World Championship 2009 Qualifiers: Friday Report from the EISS

A cloudy Sheffield on Friday morning

Yesterday I headed over to the English Institute of Sport for the first ‘proper’ day of the World Championship qualifiers and as ever, it was an eventful day of snooker that continued until nearly midnight. Click below for the results and my exclusive report…

Morning Session

Having had a few things to attend to this morning, by the time I arrived at the EIS in Sheffield it was already around midday and the morning matches were already well underway having started at 10am. Still, I picked up my ticket and headed on inside to conveniently find the three matches that I wanted to watch all next to each other so I could see everything I wanted to.

The first of these was of course the match between Jimmy White and Irish youngster Vinnie Muldoon, who much to my surprise found himself in a 5-2 lead when I arrived. Jimmy though did not appear to be cueing too badly and having pulled one back with a couple of small breaks, then delighted the crowd with a terrific total clearance of 134, his highest break in the World Championship for 11 years. Leaving himself just one frame behind at 4-5, this set things up nicely for what would be an entertaining finale to the match later on…

The most impressive performer of the morning: Daniel Wells

As good a match as this was however, the clash that really caught my eye on paper was that between Welsh left-hander Daniel Wells and the 18-year-old Li Hang from China, for me two of the most promising young players to join the tour this season. Though both appeared to be playing ok, it was Wells who really turned on the style, making two consecutive century breaks (129 & 106) as for a while it looked like he could not miss. Crucially though, Li managed to ‘Hang’ on in there (I couldn’t resist), and took the last frame of the session to give himself hope going into the evening session.

Finally the other match that I was keen to see was that involving Newcastle youngster Stephen Craigie who on paper at least has impressed over the last couple of years with strong amateur results and now professional results. His opponent Lee Spick however was playing well and to me appeared to have the upper hand in the tactical exchanges, though scoring too heavily. He was unlucky in frame eight as it looked like he might gain the snooker he needed to lead Craigie 5-3, but in attempting to do so he knocked the pink in and it was 4-4. He did however take the last frame before the break to give himself a slender lead going into the evening.

Elsewhere it was pretty slow going as the other three matches all had a good two or three frames still to run. Knowing that I needed to catch a few players for photo opportunities I headed out at this point and caught up with a few regular fans who were waiting for Jimmy, though unfortunately for them he snuck out of a side-door and gave them the slip! I did however manage to catch up with various players that I wanted to including Li Hang, Liu Chuang, Daniel Wells, Matt Couch, Scott MacKenzie and Simon Bedford who was to play in the afternoon.

Afternoon Session

Without wanting to be too harsh though, the less said about the afternoon session the better as many of the matches failed to really get take off. I was looking forward to see how David Grace, a man who impressed me with his calm temperament when playing Jimmy White at the UK qualifiers back in December, fared against Bedford but unfortunately for David he just could not get going for whatever reason. Bedford was not at the top of his game either but he was scoring more heavily than Grace and importantly was taking his chances. The highlight for him was probably the third frame where from 57-14 down with three reds safe on the side cushion, he eventually made what was a terrific clearance of 36 under pressure to steal it and who knows, things might have turned out differently had Grace led 2-1.

On the next table along however it was even worse for Chris McBreen who despite winning his first match of the season yesterday, struggled badly against James McBain. The most notable thing for me here was how McBreen, despite being apparently well out of frames, continued to play for snookers despite needing five in some instances. In one frame for example he was 70-28 down with just 22 on! It did not do him much good however as McBain finished up with a 7-2 lead heading into tomorrow.

The highlight of the session though was undoubtedly the performance of Matt Selt who having fallen behind against Robert Stephen after the opening frame, responded well with breaks of 64 and like White earlier, a total clearance of 134. The highlight of this break for me was a shot on 92 to free one of the awkward reds from tight on the side-cushion, close to the middle pocket. He was flying now and soon added his second century of the session, this time a 103 as he blew Stephen away after the interval, taking four of the five frames to lead 6-3 overnight. Robert did at least manage to take the last of the day so he still has a chance if he can come out firing.

Patrick Wallace looks good for the next round

Finally Patrick Wallace over on the far table was also flying, perhaps unsurprisingly against Neil Selman, one of the two non-tour players to make it through to this stage. I did not see much of this clash but it appeared to have been something of a mismatch in truth as Wallace surged to an 8-1 lead.

Having nipped out for refreshments towards the end of this session, I returned to catch a few more players for photos, including Wallace, Selt, Craigie, Spick, White and Colin Humphries, though I did not dare ask the latter about the infamous incident from the Welsh Open! I also caught up with Alan Chamberlain (to get an answer to the elusive question of which years he refereed the Masters final in), and Brendan Moore who kindly helped to fill in a few blanks for his page.

Evening Session

After the disappointing afternoon session, the evening session was to prove to be a vast improvement as the final match did not come to a conclusion for nearly five hours. While I was watching bits of various matches throughout, I’ll report them a match at a time here for to make it easier to follow.

Jimmy’s Delight

Having seen his lead eroded from 5-2 to 5-4 earlier on I was not sure how Vinnie Muldoon would start this session, indeed I had feared that he had ‘missed the boat’ by not coming out of the morning with a greater advantage. How wrong could I be though as from the first ball struck he looked to be confident, going for his shots and threatening to give Jimmy a few headaches. I should also point out that this match was going along at a rapid pace because not only is White a fast player as everyone knows, but so too is Muldoon.

Having taken the first of the session to move 6-4 ahead, Vinnie’s best frame of the day was to come in the 11th as following a tremendous attacking shot to pot the opening red, screw back and scatter the pack all of the table, he maintained his concentration to win the frame in one visit with 72 and restore his three-frame cushion at 7-4.

Close but no cigar for Vinnie

Jimmy though had not done a great deal wrong so when Vinnie made a couple of errors in the next frame including catching the knuckle of the left-centre with a safety shot and leaving him in, he was able to hit back immediately with another big break, this time 104 before going in-off the final pink. Possibly the most crucial frame of the match was to come next however as having seen Jimmy move 60-0 ahead before failing with an attempted plant to a corner pocket, Muldoon had a chance to clear and lead 8-5 at the break. It was not to be however as on just 12 he suffered a thunderous kick on the red, leaving the cue ball close to the cushion and no doubt contributing to the missed black just one shot later. The chance therefore had gone and White was right back in it at 7-6.

When they resumed you could just sense what was going to happen next as Muldoon just started to make a few more errors, in particular his long-game did not look to be as strong as previously in the match. Jimmy was not playing perfect snooker by any means, continuing to give his opponent chances, but Muldoon was unable to capitalise. Frame 14 was a classic example of this as Jimmy looked to have it in the bag before snookering himself on the final green, then playing a quick one and leaving Vinnie with a chance to clear. The blue however was not well-placed and when his attempt at the pot into the green pocket with the rest failed, Jimmy soon made it 7-7.

The ever-popular Whirlwind

An awful break-off from Muldoon in the next was a sign of how things were going and despite leading for much of it, a superb clearance from Jimmy put him into the lead for the first time since he led 2-1 early in the day. To his credit Vinnie was still fighting and he snatched one back to make it 9-8, but White was not to be denied and after both had missed opportunities in frame 18, won it with a run of 51.

An excellent result for Jimmy given how he struggled at times, he has given his army of supporters (who were there in force tonight), something to cheer about once again and has set up a tie with Andy Hicks on Sunday. If he is to win that one however, I feel that he is going to be much more consistent than he was today. For Vinnie meanwhile this signals the end of his current spell on the main tour, a shame given how he started the campaign, but ultimately too many first round exits since the UK Championship have cost him dear. He showed again tonight though that he is a talented player and one who I am sure will be back at some point. At just 18 years old he has plenty of time on his side after all and he will undoubtedly be better for his experiences this season.

End of the road

Speaking of talented young players bowing out of the tournament and so the tour, Stephen Craigie followed Vinnie out as he slumped to a 10-5 defeat against Lee Spick. For whatever reason he just did not get going tonight, again Spick’s tactical game proving superior and perhaps crucially, Lee began to score heavily when he got in, breaks of 55, 72, 51 and then a brilliant 101 to win it, all coming in the last three frames. Craigie was understandably disappointed, for the entirety of that match-winning break from Spick he remained motionless, staring straight down at the floor because he knew just what was coming.

Lee Spick a winner tonight, and not just of the funkiest waistcoat competition

Like Vinnie, after a promising start first round exits in the UK and here where the ranking points are that much greater have cost him dear, but he will be back sooner or later I feel and all the better for his 2008/9 experience.

Well done though to Lee Spick, he will now advance to the next round where he will meet Barry Pinches and importantly for him, he has given his own chances of sruvival on the tour a significant boost.

Brave fightback all in vain

Despite having seen Daniel Wells play some of the best snooker of the day earlier, with Li Hang taking the last frame of the morning I just had a feeling that a fightback was possible and indeed he put in a great, but ultimately unsuccessful effort tonight.  Having taken frame ten to reduce his arrears to two frames, it looked like he was going to take the next for good measure as a break of 60 left Wells looking down a barrel. Daniel though was not going to surrender his lead without a fight and recovered to snatch it on the colours and restore his advantage. The next two frames were to follow a similar pattern too as Hang got one back before seeing Wells hit right back and it was beginning to look like maybe the damage has already been done and that they would continue to trade frames until Wells won.

Li Hang: Came out fighting

Li Hang though had other ideas and when play resumed, upped his game considerably, breaks of 76 and 112 helping him level the match at 8-8. The pendulum then swung back the way of the Welshman however as Wells stopped the rot to lead 9-8, before starting well in the next with a run of 45. Unfortunately for him an attempt to split the remaining reds went wrong and Hang had a chance to get back into it which he did brilliantly with an initial 62, before coming unstuck on the final blue. A poor safety from Wells though left it on and a match that deserved a deciding frame had exactly that.

The first chance went to Wells and though he was not to make a particularly big break, the advantage always seemed to be with him as Li Hang could not work himself an opportunity. With Wells 53-4 up and the five remaining reds and most of the colours safe, it was hard to seel him losing and following a terrific safety exchange (two or three top drawer shots), it was Wells who got the chance he was after and eventually got over the line to keep both his World Championship, and his main tour chances alive. Full credit to both players though, it was an entertaining match throughout and one of genuine quality. For Li Hang it is a case of waiting to see how the one-year rankings unfold now, hopefully he will keep his spot on the tour because given the amount of matches he has won this season, I think that he deserves it.

Not this time

Bye for now, Liu Chuang drops off the main tour

In what was almost the forgotten tie of the night, Supoj Saenla put paid to any hope of another fairytale run to the Crucible for Liu Chuang and in the process ended his two-year speall on the main tour. I did not see a great deal of this match so it is hard to say what the difference was, but it has to be said that Chuang has not enjoyed a successful year having been awarded the World Snooker wildcard to the tour, so perhaps the result is not too much of a shock. Next up for Supoj will be another struggling Chinese player Liu Song, in a match that despite today’s win, he still needs to win if he is to stand any chance of remaining on the tour next season.

Gutsy Georgiou goes down fighting

Having struggled for much of the season relegation from the tour was almost a certainty for Michael Georgiou this week, but despite not having won a match, he gave it a real go tonight and for a while gave Matt Couch a real fright.

Leading 7-4 and 9-6, it looked like Couch, who desperately needed a win tonight for his own survival chances, would ease to a relatively comfortable win, but Georgiou just kept on fighting and in the balls at 9-8, looked like he might force a decider. Eventually he faltered, but when Couch broke down on 50, even from the other side of the arena I could see the anxiety on his face – he clearly thought that it was destined to be 9-9 now. In the end though he got away with it, Georgiou giving him another chance and this time he made no mistake.

Whether it is enough to keep him on the tour we will have to wait and see, but he has at least given himself a chance now.

Last but not least…

The final match of the session to finish was a tight old affair on the far table between Wayne Cooper and Scott MacKenzie, the loser doomed to relegation from the tour and in MacKenzie’s case, retirement as he told the press recently.

The last shot of Scott MacKenzie in his snooker attire?

In truth it was a slow and fairly gruelling match, but having resumed at 7-2 down, it was a fantastic effort from MacKenzie to not only get himself back into it, but thanks to a black ball win, move 9-8 ahead with just two possible frames to go. Having seen his lead disappear though, it was an even better performance from Cooper to recover and with a solid 55, force a decider. You could feel the tension as the clock approached midnight and it was evident in MacKenzie’s break-off shot that smacked the blue and left Cooper in with an immediate chance. Though he failed to take it, eventually a well worked 82 got him over the line and secured a fine victory. Next up for him will be Joe Delaney in what is another must-win match, but for Scott MacKenzie this might well be the end. For me he will always be remembered for the 9-0 win over Michael Holt in the UK Championship a few years ago, but since then his results have not been nearly as spectacular.

General observations

And with that we were done…well for ten hours at least as I remarked on the way out. On the whole it was a good start to the tournament, the extra-pressure of the World Championship being quite evident, while the quality was still very good in places. One thing I noticed was that having been much too cold inside the auditorium for the UK Championship qualifiers back in December, it was probably too warm tonight! Still, maybe this was better for the tables as I know that there were a few murmurs of discontent the last time we were here.

Another issue was the noise coming from the basketball (I think), that was taking place directly opposite the snooker which was certainly far louder than anything you would hear at the final stages of a ranking event. Still, if the shouting did not bother the players too much then perhaps that is another argument for the relaxation of the requirement of total silence that some have suggested recently. But that’s another issue entirely!

Aside from those playing today there were a fair few other players in watching, the likes of Kuldesh Johal, Andrew Pagett, Ding Junhui, Liang Wenbo and Joe Delaney all keeping an eye on their friends and potential opponents in the upcoming rounds.

I will not be attending tomorrow, I only got back at 1:30am tonight and it is now 4:30am so I will be getting some rest in preparation for Sunday and the latest chapter in Jimmy White’s World Championship story…


Stage Two, Round Two (Best of 19 frames over 2 sessions)

Matthew Couch 10-8 Michael Georgiou
69(68)-3, 67(41)-8, 11-48, 34-49, 54-38, 63(63)-22, 38-63, 69-38, 70(55)-7, 71-37, 42-55, 36-64, 66(60)-74(61), 96(96)-0, 58(43)-54, 22-67, 5-62, 62(50)-54
Lee Spick 10-5 Stephen Craigie
0-65(50), 59-21, 71(56)-31, 0-87, 62(41)-1, 12-118(74), 0-77(51), 52-40, 62-22, 54-18, 30-67, 64-26, 128(55,72)-0, 71(51)-1, 125(101)-6
Jimmy White 10-8 Vincent Muldoon (Ireland)
83(47)-28, 61-19, 44-64, 0-74(41), 36-76(40), 63-78, 4-83(47), 68-31, 134(134)-0, 16-77, 0-72(72), 107(104)-6, 86(59)-12, 65-46, 58-36, 76(64)-1, 45-87, 76(51)-15
Daniel Wells (Wales) 10-9 Li Hang (China)
65-40, 74(74)-1, 55-61, 12-67, 71(52)-48(45), 64-47, 129(129)-0, 122(106)-0, 19-60, 43-76, 72-64(60), 57(48)-72, 63(55)-28, 29-80(76), 0-112(112), 6-54, 72(58)-7, 45(42)-73(61), 62-4
Supoj Saenla (Thailand) 10-5 Liu Chuang (China)
36-75(42), 18-81, 84(84)-0, 57-49, 29-72(41), 7-81(74), 88-28, 62-59, 95(78)-9, 63-57(42), 72-48, 16-106(43,62), 70-63(63), 69-56(46), 77-12
Scott MacKenzie (Scotland) 9-10 Wayne Cooper
92(49,43)-1, 41-94, 46(39)-67, 54-57, 7-74(67), 58-0, 31-63, 4-113(111), 55(49)-57(44), 102(102)-0, 59-6, 90(49)-13, 72-15, 54-63, 64-38, 69-60, 65-63(52), 19-66(55), 1-122(40,82)

To play to a finish on Friday:

Patrick Wallace (Northern Ireland) 8-1 Neil Selman
100(59)-22, 66(61)-21, 77(73)-24, 71(41)-21, 28-66(61), 58-44, 71-17, 72(43)-15, 86(57)-33
Matthew Selt 6-3 Robert Stephen (Scotland)
28-63(37), 72(64)-4, 134(134)-0, 29-69(47), 103(103)-19, 75(55)-8, 76(76)-16, 73(54)-18, 30-88(67)
Simon Bedford 7-2 David Grace
30-77, 58-57(47), 71(46)-14, 61-9, 68-20, 61-29, 11-64(44), 66(53)-31, 64-31
James McBain (Scotland) 7-2 Chris McBreen (New Zealand)
72(51)-40, 74(54)-28, 64-49, 1-84(70), 32-73, 74-32, 72-23, 70(70)-0, 67(54)-25