Premier League Snooker 2010: Tournament Preview

September is fast approaching and that can only mean one thing, the start of a new Premier League campaign as Ronnie O’Sullivan prepares to def…oh hang on a minute. Yes, for the first time since I started writing this blog it is not the former world number one who comes into this event as the reigning champion, but instead Shaun Murphy having taken the 2009 title…

The Event

As keen snooker fans will know, the Matchroom Premier League is now one of snooker’s longest running tournaments, dating back to its first staging back in 1987.

Staged on most Thursdays between now and November’s grand finale (see calendar below), the first ten events will see the league’s initial group stage played to a conclusion before the top four players at the end of it play off for the trophy during the final weekend.

The most notable feature of the league however is the fact that since 2005 there has been a 25 second shot clock in force, a quirk that undoubtedly takes some time to get used to and has played into the hands of Ronnie O’Sullivan, the winner of every tournament staged using the system up until 2009 when he was at last defeated in the final by Shaun Murphy.

One notable aspect of the tournament this year to keep an eye out for is that due to the staging of the Asian Games between November 13-20, both Ding Junhui and Marco Fu will play their group matches during the first eight weeks of the competition, including at the Preston Guild Hall on September 30th when three matches will take place.


The tournament will be again be televised in the UK by SkySports, continuing their long association with the competition which dates back to the early 1990’s.

In Germany the event will be televised on German Sport1 from September between 9pm and 11pm local time.

If anyone has information on where it will be broadcast overseas, please let me know and I will add it to this page.

The Players

Last season may not have been the greatest of Shaun’s career on the ranking event circuit but his triumph against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of the Premier League was without doubt one of his most impressive achievements to date, particularly when taking into account O’Sullivan’s imperious record in the competition.

In fact, after five weeks it did not appear as though Murphy would even progress beyond the group stages, defeats against John Higgins and O’Sullivan leaving him adrift at the bottom of the table before a devastating performance against Marco Fu at the Grimsby Auditorium signalled a change in fortunes for the 2005 world champion.

So what of his prospects for this season? As defending champion it goes without saying that he can play under the shot clock and with wins against John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan in the knock-out stages last season, can win against the best. Furthermore although he has not started the new season particularly well, losing early in the PTC events staged at the Academy, I feel that Murphy is a player who will play better on the big stage and should improve here.

A word of caution however is that although he did win the event last season, he did tend to struggle during the group stage and only managed to sneak through to the play-offs on frame difference, having failed to progress on his previous participation following his world title back in 2005.

One man who rarely struggles in the competition however is Ronnie O’Sullivan who has won the event five times under its current guise, only coming unstuck last season against Murphy at the final stage.

As a player who has previously criticised the long nature of the World Championship format, this tournament with its series of one-off meetings is obviously right up his street and that is shown by his results here. Despite not winning the event last season, he enters this year’s event as the clear favourite with the bookmakers once again (when isn’t he the favourite for a tournament?), and rightly so.

What could stop him? There is the fact that his form generally over the last couple of seasons has not been quite as strong as in the past, notwithstanding the fact that it still took the absent John Higgins to defeat him in the majority of events during 2009/10. Also he could be a little vulnerable at the group stage having failed to top the league since 2006 now, although in truth he has rarely looked like missing out on a place in the play-offs since then.

The biggest danger to him in fact could be the presence of Mark Selby, an opponent who by defeating him in the Masters and World Championship recently does appear to be in the head of O’Sullivan, although the former world number one has defeated Mark comfortably on two occasions already this season during the Players Tour Championship.

Despite these negatives though, ultimately O’Sullivan for me remains the man to beat in this competition.

What of our new world champion Neil Robertson who like Murphy enters the Premier League for the third time in his career?

Set to move up into the world number one slot for the first time in his career at the October revision, it is hard to imagine that Neil could have much more confidence than he will have at the moment. Newly crowned world champions tend to do well in the period following their triumph and I would normally expect Neil to more than hold his own in this competition this season.

What cannot be ignored however is the fact that from the twelve matches Neil has played during both of his previous Premier League campaigns, the Australian has won just two matches, losing seven and drawing the rest. How much should be read into that statistic remains to be seen but on past evidence at least, this would not appear to be a format that suits him particularly, although on paper at least I cannot see why this would be the case.

Which leads me on to a player who on paper I would not expect to be well-suited to the event, but on his debut performance in 2008 set the league alight by finishing top with ten points and only losing out in the final to O’Sullivan.

I remember sitting at home comfortably as he played terribly early on against Ding Junhui during his first match and smugly thinking to myself that I was going to be proved right before he put me in my place with breaks of 104, 86, 80 and 73 to get his campaign off to the perfect start. A 5-1 win against Stephen Hendry and a whitewash of Steve Davis soon followed and Selby had demonstrated that he can more than play under a shot clock on his way to the top of the table.

All of which made it all the more surprising to see the world number nine omitted from the 2009 competition, although his performances during ranking events the previous season had not been as strong as previously.

Still, he is back now though and following a strong start to the season is for me one to watch. I would be very surprised not to see him qualify for the play-offs, notwithstanding the strength of the competition in this year’s field…

What of Asian duo Ding Junhui and Marco Fu, both players who have performed well in this competition previously having topped the group table in the past before faltering at the knock-out stage.

Ding returns to the competition on the back of arguably his finest season to date, one that saw him win the UK Championship for the second time as well as reach the finals of the Grand Prix and China Open. Having made centuries for fun during the 2007 Premier League, could this be the season that sees him rediscover that form and capture the title for the first time? Possibly, although it will be interesting to see how he fares against Ronnie O’Sullivan in front of a partisan crowd at the Plymouth Pavilions in week two…

Championship League winner Marco Fu meanwhile will be hoping for better than his 2009 campaign which saw him win just one match and finish adrift at the bottom of the table without ever really having been in contention. Indeed it was a tough campaign full stop for the 2003 Premier League winner but having enjoyed a strong start to the 2010/11 season as well as having qualified for this event earlier in the year, there are signs that he is beginning to rediscover his best form and could cause some damage this time around.

As mentioned above, both of these players have had their matches scheduled for the early weeks of the campaign due to the Asian Games and it will be interesting to see how they get on with just a week separating the conclusion of the Games and the play-offs at Potters…

Last but certainly not least comes the Welsh Potting Machine Mark Williams who after a barren spell is now finally producing the sort of snooker that made him the world’s best player for a spell at the start of this decade.

His first foray into the Premier League since he was whitewashed in the 2005 final by Ronnie O’Sullivan, it will be interesting to see how Mark adapts to the shot clock again as it is something that can take some time for the players to adapt to.

Still, such unfamiliarity with the format did not harm Shaun Murphy too much last season and I would expect him to be competitive.

The Calendar

Week 1 – September 2 – Southampton Guidhall
Shaun Murphy v Ding Junhui, Ronnie O’Sullivan v Marco Fu

Week 2 – September 16 – Plymouth Pavilions
Mark Selby v Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui

Week 3 – September 30 – Preston Guild Hall
Marco Fu v Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui v Mark Williams, Neil Robertson v Mark Selby

Week 4 – October 7 – Brentwood Leisure Centre, Essex
Mark Selby v Ding Junhui, Ronnie O’Sullivan v Shaun Murphy

Week 5 – October 14 – Inverness Leisure Centre
Mark Selby v Marco Fu, Neil Robertson v Mark Williams

Week 6 – October 21 – Spiceball Leisure Centre, Banbury, Oxfordshire
Neil Robertson v Ding Junhui, Marco Fu v Mark Williams

Week 7 – October 28 – Penrith Leisure Centre
Marco Fu v Ding Junhui, Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Williams

Week 8 – November 4 – Hutton Moor Leisure Centre
Marco Fu v Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy v Mark Selby

Week 9 – Nov 11 – Grimsby Auditorium
Shaun Murphy v Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan v Neil Robertson

Week 10 – November 18 – Venue Cymru, Llandudno, Wales
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy v Neil Robertson

Semi-finals Nov 27 Potters Leisure Resort, Hopton on Sea, Norfolk
Semi-finals are the first to five.
1st v 4th
2nd v 3rd

Final – Nov 28 – Potters Leisure Resort, Hopton on Sea, Norfolk
The final is the first to seven.
Winner of semi-final 1 v winner of semi-final 2.