The twelve months of snooker: A look back at 2008 – Part 2

For those of you tired of the same old Christmas films on the TV, here is something else to keep you occupied for a few minutes, part two of my look back at 2008 in snooker…


While the summer is traditionally a quiet time in snooker, June 2008 was a relatively active month as a number of invitational events took place, as well as the start of the new PIOS season as another eight main tour places were up for grabs.

The first event of note was the Jiangsu Classic which saw12 top players battle it out over five days for a first prize of £20,000, not too shabby at all for an invitational event! Eventually it was Ding Junhui, Ryan Day, Joe Perry and Mark Selby who emerged from the round robin stages to progress to the semi-finals, and the home favourite wasn’t to be denied as Ding defeated Selby 6-5 in the final to take the title.

Mark would soon be experiencing another final defeat, this time in the inaugural World Series event in Jersey as he lost out 6-3 to organiser John Higgins. It was a good start to the new series, but since then it has gone on from strength to strength with thousands of people coming across Europe to attend the events and the Grand finals now scheduled to take place in the Kremlin next March.

While the professionals were given some time off for events like this, the amateurs had no respite as the 2008/9 PIOS season began at Pontin’s Prestatyn in June. The first of the scheduled eight events was won by former pro Bjorn Haneveer who defeated Andrew Atkinson 6-2 in the final to make the best possible start to the new campaign. While he has not won a second event since then, his consistent results have ensured that he remains top of the list going into the new year and unless something very surprising happens, he should be back among the professionals going into 2009/10.

Finally the month also saw confirmation that the final spot on the main tour for 2008/9 would be awarded to Liu Chuang as a result of his impressive performances in the World Championship qualifiers, as well as his debut performance against Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Crucible itself.


To a large extent July saw more of the same as the World Series continued to gather momentum, but first several pros travelled over to Thailand for something of a unique event, the six reds tournament in Bangkok. Eventually it was won by Ricky Walden who defeated Stuart Bingham in the final to take the first, but not the last, professional tournament of his career.

Snooker then moved on to Berlin for the second leg of the World Series which proved to be a resounding success. With crowds of over 1,500 attending each day and loving every second of seeing their heroes in action, it was Graeme Dott who eventually took a surprise victory, defeating Chris McBreen, John Higgins and Shaun Murphy along the way. More important than the result though was that it really demonstrated the popularity of snooker in Germany and made the strongest case yet for a return there for a ranking event…

In more general news, Stephen Maguire’s preparations for the season were dealt a blow when he broke a rib playing badminton soon after the Berlin event, though thankfully he was to return fully fit in time for the first ranking event of the season in Northern Ireland.

Good news came regarding the Grand Prix tournament though as it was confirmed that the venue would switch to Glasgow for the new season and soon to follow was confirmation that the much-maligned round-robin stages would be replaced by an open-draw format. While this was not popular with everyone, it seemed to go down well with the players and proved to be a success in the end.


August saw the start of the new ranking event season, though before then the sport was dealt a significant blow as both and Saga Insurance terminated their sponsorship arrangements regarding the World Championship and the Masters events respectively. Five months on and we are yet to hear whether the governing body have had any success in their hunt for a new sponsor, but for the Masters at least, time must be running out now…

In better news, World Snooker confirmed that a new ranking event would take place this November in Bahrain, a much needed addition to the snooker calendar and hopefully not the last this season.

Most importantly of all however, the final week of the month saw the Northern Ireland Trophy take place, and Ronnie O’Sullivan pick up where he left off last season by winning his second consecutive ranking event title. The real story of the week however was provided by Stoke veteran Dave Harold who went on a magnificent run all the way to the final, defeating a string of top players along the way. The event also saw confirmation from Mark Allen that he is also more than capable of making an impact at the highest level as he reached the quarter-finals of his home event once again. Surely it is only a matter of time before he makes a real breakthrough.

The only negative to come from the event was the alleged irregular betting patterns concerning the match between Peter Ebdon and Liang Wenbo which ended 5-0 to the young Chinese player. Hopefully we will hear more from the Gambling Commission on that soon…

As well as the pros, the PIOS season was really gathering momentum as the second and third events were completed in August. with victories for Xiao Guodong and Shokat Ali as they both look to return to the main tour again.


Although the Shanghai Masters got underway at the end of the month (more later), September proved to be more notable for a number of invitational events, not least the Premier League which started in fine style with an opening night win for Mark Selby and an entertaining draw between Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins. News was not so good for the Pot Black tournament however as the event was axed following a three year revival from 2005-7.

Following on from his victory in the six reds tournament back in July, Ricky Walden continued to impress by taking victory in the Belgian Open, a very popular event with an excellent field considering that it was a pro-am event over in mainland Europe.

With two titles in recent months, Ricky must have entered the Shanghai Masters full of confidence, though I doubt even he could have imagined that he would go all the way to victory. This though is exactly what happened as having qualified and defeated the local wildcard, he then defeated Stephen Hendry, Neil Robertson, Steve Davis, Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan to win his first ranking event title, pushing him up to around the top 16 in the provisional rankings.

As well as Walden’s success, the Shanghai Masters was also notable for the broken wrist sustained by Graeme Dott which would not only put him out of this event, but the subsequent Grand Prix as well. The injury actually came not from playing snooker, but from playing in goal during a football match with the other players before the tournament began. Hopefully now he will be ok for the rest of the season!

Better news however came for Jamie Cope who completed the fourth 147 of the season, though unfortunately it came in his 5-2 defeat to Mark Williams in the second round.

And finally, in a significant move for snooker, October saw the formation of the Professional Snooker Players Association, designed to give the players a voice in how the sport is run. It remains to be seen what practical effect the organisation will have, but in principle it seems like a long overdue idea that is finally been made into reality.


Another major title for John Higgins came in Glasgow

October belonged to John Higgins as he took his fourth Grand Prix title with a 9-7 win over Welshman Ryan Day. That was not the only story from the week however as it was Bristol youngster Judd Trump who made the biggest impact, defeating Ronnie O’Sullivan on his way to the semi-finals, his best ranking event result to date. All in all the open draw format proved to be a huge success I think and hopefully will be back again next season.

Some distance from Glasgow, the month also saw the qualifiers for Bahrain Championship take place and what a week it proved to be in Prestatyn as Liang Wenbo produced an astonishing performance to defeat Martin Gould in his last 64 match. Breaks of 115, 139, 139 and an amazing 147 saw Liang breeze through, though perhaps typically after such a strong peroformance, his next was to be a bit flat and he lost out to Michael Judge the following day.

Away from the ranking events, the World Series continued to be a success with the latest event in Warsaw. Eventually it was won by Ding Junhui who defeated Ken Doherty in another close final to boost his chances of a good seeding when it comes to next year’s Grand Finals.

While Ding is one for the future, a past master was showing that he still has what it takes as Mike Hallett made the final of the fourth PIOS event of the season at Pontin’s. Ultimately though that proved to be one step too far as Bolton’s Craig Steadman blew him away in the final, but at least Mike has given himself a fighting chance of returning to the main tour for another season.

In addition Ryan Day gained some consolation for his Glasgow defeat with victory in the Austrian Open pro-am event.

The big story away from the table this month was the revelation from WPBSA Chairman Sir Rodney Walker that during the Shanghai Masters he had been approached by organisers from China with regard to the possibility of the Chinese hosting the World Championship once the current contract with Sheffield has expired. Since then the talk has cooled somewhat as it has become clear that Sheffield fully intends to fight to keep the tournament, but we shall see.

Finally it was Ronnie O’Sullivan who unsurprisingly won the player of the year award in the Snooker Writer’s Association Awards. Special mention should also go to Barry Hearn,  Liang Wenbo and Mark Selby who also took home awards.


Another ranking event, another new winner and this time it was Australian Neil Robertson who took a popular victory in the new Bahrain Championship. While the even was affected by five withdrawals due to the Premier League and Ronnie O’Sullivan’s decision not to travel, as well as poor crowds, it was an engrossing final and a good contest between the two players involved.

The event also saw some good performances from Stephen Hendry who looked back to his best until the semi-finals, as well as Marcus Campbell who sensationally made a maximum break, the second in the event following Wenbo’s effort in qualifying.

As well as the Bahrain tournament, the league phase of the Premier League came to conclusion with Mark Selby, Joe Perry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry progressing to the play-offs. Also the World Series moved on to Moscow where John Higgins took his second victory with a 5-0 masterclass against Warsaw winner Ding Junhui.

Closer to home, Sir Rodney Walker was re-elected as chairman of the WPBSA and in qualifying for Bahrain, Fergal O’Brien became the 27th player to complete a hundred century breaks in competitive play, a fine achievement indeed.

As was that of young Thai amateur Thepchaiya Un Nooh who took victory in the IBSF World Amateur Championship, succeeding compatriot Atthasit Mahitthi who won the event in 2007. As a result he will now be on the main tour for 2009/10 so keep an eye on him.

Finally the Masters qualifying event was completed at the English Institute for Sport in Sheffield and saw victory for Judd Trump who is really beginning to look like the real deal now. A special mention for runner-up Mark Joyce though, a little-known player who recorded some big results on the way to the final.


The month started in typical style with Ronnie O’Sullivan taking victory in the Premier League play-offs, but it was the UK Championship that really stole the headlines and unfortunately, not solely for the on-table action.

Indeed Shaun Murphy’s terrific victory over Marco Fu has been somewhat overshadowed by the alleged match-fixing claims concerning the last 32 tie between Scots Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett. Hopefully the subsequent investigation into the matter will prove that nothing untoward went on there and snooker can return to some sort of normality.

In more positive news, the seventh and final 147 break of the year was made in Telford as Ding Junhui gave himself some consolation as he lost out to John Higgins in the last 16. All in all the event was something of a classic as there were a number of close matches, a pattern that went all the way to the final.

Unfortunately however it was confirmed that there would be no tournament in Malta next year, as a ranking event or otherwise. Presumably this is a financial decision for the governing body, particularly given the cost of staging the Bahrain Championship in November.

Finally Stuart Bingham took the last title of the year with victory in the Dutch Open.

Ok well that’s just about it for 2008, hopefully I will be able to put some of my awards up over the next few days and hopefully 2009 will be just as action-packed!