broken - the skies have gone all dark and it's pouring with rain.
Fascinating (and quite possibly made up) fact of the day comes from our video editor Jonny Bryan: if you ate nothing but rabbit for four weeks, you would die from an excess of protein.
Stephen Hendry gets a fantastic reception for what could be his last match at the Crucible. But it's his opponent Mark Selby who makes a fast start with a break of 125 to take the first frame. Hendry fans will be hoping their man at least runs his opponent close.
Mark Williams will be on Talksport tonight around 9.45pm, talking to Andy Goldstein about his chances.
Over 250 of you have already voted for the Fans Player of the Year award, and if you've not done so you've got until May 3. Click here for details. At this stage it looks like there are five players in the running, and it's fairly close between them, so your vote could make a difference.
The Selby-Hendry ton-fest is bumping up the overall century count. Selby's 129 to go 5-1 up, his third ton of the match and the fourth in all, makes it 35 for the tournament.
Ali Carter must be livid with himself. He missed a frame-ball blue in the sixth and seventh frames against Graeme Dott - the first one a relatively simple pot to a baulk corner with the rest, and the second an awkward one to a middle pocket. Then he missed a frame-ball pink in the eighth to a baulk corner. Having been 3-1 up, he may feel he should have finished the first session 6-2 ahead, but instead he's 5-3 down.
The Easter weekend starts today, and although the journalists here are away from home, they have been treated to some magnificent chocolate brownies, topped with mini eggs, by Rob Walker's girlfriend.
Marti Pellow, the lead singer of the Scottish band Wet Wet Wet, has been spotted several times this week watching snooker on the big screen in Tudor Square. He is currently starring in Jekyll and Hyde, the musical, at the Lyceum Theatre next door to the Crucible. The 46-year-old successfully overcame a heroin addiction in the late 1990s, so is ideal for the lead role in a story of a man's struggle with his own destructive alter ego.
Superb crowd in for the afternoon session and one the best atmospheres so far - fans in Sheffield are getting their Easter weekend off to a great start.
Plenty of interest in our competition to win a John Parris cue with around 150 entries so far. If you want to enter, make sure you do so before the quarter-finals start.
At tournaments in China, players often get asked rather unusual questions by local journalists in press conferences. Here's a selection from the recent Bank of Beijing China Open:
To Mark Selby (after winning a semi-final)
Q. Has anyone ever told you, you look like Arsenal and Holland footballer Robin Van Persie?
A. Er, no!
To Stephen Lee (after losing)
Q. Do you like Chinese food?
Q. So what is your favourite food?
To John Higgins
Q. Last year you wore a dark blue waistcoat. This year it's a lighter one. Why is that?
A. I just fancied a change and they make great waistcoats in China.
To Stephen Hendry (after losing)
Q. You missed a pink in the first frame. Then in a later frame you also missed a pink. Is pink your unlucky colour?
A. I missed everything.
To Ronnie O'Sullivan (after losing)
Q. Did you lose the match because there was no prize for a 147?
A. No that had absolutely nothing to do with it.
To Robert Milkins
Q. Why do you have a metallic cue case instead of a leather one?
A. It protects my cue better on planes.
Q. But aren't leather cue cases better?
A. I play the game with the cue, not the case.
To Stephen Maguire (after losing)
Q. It's 4-4 in the match between Mark Williams and Stephen Lee. Who are you rooting for?
A. I don't care.
So the second round is underway today, with Mark Williams already 7-1 ahead of Jamie Cope and looking hot favourite for a place in the quarter-finals. Tonight sees the start of an intriguing tie between Judd Trump and Martin Gould. Gould insisted yesterday that there wouldn't be much safety play, as both regard attack as the best form of defence. Not easy to pick a winner in that one, although Betfred make Trump a strong 4/11 favourite, with Gould 2/1 against.
If Williams does make it to the quarter-finals, then only Mark Selby and Ding Junhui would have a chance of beating him to take over from John Higgins as the new World No 1. If Williams gets to the final he will definitely be top dog at the end of the season.
Of the 15 first round matches completed so far, we've had three 10-9s, three 10-8s, two 10-7s, two 10-1s, two 10-2s, and one apiece of 10-6, 10-5 and 10-3.
Kasabian bass player Chris Edwards was here today to watch his pal Mark Selby - though he didn't see much as Selby completed his 10-1 thumping of Jimmy Robertson in 32 minutes. Edwards says the Leicester band have finished recording their latest album, as yet untitled, and it will be released in October. He claims it's their best work ever and will be "a mixture of ballads and radio-friendly songs that will blow you to bits."
Staying on a musical theme, Phil Goodlad of BBC Scotland has been driving everyone in the media room nuts, trying to find out the name of a dance track which he is using as background for a filmed item. After internet searches and appeals on Twitter and Facebook, someone discovered it was 'Untouched' by The Veronicas.
Much hilarity in the media room today from people watching this video. Plans for the World Champion to do an open-topped bus tour have been scrapped.
The news of the planned new version of Snooker Loopy has made the NME website. Contrary to the story in the Mirror, auditions for players have yet to take place.
Martin Gould has a habit of producing awesome bursts of form at the Crucible - he did it against Marco Fu and Neil Robertson last year and he's doing it again against Fu. He's rattled off four frames in a row this morning and now leads 7-6. On the other table it remains slow going between Rory McLeod and Ricky Walden as they've completed just two frames in the same time. Walden looks nervous and is missing a lot of balls. It's 5-5.
Fu's preparation must have been affected by a fire alarm at the Mercure Hotel, where a lot of the top players are staying, at 3.30am last night.
Angus Loughran, AKA Statto, is here working for Betfred, so we're in for various bits of interesting but entirely useless sporting trivia in the coming days.
Mark King has worked hard on his break-building in recent years and he has definitely improved in that department. An impeccable 138 total clearance in the 11th frame against Graeme Dott is the highest of the tournament so far and puts him in line for the £10,000 high break prize. However, he's still 7-4 down with an uphill task against Dott.
That King ton was the 16th century so far. Last year we had 20 in the first round and 60 in total. So at the moment it looks like we're on for a similar total to last year. The record of 83, set in 2009, is a very high target, but let's not forget that the Star tables in use now are generally considered tighter.
That Judd Trump Q&A is up on the BBC website now - here
A couple of kings of the oche are here tonight - Kevin Painter and World Darts Champion Adrian Lewis
Fact of the day: the first record Stephen Hendry bought was Up The Junction by Squeeze. This was revealed during a discussion about the World Snooker Awards, which will feature a set from Squeeze frontman Chris Difford. Tables are still available for what should be an amazing evening - more details here
Good start from Rory McLeod against Ricky Walden, as he leads 3-2. In a recent interview Walden said he wanted to stay in the top 16 'for the next ten years', but he will fall a long way short of that if he loses this match.
Meanwhile, Marco Fu has made the 11th century of the tournament, a 115 which puts him 5-3 up on Martin Gould. These two met in the first round last year, Gould winning 10-9. Again it's a critical match for both of them in terms of finishing the season ranked among the top 16.
The media centre's Chinese quarter is much quieter today, with Ding Junhui not playing again until Sunday. But there is a quartet of Polish journalists here; one from Eurosport, one from Polskie Radio 3 and two from newspapers called Metro and Prezeglad Sportowy. The popularity of snooker in Poland has grown massively in recent years and they're here to give first hand accounts from the sport's Theatre of Dreams.
Mark Ashenden from the BBC website has done a Q&A with Judd Trump, using questions sent in by fans, including the one everyone wanted to ask: what type of hairspray does he use? Judd's answers will be on the BBC site later today.
Mark Allen v Matthew Stevens looks like one of the ties of the first round on paper. Allen has had his problems off the table of late, but once he gets out in the arena he's in his element, and he has a fine record here in the past two years having reached one semi-final and one quarter. Stevens has had his best season for years and has real pedigree here having reached two finals and theee other semis between 2000 and 2005. Once again it's a vital match for both of them in terms of the top 16 ranking.
Ding Junhui is going to Old Trafford tomorrow night as guest of honour at the Manchester United v Chelsea FA Youth Cup semi-final. The winners will play Sheffield United in the final. Ding has close links to the Blades as his practice base is housed within their football academy.
This is Barry Hawkins' sixth consecutive appearance at the Crucible and he is yet to win a match at the venue. He might be about to break that duck as he's 5-1 up on Stephen Maguire, who has looked badly out of sorts so far.
Artist Damien Hirst is here today and tomorrow to watch his pal Ronnie O'Sullivan play his first round match against Dominic Dale. CJ De Mooi from TV show Eggheads has been ever -present for the last few days, and other celebs due to come during the event include Westlife's Shane Filan and boxer Carl Froch.
Players and pundits often talk about this event being hard to win because of it's length. But former World Matchplay champion Gary Wilkinson, who now works backstage as an event assistant for World Snooker, does not go along with that. "The number of matches you have to play is the same as at any other ranking event. It's not as if you're playing every day, and you have recovery periods in between matches. Ok it's more frames - but you play more frames than that when you're practising."
If you're in or around the Crucible today, don't forget to pay a visit to CueZone, where you can get free coaching and more. Details here.
Barry Hearn has been in the media centre today, talking about plans for next season and, more importantly, the new version of Snooker Loopy. More than that on the main news page later.
Huge match this for Stephen Hendry, if he loses it looks like he'll be out of the top 16 for the first time since 1987/88, which means that it could even be his last match at the Crucible. He's 6-4 up on Joe Perry.
More celebrities present tonight - and don't say we never get A-listers. Former WBC world light-welterweight boxer Junior Witter is here, and has just done an interview for BBC Radio Sheffield which will be played on their breakfast show tomorrow morning. He's here with Stephen Nicholas from Sky show Dream Team.
Could be a big turning point in the Maguire v Hawkins game: Hawkins led 53-2 in frame 14 when he missed a red to a centre pocket. Maguire cleared with 64 to reduce his arrears to 8-6. He swiped his fist through the air, probably trying to get himself pumped up as it's been a low key performance so far from the Scot. Hawkins has lost a couple of close first round games here - 10-9 against Fergal O'Brien and Ali Carter. Those defeats might be on his mind now.
The Chinese quarter of the media centre is a hive of activity, inhabited by journalists from media outlets including CCTV, Xinhua and Sina...plus of course Ding's mum. Many of them are drinking something called Pu-er Tea, which comes in little sachets which look like Oxo cubes, packed into a gold tin. We're sticking to Tetley. According to Betfred, a lot of money has gone on Ding this year, despite the fact that he has never reached the quarter-finals here.
Strong stuff from Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Star today - he says the other players are jealous of him, and that he has "carried the sport for a long time." Read the full story here.
Yet another possible white-wash as Ding leads Jamie Burnett 7-0. He and Shaun Murphy (9-0 up on Marcus Campbell) are both seeking to emulate John Parrott, who beat Eddie Charlton 10-0 in 1992.
The full list of players who have entered Q School is available here. Interesting to see Robin Hull among them as the Finn retired several years ago.
Dave Harold may not hold much hope of a fight-back against Ali Carter today, from 8-1 down, but it will be a consolation for the big man if Stoke City beat Bolton in the FA Cup semi-final, which is looking very likely as they lead 3-0.
Mark Williams and Ryan Day seem to be having a lot of friendly little chats in between frames. You'd never have seen Steve Davis or Stephen Hendry doing that with an opponent - but then Williams is a totally different animal. Day looked gone at 7-3 and 57-0 down, but he nicked the 11th frame with a lovely 66 clearance and is now among the balls with a chance to get to 7-5.
The long wait is over and we're ready for action at the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship. Everyone is saying it's the most open for years, with six players rated 9-1 or shorter for the title: John Higgins, Mark Selby, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Ding Junhui, Mark Williams and Neil Robertson. Defending champion Robertson faces a tough opening tie against Judd Trump in the opening match. Trump took the first step towards fulfilling his massive talent by winning the recent Bank of Beijing China Open, but can he match that standard on the biggest stage? He's certainly been revelling in his success since coming back from China, particularly in a photoshoot with two Page 3 girls which appears in today's Sun. The player nicknamed Haircut 100 didn't hesitate for very long when he was asked to do the shoot earlier this week.
Comedian Lenny Henry is here today - if the cameras point in the right direction you might spot him in the press seats. He's here for part of a BBC Radio 4 series called 'What's So Great About' - so enthusiasts will have to convince him how great snooker is. Hopefully we'll have a video interview with him on this website later today.
As usual it's a very busy media centre backstage at the Crucible. We've got 91 accredited journalists on the media list, from as far afield as China, Thailand, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Denmark.
If you haven't already done so, don't forget to vote in the Fans Players of the Year Award, which will be presneted at the World Snooker Awards night on May 6. When you vote you'll go into a prize draw, with the winner to come to the awards night with a guest. More details here. John Higgins looks to be in the lead in the voting at the moment, with a lot of you picking Mark Williams too. Higgins won his fifth title of the season with victory in the Scottish Championship on Thursday - more on that here
Great crowd this morning and a superb reception for all four players. The Crucible audience always give a warm welcome to players making their debut at the famous venue, and Andrew Pagett is no exception. The Welshman, who is playing at a ranking event venue for the first time, makes a handy break of 48 in his opening frame, only to see Jamie Cope take it with a 75 clearance.
First cenbtury of the tournament goes to Trump: a beautifully-constructed 122. The record for century breaks is 83, that was in 2009. Since then we've switched to Star tables, which many players feel are slightly more difficult in terms of compiling big breaks. However, there have been so many tournaments this season that the players are sharper than ever - so let's see how close we get to the record this time. Trump and Pagett are both giving a good account of themselves so far as both lead 3-2.
Not a bad response from Robertson...a 127 total clearance makes it 3-3.
Click here for a video on the Yorkshire Post website including interviews with Steve Davis and John Virgo. And to see a feature about snooker on last night's BBC Look North, click here and scroll to 11.30
Dave Harold has a 'good luck' card next to his seat in the arena, signed by Tony Pulis and all the Stoke City players. Harold was hoping to go to their FA Cup semi-final this weekend but of course has to miss it due to his own big match against Ali Carter. Things are not really going to plan so far for Harold as he trails 4-0.
Here's a full list of the introduction music for the players:
Ali Carter: A little less conversation - Elvis/JLX
Ding Junhui: Poker Face - Lady Gaga
Graeme Dott: Two Tribes - Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Jamie Cope: Mr Brightside - The Killers
John Higgins: Needles and Pins - The Searchers
Mark Allen: Ever So Shy - General Fiasco
Marco Fu: I've Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
Mark Selby: Underdog - Kasabian
Mark Williams: Higher - James Fox
Neil Robertson: Down Under - Men At Work
Peter Ebdon: Can You feel the force - The Real Thing
Ricky Walden: I Need A Dollar - Aloe Blacc
Ronnie O'Sullivan: Stellify - Ian Brown
Shaun Murphy: It's A Kinda Magic - Queen
Stephen Hendry: Even Better Than The Real Thing - U2
Stephen Maguire: Black Betty - Ram Jam
Andrew Pagett: The Wizard - Black Sabbath
Barry Hawkins: Song 2 - Blur
Dave Harold: Delilah - Tom Jones
Dominic Dale: Get Ready For This - 2Unlimited
Jamie Burnett: Bad Romance - Lady Gaga
Jimmy Robertson: Dynamite - Taio Cruz
Joe Perry: I'm Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman - White Stripes
Judd Trump: Made It - Kevin Rudolf
Marcus Campbell: I'm On My Way - The Proclaimers
Mark King: Firestarter - Prodigy
Martin Gould: Playing The Game - Motorhead
Matthew Stevens: OMG - Usher
Rory McLeod: Jammin - Bob Marley
Ryan Day: Numb/Encore - Jay Z / Linkin Park
Stephen Lee: Lose Yourself - Eminem
Stuart Bingham: Basement Jaxx - Bingo Bango
Robertson v Trump is certainly living up to expectations. Trump should have gone 7-5 up but missed an easy black at 58-1. There was a touch of cockiness on the previous shot when he played a red right-handed instead getting the rest out, and he finished slightly out of position on the black. Robertson then made an execellent 58 clearance and gave it the old fist-pump, showing how fired up he is for this. He now leads 7-6 though Trump has a clear chance to level again.
The FINA World Diving Series took place at Pond's Forge near the Crucible today. We spotted World Champ Tom Daley having breakfast in our official hotel this morning, but he can't have had quite enough Weetabix as he finished fourth in the 10m individual.
Wyldecrest Park Homes Welsh Open
It's a tartan tussle in Newport as Scotland's top two players go head to head for the Wyldecrest Park Homes Welsh Open title. This is the tenth all-Scottish ranking event final, the first of those was in 1995 when Stephen Hendry beat John Higgins to win the Grand Prix, and the last was in 2005 when Hendry beat Graeme Dott to win the Malta Cup. The only one between Higgins and Stephen Maguire was the 2004 British Open in Brighton, when Higgins won 9-6 to end a run of three years without a ranking title.
Higgins is aiming to join Hendry as the only player to win this title three times. He also intends to become the first player to successfully defend a title since Ronnie O'Sullivan won here in 2004 and 2005. The Wizard has been in blistering form since returning from his six-month ban in November. He has won his last ten matches in full ranking events and hopes to become the first player to win two ranking titles this season. That's not to mention the 13 out of 14 matches he won in the EPTC events. The 35-year-old is appearing in his 37th ranking final and victory would give him his 23rd title, which would put him one ahead of O'Sullivan on the all-time list.
Maguire is appearing in his first ranking final since the 2008 China Open, when he beat Shaun Murphy 10-9 to win the last of his fourth ranking titles. He has appeared in six finals overall, losing to Higgins in that '04 British Open final, and to O'Sullivan at the 2007 UK Championship. Of the players he has beaten in ranking finals, only Murphy has given him a real test; he beat Jimmy White 9-3 at the 2004 European Open, David Gray 10-1 at the 2004 UK Championship and Fergal O'Brien 9-5 at the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy.
Whatever the result today, Higgins will be top of the world rankings, and Maguire will be sixth.
Betfred.com make Higgins the 4/9 odds-on favourite, with Maguire 13/8 against. The shortest price scorelines are 9-5 and 9-6 to Higgins, at 6-1.
Maguire had a bit of a scare after completing his post-match media commitments following his semi-final victory over Mark Selby late last night, as his cue went missing. After a few anxious phone calls, he discovered that the cue had been locked in the Tournament Office.
As if the fans in the arena didn't have enough to look foreard to today, they will also be treated to Dominic Dale singing Delilah before the match starts.
Welshman Eirian Williams is refereeing the Welsh Open final for the sixth time.
Great reception from the crowd as the players enter the arena, but the biggest cheer of the day so far comes in the media centre from Phil Yates as West Brom score an injury-time equaliser against bitter rivals Wolves.
Maguire has made an excellent start but his first real mistake comes in frame five as he misses a red to a top corner at 58-0. Higgins makes a trademark clearance of 72 to reduce his deficit to 3-2. How important will that prove?
Exciting start to the evening session. After Higgins missed the last red, Maguire had a chance to clear up but missed a difficult final pink along the top cushion. Higgins potted the pink, sending the cue ball around the angles, and enjoyed a stroke of luck as the white just missed the in-off, rattled in the jaws and finished perfect on the black. Higgins is just 5-4 behind now.
Higgins, the ultimate match player, has turned this contest on its head and now leads 7-5. Maguire will be furious with himself as he had chances in every frame from 5-2 to 5-6, but couldn't finish them off and Higgins was clinical on each occasion. The interval has come at the right time for Maguire who must now compose himself and realise he's still in the match.
Down to the last quartet in Newport and it's a strong line-up, with all four players ranked among the world's top eight. Ali Carter, Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby are all appearing in a ranking event semi-final for the 12th time, while John Higgins easily exceeds that with 53.
Carter reveals in the event programme that he had an operation in early November following a flare-up of Crohn's disease, which he has been battling since 2003. "Since then it's really just been about getting my health back to normal and making sure I'm ready for the second half of the season," he said. Carter won group four of Championship League Snooker in Essex in late January, signalling his return to form, and said after beating Ding Junhui last night that he was hitting the ball as sweetly as he had all season.
If Higgins goes on to win the title, it will be his 23rd ranking event success, which would put him one ahead of Ronnie O'Sullivan, and within five of Steve Davis on the all-time list. "I suppose 28 is within range and it would be great to get past that," he says in the programme. "But I think Steve and Stephen Hendry are separated from the rest because of the number of world titles they have won - six and seven. Maybe that's more significant than the number of ranking titles. I'm just proud to have won 22, if someone had offered me that at the start of my career I'd have been delighted."
There have been 22 century breaks so far this week. Ryan Day has made the most, with four. Higgins and Maguire have two each, Selby one, and Carter is yet to get into three figures. Hendry, of course, tops the list with 147.
Around 400 tickets have already been sold for this afternoon's session, so with a few walk-ups to add on it should be a superb atmosphere.
At least there is one Welshman in the semi-finals: referee Eirian Williams will take charge of this afternoon's match between Carter and Higgins.
Big moment early in the Selby v Maguire match. The 29-minute third frame goes down to the colours, and a poor safety on the pink from Maguire gives Selby a chance. He pots a cracking long pink to leave a close range black, close to the top cushion, but surprisingly Selby leaves it hanging over the pocket. He concedes and Maguire leads 2-1.
We've had a message to say that Hammad Miah, a 17-year-old who plays on the Premier Junior Tour and is based in Ware, Herts, made his first 147 maximum break earlier this week. Well done Hammad.
Rugby ace Dafydd Jones, who played 42 times for Wales before retiring last month following a shoulder injury, is at the venue today, cheering on home favourite Mark Williams. He'll be in the BBC Wales studio during the mid-session interval.
Williams must be considered favourite to beat Stephen Maguire given his excellent recent form. But Maguire beat him 5-1 at the same stage here last year so the Welshman will be taking nothing for granted.
Of course we're back to best-of-nines with intervals today. Overall, the reaction of the players to playing without intervals has been very positive.
Mark Selby is making quiet but steady progress through the tournament, just as he did in Berlin two weeks ago where he reached the final. He seems to be developing a knack of winning when not playing at his best, which is a very useful asset. He's currently 2-0 up on Graeme Dott and set to go 3-0.
A sad bit of news from backstage: Nick Etherton, who has worked as an assistant producer for IMG for ten years, will no longer be working on snooker after this week. Nick does a lot of the post-match players interviews and player features which go out on the BBC. He also put together the feature on the 1985 World Championship final which was screened last year.
Interesting article on the BBC website about the Renaissance artist Caravaggio, who, it turns out, was a bit of a hell-raiser. Ken Doherty has often spoken of Caravaggio as an inspirational figure, though presumably Ken won't be following his example of 'throwing a plate of cooked artichokes in the face of a waiter.'
Fun and games for Rob Walker ahead of the evening session. After asking for a volunteer for the mock walk-ons, he picks out a young lad in the crowd who had put his hand up. "Who are you here to see?" asks Rob. "My dad," says the boy. "Who's that?"...."Matthew Stevens." Turns out the boy is Freddie, eldest son of the former UK and Masters champion. Stevens saw the whole thing on TV from the tournament office and was in hysterics. Rob also gifted a red ball signed by Ding Junhui to a young female Chinese fan, who reacted as if she had been handed the secret to eternal happiness. There's a good crowd in tonight, with a group of 30 or so Oriental supporters cheering on Ding.
Good stat from Phil Yates, which underlines how high the standard is now, compared to past decades. There have been seven 147s made this season...in the whole of the 1980s there were eight.
A superb day of snooker in prospect with five players who have won the World Championship and three other former UK Champions among the 12 competitors. It's a big day for the home contingent with plenty of expectation on Mark Williams' shoulders as he faces Jamie Cope. After that it's Matthew Stevens v Ryan Day in the first all-Welsh clash in Newport since Williams played Stevens in the last 16 in 2006.
As pointed out by the Guardian, Ronnie O'Sullivan's defeat last night means that he will not be seeded amond the top eight for the Betfred.com World Championship in April, which means that he would face a top eight player in the last 16 at the Crucible if both came through the opening round.
Here's something to listen out for next week: Barry Hearn will be on Gabby Logan's Sports Panel on BBC Radio Five Live next Friday (25th) between 12pm and 1pm, talking about snooker amongst other subjects.
Williams' friend Matthew Pritchard, of the infamous prank show Dirty Sanchez, is backstage today watching the snooker. "He's probably upstairs wrecking the place, or standing on his head somewhere," said Williams in his post-match press conference.
Just to clarify the rankings situation following Ryan Day's exit: Matthew Stevens needs to reach the final to get into the top 16 and avoid having to qualify for the China Open and the Crucible. If he does so, he will knock out Marco Fu. Otherwise, Fu is safe.
Real drama in the match between Stephen Hendry and Stephen Maguire...first a 147 from Hendry, then a respotted black in the second frame. Hendry goes for a long double but leaves the black in the jaws of a baulk corner and Maguire pots it for 1-1.
Matthew Stevens beat Shaun Murphy 5-4 in a thriller here last year, making a great clearance in the deciding frame. He had let slip a 3-0 lead and later described himself as "the worst front runner in the world." But with the matches just best of seven this year, he can't afford to start slowly against Murphy today. It's also a repeat of the 2005 Crucible final, when Murphy came from 10-6 down to win 18-16.
It's a good atmopshere in the arena with rosuing receptions as Stevens, Murphy, Stephen Hendry and Joe Perry enter the arena.
The general consensus is that Hendry is safe for his top 16 place and a spot at the Crucible. Ricky Walden and Marco Fu currently occupy slots 15 and 16, but could be overtaken by Stevens, Ryan Day and Mark King if they can keep winning.
After his victory over Jimmy White on Monday, Ryan Day had a cheeky pop at Ronnie O'Sullivan, as reported in today's Sun
A lovely break of 133 in the second frame puts Stevens 2-0 up and gives him his 200th career century. He's only the 12th player to make 200 tons.
John Higgins hasn't lost a match in a full ranking event since Steve Davis beat him at the Crucible ten months ago (though he was banned from two events and pulled out of another) and it doesn't look as if that run is going to end today as he's 3-1 up on Dave Harold.
As has been the case in recent years, O'Sullivan is accompanied in Newport by Bristol-based coach Frank Adamson. Fans have been queuing for the Rocket's clash with Ryan Day since 5.30pm and there's an expectant atmosphere in the arena.
This is sheer delightful snooker. Day opened with breaks of 109 and 113, then O'Sullivan won the third frame with a 100. Mark King and Mark Selby are still on their first frame.
Yesterday was a great day for the Welsh, with a thumping win for Ryan Day plus victory for Matthew Stevens. Today the other two home favourites are in action, and there's a crowd of over 300 to see how they fare. New German Masters champion Mark Williams faces arguably the toughest possible first round match, against Marco Fu, who reached the final of the recent Ladbrokes Mobile Masters and the semis in Berlin. It's a big match for Fu in terms of regaining a place in the top 16 ahead of the rankings cut-off point. Later, Dominic Dale faces Peter Ebdon. "I enjoy playing Peter because you know he will give it everything and you have to do the same. He's unlikely to blow you off the table, but it will be a tough match in every aspect," says Dale, who believes he is guaranteed a return to the top 32 and therefore will only have to play one match to qualify for the China Open and the Crucible.
Good recovery from Dale after losing the first frame as a break of 139 makes him new favourite for the £1,000 high break prize. He needs to win to make it a clean sweep for the Welsh in the first two days. Meanwhile, Stuart Bingham - another player in with a chance of the top 16 if he has a good run this week - has come from 2-0 down to 2-2 against Mark Selby.
There's a sigh of relief backstage as Neil Robertson arrives at the venue. No travel dramas this time.
Williams will be on Real Radio tonight at 6.05pm tonight talking about the tournament. Listen live here
Street Snooker is due to be launched next week in Welwyn. See a demo here
So here we are at the Newport Centre for the seventh consecutive year. It is a brand new format, with all matches in the first two rounds to be best of seven frames, with no intervals. And there are only two tables in the arena. There's also a new TV presenter for the event: Ashleigh Crowter, who has worked for BBC Wales since 1997 and has now been given the honour of a debut on the snooker circuit.
This is the 21st event on the World Snooker Tour so far this season and the 20 others have produced 16 different winners. Four players have collected two trophies: John Higgins (12BET.com UK Championship and EPTC5), Shaun Murphy (Rundili Wuxi Classic and EPTC2), Mark Williams (German Masters and PTC1) and Ding Junhui (Ladbrokes Mobile Masters and PTC5).
If you're interested in entering the Q School but want to find out more, don't miss the Open Days taking place at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield later this week. Click here for more
How will John Higgins fare in his first match since the sad death of his dad, John, less than two weeks ago? It's a tricky opener for the Wizard against up-and-coming teenager Jack Lisowski, who says he is here just to enjoy the occasion and learn from the experience, and that attitude could make him a dangerous opponent. Betfred.com make Higgins favourite for the title at 11/2.
Ken Doherty missed out on qualifying for this event, losing 4-2 to Nigel Bond on Friday. But he shrugged that disappointment aside to make two 147s in an exhibition in Wolverhampton on Saturday night, staged in aid of the Paul Hunter Foundation.
A crew from SC4 Wales have been at the venue this morning, filming an interview with commentator John Evans. It will be screened at 7pm tonight.
Let's hope Ronnie O'Sullivan finds alternative transport to get to Newport by Wednesday evening, following his recent little accident
A bit of debate in the media centre about what Lisowski's nickname should be. Rob Walker suggests 'The Big Lisowski' (a pun on the film The Big Lebowski. Or how about just 'The Dude'?). But in the end 'Jumping Jack' is preferred. If you're wondering where Lisowski's name comes from: he has a Ukrainian grandfather.
A real contrast in matches tonight: Ryan Day v Jimmy White all over in 48 minutes of playing time, and Rory McLeod v Jamie Cope locked at 2-2 an hour and a half later. Although it's Valentine's Day, there's no prospect of a romantic dinner in the media centre. Journalist Jonny Bryan settles for fried cod and chips instead.
Ladbrokes Mobile Masters
Latest news and backstage insights from Wembley Arena.
In this article on Eurosport's website, Marco Fu reveals why his dad Willie, a familiar face on the circuit for many years, doesn't come to tournaments any more. "He was getting nervous, I was getting nervous and it was getting over the top," said Fu, who is now usually accompanied by girlfriend Shirley.
Ding looks well in control at 6-2, but many finals in recent years have included great comebacks, so nothing can be taken for granted. Only last month, John Higgins came from 6-2 down after the first session - and later 9-5 behind - to beat Mark Williams 10-9 in the 12BET.com UK Championship final. Fu has the memories of some impressive fight backs in finals to draw on. In 2007 he recovered a 5-3 deficit to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-6 and win the Grand Prix, and in 2008 he came from 6-3 down to lead Shaun Murphy 9-8 at the UK Championship - though he eventually lost 10-9. Ding has played solid snooker so far, but the last few frames are always the hardest to win. The 23-year-old from China seems to have a veneer of calm about him at all times - but the prospect of £150,000 and snooker's most prestigious invitation title will surely get the nerves jangling.
Ladbrokes expect Ding to complete victory - they rate him 1/16 odds on favourite with the score at 6-2. Fu is 7/1 against. The shortest priced scoreline is 10-4 Ding, at 7/2.
The trophies will be presented tonight by World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn and Ladbrokes Managing Director Gary McIlraith.
Drama at the end of the 29-minute 11th frame. Fu cleared from yellow to blue to go 16 points ahead and looked sure to close the gap to 6-5. But Ding laid a brilliant snooker on the pink, sending the cue ball around the angles to get it behind the black. Fu's attempted escape sent the white whistling into a baulk corner, and Ding knocked in pink and black to go 7-4 ahead. That's a massive fillip for the Chinese player, whose head was beginning to drop after a fast start to the evening session from Fu.
Down to the last four at Wembley Arena and who could have predicted this semi-final line up? The remaining players are seeded 9, 12, 14 and 16. There is the prospect of an all-Asian final if Ding Junhui and Marco Fu get through, which would generate tremendous excitement among snooker fans in the Far East, as well as the posse of Chinese journalists in the media centre. The young British talents, Mark Allen and Jamie Cope, are trying to scupper their hopes.
Huw Edwards, the BBC news reader, is planning a trip to tomorrow's final.
If you want to express your love of snooker through clothing, just click here
Golfer Rory McIlroy has tweeted to wish his fellow Ulsterman Allen all the best. It's going well for Allen as he's 4-1 up and just two frames away from his first major final (though let's not forget that he did win the Wuxi Classic in 2009, beating Ding 6-0 in the final.)
Hang on a minute though - what a fight back from Fu. Breaks of 130, 97 and 136 have put him back to 4-4. He's now made five centuries in the tournament - more than anyone else.
Crucial error from Cope in frame five against Ding as he missed an easy red with the rest at 59-0, allowing Ding to make a fine 65 clearance. It's going to be really tough for Cope to come back from that...the prospect of the all-Asian final looms large.
Neil Robertson has just played an extraordinary shot early in frame eight against Mark Allen, potting a long red and screwing the cue ball back to the baulk end with an awesome display of cue power. He's 4-3 up and this could be building towards a dramatic finish.
Tremendous start from Marco Fu against Peter Ebdon, racing into a 4-0 interval lead. Enjoying his display so far is a fan called Lope, who has travelled from Hong Kong just to see his hero play and is among the crowd tonight.
Cheeky line from Mark Allen in today's press conference when asked about the possibility of playing Peter Ebdon: "He's a fast player so I'll have to try to slow him down a bit."
So far there have been 11 centuries in this tournament (up until the interval in the Fu v Ebdon match), with three each for Fu and Ding Junhui. Stephen Maguire leads the way with 142.
For those of you who missed Mark King's clumsy attempt at a snooker against Jamie Cope last night, click here.
After producing arguably the best snooker of the first round, Mark King is really struggling tonight against Jamie Cope, missing several easy balls in the first four frames. Perhaps he preferred being the underdog against Mark Selby, whereas tonight the pressure of expectation seems to be weighing on his shoulders. Cope, meanwhile, has gone back to his usual bridging technique tonight after holding his thumb in an unusually upright position while cueing up in his opening match against Shaun Murphy yesterday.
If Cope wins tonight he will retain his 100% record at Wembley...albeit having only played two matches. Of the players to have competed in this year's event, those with the highest win percentage are Mark Selby (84.62% from 13 matches), Ronnie O'Sullivan (72% from 50 matches) and Stephen Hendry (71.19% from 59 matches).
Giles Smith's Sport on Television column in today's Times focuses on the BBC's coverage snooker. As a result, Rob Walker's haircut has come under close scrutiny in the media centre today. According to Smith: "Huge credit is due to the amiably energetic reporter for putting his own unique spin on suggestions in the young snooker players' book of 'Ways With Mousse' and coming up with a fluffed-out style that can probably best be described as early Ken Dodd."
It's Stephen Hendry's birthday tomorrow but he won't be in much of a mood to celebrate after his 6-3 defeat to Neil Robertson. Asked how he will spend the day, the snooker legend joked: "Sitting in the commentary box with the other has-beens."
A couple of interesting points to come out of Barry Hearn's press conference announcing the new BBC deal: 1. the World Snooker Chairman is off to Las Vegas next week to talk about a possible snooker event. 2. Three regions are currently in the running to stage next season's World Open - Australia, the Middle East and China.
This website seems to think Michaela Tabb looks like Coleen Rooney...we're not sure whether Michaela is taking that as a compliment.
The talk in the media centre turns to easy balls missed at crucial moments, such as Ken Doherty's missed final black on a 147 here at Wembley in 2000. Phil Yates recalls Steve Davis jawing a sitter of a blue against Hendry in the last 16 of the 1999 China Open in Shanghai. It was match ball, and Hendry ended up winning 5-4. Davis took some 45 minutes to come into the post-match press conference, then told the Chinese media: "Sorry it's taken me so long. I've been upstairs trying to kill myself."
Robertson may have broken the sequence of surprise results today, but Jamie Cope still hopes to be the seventh of eight players seeded outside the top eight to reach the quarter-finals. It's possible that Cope and Peter Ebdon - the two players ranked outside the top 16 at the end of last season but have gained a place in this event due to the change in the ranking system - could meet in the final.
Among the crowd tonight is Cope's wife Danielle. The couple married in the Bahamas last summer. In an interview in the official programme, Cope says: "As each season has gone by I have improved as a player, and I am learning and preparing myself for the time when another chance comes to win a title. I don't feel I'm far away from it now and that's what I'm working towards."
It's been surprisingly scrappy stuff between Cope and Shaun Murphy so far. Two hours gone and just three frames completed, Cope leading 2-1.
Hendry's exit earlier today ensured that there will be a new name on the Masters trophy come Sunday night.
Antony Genn, lead singer of The Hours and a friend of Ronnie O'Sullivan, was among the crowd this afternoon. The band's most famous song, Ali In The Jungle, contains the line 'the greatest comeback since Lazarus' - but O'Sullivan was not able to rise from the dead against Mark Allen.
Allen will be reflecting on his victory on Talksport radio tomorrow morning at 9.35am.
Ken Doherty, a regular in the BBC studio and commentary box this week, must be happy to be in one place for a few days after a torrid time travelling over the Christmas period. Heading to Australia to visit the family of his wife Sarah, he got caught up in the travel chaos caused by the freezing weather. After his flight from Standsted airport was cancelled, the Irishman travelled by train to Dover, Calais and Brussels, then spend a cold night in a train station before connecting to Frankfurt. He was put on a list of 20 standby passengers before finally being given a seat on a flight to Melbourne. In all, the journey took him three days.
Five of the top eight seeds are already gone - and Marco Fu will be aiming to knock out a sixth by beating Stephen Maguire tonight. Maguire has a decent record here having reached the semi-finals in three of the last four years.
Amazing turn-around in this match. Maguire looked down and out at 5-1 down but has played some cracking stuff since then and has just knocked in a 142 total clearance to close to 5-4. That's a new contender for the £15,000 high break prize.
An amusing error from referee Jan Verhaas at the start of the match between Mark Williams and Ding Junhui...Ding went to break off in the opening frame only to find the cue ball missing. Verhaas quickly noticed his mistake and placed the white on the table.
Williams was in excellent form in winning the Championship League group two last week, beating Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final. He came so close to taking the 12BET.com UK Championship last month and would love to make amends by coming out on top at Wembley. The Welshman has won twice here before - including the famous 1998 final when he beat Stephen Hendry 10-9 on a respotted black.
If you have access to ESPN, check out Talk of the Terrace tonight at 6.30pm. It features an interview with Neil Robertson, which was recorded at Ali Carter's snooker club in Chelmsford during last week's Championship League.
Tony Drago has popped in to watch the matches today. His next event is the Shoot-Out at the end of this month - where the shot clock will suit his rapid style.
"I was worried when I returned (from his six-month ban) that I might be booed or barracked. Nobody has waved fivers at me," said John Higgins in an interview in the Evening Standard last week. That trend has continued at Wembley as he got an entirely positive reception as he walked out for his clash with Graeme Dott. However it's Dott, who has reached the quarter-finals here just once in eight attempts, who has made the better start with a fine break of 115 in the opening frame. In three matches so far, three top-eight seeds have gone out. Will the trend continue tonight?
A crowd of over 800 have made for a cracking atmosphere at Wembley Arena for the opening match between Mark Selby and Mark King. Selby is looking to extend his outstanding record in this event - he's won 11 out of 12 matches here, winning the title in 2008 and 2010.
Snooker's top three referees are back in action this week, having missed the 12BET.com UK Championship last month. Eirian Williams and Jan Verhaas were off sick while we were in Telford, and Michaela Tabb was at pool's Mosconi Cup.
Of the 36 stagings of this tournament, 14 have been won by an Englishman, nine by a Scot, six by a Welshman, three apiece by a Canadian and a Northern Irishman and one by a South African.
Selby, as usual, walks out to Kasabian's Underdog, while King has got himself pumped up by choosing Firestarter by The Prodigy.
A superb clearance from last red to black - including thumping pots on the yellow and blue - puts Selby 2-0 up.
Back comes King with an excellent 139 total clearance - that's an early front-runner for the hefty £15,000 high break prize.
King has played extremely well today and is now 5-4 up. If Selby's going to survive it will need to be one of his 6-5 specials.
It could have been oh so different for King today had it not been for a lucky escape last night. While checking into his hotel near Wembley, he absent-mindedly left his cue leaning against his car outside the hotel. The cue stayed there unguarded for some 20 minutes before it was spotted by King's manager John Carroll.
Here's a full list of walk-on music for the players this week, as it stands at the moment (players have been known to change their minds at short notice):
Ali Carter: Elvis/JLX - A Little Less Conversation
Ding Junhui: Lady Gaga - Poker Face
Graeme Dott: Stevie Wonder - Superstition
Jamie Cope: Oasis - Supersonic
John Higgins: The Searchers - Needles and Pins
Mark Allen: General Fiasco - Ever So Shy
Marco Fu: Black Eyed Peas - I've Gotta Feeling
Mark King: Prodigy - Firestarter
Mark Selby: Kasabian - Underdog
Mark Williams: Kasabian - Club Foot
Neil Robertson: Men At Work - Down Under
Peter Ebdon: The Real Thing - Can You Feel The Force
Ronnie O'Sullivan: Ian Brown - Stellify
Shaun Murphy: Queen - It's A Kind Of Magic
Stephen Hendry: U2 - Even Better Than The Real Thing
Stephen Maguire: Ram Jam - Black Betty
Peter Ebdon against Ali Carter is developing into something of a marathon. Carter has just won the 38-minute eighth frame to make it 4-4. Are Ladbrokes taking odds on the match running past midnight?
12BET.com UK Championship blog08th November 2010
Latest news and backstage insights from the 12BET.com UK Championship in Telford.
A year ago in Telford, John Higgins was involved in a dramatic semi-final against Ronnie O'Sullivan, winning 9-8 after losing six consecutive frames from 8-2 up. He played Ding Junhui in the final the next day, and may have been affected by fatigue in losing 10-8. This year the boot is on the other foot as Higgins has had the benefit of the rest day, while Mark Williams was battling Shaun Murphy until after 10pm last night. However, Gary Wilkinson, the former World Matchplay Champion who now works as an event assistant, insists that some players are not affected by tiredness. "When I got to the later stages of tournaments, I found it easier as the week went on," says Gary. "If I got to a final then the adrenaline carried me through."
12BET.com are making Higgins a strong favourite at 1.400, with Williams rated 3.040. Williams won't mind that at all as he tends to thrive on being the underdog, as he proved yesterday against Murphy.
Both players have won the UK title twice before - Higgins in 1998 and 2000, Williams in 1999 and 2002. The 2000 final saw Higgins beat Williams 10-4. Higgins is aiming for his 22nd ranking title - which would bring his level with Ronnie O'Sullivan and joint-third on the all-time list. Williams is gunning for his 18th. Higgins has won a remarkable 17 matches out of 18 since returning to competitive action last month.
Higgins and Williams are both aged 35. In terms of combined age, this is the 'oldest' ranking final since Peter Ebdon beat Higgins to win the China Open in April 2009.
If Higgins wins today he will regain the World No 1 ranking, if he loses he will be second behind Neil Robertson. Williams will be third either way. Ronnie O'Sullivan is down to ninth - the first time he has been outside the top eight since 1994/95. Marco Fu is down to 18th which means he will have to go to Sheffield next week to try to qualify for the German Masters, and he will also have to qualify for the Welsh Open. He is replaced in the top 16 by Ricky Walden, who is now in that bracket for the first time in his career. Walden is currently in Las Vegas celebrating his new status.
Williams will be supported today by partner Jo and sons Connor and Kian. Higgins has brother Jason here, but his boys Pierce and Oliver have got their priorities right as they're still in Scotland and appearing in a Peter Pan pantomime.
There have been 56 century breaks this week, Higgins making three of those. Williams' top break is a modest 82.
A big moment for Brendan Moore as he is introduced into the arena to referee the biggest match of his life so far. His only previous ranking final was last season's Welsh Open.
The trophy presentation party tonight will consist of WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson and 12BET.com's Chief Executive for Europe Rory Anderson.
Six competition winners from the Shropshire Star were treated to a backstage tour before watching the final. One of them, Tony Nichols, spotted Steve Davis in the practice room and asked for an autograph, before opening an old autograph book on the first page, which had one signature on it: Joe Davis. He met the 15 times World Champion in 1946 at an exhibition match. "I remember he made a break of 88, then apologised to the crowd for not making a century!" recalled Nichols, who now has two legends named Davis in his book.
Turning point? Williams led 7-3 and 43-0 when he played a loose safety, letting Higgins in for a cool 95 clearance. That's two frames in a row from Higgins. If he can get to 7-5 at the mid-session interval, it's game on.
Unbelieveable. Williams led 9-7 and was on a break of 61 when he missed an easy red. Higgins battled back and eventually forced the snooker he needed on the yellow, then cleared up. Is the Wizard starting to believe he is destined to win this?
Mark Williams insists he has been "dreadful" so far this week - indeed his top break in three matches is just 82. Shaun Murphy has played some top quality stuff, particularly in beating Neil Robertson. But there's every chance Williams will raise his game, and as the under-dog may feel he has nothing to lose. 12BET.com rate Murphy the favourite at 1.470, with Williams 2.750.
With a few long breaks between sessions over the last couple of days, journalists Neil Goulding and Philip Studd have resumed their epic chess rivalry. It's a bit like Korchnoi versus Petrosian but without the kicking under the table (yet). There have been four tense games so far, Goulding winning three with the other drawn.
The Williams clan are out in force today and youngs sons Connor and Kian are given a treat as Rob Walker introduces them into the arena before the BBC coverage starts and lets them sit in their dad's seat. The Welsh Potting Machine gets a high-five from both boys as he enters the stage.
Both players are back in the arena on time after the mid-session interval...but they're missing the referee! Leo Scullion eventually turns up. Sadly he can't dock himself a frame.
This match has been frankly low on quality so far - not at all in keeping with the tournament as a whole. The first frame of the evening session is the scrappiest so far, with both players making several mistakes. Williams, the master of scrapping things out when he's lacking fluency, has won and he's now 6-3 ahead.
The match has come alive and is developing into a classic. Murphy produced an astonishing scoring spree, registering 517 points without Williams potting a ball. That put him 8-6 up, but Williams, who had gone 74 minutes in that spell, showed his character by winning the next. He's now in the balls and looking to make it 8-8,. Exciting stuff.
We're down to the last four players, with John Higgins to face Mark Allen today in the first of the semi-finals. www.12BET.com make Higgins favorite at 1.5, with Allen rated 2.66. There's a special offer on that website of a 100% refund on one lost bet up to £30.
These two met in the semi-finals at the Crucible in 2009, when Allen recovered from 14-4 down, wining eight out of nine frames to make it 15-12, before Higgins eventually prevailed 17-13 en route to winning his third World title. Here's what Higgins said after that semi-final: "If I had lost that match, I dont know what I would have done. Just thank God it never happened, but there were some crazy thoughts going on in my head. Mark was pumping the air and getting the crowd going, which made for a great atmosphere. He maybe rubs some people or players up the wrong way, but I think it's great for the game because he will get people watching it.
Keep an eye on the BBC coverage during the mid-session interval this afternoon as we'll be announcing our new international coaching scheme. Full details will be on the home page of this website this afternoon.
Some start to the match - Higgins opens with a 96 then Allen responds with a 130. That was the 53rd century break so far - last year there were only 48 in the whole event.
If Higgins wins the tournament he will regain the World No 1 ranking. Otherwise Neil Robertson will remain top dog.
Two intriguing matches today. Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy have arguably been the two best players so far this season - the former winning the 12BET.com World Open and the latter winning the Rundili Wuxi Classic and topping the PTC Order of Merit. They have had some epic battles in the past - notably the 2009 Crucible semi-final which Murphy won 17-14 after being hauled back from 14-7 to 14-14. Robertson won 9-8 then last time they met in the UK Championship - that was in the second round in 2005. They are both outstanding potters, but Murphy is the more attacking player and it will be interesting to see whether Robertson tries to slow the game down.
As revealed today's Sun, Mark Joyce has let his colleagues down in the West Midlands League division one as his team, Walsall Masters Club, have a tricky away tie against Brandhall Labour Club tonight. He'll have to put that out of his mind when he faces Mark Williams in the biggest match of his life so far. Joyce seems a very level-headed character and if he can bring his natural game to the table it could be a very close match.
Useless fact of the day: Mark is the second-most common Christian name on the professional tour. There are six of them. The most common is James (or Jamie/Jimmy) with nine - that's if you count James Wattana whose real name is Ratchapol Pu Ob Orm.
So unlucky for Joyce in frame three. He was set for an excellent clearance until he lost position on the final black. He attempted a difficult pot to a centre pocket, but it just clipped the near jaw and finished hanging over the bag for Williams to tap it in and go 3-0 up. It's been a shaky start for Joyce with some easy balls missed - had that black dropped it would have settled him down.
Williams suffered a shock 9-8 defeat to Peter Lines in the last 16 here last year. Could he be on the wrong end of another surprise result tonight?
If Robertson gets to the final this week he'll be aiming to equal Steve Davis' record of winning his first seven ranking finals. The first final Davis lost was the 1985 World Championship against Dennis Taylor. Robertson has won six out of six so far.
Ken Doherty drops into the media centre during the interval of the Joyce v Williams match and recalls the time Alex Higgins was asked how much he would charge to play an exhibition match. "£400 cash," replied Higgins. "Plus VAT."
Robertson v Murphy is building towards a thrilling climax. Murphy has just missed the blue in frame 14, trying to get posiiton on the last red, and Robertson cleared up for 7-7. Meanwhile, Joyce has made a brilliant 143 total clearance, the highest break of his career and a new contender for the £5,000 top break prize. He trails 7-6.
Five of the world's top six players are in the quarter-final line-up, plus World No 11 Mark Allen, No 23 Stuart Bingham and surprise package Mark Joyce, ranked 60th. If Bingham beats Allen today he'll be through to the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time in his career.
After losing 9-8 to John Higgins yesterday, Graeme Dott revealed that he calls Higgins 'rubsy' because he always seems to get the 'rub of the green' on the table. Higgins, who has won 15 of his last 16 matches, faces another practice partner today in Stephen Maguire.
If you're wondering where some of the more familiar referees are - Jan Verhaas and Eirian Williams are both off sick, while Michaela Tabb is in London for the Mosconi Cup, the annual Europe v USA nine-ball pool clash, which starts at York Hall tomorrow.
As if Bingham and Joyce needed any extra motivation - if either of them win the tournament they will get a wild card to the Masters.
Not the best start from Bingham as he walks out on the wrong table after being introduced by Rob Walker, live on BBC. He quickly realises his mistake and heads to the other table.
Both of these matches look set to go to the wire - it's now 6-6 between Bingham and Allen, and 5-5 between Higgins and Maguire. Bingham has just compiled a brilliant 142 total clearance, matching the high break target set by Jamie Cope.
By the end of today we'll know the quarter-final line up. Ryan Day must be feeling a lot better about his propects than he was a week ago. The three-times ranking event finalist had a miserable start to the season, plummeting out of the top 16. But a 9-5 defeat Jamie Burnett in the qualifiers, followed by a 9-8 victory on the final black last night against Mark King, has given him an injection of confidence and the former World No 6 could be a real handful for Shaun Murphy today.
Four of the last 16 players are aiming to reach the UK quarter-finals for the first time: Mark Joyce, Judd Trump, Mark Allen and Andrew Higginson. The last of those has a task bordering on the impossible as he's 7-1 down to Neil Robertson.
It's comeback city at the moment with Higginson getting from 7-1 down to 7-4 against Robertson, while Ding Junhui is back to 6-4 having trailed Allen 6-2.
There have been an amazing 41 centuries in just three and a half days.
A bumper day of action in prospect with eight matches finishing in the the afternoon session. Seven of those are well poised at either 4-4 or 5-3, with Mark Williams the only player with a 6-2 advantage. Stephen Hendry against Jimmy White will attract the most attention, though Ronnie O'Sullivan could be in danger of a shock defeat to Stuart Bingham, who looked in good shape last night and was disappointed not to finish with a lead. Ali Carter could also be a surprise casualty as he struggled against Mark Joyce. Local favourite Joyce, from Walsall, won four matches in the qualifiers last week including a 9-2 thumping of Steve Davis. Incidentally, when the rankings are updated at the end of this event, Davis will be outside the top 32 for the first time in his 32-year career.
The weather in Telford is warming up slightly and the snow is melting, although it is very foggy. Referee Pete Williamson, a Liverpool FC fan, recalls a European Cup game at Anfield against Honved in the late 1970s when the fog was so dense that fans at either end could only see what was happening when the action was in their half. When a goal was scored at the Kop end, supporters at the Anfield Road end heard the cheer but saw nothing. A chant of 'who scored that one?' was answered with one of 'David Fairclough.'
There's a dart board set up in the players lounge this week and it's getting plenty of use. The (unoffical) kings of the oche are Martin Gould and Mark Selby.
After a hectic afternoon's work, journalists venture out into Telford in search of food. The hunt to find a shop which is both open and selling something to eat, through copses of snow-tipped trees and along slippery pathways, feels like a new edition to the Chronicles of Narnia. Finally a branch of Asda appears bright and shimmering in the distance, although in the end it doesn't sell Turkish delight.
Meanwhile Neil Robertson, described by Clive Everton in yesterday's Independent on Sunday as 'as deadly a potter as the game has ever seen', continues to sweep all before him. He's 7-0 up on Andrew Higginson and has now won 16 out of 17 frames so far this week.
Four out of four seeds are through to the second round so far, but three of the four who play to a finish this afternoon could have a struggle on their hands. Graeme Dott is 5-3 down to the circuit's most improved player Martin Gould, while John Higgins and Peter Ebdon are locked at 4-4 with Stephen Lee and Andrew Higginson respectively. Ebdon beat Higginson 9-8 in the first round here two years ago and would welcome a repeat scoreline.
The second lot of matches includes the most keenly anticipated tie of the first round as Stephen Hendry goes head to head with Jimmy White in a repeat of the 1990, 92, 93 and 94 Crucible finals...all of which of course Hendry won. White will feel sharper coming into the match having played an awful lot of snooker recently, in the PTC events, the World Seniors (which he won) and last week's qualifiers.
The snow was four feet deep in Hendry's home town of Auchterarder last week and he was unable to use his car. Manager John Carroll had to drive to the town's main road and wait for the seven-times World Champion to walk from his home - suitcase in one hand and cue in the other.
A subtext to the match - and the whole tournament - is that the ranking list at the end of the event will be used to create the seedings for the German Masters and Welsh Open. If Hendry loses to White he risks dropping out of the top 16, which would force him to travel to Sheffield next week for the German Masters qualifiers. Will that add to the pressure or make him more determined? We'll soon find out.
Also in action this afternoon is Marco Fu, up against Barry Hawkins. Fu often seems to have a mixed bag of a season, and that has been the case this term as he's lost in the last 32 of the Roewe Shanghai Masters and 12BET.com World Open but qualified for the PTC finals, reached the semis of the Premier League and won the individual gold medal in the recent Asian Games. Fu got to the final here two years ago so will lose those points at the end of the event and will definitely be out of the top 16 if he fails to beat Hawkins.
After a blistering start - with a century apiece in the first two frames - the White v Hendry match has gone a bit scrappy. It's fascinating stuff though and looks as if it's going to be close all the way. White has just missed a chance to win the seventh frame, playing a loose positional shot from green to brown, so he trails 4-3.
There have been 24 century breaks already - evidence of the superb standard of play. Mark Allen tops the charts with a 141 and there have been four 137s.
CJ De Mooi, of quiz-show Eggheads fame, is among the crowd for ther Ronnie O'Sullivan v Stuart Bingham match.
Shaun Murphy executes tremendous long pots on the last pink and black to win the sixth frame against Patrick Wallace and go 4-2 up. Wallace played better than anyone in the qualifiers last week, winning 36 frames and conceding just 13.
This is the 17th tournament on the World Snooker Tour this season - and the biggest so far. And what a cracking start to the tournament this afternoon with five former World Champions involved in the first eight matches, plus - on the TV tables in the first session - current 12BET.com UK Champion Ding Junhui against 2003 winner Matthew Stevens, and an intriguing clash between Rickly Walden and Pokerstars.com Masters champion Mark Selby. Walden had a real battle in the final qualifying round on Wednesday, coming from 7-4 down to beat Liu Chuang 9-8. "I won a big frame to get to 7-5 and after that I fancied it. If it had gone 8-4 it would have been hard to come back as Liu is a very good player," Walden told us yesterday. He and Stevens both tend to thrive on the big stage so could give their respective opponents a lot of trouble.
Refereeing the match between Peter Ebdon and Andrew Higginson is Paul Collier, who will take charge of his first match in a ranking event since the 2005 Northern Ireland Trophy, and first BBC event since the 2005 World Championship. However he has officiated in the Premier League throughout that five-year gap.
Official coach Andrew Highfield will be giving free snooker lessons all week on the CueZone table located in the foyer of the International Centre.
Later this afternoon, all eyes - or most eyes anyway - will be on John Higgins as he plays his first match on British soil since his six-month ban. In a revealing interview in yesterday's Express, Ronnie O'Sullivan said of Higgins: "He may feel he has a second life. If he plays with the attitude of everything to gain and nothing to lose, then everyone else is in trouble." That theory is certainly backed up by the fact that Higgins won his first 13 consecutive matches in EPTC events in Hamm and Prague last month, winning the title in the former and losing to Michael Holt in the final of the latter.
Andrew Speed and Philip Ryan, competition winners from official media partner the Shropshire Star, were at the venue last night to play frames against Ding Junhui and Peter Ebdon respectively. The prize included tickets to every session of the tournament plus a frame against a top player. An enthusiastic Ebdon ended up playing three frames with Ryan, a budding local league player, and spending a further half an hour demonstrating certain shots and explaining the differences between club and professional tables.
After his chaotic journey to Llandudno for a Premier League match last month, which almost ended with him missing his match against Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson is thankfully in the building well in time for his game against Rory McLeod. The Australian revealed in today's Sun that he has banned himself from staying up all night to watch the Ashes, as he is terrified of over-sleeping and missing a big match. World No 1, Betfred.com World Champion and 12BET.com World Open champion, Robertson is now aiming to add the UK to his trophy haul.
Ding's girlfriend Apple is supporting him from the players lounge. His defence of the title is not going to crumble at this stage - he's 7-1 up on Matthew Stevens.
Higgins and Lee receive a decent round of appluase from the Telford crowd, and the Wizard of Wishaw is straight into his stride with a break of 105 to take the first frame. It's like he's never been away.
Pukka Pies might not be title sponsor of this event any more, but their product is still on sale at the venue. Journalists Phil Yates and Hector Nunns take advantage by getting stuck into a couple of chicken balties.
This week's award for dedication to the cause goes to Brendan Moore, who walked six miles through the snow to his home in Sheffield last week after a day of refereeing in the qualifiers. He's now taking charge of Ding v Stevens.
12BET.com World Open
It's the first time in ranking event history that the semi-finals and final have been played on the same day. It looks sure to be a cracking day of action with an exceptional line-up for the last four. The quartet have 52 ranking titles between them, including seven Crucible crowns.
First up at 2pm is Ronnie O'Sullivan against Peter Ebdon. O'Sullivan has conceded just three frames en route to the semi-finals and his four matches have taken 241 minutes, while Ebdon has given away six frames with total match time of 486 minutes. However, Ebdon is known for his stamina and will not suffer from fatigue over a short distance. The winner of the first semi-final will have a slight advantage, in terms of freshness, going into the final, especially if the semis are close.
12BET.com make O'Sullivan 1.260 favourite to beat Ebdon, who is 4.030. Mark Williams is slight favourite (1.800) to beat Neil Robertson (2.060).
Piers Morgan has given his verdict on Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Daily Mail. Now we just need David Hasselhoff and Sharon Osbourne to give the Rocket a thumbs up or down.
Mark Williams' other half, Jo, and sons Connor and Kian are here to support him. His battle with Neil Robertson brings together two left handers, and two of snooker's all-time great single-ball potters.
O'Sullivan has just made a break of 72 in the third frame of the final which was every bit as good as his 147 earlier in the week. Most of the reds were close to the left-hand side cushion and the colours in awkward positions when he came to the table, but he picked the balls off with a series of imaginative and perfectly-executed positional shots to win the frame in one visit. "You couldn't have cleared those with a Hoover," said John Parrott in the BBC studio.
Another amusing comment from Parrott during the mid-session interval, this time unintentional: "Matthew Stevens was very unlucky against Alan McManus this week. He had a kick in the balls in the last frame."
Steve Davis was the main guest in BBC Radio Scotland's studio this morning. The conversation turned to nicknames and he was asked why he didn't have a weather-related one along the lines of Hurricane, Whirlwind and Thai-Phoon. "Maybe I could have been Doldrums," said Davis. "Gloomy, but clearing up later."
Picking the balls out the bag for the semi-final draw at 7pm will be John Parrott. MC Rob Walker is away today, so Graeme Easton is doing the honours this afternoon, and Hazel Irvine will compere the draw tonight.
Ding Junhui and Mark Williams were two of the form players last season, both winning a ranking title. Today's match is a repeat of the Sanyuan Foods China Open final, which Williams won 10-6. However China's Ding has the upper hand so far today having won the first two frames.
No one has come from 2-0 down to win a match at the SECC yet, Mark Williams might do just that now as he's back to 2-2 against Ding.
Up to the end of the Ebdon v Gould match, the most common scoreline has been 3-1, occuring 15 times. There have been 11 3-0s and 11 3-2s.
A long queue of fans leading up to the box office in the SECC concourse can only mean one thing: the two greatest players of the last 20 years are about to go head to head. Stephen Hendry is a firm favourite in these parts while Ronnie O'Sullivan draws support wherever he goes, so it will be interesting to see who gets the biggest cheer when they enter the arena.
First up at 12.30pm will be Jamie Cope against Ricky Walden. Cope, currently ranked 13th, is looking good for a place in the top 16 when the first cut-off point comes after EPTC2, which would give him a place in the final stages of the UK Championship and, more significantly, a debut in the Masters. Walden and Stephen Lee are hoping for a long run this week and another in Belgium next weekend to sneak into the elite in time for the update. Neil Robertson, meanwhile, is guaranteed to be the new World No 1 at the end of this tournament.
Media coverage of the tournament has been very good in Scotland this week, particularly in official media partner the Scottish Sun. Today's edition includes an article on yesterday's Ronnie O'Sullivan v Jimmy White clash by feature writer Bill Leckie.
Stan from Peterborough has written in to ask whether anyone has ever made a total clearance, taking a yellow with all 15 reds. The answer, Stan, is almost definitely not, although there are no records to prove this kind of thing. Of course, that wouldn't be the lowest possible total clearance. In theory a player could pot all 15 reds with one shot...although whether that is possible in practice is open to debate.
O'Sullivan admitted in his press conference yesterday that Hendry didn't speak to him for three years after the Rocket's verbal tirade against the Scot at the 2002 World Championship. That's clearly all forgotten now as today the two spent ten minutes happlily chatting away in the media centre before being summoned to the arena. The decibel levels were pretty equal for both introductions, though there were a more cries of 'come on Stephen' than 'come on Ronnie'.
If Neil Robertson beats Andrew Higginson and Stephen Lee beats Martin Gould tonight, then all eight quarter-finalists will be ranking event winners and the octet will have 65 ranking titles between them. So much for this tournament being a lottery.
A sizzling atmosphere and a full house for the match between two of snooker's most popular ever players, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Jimmy White. Jamie Cope, Ricky Walden and Stephen Lee have all taken seats among the crowd to enjoy the occasion. A slight hiccup in the build-up as Rob Walker's microphone went dead half-way through his intro for White, which meant that the planned one-question interview with O'Sullivan before the match had to be scrapped.
O'Sullivan's close pal Damien Hirst is in the audience. The artist, a massive snooker fan, will also be here tomorrow to see the winner's of today's game play Stephen Hendry, but he has to be back in London at the weekend for an exhibition.
Here are a few more statistics recorded by our scoring system. These figures do not include today's matches:
- Ronnie O'Sullivan scores an average of 39.3 points when he makes the opening break in a frame, the highest of all players since 2008/9 season.
- O'Sullivan has won the opening frame in his last eight matches.
- And the Rocket has won 73% of the frames he has played this season (46 out of 63), the highest % of any player.
Andrew Higginson may have been delighted by his victory over Marco Fu today but the Liverpool FC fan could not hide his despair at the Reds' defeat to lowly Northampton in the Carling Cup last night. "Even with a second-string team we should be battering teams like that," said the Widnes cueman.
The draw for the quarter-finals will be tomorrow night at 7pm. Drawing the balls will be Willie Thorne.
Huge moment for David Morris as he enters the arena to play his first televised match - and it's a baptism of fire as he faces Betfred.com World Champion Neil Robertson. Morris had an outstanding junior career, becoming the only player to win the All Ireland Senior Championship three consecutive times (2004-06), and was tipped to follow in the footsteps of mentor and practice partner Ken Doherty. It's been slow progress since he turned professional in 2006 and he currently stands 59th in the ranking list. Today the 21-year-old might give a glimpse of how much potential he has.
Stephen Hendry will be in the BBC commentary box this afternoon for Ken Doherty v Barry Hawkins, and again tonight for Stephen Maguire v Judd Trump.
Pulling the balls out of the bag for tonight's last 16 draw, at 7pm, will be darts player Robert Thornton, the 2007 World Masters champion from Scotland.
Artist Damien Hirst will be here tomorrow for Ronnie O'Sullivan's match against Jimmy White.
Here are some statistics recorded by our new scoring software:
In the 12BET.com World Open qualifiers the player winning the first frame won 67 out of 85 matches played (78.8%).
In the matches in Glasgow the player winning the first frame has won 18 out of 20 matches played (90%).
And in the Last 32 round so far, all 9 matches have been won by the player who has won the first frame.
62 out of 66 matches have been won by a player who has won the first two frames, including 14 out of 14 in Glasgow.
61 out of 70 matches have been won by a player who is leading 2-1 after three frames, including 14 out of 14 in Glasgow.
Glasgow players Anthony McGill and Scott MacKenzie are among the crowd to watch their friend James McBain play his first event televised match. He's struggled so far against Ricky Walden and is 2-0 down. Walden has recently moved from Bagillt to Chester. We're not calling him the Jester from Chester though.
Barry Hawkins and Mark Williams went out for a curry tonight before the last 16 draw, and just got back to the venue in time to see themselves drawn to face each other.
Stephen Maguire is letting his temper get the better of him against Judd Trump. He's been visibly angry with himself on several occasions after missing easy pots, and has just conceded the fourth frame after jumping the brown off the table when only 11 points down. He has been warned by the referee for early concession, and it's now 2-2 so another warning will cost him frame and match.
Ali Carter pots nine reds with blacks at the start of frame three against Mark Williams but then misses the tenth red. We can only assume that if he had got to 140 he would have had no qualms in potting the last black. The Roewe Shanghai Masters champion needs this frame as he's 2-0 down. Defeat for Carter could open the door for Neil Robertson to snatch the World No 1 ranking.
John Higgins is the subject of a feature in today's Guardian by the excellent sports interviewer Donald McRae. Higgins talks about the moment he discovered the sad news that his dad John Snr, a popular figure on the circuit for many years, has terminal cancer.
Williams made a 72 clearance in that frame to force a respotted black, which he lost. How many times have two breaks over 70 been made in the same frame?
Dave Whitmill has written in to ask: "How is it decided when matches are played? Is this also random? For example I'd like to know when the winner of Jimmy White / Ronnie O'Sullivan will play on Friday (afternoon or evening)?" The answer is that once the draw is made, World Snooker and BBC decide the schedule for the next round. The schedule is then announced on this website as soon as it's available.
In his post-match press conference, Mark Williams was asked by BBC Radio Five Live's Philip Studd why he tried to pot the respotted black in the third frame against Ali Carter. "I never play safe when I get the first shot, no matter what the score is," Williams replied. "There's a chance you will leave it, but there's also a chance you will pot it or it will go safe, so that's two to one in my favour. If you ever see me play safe from a respot I'll give you £1,000."
The most common scoreline so far (up to and including Lee v Bond) has been 3-1. That has occured eight times, with 3-0 and 3-2 happening five times each.
It's been a pretty quiet day so far in Glasgow, aside from an hour-long press conference with Barry Hearn, Lord Stevens and David Douglas, a controversial 147 from Ronnie O'Sullivan and a nail-biting win for home favourite Alan McManus. O'Sullivan hit the last black so hard that a cameraman flinched and almost turned away, thinking the balls might jump off the table and hit him. Send your views on today's events to firstname.lastname@example.org
If Liu Song loses to Joe Jogia today it will be his last match in a full ranking event this season. He was given special dispensation to enter the first two events following John Higgins' suspension, but Higgins is due to return for the UK Championship.
Jimmy Michie has revealed that his sponsor, McGills Buses of Greenock, will give him a Rolls Royce Phantom if he wins the tournament. He plays Ding Junhui tomorrow afternoon. Ding was watched, in his first match against Adrian Gunnell, by his girlfriend who is known as 'Apple'. There's something fruity going on between those two.
The random draw for the last 16 will be on Wednesday evening at 7pm, live on BBC.
Nice choice of intro music from Mike Dunn tonight - the theme to classic TV show The Professionals. Maybe he wants to emphasise the fact that none of the 32 amateurs involved in the qualifiers for this tournament made it to the last 32. He is not, incidentally, managed by (Lee) Doyle.
Pele, Ayrton Senna, Ronaldinho, Joaquim Cruz, Nelson Piquet...and today Igor Figueiredo aims to join the list of Brazilian sportsmen who have enjoyed success in front of a global audience of millions. The 32-year-old will become the first Brazilian to compete in the final stages of a ranking event when he takes on Mark Williams. In fact there's a real international feel to the snooker this afternoon with players from Belgium, Brazil and China in action against a Scotsman, a Welshman and an Englishman in the first three matches. First up is Stephen Hendry, trying to kick start his season against Bjorn Haneveer.
The random draw for the last 32 will take place shortly after 2pm and will be available on this website shortly after that. It will be shown on BBC during the afternoon session. Picking the balls out of the bag, for the third consecutive year, is the Lord Provost of Glasgow Bob Winter.
With Rob Walker working for the BBC on the Great North Run this morning, stepping in as guest Master of Ceremonies is Greg Summers.
Players walk-on music today is...
Stephen Hendry - U2, Even Better Than The Real Thing
Bjorn Haneveer - The George Baker Selection, Little Green Bag
Mark Williams - Kasabian, Club Foot
Igor Figueiredo - Michael Jackson, Billie Jean
Ding Junhui - Lady Gaga, Poker Face
Adrian Gunnell - Elbow, Grounds For Divorce
Jimmy White - Dire Straits, Money For Nothing
Paul Davison - Status Quo, Rocking All Over The World
Mark Selby - Kasabian, Underdog
Barry Hawkins - Blur, Song 2
Jimmy White is wearing a white armband which says 'Hurricane' - in memory of Alex Higgins.
A journalist from the Czech version of FHM is present, researching an article about snooker he is writing for the magazine, ahead of the EPTC event in Prague in November.
From the hot and humid climes of Shanghai, the circuit moves to the colder environment of Glasgow, for the 12BET.com World Open. Ali Carter has barely had time to relect on his victory in the Far East as he got back to London on Monday night then flew up to Glasgow yesterday. And he spend much of that time on the M25 motorway after absent-mindedly leaving his hand luggage at Heathrow. He didn't realise he had forgotten the bag, which contained his laptop, wallet and medicine for Crohn's Disease, until he was close to home in Chelmsford, so drove back to the airport only to find it gone. Fortunately a few days later he got a call from lost property to say that the bag had pitched up.
Don't miss BBC2's first transmission at 3pm today as it starts with a recorded interview Hazel Irvine has done with John Higgins - the only interview the Wizard of Wishaw has done since last week's Sport Resolutions hearing. There's a trailer on the BBC website.
This new event boasts an innovative format with best-of-five matches, a random draw and the chance for amateurs to enter - though only one of the 32 amateurs in the qualifying rounds, Thailand's Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, made it through to the venue. There's also a brand new playing arena in which the seating goes almost all the way around the table, giving a 'bear-pit' feel. The BBC have a raised studio looking down on the arena.
Shaun Murphy will be live in the BBC Radio Scotland studio at 1pm, looking ahead to his match against Dave Harold tonight. To listen click here then click Listen Live
Walk-on music will be used for the players' entrance. Today's top tunes are:
Graeme Dott - Stevie Wonder, Superstition
Neil Robertson - Men at Work, Down Under
Ali Carter - Elvis/JLX, A little less conversation
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh - Frakie goes to Hollywood, Two Tribes
Stephen Maguire - Ram Jam, Black Betty
Stuart Pettman - Faithless , Insomnia
Steve Davis - Noserati, Art 2070
Peter Ebdon - The Real Thing, Can you feel the force?
Shaun Murphy - Queen, It's a kinda magic
Dave Harold - Florence and the Machine, You've got the love
2010 Roewe Shanghai Masters
Jamie Burnett must be considered alongside Andrew Higginson as the most unlikely ranking finalists of recent years. Like Higginson, who got to the 2007 Welsh Open final, Burnett has been around for many years - since 1992 - and has always been recognised as a very good player but had never showed that at the business end of a major tournament. The Glaswegian had only previously appeared in two ranking quarter-finals, at the 1997 German Open and 1998 Grand Prix. The big question today is whether he can go one further than Higginson - who lost 9-8 to Neil Robertson - and end up with the trophy. First to ten frames pockets £60,000, which would be three times more than 34-year-old Burnett earned in the whole of last season.
Carter had a poor record in China before the Sanyuan Foods China Open last April when he reached the semi-finals, losing to Mark Williams. Prior to that he had won just three matches in the previous five ranking events in China. After a dip in form at the start of last season - which co-incided with the birth of his first child - Carter has established himself as arguably snooker's most cosistent player. He reached the quarter-finals of the Pukka Pies UK Championship, the final of the totesport.com Welsh Open then the semis in Beijing and at the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship. His career has certainly come into bloom in the past two years and it seems amazing now that he failed to reach a ranking semi between the 1999 Grand Prix and 2007 Malta Cup. The 31-year-old is now set to play in his fourth final - after the 2008 World Championship (losing 18-8 to Ronnie O'Sullivan), 2009 Welsh Open (beating Joe Swail 9-5) and 2010 totesport.com Welsh Open (losing 9-5 to John Higgins).
Referee for the final is Jan Verhaas.
Potentially a big moment in the match in frame five. Burnett leads 43-8 with the reds ideally placed when he missed a sitter of a black off its spot. Carter clears swiftly with 62 to go 3-2 ahead. That may settle Carter down as he has looked jittery so far.
The ranking list to be issued tonight will have the points for the 2008 Northern Ireland Trophy and Shanghai Masters taken off (as it is now a two-year rolling list). Carter will be in second place win or lose, and with John Higgins absent at the 12BET.com World Open he'll have a chance to go top. Burnett will be 27th if he wins and 29th if he loses. The points for the 2008 Grand Prix will be taken off at the end of the 12BET.com World Open, then after the next EPTC event the seeding list will be updated for the UK Championship and the Masters.
A 37-minute 11th frame goes the way of Burnett after a long cat-and-mouse exchange on the pink resolves when Carter gets a heavy double kiss attempting safety. Burnett pots pink and black to keep himself very much in the match at 6-5 down.
The winner's trophy will be presented by Mr Yuan Guo Xing, Deputy Secretaryship of Party Committee of Shanghai SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Co Ltd, Mr Wang Wei, Assistant Secretary General of Shanghai Municipal Government and Mr Li Yuyi, President of Shanghai Administration of Sports.
The arena has been re-rigged to leave just one table, with officials and promoter's staff working overnight until the early hours of Saturday morning, and that can only mean one thing: we're down to the semi-finals. The first match is a battle of two Jamies - Cope and Burnett. First to six frames goes through to the final. The two share one thing in common - they both hold records for high breaks. Burnett is the only player to make a break over 147 in a professional tournament, having compiled a 148 during the 2004 UK Championship qualifiers. And Cope is believed to be the only player to have made a 155 - the highest possible break - in a witnessed practice match.
Cope is playing in his third ranking semi-final and has won each of his previous two - at the 2006 Grand Prix in Aberdeen and the 2007 China Open in Beijing. In the latter he beat Barry Hawkins 6-5 on the final black after his opponent rattled it in the jaws. Burnett has been a pro since 1992 but this is his first ranking semi.
At the entrance to the venue this morning was the slightly worrying sight of a group of policemen, each with a canine companion wearing the words 'bomb dog'. Maybe they've heard that 'Shotgun' Cope is planning to unleash his explosive style.
As usual, there has been strong interest in the tournament from the Chinese media. There are several websites dedicated to snooker, including the event's official online partner Sina
Eirian Williams will referee the first semi today, with Terry Camilleri in charge this evening.
Just an edit on the earlier note about security outside the venue...this is of course because it's the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the USA. It's also Matthew Stevens' 33rd birthday although he probably doesn't feel like celebrating today after his painful black-ball defeat to Ali Carter last night.
It looks like Burnett, though, will soon be celebrating as he's 4-0 up on Jamie Cope and in the balls. Cope has been very poor so far.
There's a good crowd of around 400 in tonight to see Mark Selby against Ali Carter. It's surprising that these two, with 25 years professional experience between, have won just one ranking title apiece (though to be fair Selby also has two Masters crowns to his name). With all due respect to Jamie Burnett, whoever comes out on top tonight will strongly fancy his chances of doubling his tally tomorrow.
No one could have predicted this quarter-final line-up with just two of the top 11 seeds - No 3 Ali Carter and No 8 Mark Selby - still in the draw. It's a particularly big day for Jamie Burnett and Mark Davis as one of them will reach the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time in his career. Just two years ago, Davis faced Leo Fernandez in his first qualifier in the 2008 World Championship and said at the time that if he lost the match he would quit snooker. He won 10-9 on the final pink, went on to qualify for the Crucible, and then enjoyed the best season of his career in 2009/10, winning the six-red world title and reaching the last 16 of two ranking events. Now, the 38-year-old is pushing for a place in the top 16. On such fine margins are careers made and broken.
The other game in the afternoon session, Jamie Cope against Graeme Dott, is also tough to call. It's something of a contrast in styles, though Dott is a more fluent break-builder now than he was when he won the world title in 2006. The heavy cloth tends to favour more tactical players, with the difficulty in compiling big breaks evident in the fact that there have only been 15 centuries in 31 matches so far. The match is a repeat of the 2007 China Open final in Beijing, which Dott won 9-5. Cope reached two ranking finals that season but has surprisingly failed to kick on in his career, and today the 24-year-old aims to reach his first ranking semi-final since then.
If you're watching the event on TV and wondering who the MC is, he's a 23-year-old Shanghai resident known to westerners as Shaun, who graduated in media studies last year. He's not big on nicknames for the players, though he says he does sometimes use 'Ding Dong' for Ding Junhui or 'The Talent' for Marco Fu.
Zhu Ying, China's top female referee, is taking charge of a ranking quarter-final for the first time tonight. She's also on table one for the first time - Mark Selby v Mark King.
As is often the case in the first full ranking event of the season, the top seeds are struggling in the early stages, with seven of the top 16 falling at the first round stage. The conditions are also causing problems for everyone, with the hot and humid weather slowing down the cloth and making the air sticky. Several players have said that they are trying to avoid using side where possible, to avoid 'throw off'. Though he played down his chances after his first round match, Mark Williams is as good as anyone at adapting to different conditions, particularly in Asia where he has won six ranking events including last season's Sanyuan Foods China Open. He faces a tough game this afternoon though against 2007 China Open winner Graeme Dott.
Martin Gould took on fans at the Billiards Expo close to the venue this morning, though he got a mixed reception having beaten crowd favourite Stephen Hendry last night. One of his opponents confidently described himself as "the next Hendry" and nearly beat Gould - but missed an easy final black after a carefully-timed sneeze from the Londoner. Jamie Cope will be there from 3pm to 3.30pm today.
Mark Selby is another player who's particularly poplular among Chinese fans...and journalists. At his press conference after beating Mei Xiwen yesterday, Selby was asked about his recent proposal of marriage to girlfriend Vikki Layton. "She's a great girl so I decided she deserved to get engaged," said the Pokerstars.com Masters champion. "When you're happy off the table it helps with your snooker career." One journalist revealed that his female colleague has a particular liking for Selby and asked if the Leicester cueman could buy her a gift to compensate for her disappointment at the news of the wedding plans. "I don't have anyhting at the moment but I'll go shopping and buy her something," laughed Selby.
Shanghai is currently hosting the 2010 Expo, a vast exhibition demonstrating cultures from all around the world. Over 49 million people have already visited the event, at a rate of over 200,000 per day. It's been rumoured that the queues can be up to five hours long, but it is worth the wait. Virtually every country on Earth has its own pavillion (and China has 31), showing aspects of each nation's history, philosophy and society. Highlighted on the official website today is the Slovakian pavillion, which 'showcases transformation of human beings in a perspective of squares. Entering the pavilion visitors can see spiral stairs which symbolize winding roads of the cities gathering together in the square. Walls with important historical moments of Slovakia enclose the square, which lead visitors back to the old times. Movies about daily urban lives are also played as witnesses of the everlasting change, motion and development of cities.' The expo runs until October 31.
Tonight, the UK Pavillion will stage a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra, followed by a party hosted by the British Consulate which is will be attended by Prince Andrew. Peter Ebdon and his new wife Nora will also be heading there as soon as his match against Neil Robertson is over.
Still on the subject of Expos, there's a huge billiards exhibition in the conference hall next to the Grand Stage over the next three days, with all manner of displays of tables, cues, balls, cloth and other snooker equipment. Stuart Bingham is there from 3pm to 3.30pm today, playing frames against fans.
Peter Ebdon is having a fair bit of running against Robertson, enjoying the odd fluke and various helpful nudges. He leads 2-1 and is well ahead in frame four. This is Robertson's first match in a full ranking event since he won the World title in May so he'll be disappointed to go out early. If you live in Scotland and fancy taking on Robertson, look out for a competition coming soon in the Scottish Sun, official media partner of the World Open, with the chance to play a frame against the Crucible king at the SECC.
Pete Doherty (not believed to be related to Ken) of the Libertines appears in the Sun today playing snooker naked. Maybe it's a protest against suggestions of relaxing the dress code on the pro circuit.
Last night's evening session was preceded by the official opening of the tournament, with World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn and five Chinese dignitaries playing break-off shots into a pack of reds. They were joined on the stage by Steve Davis, Peter Ebdon, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Ricky Walden and Judd Trump.
Hearn and WPBSA Chairman Jason Fergsuon had a rather fraught journey to Shanghai yesterday as their flight from London had to turn back because of engine trouble. They eventually arrived in China five hours after the scheduled time.
On table one this afternoon is Liang Wenbo, who enjoyed a brilliant run to the final last year, which helped him gain a place among the top 16 of the rankings. However he needs some good results over the next three tournaments to keep his place among the elite when the first cut-off point comes after EPTC2, and thereby earn a place in the final stages of the UK Championship and the Masters. He's up against Matthew Stevens, who is showing improved form this term after a miserable end to last season when he lost 10-9 to Marcus Campbell in the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship final qualifying round.
The internet connection is very slow in the media centre, hence the late arrival of reports on yesterday's matches and the lack of pictures with those reports. There are plenty of images in the gallery.
Some start for Stuart Bingham - a 142 total clerance gives him the first frame against Mark Allen. Antrim's Allen lost his World Open qualifying match so is looking for his first win in a full ranking event this season.
High expectations on Judd Trump today following his victory in the Paul Hunter Classic. His match against Stephen Maguire on table two should be a quality contest.
An epic 61-minute third frame on table one ends with a flash of impetuousity from Liang. Stevens led by 28 points on the yellow but was unlucky to knock the black in when escaping from a snooker. Liang then created a frame-winning chance but after potting yellow and green, missed an easy brown to a baulk corner and conceded the frame, despite having left a missable pot to a centre pocket with 16 points the difference. Stevens must be relieved to win that one and go 3-0 ahead.
Small biscuits from Korea called Lotty are passed around the media centre. They look like mushrooms topped with chocolate, but taste better than they sound.
This may be the first full ranking event of the season, but there's already been plenty of action this term with five of the new Players Tour Championship events having taken place. All of the top 16 seeded players have competed in at least one PTC event, except Ding Junhui, though he did at least get a taste of competitive action in losing 5-1 to Shaun Murphy at the Premier League last Thursday. The Roewe Shanghai Masters has been a regular fixture on the calendar since 2007 and there will be a new name on the trophy unless Ricky Walden can repeat his 2008 triumph. Dominic Dale, the 2007 champion, failed to quaify, while last year's winner Ronnie O'Sullivan has withdrawn for personal reasons.
Other than O'Sullivan, all of the players are present and correct, having arrived in Shanghai on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Even Graeme Dott, whose previous trips here have included a nightmare 40-hour journey which ended with him playing without underpants, and breaking his wrist during a friendly football match, is accident-free so far. The only slight mishap has been suffered by referee Jan Verhaas, whose luggage failed to arrive on the same flight. His suitcase is currently believed to be somewhere east of Milan.
The weather here is sweltering - up to 33 degrees centigrate with 74% humidity. Even the 5-minute walk from the hotel to the venue can leave one rather hot under the collar. Fortunately for the players, there are cars supplied by title sponsor Roewe permanently on hand to ferry them to and fro. As ever, the organistation and facilities provided by promoter the East Asia Group are first class.
We're off and running and the first player to win a frame is Rouzi Maimaiti who pots pink and black to edge the opener against Andrew Higginson. As usual, the Chinese wild cards (as well as the one Pakistani and one Thai) are sure to give the western players a stern test as they battle to get into the last 32.
Unfortunately we won't be running live scoring during this event as the new and improved facility is not ready yet. However we will try to keep frame-by-frame scores up to date in the drawsheet.
Ken Doherty is in danger of an early upset as he trails Mohammad Sajjad 3-1, while Robertt Milkins is also 3-1 down to Jin Long and the other two matches are 2-2. Tian Pengfei, who won the BTV International earlier this season and knocked Ronnie O'Sullivan out of the Sanyuan Foods China Open, has looked handy against Jamie Burnett and set an early contender for the high break prize with a 130. The winner of this match was due to play O'Sullivan, but now gets a bye to the last 16, so there's a bit of extra pressure, especially on Burnett with a lot of ranking points at stake.
Actually that target of 130 didn't last long - Burnett's knocked in a 131 in frame five.
2010 China Open
An expectant crowd at the University Gymnasium, plus many millions watching on TV across China, hopes Ding Junhui can win his second China Open title today and fifth ranking event. No doubt Mark Williams has plenty of support back in the UK watching on Eurosport, not least a group of his family and friends who will gather at his club in Tredegar. The Cwm cueman says he slept well last night, despite the fact that he's been living on UK time all week.
The final will be refereed by Michaela Tabb. It's her fourth ranking final, after the 2007 Welsh Open, 2009 China Open and 2009 Betfred.com World Snooker Championship.
Betfred.com favour Ding to win, he's 4/6 odds-on favourite with Williams 6/5 against. The shortest priced scorelines are 10-7 and 10-8 to Ding, at 13/2. The general consensus among officials and journalists backstage at the venue is that it will be a very close match.
Ding will be up to fourth place in the rankings today if he wins, or fifth if he loses. Amazing to think that a year ago he was heading to the Crucible unsure of his top 16 place. Williams will be seventh if he wins or eighth if he loses. It's also been a fantastic turnaround for the Welshman over the past two seasons. The race for the No 1 slot may have already been won by John Higgins, but the battle for top 16 places will be fascinating at the Crucible. Peter Ebdon has moved up to 15th thanks to his run to the quarter-finals here, but the likes of Liang Wenbo, Jamie Cope and Graeme Dott are within striking distance.
Ding, age 23, is appearing in his sixth ranking final and aiming for his fifth title. He has already beaten arguably the best four players of all time in ranking finals: Stephen Hendry (2005 China Open), Steve Davis (2005 UK Championship), Ronnie O'Sullivan (2006 Northern Ireland Trophy) and John Higgins (2009 Pukka Pies UK Championship). Can he add Williams, who some might say makes up the all-time top five, to his list of scalps? The only final he lost was at the Grand Prix last October against Neil Robertson.
Williams, age 35, has more experience at this level having played in 23 ranking finals. He also has a superb strike rate, having won 16 of those. The last was at this venue four years ago, when he beat John Higgins 9-8 in the final. Five of his ranking titles have come in Asia - the Thailand Masters in 1999, 2000 and 2002, and the China Open in 2002 and 2006.
Tremendous start to the final as Williams takes the first frame with a break of 110 then Ding responds in the second with a 127. The Welshman has now made three centuries during the tournament while the Chinese player has made eight.
Four frames into the evening session and the standard remains exceptional. There have now been 14 breaks over 50 within 13 frames. Williams has won four of the last five and leads 7-6 at the interval.
The winner's trophy will be presented tonight by Mr Xiao Tian, Deputy Chief of the General Administration of Sport of China, and Mr Liu Jing Min, Deputy Mayor of Beijing.
It's East meets West in the first of today's semi-finals, with Northern Ireland's Mark Allen taking on China's top snooker star Ding Junhui. Allen will be determined to reach his first ranking final, having lost in three previous semis: to Fergal O'Brien in the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy, Neil Robertson in the 2008 Bahrain Championship, and John Higgins in the 2009 Betfred.com World Snooker Championship. The omens for the left-hander are good as he beat Ding 6-0 when they met in the final of the Wuzhou International Group Jiangsu Classic in Wuxi last June.
Ding, meanwhile, hopes to maintain his bid to become the first player to win two ranking titles this season, having captured the Pukka Pies UK Championship in December. Winning the tournament would also draw him level with John Higgins in terms of number of matches won in ranking events by the top 16 players this season. Here's the list as it currently stands:
John Higgins: 16
Ding Junhui: 14
Ronnie O'Sullivan: 12
Ali Carter: 10
Mark Williams: 10
Stephen Maguire: 8
Neil Robertson: 8
Mark Allen: 7
Stephen Hendry: 6
Mark King: 6
Ryan Day: 5
Mark Selby: 5
Peter Ebdon: 5
Shaun Murphy: 4
Joe Perry: 3
Marco Fu: 3
Oh dear, that's a big early blow for Allen. Clearing up in the second frame, he's perfect on the blue, but runs too far for the pink and has to go around the angles to get position on the black. He finishes close to a side cushion and hits the black thick, missing the pocket and leaving Ding to tap in for 2-0. Allen must take those kind of chances if he's going to win today.
Mark Williams looks totally relaxed backstage (mind you, does he ever look anything other than totally relaxed?) before heading into the arena for his semi-final against Ali Carter. Showing signs of a return to the form which has won his 16 ranking events, including five in Asia, Williams is bidding to reach his first ranking final since he beat John Higgins to win the title here four year ago.
Carter had a woeful record in China coming into this tournament, having won just three matches in the previous five ranking events here.
Massive fluke for Williams late in the third frame. Attempting safety on the penultimate red, he not only cross doubles it into a top corner, but also nudges the last red and black away from the top cushion, leaving them in prime position for him to clear up and reduce his arrears to 2-1. Turning point?
Terrible day for Mark Allen. Not only did he lose 6-2 to Ding, but his beloved Manchester United have lost 2-1 in their Premier League crunch game against Chelsea.
Peter Ebdon, perhaps inspired by his success here last year, has certainly got the singing bug this week. After his rendition of Robbie Williams 'Angels' during a university visit on Sunday, last night he entertained the media with a few lines of Neil Diamond's 'Deep Inside Of You' at the end of his press conference. He'll certainly hope to be in tune when he meets Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals today. Ding, who is the only player in the last-eight line-up to have won a ranking event this season, is inevitably the focus of the Chinese press, who even sang Happy Birthday to him and presented him with a cake after his victory over Mark Selby. Check out this video on CCTV. Ebdon and Ding know each other's games inside out as they both practise at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield.
Stephen Hendry against Mark Allen should also be a cracking contest, with both aiming to reach their first ranking semi-final of the season. Their most significant previous meeting was at the World Championship in 2008 when Hendry came from 6-3 and 9-7 down to win 10-9, leaving his young opponent in tears.
Photos from a trip to the Star factory on the outskirts of Beijing this morning can be found by scrolling towards the end of the gallery.
Frame three of the Ali Carter v Mark King match and it looks as if the table is on a slope, as all of the balls are positioned on the right hand side of the table, with many of them clamped to the side cushion. Let's hope this doesn't end up being the Long Good Friday.
Meanwhile, Mark Williams is swiftly into his stride against Marco Fu, taking a 3-0 lead. Williams has won five ranking events in Asia, including this event 2006, which was his last ranking title.
Happy Birthday to Ding Junhui, who turns 23 today, and intends to celebrate by beating Mark Selby tonight. It's also World Snooker tournament director Mike Ganley's birthday...definitely not his 23rd though.
In response to yesterday's question about whether the whole of the top 16 has ever reached the last 16 of a ranking event, Irish journalist Michael McMullan, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of snooker, writes in to say he's fairly sure it has never happened. He mentions the 1993 World Championship when the first 15 seeds to finish their matches all went through, but Alain Robidoux failed to complete the set as he lost 10-6 to Doug Mountjoy.
Ali Carter is still recovering from the pain of having three wisdom teeth removed three weeks ago. He's been eating a lot of bananas ever since.
John Higgins probably won't admit it, but he must have been delighted by Ronnie O'Sullivan's defeat last night, as the result guarantees him the official World No 1 ranking next season, so he can put that to bed before heading to the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship. It will be the Wizard's third spell as top dog, having topped the rankings in 1998/99 - 1999/2000 and again in 2007/08. The Rocket's exit also meant that this is the first ranking event this season in which O'Sullivan and Higgins have not met.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, Alex Higgins is battling suspected pneumonia in hospital. Our best wishes go out to the twice World Champion.
Is this Stephen Hendry's best performance of the season so far? He's 4-0 up on Ryan Day and within a frame of his first ranking quarter-final of the campaign.
John Higgins' press conference last night co-incided with the closing stages of Ding Junhui's match against Gerard Greene. Most of the media, therefore, were somewhat distracted by the TV screen as Higgins spoke about his own match. "Have I come at a bad time?" asked the World Champion in jest.
Nigel Bond, up against Shaun Murphy today, is desperate to finish the season on a high here in Beijing after missing out on the Crucible, he told BBC Sport
The food in the official's dining area is always very palatable at this event, though perhaps with a slight over-emphasis on potatoes. Lunch on the first day was a chicken and potato stew, served with mashed potato. Some chips with it would have been ideal. There is always a plate of tiny squares of bread on offer, each around an eighth of the size of a one slice, with various toppings. These are described on a label as 'mini sandwiches' - possibly the most relevant ever use of the word 'mini'.
Ronnie O'Sullivan enters the fray tonight against Tian Pengfei, and must win to keep alive any hope of keeping his World No 1 ranking for next season. He's currently 9505 points behind Higgins in the provisional list and can only make up 8600 in Sheffield, so has to gain ground this week.
Mark Selby, who faces Rod Lawler tonight, describes himself as a "jet-lagger" rather than a "jet-setter" in his blog on his website
Stephen Hendry nicks the first frame against Andrew Higginson with a cracking long pot on the last black. Higginson had executed suprb pots on blue and pink but then played a weak safety. Hendry has won all four of his first round matches in ranking events this season but is yet to reach a quarter-final. Meanwhile, defending champion Peter Ebdon takes his opening frame against Judd Trump, whose hair-style makes him look either like a scarecrow or fashionably cool, or possibly both.
O'Sullivan misses a close-range pot on the frame-ball last red along the top cushion against Tian Pengfei and the Chinese player clears the table to make it 2-2.
If all four seeds win tonight, then the whole of the top 16 will be through to the last 16. We're not quite sure if that's ever happened before in a ranking event - if anyone knows, feel free to email email@example.com. At the 2002 Thailand Masters, 15 of the top 16 progressed from the first round, the odd one out being Graeme Dott, who lost to Quinten Hann.
Marco Fu faces a crucial match today against Bjorn Haneveer. The Hong Kong player hasn't won a ranking event match since the Roewe Shanghai Masters in September, and stands, precariously, 13th in the provisional list. He will certainly not want to go to Sheffield next month with his top 16 spot hanging on his opening match against Martin Gould. Fu played superbly in winning the Championship League last week so will hope to carry some of that form into today's game.
Haneveer was asked last night why he had brought his partner Daisy and baby son Joppe to Beijing. He replied: "Daisy has not gone back to work yet so we decided we should all come here together. We thought the ten-hour flight would be tough, but the boy slept for eight hours of it. He's just a perfect baby."
Tony Drago, meanwhile, finished his press conference by turning the tables on the scores of journalists in the media centre and asking his own question. He wanted to know whether any TV channel would be showing tonight's UEFA Champion's League clash between Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Having been told by one scribe that the game would be on CCTV5, Drago concluded: "You better be right. If I stay up until 3.45am and it's not on, I'll be coming after you." The Tornado actually support Juventus, who he described as "rubbish" when they lost to Fulham in the Europa League.
Tonight's evening session was preceded by a the official opening ceremony, attended by the deputy Mayor of Beijing. Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy were on hand to pass the officials a cue so they could break off.
It's standing room only (despite extra desks being brought in) in the media centre tonight, with home favourite Ding Junhui in action. There are 240 journalists from 85 different media outlets accredited for this tournament.
All four seeded players won their matches this afternoon, and after 75 minutes play tonight, all four seeds in the evening session are 3-1 up at the interval. Could it be eight out of eight for the top 16-ers?
The final preparations are being made in the arena with the first balls set to be struck in the Sanyuan Foods China Open. This tournament has seen five different winners in the last five years, while this season has seen five different winners of the five major events on the World Snooker Tour: Ronnie O'Sullivan (Roewe Shanghai Masters), Neil Robertson (Grand Prix), Ding Junhui (Pukka Pies UK Championship), Mark Selby (Pokerstars.com Masters) and John Higgins (totesport.com Welsh Open). Will both of these sequences continue this week?
The weather in Bejing is dry but cold - around 8 degrees Celcius. The time is seven hours ahead of BST.
The wild cards in events in China are never pushovers, and no doubt at least one of them will progress today to the first round proper. Mark Davis looks to have the toughest assignment in the afternoon matches, up against Tian Pengfei, who knocked out David Gray and Marco Fu here last year before losing to Higgins in the last 16.
The three Western referees here are Eirian Williams, Jan Verhaas and Michaela Tabb, and inevitably they will face problems with crowd noise. As Stephen Maguire points out in this article: "The ref will try his hardest to keep them quiet but basically they don't listen. They cannae listen, they're too busy talking on the phone." The World No 2 also reveals that he would like to see Ronnie O'Sullivan "gunged."
Belgium's top player Bjorn Haneveer has brought his partner Daisy and their three-month-old son Joppe to Beijing.
Xu Guorong (AKA 'Celia'), a journalist who works for top147.com and Pool Bond magazine, presents World Snooker with a gift of high-quality playing cards, each one bearing a picture of snooker player. The four aces are Mark Selby, Joe Swail, Ricky Walden and Ding Junhui, while Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan are both jokers. The short straws go to Neil Robertson, Mark Williams, Alan McManus and Tian Pengfei...they are all queens.
The European Team Championship and European Under-19s are currently taking place in Malta, click here for details.
As anticipated, Mark Davis is having a tough time against Tian Pengfei, he's currently 4-3 down. Rod Lawler is also being pushed hard by Thailand's Supoj Saenla, that one is 3-3.
Interesting to note that there's only one British player in action tonight, and that's Rory McLeod, who is of Jamaican parentage and spends most of his time in Qatar. He might soon be heading back to the Middle East as he's 3-0 down to Liu Chuang. Liu gave notice of his potential when he qualified for the Crucible two years ago but hasn't done much since. The other Tour players up against the wild cards are Malta's Tony Drago, Belgium's Bjorn Haneveer and Thailand's James Wattana.
2010 Welsh open
After Andy Murray's brave but ultimately fruitless attempt to win the Australian Open tennis, John Higgins can pick up some silverware for Scotland today if he beats Ali Carter at the Newport Centre. He will have been buoyed by his third consecutive win over Ronnie O'Sullivan last night - although let's not forget the Pukka Pies UK Championship, where Higgins was so drained by his victory over O'Sullivan on the Saturday evening that he was adversely affected by fatigue in a final he was favourite to win against Ding Junhui. Carter had the benefit of an evening off yesterday, and will feel that he has little to lose today. The Tiptree cueman insists that he has been playing all week with no expectations of winning or losing, and as Steve Davis once said, to be able to play as if it means nothing, when in fact it means everything, is a pretty good way to be.
Totesport.com make Higgins a strong favourite at 3/8 odds on, with Carter 15/8 against. The shortest priced scorelines are 9-5 and 9-6 to Higgins, both at 11/2. Six of the last 11 Welsh Open finals have gone to a deciding frame.
Higgins is appearing in his 35th ranking final, and has won 20 so far. Victory today would bring him within one of O'Sullivan's 22 titles, behind Stephen Hendry (36) and Davis (28). It's the Wizard of Wishaw's fourth Welsh Open final, and he has won the title just once, in 2000 when he came from 8-6 down to beat Stephen Lee 9-8. The Scot has been in the most consistent form of his career over the past year, reaching six consecutive ranking semi-finals. But only one of those has led to a trophy - at the Betfred.com World Championship in May - so he is determined to take today's opportunity to add to his haul. Carter has previously appeared in just two ranking finals - the 2008 World Championship when he lost 18-8 to O'Sullivan, and last year's Welsh Open when he beat Joe Swail 9-5. The Captain is seeking to become the third player to retain this title, after Davis (1994/95) and O'Sullivan (2004/05), and the first player to win any ranking event in consecutive years since O'Sullivan beat Hendry in the final here five years ago.
Former referee Bob Chandler, who retired in 2001, is at the venue today. He is believed to be the only person to have both made and refereed a 147 maximum break.
Dominic Dale, dressed in a magnificent green velvet smoking jacket, is to join Rob Walker and the crowd in singing Tom Jones' 'Delilah' ahead of the first session.
If Higgins wins today, he will be 9505 points ahead of O'Sullivan at the top of the provisional rankings, or if he loses he'll be 8505 ahead. If the gap is 8600 or more going into the Betfred.com World Championship, he will be guaranteed the official No1 slot for 2010/11. In other words, if Higgins takes the Welsh title, O'Sullivan will have to make up ground at the China Open to have a chance going into Sheffield. Carter will be third in the latest list if he wins, fourth if he loses.
Higgins is 5-0 up and more than half way to the title. Carter will be feeling desperate to get a frame on the board. There has only ever been one whitewash in a ranking final, Davis beating Dean Reynolds 10-0 at the 1989 Grand Prix.
The trophies will be presented tonight by Adam Baker, HR Director of totesport.com, and Miles Pearce , Commercial Director of World Snooker.
Is there life in this match yet? Higgins, leading 7-3, pots eight reds with blacks, but then misses the ninth red, playing with pace along the top cushion in order to keep position on the black and retain his chance of a 147. Carter clears superbly with 73 and allows himself a fist pump as the last black drops. He has at least ensured that the contest will go to a mid-session interval.
Two members of the Newport-based group Goldie Lookin Chain are among the crowd. They will not be entertaining the crowd with a rendition of 'Your Missus Is A Nutter'.
Four of the world's top-five ranked players have made the semi-finals. Both games today are tough to call. Stephen Maguire and Ali Carter have both looked very solid this week, particularly last night in comfortable victories over Mark Williams and Ryan Day respectively. Title sponsor totesport.com rates Maguire the slight favourite at 8/11 odds on, with Carter even money. Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins have met in every ranking event so far this season. O'Sullivan won 6-1 in the Roewe Shanghai Masters semi-finals, but since then Higgins has had the upper hand, winning 5-4 in the last 16 of the Grand Prix and 9-8 in a classic Pukka Pies UK Championship semi. Totesport.com make the Rocket 4/7 odds on, with the Wizard of Wishaw 5/4 against. In the outright odds for the title, O'Sullivan is 11/8, Higgins 11/4, Maguire 10/3 and Carter 4/1.
O'Sullivan is set to appear in his 53rd ranking semi-final today, compared to 51 for Higgins, 12 for Maguire and 8 for Carter.
A treat for the media at lunchtime as Higgins brings in a tin of Belgian chocolate biscuits, from Marks & Spencer no less. Who says Scottish people are tight?
It's down to one table now so the music is back for the player introductions. Carter sticks with 'A Little Less Conversation' by Elvis, while Maguire changes his choice to the theme from the film 'The Long Good Friday.'
Terrific start for Carter as breaks of 64 and 95 give him the first two frames. If he were to win the event tomorrow night, it would be the first time that a player had successfully defended any ranking title since O'Sullivan won the Welsh Open in 2004 and 2005.
Meanwhile in the media centre, Phil Yates recalls the time in the early 1980s when The Sun newspaper ran a competition during the World Championship, with the winner to receive a pair of tickets to the final, plus a cash prize. The reporter was told to make the question easy enough to attract a lot of entries, so he posed the teaser: who was the first player to win the World title at the Crucible? The choice of answers was a) Steve Davis b) Ray Reardon or c) Alex Higgins. The correct answer of course, was John Spencer....meaning that the competition had to be run a second time.
Nerves creeping in for Carter? At 5-2, Maguire fails to escape from a snooker ten consecutve times, gifting his opponent 40 points. Carter then gets a chance for victory, but misses an easy black at 56-7. He has another opportunity late in the frame, but fails on the last red to a centre pocket. Maguire clears to close the gap.
What an excellent quarter-final line-up we have here in Newport - and the fans seem to agree as they were queuing the length of the venue an hour before play started. Six of the world's top seven are still in the draw, plus exciting young talent Mark Allen and local favourite Mark Williams. With Ryan Day also flying the home flag, it's the first time two Welshmen have reached the quarter-finals of this event since 1997, when Williams beat Paul Davies 5-3.
Allen produced the best performance of his career when he beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 13-11 at the Betfred.com World Championship last April. The Rocket has had an easy ride so far this week, with Stuart Bingham and Jamie Cope both folding under the spotlight. Can Allen put pressure on the World No 1?
John Higgins and Mark Selby also served up a classic encounter at the Crucible - Selby losing 13-12 despite making five centuries. Higgins is bidding to reach his sixth consecutive ranking semi-final, while Selby is hoping to move a step closer to repeating the Welsh open and Masters double he achieved two years ago. The Leicester cueman hasn't made a ranking semi since the 2008 Roewe Shanghai Masters.
O'Sullivan had a real chance of a maximum in frame four, but after potting 11 reds with blacks, misses the 12th red to a centre pocket on 88. He punches the table in disgust at giving up the chance to become the first player to make ten career maximums. The match is finely poised at 2-2.
Unbelievable. In the very next frame, O'Sullivan sets about another 147 attempt, executing a series of difficult pots to keep the break going. With all the hard work done, he misses a dead easy final green on 122. He laughs ironically to himself and gestures to Allen that he had a "twitch".
Ali Carter has done little of note on the table since he won this tournament last year, but he now looks to be back in the groove as he races into a 3-0 lead over Ryan Day. Welshman Day will not be giving up yet as, ten years ago in the event, he came from 4-0 down to beat Steve Davis 5-4. "No matter what I do in the game, that will always be one of my stand-out moments," he says in the official programme.
Ronnie O'Sullivan was with coach Frank Adamson, who he has worked with on and off throughout his career, ahead of today's match against Jamie Cope. Perhaps Adamson, who lives in nearby Bristol, will be the one to help O'Sullivan resolve the problem with his long potting which has troubled him for several months.
There won't be too much safety played on either of the televised tables today, with O'Sullivan facing Shotgun Cope, and quickfire potter Mark Allen facing Welsh favourite Matthew Stevens. Allen has had a stop-start season, failing to live up to the huge promise he showed at the end of last term when he reached the semi-finals at the Crucible then won the Wuzhou International Jiangsu Classic. Perhaps this will be the week when his undoubted talent again comes to the fore. The left-hander is off to a good start as he nicks the first frame with a 38 clearance.
Snooker is the subject of an article in today's Helsinki Times.
O'Sullivan needs a shade under 45 minutes to go 4-0 up. Cope has had chances in every frame but has missed too many easy balls.
If you're a fan of music acts such as Bubblemath, Sanguine Hum and Zoot Horn Rollo, make sure you tune in to Steve Davis' radio show on Phoenix FM. The next one is on Monday from 10pm to 12am.
Despite his Pokerstars.com Masters victory, Mark Selby can't get a slot on a TV table tonight for his match against Mark King, as there are two other fascinating ties in prospect. John Higgins takes on his close pal Graeme Dott in a tartan tussle, while Andrew Higginson seeks to continue his Welsh Open love affair against home favourite Mark Williams.
Guy Tassell, a VT Co-ordinator for IMG, who produce the snooker for BBC Wales, reveals that he used to play football for the team who won the FA Cup in '81. That is...1881. He played for Old Carthusians, long after they beat Old Etonians 3-0 in the 1881 final at the Kensington Oval in front of 4000 people. Next week, Guy is heading to Montreal, representing The Mjolnirs,in the Canadian Amateur Racquet Championship. Racquets is the game which squash grew out of, and involves a small ball being hit at speeds of up to 180mph.
As is always the case when Ding Junhui is in action, the media centre has its own version of Chinatown, with a quartet of journalists from CCTV, Xinhua and Sohu.com taking up residence on the front row. Pukka Pies UK Champion Ding will be hoping to return to form after his 6-1 reverse against Mark Selby in the first round of the Pokerstars.com Masters. He faces a tough opener again, Jamie Cope his opponent.
Click here for Mark Williams' interview on Welsh language channel Antena, which was recorded at Celtic Manor last week. The two-times Welsh Open champion faces Fergal O'Brien today. At the 2003 UK Championship, O'Brien beat Williams 9-7 to end the Welshman's run of 48 consecutive first round wins in ranking events, which was a relief to hard-up journalists who had promised to buy Williams a cake if he got to 50.
The draw for the final stages of the China Open is now available - click here. Some interesting possible last 16 ties, including Ding against Selby and Williams against John Higgins, which would be a repeat of the 2006 final.
It's amazing to think that just three years ago, Graeme Dott and Ken Doherty went to the Crucible vying for the official World No 1 spot. Last week they met in the qualifiers at Prestatyn, having both suffered dramatic falls down the ranking list. Dott won that game is now playing Joe Perry - read a preview in the Daily Record.
Ding will face Stephen Hendry in a special East v West challenge in Beijing next month - for more on that click here
CJ de Mooi, star of the BBC quiz show Eggheads, is among the crowd today. He's a big snooker fan and lives near Newport. He is also planning a trip to the Crucible in April.
A Pot Black event for Welsh juniors will be staged at the Newport Centre tomorrow morning. It starts at 10am and is free for spectators. The four competitors are Jamie Clarke (Llanelli), Tom Rees (Swansea), Callum Lloyd (Newport) and Dale Hughes (Port Talbot).
Neil Robertson wore his heart on his sleeve when he beat Ali Carter at the Crucible last season, particularly during the second session when he stole several frames with pressure clearances, punching the air with his fists each time. Tonight, it's Carter's turn to nick one, making a superb dish of 46 to win the first frame, including a brilliant pink along the side cushion.
Snooker journalists spend far too much time on the road; they are currently debating which is the best motorway service station in the UK. Neil Goulding of Lancaster & Crowther favours Leigh Delaware, while Phil Yates is a fan of South Mimms.
Dominic Dale successfully completed his Sport Relief mile around the table - 113 laps - in 12 minutes 47 seconds, smashing the previous record of 18 minutes 13 seconds, set by Mark Selby in 2008. Scroll through the Gallery to see some pictures.
If you play snooker at Rileys, keep an eye on this site for discount vouchers
Ronnie O'Sullivan is his usual laid-back self as he chats to friends in the media centre just before his opening match against Stuart Bingham. The two players are wearing near-identical outfits, grey shirt with black waistcoat, and one wag suggests that they must have got them buy-one-get-one-free. O'Sullivan, in action for the first time since his agonising 10-9 defeat to Mark Selby in the Pokerstars.com Masters final last Sunday, beat Bingham 10-5 when they met at the Crucible in April.
Bingham wastes two good chances to win the fifth frame, and his chance looks gone now as he trails 4-1. O'Sullivan's colours clearance included a stunning pot on the green down the side cushion.
Stephen Maguire pots ten reds with blacks in frame five against Dominic Dale, before missing a tricky 11th black. Surprisingly, there hasn't been a 147 on the World Snooker Tour since Mark Selby's at the Jiangsu Classic last June.
It's a busy time on the snooker circuit with the totesport.com Welsh Open following hot on the heels of the Pokerstars.com Masters - and with a spot of Championship League in between. So rustiness can hardly be used as an excuse by the top 16 in Newport this week. Going back to last year's tournament here in Wales' third-biggest city, the last eight events on the World Snooker Tour have been won by eight different players: Ali Carter (Welsh Open), Peter Ebdon (Bank of Beijing China Open), John Higgins (Betfred.com World Championship), Mark Allen (Wuzhou International Group Jiangsi Classic), Ronnie O'Sullivan (Roewe Shanghai Masters), Neil Robertson (Grand Prix), Ding Junhui (Pukka Pies UK Championship) and Mark Selby (Pokerstars.com Masters). Will the trend continue? The likes of Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire and Welsh No 1 Ryan Day will certainly hope so.
Click here for the outright odds from new title sponsor totesport.com
The introduction music used for player walk-ons at Wembley will not be used here until the semi-final stage, as for the early rounds there are three tables and a roll-on / roll-off format.
Mark Williams was at golf's Ryder Cup venue Celtic Manor last week to promote the tournament. Click here and scroll half way down to watch his interview with Lisa Rogers on BBC Wales, or here for a feature in the South Wales Argus.
There were a few surprise results in the final qualifying round last Friday, with eight of the 15 seeded players losing. Liang Wenbo, who is provisionally ranked 12th, lost to Michael Judge, and Ricky Walden, 14th in the provisional list, went down to Tom Ford. That gives a chance for those just outside the provisional top 16, the likes of Peter Ebdon, Jamie Cope, Joe Perry and Matthew Stevens, to make up vital ground. Ebdon, who has been ranked among the elite for the past 16 seasons, is struggling early on and trails Barry Hawkins 2-0.
Rob Walker's girlfriend has come up trumps again on the cake front, sending him to Newport with a delicious banana loaf.
Referee Brendan Moore will take charge of a ranking final for the first time on Sunday.
Nervy moments for Stevens and Pinches as they are locked at 4-4. Nearly 20 minutes have passed in the deciding frame and only one red has been potted. Pinches shocked Shaun Murphy 5-4 at the Grand Prix in October so he won't be frightened of causing another upset.
Stuart Bingham has an extra incentive to reach his first ranking semi-final here: following a poll on the Snooker Forum website, his introduction music will be the classic 1980s tune Snooker Loopy.
BBC Wales commentator John Evans recalls the time he was MC for an exhibition match between Jimmy White and Matthew Stevens in Carmarthen in the early 1990s. "I introduced Jimmy and Matthew and they both got a great cheer," he says. "The I spotted Jimmy's dad, Tommy, in the crowd, and gave him a mention. Tommy got out of his seat, fought his way down on to the stage, put his arms around me and gave me a kiss!" Charismatic Tommy was a much-loved figure on the snooker circuit until his sad death in 2007.
Marco Fu has lost his last three matches in ranking events and badly needs a win. Unfortunately for the Hong Kong cueman he has run into Welsh Open specialist Andrew Higginson, who always does well here, particularly in 2007 with his extraordinary run to the final. Higginson leads 2-0.
Dominic Dale is still talking up his chances of setting a new record for the Sport Relief mile tomorrow. He says: "113 times around the table is nothing. I'd do that working out how to counter a Steve Davis safety."
No one can have hoped for a better final line up than Ronnie O'Sullivan against Mark Selby - a repeat of last year's final, which many fans named as their best match of the season. O'Sullivan took it 10-8, and described winning the tournament as the best achievement of his career, as he was playing with a cue which he picked up for the first time two days before it started. He continues to experiment with cues and insists he lacks confidence in his game. Indeed he spent some time on the practice table this morning, working on his cue action. But he has shown the heart and determination to fight through troubled times on the table this week - notably from 3-0 down against Neil Robertson and 5-4 down against Mark Williams. Selby also has those qualities in abundance, as well as a calmness and happy-go-lucky attitude which is ideally suited to the unique Wembley atmosphere. His record at the venue is exceptional - he has won 10 out of 11 matches here, and if he wins today he will have more Masters crowns than ranking titles. It seems sure to be a closely fought contest, and hopefully every bit as exciting as last year.
Betfred.com make O'Sullivan the 4/9 odds on favourite, with Selby 7/4 against. The shortest price scoreline is 10-6 to O'Sullivan, at 11/2.
O'Sullivan is aiming to become the only player other than Cliff Thorburn (1985-86), Stephen Hendry (1989-93) and Paul Hunter (2001-02) to win snooker's biggest invitation title in consecutive years.
Rob Walker is planning to warm the crowd up by getting them to sing Tony Christie's 'Amarillo', just as he did at the Crucible last season.
Jamie Borthwick, who plays Jay Brown in Eastenders, is among the crowd.
Hayley Turner, who became the first female jockey to ride 100 winners in a year in 2008, is among the crowd. O'Sullivan's pals Damien Hirst and Antony Genn are, as usual, glued to the action. Selby's friends from Kasabian couldn't make it as they are on tour in New Zealand.
The trophy and runner-up medal will be presented tonight by WPBSA Chairman Barry Hearn and Pokerstars.com Regional Marketing Director Emma Crowe.
Steve Davis, who was said to be on TV more than Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, is not recognised by a security guard who stops him at the entrance to the arena and insists that he needs a pass. Fortunately one of World Snooker's officials is on hand to assure the steward that Davis is allowed access backstage.
Electric atmosphere as the players are introduced and walk down the stairs from the top of the arena. Selby is supported by girlfriend Vicky, while O'Sullivan has mum Maria and sister Danielle cheering for him, as well as rock star Ronnie Wood.
Could frame 12 prove pivotal? O'Sullivan snookers Selby on the last red, and from the ensuing chance clears to the green to go 7-5 up at the mid-session interval.
O'Sullivan is now 9-6 ahead - and Selby must be drawing from the memory of the 2008 Welsh Open final when he came from 8-5 down to beat the Rocket 9-8.
The comeback is well and truly on now as Selby is within a frame at 9-8, courtesy of a fantastic break of 109 in frame 17.
Something has to give today as neither Ronnie O'Sullivan nor Mark Williams have ever lost a semi-final at the Masters. The Rocket has won eight out of eight, and the Welshman three out of three. The overall head-to-head is 16-7 to O'Sullivan, who has won their last six meetings.
An excellent crowd of well over 1000 give both players a fine reception.
Fantastic start from Williams as he makes a 107 in the opening frame, including a sensational pot on the last red. He had a chance of a 141 and the new target for the high break prize, but misses the black.
There are rumours of a few Spurs footballers, including Peter Crouch, coming to the second semi-final tonight. Let's hope that the players don't mistake one of Crouch's limbs for the extended rest.
Another chance for Williams to raise the high break in frame six, but he misses the final pink on 132 after a loose positional shot from the blue. Cracking match, it's 3-3.
There's an excellent snooker picture spread in The Times today, with images taken over the past few days by chief sports photographer Marc Aspland. He compares O'Sullivan to enigmatic sportsmen Boris Becker and Ayrton Senna, and writes: "A photographer glimpses a view of madness and an intensity behind the eyes, then you quickly look away without wishing to be caught in their gaze."
The winner of the jungle cue competition is Karsten Boysen from Denmark, who correctly identified the defending Pokerstars.com Masters champion as Ronnie O'Sullivan (along with around 300 more of you). Karsten will be sent the cue by John Parris.
A crowd of over 800 welcomes Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire into the arena, hoping that tonight's game matches the drama of the first semi-final.
No sign of Peter Crouch - and surely we'd spot him if he was here, unless he was standing behind Del Hill.
If Selby wins tonight, it will be the second time in recent years that the Masters final has been between the same two players in consecutive years. O'Sullivan played John Higgins in the 2005 and 2006 finals.
Maguire makes a magnificent 140 total clearance to level the match at 2-2. One person who won't have enjoyed that is Neil Robertson, who set the high break target at 140 earlier in the week but can now only hope to share the £10,000 prize.
Stephen Maguire and Ryan Day take to the table today for what should be another high quality quarter final. Maguire is aiming to reach his third semi-final here in four years - though he has never made the final. Day figures in the last eight for the first time in his career.
Football Focus filmed the introduction to their show by the table in the arena, which will go out tomorrow on BBC1 at 12.15pm. Presenter Dan Walker revealed himself as a snooker fan, though said that on the one occasion he took his girlfriend to a match, she got told off for eating sweets.
Javelin thrower Tessa Sanderson, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1984, is among the crowd today. She was interviewed by the BBC about her Foundation
Watching from the players' lounge is former middleweight boxing champion Michael Watson.
...and also Alfie Burden, the IBSF World Amateur Champion who has been nominated for a return to the pro Tour next season. Burden, who lives close to Wembley Arena, won his amateur title in India, and says that the enthusiasm for snooker there is comparable to that in China.
Mark Selby has had to wait five days between winning his opening match and playing his second, so must feel as if he's coming into tonight's clash with Mark Allen a bit cold. These two met at the same stage last year, Selby winning 6-5 after fluking a red out in escaping from a snooker at a critical point in the deciding frame. "I pot those all the time in practice so I can't believe he left me it," Selby joked at the time.
Nice moment between the two in the first frame, after both had passed up at least three clear chances to take the frame. Allen missed an easy brown with the rest, and suggested to Selby that they should toss for it, then took a coin out of his pocket and spun it. The crowd enjoyed that light-hearted exchange. Selby ended up winning the frame to take a step towards his ninth win in ten matches at Wembley.
Steve Davis will be on BBC Radio Five Live at 9.20pm to talk about the tournament so far.
We haven't had a deciding frame so far this week. The last time that the whole Masters went by without a decider was 1980. Update: the match has now gone to a deciding frame. Selby has won all seven best-of-11 matches he has played at Wembley, five of them by a 6-5 scoreline, so must be considered favourite.
Ronnie O'Sullivan and Peter Ebdon last met at the Pukka Pies UK Championship, when the Rocket enjoyed a comfortable 9-3 second round victory. If their respective records at Wembley is anything to go by, O'Sullivan muct be a strong favourite today - he has reached eight finals here and won the title four times, while Ebdon has never made the final.
Snooker poet Kevin Power, whose latest work features in the official programme, is here today, filming an item with BBC.
Also present in the arena is Luca Brecel, a 14-year-old player from Belgium who is tipped as a future star. He won the European Under-19 title in April - the youngest ever winner of the event.
Chatteris' top cueman might have lost last night, and be facing a battle to retain his top 16 place, but at least his name is sure to feature again at Wembley Arena. On April 11, the venue will host a concert by Bad Company and the Joe Perry Project.
We've not had a sniff of a 147 so far this week - until the first frame of Shaun Murphy's match against Mark Williams as Murphy takes seven red-blacks before missing an easy black on 56 with the reds nicely spread.
Michaela Tabb, who missed the first part of the event following the death of her grandmother, will be back tomorrow to referee the match between Mark Selby and Mark Allen. She will also take charge of one of Saturday's semi-finals, though the final will be officiated by Jan Verhaas.
Another cracking first round match in prospect at Wembley as Betfred.com World Champion John Higgins faces up-and-comer Mark Allen. They met at in the semi-finals at the Crucible last season - Allen sending Higgins into a cold sweat by coming from 14-4 down to within striking distance at 15-12, before Higgins regrouped and won 17-13. They also played at the Grand Prix in October, Higgins enjoying a more comfortable 5-1 success. Allen gave a good account of himself on his Pokerstars.com Masters debut last year, beating Judd Trump 6-4 and Ryan Day 6-1 before losing 6-5 to Mark Selby.
The highlight of the day so far has been a tin full of 'rocky road' cakes, baked by Rob Walker's girlfriend.
Higgins' intro music will be 'Don't Stop Believing' by Journey, while Allen hopes to live up to the promise 'Let Me Entertain You' by Robbie Williams. Update: Higgins ended up having 'Pinball Wizard' by The Who.
Check out Ronnie O'Sullivan's diary on Rileys' website, including his plan to race a 196mph Audi in next year's Volkswagen Racing Cup.
Shaun Murphy has been filming with BBC Sportsround for an item which will go out on CBBC this Friday afternoon. They have a leaderboard for sports stars on who can text 'I love Sportsround' the quickest. 'Quickfingers' Murphy looks sure be near the top after completing the job in around five seconds.
Allen, whose only previous win over Higgins came in his first professional tournament, the 2005 Northern Ireland Trophy, is just one frame away from beating the World Champion, leading 5-3. Unless Higgins wins the next three frames, he'll have lost in the first round nine times in 16 appearances at the Masters.
Among the crowd for Ryan Day's match tonight will be his brother Rhys, a professional footballer who is now with Conference outfit Oxford United.
Shaun Murphy (sort of) reveals his top three Pukka Pies in this interview.
Joe Perry enters the arena to 'Are You Gonna Go My Way' by Lenny Kravitz, while Ryan Day chooses 'Dakota' by Welsh band the Stereophonics.
It's the match of the first round this afternoon as defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan takes on flamboyant Australian Neil Robertson. O'Sullivan has a superb record at Wembley in recent years, having appeared in five of the last six finals and won three of those. Robertson has been in fine form, having won the Grand Prix in October and lost narrowly 9-8 to John Higgins at the Pukka Pies UK Championship. His record at Wembley is surprisingly poor - he has won just two matches here in four visits. The player nicknamed the Thunder From Down Under will enter the arena to 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC. O'Sullivan's music of choice is 'Ali In The Jungle' by The Hours. The Rocket is a friend of the band's singer Anthony Genn, and saw them support U2 at Wembley Stadium last summer. Genn and artist Damien Hirst will be among the crowd this afternoon.
Fact of the day: there is an (empty) Olympic size swimming pool underneath the stage at Wembley Arena.
Question of the day: will O'Sullivan use a purple cue? Over 50% of you think he will. Update: the answer is no, his cue is not purple.
It's no secret that O'Sullivan's long game has been the weakest part of his armoury in recent months. It doesn't look as if he's rectified the problem, as two attempted long pots early in frame two fail to threaten the pockets. Robertson makes an excellent century to go 2-0 up.
Robertson set a good target for the £10,000 high break prize with a 140 total clearance to make it 4-4. It's been a fantastic match - who will take their chances at the business end?
MC Rob Walker regales the media centre with an amusing tale from his stint presenting the BDO World Darts Championship alongside Colin Murray. "I was told that two girls were standing outside waiting to get my autograph," says Rob. "So I went out and signed for them. Then as I was walking back inside, I heard one of them say 'it wasn't him we wanted, it was the short one from Northern Ireland.'"
In his live interview in the BBC studio after the match, O'Sullivan suggested that music should be played in between frames, with pundit Ken Doherty coming into the arena to dance around, dressed in a thong. Anyone agree? email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ali Carter will enter the arena to 'Little Less Conversation', JXL's remix of the Elvis classic. Mark Williams will again have Kasabian's 'Club Foot', though perhaps Metallica's 'Whiplash' might have been a better choice given his injury from yesterday's car accident.
It's been extremely cold in the media centre all week, to the extent that some journalists have been making trips outside just to warm up. A small group of polar bears has been spotted in the corner.
Mark Williams against Rory McLeod has been a fairly scrappy affair so far, but Williams will be happy with his 3-1 interval lead. The Welshman, whose walk-on music was 'Club Foot' by Kasabian, missed this tournament last year having dropped out of the top 16. "I was watching it on TV and I knew I deserved to be at home, and not playing in the tournament, because it was my fault I went out of the top 16," he says in the official programme. "I didn't enjoy that and I knew I had to make sure that I was there and playing in the tournament next time. I still feel as if I have what it takes to get right back up the rankings, and I hope I still have big titles in me."
It's another proud moment in McLeod's career as he makes his Wembley debut and becomes the first black player to compete in the televised stage of the Masters. The Wellingborough-based potter, whose parents are Jamaican, was introduced to 'Jammin' by Bob Marley. McLeod is also featured in the official programme and says: "This is great experience for me. I want to get used to it as quickly as possible, so I can play my snooker. I've been to the Masters as fan, I saw Paul Hunter beat Fergal O'Brien 10-9 in the 2001 final at the Conference Centre. It was a brilliant atmosphere."
Paul Hunter Scholar Jack Lisowski is spending the day in the media centre finding out how things work behind the scenes. Asked who he thinks will win the tournament, Jack says: "I fancy Ronnie O'Sullivan or Ali Carter. The local players get a lot of support which could help them. Carter is due a good tournament."
An odd incident at the end of frame six could leave McLeod kicking himself. He traps Williams in a snooker on the yellow, and the Welshman misses it and leaves a free ball. McLeod, trailing by 20 points, looks to have an easy black and the chance to gain position on the yellow and clear up. But, surprisingly, he asks for the balls to be put back. Williams hits the yellow, McLeod misses a tough long pot and Williams takes the frame. One can only assume that McLeod suffered a lapse in concentration in passing up the free ball.
Six-times Masters and seven-times World Champion Stephen Hendry enters the arena to 'Champion of the World' by Reverend and the Makers, while Shaun Murphy is accompanied by U2's 'Vertigo'. The first four matches of the tournament have been one-sided and without many big breaks, so let's hope these two can serve up a classic for a crowd of just under 500.
Maguire's chosen introduction music is 'Super Massive Black Hole' by Muse.
A wintry landscape surrounds Wembley Arena, but around 1000 fans have braved the elements for the opening match of the 2010 Pokerstars.com Masters between Mark Selby and Ding Junhui. It's quite a contest to get the tournament underway. Selby won this event on his debut 2008 and has won seven of his eight matches at Wembley - his only defeat was last year's final which he lost 10-8 to Ronnie O'Sullivan. Ding is the man in form having won the Pukka Pies UK Championship last month as well, as well as reaching the final of the Grand Prix. Ding spend the festive period in China, where he attended a televised snooker challenge on Christmas Day between Shanghai and Beijing Univeristies.
The player walk-ons during the event will be accompanied by music. Ding will have 'Eye Of The Tiger', while Selby will enter the arena to Kasabian's 'UnderDog'.
Rigging the arena and creating the best possible playing conditions over the past few days has been something of a logistical headache, given the problems with suppliers and officials getting to the venue, as well as the low temperature in the arena. The tables were installed on Thursday and the temperature in the arena and the practice area has now been brought up to a good level.
Michaela Tabb was due to referee the final at this event but has withdrawn following the sad death of her grandmother. She has been replaced by Pete Williamson.
There has been a wealth of media coverage in the build-up, mainly focussed on Ronnie O'Sullivan and Jimmy White but there are also pieces on the likes of John Higgins , Stephen Maguire, and Neil Robertson (click here then launch the latest edition and scroll to P48-49).
Fans can get free coaching all week on the table in CueZone, located in the foyer, from official coach Del Smith.
BBC Sport's website has a filmed interview with Jimmy White, recorded at the Rainforest Cafe in London last week.
Ding is keen to keep the 'Eye of the Tiger' for his introductions in future tournaments, although apparently he is also a fan of Lady Gaga, particularly 'Poker Face' and 'Bad Romance'.
Peter 'The Force' Ebson walks in to 'Can You Feel The Force' by The Real Thing, while Marco Fu is accompanied by 'I've Gotta Feeling' by the Black Eyed Peas. Both get a rousing reception.
New WPBSA Chairman Barry Hearn will be on BBC Radio Five Live at 5.40pm to talk about his hopes and plans for snooker.
Mark Selby, who had his car stolen after his hotel room was broken into at the Pukka Pies UK Championship, has since bought himself a new C-Class Mercedes. Journalist Phil Yates suggests that his next intro tune could be the music from Grand Theft Auto.
Hearn on Five Live: "If Jimmy delivers tonight it will be a great decision (to give him the wild card). If not, I'll blame someone else and send Jimmy back to the jungle."
The reception for Jimmy White was so loud that even Rob Walker struggled to make himself heard. Mark King helped rev up the crowd with a spot of funky dancing as he was introduced to Ice Cube's 'You Can Do It'. Whirldwind White then virtually raised the roof when he walked in to Dire Straits' 'Money For Nothing'. Can he live up to his billing? It's a scrappy start, both players failing to make the most of chances in the opening frame. White's close friend Tony Drago, watching from the media centre, says: "Jimmy has a chance, but he has to get off to a good start."
Jungle king Gino D'Acampo gets a cheer of 'Gino, Gino' as he finds his way to his seat. Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood is also watching.
The crowd tonight is 1368.
2009 UK Championship
Tremendous reception for both players as they enter the arena. John Higgins has won seven of his previous nine meetings with Ding Junhui, but is he at a disadvantage having played his semi-final yesterday, while Ding had a day to recharge his batteries? Higgins has often said at the Crucible that the player who finishes their semi-final in the afternoon, rather than the evening, is likely to benefit in the final. He insisted last night that he was not tired at the end of his 9-8 victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan because it was a fast-flowing match, but it remains to be seen whether he will be sharp in the opening exchanges today.
Higgins is sure to extend his lead over O'Sullivan at the top of the provisional rankings, regardless of the result today. Ding will be sixth if he wins and seventh if he loses.
Slight delay at the start of the third frame as Higgins asks for once of the TV lights above the commentary box to be turned away so it's not shining in his eyes. Lighting expert Dave Coleshill is on the case.
Having returned from the jungle, Jimmy White is reunited with his pal Ronnie Wood, according to the People.
The Higgins clan watching from the players lounge includes parents John and Josephine, wife Denise, sons Pierce and Oliver and daughter Claudia. Ding, as ever, is supported by mum Chen Xi Juan, as well as a contingent of Chinese journalists.
Peter Lines has leapt to 40th in the latest rankings after his superb run to the quarter-finals. Another player to make a great start to the season is popular Maltese cueman Tony Drago, who has won two matches in each of the first three events and is up to 65th.
Scrappy stuff in the sixth frame, it's been going over 20 minutes and there's plenty of snooker left in it with eight reds left, four of them on the cushions.
Presenting the trophies tonight will be Peter Mayes, Marketing and Business Development Controller for Pukka Pies, and WPBSA Director Dr Hamish McInnes.
Chinese journalist Victoria Shi reveals that Ding Junhui's dinner consisted of beef with mushrooms, chicken with vegetables and steamed rice.
This final has been like a tennis match so far, in that Ding has led five times, only for Higgins to draw level on each occasion. It's now 5-5...who will be the first player to 'break serve'?
Incredible miss from Higgins at the end of frame 15 as he wobbles an easy frame-ball brown in the jaws of a baulk corner. Ding clears to go 8-7 up.
The sense of excitement around the venue is palpable, particularly in the foyer where hundreds of fans have arrived early to soak up the atmosphere ahead of the clash between the world's best two snooker players.
Betfred.com make Ronnie O'Sullivan favourite at 4/7 odds-on today, with John Higgins 5/4 against. O'Sullivan leads the career head-to-head 27-19, although Higgins has got the better of their recent meetings, winning matches at the Grand Prix and Bank of Beijing China Open. The Scot won 13-9 the last time they met over a long-distance match, at the Crucible in 2007. He also edged out O'Sullivan 10-9 in a classic 2006 Masters final and hammered him 9-2 at the Grand Prix in 2005.
The conclusion to the match tonight clashes with The X Factor, but Higgins has no doubt what the public should be watching. "I think we can put on a show to beat The X Factor," he told the Daily Express. His wife Denise may be one of the hardest to convince. "She is a massive fan of The X Factor, we do watch it and the Sky+ will be out on Saturday. But I'm hoping she will choose to watch her husband in his big match," added the Wizard of Wishaw.
Bob and Juliet Lancastle have written in with some high praise for Andrew Highfield, World Snooker's official coach working in CueZone in the foyer, who gave a lesson to their autistic son Thomas. They write: "Thomas, and of course ourselves as parents, learnt an awful lot that day, it wasn't only watching the professionals do what they are paid to do, it's those unsung heroes that help them get there, who tirelessly will do what is necessary to help those who are determined to progress. Andrew was at your table without assistance all day and had a smile through to the end, a credit to World Snooker."
MC Rob Walker is to introduce O'Sullivan as the 'Potting Picasso'; a nod to the presence of artist Damien Hirst who once compared O'Sullivan to the Spanish cubist...UPDATE Rob changed his mind at the last minute and stuck with 'Blink and you'll miss him.'
Hirst reveals in an interview with BBC that he is supposed to be at an exhibition of his work in Naples today, but couldn't bear to miss the snooker. Kasabian's Serge Pizzorno is another celebrity fan among the crowd.
Higgins wins a crucial fifth frame after needing a snooker on the last red, then blasts in a century to go 5-1 up. O'Sullivan is in danger of being out of touch after the first session - he desperately need to win the last two frames this afternoon.
John Parrott is not impressed by the International Centre chef's choice of evening meal, after a week in which the sponsor's product has been freely available. On the menu tonight: steak pie.
Tremendous 134 total clearance from O'Sullivan leaves him 8-4 behind at the interval. In 2001 he recovered that deficit to beat Peter Ebdon 9-8 in the quarter-finals. Surely he can't do the same against a player of Higgins' calibre. Can he?
The Rocket has closed to 8-7, this would be his best ever come back if he wins the next two frames.
The semi-finals get underway today, with three of the world's top four still involved. Stephen Maguire has a superb record in this tournament, having won it in 2004 and reached the semis here in Telford in each of the last three years. Before the recent Grand Prix, Ding Junhui considered Maguire his most difficult opponent, but beat him for the first time in Glasgow so will not be intimidated today. Most people in the media centre are prediciting a close match.
Some interest comments in the Sun today from one of Ding's managers, stating that the Chinese ace is "jealous about Liang (Wenbo). He is now a real rival, not only on the table, but for sponsorships in China. Liang has come on to Ding's territory. They don't practise together any more."
Despite a few comments from players that the pockets are playing very tight, there have been 41 centuries so far this week...exactly the same as there were at the same stage last year. Topping the chart are Stephen Lee and Mark Selby with 141. John Higgins has been the fastest to the 100 mark, taking just 5min 44sec to get into three figures in the final frame of his match against Liang Wenbo yesterday. Slowest is Selby, who took 11min 54sec to reach 100 in the 14th frame of his opening-round tie with Jamie Cope.
Footballer Robbie Savage will be here on Sunday, click here for his column in the Mirror, which includes a chance to win tickets to the final.
Drama in the first frame of the evening session. Ding misses an easy red at 35-14, Maguire clears to the blue to stand 18 points ahead. Ding lays a clever snooker on the pink to get the penalty points he needs, then pots the pink but plays a loose safety on the black, and Maguire clips it in to close to within a frame at 5-4. Turning point?
John Parrott on Radio Five Live, asked about Everton's potential new signing Landon Donovan: "I've not seen much of him, but as long as he's better than Jason Donovan we'll be alright."
Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan met in the semi-finals in Telford two years ago, the Rocket winning 9-8 in a blaze of glory with a 147 maximum in the deciding frame. Since then they have played two more thrillers over a long distance - Selby coming from 8-5 down to win the 2008 Welsh Open final 9-8, and O'Sullivan edging last season's Masters final 10-8. Can they serve up another classic today? O'Sullivan has lost just six frames in his first two matches but is likely to receive his sternest test so far today.
John Higgins beat Liang Wenbo 5-1 at the 2008 Northern Ireland Trophy and said: "I'd never criticise him because he's great entertainment to watch and that's great for the fans. It's exciting to see someone wind up and have a go. Most players don't go for anything that's less than 50/50 but he's going for pots that are 20/80. He will adapt as he gets more experience because he won't win many matches against the top players if he's that open." Higgins stated after his quarter-final here that he feels Liang has now matured as a player, as a consequence of practising with hardened pros such as Peter Ebdon and Ken Doherty at the World Snooker Academy. Today we'll find out how far Liang has come, as he takes on snooker's finest tactician in Higgins.
Betfred.com rate O'Sullivan and Higgins as strong favourites today, both 4/9 odds-on. Selby and Liang are both 13/8 against.
Here's a list of the top 16 players' favourite Pukka Pie:
Ronnie O'Sullivan: Steak and Kidney
Stephen Maguire: Chicken and Mushroom
Shaun Murphy: Meat and Potato
John Higgins: Sausage Roll
Ali Carter: Cornish pasty
Ryan Day: All Steak
Mark Selby: Chicken and Mushroom
Marco Fu: Potato, Cheese and Onion
Neil Robertson: All Steak
Stephen Hendry: All Steak
Mark Allen: All Steak
Joe Perry: All Steak
Ding Junhui: Steak and Kidney Pudding
Peter Ebdon: All Steak
Mark Williams: Chicken Balti
Mark King: All Steak
O'Sullivan looks as if he hasn't had a shave for a couple of days. Maybe he could get some free razors by becoming an ambassador for Gillette, now that the reputations of Tiger Woods and Thierry Henry have been somewhat tarnished.
It's a fine quarter-final line-up in prospect, with five of the world's top seven still involved, plus China's top duo and the rank outsider in Peter Lines. Today will see Lines play his first televised match in seven years, and his fortunes will depend on how quickly he can settle in front of the cameras. This is the second ranking event out of the three this season in which both Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo have reached the quarter-finals. Ding looks as settled and confident as he has since he was winning ranking titles for fun in his late teens, while Liang is rapidly maturing as a player and looks certain, on current form, to gain a place in next season's top 16. How long will it be until a major final is contested by two Chinese players? Ding will not have things his own way today against Ali Carter, who is quietly moving through the draw, and improving in each match after a slow start to the season.
Betfred.com make Stephen Maguire 1/6 odds-on to beat Lines, who is 4/1 against. Ding is favoured at 1/2, with Carter 6/4.
The tournament has been well covered so far in the press, here are stories in the Guardian, Times, Sun and Mirror
Here are six things you might not have known about Peter Lines:
- His cousin is former Great Britain rugby league captain Garry Schofield.
- He won all of his first round matches in ranking events last season.
- His sister was once married to his former coach, the late Steve Prest.
- He works part-time at the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds.
- He plays football three times a week for a team in Leeds called Republica.
- In his opening qualifying match in this tournament, he was hauled back from 8-4 to 8-8 by Xiao Guodong, then made a century in the deciding frame.
BBC Sportsround are here filming an interview with Mark Selby, which will be shown on CBBC on Friday and BBC2 on Saturday.
"This is the best sponsorship deal ever," declares Phil Yates as he sinks his teeth into a tea-time beef and onion Pukka Pie, his second of the afternoon after launching his culinary feast by experiencing the delights of a chicken balti pie.
Peter Lines' son Oliver is having the time of his life, divided between watching his dad in action and playing darts with Ding Junhui's mum in the players' lounge.
Ding against Carter has had the feel of an 8-8 about it all day, and it seems sure to go that way now, with Ding bang in the balls at 8-7 down. Which of these will hold their nerve when it comes to the crunch?
Official media partner the Shropshire Star has been providing its usual excellent coverage. See Steve Davis' press conference here
With Ronnie O'Sullivan taking centre stage yesterday, the quality of Ding Junhui's performance against Mike Dunn on an outside table went larely unnoticed. From 5-2 down, Grand Prix runner-up Ding won seven frames in a row with breaks of 114, 87, 73, 51, 50, 67 and 73. The Chinese player is under the TV lights today to face defending champion Shaun Murphy, and is considered an 11/10 chance to win the match by Betfred.com.
Darts player Ted Hankey, the current BDO World Champion, is among the crowd today. The 41-year-old, nicknamed The Count, lives in Telford.
Follow Pukka Pies Sport on Twitter at twitter.com/pukkapiessport
Mark Selby talks about his late father and his support for the Loros hospice in the Leicester Mercury
Peter Lines has done superbly to reach the last 16, but if he beat Mark Williams today it would be one of the biggest shocks in recent years. Good start for the Yorkshireman - he leads 2-1.
Fans are queuing almost the whole length of the International Centre foyer so there should be great atmosphere when Ronnie O'Sullivan, Matthew Stevens, Ali Carter and Rory McLeod enter the arena this afternoon.
Telford's Richard Poole won a Shropshire Star competition in the build-up to the tournament and enjoyed a frame against Mark Selby last night on one of the practice tables. A couple of other competition winners: Ben Adams won tickets to both semi-finals through a competition on this website, and Hazel Patridge won final tickets via our CueNews e-newsletter.
In the crowd supporting O'Sullivan today is the artist Damien Hirst, who has become a close friend of the Rocket within the past 18 months. Hirst was introduced to snooker by Gordon Burn, author of Pocket Money, one of the best books ever written on snooker, and one which has regained relevance with the return of Barry Hearn and Steve Davis as major players in the sport's commercial to and fro. Burn sadly died earlier this year.
Ten years ago, Stevens beat O'Sullivan 9-3 in the quarter-finals of this tournament. The Welshman, who lost to Mark Williams in the final that year but won the title in 2003, has made a fine start today and leads 2-0.
Mark Selby equals the target for the high break prize by making a 141 total clearance - aided by a fluke on the final pink - in frame six against Stephen Hendry. That's Selby's third century of the match; since he was 8-4 down against Jamie Cope, the Leicester Jester has played like a dream.
What a vital session of snooker ahead for Peter Lines. After seven years without even playing at a venue, he has a golden chance to reach the last 16 of snooker's second biggest ranking event, as he leads Marco Fu 6-2 with a match against Mark Williams in prospect. Lines' son Oliver is a very promising junior, having won the English Under-14 title last year. "I don't really coach him as I don't want to be one of those dads who sits on the sidelines telling their child off," said Lines. "He's improving a lot and it won't be long before he's beating me."
A contender for shot of the tournament from Ali Carter at the end of his match with Rory McLeod, as he smashes in a brilliant long yellow and clears to the pink for a 9-7 victory.
The England Football Supporters Band provided entertainment for fans in the foyer before play started this afternoon. The five-piece brass band, sponsored by Pukka Pies, were supported on drums by Mark King, John Parrott and Willie Thorne as they banged out popular numbers such as The Great Escape and When The Saints Go Marching In.
There's a full house for the match between Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis, and a rousing reception for those two legends, as well as John Higgins and Ricky Walden. Those four have 85 ranking titles (that's nearly 40% of all ranking events in snooker history) and 16 World crowns between them. Hendry and Davis may be good pals off the table, but make no mistake, they are both desperate not to walk off the table a loser tonight. There's not even the glimmer of a smile as they shake hands at the outset.
Great start for Hendry as a break of 115 gives him the opening frame. He produced one of the worst performaces of his professional career in losing to Mark Williams in the last 16 of the Grand Prix...early signs are that his cueing is in much better shape today.
Mark Selby says in the official programme: "I had a great 18 months leading up to this season and made a lot of progress in my career. There was bound to be a blip at some stage, that's natural, you can't keep just progressing up and up without having a bad patch. Other people might be panicking and talking about me possibly dropping out of the top 16, but I'm not worried about it. Not yet!" This afternoon's session against Jamie Cope is hugely important in the context of Selby's season. Win the match, and he'll have a batch of ranking points and a surge of confidence for the rest of the week. Lose, and surely concerns about his top 16 place will become serious.
Former Wales footballer Robbie Savage, an avid snooker fan, will be here later in the week.
Michaela Tabb is not present this week as she's in Las Vegas to referee pool's Mosconi Cup, which starts on Thursday. Tabb featured in Sport magazine on Friday - click here and go to page 32.
Stephen Lee knocks in a 141 in the final frame of his session against Mark Allen, a new front-runner for the high break prize.
Ryan Day, arguably the best break-builder never to have made an official 147, comes within four pots of reaching that milestone. The Welshman takes 15 reds with blacks plus the yellow and a tricky green, but finishes too low on the brown and narrowly fails to cut it into a baulk corner.
A bit of sad news from Cue Sports India - female snooker player Mandeep Kaur has died in a fire accident.
After such a bright start, Hendry has allowed mistakes to ebb back into his game. The first frame of the evening session has a dramatic finish as Davis wobbles a frame-ball pink in a top corner, Hendry pots it but then misses a short-range black along the top cushion and concedes.
The ferrule has broken on Mark Allen's cue, so he is forced to take the interval against Stephen Lee a frame early, trailing 6-5. Allen has borrowed a cue from John Parris, which is as close as he can get to his own, but it will be very tough now to come back and win.
The Pukka Pies UK Championship is developing a reputation for top-draw first round matches. Last year in Telford we had Mark Selby v Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens v Ryan Day and Steve Davis v Ding Junhui, and this time the line up is arguably even better, with the pick of the bunch Stevens v Ronnie O'Sullivan, Davis v Stephen Hendry and John Higgins v Ricky Walden. Snooker's second-biggest ranking event has seen seven different winners in the last seven years...will that trend continue this time?
There has been plenty of snooker in the press over the past week; mostly about Barry Hearn joining the WPBSA board but also about the tournament - here are previews on Ronnie O'Sullivan, Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire, Mark Williams, Jamie Cope, Stephen Lee, Shaun Murphy, Joe Perry and Neil Robertson.
Marco Fu is likely to be jet-lagged for his opening match against Peter Lines on Monday as he's been competing in the East Asian Games
Congratulations to Bjorn Haneveer, whose girlfriend Daisy gave birth to their first child on Thursday, a son called Joppe.
Steve Davis will be twittering throughout the week - check him out at twitter.com/SteveSnooker
Just before 1pm, the excitement level rises in the media centre....the Pukka Pies have arrived. Phil Yates of the Times is first in the queue.
Eurosport.com includes Ronnie O'Sulllivan in its stars of the decade series. Giving him only 7/10 for sporting ability seems a bit harsh.
The fifth event in the Pontin's International Open Series starts on Monday. Follow it here.
Gerard Greene keeps alive his hopes of a shock win over Shaun Murphy with a superb long pot on a respotted black in frame ten. The Kent-based cueman still has much to do as he trails the defending champion 6-4.
The England Football Supporters Band, which is also sponsored by Pukka Pies, will be at the venue tomorrow, playing between 12pm and 1pm in the foyer. Mark King and Willie Thorne will be joining in with the band.
2009 Grand Prix
It's a fascinating final in prospect and very difficult to predict. Both Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui have won all three of their previous ranking finals, so something has to give. Robertson has perhaps played the better snooker over the week, although Ding has conceded only eight frames to Robertson's 11. Australia's Robertson had the evening off yesterday to prepare himself, although as a fit 22-year-old, China's Ding is unlikely to be affected by fatigue. An interesting point about their previous ranking finals is that Ding has played arguably the three greatest players in history: Stephen Hendry (China Open 2005), Steve Davis (UK Championship 2005) and Ronnie O'Sullivan (Northern Ireland Trophy 2006). Robertson, by contrast, has come up against three players ranked outside the top 16: Jamie Cope (Grand Prix 2006), Andrew Higginson (Welsh Open 2007) and Matthew Stevens (Bahrain Championship 2008), and in each of those he has played well only in short spells. Perhaps that's why Betfred.com make Ding the slight favourite at 4/5 odds on, compared to Robertson at 10/11. The shortest priced scoreline is 9-7 to Ding, at 6-1.
Both of today's finalists had a scare in their first round match - Ding came from 4-2 down to beat Matthew Stevens 5-4, while Robertson trailed Gerard Greene 3-1 but came back to win 5-3.
Speaking on BBC Radio Five Live, Ken Doherty says: "Both players are coming to the peak of their form. Ding has shown a lot of grit and determination this week and it's great to see him back. This final is good for snooker around the world - the viewing figures in China are amazing and we haven't had an Aussie player come to the fore since Eddie Charlton. I really think the final will go to wire, 9-7 or 9-8 either way." Doherty added that he was "pig sick" about Republic of Ireland conceding a last-minute goal in their 2-2 draw with Italy last night, having watched the match in a bar with John Virgo.
Robertson will go third in the provisional world rankings, win or lose. Ding will be eighth if he wins, ninth if he loses.
Reanne Evans has extended her remarkable unbeaten run on the women's snooker circuit to 46 matches with victory in the East Anglian Championship. A 3-0 win over Portsmouth's Emma Bonney in the final at Cambridge Snooker Centre on Saturday wrapped up the 23-year-old's 19th World Ladies Billiards & Snooker Association ranking title.
Ding's mum, Chen Xi Juan, has been watching from the media centre all week, alongside a small group of Chinese journalists. Robertson has support from six friends who have driven up from Cambridge, including Vinnie Calabrese, a former Australian under-21 champion.
Robertson made a terrific start to his semi-final against John Higgins yesterday with a break of 114, and he's made another statement of intent in the first frame of the final with a superb 124. That's his sixth century of the tournament, and 99th of his career.
Robertson ends a run of three frames against him with a 108, his 100th career century, for 3-3. All predictions of a close final seem accurate at this stage - it's sure to be 4-3 either way going into the final session, which starts at 8pm.
Huge psychological blow in favour of the Australian. Frame nine lasts 57 minutes 18 seconds, and is eventually resolved when Ding, who earlier got the snookers he required, missed an easy pot on the last brown and Robertson potted brown, blue and pink to go 5-4 up.
We're down to one table in the arena, which means there are just three more matches before the 2009 Grand Prix champion is crowned. After a flurry of top-eight casualties early in the week, we've ended up with an excellent semi-final line-up. China's Ding Junhui and Australia's Neil Robertson represent the growth of snooker overseas in the past decade. Both have already won three ranking titles, so victory would make either of them the most successful ever player from outside Britain and Ireland, edging ahead of Thailand's James Wattana who also won three. Both also have an outstanding strike-rate at the business end of tournaments; Robertson's three victories have come from five semi-final appearances, while Ding has only been in four semis. Higgins, of course, is bidding to become the first player to win five Grand Prix titles, surpassing Stephen Hendry who has also won it four times. There can be little argument against the notion that Higgins is currently the best player in the world - this is his fourth consecutive ranking semi-final. The quartet is made up by Mark Williams, and it's a welcome return to form for a player Steve Davis humbly described earlier in the week as one of the four greatest cueists ever in this interview. The Welshman's resurgence is all the more surprising given the fact that he broke his wrist just before the season started. But he seems to have cleared his mind of any complications, admitting last night that he is just getting down and potting balls without thinking about anything.
Betfred.com make Higgins 1/2 favourite to beat Robertson this afternoon, with the Aussie 13/8. Ding is 4/7 odds-on in tonight's match, with Williams 5/4 against.
Higgins gets a tremendous reception from the Kelvin Hall crowd as he enters the arena. It's some start to the match - Robertson operning with a break of 114 then Higgins levelling with a run of 90.
Chinese journalist Victoria Shi is attempting to teach the press corps a few Mandarin phrases. She's struggling to translate 'Let's get the boys on the baize' for Rob Walker.
The superb standard continues in frames three and four, Robertson making a 66 then Higgins knocking in 60 and 71. Surprisingly, there hasn't been a break over 135 made at a ranking event venue this season. Shaun Murphy took the high break prize in Shanghai with 135 and Higgins is in line for the £4000 bonus here with the same mark.
If Robertson and Williams both get through, it will be the first time that two left-handers have met in a ranking final since Tony Meo beat Dean Reynolds in the final of the 1989 British Open. Although, last month's Roewe Shanghai Masters final was between lefty Liang Wenbo and Ronnie O'Sullivan, who played a high proportion of his shots left-handed.
And if it's Robertson v Ding tomorrow, it will be the first ranking final between two non-British players since the 1985 British Open when Silvino Francisco beat Kirk Stevens.
It's not often you see a match with plenty of big breaks plus thrilling drama at the end, but today's had everything. It was arguably the best match since Higgins beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-9 in the 2006 Masters final. Send your views to email@example.com
Interesting comment from Robertson when asked if he will feel nervous tomorrow: "Yes, but I remember (sprinter) Michael Johnson saying that if he didn't feel nervous before a race, he was worried. I'm the same, I need nerves to bring the best out of me."
As if an extra talking point from the match were needed, Higgins' concession of the final black was a surprise, however easy it was. Robertson admitted afterwards that he was relieved to see the handshake offered, as under those circumstances he could have "feathered the white or anything." An oft-repeated phrase in matchplay golf is 'never concede the winning putt.'
Williams raises the bar for the high break prize, knocking in a 142 total clearance in a magnificent start to his match with Ding.
The Welshman has strangley lost his touch since that fast start. A missed pot on a long blue in frame six gifts it to Ding, who is now on the verge of the final at 5-1.
Today's guest on BBC Radio Scotland is Ken Doherty, he'll be on around 12.50pm looking ahead to today's match. Click here to listen
Going back to the question of whether players listen to the random draw before they go out for a match, Rob Milkins said last night: "I listened to the draw and I knew I would play Mark Williams if I won. I know what Ryan Day did last year (blocking his ears while the draw took place), but to me it doesn't make any difference if you know who you will play next."
Tonight's draw will be made by Scottish actor Stephen Purdon, who plays Bob Adams in the soap River City.
The schedule for the Masters qualifying event is now available - click here. The winner will earn a wild card to the main event at Wembley Arena in January. Any predictions as to who might get the second (selected) wild card? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Allen makes a break of 73 in frame five against John Higgins, only for Higgins to get a snooker and a free ball then clear up to go 4-1 up. The highest break made in a pro tournament in a frame the player has lost is 80...Neal Foulds once potted ten reds and blacks then missed the 11th red and ended up losing the frame.
Neil Robertson will be on BBC Radio Five Live tonight at 9.20pm, looking ahead to tomorrow's semi-final battle with Higgins. Listen live here
A Glaswegian journalist in the media centre quips that for the duration of this tournament, Ding Junhui should be know as Wee-Jun Ding.
Press coverage of this event has been excellent so far, particularly among the Scottish papers. Here's a couple of articles today, in the Daily Record and the Times
The quarter-final draw will be made tonight at 7pm by Scotland and Glasgow Warriors rugby player Alastair Kellock. His team-mate Chris Cusiter was due to do the honours, but is suffering from flu.
Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams have met on 34 occasions, Hendry winning 19 of those, and never can they have started a match so badly. Both have missed a series of easy balls in the first three frames. Hendry's top break so far is just 13 and he must be relieved to only be 2-1 behind.
Not many people make MC Rob Walker look short, but Alastair Kellock, at 6 foot 9 inches, towers above him.
Ding Junhui is not the type to get intimidated, but Stephen Maguire is certainly his bogey player. The Chinese cueman has never beaten the Scot, in six previous meetings. Ding should have won their match at the Welsh Open last season, but went for a very risky plant on a red on the brink of victory at 4-2, and ended up losing 5-4. He's got himself into another winning position tonight, leading 3-0. Can he finish the job this time and earn a match with practice partner Peter Ebdon?
John Virgo will be on BBC Radio Scotland just after 12.45pm to preview the Ronnie O'Sullivan v John Higgins match. Listen here
O'Sullivan leads the head-to-head record against Higgins 27-17, and beat the Scot 6-1 in the semi-finals of the recent Roewe Shanghai Masters, though we are all expecting a much closer match today. Betfred.com strongly fancy the Rocket - he's 8/15 odds on with the Wizard 11/8 against.
It's showtime at the Kelvin Hall and there's a sizzling atmosphere in the arena. The decibel levels as the players are introduced is pretty even between local favourite Higgins and world No 1 O'Sullivan. Mark Allen and Jamie Cope also get a rousing reception - the battle between those two fast, attacking potters could be every bit as good as the match on table one.
O'Sullivan joked before the match that he would like to make a 147 left-handed today. He didn't quite manage it in the opening frame but did fire a 131 total clearance, mostly left-handed. It's now the mid-session interval and well poised at 2-2.
Ian Mcculloch talks about the hard time he went through with illness and injury last season, in today's Lancashire Evening Post
We've had an email from Kevin Gosden, whose son Andrew has been missing for two years. Andrew loves snooker, often visited the Crucible before he disappeared and even met Shaun Murphy. For more information click here
Former Scotland goalkeeper Alan Rough, who won 50 caps and played in two World Cups, will be at the venue tomorrow to play a frame against Mark Allen on one of the practice tables. He is now one half of the Ewen and Roughie Show on Real Radio.
Prodigious Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang is a big snooker fan, according to this article. Shaun Murphy is learning the piano so perhaps they could trade lessons - if Murphy wants to get to this standard.
Ken Doherty beat Neil Robertson 5-4 when they met recently in Shanghai, and if the Dubliner is to win tonight, it will have to be by the same scoreline. Robertson makes a smooth break of 77 to go 4-2 up.
BBC Radio Scotland will include an interview with Stephen Hendry in their 12.45pm sports report. Click here to listen.
Five of the world's top eight players have already been knocked out: Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Ryan Day, Mark Selby and Marco Fu. Two of the others, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Maguire, enter the fray today. Lower down the top 16, there have been no casualties, with those ranked nine to 14 all safely in the hat for today's second round draw.
Most of the attention this afternoon is on Ronnie O'Sullivan's match against Jamie Burnett, but it's Mark Williams who has caught the eye so far. The Welshman has made two brilliant clearances, 71 and 74, to go 2-0 up on Stuart Bingham.
If he wins today, O'Sullivan will face John Higgins in round two. How will that affect his (and Burnett's) attitude to the match? Last year, Ryan Day stood in a toilet with his fingers in his ears while the draw was being made, because he felt that thoughts of his next opponent could affect his concentration on the job in hand. It must have worked, as he got to the final. It will be interesting to find out whether any players have followed Day's example.
Though he looks as good among the balls as ever, O'Sullivan's long potting has been unreliable in recent months. He misses an attempted red from distance last in frame two by several inches and allows Burnett to level at 1-1.
Following up on the earlier post about whether players prefer to listen to the draw...Williams said after his match that he didn't listen, but he did ask Bingham before they started the match who the winner would play.
Looking ahead to tonight's match with Stephen Maguire, Nigel Bond told us: "I've started the season well, winning my qualifying matches for Shanghai and for the Grand Prix. I feel as if I'm hitting the ball well. I started well down the provisional rankings in 42nd, but if I can win a couple of matches this week I could be back in the top 32. I know Stephen (Maguire) has had a shoulder injury and apparently there's been a fair bit written about it in the Scottish press, but I've not seen any of that. It's up to me just to get on with my game and not worry about my opponent. They say beware the injured snooker player so I've no doubt he'll be up for it. He's number two in the world so it's bound to be a tough match. The last time I played him was in the quarter-finals of the China Open in Beijing last year and he beat me 5-0; he's a very good player."
The competition in last week's e-newsletter has been won by Janet Hoare of Liverpool. Her prize is a pair of tickets to Sunday's final.
Stephen Hendry looks relaxed as he sips tea and reads the papers just before going out for his match against Matthew Selt. It's amazing to thing that Hendry won this tournament 22 years ago. He may not be the force he was, but just to remain in the top 16 at the age of 40 is some achievement. Of course, that's not what interests the Auchterarder legend - only the trophy will give him complete satisfaction. Hendry, who hasn't won a ranking title since the Malta Cup early in 2005, has a difficult match in prospect against Selt, who is in the form of his life and has very little to lose. In this event last year, Hendry struggled through his opening match against David Gilbert 5-4 after a nervy final frame. No doubt he would settle for the same outcome today.
Phil Yates has written a very good piece about another player who has recently turned 40, Ken Doherty, in today's Times.
Phil Studd of BBC Radio Five Live asserts that Liang Wenbo currently has the "Indian sign" over Peter Ebdon, having beaten the former World Champion 5-0 at last season's Northern Ireland Trophy and 5-1 en route ot the final of the recent Roewe Shanghai Masters. The Chinese player has made a confident start today and leads 1-0.
In this article, China Daily considers Liang's emergence as a challenger to Ding Junhui as China's top player.
Frame three of the Hendry match sees the Scot force a snooker on the final pink to draw within 12 points, only to rattle a tough long pot on the pink in the jaws of a baulk corner. Selt pots it to reduce his arrears to 2-1.
Journalist Neil Goulding has brought in a book published in 1995 entitled 'Steve Davis Plays Chess'. It includes pictures of the Nugget studying chess in various locations, including one of him sitting on the toilet reading 'Chess Yearbook 1995'.
Bad miss from Barry Pinches on the last red in the first frame against Shaun Murphy, wobbling it in the jaws of a top corner from close range, gifting the frame to Murphy. One feels that Pinches needs to take anything which lands on his plate if he is to win tonight.
That's more like it from Pinches, a break of 109 getting him back to 2-1 down. He came from 4-1 behind to beat Michael Holt 5-4 in the qualifiers so is clearly not one to let his head go down. Meanwhile, Ian McCulloch misses an easy black off the last red to give up his chance of a respot in the third frame against Mark Allen. Ulsterman Allen leads 2-1.
Great shot from Allen in frame seven, bravely cross-doubling the final blue to a middle pocket after McCulloch had missed it a pot with the rest. There's been a bit of needle in this match, starting in the first frame when McCulloch played on when he needed five snookers on the yellow. Both players seem likely to show some emotion at the end.
The tension mounts in the Murphy v Pinches match with the deciding frame in the balance. Murphy misses an easy red at 43-10, giving Pinches a chance to get back into the frame.
David Flynn, winner of one of the competitions run by the tournament's official media partner the Scottish Sun, got to play a frame against Neil Robertson yesterday as part of his prize. Flynn happens to be a former school chum of Stephen Hendry; they were in the same year at Inverkeithing High School. "I was a very keen snooker player at the time," he said. "Then it was time for the exams and Stephen went off to play in a tournament, but my mum made me stay in school for the exams, telling me that they were more important than snooker. I said to her 'well that Stephen Hendry's allowed to play snooker. I bet he'll be a millionaire within ten years.'"
Rob Milkins, wearing a pink tie and a (half) pink waistcoat today in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, probably hasn't watched Reservoir Dogs recently, otherwise he might have been put off by this passage of Quentin Tarantino's trademark dialogue:
Mr. Pink: How bout if I'm Mr Purple? That sounds good to me. I'll be Mr Purple.
Joe: You're not Mr Purple. Some guy on some other job is Mr Purple. You're Mr Pink.
Mr. White: Who cares what your name is?
Mr. Pink: Yeah, that's easy for you to say, you're Mr White. You have a cool-sounding name. Alright look, if it's no big deal to be Mr Pink, you wanna trade?
Joe: Hey! Nobody's trading with ANYBODY.
The tournament's random draws will be at the following times:
Second round: Tuesday at 1.30pm, made by the Lord Provost of Glasgow
Quarter-finals: Thursday at 7pm, made by Scotland and Glasgow Warriors rugby player Chris Cusiter
Semi-finals: Friday at 7pm. Personality for the draw to be confirmed.
Several snooker players have found that fatherhood has changed their priorities in life and, for a few years at least, had an adverse affect on their snooker career. John Higgins and Mark Williams are good examples of this. Others have not necessarily found that more offspring equals less trophies; Ronnie O'Sullivan has arguably enjoyed the most consistent form of his career since daughter Lily and son Ronnie were born. It remains to be seen how Ali Carter deals with the responsibilities and pressures associated with having an extra mouth to feed. His first test since Thursday's arrival of son Max is today against Rob Milkins, and the Captain currently trails 2-1.
Matt Selt admits to being excited by tomorrow's clash with Stephen Hendry, although, naturally enough as a Romford native, Selt idolised another legend, Steve Davis, in his formative years. Selt's first manager was Robert Brazier, who also managed Davis early in the Nugget's career. Brazier will be at the match tomorrow, as well as a posse of Selt's friends, who are leaving Romford at 4.30am to drive up to Glasgow.
Great attempt at a 147 from Ding Junhui in frame seven. He pots 13 reds with blacks, before rattling the 14th black on 105. The last red was clamped to the side cushion so there was still much work to do. The bonus for a maximum this week is £20,000, plus the £4,000 high break prize. Ding could do with two more frame-winning breaks as he trails 4-3.
Ryan Day gets even closer to a maximum, potting all 15 reds with blacks then adding yellow, green, brown and an excellent pot on the blue. But he finishes too close for comfort to the pink, which is a few inches from a side cushion, and has to attempt a long pot to a baulk corner, which narrowly misses. Day has never made an official 147 - how long will it be before he gets a better chance?
We're all set for the first balls to be struck in the Grand Prix, a tournament now celebrating its 25th birthday. We've seen seven different winners in the last eight years, with defending champion John Higgins the only player to lift the trophy twice in that period. Who will hold it aloft a week on Sunday? Email your views or questions on the tournament, or anything to do with snooker, to email@example.com
Higgins' opponent today is Mark Joyce, who was involved in a unfortunate mishap shortly after arriving in Glasgow yesterday. After driving up from Walsall, his sponsor parked the car in front of their hotel in order to check in. When they returned a few minutes later, the car was gone. The assumption was made that it had been stolen, although it turned out that it had been towed away and impounded, having been parked illegally. The only silver lining was that Joyce had very nearly left his cue in the car, deciding at the last second to take it with him.
It's very windy in Scotland today, to the extent that the Dunhill Links golf on the east coast has been abandoned for the day. As John Parrott quipped in a live interview in BBC Scotland's radio studio this morning: "It would have been like playing blow football." Parrott also spoke of his obsession with crown green bowls before he ever picked up a snooker cue. He reached the last 16 of the national junior bowls championship before, one rainy day, he tried his hand at snooker and never looked back. The 1991 World Champion revealed that, though he is still competitive in the qualifiers, he misses the excitement of challenging for titles. "Apart from getting married and having kids, the best feeling in the world is lifting up a trophy. You know you've been the best player in that tournament, and the feeling stays with you for weeks. That's what I miss," he said.
The tournament is being held for the first time at the Kelvin Hall. Opened in 1927, orginally as an exhibition centre, the venue was used during the Second World War to produce barrage and convoy balloons. It has since played host to a multitude of sporting and cultural events, including a circus which featured an elephant walking a double tightrope. It now houses an indoor sports arena, which has staged many international athletic events. For anyone planning to come along, it's just two miles from Glasgow city centre and very well served by public transport.
The venue, as well as the adjacent Kelvingrove gallery, one of Scotland's premier art galleries, were named after the renowned Scottish physicist Lord Kelvin, aka William Thomson (1824-1907). He's best known for coming up with his own temperature scale, which included the basis of absolute zero, and he also argued that the laws of thermodynamics expressed the indestructibility and dissipation of energy. Which all seems very obvious these days.
Here are some 'style facts' about Glasgow:
• The creative rationale for Glasgow: Scotland with style is subtly derived from Glasgow's world-renowned cultural icon Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the "Glasgow Style" movement of the early 1900s. It also reflects numerous articles written by travel journalists who visited the city and whose recurring theme was the style of Glasgow and its people.
• Barcelona has Gaudí, Chicago has Frank Lloyd Wright - Glasgow has the Art Nouveau magic of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His innovative and influential style can be seen throughout the city including The Glasgow School of Art - widely recognised as Mackintosh's greatest architectural achievement.
• Confirming the long-held view of residents and visitors alike, Glasgow's Buchanan Street was named by the Academy of Urbanism as the 2008 finest shopping street in Britain - ahead of London's Regent Street.
Glasgow was also named the best place to shop outside London's West End for the fourth time in a row by economic forecasting consultant Experian Business Strategies in the 2008 Retail Ranking - and experts predict the city will still be top of the shops in 10 years.
• "The time has come for Lonely Planet to let one of its worst kept secrets out: Glasgow's got everything. When we put together Best in Travel 2009 we were looking for the best places to go and things to do in the world right now. We're delighted to highlight such a fun, stylish city." Lonely Planet Travel Editor, Tom Hall, on Glasgow being cited as one of its top ten cities in the world to visit.
• "Scotland's biggest city has shaken off its shroud of industrial soot and shimmied into a sparkling new designer gown." - Lonely Planet Scotland
• Glasgow was named as a UNESCO City of Music in August 2008. Glasgow's legendary music scene stretches across the whole spectrum from contemporary and classical to Celtic and Country. Its venues are equally varied including King Tuts Wah Wah Hut (consistently voted the top live music venue in the UK), the Barrowland, O2 Academy, the Scottish Exhibition + Conference Centre, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and City Halls. Among the musicians/bands hailing from the city are: Franz Ferdinand, the Fratellis, Snow Patrol, Travis, Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian, as well as newcomers Isosceles, Amy MacDonald and Glasvegas.
• "Europe's Secret Capital of Music" - Time Magazine.
• "Glasgow is now in a positive feedback loop where the excitement of the '90s arts scene has attracted students from around the world to the city's school of art…Very often, those students will then remain in the city after they graduate, intensifying the momentum and contributing to what is now a cosmopolitan arts community whose numbers are far beyond the norm for a city of Glasgow's scale." - Francis McKee, Director: The Centre for Contemporary Arts.
• "Scotland's Parliament is based in Edinburgh but its fashion capital is undisputedly Glasgow - an altogether edgier, grittier, urban metropolis that long has been the focus of Scotland's creative energy." - International Herald Tribune.
• Since reopening in July 2006 after a 3-year, £35 million refurbishment, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has welcomed over six million visitors through its doors and has been ranked in the top 15 most visited museums in the world. Figures compiled by the respected arts journal The Art Newspaper, saw Kelvingrove at 14th in the world ahead of such famous names as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, London's Tate Britain and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Mention of Belle and Sebastian brings to mind the track Spaceboy Dream from their excellent 1998 album The Boy With The Arab Strap. Does anyone else think that the monologue at the start of the track sounds like John Higgins? Listen here
There's a good crowd in the arena for the Higgins v Joyce match, with that half of the arena virtually full. The other half is less densely populated, although there is a young couple who, as MC Rob Walker discovers, are celebrating their first wedding anniversary by cheering on their favourite player, Marco Fu.
Surprising miss from Higgins on the penultimate red in frame four when he had a chance to go 4-0 up. Joyce will feel a lot better now he's got a frame on the board, though he's still got it all to do after the interval as he trails 3-1.
Appropriately for a player from the Fens, where, over centuries, inhabitants have fought a perpetual battle to keep their land above water, Joe Perry faces a struggle this season to keep his ranking in the high ground of the top 16. The Chatteris cueman has sunk to 22nd in the provisional standings, having failed to win a ranking match since beating Ronnie O'Sullivan in second round of the UK Championship last December. Perry hopes to turn the tide against Marcus Campbell tonight.
It's been a bitty opening between Mark Selby and Ken Doherty, the first two frames lasting an hour. Selby flukes the last red in frame two and clears to the blue, but Doherty gains a snooker on the pink and, after a long safety battle, pots pink and black to go 1-1. The frame score was 86-85, not far off the record points aggregate, set at the 1992 Asian Open qualifiers in Stoke when Sean Storey won a frame against Graham Cripsey 93-92.
Perry misses a tricky match-ball black at 4-1, over-cutting it to a top corner. Campbell pots it to keep his hopes alive.
So unlucky for Selby. Leading by 23 points in frame six, he pots the frame-ball green, only for the cue ball to bounce off two cushions and go in-off. Doherty clears for 4-2.
2009 Roewe Shanghai Masters
Here are five things you may not have known about Liang Wenbo:
1. He comes from the city of Suihua in the Heilongjiang Province, which is in the north east of China, bordering Inner Mongolia to the west and Russia to the north. Suihua is known for producing clay pottery, wild herbs and edible fungus.
2. In his early teens, he went to a training centre in the Guangdong Province near Hong Kong to work on his snooker. At the same camp was Ding Junhui, who is 27 days younger than Liang. The two are now both based at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield, although they rarely practise together.
3. His coach is Wu Wenzhong, a highly respected figure in Chinese snooker. Wu also coaches Ding, Xiao Guodong and Tian Pengfei.
4. For the first time in his career, Liang is now ahead of Ding in the provisional world rankings. He will go ninth if he wins today and 13th if he loses, while Ding will be 14th.
5. He likes the music of classical composer Beethoven and a Hong Kong band called Beyond. He also enjoys watching Jackie Chan movies and football.
Smooth start from O'Sullivan as a break of 70 gives him the first frame. He's playing his 32nd ranking final and chasing his 22nd title. Victory would bring him within six of Steve Davis' haul of 28, though still a long way behind Stephen Hendry on 36. The Rocket will be second in the provisional rankings, behind John Higgins, regardless of today's result.
We didn't expect many long frames in this match between two fast, attacking players, but the third lasts nearly 51 minutes, following a long safety exchange on the colours with Liang needing a snooker. Eventually he fouls and concedes the frame - leaving O'Sullivan 3-0 up.
The draws for the UK Championship qualifiers and venue stage are now available, click here and here
Liang may be 6-3 down after the first session but there are a couple of good omens for him. Last year's O'Sullivan led Ricky Walden 5-4 at the same stage but lost 10-8. And in 2007, Dominic Dale came from 6-3 down to beat Ryan Day 10-6.
The winner's trophy will be presented tonight by Mr Wang Wei, Assistant Secretary General of Shanghai Municipal Government, and Mr Chen Yin, Mayor of the Government of Xuhui District, Shanghai. World Snooker Chairman Sir Rodney Walker will also be among the presentation party for the closing ceremony.
The Rocket has certainly struggled with his game today and must avoid the temptation to give into frustration. He looks agitated in frame 12, especially after missing the last red to a middle pocket, then failing on the last pink to the opposite centre. Liang pots pink and black to close to within two frames at 7-5.
If Shaun Murphy and John Higgins were both to win today and meet in tomorrow's final, it will be the first time that two consecutive ranking events finals have featured the same two players since 1995, when Steve Davis beat Higgins in the Welsh Open final, then the Scot got revenge on the Nugget in the International Open. Higgins, of course, beat Murphy in the Betfred.com World Championship final at the end of last season.
It's a confident start for Liang Wenbo as he takes the first frame against Murphy with breaks of 47 and 59. That's only the second frame that Murphy has conceded in this tournament. The event has been won by players ranked outside the top 16 in each of the last two years - Dominic Dale and Ricky Walden. Liang, the world No 27, is the only remaining competitor who can keep that sequence going. There is a parallel with Walden in that neither of them had previously been past the quarter-finals of a ranking event.
Murphy is appearing in his 18th ranking semi-final. Higgins will be playing his 48th tonight, and Ronnie O'Sullivan his 55th.
Liang shows off his cue power with a brilliant shot in frame two, potting a red and fizzing the pack open with massive amounts of top spin. He goes on to make 102 to go 2-0 up.
Re-rigging the arena into a one-table set-up proved a big job last night. In fact, the work carried on into the morning and the team of table fitters eventually returned to the hotel for a well-earned sleep at 11.30am.
Liang's all-out attack policy has got him this far, so there's no reason for him to change it now. He doesn't so much push the boat out as send it on a round-the-world cruise. After running out of position in frame five, he goes for an ambitious long pink to a baulk corner and misses, leaving Murphy an easy pot on the last red.
One of the Chinese journalists presents us with copies of the glossy magazine Pool Bond, which, despite the name, focuses mainly on snooker. The front cover is devoted to a picture of a pretty female dressed in a pink nurse's uniform, and a further dozen pages inside are allotted to the same young lady. Asked whether she is a snooker player, the journalist replies: "No, but she works in a snooker club." The magazine sells around 10,000 copies...no doubt the articles are very good.
It's 5-5 and the tension is palpable in the deciding frame. First Liang overcuts a red to a centre pocket, then Murphy pots red and green but lands well out of position and has to play safe.
Times journalist Phil Yates points out that Ding Junhui would not be the only snooker player to have a degree (see bottom post from Friday below). World No 73 Patrick Wallace is an accountancy graduate from Queens University in Belfast, while former pros Robby Foldvari and Clive Everton also have degrees.
Surprisingly, this is Ronnie O'Sullivan's first appearance in the semi-finals of a ranking event since this tournament last year. He's gone 2-0 up on Higgins - courtesy of the Scot who misses an easy pink at the end of frame two and concedes the frame having left it over a corner pocket.
Higgins looks well below his best tonight. Early in the fourth frame, he missed a long red by around six inches, leaving O'Sullivan in the balls. The Rocket pots ten reds with blacks before missing the 11th black on 81 - though there were two reds on side cushions so it wasn't an easy 147 opportunity. Higgins has got something thinking to do in the mid-session interval - he's 4-0 down.
There's great mutual respect between these two and a lot of tapping fingers or cues on the side of the table after good safety shots. But there hasn't been much else to applaud in Higgins' game tonight.
Does anyone remember a snooker player called Frankie Chan? He now works as a presenter for PCCW Hong Kong TV and is here at the tournament, interviewing players post-match. A google search on him brings up the following amusing story, as told by Steve Davis: 'One of the funniest (snooker incidents) was between a couple of guys called Paddy Brown and Frankie Chan. There had been an argument over the miss rule, and I think Frankie lost the frame. After a little bit of an argument, and discussion with the referee, Frankie put his cue on the table and walked off to the toilet. When he got there was a sign on the door, and he had to go and use another one. So he was walking back, when Paddy Brown was heading for the toilet. So Frankie shouted "out of order Paddy, out of order". Paddy lost the plot for a second and got Frankie round the throat, and said "What do you mean out of order, I was perfectly entitled to a free ball!" '
What a superb quarter-final line up, with four facinating matches to look forward to today. It's a mixture of youth and experience; and British and overseas talent. Liang Wenbo against Ricky Walden is a tough one to call, as Liang has the home crowd behind him and doesn't seem to be fazed by the big occasions. It's sure to be an open game with both players going for their shots. Shaun Murphy must be favourite to beat Ken Doherty, although Doherty has the wind in his sails and is loving every minute of his return to form. Let's not forget how good he is at his best - nor the fact that he was ranked second in the world just three seasons ago.
Steve Chambers has written in with his prediction for the 09/10 season: "Ronnie O'Sullivan has attracted so many to the baize and his natural talent, along with his enigmatic character, has made him arguably the greatest player of all time. And this season will see O'Sullivan continue to rewrite the record books as he will reign supreme, totting up a plethora of titles. Many players will feel they have the game to challenge the World number One, but ultimately the Rocket will conquer all that is put before him this season and continue to show his dominance in the game. I fully expect O'Sullivan to bag at least three titles and, in particular, put behind him his second round defeat to Mark Allen and regain his Betfred.com World Championship crown."
One thing's for sure about Liang - he's great to watch. He's gone full-blooded after some extraordinary shots today, including risky long reds and difficult plants. When they go in, it's particuarly infuriating for his opponents. But he's bound to give away chances, as he has in the seventh frame, lashing out from distance at a red, missing his target and presenting Walden with the opportunity to close to within a frame at 4-3.
There's a large crowd and a tense atmosphere in the arena tonight as local hero Ding Junhui takes to the stage to battle Ronnie O'Sullivan. Ding looks calm and confident as he takes the first frame with a break of 57.
Ding may have lost the match tonight, but at least he'll be able to go home and work out his financial status. It's a little known fact back in the UK that the 22-year-old is studying for a degree in economics and management at Jiaotong University in Shanghai, one of the top ten universities in China. He is in the second year of a three-year course and studies for a few months each year during the summer break, taking private tuition in order to fast-track the course. If he passes his final exams next year, will he become the only professional snooker player ever to have a degree?
The interest in snooker from the media in China is always high, and the press room at the Grand Stage is packed with journalists every day. Inevitably, there are a few unusual questions put to players in post match press conferences. Here are a few of those...
To Shaun Murphy: "I saw a man and a woman window shopping in Shanghai, and the man looked just like you. Was it you?"
To Stephen Hendry: "We noticed that you were wearing a bracelet during the match. Is it your lucky charm?"
To Ronnie O'Sullivan: "Marco Fu said that if he plays against you like he did against Nigel Bond, you could beat him using your left leg. Do you think you could?"
All of the replies came in the negative.
The Snooker Forum has sent in a Q&A with Ricky Walden. Looking ahead to his match against Stephen Hendry tonight, Walden said: "He is a legend in his own right. I played him three times last season. I won in Shanghai on the way to the title, then he beat me in Bahrain and Beijing. He's still got it, make no mistake about it. But I relish playing him and cant wait for the game." Asked who would be the worst person to sit next to on the flight east, Walden replied: "Dave Harold, because when it comes to cards he is the luckiest man on the planet and I will arrive at my destination skint! And his hands take up most of the plane." The Flintshire cueman also admitted that he hates watching himself on video because: "I always think I look too serious and moody and that just isn't me. Plus my ears look bigger than they are on TV."
Not many players have a better record against Ronnie O'Sullivan than Marco Fu, who has won eight of their previous 16 meetings. He knocked the Rocket out of the China Open last year and the Welsh Open earlier this year, although O'Sullivan did come out on top when they met in the Premier League last week. They stand at 1-1 tonight. If Fu wins and Liang Wenbo beats Ali Carter (he's currently 2-0 up) it will be the first time that three Chinese players have reached the quarter-finals of a ranking event, with Ding Junhui already through. There have been three previous events with two Chinese cueman in the last eight: the 2005 China Open (Ding and Fu), 2007 Grand Prix (Fu and Liu Song) and 2007 UK Championship (Ding and Fu).
Stephen Hendry obviously intends on doing things the hard way in this tournament. Having come from 4-0 down to beat Marcus Campbell 5-4 in the first round, he now finds himself 4-0 in arrears against Ricky Walden. Can he do it again?
In 2005, Ding Junhui won the China Open in Beijing, and the following year he got to the semi-finals. Since then his record in his homeland has been poor; he has won just two matches in the last five ranking tournaments in China. There can be no doubt that the brilliance he showed in winning three ranking events before his 20th birthday will shine through again at some stage, but Ding must hope it happens sooner rather than later, as he starts the season 23rd in the provisional rankings. He opens today against Stephen Lee, who he describes as "very good" in this article. An enthusiastic crowd at the Grand Stage waits in hope for a Ding victory.
The Home Internationals are currently taking place at Pontin's, Prestatyn. England's senior team of Shaun Parkes, David Craggs, Robbie Williams, Michael Wild, Adam Duffy and Adam Wicheard have retained their Prince of Wales shield. They beat Guernsey 17-1, the Isle of Man 16-2, Northern Ireland 16-2, Jersey 16-2, Wales 11-7 and drew with Ireland 9-9. England also won the Masters and Billiards events, while the Juniors and Ladies are still in progress. Top break of the event so far is 133 from Wicheard.
This is the website of one of the official media partners, Sohu.com. It's all in Chinese, but if you can't read the text there are plenty of pictures.
Lovely long pot from Ding on the last red in frame five, and he clears up to go 4-1 ahead. Surely a last 16 match with Stuart Bingham now beckons.
Extraordinary error from Ronnie o'Sullivan at the end of his second frame against Graeme Dott as, leading 61-60, he pots an easy pink but neglects to play for position on the black, thinking he has won the frame. He then realises he is only seven points ahead, shakes his head and smiles to himself. It doesn't matter though, as Dott subsequently misses a chance at the black and leaves it hanging over a pocket for O'Sullivan to go 2-0 up. The Rocket's activities over the summer, other than making his motor racing debut, included attending concerts by Oasis and U2 with his friend the artist Damien Hirst, as well as a holiday in Turkey which he described as "too hot for me but good for the kids."
Every credit to Mark Williams for playing tonight with a broken wrist, and coming from 3-1 down to beat Joe Swail. Throughout his career he's been motivated by wanting to prove people wrong, so perhaps he was inspired by our poll, in which 92.3% of you voted that he had no chance of playing Shanghai.
The top 16 enter the fray today. Stephen Hendry starts his 25th professional season with a tricky tie against Marcus Campbell. As Ken Doherty pointed out yesterday, while playing a wild card is never easy in China, it does give players a chance to get used to the tables in the arena, which is particularly useful overseas, where playing conditions are never quite the same as they are at home. Campbell had a handy work out against Tang Jun yesterday, enjoying a routine 5-1 victory. Though it was 11 years ago, he will not have forgotten his best ever result, a 9-0 defeat of Hendry in the UK Championship; surely the most shocking scoreline in snooker history. Hendry seems in relaxed mood around the hotel, signing plenty of autographs and posing for photos when he gets mobbed by fans within seconds of stepping into the lobby. He has been in Shanghai for two weeks, taking part in various PR activities for Star Tables, so is acclimatised and free of any jet lag. Starting the season 11th in the provisional rankings, less than 2000 points ahead of 17th-placed Dave Harold, the seven-times World Champion must make a strong start to the season, otherwise the pressure associated with the fear of dropping out of the top 16 could build during the campaign.
Hendry stated last week that this is a tournament he particularly looks forward to. "I enjoy going to the big cities in China as there is a great buzz about them - and Shanghai is my favourite," said the 40-year-old Scot. "The Grand Stage is an incredible venue. It holds 2500 and for a final with Ronnie O'Sullivan, or John Higgins or me against Ding or Wenbo it would be full - and the atmosphere would just be incredible. I'd really love to win in Shanghai."
Mark Selby is up against Stuart Bingham tonight, read the Leicester Mercury's preview here
It's not often you see two breaks over 60 in the same frame, but that's just happened in the third frame of the match between Ryan Day and Li Yan. Day potted eight reds with blacks before breaking down on 64, and Li made a fine 78 clearance, though he still trails 2-1. It's been a shaky start for Hendry - he's 2-0 down to Campbell. This tournament has been won by players ranked outside the top 16 in each of the last two years (Dominic Dale and Walden)...could there be some early casualties among the seeded players today?
Hendry is pacing outside the arena, i-pod in place, during the mid-session interval, down 4-0 to Campbell. Maybe he's listening to The Only Way Is Up by Yazz and the Plastic Population.
What a fight back from Hendry - he's got to 4-4 thanks to a 68 clearance from 57-0 down in frame eight. This could be the second time this year that a Scot has come from 4-0 down to win a first round match in China; John Higgins did so against Anthony Hamilton at the Bank of Beijing China Open in March.
Neil Robertson has spent most of the time in Shanghai so far camped in his hotel room playing computer games. But he's made a solid start against Ken Doherty and leads 2-1. His close pal Matthew Selt is giving a very good account of himself on his TV debut and stands 2-2 with John Higgins. Liang Wenbo looks full of confidence as he surges into a 4-1 lead over Peter Ebdon, while Stuart Bingham makes a century to edge 3-2 ahead of Mark Selby. All four seeds in action this afternoon ended up winning, so perhaps the qualifiers will fare better tonight.
Journalist in Peter Ebdon's press conference: "Why couldn't you capitalise on Liang's weaknesses?"
Ebdon: "Because the only weakness he showed tonight was that his socks were too short."
Ken Doherty, a lover of art and particuarly the 16th-century Italian painter Caravaggio, continued his own renaissance with a 5-4 victory over Neil Robertson. The Dubliner has now won four matches in this tournament - that's twice as many as he won in eight ranking events last season.
Last season, the titles were spread around with John Higgins the only player to win two ranking events. Will it be a similar story this term, or will one player emerge to dominate? Send your predictions and opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Player of the season so far? That's an easy one: Ken Doherty. The Darling of Dublin won two vital qualifying matches to reach Shanghai, earning a meeting with wild card Aditya Mehta, a promising Indian who played on the pro Tour last season. Doherty also reached the semi-finals of the first Pro Challenge Series event then won the second one, giving himself a much-needed confidence injection. After a miserable 2008/09 season in which he won just two ranking matches and slipped to 55th on the provisional list, the 1997 World Champion looks to be back on the right track.
Stephen Maguire has hurt his shoulder and is resting today, hoping to be fit for his match against Barry Hawkins on Wednesday night. Mark Williams continues to recover from his broken wrist and will face Joe Swail on Wednesday. There are no plans for a repeat of the football kick-about which saw Graeme Dott break his wrist last year.
Another player recently in the wars was Shaun Murphy, who had a bout of swine flu last month. "I wasn't allowed to leave the house for five days, although I couldn't have done so anyway as it hurt just to turn over in bed," said the world No 3. "I watched a lot of TV and became an expert on the latest football transfers." Murphy has also spent a fair bit of time tinkling the ivories and has a piano exam coming up.
The time difference between the UK and China is seven hours.
The weather here in Shanghai is bright and sunny, with the temparature touching 30 degrees centigrade. Fortunately the walk between the superb East Asia Regal hotel and the equally plush Grand Stage venue is no more than a few minutes - and players also have the option of courtesy cars supplied by title sponsor Roewe.
Here are a few interesting facts about Shanghai:
* According to this list Shanghai is the second most populous city in the world, with 13,831,900 people. It covers an area of 2,400 square miles.
* It is the world's largest cargo port. The name Shanghai literally means 'the upper reaches of the sea.'
* Shanghai boasts one of the fastest trains in the world - the Maglev. It runs from Longyang Road subway station to Pudong International Airport, the 30km journey taking 7 minutes 21 seconds and reaching a maximum speed of 431 km/h (267.8 mph).
* It's a leading tourist destination; Pudong airport handled 17,150,000 international passengers in 2006.
* The city's official flower is the white magnolia.
* It is the centre of Chinese cinema. The country's first short film, The Difficult Couple (1913), and first fictional feature film, An Orphan Rescues His Grandfather (1923), were both produced in Shanghai.
An awesome 64 clearance from Nigel Bond sees him nick frame six on the black against Yu Delu, putting him 4-2 up.
Shanghai is a great city, but could do without the creepy-crawlies. One of World Snooker's media team got the fright of his life when he opened his camera case and a huge beetle-cockroach-type-thing, which must have thought it had found a warm bed for the night, fell out and crawled across his hand. The camera fell to the floor with a clatter, but fortunately remained in one piece.
Great comeback from Yu to 4-4 against Bond. Li Yan and Gerard Greene are also poised at 4-4, so with Liang Wenbo already through, it could turn out to be a good night for the Chinese....update: a suprising miss from Yu on the final blue gifts Bond a 5-4 victory, while Greene loses by the same scoreline.
There has been some speculation today about whether Ronnie O'Sullivan is fit to play, as he is suffering from a sore back. He is receiving treatment, but the fact that he is practising at the venue tonight suggests that he will be able to compete on Wednesday against Graeme Dott. It was once said about the golfer Sam Snead, who won a record 82 titles on the US PGA Tour, that "watching him hit balls was like watching a fish practising swimming." O'Sullivan brings this quote to mind as he rifles balls into pockets on the practice table.
2009 Betfred.com World Championship
And so to the final day of what has been one of the best ever Championships. Neutrals will be hoping Shaun Murphy can make a fight of the final today by fighting back in the third session. Betfred.com say Murphy is 6/1 to come back and win the title, with Higgins 1/12 to convert his 11-5 lead into a third world crown.
John Norris writes: 'Can you tell me what the maximum break is in snooker, as most think it is 147, but if there is a foul and a free ball is elected, this would add an extra red making 155 a top break. Has anyone done it?' That's correct John, the highest possible break is 155. It's never been done in a tournament, but Jamie Cope has made a 155 in witnessed practice. The highest ever break in a professional event was a 148 from Jamie Burnett in the 2004 UK Championship qualifiers.
Higgins executes a tremendous long pot on the final blue in the 19th frame. He's snookered behind the black, but comes off the side cushion to flick the pink into the corner and go 13-6 ahead. Murphy still need to win one more frame to make sure the match goes to an evening session.
Panic over for the officials backstage nervous about an afternoon finish as Murphy wins frame 21 to get to 14-7. He may feel he needs to add the last three frames of the session to stand a realistic hope tonight.
Legendary cricket umpire Harold 'Dickie' Bird will be among the crowd tonight. Also here is six-times World Champion Ray Reardon, who gave some coaching to Murphy earlier in the season.
Betfred.com have already priced up next year's Championship. Ronnie O'Sullivan is 7/2 favourite, with Higgins and Murphy both 10/1. Mark Allen is 16/1.
Betfred.com rate Higgins the 8/11 odds on favourite for the title, with Murphy 11/10 against.
Michaela Tabb is the first Scot to referee the World final since Lawrie Annandale in 1998. A good omen for Higgins - he won the final that year.
Evgene from Russia is not only a stats expert but also seems to have crystal ball. Asked for his prediction for the tournament back on April 20, he replied that Shaun Murphy would beat John Higgins in the final.
Higgins is off to a the better start and is 3-0 up but, with a Magician and a Wizard involved, both players are sure to have good spells.
After losing his first round match, Steve Davis stated that he had no intention to retire, because snooker carries no risk of physical injury, only mental scarring. Whatever the psychological damage imparted by a narrow defeat on the green baize, it can't compare to the bodily harm inflicted in boxing (scroll to 6.30). It's surely time for Ricky Hatton to hang up his gloves.
Maciek from Poland writes: 'Marvellous semis! Both winners deserve to be in the final. They work harder than any other players. Higgins won seemingly lost matches versus Cope and Selby, Murphy stopped Hendry and Robertson. Now the question is who will survive to the end of the match. In my mind this Championship is every inch better than last year - more centuries, more excitement, more surprises. I wish Higgins to win - his performance is astonishing. Good luck, John!'
Speaking on TalkSport this morning, Dennis Taylor described Mark Allen as a "revelation." The 1985 Champion added: "It's great to have another top player from Northern Ireland. It's a shame he couldn't get his break-off shot right in the first two sessions against John Higgins, he was letting him in first in every frame."
A couple of your emails...Hans Gassner writes in to say: "I am just an old man, who watches snooker whenever I can. I would suggest Mr Robertson finds another hairdresser who is able to cut his mane in a was that looks neat and handsome."
Joe writes: "Can you ask the Wizard of Wishaw after his semi-final or final post match press conference, whether it was eating his favourite flavoured Monster Munch crisps that got him through the match and kept his energy up throughout the sessions."
Shaun Murphy starts frame 18 against Neil Robertson with ten reds and blacks before missing the 11th red along the top cushion. If that had dropped it would have been a great chance at a 147, with the other reds ideally placed. If Stephen Hendry was watching he'd have breathed a sigh of relief, as he'll have to share the £157,000 prize if someone else makes a maximum.
Even if you haven't got a ticket for the final, it may be worth heading to the Crucible to get some of the Tudor Square atmosphere, especially in the light of this announcement from the sponsor: Betfred are adding extra glamour to the build-up to the Championship final with the newly formed 'Betfredettes' performing a cheerleading routine outside the Crucible before play begins. The Sheffield dance troupe will be in action in Tudor Square outside the main entrance to the Crucible between 1pm and 2pm on Sunday and Monday, so come along and watch the ladies strut their stuff!
Let us know what you think of Super 6s by voting in our poll
All the nice kisses Higgins was getting yesterday - they're not coming today. He pots a long red early in frame 27, leading 15-11, but doesn't get the right nudge on the black and has to play safe. Allen then fires in one of the shots of the tournament, potting a straight red from distance with tremendous cue power to screw back for the blue. Michael Holt, watching from the media centre, says: "He's never been in this game, but he is now." This would be the greatest fightback in Crucible history, no one has ever come from ten frames behind to win.
Betfred.com cleary expect Murphy to convert his 14-10 lead into a place in the final - they rate him 1/9 odds on, with Robertson 5/1 to pull off a comeback victory.
A snooker challenge between a media representative and one from World Snooker, played in the Winter Garden close to the Crucible, goes emphatically in favour of the tournament official by a 2-0 scoreline, highlighted by well-constructed breaks of 9, 8, 8 and 6. Meanwhile, in the other big match taking place tonight, the Robertson comeback is well and truly on, he's won six frames on the spin to make it 14-13.
Strong start today from John Higgins, he opens the session with a 129 (the 74th century of the tournament) then executes a fine pot on the penultimate red to go 8-2 up. Mark Allen is in danger of seeing the match running away from him. His first priority must be to get eight frames today to ensure he is still fighting in the concluding session tomorrow. Betfred.com rated Higgins 1/8 odds on for the match, and 5/6 for the tournament, before play started, and his odds are being shortened further.
Every credit to Allen, he's knocked in a 103 to end a run of eight frames against him and pull back to 11-3. He raises his hand to the crowd, an ironic gesture, after potting frame ball. He needs to add the last two frames this morning to raise his hopes of a fight back tonight.
Betfred.com go 50/1 against Allen coming back to beat Higgins. It's a massive task - he'd need to win 14 of the last 17 frames.
Shaun Murphy once suggested that himself and Neil Robertson would be snooker's equivalent to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the coming years. His implication was that they would be regularly battling each other for the sport's major titles. Perhaps, at the time, Murphy didn't appreciate the strength in depth in snooker - there are so many other talented young players all fighting for the same trophies. If he were to continue the golfing analogy, would Mark Allen be Rory McIlroy?
John Parrott does not believe that the tournament has suffered from the early exit of Ronnie O'Sullivan, he tells the Eurosport website
Robertson's mum Alison is back home in Melbourne, following the action through the small hours on worldsnooker.com's live scoring. She's hoping for a few more sleepless nights, she tells The Australian
She'll may now be able to nod off with some hope of a fight-back, having seen Robertson nick the last two frames against Murphy to trail just 9-7 going into tomorrow's third session.
Allen has won the 19th frame to make it 14-5, and make sure he does not equal the heaviest ever defeat in a semi-final. That records stands at 17-4, set when Ronnie O'Sullivan thumped Stephen Hendry in 2004.
Betfred.com go 8/11 on Shaun Murphy to beat Neil Robertson, who is rated 11/10. In the other semi-final, John Higgins is strongly fancied at 1/2, with Mark Allen 13/8. Higgins leads the outright market at 5/4, followed by Murphy 5/2, Robertson 7/2 and Allen 11/2.
A few of your emails...Val writes in to ask: 'I know it's a toss of a coin at the beginning but who or what determines who breaks off in the other frames of snooker?' That's an easy one Val, the players break in alternate frames, so whoever broke in the first frame will also do so in the third, fifth, seventh and so on.
Peter Dickson asks: 'How many centuries has Stephen Hendry made?' The answer is 120 at the Crucible and 732 overall.
Josi Santos has a message for Neil Robertson: 'Well, if he's beaten No 2 in the world, then he must have chances of winning over No 3, or not? Congrats to him anyway, he's already gone further than he has had in the past!'
Anyone who hasn't entered the competition with the chance to win a John Parris cue has until 2pm today to do so.
This is the seventh time in Crucible history that the four semi-finalists have come from four different nations. This also occured in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1997, 1998 and 2001.
Former Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday footballer Nigel Jemson is watching this afternoon from the media seats.
Mark Allen's dad Ronnie, who has been a constant companion throughout the tournament, believes his boy can go all the way, he tells the Belfast Telegraph
Allen is taking his mind off the snooker tonight with a trip to the darts at Sheffield Arena. He was invited by Phil Taylor after meeting The Power when he came to the Crucible last night.
The delay at the end of the sixth frame between Robertson and Murphy was caused by a buzzing sound going off in the Crucible, thought to be caused by an alarm in one of the offices at the top of the arena.
Stephen Hendry shakes his head ruefully as Shaun Murphy flukes the black off the last red on his way to going 10-7 up. Hendry's 147 will mean very little to him if he goes out today.
The century count stands at 64, and with a possible 52 frames left in the quarter-finals, the record of 68 will surely fall before the day is out.
Referee Colin Humphries was officiating the John Higgins v Mark Selby match but has been taken ill so has been replaced by Alan Chamberlain.
Turning point? Murphy misses a frame-ball black off its spot when set to go 12-8 up. Hendry claws his way back into the frame and dishes from green to black to make it 11-9. Food for thought for Murphy during the 20-minute interval.
Day and Allen trade centuries at the start of their concluding session, bringing the total to 68, equalling the record.
Darts legend Phil 'The Power' Taylor will be among the crowd tonight.
Selby makes a 119 to go 10-8 up on Higgins. That's his fifth century of the match, and it's the 11th occasion on which a player has made five tons in one match at the Crucible. No one has ever made six...
Of the 71 centuries so far, the quickest to get into three figures was Ronnie O'Sullivan, who took 4min 49sec to reach the 100 mark during his 103 against Stuart Bingham. The slowest was John Higgins who took 11min 57sec during his 113 against Jamie Cope.
If Selby wins tonight, it will be the first time since 1998 that all four semi-finalist have been aged under 30.
Six of the world's top eight players are in the quarter-finals. The only two to miss out are last year's finalists: Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ali Carter.
The exit of Graeme Dott and Jamie Cope yesterday means that the line-up of the official top 16 next season is certain. Dott may not have got into the top 16 even if he had won this event, but, as World Champion, he would have been seeded second for every tournament. As it is, he is the only player to drop out of the elite, and will be replaced by Mark Williams.
The seven ranking tournaments to have taken place this season have been won by seven different players. Three of the remaining eight here are bidding to take their second ranking title of the season: John Higgins, Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson.
Christoph Geiler, a journalist from the Kurier newspaper in Austria, is here for two days to write a feature about snooker. He comes from Innsbruck, which he tells us is the snooker capital of Austria. Skiing and ski-jumping are the most popular sports there, but snooker is steadily growing thanks to Eurosport's coverage.
Great start from Stephen Hendry, he's in the balls looking to go 5-1 up on Shaun Murphy. Hendry's aiming to reach the semi-finals in consecutive years for the first time since 1997, and for his 13th Crucible semi in all.
What a day it's been at the Crucible. A fantastic 147 from Stephen Hendry, the news that the event is to stay here for the next five years, and now a piece of history is made by Mark Selby as he becomes the first player to start a match here with three consecutive centuries. Breaks of 118, 124 and 117 put him 3-0 up on John Higgins. There had been four previous occurences of three straight tons here - one of those by Selby himself - but never at the start of a match.
Gary Wilkinson recalls the time Hendry made a 147 against him at the 1995 UK Championship: "I'd been to the toilet to wash my hands, and when I came back my hands were still a bit wet, but I thought to myself 'it doesn't matter, I'll just play the break-off.' I hit the blue off the break and he made a maximum. Taxi for Wilko."
Jess O'Neill, a 29-year-old Partnerships Development Officer for Sheffield Theatres, is certainly in the right job. A self-confessed snooker-holic, she has attended the later stages of the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship at the Crucible for each of the last three years. "I first got interested in snooker five years ago, after meeting Richard Dormer, the actor who played Alex Higgins in the play The Hurricane," says Jess. "At the time the final of the World Championship was on TV, and that was it, I was hooked. On the Monday of the final I refused to go to a friend's barbeque because I didn't want to miss any of the snooker. My partner Jamie gets a bit fed up when I watch on TV for six or seven hours in a row, although he likes it more than he lets on and watches it secretly. He's had a bet on Stephen Hendry to win at 50/1 so he's getting excited." Jess joined Sheffield Theatres eight months ago. "I love snooker and the theatre so it's the perfect job for me," added the John Higgins fan. "I have to be a bit careful at work though, I don't want anyone to catch me watching snooker on the BBC website."
The big breaks continue to fly in, Shaun Murphy opening tonight with a 137 total clearance. That's 62 centuries in the tournament - we're getting very close to the record of 68.
Dean Reynolds is making first steps to recovery after suffering from a stroke, reports the Grimsby Telegraph
The Gloucester Citizen reports on new Paul Hunter Scholar Jack Lisowski
Drama on both tables. Murphy wins a black ball frame (after Hendry had missed an easy pink) to go 8-6 up, and, simultaneously, Allen makes a cracking 31 clearance to take an 8-7 lead over Day.
The former boxer Michael Watson will be at the Crucible this afternoon to watch some snooker.
The standard in the match between Stephen Maguire and Mark King has been surprisingly low. The first frame today sees both players missing several easy pots, before King secures it to go 5-4 ahead. Maguire went out to to Joe Perry last year and in anxious to avoid another surprise exit. Betfred.com have dropped Maguire to second-favourite for the title at 9/2, behind Mark Selby at 7/2.
Adam Duffy was on BBC Radio Sheffield this morning, reflecting on his year as the Paul Hunter Scholar. You can listen to the interview by clicking here and scrolling to 1:26:50.
The century count has reached 48, so with eight days still to go it looks certain that the record of 68 will be smashed.
Slight delay in the 24th frame between John Higgins and Jamie Cope as a fan in the crowd is taken ill. The players leave the stage for a couple of minutes while the fan is helped out of the arena. Tense moments - Higgins having come back from 12-10 down and now in the balls to go 12-12. We're set for the first final-frame decider of the tournament.
Def Leppard bass player Rick Savage was here this morning watching the action and filming an item for BBC.
Mark Selby, having seen his 11-7 lead cut to 11-9, comes from 44-4 down to win the 21st frame, clinching it by potting brown, blue and pink. He clenches both fists and roars into the camera in delight at having moved three up with four to play.
As any one you watching the London Marathon can see, MC Rob Walker is working on that for the BBC. Rishi Persad will do this afternoon's introductions.
Alfie Burden has had a 147 maximum today during an English pro-ticket tournament in Woking. Most of the national govening body leagues are coming towards the end of the season so players are battling to earn a place on next season's pro Tour. The final Pontin's International Open Series event takes place from May 5 to 8.
It's been a quiet day in the media centre, with no matches playing to a finish today. No doubt it's the calm before the storm, with all four remaining second round ties to conclude tomorrow. Journalist Neil Goulding, the unofficial press room chess champion, challenges Steve Davis, a former President of the British Chess Federation, to a game.
Former World Matchplay Champion Gary Wilkinson, who now works as an official backstage in the media centre, reminisces about his best performances at the Crucible. He first reached the quarter-finals in 1991, when he beat Doug Mountjoy 10-2 and Martin Clark (who also now works behind the scenes for World Snooker) 13-9. "That first session against Clarky was one of my best ever here, I won it 7-1," recalls former world No 5 Wilkinson, who lost to Jimmy White in the last eight. He was back in the quarters four years later, scoring a surprise 10-8 first round win over James Wattana. "He'd won a ranking event that season and got to the semis here in '93," said Wilkinson. "The odds against me beating him were 11/2. I went 4-1 down early on, but dug in and finished the first session 5-4 up. In the last session I played really well." He went on to beat Terry Griffiths before Nigel Bond stopped his progress.
Neil Robertson makes a superb 54 clearance to nick the 12th frame againts Ali Carter by a point and level at 6-6. The Aussie lets out a scream of elation as he leaves the arena.
He's done it again - a 68 clearance to win frame 13 from 66-0 down. Robertson nearly missed the final blue, but it horse-shoed around the lip of the pocket and dropped in. Once again he gives it the fist and shouts 'Yes!' as he returns to his chair. There may never have been a Championship with so much fist-pumping.
Carter retaliates with his own celebration after potting frame ball in the 14th. Robertson said at the Masters that he'd like to see more rivalry on the snooker circuit as he felt players were too friendly, particularly compared to Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry who, during their respectives hey-days, had no time for pleasantries with their rivals. Robertson seems to have got his wish - there's a bit of needle in this match.
Amazing - Robertson has nicked the last two frames as well, both after Carter missed easy reds when poised to take them. The Melbourne cueman has done more stealing tonight than Ned Kelly.
Marco Fu played about as badly as he ever has in going 7-1 down to Shaun Murphy yesterday. It's a long way back today but he's off to a perfect start - winning the first frame with a 129 total clearance.
Not one match has gone to a deciding frame so far. The last time there were no 10-9s in the first round was 1995; indeed there no final-frame climaxes that year.
Drama in frame 19 of the Ronnie O'Sullivan v Mark Allen match, as Allen comes from 65-1 down to force a respotted black. O'Sullivan misses a difficult chance to a centre pocket, and his opponent fires in a superb long pot to take the lead at 10-9. The Ulsterman raises his fist in celebration as he leaves the arena. He needs to stay composed - three more frames will give him the best win of his career.
Some riposte from O'Sullivan - he pots 14 reds and 13 blacks in frame 20 before narrowly missing a thin cut on the 14th black left-handed, trying to dislodge the last red from the side cushion. It's all square with five frames to play - this is developing into a classic.
A bundle of energy on the table but relaxed away from it, Allen is back in the media centre a couple of hours after his victory, dressed in his favoured Manchester United shirt, to do a few more radio interviews. Asked about his fist-pumping antics during the game, he jokes: "I noticed Stephen Hendry was doing it as well last night - he thinks he's Tiger Woods." Update...apologies to Allen, it was Shaun Murphy who made that comment.
There's just one match on tonight due to the early finish of Murphy against Fu - and it's John Higgins starting his second round match against Jamie Cope. Mark King currently occupies 16th place in the latest rankings (including points from this event) and King will retain his official top 16 berth for next season unless Cope can get to the semi-finals.
A couple of facts from our stats expert Evgene: Shaun Murphy won his 200th frame at the Crucible in the 13th against Fu. Ronnie O'Sullivan may have lost today but he still holds the record for centuries made in consecutive years. He has made at least one ton every year from 1995 to 2009. John Higgins has done the same from 1996 to 2009. Stephen Hendry (1987-97) and Matthew Stevens (1998 to 2008) both made centuries for 11 straight years.
After Bob Dylan's appearance at Sheffield Arena last night, tonight it's the turn of Girls Aloud. No doubt they'll be singing their smash-hit tribute to the BBC snooker commentators: Call The Shots.
The tournament has been blown wide open by O'Sullivan's exit, and Betfred.com's odds setters have been hard at work to update the outright market. They make Stephen Maguire the new favourite at 4/1, followed by Mark Selby at 5/1 and John Higgins at 11/2.
The second round line-up is now complete, and it's very strong, with all of the world's top eight ranked players still in the field, and 14 of the top 16. Only two seeds - Joe Perry and Peter Ebdon - fell in the first round, that's the fewest since 1996.
Betfred.com continue to fancy Ding Junhui to beat Stephen Hendry. With the score at 5-5, Ding is rated 8/13 odds on, with Hendry 5/4.
George Marriott, a ten-year-old patient from Sheffield Children's Hospital, joined MC Rob Walker in the arena this morning to help with the player introductions. George, who is recovering from a brain tumour, borrowed Walker's catchphrase 'Let's get the boys on the baize' and announced Nigel Bond on to the stage.
It's 6-6 now between Ding and Hendry, but the Chinese player must feel he should have a decent lead by now. He had a great chance to win frame 12 after Hendry missed a tricky brown with the rest, but played a poor positional shot and missed the blue, Hendry lashing in a superb long pot to square the tie. Ding's mum Chen Xi Juan (who doesn't look a day older than 30) and his Chinese manager Matt Zhang mutter their frustrations in the media centre.
Another blow for Ding in frame 13, which comes down to the final black. Both players narrowly miss chances, before Hendry slots in a long pot to take the lead.
Great stuff from Mark Allen in frame 12, clearing with 70 after Ronnie O'Sullivan had broken down on 60. It's 6-6.
Bob Dylan is playing the Sheffield Arena tonight. Apparently he'll be singing about snooker's new breed (The Times They Are a-Changin'), Neil Robertson's match against Ali Carter (Blonde on Blonde), the possibility of Sheffield keeping the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship (Bringing It All Back Home), Jimmy White losing in the qualifiers (Blowin' in the Wind) and Michaela Tabb refereeing the final (Just Like a Woman).
Vintage Hendry - a 140 total clearance puts him 10-8 up on Ding and equalls O'Sullivan's target for the high break prize. Not a bad way for Hendry to bring up 1000 frames won at the Crucible.
Meanwhile, Ryan Day is in sizzling form, knocking in a 134 to go 9-2 up on Nigel Bond. If he can win four of the next five frames he'll settle the match tonight. Not many people have talked about Day as a potential winner, but in this mood he must be considered among the contenders.
The centuries have been flying in today - Ding's just had a 121 to keep his hopes alive at 12-10. There have now been 38 tons in the tournament.
Hendry will unwind tomorrow by going to watch Manchester United play Tottenham at Old Trafford with Betfred.com boss Fred Done.
It's Tony Knowles against Scottish teenager Ross Muir in the final of the Super 6s - and Knowles is giving it everything. He's just asked the referee to respot the blue as he felt it was just off its spot.
There have been 26 centuries so far. We're only a third of the way through the tournament (although of course the density of action reduces as the event progresses) so still on target for beating the record of 68. The tables were reclothed last night and we've seen some quality snooker already today, with one ton and five more breaks over 50 in the eight frames between Stephen Hendry and Ding Junhui.
As has been the case in recent years, it's a multi-cultural media centre at the Crucible. There are two journalists here from Thailand, around 20 from China and one from Latvia. Scribes from Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Nigeria and the New York Times are expected later in the event.
We've already had around 300 entries to the competition to win a John Parris cue. No doubt many of you will have your calculators out during the semi-finals, adding up the number of points scored.
Joe Swail gave an interesting opinion after his first round defeat to Marco Fu: that Mark Allen is one of only three players that can beat Ronnie O'Sullivan at this tournament; the other two being Stephen Maguire and John Higgins. Most of those making predictions are certainly expecting Allen to give the Rocket a run for his money. The confident young Ulsterman is not the sort to be intimidated by O'Sullivan, and if he gets chances among the balls he is likely to score heavily.
Footballer James Beattie, the Stoke City striker who spent two years at Sheffield United and was capped by England in 2003, is among the crowd tonight watching O'Sullivan v Allen.
If you're into foreign food, Sheffield is the place to be next week, for the World Snooker Festival Market, reports the Sheffield Telegraph.
Potentially a big moment in the Shaun Murphy v Andrew Higginson match: in frame 14 Murphy clears from last red to pink to go 7-7. Higginson had earlier missed a simple red to a centre pocket when he had a chance to take control of the frame. After winning his final qualifying round match, Higginson stated that this would be the biggest match of his career; bigger than the 2007 Welsh Open final when he lost to Neil Robertson.
Meanwhile, Ryan Day, who is watched today by footballer brother Rhys, makes a fine 31 clearance to go 4-1 up on Stephen Lee.
England international rugby league player Ryan Atkins is here today to watch John Higgins' match against Michael Holt.
Zhang Qianhong (aka Lucy), a teacher from Spalding Grammar School, is here today with four of her students. She is from the same town in China as Ding Junhui (Wuxi) and is here to film a feature with Ding for the BBC.
Stephen Hendry was at Betfred's shop in Sheffield yesterday for the launch of their new horse racing channel, TurfTV. As if he needed any extra incentive, Hendry has been told by Betfred that they will pay his $10,000 entry into the World Series poker tournament in Las Vegas this summer if he wins an eighth world title. However, Hendry, who faces Ding in the last 16, knows that there is one major obstacle in his path; the player who beat him 17-6 in last year's semi-finals. "You can't look past Ronnie, he's got to be the favourite to win it," said the Scot. "In the middle session of that semi-final he played some of the best snooker ever played against me. He's probably the best front-runner in the game. When he gets ahead and he gets his confidence up he's very difficult to beat, almost impossible. You have to stay in front of him or with him to put pressure on him. If you don't do that you're going to lose."
John Higgins seems totally relaxed backstage, chatting to an official about last night's football match between Liverpool and Arsenal just seconds before he is introduced into the arena. He eases through the first frame against Michael Holt with a break of 88.
In taking the fifth, Higgins won his 500th frame at the Crucible.
At the recent Bank of Beijing China Open, Holt lost in the wild card round to Xiao Guodong. He had already been drawn to face Higgins at the Crucible and tried to convince the Wizard that the result would have no bearing on their Sheffield meeting. "He came up to me afterwards and said 'it's just a blip, I'm still flying.'" said Higgins. It looks like twice-champion Higgins is in for a tough time as Holt, who is one of snooker's most consistent players this season as the only man in the field to have won his opening match in all eight ranking events this term, leads 4-2.
Stephen Maguire pots 12 reds with blacks in frame five against Jamie Burnett, before missing a difficult 13th red to a centre pocket. He leads 4-1.
Betfred strongly fancy Ding Junhui to see off the challenge of Liang Wenbo today - the three-times ranking event winner is rated 2/7 odds on, with Liang 5/2 against. All the odds here.
Ryan Day starts his campaign tomorrow, and it's been a bad week for his family so far, with the news that brother Rhys is to be released by Aldershot Town FC.
The eighth frame played today will be the 18,000th at the Crucible.
Liang has fought back from 7-4 to 7-7 against Ding as the pressure builds in the all-Chinese clash. Ding must have been relieved to see the likes of Barry Hawkins, Stuart Bingham, Ricky Walden and Joe Swail knocked out, as calculating the latest rankings indicates that he will still be clinging on to 16th place even if he loses today. However he could still be overtaken by Jamie Cope - and possibly Steve Davis, Michael Holt, Stephen Lee or Liang if one of those has a deep run.
Shaun Murphy, who used to be considered the local favourite when he lived in Rotherham but has now moved to Sale near Manchester, is many people's tip for the title, but has struggled to settle in his opening match against Andrew Higginson, a 123 in the third frame his only real highlight so far. Former Welsh Open finalist Higginson has just nicked frame seven to trail 4-3, snookering Murphy on the brown then clearing the last four balls from the consequent chance.
After losing to Ding earlier today, Liang went out for lunch with Xiao Guodong and Chinese journalists Li Li and Victoria Shi. "He didn't seem depressed," says Victoria. "In fact he paid the bill so we were all happy."
You may have noticed that this website is running slowly today so please accept our apologies for this. This is partly due to the vast interest from China in the Ding Junhui v Liang Wenbo match.
This is a crucial match in Ding's career - defeat could spell expulsion from the top 16 and a return to the qualifiers next season. However, he seems relaxed backstage as he prepares to enter the arena, sharing a chat and a joke with Liang and Mark Selby. They are laughing about Liang's debut last year when he bounded into the arena, thinking he had been introduced by MC Rob Walker, when in fact Walker was introducing the referees. There are around 20 Chinese journalists squeezed into the media centre, avidly watching the match, which Ding currently leads 4-1.
Angus Loughran, perhaps better known as Statto from Fantasy Football League, will be on site for most of the tournament, working for Betfred.
Evgene from Russia writes to point out that Stephen Hendry broke two records last night: the most matches played at the Crucible (81) and the most first round matches won (20). Steve Davis can equal both of these if he beats Neil Robertson.
All six seeds to have completed their matches have won so far, while the other three with matches in progress are all leading. The least number of seeds to go out in the first round is one - that occured in 1983 and 1993. The most to lose was eight, that was in 1992.
Kasabian bass player Chris Edwards, who has known Selby since the two were teenagers, was here today to see the Jester get past Ricky Walden.
John Parrott will be live on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans show at 6.45pm.
There have been 15 century breaks so far, and with the tables playing beautifully and many of the top players in good form, the record of 68 (set in 2002 and equalled in 2007) looks sure to be under threat. The totals over the last ten years are:
1999 - 53
2000 - 54
2001 - 53
2002 - 68
2003 - 53
2004 - 55
2005 - 63
2006 - 46
2007 - 68
2008 - 63
Daniel Wells and Adam Duffy the past and present incumbents of the Paul Hunter Scholarship, are in the media seats tonight watching Joe Perry play Jamie Cope. The identity of the next Scholar will be revealed this Sunday. It's a bittersweet trip to the Crucible for Wells as he came within a frame of making it here as a player, winning three qualifying matches 10-9 before losing 10-9 to Barry Hawkins in the final round. More from Duffy later this week - he is preparing for the last PIOS tournament of the season and is still hopeful of earning a place on next season's pro Tour.
Betfred have trimmed Ronnie O'Sullivan from 9/4 to 7/4 for the title following his convincing display yesterday. Ali Carter is cut to 10-1 having built a 6-3 lead over Gerard Greene. They clearly fancy Mark Williams to convert his 5-4 lead over Stephen Hendry into victory, having made the Welshman 2/5 odds on for the match. Click here for all the latest odds.
Martin Gould looks nervous as he enters the arena for the biggest match of his life. The Londoner, a part time casino croupier, dreams of playing Ronnie O'Sullivan in the next round - click here for an interview with him on the BBC website. Gould starts with a break of 49, only to see Mark Allen clear superbly with 69.
It's also a huge match for Allen, as defeat could end his spell among the top 16. He hasn't won a ranking event match since December and may have some bad memories lingering from his painful 10-9 defeat to Stephen Hendry here last year. However, Allen is a confident character and should be able to put those factors out of his mind. One thing is for sure, it will be quick, as both players favour an attacking style, and Allen can move with Drago-esque pace around the table once he gets into full flow. In stark contrast, Rory McLeod and Mark King are still battling away at 3-3 and seem unlikely to finish their match in the morning session so may have to return this evening.
There's a group of six fans watching the Allen v Gould match with t-shirts coloured yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black. Five of them, all males, have 'Marry Me Hazel' inscribed on the shirts, while the female, wearing green, has 'Marry Me Ali' (that's Carter). The gents may be disappointed to find out that Hazel Irvine is not working for the BBC at this event as she is on maternity leave.
Mark King rattles a blue from very close range in the jaws of a top corner in the 12th frame against Rory McLeod, probably the miss of the tournament so far. As Gary Wilkinson, the former World Matchplay champion who now works as an official in the media centre, shrewdly points out: "There are no easy balls here. There are only some balls which are easier than others."
China's Anda Zhang has won the Asian Under-21 Championship and Egypt's Wael Talaat has won the African Championship - you can read more about those stories by clicking Latest News on the home page. Perhaps Talaat should run a class on how to chalk the cue tip - he could call it 'Chalk like an Egyptian.'
The opening frame tonight in the match between Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams sees Hendry suffer what could prove a significant blow. Leading 60-39, he is faced with a tough frame-ball green to a centre pocket, but suffers a kick and misses his target. Williams pots the green, gets a lucky nudge on the brown and clears the table to go 6-4 up. That's five straight frames for the Welshman.
The mid-session interval is being taken one frame early on that table, with the score at 7-5. Williams told referee Alan Chamberlain that he needed to change his cue tip, and after consoltation with Hendry, the request was accepted.
Hendry's face is a picture of disgust as Williams enjoys an outrageous fluke on a red early in frame 15 - he's had at leat three of those. But Williams is not taking advantage of his good fortune, he's been pulled back from 7-5 to 7-7. It's also a cracking match on the other table with Barry Hawkins trailing Graeme Dott 8-7. Hawkins has never won a match here and has lost 10-9 in the first round in each of the last two years.
The long wait is over, and the most exciting day of the year for snooker fans is upon us. Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stuart Bingham, Mark King and Rory McLeod are in their dressing rooms or on the practice table, making their final preparations before beginning their bids for glory. There's a buzz backstage as tournament officials (try to) make sure everything is in place, and journalists speculate about the outcome of the opening matches. Come 9.59am, a silence will fall in the arena which will set the heart pounding, as those lucky enough to have a ticket wait for the players to be introuduced into the arena. We're set for 17 days of pure snooker joy...who will be the last man standing on May 4?
The artist Damien Hirst, who has become a close friend of Ronnie O'Sullivan since attending last year's final, will be among the Crucible crowd to see the Rocket start the defence of his title.
All four players get a fantastic reception as the tournament gets underway. Rory McLeod is the first to step down on to the floor, and makes history as the first black player to compete at the Crucible. He is nicknamed The Highlander by MC Rob Walker, in reference to Connor Macleod, the lead character in the 1986 film.
For the past three months, O'Sullivan has been working with coach Steve Prest, a Yorkshireman who helped Shaun Murphy ot his 2005 triumph. Prest watches avidly from the media centre as O'Sullivan eases through the first frame against Bingham with a break of 61. He steps up the pace in the second with a brilliant 140 total clearance - an early target for the £10,000 high break prize. That's his 89th century at the Crucible and 563rd of his career.
Potentially a big moment in the match as Bingham, having won three straight frames, has a chance to go 4-2 up but misses a tricky penultimate red at 42-47. O'Sullivan's subsequent clearance included an excellent pot on the last red along the side cushion. If Bingham is to cause a massive upset, just as he did against Stephen Hendry on his 2000 debut, he can't afford to pass up too many chances.
Helping out with tasks in the media centre this week is a journalism student called Jack Kennedy. He's keeping well away from any grassy knolls in the vicinity of the Crucible.
There has been a vast amount of media coverage in the build up to the tournament, click the links below for a few previews.
Stephen Hendry and will to win are two things that go hand in hand at the Crucible. There's an extra edge to his first round game as he faces Mark Williams, his best friend in snooker away from the table but one of his fiercest rivals on it. Both players also need to win to be absolutely sure of their top 16 place for next season. Fine start from Hendry - he pots nine reds with blacks in the opening frame, missing a red with the rest on 72.
Betfred are running a snooker website throughout the tournament with latest odds, player profiles and video interviews. Click here to check it out.
Manchester City's website leads today with a feature on Nigel Bond, snooker's leading Blues fan. It's written by Peter Ferguson, who covered this tournament for the Daily Mail every year except one from 1990 to 2008, but has now moved on to work for City.
Just to clarify what will happen with the slow-moving McLeod v King match, which was pulled off after just six frames in the first session. They will return, as scheduled, tomorrow at 10am with the score at 3-3. If the match is not concluded in that session, it will return on the first available table in the evening session and play to a finish.
Barry Hawkins, currently tied at 2-2 with Graeme Dott, believes that he has the ability to match Dott's achievement of three years ago and make the World title his first ranking tournament victory, he tells the Bexley Times.
Mark Williams is in playful mood in the practice room, entertaining friends with a series of impressions of other players. Marco Fu is virtually crying with laughter on the other table.
Ronnie O'Sullivan took time after his match to meet Tom Watson, a 15-year-old fan who watched today's action then came backstage afterwards. Tom is suffering from cancer and has recently had a brain tumour removed. O'Sullivan chatted to him, signed a programme and posed for photos.
2009 China Open
Today's final brings together two of snooker's most experienced players. Ebdon has been a professional since 1991 and has seven ranking titles to his name, while Higgins turned pro a year later and has won 19; fourth on the all-time list behind Stephen Hendry (36), Steve Davis (28) and Ronnie O'Sullivan (21). It's not often these days that two players over the age of 30 contest a ranking final. It happened at the Northern Ireland Trophy when O'Sullivan beat Dave Harold, but prior to that you have to go back to the 2006 Maplin UK Championship when Ebdon beat Hendry. The last time Ebdon and Higgins met was the semi-finals of that event when Ebdon won 9-7 with what he described as one of the best performances of his career. Higgins relaxed last night by watching the film Defiance in his hotel room, and he'll certainly need that quality today, against snooker's grittiest match player.
Higgins and Ebdon will be fifth and 12th in the latest rankings going into the World Championship, regardless of the result today. Stephen Maguire can still overtake Ronnie O'Sullivan for the official world No 1 spot, but he has to win the tournament and hope the Rocket loses to Stuart Bingham in the first round.
Ebdon, not adverse to histrionics in the arena (remember his 'come on's against Stephen Lee at the Crucible, and lying on the floor against Jamie Cope at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix) jumps up and down as if on a pogo stick during the third frame against Higgins, trying to urge the cue ball forward to nestle against a red after escaping from a snooker off three cushions. Both players and the crowd see the funny side of his antics.
Michaela Tabb is today refereeing her second ranking final; the first was the 2007 Welsh Open. She also took charge of the 2008 Masters final.
Below is a list of the number of matches won in ranking events this season for all 32 players who will compete in the televised stages of the World Championship. This includes matches won in this event as well as the World qualifiers. Note that two of Ricky Walden's wins were in wild card matches. Michael Holt is the only one of these to win at least one match in every event.
Ricky Walden 19
John Higgins 16
Ronnie O'Sullivan 15
Ali Carter 15
Michael Holt 15
Martin Gould 13
Stephen Maguire 12
Liang Wenbo 12
Ryan Day 11
Neil Robertson 11
Steve Davis 11
Mark Williams 10
Barry Hawkins 10
Jamie Burnett 10
Shaun Murphy 9
Mark Selby 9
Marco Fu 9
Stephen Lee 9
Andrew Higginson 9
Jamie Cope 8
Rory McLeod 8
Joe Swail 7
Stephen Hendry 6
Peter Ebdon 6
Joe Perry 6
Mark Allen 6
Gerard Greene 6
Stuart Bingham 5
Ding Junhui 4
Graeme Dott 4
Mark King 4
Nigel Bond 2
Big moments in frame six. Higgins had several chances to win the frame but couldn't get over the line. Ebdon battled back to within 15 points on the brown, then played a poor safety. Higgins slotted home the frame-ball brown, only to watch in despair as the cue ball travelled the length of the table and dropped into the diagonally-opposite baulk corner. Ebdon made no mistake with his clearance and now leads 4-2.
Higgins also gave away frame eight after a loose positional shot from yellow to green. He finished the session with a superb 140 total clearance, equalling the high break target set by Ricky Walden, but will be annoyed with himself to be 5-4 behind going into this evening's conclusion.
In frame 12, Ebdon needed a snooker on the blue and trapped his opponent behind the pink. The blue was close to a baulk corner but Higgins just missed it and sent the cue ball into the pocket. He had a reprieve as Ebdon's position from blue to pink lacked precision and he missed the pink to the centre, Higgins potting it for 6-6. We've had some late finishes to finals this season and this could be another; it's 9pm now with a possible seven frames plus an interval still to come.
Rarely can a final have had so much drama on the colours. Higgins has just missed the brown along the baulk cushion at 42-43 in frame 15, the other balls at his mercy. Ebdon took advantage to go 8-7 ahead.
What this match has lacked in high-quality break-building, it has certaintly made up for in excitement. Frame 16 goes down to a long safety battle on the pink. Ebdon eventually makes a mistake, trying to double it the length of the table, and Higgins converts pink and black to level at 8-8.
Few people could have predicted all of yesterday's results correctly, as each of the four quarter-finals went in favour of the lower-ranked player. The tournament is now wide open, with both semis tough to call. Peter Ebdon is vastly more experienced than today's opponent, competing in his 29th ranking semi-final, whereas Stuart Pettman had never previously been past the last 16. But Pettman is playing the best snooker of his life so there's no reason why he can't keep his run going. Like many of the players in China, especially those outside the top 16, he has come out here on his own, and will have no family or friends present even if he reaches the final. "I'm getting a lot of support from home though," said the 33-year-old. "When I switch my phone on in the morning, the number of texts I'm getting saying good luck or well done is unbelieveable, they just keep coming and coming."
There are always a few odd questions put to the players by the Chinese media, and Ryan Day was on the receiving end last night when he was told he looks like footballer Steven Gerrard and asked if he is friends with the Liverpool captain. Day replied that he had never met Gerrard, and that in fact he supports Manchester United.
John Parrott, who qualified for Beijing but sadly had to pull out of the event because of back and neck problems which have bothered him for several months, describes his passion for horce racing in the Liverpool Echo
There's a Chinese word which is pronounced jia-you, which means perseverance in the face of adversity. If ever a snooker player embodied the spirit of jia-you, it's Ebdon. He'd had a poor season up until this week and was in danger of dropping out of the top 16 after 15 consecutive seasons among the elite. Away from the table, he has suffered the break-up of a 20-year relationship with wife Deborah, which he announced in January. The Wellingborough-based cueman has continued to work relentlessly in practice and put 100% effort into every match. His game now looks to be coming together and he's on course for the final having taken a 3-1 lead over Pettman.
After beating Ronnie O'Sullivan last night, John Higgins said that if he played as badly against Ryan Day he'd be on his way home. In the first two frames against Day, his predicition looked accurate as he missed several easy pots and lost them both. However, the Wizard has just made a 121 clearance to win the third - could that be the spark that ignites his challenge?
It's an intriguing quarter-final line with six players who have won the World Championship among the last eight. Two of the matches are repeats of previous Crucible finals: Stephen Hendry v Peter Ebdon (1996 & 2002) and Ronnie O'Sullivan v John Higgins (2001). The line up also features six of the top nine players in the world. Outsider of the octet is world No 62 Stuart Pettman, but he has little pressure on him and is well capable of beating Graeme Dott. "I'm treating the game with a lot more respect this season. I'm practising harder than I have done for years and it's paying off," said the Lancastrian after beating Ali Carter yesterday.
The Sheffield Star looks ahead to the exhibition of snooker-related paintings by pop artist Pete McKee, to take place during the World Championship. You'll be able to read more about Pete, who has produced art for Oasis, the Arctic Monkeys and Acme Studios, in the World Championship programme.
Working as a translator in the media centre this week is Yun, who comes from Seattle but has lived in Beijing for three years. He explains that Chinese people who deal with English-speakers often give themselves Western names for convenience. For example, journalists in the media centre are known as Celia, Vicky, Sonia and so on. Yun knows one person called Celery, and has a teacher friend with boys in his class who call themselves Ronaldo and Michael Owen. "I also know a missionary who looked after a couple who don't speak any English but wanted to give their first child a name from the bible," says Yun. "They found the name Lucifer and really liked it. Fortunately when it was explained to them what it meant, they changed their minds."
Hendry makes a mess of a safety shot on the brown at the end of the third frame and Ebdon capitalises to go 3-0 up. It's been a miserable season so far for Ebdon, but he often talks about peaking for the World Championship, so could it be that he's got his timing just right? Meanwhile Pettman is still in his purple patch - he's raced into a 3-0 lead over Dott.
Steady now Stuart...he goes for a green in frame four with such velocity that it jumps off the table. Dott pots a free ball blue and adds the green but then misses frame-ball brown with the long rest. Pettman clears up to go 4-0 ahead. Having never been past the last 16 before, he's on the brink of the semi-finals. It's what's known on the curcuit as 'doing a Higginson', after Andrew's miraculous run to the 2007 Welsh Open final.
Cakes are being handed out in the media centre, although World Snooker officials are treating them with some trepidation. Earlier in the week, what looked like Danish pastries were distributed, but biting into them revealed a strong fish-flavoured topping. Nothing fishy about Ryan Day's performance tonight as he has raced into a 4-0 lead over Shaun Murphy. Tomorrow he could face a repeat of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix final against John Higgins, as the Wizard leads Ronnie O'Sullivan 3-1.
Despite the early fall of Ding, it's an exciting time for the Chinese media with Tian Pengfei and Xiao Guodong making their mark. China.org reports on these 'dark horses'.
According to CCTV's website, the tournament has three mascots called Sisi, Nuonuo and Keke.
Flying start from John Higgins as he makes a 132 to take the opening frame against Tian. Higgins came back from 4-0 down to beat Anthony Hamilton 5-4 in the first round. Players who survive close matchs early in tournaments often feel a release of pressure and a sense of freedom for the remainder of the event, which makes the Wizard of Wishaw a strong contender for the title.
Tian had a decent chance of a 147 in frame six but played a loose positional shot on the 12th red then missed the black on 89. He trails 4-2. Meanwhile on table three, Stuart Pettman made a 68 clearance to steal the sixth against Ali Carter, he's come from 2-0 down to lead 4-2 and is on the brink of his first ever ranking quarter-final.
Peter Ebdon's match against Dave Harold will get pulled off it goes 4-4. It's currently 4-3 at 6.45pm. The evening session starts at 7.30pm with a crowd of 2000 expected.
Happy Birthday to two stars of the snooker circuit - Ding Junhui and World Snooker tournament director Mike Ganley.
An interesting fact about the host city: the name Beijing (formerly known in the West as Peking) means 'northern capital'. Nanjing, one of the host cities for the Jiangsu Classic, means 'southern capital'.
Stephen Maguire's emphatic defeat yesterday could end his chances of claiming the official world No 1 ranking. He trails Ronnie O'Sullivan by nearly 5000 points in the provisional list, which means that if O'Sullivan were to win this tournament, he would be out of sight going into the World Snooker Championship. Third-placed Ali Carter, arguably the best player in the world on current form, is sure to narrow the gap of 5525 points between him and Maguire, while Shaun Murphy will also be aiming to cement his position in the top four before heading to the Crucible.
What a start for Stuart Pettman in his match against Mark Allen as he has made breaks of 60 and 87 in taking a 3-0 lead. The likeable Preston potter is something of a journeyman, having been a professional for 17 years but never reached a ranking event quarter-final. Victory today would put him through to the last 16 for the fourth time.
None of the three professional players up against Chinese wild cards today are having things all their own way; Marco Fu trails Tian Pengfei 3-1, Graeme Dott is 2-2 with Yu Delu (sounds like a Morrissey lyric) and Shaun Murphy is 2-1 up on Cao Xinlong. Over 20% of you who voted in our poll think that in five years time there will be more than five Chinese players in the top 32, and on this week's evidence that seems a real possibility.
Pettman, Tian and Graeme Dott take part in an autograph session after their matches. Hundreds of fans fill the public foyer, clamouring to get a signature from one of the players. Led by a posse of security staff through the mass of bodies, Pettman jokes: "It's just like when me and Ian McCulloch walk down Preston high street."
Joe Swail has just made a 127 to go 4-4 with Robert Milkins.
Home favourite Ding Junhui enters the fray today with a tough match against wild card Xioa Guodong, who has won two tournaments on the Pontin's International Open Series this season and player superbly last night to beat Michael Holt. To some extent, Ding has become a victim of his own success. In winning three ranking titles before his 20th birthday, he raised expectations to an extremely high level; predictions were even made that he could dominate snooker. Since then, he seems to have felt considerable pressure on his shoulders, particularly when he plays here in China. He has not reached a ranking semi-final since winning the Northern Ireland Trophy in 2006 and his top 16 status is under some threat. Today's China Daily asserts that Ding, who turns 22 tomorrow, is aiming to "revive his once-glittering career." The Wuxi-born cueman said: "I hope I can play better this time. I will try my best. I will not think of the past results or who I will face next round. I will play my game and try to have a good result. The top level players are very close in the sport. It's normal to win or lose against them. In snooker, even if you play very well, you might still lose because it's too close."
The World Snooker Championship is previewed in the Observer
Dave Harold has already ended Stephen Maguire's title defence in one ranking event this season, beating him in the quarter-finals of the Northern Ireland Trophy, and is now seeking to knock the Scot out again. Harold's off to a great start with a break of 115 in the opening frame, missing the last green when a 140 beckoned. Seconds later on table four, Ricky Walden does make a 140 against Joe Perry to set a decent target for the high break.
It's not a good day for the Scots - Maguire is 3-0 down to Harold while John Higgins trails Anthony Hamilton 4-0. Both have been well below their best. Meanwhile, Ronnie O'Sullivan has arrived at the venue to practise.
Tonight's session of play was preceded by the official opening ceremony, attended by the Mayor of Beijing Guo Jinlong. Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen joined dignitaries in the main arena and presented them with signed cues.
Ding against Xiao has been a scrappy match, both players seeming nervous. Ding should have made it 2-2 but missed the last pink in frame four, leaving it hanging over a baulk corner and conceding. Xiao has missed a host of chances in the next two frames and it's currently 3-2. It's standing room only in the media centre, with journalists packed into the room and groaning or cheering with every shot.
Ronnie O'Sullivan against Fergal O'Brien has been an entertaining and high quality match so far, the first four frames taking just 55 minutes. This tournament has been staged in Beijing for the past five consecutive years and O'Sullivan has won just three matches in that period; all of those in 2007 when he got to the semi-finals. He pulled out of the 2005 event for medical reasons and lost in the first round in 2006 and 2008 to James Wattana and Marco Fu respectively.
This is the seventh ranking event of the season and the last before the World Snooker Championship. The six events so far have produced six different winners: Ronnie O'Sullivan, Ricky Walden, John Higgins, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter.
The weather in Beijing is dry but cold; around 10 degrees.
Last night's visit to one of the main universities in the city for a Q&A between students and Stephen Hendry, Mark Selby and Michaela Tabb underlined the enthusiasm for snooker here. Hundreds of excited students crammed into the lecture hall, and there would have been many more if the venue had been bigger. It was all too much for one particular male student, who said to Hendry: "You are my idol. You are very handsome." "And very scared," Hendry quipped. The same student told Tabb: "Michaela you are beautiful. I love you." Selby, however, didn't get such kind treatment, as the female host of the Q&A told him: "You look better on camera." The city's student population is vast - there are over 100 universities, some of which have up 40,000 undergraduates.
Judd Trump, who faces Tang Jun in the first televised match of the tournament, is rapidly becoming a favourite among the Chinese fans because of his attacking style of play and boy-band appearance. The 19-year-old is also a player in form, having won last week's Championship League to earn a place in the Premier League for the first time. However, Trump did not make it to the TV stages of the World Snooker Championship, losing 10-8 to Stephen Lee (from 6-2 up) in the final qualifying round, so this is the last tournament of the season for the Bristolian.
Here's some information about the Chinese wild cards in action today:
Place of birth: Dalian, Liaoning Province
Best performance: Last 32 in 2006 Northern Ireland Trophy
Favorite player: Ronnie O'Sullivan
Highest break in competition: 142
Best performances: Winner of two China National Ranking Tournaments
Place of birth: Guangzhou, Guangdong Province
Highest break in competition: 143
Best performance: Champion of 2008 National Under-21 Championship
Place of birth: Tianjin
Best performance: Ranked No 12 among China's professional snooker players
Place of birth: Yunnan
Highest break in competition: 141
Best performance: Rank No 5 among China's professional snooker players
Highest break in competition: 140
Tang Jun is threatening a major shock against Trump - he led 4-2 and 29-0 when he missed a tricky black off its sport, allowing Trump to clear for 4-3. Turning point?
David Gray's match against Tian Pengfei is vitally important for the Londoner, as he is on the verge of the top 64 in the provisional rankings, and could drop off the Tour if he doesn't beat Tian and Marco Fu. The last few seasons have been sharp a fall from grace for Gray, who won the Scottish Open in 2003 and reached the UK Championship final the following year. It doesn't look good as he has just missed the final blue in the third frame and now trails 3-0.
What a day for the Chinese wild cards. Four out of six of them have beaten their professional opponents. They join Cao Xinlong - who received a bye after John Parrott's withdrawal - in the last 32.
2009 Welsh Open
What a day this is for both players. Swail has appeared in two World Championship semi-finals (2000 and 2001) but this is his first ranking final. His elation at winning a semi-final at the tenth attempt was obvious in his post-match press conference last night. "You have no idea what this means to me," he said. "After 18 years as a pro I'm in a final and I can't believe it." Swail is a naturally gifted player with an unorthodox cue action and his career has been one of fluctuating fortunes - he is the only player other than Rex Williams to get into the top 16, drop out of the top 32 then get back into the top 16 again. The engaging Ulsterman, who is congenitally hearing impaired, freely admits that his love of late night parties has adversely affected his career. But he has knuckled down over the past year and now, at 39, he has a chance to leave his mark on snooker history. Victory would make him the oldest first-time winner of a ranking event since Doug Mountjoy in 1988. Carter will be equally determined to take home the trophy and remove the stigma of being one of the best players never to win a ranking title. He appeared in the World final last season but, exhausted from his previous matches and up against the irrepressible force of Ronnie O'Sullivan, he was unable to challenge, losing 18-8. Today, the roles are reversed as it was Swail who was still battling on the baize after 11pm last night, and it's Carter who has shown by far the better form over the tournament.
If Carter wins today, he will have earned more ranking points this season than any other player. Victory will put him third on the provisional list, defeat would leave him fourth. Swail will be 19th or 20th.
Bookmakers see Carter as the strong favourite at 1/3 odds on, with Swail 9/4 against. The shortest price scoreline is 9-6 to Carter at 6/1. Looking back at previous blogs this season, the final scoreline has matched the shortest price at five tournaments this season:
Northern Ireland Trophy - Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-3 Dave Harold (5-1)
Royal London Watches Grand Prix - John Higgins 9-7 Ryan Day (6-1)
Bahrain Snooker Championship - Neil Robertson 9-7 Matthew Stevens (6-1)
Maplin UK Championship - Shaun Murphy 10-9 Marco Fu (6-1)
The Masters - Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-8 Mark Selby (6-1)
Swail's brother Liam and dad Patrick are flying in from Belfast today to watch the final.
Dominic Dale points out that Swail shares a birthday with billiards legend Walter Lindrum, and that both played with a flying elbow.
A crowd of just over 1000 will watch the opening session.
Carter has just made an excellent 41 clearance to win the third frame after a weak safety from Swail on the penultimate red. A loose positional shot from Carter from blue to pink was rescued when he potted a superb pink along the baulk cushion and landed on the black. He leads 2-1.
Carter had a chance to clear in frame six but failed to dislodge the final pink from the side cushion, then made a terrible hash of a safety shot and left it over a corner pocket for Swail to convert for a 4-2 lead.
The atmosphere as the two players enter the arena for the final session is sizzling. Both are given a roar by the crowd of 1350 and a standing ovation as they walk down the steps. They may not be the two biggest names in snooker, but the reception couldn't have been much louder if it was Ronnie O'Sullivan against Jimmy White. The fans at the Newport Centre this week have been superb.
Carter has made a tremendous start tonight with breaks of 116, 109, 61 and 91 to win the first four frames. In going from 5-2 down to 7-5 up, he has outscored his opponent 502-17.
The four players in action today have 22 previous ranking event semi-final appearances between them. But Neil Robertson stands apart in terms of his strike rate at the business end of tournaments. He has appeared in three semi-finals and won three titles. Joe Swail (9 semis), Ali Carter (6) and Anthony Hamilton (4) do not have a title between them.
Both Hamilton and Swail are aiming to become the oldest first-time winner of a ranking event since Doug Mountjoy won the 1988 UK Championship and 1989 Classic at the age of 46.
Hamilton has made a fantastic start, knocking in breaks of 77 and 80 to win the first two frames. He's aiming to reach his first ranking final since the 2002 China Open when he lost 9-8 to Mark Williams (having led 8-5). If he were to win the tournament, his victory would be warmly welcomed backstage on the circuit. Hamilton is one of the most popular players on the tour because of his honesty and laid-back, amicable personality.
While watching some 15 hours of snooker yesterday, Times journalist Phil Yates rewarded himself by ordering a 'Cajun Inferno' pizza from a local takeaway. Despite its name, Yates did not realise the extent to which the pizza's topping would be dominated by fiery chillies. "On a scale of 1 to 10, the level of discomfort is 79," he managed to say as his face turned the colour of the Welsh Open logo.
Carter has come back impressivly from 3-0 down to 3-2, including a break of 141 in frame five, just short of Marco Fu's target of 142 for the £2000 high break prize. There have been 29 centuries during the televised stages, Fu leading the way with four tons. Quickest to the 100 mark was Ronnie O'Sullivan in 5min 50sec, slowest was Dominic Dale in 11min 55sec.
Frustration seems to got the better of Hamilton and he has lost the last five frames. In the eighth he played a poor positional shot on the 13th red, then laid a snooker behind the pink, only for Carter to fluke the penultimate red. Hamilton conceded the frame at 33 points behind on the yellow, despite needing just two snookers.
Every credit to Hamilton as he bounces back in the next frame with a 147 attempt. He pots 14 reds with blacks but is unlucky to leave himself in a Chinese snooker on the last red. He pots it to a cente pocket but is left with a near-impossible shot on the black, and decides to take the green and go for the high break of 143. However, that ends in disappointment as well as he misses the yellow on 116.
Early excitement in the Robertson v Swail match. Swail led 71-0 in the first frame when he missed a red with the rest. Robertson looked likely to clear up with 72 until he failed on a simple final pink to the centre pocket. Swail knocked it in to land the first blow.
Swail 4-0 Robertson, who would have predicted that mid-session interval scoreline? "At least I can't play any worse," said Robertson as he walked through the media centre on his way to the practice room. Swail has played in nine ranking semi-finals previously and lost all of them - surely this time he will break that sequence. He is certainly showing no signs of the arm injury he suffered against Stephen Maguire yesterday.
Allan Oliveri writes to say: "I am a proud Australian, I am proud of Neil's achievements, coming from a country where snooker is not popular, to live away from Australia, take the gamble of being on the pro circuit and getting through, winning three ranking tournaments and making an income out of it. I wish he was recognised here, it would help snooker a lot in Australia. I love this game but we are up against the forces of Aussie Rules Football, Cricket and Rugby League, which totally dominate every aspect of the sporting media here."
The nerves are tightening now for Swail as he has seen his 5-1 lead reduced to 5-4. To be fair he hasn't done much wrong in the last three frames, but Robertson is going for virtually every ball he can see, and most of them are flying in.
Vital moments in the match between Stephen Maguire and Joe Swail, as the 41-minute fifth frame goes down to the last two balls. Trailing by 10 points, Swail pots a cracking long pink to a baulk corner with deep screw, but is desperately unlucky to see the cue ball travel twice across the table and drop into a middle pocket. The foul leaves Maguire 16 points clear and he pots the pink to reduce his deficit to 3-2.
Nearly 900 tickets have already been sold for Sunday's final so it seems sure to be a cracking atmosphere.
More bad luck for Swail in a dramatic conclusion to the 51-minute eighth frame. He led by 23 points on the blue, but went in-off escaping from a snooker. The Ulsterman then narrowly missed two attepts at the match-ball blue, before Maguire cleared up to force a respotted black. Maguire then cheekily doubled the black to a top corner to send the contest into a deciding frame. The Scot surely can't believe that he's still in the tournament, having made a remarkable comeback against Ding Junhui yesterday.
Today's Daily Mail includes a feature on Ronnie O'Sullivan's meeting with Ethiopian runner Tirunesh Dibaba.
It's been a cracking day of snooker so far and there's more excitement in the match between Ali Carter and Shaun Murphy. Leading 4-1, Carter looked to be cruising over the winning line until he missed a pink to a centre pocket on 56. Murphy made a fine 62 clearance to keep the match alive.
Master of Ceremonies Rob Walker will not be present tomorrow as he will be presenting a programme about British weight-lifting for Channel 4. The semi-final introductions will be made by TV presenter Kay Little.
Anthony Hamilton against Mark Selby is proving every bit as hard-fought as Maguire v Swail. Frame seven lasted 70 minutes and was finally won by Hamilton despite him giving away five consecutive fouls at one stage. The Sheriff leads 4-3.
The shoes Dominic Dale is wearing today have to be seen to be believed - so click the gallery option above and scroll to the 13th picture
A new carpet is being laid at the Crucible, and it's every bit as colourful as the old one. Read more here.
Ronnie O'Sullivan spent the mid-session interval drinking tea and eating a jam doughnut. His opponent Marco Fu steered clear of the cake box. O'Sullivan looks very much in the mood to do well at this tournament.
Meanwhile, Ding Junhui has just made an excellent 52 clearance to go 3-2 up on Stephen Maguire. The Chinese player has previously described Maguire as his toughest opponent, and is looking for his first win over the Scot.
Maguire gave a loud yelp of delight as he left the arena after a remarkable comeback from 4-2 and 69-0 behind to beat Ding 5-4. His victory and O'Sullivan's 5-3 defeat against Fu livens up the race for the world No 1 ranking. Maguire now has the chance to make a real indent into O'Sullivan's 5525 point lead.
Darren Morgan, a commentator for BBC Wales and one of snooker's friendliest characters, spends the mid-session interval chatting about his performances in last year's World Amateur Championship. "I won all eight of my group games and made five centuries," says the 1996 Irish Masters champion. "I beat (Thailand's) Thepchaiya Un Nooh in the group and I fancied beating him again if we'd met in the final. But I threw in a bad performance in the last 16 and lost to Lee Page. Sure enough Thepchaiya won it in the end. Even if I'd won it, though, and been offered a place on the pro circuit, I wouldn't have taken it. I'm just not good enough any more," admits the 1994 Crucible semi-finalist with honesty. "I'll be 43 in May and I don't want to be going into the club and playing three or four hours a day. Sometimes I wonder whether I should have kept going, but I haven't got the right mentality any more."
Former England cricketer Jack Russell is among the crowd today. Russell is a familiar face on the snooker circuit, as an avid watcher of the sport. He has built a second career as an artist and has painted several pictures of snooker arenas. "I've not been to a tournament for a while because I've been painting a portrait of (referee) Jan Verhaas and I've had it on the go for about two years," said the 1990 Wisden Cricketer of the Year. "I didn't want to see him because I knew he'd ask how it was going! But I've finished it now, and I've got one or two other ideas for snooker paintings."
Ronnie O'Sullivan has arrived at the venue, looking relaxed and sporting a short haircut. He chats to MC Rob Walker in the media centre about going for a run later in the week.
The tournament is being well covered by the local media, particularly the South Wales Argus
Referee Peter Williamson had to deal with an imbalance of cleaning products when he arrived at the official hotel on Sunday. "In the bathroom there was no shower gel; just two shampoos and one conditioner but they weren't much good to me," said the follically-challenged Liverpudlian.
Frame four in the Joe Swail v Martin Gould match has just been concluded with a respotted black, Swail cracking in a superb long pot to go 3-1 up. It's 10.40pm and there's still a possible five more frames, so both players are slurping sweet coffee in the media centre during the mid-session interval.
Here are a few interesting facts about Newport, the home of the Welsh Open:
* Newport is Wales' youngest city, invested by HM Queen Elizabeth in 2002. It is home to 140,000 citizens and attracts over 2 million visitors a year.
* Desmond Llewelyn, who played 'Q' in the James Bond films, was from Newport
* More recently, Dr Who and Torchwood have both been filmed in and around Newport
* Poet WH Davies was born here. "What life is this, if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare," he wrote in his poem Leisure.
* Newport has the second highest tidal range in the world.
* The city was the scene of the Chartist uprising in 1839 - a key event in the development of British democracy.
* The Wales National Velodrome is in Newport, and was the training ground for Olympic gold medallists such as Vicki Pendleton, as it will be for the 2012 Olympics.
* Newport is currently gearing up to host The 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort, likely to feature stars such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Over 45,000 people are expected to pour into the resort area daily.
Today's Daily Telegraph includes an interview with super-middleweight world champion boxer Carl Froch, who reveals that snooker was his first passion. "I harboured serious thoughts, at the age of nine, of putting my whole life into snooker," says the Nottingham pugilist, nicknamed the Cobra. "I remember being fascinated by the game, watching the likes of Steve Davis, and thought I would do it. My mum was right behind me in that respect."
Jimmy White's enduring popularity among the snooker public is in evidence today as there's a crowd of over 400 in the arena, most of whom are watching his match against Ali Carter. The Whirlwind receives a rousing reception as he enters the fray.
For anyone wondering where they can watch the Welsh Open: click here for the BBC Wales schedule or here to watch via the BBC website (only available to UK users). Or click here for Eurosport's schedule for today.
Martin Gould has made a very confident start to his match against Stephen Hendry, knocking in a 135 in the second frame, the highest break of the tournament so far. He has just added the third to go 2-1 up. Is another upset on the cards?
Seeds Mark Allen, Joe Perry and Stephen Hendry have already fallen, as well as Mark Williams. Could Ryan Day follow? He trails Michael Judge 4-1. Defeat for Day would leave just Matthew Stevens and Dominic Dale to fly the Welsh flag.
Not many people were predicting a fast-flowing match between Peter Ebdon and Anthony Hamilton, and anyone who did would have been wrong. The 46-minute third frame has just gone the way of Hamilton, leaving the score at 2-1 at 10.20pm.
The Welsh Open is the first ranking event of 2009 and sixth of the season. The first five produced five different winners - Ronnie O'Sullivan, Ricky Walden, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy. This event has a tendency to produce close finals, with six of the last ten finals (and four of the last five) going down to a deciding frame.
Matthew Stevens and Mark Williams, two of the all-time greats of Welsh Snooker, both face crucial matches today in terms of their respective quests to get back into the top 16. Williams currently lies 12th in the provisional rankings list and has already qualified for the China Open, so a good run this week could guarantee his place among next season's elite, before he enters the pressure-cooker of World Championship qualifying. Stevens' route is much steeper as he is 22nd provisionally and failed to qualify for China.
"Shocking" and "disastrous" are two words used by David Gilbert, Williams' opponent today, to sum up his form this season in this interview in the Tamworth Herald. It was here two years ago that Gilbert beat James Wattana 5-1 to reach the last 32 of a ranking event for the first time. Later in the same season he qualified for the Crucible, but since then the former part-time farm labourer has struggled to build any momentum in his career.
There's no doubt about which player had the easiest trip to the venue: Ian Preece, who lives just a mile away and works part-time at nearby Pockets Snooker Club. He has only twice before qualified for a ranking event venue - and one of those was here two years ago, when he lost 5-0 to Mark Selby.
Defending champion Selby should be looking healthy and feeling refreshed having just come back from a holiday in the Canary Islands, as reported by the Leicester Mercury.
Mark Allen is feeling confident ahead of his all-Ulster clash with friend Joe Swail. "I've got as good a chance as anyone here," said Allen. "I'm getting closer to that first title, I feel as though my all-round game has improved a lot in the last two seasons."
There's a decent crowd of around 250 for the opening session. Overall, almost as many tickets have already been sold for the tournament as were sold in total last year.
Joe Perry and Neil Robertson are supporting a campaign to reduce deaths from blood clots, reports the Cambridge Evening News
Matthew Stevens against Andy Hicks has been a scrappy contest so far, the first three frames taking over 90 minutes in total. Hicks had a chance to go 2-1 up but missed the last brown to a centre pocket and Stevens cleared the table to nick it.
Immediately after losing 5-3 to Joe Swail, having twice missed the black for 4-4, Mark Allen is whisked off by World Snooker's official photographer for a photoshoot on a bridge close to the Newport Centre. Some players would not be willing to accomodate such a request, but there's no 'awkward bridging' with Allen, as usual he's a model of co-operation. "It's a funny life being a snooker player," he reflects. "A minute a go I was trying to pot a black, now I'm standing on a bridge."
Here to watch Mark Williams tonight are his partner Joanne and four-year-old son Connor.
Gilbert has played superbly in the early stages and leads 3-1. This would be the biggest win of his career if he could pull it off. He almost beat Stephen Hendry at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix in October but lost 5-4.
We couldn't have hoped for a better final, with the World Champion and World No 1 set to go head-to-head with a player who has won all seven matches he has contested in the Masters. Most pre-match predictions are that it will be close. Ronnie O'Sullivan may have despatched Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire for the loss of just three frames, but Mark Selby has also been in exceptional form this week, and has a tendency to rise to the big occasion. Even if O'Sullivan gets off to a fast start in the first session, Selby will not give up hope. At last season's Welsh Open, Selby looked down and out at 8-5 behind, but battled back to win 9-8. O'Sullivan also has a history of squandering leads in the Masters final. In 1997, he led Steve Davis 8-4, only to lose the next six frames. In 2004, he was 7-2 up on Paul Hunter but eventually succumbed 10-9. And in 2006 he looked set to beat John Higgins 10-9 when he made a break of 60 in the deciding frame, then his opponent made a remarkable 64 clearance. While O'Sullivan is not the type to be haunted by those kind of memories, they may enter his mind at some stage. His strike rate in Masters finals - three wins in seven attempts - is far less impressive that his ratio in ranking events - 21 titles from 31 finals.
Bookmakers rate O'Sullivan favourite for the match at 4/6 odds-on, with Selby 11/10 against. The shortest priced scorelines are 10-7 and 10-8 to the Rocket, both at 6/1. He is 100/1 to win 10-0.
Both players are extremely laid back away from the table. O'Sullivan drops into the media centre to drink a cup of tea and read the newspapers.
The final will be refereed by Jan Verhaas. The Dutchman has taken charge of several Wembley finals, including all three won by Paul Hunter.
There's a sizzling atmosphere as the match gets underway. Among the crowd is Irish international pool player Vicky Layton, Selby's girlfriend with whom he recently bought a house.
The trophy will be presented tonight by World Snooker's Commercial Director Miles Pearce .
O'Sullivan makes the first century of the final, a 101 to go 3-1 up. That's his seventh century of the week and his 43rd in the Masters overall; he has already surpassed Stephen Hendry's record of 41.
O'Sullivan has just missed the chance to go 4-1 up, rattling a tricky frame-ball brown. Selby then produced a sensational long pot on the brown, playing cushion-first in a shot which would be more familiar on a pool table. He cleared up to get to within a frame at 3-2.
James Caan of Dragons' Den fame is sitting in the front row tonight, behind the table on the yellow pocket side.
Selby looks so relaxed as he takes the stage at the start of the evening session. His relaxed demeanor, and tendency to feel as if he has nothing to lose whenever he steps into the arena, is a massive advantage.
The session was preceded by a minute's applause from the crowd, in memory of referee John Street and presenter David Vine, who both passed away this month.
Drama in the first frame of the session. Selby leads by 39 on the last red but then goes in-off attempting to pot it. O'Sullivan gains another snooker before missing the red from distance, but it rolls the length of the side cushion and drops in. He clears up to lead 5-4.
Players here to watch include last year's runner-up Stephen Lee, Selby's practice partner Ben Woollaston and Paul Hunter Scholar Adam Duffy.
Something you don't see very often occurs at the start of the 18th frame: two reracks. On the second occasion that a stalemate occurs with both players nudging up to the pack of reds, O'Sullivan initially declines a rerack, perhaps sensing he could gain a tactical advantage with Selby's nerves jangling. But eventually both players and Jan Verhaas agree to get the triangle back out.
Interesting that most of you who voted in our poll went for the 2004 or 2006 Masters finals as the best of the last 11 years, with 1998 receiving only 15%. That was the famous respotted black final between Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams. Perhaps the later two are both fresher in the memory and arguably were of a higher standard in terms of big breaks. Tomorrow could be another Higgins v O'Sullivan clash - they've already met three times in the final at Wembley. But it's such a good semi-final line-up that tomorrow's match seems sure to be a cracker, whatever the results today.
The playing schedules for the World Championship qualifiers are now available. Click here for the early stages and here for the final round.
There's a crowd of 1114 in to watch Higgins against Mark Selby, who is aiming to become only the fourth player, after Cliff Thorburn, Stephen Hendry and Paul Hunter, to win the Masters in consecutive years.
"I don't want to sit around the house all day and do nothing," says Hendry in this article in the Scotsman.
Ricky Walden has donated one of his old snooker tables to Deeside College, says the Wrexham Evening Leader
Higgins v Selby hasn't lived up to expectations so far, the first four frames taking nearly two hours. The highlight was a break of 100 from Higgins in the second frame, taking the centuries total for the tournament to 24, just two short of the record set in 2007.
Selby is a friend of members of the band Kasabian, and tomorrow's final is likely to be attended by bass player Chris Edwards. The Leicester band apparently stopped practising on Thursday to watch the conclusion of Selby's quarter-final against Mark Allen. The entrepreneur James Caan, of Dragons' Den fame, is a friend of Selby's manager Mukesh Parmar and is also planning to be at Wembley tomorrow. Kasabian guitarist Sergio Pizzorno is here tonight to watch Ronnie O'Sullivan play Stephen Maguire.
O'Sullivan opens with a break of 102, his fifth century of the tournament and the 26th overall, equalling the record.
This match has been like a stroll in the park for O'Sullivan. He knocks in a 136 to go 5-1 up. The new record for centuries in the tournament has been set at 27...and counting.
Two of snooker's leading journalists were trapped in an underground car park at Wembley Arena last night when a metal gate which guards the entrance jammed shut. A nervous 25 minutes followed as the prospect of sleeping in a car or discussing snooker statistics until the small hours loomed. Fortunately, a posse of security guards finally managed to release the gate.
Neil Robertson and Stephen Maguire are set to meet for the third consecutive tournament. At the Bahrain Snooker Championship, Robertson promised to "win quick or lose quick" by taking an attacking approach to their quarter-final, and it worked as he won 5-2 on the way to the title. It almost worked again at the Maplin UK Championship, but he missed two long blacks when poised to win 9-7, and eventually fell 9-8 as Maguire made a century in the deciding frame. The two are rivals on the table but friends off it. In fact, Robertson admitted after his first round defeat of Stephen Hendry that the players of his generation are too sociable backstage. When Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were in their prime, they barely spoke to the other players during tournaments. They developed an aura of ruthlessness which gave them an edge on the table.
In the media centre, there's evidence of snooker's growth in Eastern Europe as a crew arrives from Ukrainian TV programme 'Inter' to film a news item.
Astonishing snooker. Maguire has made breaks of 128 and 105, sandwiched by 122 and 100 from Robertson. That's four centuries in a row, Maguire leading the match 5-3. The record for consecutive centuries (from both players) in a major tournament is five - that was during the 2003 British Open final between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry. There have now been 20 tons this week, compared to 22 overall last year and 26 in 2007. Mark Allen has become a rival to O'Sullivan as the quickest player on the circuit, and indeed he's been the fastest to the 100 mark this week, taking 5min 46sec, compared to O'Sullivan's 6min 13sec.
... and Maguire went on to make a 113 in the last frame to equal the record. Last August, this blog suggested that if aliens came down from space and wanted to know what snooker was all about, we should present them with a tape of the Northern Ireland Trophy semi-final between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ali Carter. Now that signs of life have been found on Mars that prospect seemes marginally more likely, but perhaps today's clash between Maguire and Robertson would provide an even better example of the sport at its best to the little green men.
Cue maker John Parris tells us that O'Sullivan is using the same model as he used to beat Joe Perry last Sunday, without any adjustments made to it. "He had a look at a few others on Tuesday, but then decided he was happy with the one he had," said Parris.
Perry has beaten O'Sullivan twice this season, and has spoken about getting over the "fear factor" and not letting O'Sullivan intimidate him. Only Carter himself knows whether that's an obstacle he needs to overcome if he is to get the better of the Rocket for the first time in 11 meetings.
To listen to Mark Selby's appearance on the George Lamb show on BBC Radio 6 today, click here then scroll to 2.16.50.
It's a superb quarter-final line up at Wembley, as it doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to picture any of the eight remaining competitors lifting the trophy on Sunday night. Mark Allen and Ali Carter are the only two players in the field who have never won a major title, but those two have played the best snooker of the tournament so far; Allen in his 6-1 thumping of Ryan Day and Carter in his 6-0 whitewash of Peter Ebdon. Bookmakers rate Allen and Neil Robertson as the outsiders in the field at 12-1.
Here are some facts and figures about Wembley Arena:
The venue underwent a £35 million refurbishment in 2005.
Since reopening in 2006, it has welcomed over two million visitors.
The highest recorded attendance for a show was 12,470. That was for a Pearl Jam concert in 2007
The Beatles made their last ever live UK performance here in 1966.
It used to be called the Empire Pool, but changed its name in 1978.
Players taking a toilet break in between frames are spolit for choice - there are 144 toilets in the building.
The Arena floor is 108 feet wide.
When Led Zeppelin played a concert here in 1972, tickets cost 75p.
There are nine ensuite dressing rooms.
Cliff Richard has played 61 shows here.
Acts to have played recently include Oasis, Kings of Leon and comedian Lee Evans.
Coming up within the next three weeks are TNA Wrestling and Strictly Come Dancing.
Selby against Allen has been a cracking contest betwen two of snooker's best up-and-comers. Defending champion Selby is currently clearing up to go 5-5. If he wins the decider, it will be his fifth consecutive 6-5 victory in a best-of-11 match here.
Selby will be on the George Lamb show on BBC Radio 6 Music tomorrow at 12.15pm.
It has been said about Ding Junhui that he has a tendency to let his head go down when he goes behind in a match. However he is battling hard against John Higgins tonight and has just made an excellent 80 clearance to win the seventh frame from 35-0 down. He trails 4-3. As usual, the Chinese media is well represented, with journalists here from CCTV and Titan Sports.
Drama in frame eight. Ding opened with a 72, then Higgins clawed his way back and gained the two snookers he needed on the last red. After a safety exchange, Higgins knocked in the red and looked set to clear, only to miss the last black. Ding slotted it in for 4-4. That means that nine of the first 12 matches in this tournament will have gone to 6-5 or 6-4.
Mark Selby will appear in CBBC Sportsround this Saturday, after being filmed by them in CueZone at Wembley Arena this morning. Asked to perform a trick shot, Selby has a go at one perfected by his friend Willie Thorne, in which the cue ball is rolled dead-weight into a corner pocket, while seven or eight reds are fired at pace into the same pocket before the cue ball drops. Selby, attempting the trick for the first time, decides to try it with four reds. "Willie calls this the machine gun," he says. "My version is more like the pellet gun."
Along with John Higgins and Ding Junhui, Selby also enjoyed a tour of Wembley Stadium today. Fortunately, following Graeme Dott's accident in Shanghai, there has been no talk among the players of a kickabout.
Very few players in the history of snooker have had as much passion for the sport as Tony Drago. Every year he visits Wembley to enjoy the action. The Tornado, who dropped off the professional Tour last season but still competes on the PIOS, has lost around two stone in weight and believes that he still has much to give. "I'm doing well on the pool circuit but I love snooker more than anything," the popular Maltese cueman tells us today. "I just want to play, I really miss it."
Today's Express India includes a feature on Tour player Aditya Mehta.
Neil Robertson gets to 97 on a 147 attempt in the fifth frame against Stephen Hendry before missing a difficult black. The remaining balls were awkwardly placed so it wasn't a clear chance of a maximum. In the media centre, Phil Yates of the Times raises the question of whether a round of 59 in golf is more difficult to achieve than a 147. It's generally agreed that the answer is yes, as the former has only been achieved three times on the PGA Tour, and never on the European Tour. Yates, renowned for his encyclopedic golf knowledge, names those three players (Al Geiberger, Chip Beck and David Duval) as well as the years of their record rounds and on which courses they took place.
Ali Carter has become one of snooker's most consistent performers over the past year. If he beats Peter Ebdon tonight and Ronnie O'Sullivan on Friday, he will have reached the semi-finals of all four BBC tournaments in that period. The Tiptree potter looks in fine shape, having won the first three frames.
Happy Birthday to Stephen Hendry, snooker's greatest ever player, who turns 40 today. Here's a list of his 36 ranking titles plus six Masters crowns:
John Higgins sets a realistic contender for the £10,000 high break prize with a 140 total clearance in the second frame against Marco Fu. Meanwhile, in the media centre, Chinese photographer Shi Tang brings in a gift of Tea Flavoured Dragon's Beard Candy. The one journalist who samples this delicacy concludes that it's an acquired taste.
This has been a hit-and-miss tournament for Higgins over the years. He's won it twice but also lost eight times in the first round. He's in danger of another early exit having gone 3-2 down to Fu. Higgins has made a succession of unforced errors in the last three frames.
Mark Allen has the talent and the determination to repeat Mark Selby's feat by winning the Masters on his debut. He's showed his quality in the early stages against Ryan Day, making two excellent clearances to steal frames he looked set to lose. The Ulsterman leads 3-1 at the interval.
A very sad start to the day as we learn that David Vine passed away last night. The BBC will run a tribute to him during this afternoon's transmission, and there will be a minute's silence before the Shaun Murphy v Ding Junhui match.
In the battle of the Masters debutants, Mark Allen had a reprieve in frame four when he missed an easy final brown, but Judd Trump also failed to convert the brown and Allen nicked it to go 3-1 up.
Ken Doherty, perhaps the friendliest character on the snooker circuit, spends the morning in the media centre, chatting to friends and finding out how to download Skype so that he and Australian wife Sarah can chat to her family over the internet. The couple and their one-year-old son Christian spend two weeks in Melbourne over Christmas. Doherty, who is here all week working for the BBC, admits that it's "tough" to be at Wembley but not competing.
Trump was on for a 147 in frame six, but after potting 12 reds with blacks he missed a tricky 13th red, playing with a lot of check side.
A 123 in frame nine sees Trump join the select group of players to make a century on their Masters debut. Among the crowd are his dad Steve and a friend who is wearing a t-shirt which says Judd 'Haircut 100' Trump.
Ding Junhui may not have won a ranking tournament since 2006 but it would be wrong to think that his star has faded in his homeland. "Chinese fans still love Ding and focus on him when he plays tournaments," Zhanglin of leading sports website sina.com tells us. "After all, he is the first mainland snooker player who achieved such big goals in snooker. We all believe that Ding's sports achievements will reach their peak in the future. What he needs is time and patience. The snooker fans must show a more tolerant attitude towards Ding. That is what we guide the fans to do. So, just believe in him!"
Mark Selby, who is hoping to move through the gears as he starts the defence of his title against Ricky Walden tonight, passed his driving test at the first attempt last month. He has since purchased a second hand Mercedes.
Selby v Walden has been a slow-moving affair, lasting well over four hours. At 5-5, Selby pots the first ball of the deciding frame just as the clock ticks past midnight.
As usual, there's a terrific line-up for this tournament and some cracking first round ties, notably Shaun Murphy against Ding Junhui and Stephen Hendry against Neil Robertson. Today's opening session has brought a crowd of nearly 2000 to Wembley Arena, with snooker's biggest draw, Ronnie O'Sullivan, in action in the second match. The Rocket, three times a winner of the Masters, faces Joe Perry, who has never won a match at Wembley, but might fancy his chances having knocked O'Sullivan for out of last month's Maplin UK Championship. Click here for the Peterborough Telegraph's preview.
A few more previews:
ITV London Tonight interviewed Ali Carter at Chelmsford Snooker Centre on Friday
Stephen Hendry, who turns 40 next week, has had his eyesight tested, says the Daily Record
In the Daily Express, Hendry makes it clear that he's not one for surprise birthday parties
And Hendry tells Virgin Media that he'd consider anything less than victory in the Masters a failure
Mark Selby is confident of more Masters success, says the Metro
Judd Trump says he wants to be pushing for titles, in the Bristol Evening Post and the Bath Chronicle
While fellow wild card Ricky Walden looks ahead to his debut in the Flintshire Chronicle
Click here for the BBC and Eurosport transmission schedules
Over the years, the Masters has attracted various luminaries from the acting world, including Terrence Stamp and Donald Sutherland. Joining that list today is Jamie Borthwick, aka Jay Brown from Eastenders, who will be here to watch the O'Sullivan v Perry match.
The BBC will run a short tribute to John Street today, either before the O'Sullivan v Perry match or during the mid-session interval.
Graeme Dott won his first ranking event match in 16 months at the Maplin UK Championship, and looks to be building his return to form against Stephen Maguire. He's won the last three frames to go 4-2 up. Perhaps Dott is encouraged by Stephen Lee's absence from the draw; he has been knocked out of the Masters by Lee in each of the last three years.
There have been two centuries in the match so far. That's two more than there were in the first four stagings of the Masters.
The standard of the O'Sullivan v Perry match has been outstanding. Perry has compiled breaks of 63, 85, 63 and 105 but finds himself 4-3 down. O'Sullivan has knocked in 100, 68 and 118.
O'Sullivan has now won 30 matches at the Masters.
John Parris, the renowned cue maker, tells us how his latest episode with Ronnie O'Sullivan came about: "I'd been out in the freezing cold all day going through timber," he said. "I got home and I was about to put my feet up when I got a text from Ronnie to say he'd smashed his cue. He was playing in two days but he said he knew I liked a challenge! Luckily, people quite often ask me for cues just like Ronnie's, so there were a few ready to show him, and a couple of others nearly ready which we got finished quickly on Friday. He didn't see them until yesterday (Saturday), then he picked one. I've got the others back now but I have to apologise to the chap who was supposed to get that one. It was a bit of a shock when I got the message. A couple of years ago he gave away his cue (at the 2006 World Championship) and asked me for a new one, but at least that time I had a few weeks to get it ready."
2008 UK Championship
Marco Fu is the less experienced player in ranking finals, having previously appeared in two compared to Murphy's four. But Fu has a tendency to produce his best on the big occasion against the top players - as anyone who witnessed his outstanding display in last season's Royal London Watches Grand Prix final, when he beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-6, would testify. John Higgins once said about the Hong Kong cueman: "He's a methodical player but when he gets into his groove he looks like he's never going to miss."
Bookmakers favour Murphy, who is rated 8/13 odds on favourite with Fu 6/5 against. Most predictions are for it to be a close match - indeed the shortest priced scoreline if 10-9 Murphy at 6-1.
The standard of break-building in the tournament has been excellent - there have been 47 centuries already. Fu has made seven of those, Murphy only two.
Murphy will move up to third in the latest rankings, whatever the result today. Fu will be fourth if he wins, sixth if he loses.
In the early stages, the match has followed a similar pattern to Murphy's semi-final against Stephen Maguire, with a couple of long scrappy frames to start. Both players have now settled down and got a decent break on the board, Murphy making a 99 in the third then Fu with a 102 for 2-2.
Murphy's comments in an interview in the tournament programme are proving prophetic. "If I can get over the first couple of hurdles then I'll be a danger," he said. "Things will turn eventually and come my way, and when they do hopefully they come my way big." He also spoke on how snooker legend Ray Reardon has helped him stay positive in the face of four first round defeats in the first half of the season. "I've spent a lot of time with Ray," added the Harlow-born player. "You could spend six or seven hours a day with him and just pick up things from the stories he tells about his playing days. Just to spend time in his company is a great privilege. Snooker is the same as any other sport or business, you do the simple things well and the rest will follow. When Hendry, Davis and Reardon were dominating they just didn't miss any easy shots. They did all the things they were meant to do and did them well. There's myself and a few others who are trying to emulate them."
Could frame ten prove crucial? At 51-51, Murphy was unlucky to rattle a long brown in the jaws of the pocket. Fu played an excellent deep screw to get position on the blue, and added the pink for 6-4.
Journalists in the media centre are getting into the festive spirit by pulling Christmas crackers and reading out the terrible jokes. Did you hear about the shoplifter who stole a calendar? He got 12 months.
Killian from Switzerland asks: 'How come there are no ranking points awarded for the Masters? Is it because it would be unfair to other players since only the top 16 plus two others can participate?'
That's correct Killian. The Masters has always been an invitation event since its inception in 1975 and its elite line is part of its prestige. Bear in mind that the World Championship was the only ranking event until 1982.
Some sad news to start the day - former referee John Street is seriously ill with lung disease in hospital in Exeter. The 77-year-old father-of-two officiated five world finals, and his last pro match was the 1997 Masters final when Steve Davis beat Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Stephen Maguire has a very good strike rate at the business end of ranking events. He has previously reached nine semi-finals, and coverted four of those into titles. Murphy's record is less impressive - this is his 11th semi and he has won two ranking events. Last season he got to five semis, but made only one final - losing 10-9 to Maguire at the Honghe Industrial China Open. They also met at the same stage in Telford last year, Maguire leading 7-1 after the first session en route to a 9-5 success. There is no love lost between these two, dating back to the infamous 'chalk incident' in 2004, and though they are both reluctant to talk about the rivalry, neither denies that there is always an extra edge when they meet.
The first two frames have been surprisingly scrappy, taking 65 minutes in total. Maguire missed the easiest of pinks at the end of the second, but Murphy failed to convert a more difficult pot and the Scot took it at the second attempt for 1-1.
Among the crowd today is Anne-Marie Farren, the 1987 ladies world champion, who won her tickets in a competition on www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk
Maguire has just missed a great chance of a 147 in frame nine. On the 14th black, he was faced with a tricky positional shot, playing off the top cushion to get position on the last red. The cue ball collided with the pink and left the Scot nothing easier than a double on the red, which failed to find the centre pocket.
Today's semi-final is a huge match for both Ali Carter and Marco Fu. Both are aiming to reach the final of the Maplin UK Championship for the first time. Fu has appeared in two ranking finals before - both in the Royal London Watches Grand Prix, which he won last season. Carter has only made one ranking final - at the Crucible last season - and is still seeking his maiden title. It seems remarkable that the gifted Tiptree professional went eight years, from 1999 to 2007, without reaching a ranking semi-final. He has now appeared in four of the last six. Carter, who names his favourite drink as strawberry milkshake in the official programme, has found that the cream eventually rises to the top.
Both players are coached by Terry Griffiths, who has been welcomed back on to the circuit this week after an absence through illness.
Fu has just made a 136 total clearance to make it 1-1. That's the 42nd century of the tournament.
Ricky Walden is currebtly on holiday in Las Vegas and, due to the eight-hour time difference, had just woken up when he got the call to say he'd been awarded the wild card for the Masters. Within half an hour he texted through a photo of himself celebrating with friends in the Bellagio hotel. Their flight into Vegas yesterday was diverted to Los Angeles because of heavy snow, which meant that they enjoyed a night out in Hollywood before heading to Nevada.
BBC Radio Five Live's Philip Studd, during a two-way with his studio, is asked what his own highest break is. "Around 40," he replies. After he comes off air, John Parrott, sitting in the media centre, asks what Studd's exact top run is. "It's actually 58 but I didn't want to show off," says Studd. "How's that showing off?" replies Parrott. "I once made that with one arm in a pub."
Stuart Bingham featuring in an article headed 'Man Arrested For Looking Like An Octopus' might sound a bit odd, but all is revealed here
This has been an excellent match and it looks to be going to the wire. Carter lost four frames in a row from 6-4 up, but has just made a fine break of 83 to get to 8-7. He's in the balls again early in frame 16.
According to the voting in our poll, or at least someone with a very active finger, Ronnie O'Sullivan's 1993 UK triumph at the age of 17 is considered the greatest achievement in the tournament's history. The event programme includes the below list if the top ten most memorable moments in the UK Championship. Send your own opinions to email@example.com
10. 2001 Quarter-finals, Mark Williams and Ronnie O'Sullivan both coming from 8-4 down to win 9-8 on adjacent tables
9. Willie Thorne missing an easy blue against Steve Davis in the 1985 final
8. Jamie Burnett's 148 in the 2004 qualifiers
7. Williams beating Ken Doherty 10-9 in the 2002 final
6. Ding Junhui beating Steve Davis in the 2005 final
5. O'Sullivan making a 147 in the deciding frame of the semi-finals against Mark Selby in 2007
4. Doug Mountjoy winning the 1988 title at the age of 46
3. Stephen Hendry making seven centuries in the 1994 final
2. Alex Higgins coming from 7-0 down to beat Davis 16-15 in the 1983 final
1. O'Sullivan becoming the youngest ever winner of a ranking event with victory in 1993.
John Higgins and Stephen Maguire have not played since the 2007 World Championship semi-finals, when Higgins came from 14-10 down to win 17-15. Murphy and Lee's most significant previous meeting was the 2006 Welsh Open final, which Lee won 9-4.
An unusual incident in the third frame of the tartan tussle. Maguire, attempting a power shot to disturb the pack of reds, plays the pink at such pace that it hits the back of the pocket, jumps up and lands back on the table. Higgins takes full advantage of his opponent's misfortune with a break of 72 to win the third frame and recover to 2-1 down.
Maciek from Poland writes: "In my mind, the most memorable moment In the whole history of the UK Championship was the 1980 final. Steve Davis beat Alex Higgins and won the title at his first attempt. This was the first milestone in his career, the first of 'Ginger's' many titles."
The media fraternity had planned to go for a curry after play tonight, with a reasonably early finish expected on both tables. This inevitably means that there will be a very late finish. John Higgins has just won frame 13 to get to 6-7 against Stephen Maguire, so there are a possible four more frames from 9.20pm.
Tickets are on sale for the Welsh Open in Newport from February 16-22, for more details click here
The two quarter-finals today are both tough to call. Bookies make Joe Perry a slight favourite to beat Marco Fu, and rate Ali Carter just ahead of Mark Williams. Carter has been arguably the most consistent player in domestic events in recent months - if he were to win today he would reach his fourth consecutive semi-final in a ranking event staged in the UK. Carter, Perry and Ryan Day have all climbed into the top seven of the provisional rankings without winning a tournament. All three of them must surely break their duck before long if they keep up their current standard.
Willie Thorne will be on the Chris Evans show at 6.45pm on BBC Radio 2 tomorrow. Supporting guests on the show include Paul McCartney and Snow Patrol.
Mark Williams is known for his laid-back attitude away from the table, and spends much of his time between sessions, dressed as usual in a tracksuit, chatting to his friends in the media centre, including photographer Eric Whitehead and former Telegraph journalist John Dee. Williams has referred to Whitehead as 'Cossack' since an incident at the 1997 European Open in Malta. While sitting having a quiet cup of tea, Whitehead was approached by some British bridge players who were seeking their Russian opponents. "I say," asked the Brit. "Are you a Cossack?" "No," replied Whitehead. "I come from Bury."
Marco Fu has just missed an easy red at 8-5 and 44-0 up, Joe Perry clearing superbly with 84 to pull a frame back. Could that miss prove vital?...update: the answer is no, Fu has won the 16th frame for a 9-7 victory.
Ding Junhui's 147 was one of the best in recent years in terms of the quality of the positional play. The Chinese ace rarely left the cue ball more than a few centimetres away from the perfect spot. Even when he had to pot the last red along the top cushion, and play tricky shots on the brown and blue, he executed them superbly. Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens, watching from the media centre, were particularly impressed by a shot Ding played on the 11th red when he dropped it into a top corner and played a delicate cannon off another red to find prime position on the black.
Ian McCulloch was "heartbroken" to have to withdraw from the event due to an injured neck, he told the Lancashire Evening Post.
The Leicester Mercury have got Mark Selby behind their Wear It With Pride Appeal
Things have not gone to plan for Ding since his 147 - he has lost the next three frames and now trails 5-1. He had a chance to win the sixth but missed a trick final pink with the rest.
Those on the circuit who take regular trips to Beijing and Shanghai for tournaments are well aware that taxi rides can be precarious. Victoria Shi, a journalist for Sohu who is here to follow Ding's progress, throws some light on why the standard of driving and road etiquette in China leave something to be desired. "Since I came to England I have had 70 driving lessons and two tests, but I haven't passed yet," she said. "I can drive in China but there are not as many rules. You have to use the horn a lot."
Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson were expected to produce exciting, attacking snooker, but the final stages of their match have become scrappy. Each of the last three frames have lasted over 30 minutes. Robertson had a great chance to win 9-7 but played a poor positional shot from blue to pink then missed two chances at long blacks. Maguire finally knocked in the black to make it 8-8 at just before midnight.
Mark Allen is featured in the Guardian's What's Rocking Sport column today, in which the Antrim cueman talks about his favourite music. His favourite song of all time is Michael Jackson's Billy Jean, and his phone ringtone is Estelle's American Boy. He is no longer a fan of Eiffel 65's Blue (Da Ba Dee), having played it continuously when he and some friends drove from Stranraer to Leicester. "At the end of the journey somebody threw it out of the window," said Allen.
MC Rob Walker, recording some of his introductions for tomorrow's matches into a microphone, decides to wrap himself in a curtain at the back of the media centre to eliminate the effects of echo. The sound of his booming voice calling out players' names from a heap of cloth in the corner draws much hilarity from the media, followed by a series of expletives from Walker.
Among the crowd for Marco Fu's match against Matthew Stevens is his new girlfriend Shirley, who comes from Hong Kong but lives in London. "It's my first time at a snooker tournament and I'm enjoying it so far," said Shirley, who has been coupled with Fu for a few months.
Here are a few interesting facts about Telford:
* Telford is named after Thomas Telford, a renowed civil engineer from Scotland (1757 - 1834) who completed various significant engineering works including suspension bridges in Menai and Conwy. In 1787, he became Surveyor of Public Works for Shropshire.There is a statue of Thomas Telford in Telford town centre. The town of Telford in Pennsylvania, USA, is also named after him.
*Telford was originally called Dawley, but changed its name in 1968. It has a population of around 140,000.
*Telford's most famous tourist attraction is Ironbrigde Gorge, a bridge built in 1779 which was the first of its kind in the world. It spans a gorge formed by the River Severn.
*Four miles west of Telford lies the Wrekin, a prominent and well known landmark in Shropshire that rises to a height of 407m (1335ft) and on a good day some 15 counties can be seen from the summit.
*Telford is home to football team AFC Telford United, currently riding high in the Conference North, and English Premier Ice Hockey League outfit the Telford Tigers.
It's a bit chilly today in the media centre, but the journalists are warm enough thanks to title sponsor Maplin, who have given out complimentary fleeces.
The action is also hotting up on the table with all four matches well poised at either 7-5, 7-6 or 6-6. Five-times UK Champion Stephen Hendry is level pegging with Stephen Lee and would be furious with himself if the momentum he gained at the Bahrain Snooker Championship is arrested at the first hurdle here.
Mark Selby has made three consecutive centuries in getting to 7-7 against Mark Williams. There have been 13 tons already in the first day and a half. Last year the tournament produced 39.
The Telegraph's Mark Reason doesn't think much of Jimmy White judging by this article. It's amazing that White won ten ranking events and made a 147 at the Crucible if every time he played on TV his 'brain turned to melted cheese.'
Interesting comment from Mark Williams in his radio interview today: "If you played a ranking tournament at the qualifiers, with no TV, you'd never pick a winner. That's how good the players are there."
Ali Carter and Ian McCulloch may be calling for a cup of Horlicks rather than the usual water and ice bucket. It's just gone midnight and they still have one frame of their opening session to play.
Is this the best ever first round line-up at a snooker tournament? There are certainly several early matches which would make a good final, such as Mark Selby v Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens v Ryan Day and Steve Davis v Ding Junhui (which was the final three years ago). Another fascinating clash today brings together Graeme Dott and Ken Doherty - two former World Champions both desperate for results having dropped out of the top 32 of the provisional world rankings (Doherty is No 38, Dott No 48). The qualify of the draw is a consequence of established stars such as Williams, Doherty, Stevens and Davis dropping into the official 17-32 bracket and therefore drawing a top seed whenever they qualify for a venue. We're set for a classic tournament so let's hope it lives up to expectations.
There have been six different winners in the last six years. Click here for the roll of honour.
Click these links for previews on
and click here for a video interview with Shaun Murphy on the website of official media partner the Shropshire Star
Rory McLeod is playing the biggest match of his career but it's not going to plan for the Wellingborough cueman so far. He trails 5-0 against Ronnie O'Sullivan, who has just made his second century and looks in peak form. Meanwhile, Graeme Dott, aiming to win his first match in a ranking event since August 2007, is 5-0 up on Ken Doherty.
Leading coach Del Hill is here for the first few days to give free coaching in the CueZone area. Adam Duffy, the Paul Hunter Scholar, is also there to show off some of his skills and take on all-comers.
Photographer Rob Matthews drove to Telford today and said that, on his way along the M42, he saw a car facing the wrong way on the opposite carriageway, accompanied by a police car. Dominic Dale, who once took eight hours to drive to this tournament, has not qualified this time and is not believed to be involved.
Every credit to Rory McLeod, he's made three consecutive centuries to get to 3-6 against Ronnie O'Sullivan. Only a handful of players have made three tons on the bounce in a ranking event - and none of those have done so from 6-0 down.
2008 Bahrain Championship
On to the final, and let's hope that it's a high-quality match between Matthew Stevens and Neil Robertson. There's little to chose between them so it seems likely to go close. Robertson is the more attacking of the two, and his long-potting radar has found its range in his last two matches, though his safety has also been excellent. Stevens is the more experienced match-player, very solid in every department. There is a contrast in their record in ranking finals - Robertson has won two out of two while Stevens has only won one out of six. Surprisingly, this is only the second time in his 14-year career that Stevens has reached the final of a ranking event with best-of-nine matches. Three of his previous finals were in the UK Championship, and two in the World Championship. The other was the 2005 Irish Masters - and even that was best-of-17 in the semis. He's certainly a player who tends to save his best game for the big occasions, and would probably admit himself that, over the years, he has not practised enough in preparation for the shorter tournaments. Recently, however, he has been working hard at the practice table, and is now seeing the results. Bookmakers slightly favour Robertson, making him 4/6 odds-on, with Stevens 11/10 against. The shortest-priced frame scores are 9-6 and 9-7 to Robertson, both at 6/1.
Though Stevens was seeded among the top 16 for this tournament, he is officially ranked No 17. So he's the third player outside the official top 16 to reach a ranking final this season, after Dave Harold (28) at the Northern Ireland Trophy and Ricky Walden (35) at the Roewe Shanghai Masters.
Both players were on a worrying slide down the provisional rankings before this event, so each has received a welcome boost, whatever the result today. Robertson is up from 21st place to 14th if he wins or 17th if he loses. Stevens jumps from 33rd to 21st if he wins or 22nd if he loses.
The final will be refereed by Eirian Williams. It's his second consecutive ranking final and 29th in all.
The Bahrain Snooker Championship trophy is in the shape of a dhow - a traditional Arab boat which is often used for pearl diving.
Any snooker fans in the Shropshire area - don't forget that you have the chance to play a frame against Robertson next Saturday (22nd). He will be on the main concourse at Telford Shopping Centre from 12pm to 4pm, playing snooker against fans. You can book a frame in advance today by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
After a tremendous start with breaks of 129, 117 and 96 in the first three frames, Robertson has made his first mistake in the fourth. He potted the penultimate red to go 29 points ahead, but then took the blue when the pink would have put him 35 up with one red on. He then missed the red with the rest and Stevens made a vital clearance to get himself back in the match.
Exciting start to the evening session. Robertson was in first with 63, then Stevens had a chance to force a respot, clearing to the pink before missing a tough black, the cueball tight to the side cushion. He had another chance from long range but failed again, and Robertson slotted in the black to go 5-3 up. A bit of fist-pumping from the Aussie as he earned vital momentum.
Tension is creeping into both cue arms. Frame 11, lasting 31 minutes, is a scrappy affair with several mistakes from both players. Robertson capitalises on a poor safety from Stevens on the last red and clears up to go 6-5 ahead.
Here's a stat from Evgene from Russia: the second frame of the match was the 20th that Robertson has won in ranking finals. The 12th frame was the 70th won by Stevens.
The 13th frame lasted exactly 64 minutes, eventually settled when Robertson played a poor safety on the blue and left it over a middle pocket. The Australian is known for having nocturnal habits, but he seems to be the one suffering from fatigue. Leading 36-0 in the next frame he left a close-range red short of the pocket, surely just a lapse in concentration.
It's an excellent semi-final line-up, with four players who favour an attacking game. Both matches are tough to call, though bookmakers favour Stephen Hendry in the first match at 1/2 odds on, with Matthew Stevens 6/4. The second game between Mark Allen and Neil Robertson is dead even with both priced at 5/6. Hendry has won all three previous semi-final meetings with Stevens, although both finals they have contested have gone the way of the Welshman.
Sandwiches have been provided in the officials' dining room each day, with some rather unusual fillings. We're not sure whether these are local favourites, or the product of an eccentric chef. Yesterday's combination of cheese and carrot raised a few eyebrows, but today's must take ther proverbial biscuit: mint sauce and mayonnaise.
Lancashire's Chris Norbury looks to be racing to victory in the PIOS final at Prestatyn, he leads Alfie Burden 4-0.
...and Norbury has won 6-2. More on that story will appear in Lastest News later today.
Drama at the end of the fourth frame. Leading by 26 points with an easy pot on the yellow, Stevens seemed to suffer a kick and missed it. Hendry had a chance to clear but failed on the pink and Stevens knocked in a fine pot to go 3-1 up.
Hendry reaches his 40th birthday on the 13th of January, though he won't be planning any wild celebrations on the day as he faces Neil Robertson in the first round of the Masters on the 14th. Click here for the schedule.
Few would have thought this match would still be going after four hours, but the tension continues to mount with Stevens 5-4 ahead. The Welshman has just missed a simple yellow at 54-0 in frame ten which would almost certainly have given him the match. Both players have made more errors in this tie than they have all week, but it's exciting stuff.
This is the first ranking event in 31 months that has not featured any English players in the semi-finals. The last time this occured was the 2006 China Open when Mark Williams beat Ding Junhui in one semi and John Higgins saw off Ken Doherty in the other.
This afternoon's match was surprisingly poor in terms of standard, but tonight's has certainly lived up to its billing so far, with one century and three more breaks over 60 in the first four frames. Neil Robertson has come from 2-0 down to tie at 2-2 with Mark Allen.
Stephen Hendry has won all six previous meetings with Robert Milkins, and has made at least one century on each occasion:
1. 1996 UK Championship. Hendry 9-5 Milkins (108)
2. British Open 2000. Hendry 5-3 Milkins (138, 105, 131)
3. Grand Prix 2004. Hendry 5-3 Milkins (101)
4. British Open 2004. Hendry 5-1 Milkins (100)
5. China Open 2005. Hendry 5-1 Milkins (114)
6. Malta Cup 2007. Hendry 5-1 Milkins (127)
Darin Menezes and his son Ash won a competition in the Gulf Daily News, winning a pair of tickets to the final plus a backstage tour of the venue. Today they met players and referees including Mark Allen, Dominic Dale and Michaela Tabb. By coincidence, Ash also met Kapil Dev yesterday when the Indian cricket legend visited his school. "It must be my lucky week," he said.
What a start for Milkins against Hendry - a break of 137 to take the opening frame. Milkins must feel as if he has nothing to lose today, especially after his extraordinary comeback against Michael Holt yesterday - the first time in his career that he has won 5-4 from 4-0 down in a ranking event.
...and what a response from Hendry. Breaks of 113 and 132 have put him 2-1 up.
Colin Spence, a snooker fan from London, has shown his dedication with a 6,000 mile round trip to watch one day of action. Colin arrived here last night and is watching both sessions today, then will return to the UK tomorrow morning.
There have been 23 centuries in the tournament so far. World Snooker's scoring system, which times how long each century takes to reach the 100 mark, reveals that Robert Milkins has made the three quickest tons of the tournament, at 5min 53sec, 6min 14sec and 7min 00sec. Milkins is certainly a rapid potter when he gets going and was once described by Dave Harold as "faster than Tony Drago." The two slowest centuries were from Barry Pinches at 11min 32sec and 11min 21 sec. Stephen Hendry, with five tons, has reached three figures the most times. His times for getting to 100 range from 7min 32sec to 9min 39sec.
Neil Robertson promised an attacking approach against Stephen Maguire and he's certainly lived up to his word, going full-blooded at virtually any available long pot. It's working...he leads 4-2.
David Bloomer, an Irish journalist who came to Bahrain 25 years ago and has been here ever since, has been at the venue every day doing live interviews with players and officials for Bahrain Radio. Dominic Dale was answering his questions today. Bloomer then announced that was going to Riffa Views Golf Club to meet Kapil Dev, who is playing in a pro-am event. "It's not every day you get to interview a sporting legend," he said. "Any time," Dale responded.
The press coverage of the tournament has been excellent, with full-page spreads every day in many of the daily newspapers.
Stephen Maguire admitted yesterday that he needs a drastic improvement if he is to have a chance of the title - and he seems to have managed that already having raced into a 4-0 lead over Joe Perry. One more frame will see the Scot gain some measure of revenge for a 13-12 defeat to Perry at the Crucible last season. Maguire's four ranking titles have come in four different nations: Malta, England, Northern Ireland and China, and on this form he must be rated favourite to add Bahrain to his list.
Michael Holt is off to a good start with a break of 78 to win the opening frame aaginst Robert Milkins. Holt has already had some good news today - he's managed to get tickets to see The Cure at the O2 Arena in February.
The action is hotting up at the fifth PIOS event at Prestatyn, with 15 centuries have been made in the first three rounds. Alfie Burden won a dramatic match this morning 4-3 on a respotted black against Thailand's Noppadol Sangnil, while Tony Drago went down 4-0 to Ireland's David Hogan. Mike Hallett is into round three, where he will face Wiltshire's Adam Wicheard, who thankfully has recovered from some serious spinal problems. Paul Hunter Scholar Adam Duffy easily saw off Vinnie Calabrese 4-0 with breaks of 97, 51 and 101. Click here to follow the drawsheet.
Michael Holt was in despondent mood after losing 5-4 from 4-0 up against Robert Milkins. "I must be the unluckiest player in the world," he said. "I didn't get a decent chance in the last five frames, then in the last two he's had two flukes and won the frame off them. I wish there was a video of that match so we could give it to people who were feeling down on themselves. After watching it they'd be outside doing cartwheels and saying 'at least I'm not Michael Holt'"
Mark Allen is not only among the most promising young talents in snooker, but is also one of the most affable. Tonight he took part in a promotional visit to Bahrain Rugby Club, where he spent an hour chatting to members and signing autographs.
Only six of the 19 players left in the field have previously won a ranking title. Stephen Maguire is the only player left in the draw to have won any of the last nine ranking events.
The fifth event of the Pontin's International Open Series is underway at Prestatyn. We're into the second half of the series so it's a crucial time for those players aiming to get into the top eight. Former Hong Kong Open champion Mike Hallett enjoyed an excellent run to the final of event four which boosted him to sixth in the rankings. He's off to a solid start this time with a 4-2 win over Paul Veitch. Paul Hunter Scholar Adam Duffy needs to make a move having failed to get beyond the second round of any of the first four events, and he's off to a fine start with a 4-3 defeat of rankings leader Bjorn Haneveer. Follow the draw here
Mark Davis is training to be a book-keeper but doesn't need his mathematical skills to be sure that the fourth frame of his match against Stephen Maguire has a good chance of being the lowest scoring frame of the tournament. He led 49-1 with two reds left when he trapped Maguire in a snooker, who decided enough was enough and headed out of the arena for the mid-session interval. Maguire, the highest ranked player in the tournament, lost his opening match to Jamie Cope in the Royal London Watches Grand Prix and will be determined to avoid another early exit. Meanwhile, Mark King and Stephen Lee are still battling in the second frame, 90 minutes into the match.
Today's meeting of Ali Carter and Michael Judge was the first time that a best-of-nine match between those two did not finish in a whitewash. Judge won two of their previous meetings 5-0 and Carter the other 5-0.
It's been a surprisingly scrappy opening to the game between Ryan Day and Matthew Stevens, with both players making unforced errors. A poor safety from Day on the penultimate red gifted Stevens the first frame, and the second has already seen easy pots missed by both. None of the players are likely to admit it, but the fact that several of the top seeds are out of contention means that those remaining have all got an increased chance of success, and hence the pressure on each match is intensified.
Day has just enjoyed an unbelievable stroke of luck at the end of the eighth frame. Trailing 4-3 and 52-54, Day was caught in a full ball snooker on the brown. Coming off the side cushion, he missed the brown, but somehow went around the angles, up and down the table, and not only hit the brown but left it safe on a side cushion. Both Welshman were forced to smile - Day in relief, Stevens in astonishment. The frame came down to the black and, after a long safety battle, Day knocked in a bold double to a baulk corner to level at 4-4.
Here are a few facts about Bahrain:
Official Language: Arabic, though English is widely used
Currency: Dinar. £1 = 0.6 BHD
Area: 253 square miles
Time zone: GMT +3 hours
Direct Flight time, London to Manama: 6hr 45min
Calling code: 00 973
Climate: Hot and humid between June and October. Milder in the winter. Average temperature in November is 76 degrees
Geography. 92% desert, generally flat
Weekends in Bahrain are Friday and Saturday
Tourism: Over 8 million tourists per year visit Bahrain
Itaro Santos, a Brazilian-born snooker player who has German citizenship, has won the German Snooker Championship for the second time. He beat Christian Gabriel 4-0 in the final in Bad Wildungen. Two of the top German players, Patrick Einsle and Lasse Münstermann, did not compete as they were engaged at the IBSF World Championship in Austria.
Marcus Campbell came from 67-0 down in the opening frame against Neil Robertson, with a 67 clearance to force a re-spotted back, which Robertson potted to go 1-0 up. It's the second time in the tournament that the first frame has gone to a respot - Barry Hawkins and Ken Doherty tied 66-66 yesterday before Hawkins won the battle on the black.
Steve from Kent has written in with this question: Can a player use more than one cue during a match? The answer is yes, a player can use as many cues as he wants and can even use them for alternate shots.
Vijay Mruthyunjaya, one of Bahrain's top snooker journalists, described yesterday as 'Black Sunday' for the seeded players in the Gulf Daily News. There has been more success for the top players today, although Peter Ebdon is in danger of an early exit as Robert Milkins has just made a 35 clearance in the fifth frame to go 4-1 up.
Milkins won 5-3 to reach the last 16, where he will now face Michael Holt. Gloucester's Milkins recalled a B&H Championship match against Holt several years ago, when Holt missed a red and, in a fit of pique, smacked the table so hard that he broke his right hand, forcing him to pull out of the UK Championship. "I did a similar thing last year but luckily I used my left hand and the damage wasn't that bad," said Milkins.
Stephen Hendry and Ricky Walden have drawn by far the biggest crowd of the week so far. Hendry's wife Mandy is among them.
Here's something to look out for if you're a snooker fan in the Telford region - Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy will both be making appearances in the town in the coming weeks to promote the Maplin UK Championship, and you could win a chance to meet them through these competitions in the Shropshire Star.
It's the Hitman against the Shotgun this morning, so which one will be firing? Michael Holt has had a strong start to the season and only gave away ten points in his 5-0 victory over David Morris in the final qualifying round. Cope has had some brilliant moments, including a 147 at the Roewe Shanghai Masters and a victory over Stephen Maguire at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix, but has admitted his frustration as not having won a tournament yet. Indeed, after reaching two ranking finals in 2006/07, Cope reached only one quarter-final last season. Given his undoubted talent, particularly in the break-building department, it will surely only be a matter of time before the Stoke cueman figures in the later stages of another major tournament.
There will be a minute's silence at the beginning of this morning's match for Remembrance Sunday. Tuesday marks the 90th anniversary of the armistice.
If Holt wins, he may be tempted to reward himself with pair of tickets for Queen, who are playing in Dubai on Friday. Holt watched them when they played a concert at the SECC during the Royal London Watches Grand Prix.
We have heard that star golfers Colin Montgomerie and Camillo Villegas, who are playing in an invitational tournament at nearby Riffa Views later in the week, may have an interest in coming to watch the snooker.
A couple of interesting facts about yesterday 147 from Marcus Campbell: 1. It came a year to the day since Ronnie O'Sullivan's maximum in the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy (that stat comes from Evgene from Russia). 2. It was refereed by Bahrain's Abdullah Jahauni, who was officiating a professional match for the first time.
It's good to see Graeme Dott back at the table, just six weeks after he broke a bone in his arm while playing football in Shanghai. The Scot's preparation for the tournament has hardly been ideal, though several of his fellow players showed a spirit of camaraderie by offering him first option on a free slot on the practice table at the venue. Dott, ranked second in the world last season, hasn't won a match in a ranking event for 15 months and looks in danger of dropping out of the official top 48 at the end of the season. Things aren't going much better tonight as he has gone 1-0 down against Barry Pinches, a player who beat him 5-1 at the Honghe Industrial China Open in March. However, Dott is not the only seeded player struggling - all three seeds who played earlier today lost, and on the other table tonight Marco Fu is 1-0 down to Dominic Dale.
Peter Ebdon paid a visit to the City Centre Shopping Mall in Manama this afternoon, meeting the management and signing autographs for fans. Ebdon also played a frame of snooker and donated a waistcoat to Phil Patterson, a competition winner from the Gulf Daily News. See the gallery for pictures.
Most of the players arrived here in Bahrain on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and have now had a chance to acclimatise. For the majority of them, it's their first trip to this Kingdom.
Shaun Murphy and Ryan Day enjoyed a tour of Bahrain yesterday (see pictures in the gallery), and footage of their visits to the main tourism spots will be screened by host broadcaster Bahrain TV. The tour ended with an excellent lunch, a buffet of local delicacies, at the Coral Beach Resort. Day enthusiastically tucked into the Middle Eastern cuisine, although the previous evening he had experienced a taste closer to home by eating fish and chips from a shop near the official hotel, which he described as "the best I have ever tasted."
The build-up to the tournament has been well covered by the local media, particularly the main English-language publication in the region, the Gulf Daily News. Click here, here and here for a few of the GDN previews - the last of which reports that Shaun Murphy has made peace with his father.
The temperature here is around 25 degrees celsius during the day. It gets dark around 5pm though and it's fairly cold in the evenings.
A press conference will be staged at the Seef Residence hotel at 3pm today to mark the first day of the tournament. Most of the players will be in attendance as well as Sheikh Abdulla bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa, President of the Bahrain Billiards and Snooker Association, and World Snooker's Commercial Director Miles Pearce . Tonight's 8pm session will be attended by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, under whose patronage the tournament takes place.
A bit of early drama in the match between Robert Milkins and Ahmed Saif. The wild card from Qatar had a great chance to clear up after Milkins missed the last red, but he failed on the final pink. Milkins knocked in the pink and, after a safety exchange, added the black to take the opening frame.
The final of the IBSF World Amateur Championship takes place today in Austria. Ireland's former professional Colm Gilcreest faces Thailand's rising star Thepchaiya Un Nooh, who has beaten the likes of James Wattana and Xiao Guodong. The ladies final, inevitably, is between Belgium's Wendy Jans and England's Reanne Evans. The Masters final will see New Zealand's Dene O'Kane take on India's Geet Sethi. Click here for more.
Congratulations to Thepchaiya Un Nooh who won the World Amateur title, beating Colm Gilcreest 11-7 in the final with a top break of 143. He's the second consecutive Thai player to win the title, after Atthasit Mahitthi. One could say it's a whole Nooh ball game for Thai snooker. More on that story in the Latest News section tomorrow.
Stephen Maguire was delighted to hear of Marcus Campbell's 147 when he heard the news while in a car to the venue after this afternoon's press conference. "I'm gutted I missed it but I'm made up for him," said the world No 2 of his practice partner. "Marcus deserves it because he practises really hard. He's one of those guys who just never stops playing."
2008 Grand Prix
There's not much between John Higgins and Ryan Day according to the bookmakers. Higgins is 8/11 odds-on favourite while Day is even money. The shortest price scorelines are 9-7 and 9-8 to Higgins, both at 6-1.
In Day's live BBC studio interview at the end of last night's thrilling 6-5 defeat of Ali Carter, the Welshman offered an explanation as to why most of his previous success in ranking events has come overseas. "Maybe it's something to do with the British press," he said, adding that certain articles had "got my back up."
The two most significant previous meetings between the two finalists have both come at the Crucible. Day lost 10-9 to Higgins on his Sheffield debut in 2004, despite becoming the first player to make three centuries on his debut at the famous venue. The Pontycymmer cueman gained revenge last season when he scored a 13-9 victory over Higgins in the last 16.
Day is guaranteed third place in the provisional rankings whatever the result today. Higgins will move up from ninth to sixth if he wins, or seventh if he loses. Ronnie O'Sullivan's lead at the top of the list is a vast 9,275 points.
The man in the white gloves today is Eirian Williams. It's the 28th major final to be refereed by the Welshman.
Journalist Neil Goulding bought John Higgins a packet of Monster Munch as an added victory bonus and presented the gift to the champion at his post-final press conference. However, on noticing that the crisps were Flaming Hot flavour rather than his prefered Roast Beef, Higgins declined and offered the packet to the remaining media. It was quickly snapped up by Phil Yates of the Times.
It was an eventful night at the hotel where most of the players and officials are staying, as the fire alarm went off at 1.30am and again at 8am. The likes of Ryan Day, Judd Trump, Steve Davis (cue in hand), John Parrott, Ali Carter and Ronnie O'Sullivan all stood outside the hotel, teeth chattering in the cold, until the all clear was given. The only player left in the tournament who was absent was of course John Higgins, who lives in nearby Wishaw.
Higgins is bound to be considered favourite to beat Trump today, such is his matchplay quality and wealth of experience. It's unchartered territory for Trump, indeed he'd never previously been to the last 16 of a ranking event. However, Trump may be inspired by Ricky Walden's victory at the Roewe Shanghai Masters, which showed that inexperienced players don't always buckle under the pressure of the big occasion. He may also note Higgins' surprising defeat to Dave Harold in the semis of the Northern Ireland Trophy. Tonight's clash between Day and Carter is very tough to call. As Day noted last night, their careers have followed similar paths. Both have been regarded as having massive potential for many years but only now, in their lates 20s, is that talent beginning to blossom. They have both reached their first ranking finals and broken into the top eight within the past 20 months. They have both won the Masters qualifying tournament...and both dream of lifting a much more prestigious crown on Sunday night.
Higgins is playing in his 45th ranking event semi-final. He is aiming to win a ranking tournament in Scotland for the first time.
It's an excellent quarter-final line-up today with four very good matches to look forward to. Judd Trump certainly has the talent to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan, providing he is not over-awed by the occasion. Trump admitted earlier in the season that he had a tendency to "go to pieces" when playing at venues, but he is gradually getting used to playing in front of the TV cameras, having won a televised match at the Roewe Shanghai Masters and another against Joe Perry earlier this week. Trump played O'Sullivan in the Welsh Open last season and gave a good account of himself before losing 5-3. Trump, 19, has also practised with the Rocket on several occasions at his club in Keynsham.
Interesting comment from Ryan Day last night when he stated that he stood in the toilets "humming with my fingers in my ears" while the quarter-final draw was taking place, as he didn't want to know who he would play if he beat Mark Selby. Most other players involved have been watching the draws intently, but Day obviously felt that any thought of looking ahead to the next opponent might add to the pressure of the occasion.
Paul Hunter's widow Lindsey has found new love, reports the Mirror
It's widely agreed by officials and media that the catering at the SECC has been excellent this week. Last year's tournament was in Aberdeen, so inevitably locally produced beef was always on the menu...which may have suited the palate of this man
Few would have expected O'Sullivan v Trump to be a slower match than Ali Carter against Steve Davis. But it's been a fragmented opening on table one, and after a 42-minute fourth frame, O'Sullivan and Trump are heading for their interval beverage just as Davis and Carter return at the end of theirs. Trump attempted an extremely risky thin cut on the brown at the end of the that frame, but missed it and left O'Sullivan to clear for 2-2.
An amusing incident in frame seven of the match between John Higgins and Ding Junhui. Attempting a safety shot, Ding accidentally hits the pink instead of the reds. Referee Michaela Tabb, perhaps surprised at the error from the Chinese cueman, makes an odd high-pitched noise rather than calling a foul. She soon corrects herself and both players see the funny side.
Higgins' ball striking seems a lot more crisp than it did last season, and now we know the answer...Monster Munch. The Scot was half way through a roast beef flavour bag of the crunchy snacks when he came in for his post-match press conference. "They're my favourite crisps," he said.
Peter Ebdon had the best chance of the week so far for a 147, in the second frame of his match with Jamie Cope. He got to the final green but missed it off its spot with just five pots needed for the maximum. Ebdon missed the final pink on a 147 during a match against Mark Selby in the round robin stages last year.
Celtic footballer Paul Hartley is unfortunately unavailable for tonight's quarter-final draw, to be televised by BBC2 at 7pm. Instead, the draw will be made by Graeme Dott.
Something of a faux pas from MC Rob Walker during tonight's quarter-final draw, as he called out Steve Davis versus John Parrott before remembering that Parrott had to beat Ali Carter first. Carter has shown no ill effects after his chances were dismissed - he leads Parrott 4-0.
Fife Dumphy and Dale Connor, two teenagers being treated for cancer in local hospitals, came to the snooker this afternoon. Fife briefly met Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Selby afterwards and got their autographs. The trip was oraganised by Les Hoey from Wishaw, who has raised £500,000 for various children's charities over the past 13 years.
Here are a few facts about Glasgow:
Glasgow will host the 2014 Commonwealth Games - fitting for a city that is passionate about sport. These will be the 20th Commonwealth Games held, and will involve some 71 countries, 6,500 athletes and officials over 10 days of world class competitions and cultural events.
The Royal London Watches Snooker Grand Prix takes place at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, which is located alongside the River Clyde. . Historically the city's great wealth was built on the River Clyde - the trading houses, the shipping fleets and the shipbuilding industry all used this busy waterway. Nowadays, the Clyde Waterfront is Scotland's single most significant urban renewal project and the River is a focus for leisure, with a string of attractions along its banks including the Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour, the futuristic trio of titanium-clad buildings that comprise the Glasgow Science Centre, the SECC and Armadillo as well as numerous office and accommodation developments.
New riverside developments currently underway include a new Riverside Museum, as designed by the architect Zaha Hadid - The first woman to win the Pritzker Prize for Architecture in its 26 year history. She constantly pushes the boundaries of urban design and her built work has won her numerous prizes and critical acclaim. This new Transport Museum will be a replacement for the Museum currently located at the Kelvin Hall and will be a world class iconic building for the city. It is due to open in Spring 2011 and it will give visitors of all ages and abilities unprecedented access to more than 3000 objects, including the Tall Ship Glenlee, which will move from its current location to berth alongside the new building.
Glasgow has an amazing portfolio of internationally acclaimed museums and galleries - including the superb Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum; the dazzling Burrell Collection in its parkland setting and the Gallery of Modern Art's contemporary treasures - all of which serve to reinforce its credentials as Glasgow: Scotland with style Kelvingrove is now the 14th most visited museum in the world. It contains a fabulous selection of world art, including treasures by Dali, Van Gogh, Monet and Matisse, as well as the Scottish Colourists. There is also a unique Glasgow Style Gallery, with works by Glasgow born Architect and Designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and his contemporaries, plus an amazing arms and armour collection, a natural history collection which even contains a 4 mete ceratosaur and to top it all, an immaculately restored Spitfire aircraft.
Kelvingrove is the flagship civic museum and art gallery, but the city can boast more than 20, most of which offer free admission, including the world renowned Burrell Collection, the Gallery of Modern Art, the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art and the Transport Museum.
The latest edition of the Lonely Planet Scotland guide to hit bookshops advises readers that: "Glasgow is regenerating and evolving at a dizzying pace - style cats beware, this city is edgy, modish and downright ballsy." The city is known for its beautiful Victorian Architecture including the work of Art Nouveau architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, great shopping, fabulous nightlife and friendly people.
Glasgow is well known as a wonderful shopping destination, and has an unbeatable range of high street stores and designer labels all within a compact walkable area. The city's main shopping streets are all linked - Argyle Street, Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street - affectionately known as the "Golden Z"
The quarter-final draw will take place live on BBC2 tomorrow at 7pm. The balls will be draw by Celtic and Scotland footballer Paul Hartley. The semi-final draw will be on Friday at 7pm, and the balls will be drawn by Narshi Bhoja, Managing Director of Royal London Watches.
Michael Holt is set to be featured in a magazine produced by official hotel the Glasgow Hilton. The Hitman revealed that he has praticularly enjoyed the superior breakfasts. "I love the fresh fruit, cereals and porridge, followed by haddock and eggs," said Holt. Unfortunately for the Nottingham pro, he was made toast of by Ding Junhui today, losing 5-2.
Steve Davis is bidding tonight to reach his 86th ranking event quarter-final. It would also be in second in a row as he got to the last eight of the Roewe Shanghai Masters before losing to eventual champion Ricky Walden. Stephen Hendry holds the record for the most ranking quarter-finals with 118.
MC Rob Walker has arranged for some patients of Yorkhill Childrens Hospital in Glasgow to attend the snooker on Saturday.
Judd Trump, playing in the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time, is aiming to extend his run by knocking out Joe Perry. The 19-year-old has just potted a tremendous long pink to go 4-2 up...he's just one frame away from the quarter-finals.
There's an air of inevitability as the scoreboard for the Steve Davis v Adrian Gunnell match ticks to 4-4. The eighth frame lasted 57 minutes as Gunnell, who was 3-0 down, got back to level terms after Davis had missed the last yellow.
Masters of Ceremonies Rob Walker has jetted in from Hawaii, where he was covering a triathlon event, via Washingon and London, then a sleeper train to Glasgow where he arrived at 8am this morning. Shrugging off jet-lag, Rob is ready to preside over the draw for the second round at 1.30pm. He will be joined table side by the Lord Provost of Glasgow Bob Winter. Last month, he became the first person holding that office to address the United Nations, so he is well accustomed to matters of global significance.
Here is the list of numbers which correlate to the balls in the draw bag:
1 Ali Carter / Dave Harold
2 Joe Perry
3 Ryan Day
4 Stephen Hendry
5 Judd Trump
6 Ronnie O'Sullivan/Liang Wenbo
7 Steve Davis
8 Mark King / John Parrott
9 Ding Junhui
10 Michael Holt
11 Jamie Cope
12 Shaun Murphy / Adrian Gunnell
13 Peter Ebdon
14 John Higgins
15 Marco Fu
16 Mark Selby
After beating Liang Wenbo 5-1 at the Northern Ireland Trophy this season, John Higgins gave his opinion that Liang would have to tighten up his game if he is to continue his rapid rise up the rankings. "I'd never criticise him because he's great entertainment to watch and that's great for the fans," said Higgins. "It's exciting to see someone wind up and have a go. Most players don't go for anything that's less than 50/50 but he's going for pots that are 20/80. He will adapt as he gets more experience because he won't win many matches against the top players if he's that open." However, Victoria Shi, a journalist for Chinese website Sohu and a friend of Liang and Ding Junhui, does not believe that Liang is likely to take Higgins' advice. "I interviewed him after Higgins made those comments," Victoria, who is here to cover the tournament at the SECC, tells us. "Liang said that he always just plays how he feels and he won't change that. If he feels like attacking then that's what he will do." It seems to be working so far for the former world under-21 champion today - Liang is 2-0 up on Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Adrian Gunnell has gone 2-0 up on Shaun Murphy, courtesy of a thumping long pot on the last red in frame two, followed by a clearance to the pink. That red would have been a contender for shot of the championship, if there was such a thing. Murphy was one of five top 16 players coming into this tournament without a win in the first two ranking events this season. Three of the others, Ding Junhui, Peter Ebdon and Stephen Hendry, have managed to get off the mark, while Graeme Dott had to pull out with a broken arm and may have to wait until the Maplin UK Championship for his next match. Murphy will be desperate to overturn his current deficit against Gunnell and get his season started.
John Parrott, hoping to join his BBC buddy Steve Davis in the last 16, missed an easy pink against Mark King at the end of the fourth frame. King double the pink and added the black to force a respot, but then played a poor safety which allowed Parrott to crack the black in for 2-2. The Liverpudlian is playing his first televised match since the Crucible in 2007 when he beat Davis 10-9 before losing to Shaun Murphy.
With a massive stroke of good fortune at the end of the 48-minute fifth frame, Gunnell flukes the blue to a baulk corner and finishes perfectly on the pink, which he knocks in for 4-1. That won't be easy to come back from for Murphy.
Today's 1.30pm session brings two fascinating ties. Local favourite Stephen Maguire was present at the first round draw last month and laughed when his name came out against Jamie Cope, though he may not have been smiling inside as Cope is considered one of the toughest opening draws by the top 16 players. Nicknamed the Shotgun due to his explosive attacking style, Cope is capable of beating any of the top players when his game clicks, although a few of his peers have suggested that he will need to develop a more rounded game if he is to consistently reach the latter stages of tournaments. Maguire has had a solid start to the season, with one quarter-final and one semi in the first two ranking events, and will be aiming for a long run in front of his home fans. Meanwhile, Ding Junhui will face another Glaswegian in Jamie Burnett. Ding is yet to win a match in a ranking event this season and his top 16 place could be under threat if his losing sequence continues. The Chinese cueman is keen to recapture the form which gave him three ranking titles between April 2005 and August 2006.
At the last 16 draw, which takes place at 1.30pm tomorrow, the balls will be picked out of the bag by The Right Honourable the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Councillor Bob Winter.
Potentially a big moment in the Maguire match...the Scot looked set to clear the table in the second frame but wobbled a tricky final pink in the jaws. Cope slotted it in for 2-0.
More drama in frame four. Maguire, leading 65-30, misses the last red along the top cushion, and Cope clears up for a respotted black. Maguire attempts a difficult thin cut on the black to a baulk corner but fails and leaves an easy pot for Cope, who duly goes 4-0 up. Maguire is going to need an miraculous comeback after the interval if he is to continue his involvement in this tournament. The Glaswegian actually lost 5-4 from 4-0 up in the Roewe Shanghai Masters against Matthew Stevens last season, but such fightbacks are extremely rare.
Many of the top players work regularly in the gym to improve their physical fitness, though none of them would stand a chance in the British Natural Bodybuilding Federation Championship, which is taking place in one of the halls at the SECC today. Read more about the BNBF here.
Neil Robertson, who faces Steve Davis in one of the opening match today, was arguably the best player in the world two years ago when he won this tournament. He became the first Australian to lift a ranking event trophy when he beat Jamie Cope in the final, and he proved it was no fluke by adding the Welsh Open four months later when he beat Andrew Higginson. Since then, Robertson has surprisingly failed to build on that success, in fact he has not reached a ranking semi-final. He readily admits that his dedication to practice has sometimes slackened, and he has also had problems at the club he plays at, as the table he practised on was moved so he had to share with Joe Perry. Robertson has now turned to coach Steve Prest in a bid to improve his fortunes. Prest helped Shaun Murphy to his world triumph in 2005, and is also working with Simon Bedford who shocked Mark Williams in the final qualifying round for this event.
This tournament has produced seven different winners in the past seven years: Stephen Lee, Chris Small, Mark Williams, Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Marco Fu.
The early signs are that crowds are much better here in Glasgow than they were in Aberdeen last year. There's a few hundred in to see Stephen Hendry play Dave Gilbert and Steve Davis take on Neil Robertson. Among the audience for Hendry's match are his father Gordon and eldest son Blaine.
Mark Johnston-Allen is Masters of Ceremony for the first three days, with Rob Walker to take over on Tuesday. Watching Stephen Hendry against Dave Gilbert from the media centre, Johnston-Allen recalls his three professional meetings with Hendry, all of which he won. "I think it was a case of going out there and playing my own game, not thinking about what I was up against," says the twice European Open finalist from Bristol. "It was in the 1990s when he was winning everything so I got a great buzz out of beating him."
Drama on both tables. Steve Davis clears from yellow to black to force a respot in the fifth frame against Neil Robertson, then slots it in after a poor safety from Robertson to go 3-2 up. Davis, incidentally, is persisting with an unusual break-off shot which he used in Shanghai, coming off two cushions and nestling into the back of the pack. Meanwhile, Dave Gilbert pots 11 reds with blacks in frame eight against Stephen Hendry, only to miss an easy 12th red on 88 when a maximum seemed a real possibility. He and Hendry are now tied at 4-4.
What a big moment for Ricky Walden, as he enters the arena for his first match since winning the Roewe Shanghai Masters. Walden may have had little time to celebrate his victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final in China a week ago, but he does have the opportunity to ride the wave of confidence that has come with his maiden ranking title. He faces a tough opening tie tonight against Ryan Day.
This is the first BBC tournament of the season and it's certainly regarded as one of the key events of the campaign by the players. Most of the top stars should be sharp as this tournament follows hot on the heels of the Roewe Shanghai Masters, so we should be in for some superb snooker over the next nine days.
John Higgins gets a rousing reception as he enters the arena. Among the crowd to watch the local favourite are his father John and wife Denise.
No British player has won this title since Higgins in 2005. Australia's Neil Robertson lifted the trophy in 2006 and Hong Kong's Marco Fu won it last year. That makes it the only ranking event in snooker history won in consecutive years by two different non-British players.
The random draws should add an extra element of excitement to the tournament. They will take place on Tuesday 1.30pm (last 16), Thursday at 7pm (quarter-finals) and Friday at 7pm (semi-finals).
This is the first ranking tournament at the SECC since 2004 when Jimmy White beat Paul Hunter in the final of the Players Championship. Despite his strong start to the season, White has not made it to this one - he lost 5-3 to Michael Holt in the third qualifying round.
A competition in the Scottish Sun in the build-up to the tournament gave one lucky winner the chance to enjoy a backstage tour of the venue and watch John Higgins' opening match this afternoon, as well as play a frame of snooker agaimst defending champion Marco Fu on one of the practice tables. It was won by Mr Ray Warrender, who came with his son Kevin. Ray, who admitted that he couldn't sleep last night so excited was he about the prospect of taking on Fu, did manage to pot two very good reds before Fu cleared up. "It was a great experience, I'll never forget it," he said.
BBC Sportsround was at the World Snooker Academy this week, learning a few trick shots from Daniel Wells. To see the show, click here then click Watch Sportsround
Queen are playing a concert at the SECC tonight. Michael Holt, a music fan whose brother Matt is the bass player in a band called The Kull, will be among the audience.
2008 Roewe Shanghai Masters
Ronnie O'Sullivan is, understandably, a huge favourite with bookmakers to win today. He is rated 1/6 odds on, with Walden 9/2 against. The Rocket has not lost a match in a ranking event since he went down 5-4 to Marco Fu at the Honghe Industrial China Open in Beijing six months ago, a sequence that covers 14 matches. Ken Doherty enjoyed an equivalent run in 2001 when he won the Welsh Open and Thailand Masters then lost to Peter Ebdon in the final of the Scottish Open. Victory today would make O'Sullivan the first player to win three straight ranking events since Stephen Hendry in 1993.
Dominic Dale has been a pundit in the Shanghai TV studio all week. His choice of shirts has been surprisingly sober - for the final today he has gone with purple, pink and white stripes.
Walden seemed nervous backstage before entering the arena. He'll be hoping to get a frame on the board as early as possible to settle him down.
...he's managed that in the second frame. Walden missed an easy final green but got a second chance when O'Sullivan also failed to pot it, and the Flintshire player converted green, brown and blue for 1-1.
Walden has just played one of the shots of the tournament, early in frame eight. After potting the opening red, he had an unfavourable angle on the yellow, but slammed it into a middle pocket, bringing the cue ball off the baulk cushion and both side cushions to earn position on a red near the black. However he only makes 17 and now O'Sullivan is back at the table. From 3-1 up, Walden has lost the last three frames, and will hope to get at least one of the last two of the first session.
Many things about the 2008 Roewe Shanghai Masters will be missed, but not the mosquitos in the media centre. Fortunately, translator Sherry has brought in some incense coils, which help in keeping them at bay.
At 5-5, O'Sullivan is still strong favourite to win with the bookmakers. He's 3/10 odds on, while Walden is 11/4 against.
Today's Gulf Daily News includes an article on the Bahrain Snooker Championship. Click here for the tournament draw.
The beginning of frame 12 is something of a comedy of errors, both players guilty of glaring misses and poor positional shots.
Walden enjoys a slice of good fortune in frame 15, as he flukes the third-last red escaping from a snooker. He adds the black to go 45 points ahead with 43 on the table.
Walden has just missed out on a chance to win 10-7 when he failed on an easy red to a centre pocket. And there's more bad news for him as his favourite team Liverpool have gone 1-0 down to Manchester City.
We couldn't have asked for a much better semi-final line-up - three of the top four ranked players in the world are in action today plus one of snooker's most talented up-and-comers. Ricky Walden has been a professional for eight years, and may feel that he has not climbed the rankings or reached this stage of a tournament as quickly as he expected. There's no doubt that he has ability, particularly in break-building, and he has also shown that he can beat the very top players. He has got the better of John Higgins twice in ranking events, and came very close to beating Ronnie O'Sullivan at the 2006 Maplin UK Championship, losing 9-8 after leading 8-7. There is little pressure on Walden's shoulders today and if he can settle down early he could be a danger to Selby, who has now reached the semi-finals of three consecutive ranking events in Shanghai, but not made a final.
Next door to the venue, there's a huge conference hall, where a cue sports exhibition is currently taking place. There are all manner of stalls selling tables, cues, balls, cloth, cue cases and various other snooker, pool, billiards and carom equipment. In the CueZone area, Dominic Dale has been entertaining fans with twice-daily exhibitions, playing six-red frames against all-comers and signing autographs. He finished this morning's show with a trick shot which involved a World Snooker official lying on the table with a black ball perched on piece of chalk in his mouth, while Dale attempted to pot the black with the cue ball, perched on another piece of chalk on the baulk cushion. After three unsuccessful attempts, the trick was abandoned, thankfully with all of the official's teeth still in place.
Avril Lavigne is playing a concert in Shanghai tonight, and Mark Selby will be among the audience. Lavigne is Marco Fu's favourite singer, but having been knocked out of the tournament by Selby yesterday, Fu decided to return to his home in Hong Kong this morning.
Evgene from Russia has come up with another interesting stat: Ronnie O'Sullivan's defeat of Mark Williams yesterday was his 14th consecutive win over Welsh players, a run which stretches back to the 2003 LG Cup when he lost to Matthew Stevens.
Few people seem to be giving Stephen Maguire much of a chance in the second semi-final. But let's not forget that the last time these two met, at the Masters in January, Maguire won 6-5 after O'Sullivan missed an easy blue in the deciding frame.
Frame three is not the kind you would expect between these two; a 30-minute tactical affair. O'Sullivan eventually executes superb pots on the brown, blue and pink to go 2-1 up.
It's quarter-final day and there are four very good matches in prospect. It's tough to pick a winner in any of the four. Ricky Walden, playing some of the best snooker of his career, is up against 51-year-old Steve Davis, whose confidence is also high after yesterday's defeat of Dave Harold. Both players looked down and out when they trailed 4-1 in the last 16 but both came back to win 5-4. Walden's only previous ranking event quarter-final was at the 2005 China Open in Beijing, when he beat Davis in the last 16. On that occasion, Davis bumped his head on a metal door frame as he arrived at the venue, distracted by fans clamouring for autographs. Once the match got underway he felt extremely dizzy, and had to concede after three frames before being rushed to hospital for treatment for concussion. A year later, in the final qualifying round of the 2006 China Open, the two were due to meet again. At the time, Davis was ranked 15th in the world and did not have to qualify for most events. But defending champion Ding Junhui and World Champion Shaun Murphy were the top two seeds, despite both being ranked outside the top 16, so Davis was nudged into 17th position on the seeding list. Unfortunately, he did not turn up to the match at Prestatyn, so Walden was awarded a bye. Walden, who lives in Bagillt just a few miles from Prestatyn but considers himself English, is hoping for another victory over the Nugget this afternoon. This time he will surely have to win by conventional means.
Evegene from Russia has sent in some stats relating to Jamie Cope's 147:
In losing to Mark Williams, Cope became 15th player who lost in spite of making a 147. It was the 16th case of this overall because it happened to John Higgins twice.
Here is the full list:
1. Kirk Stevens
B&H Masters 1984 - SF - Jimmy White 6-4 Kirk Stevens
2. Tony Meo
Matchroom League 1988 - Stephen Hendry 5-3 Tony Meo
3. Peter Ebdon
UK Championship 1992 - Q10 - Ken Doherty 9-4 Peter Ebdon
4. Stephen Hendry
Premier League 1998 - SF - Ken Doherty 6-5 Stephen Hendry
5. Jason Prince
British Open 1999 - Q5 - Ian Brumby 5-4 Jason Prince
6. Nick Dyson
UK Tour Event No.3 - Adrian Gunnell 4-3 Nick Dyson
7. Barry Pinches
Welsh Open 1999 - Q2 - Joe Johnson 5-4 Barry Pinches
8. Karl Burrows
B & H Championship 1999 - Q3 - Adrian Rosa 5-3 Karl Burrows
9. Stephen Maguire
Scottish Open 2000 - Q1 - Phaitoon Phonbun 5-4 Stephen Maguire
10. Marco Fu
Scottish Masters 2001 - Rd1 - Ken Doherty 5-1 Marco Fu
11. Tony Drago
B & H Championship 2002 - Rd1 - Stuart Bingham 5-3 Tony Drago
12. Ronnie O'Sullivan
World Champiponship 2003 - Rd1 - Marco Fu 10-6 Ronnie O'Sullivan
13. John Higgins
LG Cup 2003 - Final - Mark Williams 9-5 John Higgins
14. John Higgins
Grand Prix 2004 - Rd1 - Ricky Walden 5-3 John Higgins
15. Robert Milkins
World Champiponship 2006 - Q4 - Mark Selby 10-4 Robert Milkins
16. Jamie Cope
Roewe Shanghai Masters 2008 - 1/8 - Mark J. Williams 5-2 Jamie Cope
This was the fourth 147 made against Mark Williams. Jimmy White is the only other player to have seen four maximums made against him.
Sunday's final will be refereed by Terry Camilleri. It will be his second ranking final - the first was in his homeland at the 2007 Malta Cup when Shaun Murphy beat Ryan Day.
Apologies for the lack of entries in this blog yesterday - as most of you are aware, we are having some technical problems with our website, which we are working on resolving.
Seven of the top 16 seeds fell at the first round stage but there are still some excellent matches in prospect today. Dave Harold is undoubtedly the player of the season so far other than Ronnie O'Sullivan. The 41-year-old from Stoke has won eight of his nine matches in ranking events this term - his only defeat was against O'Sullivan in the Northern Ireland Trophy final. Harold, who is on traget for a place among next season's top 16, faces Steve Davis today. The two players have 47 years of professional experience between them and, no doubt, not an inch will be given.
O'Sullivan, who faces Joe Perry tonight, is aiming this week to win three consecutive ranking events for the first time in his career. Here's a list of the previous occurences of this achievement:
Ray Reardon: World Championship 1974, 75, 76 (at the time, the World Championship was the only ranking event).
Steve Davis: 1984 Classic, World Championship and International.
Steve Davis: 1988 World Championship, International and Grand Prix
Stephen Hendry: 1990 World Championship, Grand Prix, Asian Open, Dubai Classic and UK Championship
Stephen Hendry: 1993 International Open, World Championship and Dubai Classic
Sherry, the media centre translator, is teaching us some Chinese words to do with snooker:
If you want to ask for any more, email email@example.com
Marco Fu has just made a superb 68 clearance to snatch the fifth frame from Andy Hicks and go 4-1 up. The Chinese media are right behind Fu, following the exit of their favourites Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo. There were some unusual questions for the Hong Kong cueman in his press conference yesterday, including whether the stock market crash had affected his game, and whether he had seen the newly-released Chinese fantasy film Painted Skin. Fu dealt with the questions in good humour and responded in the negative to both.
More drama in frame six of that match...Fu missed a sitter of a green to win the match 5-1. Hicks cleared the table to force a respotted black, then potted it with a cocked-hat double for 4-2.
After winning their enthralling match 5-4, Steve Davis said of Dave Harold (insisting that this was meant as a compliment): "Playing Dave is like going to the dentist and having your teeth pulled out one by one, without any anaesthetic."
According to this report in New Zealand newspaper Hawke's Bay Today, there is a resurgence of interest in snooker in the region.
The Derby Evening Telegraph reports on the progress of promising referee Molly Newbold.
Eurosport's transmissions during the tournament will be at 8.15am and 6.45pm (UK time) from Monday to Saturday, and 8.15pm and 6pm on Sunday. The semis and the final can be watched live on the Eurosport player on their website.
John Higgins suffered one of the worst seasons of his career last term, failing to reach a ranking semi-final. But he seemed to be enjoying his snooker again at the Northern Ireland Trophy as he ended that sequence by getting to the last four, before losing to Dave Harold. He has made a strong start against Tom Ford today, taking the first three frames. Ford should have won the third but missed the easiest of blues when poised to clear the table.
Lea has written in to say: 'Thanks for great background info on Shanghai Masters. But why do I have so much difficulty in connecting with and navigating the WS website? Am I the only one?'
No Lea, you are not the only one. We are currently facing technical problems with the website, related to the amount of traffic on the site, which is making it extremely slow to navigate. We are trying to resolve this, so if you are able to access this message, please be patient!
There are some action pictures from the first day's play in the People's Daily
There's a huge crowd in tonight, particularly on the two TV tables where Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry are both in action. The official attendance is 2128.
Sherry, who is working in the media centre as a translator, has given her opinion that Judd Trump is the most handsome snooker player.
Graeme Dott has injured his arm and is currently receiving treatment in a hospital in Shanghai. He has yet to decide whether to go ahead with his match tomorrow against Jamie Cope.
The second ranking event of the season, the Roewe Shanghai Masters, is set to get underway. The pick of the opening ties is Jimmy White against Xiao Guodong. White has showed clear signs of a return to form in winning eight matches already this season, though all of those were at Prestatyn so he is seeking to win his first match at a venue since he beat Zheng Peng in the wild card round of the Honghe Industrial China Open in Beijing 17 months ago. He'll certainly be given a stern test by Xiao, who has already won one tournament on the Pontin's International Open Series this season, as well as the Paul Hunter English Open. Interesting that 62% of you who voted in our poll think that fewer than three of the seven Chinese wild cards in action today will win.
Yesterday's superbly-organised opening ceremony was the perfect appetizer for the tournament. The red carpet walk, with two players at a time running the gauntlet of hundreds of fans who had won competitions on the official website , lasted over an hour and was televised live by Shanghai TV. Click the Gallery link above to scroll through some pictures.
As is often the case for overseas tournaments, there have been a few travel hiccups for the players. Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo had to endure a nervous wait when their cues did not arrive on their flight from the UK, though fortunately the tools of their trade did turn up the following day. Mark Allen touched down at Shanghai airport minus his luggage. Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott did not make Saturday's flight from Heathrow at all, as their connecting flight from Glasgow was cancelled due to fog. Both Scots are expected to arrive in China today.
Last night's opening ceremony was followed by a friendly football match between players on the East Asia Stadium pitch. The likes of Mark Williams, Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Mark King, Dave Harold, Stuart Bingham, Neil Robertson, Joe Perry and Stuart Pettman all took part in the kick-around. Tackling was kept to a minimum to rule out any risk of injury.
Anthony Hamilton takes a modest 56 minutes to win his opening frame against Li Yan, securing it with a yellow-to-pink clearance. All four English players are winning their matches at the moment.
Judd Trump has made a strong start to the season, qualifying for each of the first three ranking events. But at the Northern Ireland Trophy, the Bristol teenager admitted that he has a tendency to play well at Prestatyn and then "go to pieces" at the venues. He was 2-0 up against A Bulajiang but missed several chances in the next two frames. The Chinese player took the fourth after a safety battle on the black to go 2-2.
Hamilton's slow-moving match has been pulled off with the score at 4-1. There's excitement for the many journalists in the media centre as Trump, tied at 4-4, misses the final yellow leading 47-35...but is lucky to leave it safe.
It seems to be mosquito season in Shanghai and several of the blood-sucking insects have invaded the media centre. World Snooker's technical director Pete Godwin tries to alleviate the problem by bringing in some sort of device which is supposed to repel them, but it doesn't have much effect as the nasty little blighters are still at large.
The attention this tournament receives in Shanghai and throughout China is underlined by the fact that there are 143 journalists accredited for the event, from 56 different media outlets.
2008 Northern Ireland Trophy
If the head-to-head record is anything to go by, Ronnie O'Sullivan must be considered a strong favourite today. He has won all 10 previous meetings with Dave Harold. Bookmakers certainly favour the Rocket. He is priced at 1/7 odds-on, compared to Harold's 4-1. The shortest-priced scorelines are 9-3 and 9-4, both rated 5-1. However, let's not forget that Harold has beaten some top players on his way to the final, including Stephen Maguire and John Higgins. There's no pressure on him today, as he said yesterday: "I can go out and enjoy the final."
Jason Woodward of TWI, who produce snooker for the BBC, is here to collect some highlights tapes from host broadcaster TG4. Jason tells us that he spent part of the summer in north Cambodia, filming an item for Futbol Mundial about a school where football training goes hand in hand with lessons on land-mine awareness. Jason and cameraman Colin Nuttall had a frightening experience when they went into a heavily-mined area to film themselves diffusing one. "We went there with some guides, but when we got there they told us they only had one protective suit, although I'm not sure how much protection that would offer anyway if you stood on a mine," said Jason. "Colin put it on and went out into the field. Once he was out there, they said 'ok, he hasn't blown up so we can follow him too!' We found a mine, diffused it and then stood about 800 yards away to blow it up - it was a huge explosion. I certainly wouldn't want to go there again."
After some patchy displays in his first three matches here, O'Sullivan played superbly against Ali Carter last night and has continued that form today against Harold. It might have been different if Harold had taken his chance to win the second frame to go 2-0 up, but since then he's had few chances, with O'Sullivan winning six in a row. Harold's first priority tonight will be to win at least two of the first four frames, and take the evening session to an interval. The trophies will be presented by WPBSA director Sir David Richards and the High Sheriff of Belfast Councillor Margaret McKenzie.
What a brave effort from Dave Harold in frame 11. He's 8-2 down, but not only wins the frame to force a mid-session interval, but has a go at a 147. His hopes of a first career maximum end when he misses a tricky 11th black on 81.
Ronnie O'Sullivan has found a new level of consistency in his game within the past year, which has arguably been the best spell of his career. Whether that has been achieved through adjustments to his technique - he has recently worked with coaches including Frank Adamson and Frank Callan - or as the result of a period of contentment in his life found with the calming influence of long distance running, or a combination of the two, is known only to O'Sullivan himself, or perhaps not at all.
Given his current supremacy, it's extraordinary to think that until winning the Maplin UK Championship last December, he had gone 33 months without a ranking title. Two more wins in Belfast would give him his third ranking crown in the space of eight months. Inevitably, the question will be raised as to how many titles he could have won if he'd found this current degree of consistency earlier in his career, thought that's a question which must be stuck in a box clearly marked 'hypothetical'. If he were to lift the trophy tomorrow night, O'Sullivan would move on to 21 ranking titles, which would be three quarters of the way towards Steve Davis' total of 28, though still 15 behind Stephen Hendry's record 36. Vote in our poll for how many you think O'Sullivan will win during his career.
Ali Carter has also seen a dramatic upturn in his fortunes in recent times. Four months ago, he had only appeared in two ranking event semi-finals in 12 years as a professional. Now he has doubled that tally, and indeed reached his first final at the Crucible last Spring. Despite losing to O'Sullivan for the ninth time in nine meetings in the world final, Carter has taken the confidence he gleaned from his displays in Sheffield into the new season, and will have no fear today as he aims to stop the Rocket taking their head-to-head disparity into double figures. Carter's celebrity is also growing, judging by the sight of a Chinese fan sprinting Usain Bolt-style across the Belfast Waterfront forecourt this morning to get the world No 7's autograph before he entered the venue for a practice session with coach Terry Griffiths.
Frame three of the semi-final between John Higgins and Dave Harold lasts nearly 40 minutes, and is resolved when Higgins makes a mistake on the brown, allowing Harold to clear the table to go 2-1 up. The Stoke potter was slightly fortunate in getting position on the last black - he was trying to drop behind it on the side cushion but instead nudged it away from the rail and left a straight pot to a centre pocket.
Harold's last ranking final was the 1994 Grand Prix at Derby when he lost, co-incidentally, to Higgins. If he were to beat Higgins today, his gap of 14 years between ranking finals would be the longest in snooker history.
But wait...this match turned on its head when Harold missed a black off its spot at 30-0 leading 5-1. Higgins has now pulled back to 5-4.
It's a very high standard so far in the Carter v O'Sullivan match. Carter leads 3-2 having made breaks of 106 and 97, while O'Sullivan has knocked in 96 and 69.
If aliens came down from space and wanted to know what snooker was all about, this wouldn't be a bad match to show them. The score is now 5-5, Carter making breaks of 106, 97, 72 and 76, O'Sullivan responding with 96, 69, 60, 108 and 78. Six of the ten frames have lasted under ten minutes.
Shokat Ali won the third tournament on the Pontin's International Open Series, his biggest title since he won a gold medal for snooker at the Asian Games in 1998. Read more by going to the home page and clicking on the Latest News arrow.
The World Fire-Fighter Games are currently taking place in Liverpool. Kuwait won the snooker team event and were presented with their medals by John Parrott. More on that in the Liverpool Echo
Dave Harold is through to the tenth ranking event semi-final of his career, and first since the Irish Masters in Dublin in March 2003 when he lost 6-4 to John Higgins, who will be his opponent again tomorrow. Here's a list of all-time most semi-final appearances in ranking events:
Stephen Hendry 81
Steve Davis 58
Ronnie O'Sullivan 48
John Higgins 44
Jimmy White 43
John Parrott 39
Ken Doherty 35
Mark Williams 32
Peter Ebdon 28
Alan McManus 26
Cliff Thorburn 20
James Wattana 19
Stephen Lee 16
Matthew Stevens 14
Nigel Bond 14
Eric Whitehead, a photographer who has been working at snooker tournaments for 25 years, has recently been tasked with creating an official website for Stephen Maguire. Once the site goes live, there will be a wealth of information about the world No 2, including the fact that his favourite fruit is apples. When Maguire falls 3-1 down to Alan McManus, Whitehead mistakenly thinks the match is over, and asks if Maguire will come to the media centre to review some of the content on the site. Whitehead is informed that Maguire is very unlikely to do so during his mid-session interval...even if temped with a Golden Delicious.
It's not been a great tournament so far for the Irish. Fergal O'Brien, Michael Judge, Ken Doherty, Joe Swail and Gerard Greene have all made their exit from the Belfast Waterfront. But the home crowd still have one man to cheer. He's the highest ranked of them all, and a player who some experts consider the most gifted Ulsterman since Alex Higgins. Mark Allen has raced into a 3-0 lead over Mark Williams and is on course for a quarter-final place. He brings at least 50 friends and family to the Waterfront every time he plays, and that support is sure to grow if he gets to the latter stages.
We've had a couple of correct answers to the Ryan Day wedding photo competition (see Monday's blog), the first of which came from Michael Smith, who wins a signed programme.
The answer was (left to right): Barry Hawkins, Stephen Maguire, Paul Davies, Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens, Ryan Day, Lee Walker, Neil Tomkins, Darren Morgan, Rhys Day (professional footballer)
Following your comments about the way the drawsheet displays on our new website, we have been able to partically resolve the problem. You can now scroll to the bottom by placing the cursor anywhere over the drawsheet and moving the mouse downwards (rather than using the scroll bar). We are still working on getting results displayed within the draw. You can easily access the format and order of play by clicking on Venue/Format in the top navigation of the tournament.
Click here for an article about snooker's venture into the Middle East in the National newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, based on an interview with Sir Rodney Walker.
The third event of the Pontin's International Open Series is down to the final, and it's youth against experience with Welsh teenager Michael White to face former world No 34 Shokat Ali. White, the youngest ever winner of the world amateur title when he took that crown age 14 in 2006, struggled on his debut season on the World Snooker Tour in 2007/08 and dropped off. He's now looking to bounce straight back onto the pro circuit. Patrick Einsle, arguably Germany's most promising player, reached the semi-finals before being edged out 5-4 by Ali.
Only two of the eight top 16 players in action yesterday made it into the next round. Early-season rustiness is certainly a factor in this; the first ranking event of the season always produces surprise results. At the Roewe Shanghai Masters a year ago, only nine of the top 16 made the second round and the tournament was won by qualifier Dominic Dale. Another factor is that there are so many good players outside the top bracket of the rankings, particularly in the 17-32 band. As Shaun Murphy said yesterday after losing to Mark Williams: "I was playing a double World Champion in the first round. That's a tough draw." Stephen Hendry felt the same after losing 5-1 to Stephen Lee, who has been the player of the tournament so far. Lee had two centuries in his opening match against Judd Trump, including a 145, then another ton and two more breaks over 70 last night. Lee, who reached the Masters final last season but struggled for positive results in ranking events, has made a fine start to his bid to get back up the list.
Here are a few interesting facts and figures about Belfast, supplied by Belfast City Council, which supports the Northern Ireland Trophy:
It's the fastest growing short break destination in Europe, with 6.9 million visitors last year.
The city's most popular tourist attraction is Belfast Zoo, with nearly 295,000 visitors last year. In Northern Ireland, only the Giant's Causeway attracts more visitors.
Belfast is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the Titanic. There were 22 Belfastmen among the 1500 souls who lost their lives when she sank on the night of 15 April 1912. They included nine workers from the Harland and Wolff shipyard, which built Titanic. A memorial to them is located in the grounds of City Hall.
The former Paint Hall building has been transformed into a film studio. The fantasy blockbuster 'City of Ember', starring Bill Murray and Tim Robbins, and produced by Tom Hanks, was filmed there last summer, and is due for release this autumn. A film about the Iraq war is currently in production there. Richard Attenborough's 'Closing The Ring', starring Mischa Barron, also was filmed in Belfast last year.
And a few about the Belfast Waterfront:
It cost £32 million to build
The Main Auditorium seats 2,223 people
Since opening in 1997, it has staged 3,400 performances and welcomed 4.5million visitors
The third event of the Pontin's International Open Series is well underway at Prestatyn. Tony Drago is into the last 16, as is the winner of the first event, Bjorn Haneveer. It hasn't been a great PIOS season so far for Adam Duffy, the Paul Hunter Scholar, he lost in the second round. Watch up for the next edition of his diary where he will let us know how he can turn his form around.
Ronnie O'Sullivan made a 147 here last year - the first of three maximums over the season. He lost the first frame tonight against Ken Doherty but then set about a 147 attempt in frame two, taking six reds with blacks before being forced to go up for the pink from the seventh. He went on to make 110 for 1-1. Frame three was less clear-cut, it lasted 47 minutes before O'Sullivan won it on the colours.
The top 16 enter the fray today, each of them playing their first match of the season. There are some intriguing games in prospect on the TV table, starting with Michael Holt against defending champion Stephen Maguire. Holt has two wins under his belt already this term so is under less pressure than Maguire, who is determined to build on his success last season. Shaun Murphy then plays Mark Williams, a tough draw for the world No 3. The fact that the likes of Williams and Ken Doherty have dropped out of the top 16 means that those in the top bracket of the rankings are sure to have some testing opening games this term.
Jan Verhaas is refereeing this week, and it's good to see the popular Dutchman back in action. Two days after taking charge of last season's 888.com World Snooker Championship final, he underwent a three and a half hour operation on his back, with a disc removed from the base of his spine, in an attempt to improve back pain that he had been suffering from for several years. "I felt terrible after the operation as I'd never been under general anesthetic before," said Verhaas. "I could barely walk for a few days but it's a lot better now. The doctors told me it could take a year before we really know how big a difference it will make. But I've been doing a lot of exercise to improve my back muscles and I feel much better."
A nice moment in the fifth frame of the Maguire v Holt match. Holt is trapped in an almost impossible snooker behind the yellow, with several reds in the open and no obvious escape. After studying the table intently, he turns to Maguire and says "what would you do here?' Maguire laughs then comes to the table and pretends to suggest a way out of the snooker. Holt eventually plays, misses the reds three times, and on the third leaves Maguire with a scoring chance.
Ali Carter arrives at the venue and, while waiting to take part in his BBC interview, is asked by worldsnooker.com to explain in layman's terms how serious yesterday's emergency landing in France by a Ryanair 737 plane was. The qualified pilot, who is training for his commercial licence, tells us it was caused by a loss of cabin pressure. "I don't need to worry about that because the planes I fly don't go above 10,000 feet," said the Crucible finalist. "But once you go above that height, the cabin needs to be pressurised so that you can breath properly. Otherwise it can affect your brain and your mind can play tricks on you. If you lose that pressure, you have to get the plane down below 10,000 feet so that the passengers can breath normally without using oxygen masks. Then you have to make an emergency landing, which basically just means landing at the nearest airfield. So it's not that serious, although obviously it's not something you want to happen!"
Television coverage starts today, with local favourite Joe Swail first up, playing Mark Davis. It's shame for Jimmy White and his fans that his match co-incides with Swail's, meaning that the Whirlwind faces fellow left-hander Barry Hawkins on table 2. White, aged 46, won three matches to qualify for his first venue since the Honghe Industrial China Open in March 2007. The former Masters and UK Champion was the first player at the venue this morning, arriving before 9am and taking a stroll around the Belfast Waterfront to familiarise himself with the layout.
From your e-mails it's clear that many of you are unable to load drawsheets or view the bottom half of them. Please accept our apologies for this technical problem - it will be fixed as soon as possible.
We have an Olympic medalist in our midst - albeit from the 1980 Games. Hugh Russell, now a photographer for the Irish Times who is here all week to snap the snooker action, reveals that he won a bronze for boxing in the fly-weight division in Moscow 28 years ago. Known as Little Red, the Ulsterman also won a bronze medal in the Commonealth Games and a gold in the European Championship. Read more about him here
Here's a chance to win a signed Northern Ireland Trophy programme. Go to the tournament gallery and you'll see a photo from Ryan Day's recent wedding. There are nine current or former professional snooker players in the picture, plus one other professional sportsman. The first person to send all ten correct names to firstname.lastname@example.org takes the prize.
You can watch live snooker online via the TG4 website
A couple more e-mails from you. Neil writes:
'Can you tell me who will feature on Eurosport after Swail v Davis - I assume it's the next game on table 1.'
That's correct Neil. Whoever is on table 1 in the order of play is on the TV table.
Nastya from Minsk in Belarus says:
'I'm really glad to see your new website. I like the new design, it's balanced and simple, good features with results ordered by date. Unfotunately, I have problems with draw, as many others do. The other thing that makes the site inconvenient is that you can't see all the news for the tournament at the same time. To find the format of play you have to look through all the recent news. I hope that you'll change it in future. And, at last, I would like to thank you for your BLOG. It is really entertaining to learn all these small facts about players and the atmosphere of the tournament. It's a great fun to read it and I hope you'll continue this way.'
Thanks Nastya, we are looking into the draw issue and also the one about displaying a list of news items. We will keep both the day's order of play and the tournament format within the first six stories, so you don't have to scroll through too many.
Ken Doherty is soon to begin his bid to get back in to the top 16. It's a tall order as he starts the season 32nd provisionally, but if he can beat Gerard Greene tonight he'll be up and running. As he told Setanta, Doherty wants to take inspiration from his friend Padraig Harrington, who enjoyed two brilliant major victories this summer.
It's midnight and there are still a possible three frames to go in the Doherty v Greene match. Doherty leads 4-2 and will be hoping to finish the match off before fatigue kicks in, though with a nine-month old baby he's probably used to sleepless nights.
Less than an hour to go until the venue stage of the first ranking event of the season gets underway. Players are making their final preparations, and despite the vast experience of the likes of Mark Williams, Ian McCulloch and Dave Harold, they are all sure to have a few butterflies as they aim to get off to a good start.
Dominic Dale is the first player to drop into the media centre, and he's lost none of his sartorial extravagance over the summer. He's wearing a bright orange polo shirt, which bears the logo of the Koo Snooker Club, his practice base in Vienna. Dale has been living in the Austrian capital for almost a year and he loves the city. There are eight Koo clubs in Vienna, though carom and pool remain more popular than snooker; indeed there were no snooker tables in clubs until 1989. "Obviously there aren't any professional players there but there are some decent amateurs to play against," said Dale, who faces Adrian Gunnell today, a player he beat 5-1 on his way to winning the Roewe Shanghai Masters a year ago. "The pockets on the table I play on are very similar to those at tournaments. The cloth is slower, but I when I come back to Wales to practise with Ryan Day before a tournament I get used to the faster cloths within half an hour." As for his targets for this season, Dale added: "I start 24th in the provisional rankings so getting into the top 16 is a realistic target. I think I'm the only player ever to have won two ranking events but never been in the top 16 - so at least I've got a record!"
Mark Johnston-Allen is Masters of Ceremonies this week, with Rob Walker still at the Olympics in Beijing, where he has been working for the BBC as their sailing reporter. If there were medals for enthusiasm or avoiding sea-sickness, Walker would surely be coming home with some gold in his suitcase. No doubt he will have plenty of tales to tell when he returns, including the time when he was mistaken for Michael Phelps by a group of Chinese fans.
Mark Williams wins a safety battle on the yellow in frame five against Marcus Campbell and clears to the blue to win it, but he still trails 3-2. Williams is outside the top 16 for the first time since 1995/96, and though he starts 11th on the provisional list, he needs to win these type of matches if he's going to regain his place among the elite.
TWI, who produce snooker for the BBC, have a small crew here to film Q&As with players, which will be screened during the season. The questions are all about 'firsts' - memories of landmarks in the player's career and life. One of them is 'Do you remember your first kiss?' which could produce some interesting answers. Mark Williams is first to take the hot-seat, but claims he can't remember.
A couple of your comments about the new website...
Margaret writes to say 'For the Northern Ireland Drawsheet - only the top 12 of the 1st Round draws are visible - I cant scroll down any further.'
Quite a few people seem to be having this problem...we are trying to fix it!
Bart from Belgium says: 'I really like the new design! It's fast, clean and shiny!'
An early contender for the £2000 high break prize...Stephen Lee rolls in a 145 against Judd Trump. He's come from 2-0 down to lead 3-2.
Ball by ball scoring and results from tournaments