Monday, July 23, 2012

Maguire wins PTC1 and I don't know Jack

When I look at the draw for any Players Tour Championship event, the odds of being able to successfully predict who will end up in the quarterfinals is stacked heavily against me. The nature of an upset victory is such that it's difficult to foresee, and when too many subject matter experts in the field are calling for an upset, it ceases to be one.
Stephen Maguire & Jack Lisowski: PTC1 Finalists
Photo by Monique Limbos

For instance, I picked Mark Selby to win this first PTC event in the UK this season and obviously there's a good case to back that up. What really throws the best players under the bus in these events is the short format, though. At this level of professional competition, almost any result is feasible over a best-of-7 frames. So, while Selby had no trouble whitewashing Lucky Vatnani in the opening round and still managed to get through Rory McLeod 4-2, how could I have imagined that Dave Harold would be the hurdle Selby couldn't clear as he lost 4-2 in the last-32 round.

Dave Harold would then go on to lost 4-0 to Andrew Higginson, who always plays well in these events it seems, but again anything can happen. Many of my original picks for the quarterfinals progressed some distance through the tournament, but Xiao Guodong also fell to Thailand's Dechawat Poomjaeng in the last-32, as did Andy Hicks and Ryan Day.

Luca Brecel: Flemishly disposing of the old guard.
Photo by Monique Limbos
As I feared, Graeme Dott dropped his opening round match to Luca Brecel 4-2 despite a pair of 90+ breaks, the likes of which often bring Graeme to the winning post. While I still don't think Luca can hang with the current top 16 over a longer format match, I do have to hand it to him for being able to string together wins against Dott, then Ken Doherty and Joe Perry in deciding seventh frames, only to lose 4-1 to Judd Trump in the last-16. That victory for Judd brought him to the quarterfinals and thus became the sole player that I accurately predicted would do so. Imagine that: one out of eight correctly guessed and the one I got right was Judd Trump--what genius!

Now, I have consistently failed to give Jack Lisowski a lot of credit and following his relatively poor run of results last season, thought of him as being little more than Judd's baby-faced flatmate. To see him get through to his second PTC final in two years reminded me that there was a first. It wasn't easy though as his quarterfinal against Judd ended up going 4-3 (as did the other quarters) and Jack would also face deciding frames in the semifinal against Mark Williams and the final with Stephen Maguire.

Truly, he should've won that last decider as well--he was gifted a chance to clear up for victory after Maguire's slow-rolling straight black during a frame-winning chance didn't quite have the juice to drop into the pocket. Lisowski, having potted the last red and black, left himself a little long on the yellow and ended up rattling it in the jaws with all the colours on their spots. Maguire, needing all six, duly obliged to claim the title.

Given Jacks' level of experience on the tour and the possibility of winning a first ranking title hanging over his head, the miss wasn't too surprising, but he's won me over as a player capable and deserving of making it to the televised stages of the bigger events. Particularly the win over Mark Williams, whom I never would've predicted to lose to Lisowski before this tournament--even over a shorter format.

That'll teach me for writing him off early when I clearly don't know Jack.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

2012 Shanghai Masters Qualifiers - A few paths and permutations

There's lots of places you can find the draw for the 2012 Shanghai Masters, but this isn't one of them. To make sense of what I'm yammering about in this article, please consult Wikipedia here: 2012 Shanghai Masters

Mark Selby hasn't won a ranking event since the Shanghai Masters at the beginning of last season and although I tipped him to win PTC1, I'm not sure he'll do as well when it comes to the knockout stages in China. I don't really know what to make of the fact that some players seem to play better than others overseas, but Selby seems to be able to win matches anywhere and it can't be seen as an excuse.

Who he'll end up playing in the first round as defending champion remains to be seen

As much as I like to root for him, last year's IBSF world champion Hossein Vafaei from Iran will have to fight through IBSF under-21 world champion Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon, another Thai player in Dechawat Poomjaeng, plus Mike Dunn and Jamie Cope for a place in the knockout round. I expect the challenge will be too great at one stage or another.

Pankaj Advani: Not mentioned in this article.
India's Aditya Mehta started playing really well towards the end of last season and the two-year tour card might begin to show its worth as he's adapted to competitive playing conditions over an extended term. He'll have to get through the James Wattana-Matt Selt-Mark King series of higher-ranked opposition to do so, but I don't discount the possibility.

Elsewhere of note, Canada's Floyd Ziegler is drawn to play Robbie Williams (who I think was a Q School qualifier?) and hopefully he will have made his way to England by then to enter this event after having withdrawn from PTC1. Not knowing a great deal about Robbie Williams and knowing that Floyd is a two-time Canadian champion, I have to think that he's at least got a chance. He would have to defeat the likes of David Gilbert, Gerard Greene and Mark Davis after the fact to book a ticket to China, of course.

Another good draw for Kurt Maflin as he is in line to face Marco Fu if he can win three qualifying matches. Good to see Daniel Wells in the draw again as well with the likes of Ken Doherty and Marcus Campbell standing in his way of qualifying for a venue.

Haphazard Qualifier Predictions:
(NOTE: Predicted results are made with my head, not with my heart--but generally speaking, it doesn't make them any more accurate)

  • Jamie Cope
  • Tom Ford
  • Mark King
  • Andy Hicks
  • Jimmy White
  • Ryan Day
  • Robert Milkins
  • Peter Ebdon
  • Mark Davis
  • Sam Baird
  • Ben Woolaston
  • Liang Wenbo
  • Ken Doherty
  • Anthony Hamilton
  • Marco Fu
  • Cao Yupeng

PTC1 - Bet your house on these malformed insights!

There's lots of places you can find the draw for the first Players Tour Championship event of the 2012/2013 season, but this isn't one of them. To make sense of what I'm yammering about in this article, please consult Wikipedia here: Players Tour Championship 2012/2013 - Event 1

I'm looking forward to the PTCs this year and I expect that m'boy Graeme Dott should be able to do well in them again, which may be the key to his holding a Top-16 spot going into the next couple of revisions after a few rough results at the end of last season.

Kacper Filipiak: Won a frame against John Higgins. Once.
Photo by Monique Limbos
Running through the preliminary round draws, it looks like Reanne Evans is back in the mix but she didn't do too well in these events last season, but you gotta wish her well. It couldn't hurt to get a woman in the game who could compete with some of these dudes.

Poland's wonderkid Kacper Filipak shows up in Round 2 against Joe Swail hoping to get into the main rounds and win at least a match this time--I'm fairly sure Kacper was shut out of wins last season and didn't exactly snatch many frames against top players either (if you don't count the 70-0 frame over John Higgins in the World Cup that one time). The preliminary rounds are, as always, full of a few names you recognize and a few that you've never heard of. Arbitrarily, amongst these lot, I'm going to root for Scotland's Marc Davis to push all the way through to hopefully face Mark Davis in the final. I like to see the referees put in unusual situations ("Foul, Marc Davis, ninety-seven; Mark Davis, six and the frame, Marc Davis.")

Section 1 of the draw has a pretty good crop of players waiting to play the survivors of the preliminary round and I'd expect pretty much all of them to win their first matches--though Andrew Higginson sometimes looks like one of those players who can lose to anybody, despite slaying giants quite a bit more often than his own conquerors. Kurt Maflin still seems to be the only guy regularly carrying all of the hopes and dreams of Scandinavian snooker fans and he was playing well towards the end of last season, making it all the way to the last-16 in PTC12 where, in fact, Andrew Higginson ended up finishing him off. All in all, it should be Mark Selby's quarter if he can kick this season's current habit of not being constantly in the semis or better all the time.

In Section 2, I'm counting on Michael White to lose to Alan McManus, who will go on to lose to Dominic Dale, who will meet Xiao Guodong in the last-16, possibly losing. You can bet your house on that (don't). Section 3 has a potential last-64 match between the two recent ranking event winners Barry Hawkins and Ricky Walden. Andy Hicks is in this section of the draw as well and I keep hoping to see him back in the televised stages. But I'm sure the ever unpronounceable Thanawat Thiranpongpaiboon, who won the amateur under-21 world title held in my native Canada last year, will always pose a threat in these events.

Speaking of better your house on stuff, how about 4-0 Robert Milkins over Ben Judge in Section 4. Take my advice (don't [no, really, that's a good bet]).

Floyd Ziegler: On the pro tour for Canada! Soon. I think.
As a Canadian, I was going to be vociferously rooting for Floyd Ziegler who was drawn a tough challenge in Fergal O'Brien in his first pro tour match. Floyd was given the Americas nomination and is the first Canadian flag on the tour for quite some time, but he appears to have withdrawn from this first event. Maybe next time! Also in this section, Peter Ebdon and Rod Lawler have drawn one another in the first round, which should be the longest snooker match of all time, despite the short format.

Steve Davis faces Zhang Anda, most famous for pushing Stephen Hendry to a deciding frame in Round 1 of the 2010 Worlds, in Section 6 while Jimmy White and Tony Drago are schedule for a first-round shootout in Section 7.

Last, but of course not least, the Graeme Dott quarter--while I root for Dott over any other player, he'll have to meet and defeat Belgium's Luca Brecel right off the bat. Luca is fresh off a good World Championship campaign in which he had to win four Best-of-19 qualifying matches for the right to play at the Crucible for the first time. Whereas Graeme's Crucible campaign was considerably less momentous, putting in one of his worst career performances losing 10-1 to a sub-par Joe Perry.

As luck would have it, should Dott extinguish the fire of Luca Brecel, he will also have to survive a potential clash with the always-tough Ken Doherty, followed by a potential meeting with Joe Perry again! Or worse, the sneering Tom Ford who has inexplicably, and to my gross disappointment, defeated Graeme in their last two ranking event meetings. To top it all off, Graeme Dott's reward for meeting these challenges (which of course, he is totally capable) is probably a last-16 run-in with Judd Trump!

True, it's only a PTC and losing out even in the first round wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but Graeme is slipping down those rankings a little when you see what's happening at Matt's Fantastic Latest Projected Seedings at Pro Snooker Blog, and this is also the sort of series of victories that would help re-establish his confidence as being among the best (which of course, he is).

Haphazard Quarter-finalist Predictions:
(NOTE: Predicted results are made with my head, not with my heart--but generally speaking, it doesn't make them any more accurate)

  • Mark Selby 
  • Xiao Guodong 
  • Shaun Murphy 
  • Robert Milkins 
  • Stephen Lee 
  • Ryan Day 
  • Jimmy White 
  • Judd Trump


Quest to re-capture magic moments from the past...

Videos are a fantastic thing, see.

For those with access to this special technology as it was introduced, recorded accounts of life in motion gave creative minds a nigh infinite range of possibilities and created enough work to fill jobs by the thousands. It has only grown since. Indeed, nearly every passion and pursuit in humanity's catalogue of activity demands some sort of video coverage in the present day (such as cow fighting and a surprisingly large collection of frying pan tennis videos).

During the original snooker boom kick-started by Pot Black in the early seventies, video cameras were hardly pervasive as today's pea-sized handheld camcorders are, and those that did exist were almost solely in the possession of television networks. There weren't ten thousand channels and even colour television itself was a novel, state-of-the-art concept at the time so the popularity of snooker back then doesn't particularly surprise me.

There is an argument that Chinese checkers or crokinole may have enjoyed similar levels of public rapport if they had been selected as pilot programs for the first colour broadcasts from the BBC--but I doubt very much that the staying power of snooker and the very human moments it has gone on to create throughout its history could be trumped by such abstract tabletop games where the table itself can be stowed away in a closet rather than permanently consuming the majority of the space in any homeowner's rumpus room.

But here in the 21st century, we are now victims of information overload and video is no exception. Folks aged 1 to 100 are recording videos and you can hardly buy a dog collar without a built-in camera these days. I seem to remember some sort of article about certain players wearing a goofy 'cueists-eye-view' headband-cam at last year's World Championship but thankfully someone pulled the plug on that before the cameras started rolling (presumably Crucible staff filed complaints at the sight of the Borg entering the theatre as assimilated top-16 players).

Surely, there are pros and cons to this overwhelming tidal wave of technology, but a standout positive side effect is that tenderfoot newcomers to snooker fandom have the facility to take in the greatest moments in snooker history thanks to the preservation of film.

I was born just a couple of months after Jimmy White reached his first World Championship final in '84, so it goes without saying that I've missed a great deal of snooker's greatest moments. Without the aid of the internet and the preserved film in question, I would never have had any shred of what it must've been like to experience this:

However, as a present-day snooker fan who watches the current events unfold live, as they happen, it would be an outright lie to suggest that merely watching these old videos is equal to experiencing the moment. After all, Dennis Taylor's win over Steve Davis on the final black was long the stuff of legend well before I saw the video and although knowing the result doesn't necessarily spoil the sight of this iconic moment, it also doesn't capture the entire story. It doesn't bring the viewer back to what they must've been feeling early on in the match when Taylor trailed Davis 8-0 after the first session. It doesn't remind the viewer what it must've been like for him to fight back and finally draw level at 15-15, only to fall behind again 17-15 needing to win all three remaining frames. If you don't see the entire match, the attempted double on the final black from Dennis Taylor that miraculously runs safe after somehow pulling it back to 17-all doesn't carry as much meaning. 

Although the entire 35-frame final may be available for viewing somewhere on the internet, my point is that watching a full match from the past is as close as you can get, but there's still nothing quite like watching it happen when it's really happening. 

Snooker is not exactly a fast-paced viewing experience and it can be quite difficult for many to commit to watching every frame of some of the lengthier-format live matches, never mind those that are several decades old where you already know the winner and the final score before you even start the video. Nevertheless, it can be a worthwhile experience to see the whole story unfold and you end up with a more intimate knowledge of the history of a tournament or the game as a whole. A true purist might argue that you haven't really seen the whole story of the 1985 final if you hadn't also been present to witness the matches that each of the finalists had won to get there and I would tend to agree. Often the road to the final is a more dramatic journey than the final itself, but alas, there are only so many hours in a day and as the snooker season's calendar grows ever-more bloated with events all over the world, it becomes more and more difficult to find time for matches from years gone by, especially going in with the predisposition that it could never be as rewarding a viewing experience as seeing something happen live.

Not to downplay the experience too much though, there are definitely a number of full and complete matches that I would be remiss not to have seen as a snooker fan. If you love the game and haven't seen them already, you owe it to yourself to watch the complete, or nearly complete video of the 1997 Liverpool Victoria Charity Challenge Trophy final, and the complete 2004 Masters final with Paul Hunter and Ronnie O'Sullivan to name a couple of the best contests that can be found in their entirety. 

Seeing great matches from the past does give me some sense of going back in time, putting myself in the frame of mind of the commentators who are there reliably calling the game just as though it truly was happening live. The downside is that it leaves me wanting to see other matches that I've only ever heard about in clipshows and highlight reels, only to discover that such videos aren't available. 

Would love to have seen the full match where Cliff Thorburn made the first 147 at the Crucible but alas, nowhere to be found! Nor will my desire to see 1980's semi-final between Alex Higgins and Kirk Stevens be sated by this so-called powerful video technology! 

Nay as well to the full and complete 2006 final, in which Graeme Dott, my own personal hero in snooker, achieved the dream. Oh to have seen the turgid drama unfold! To witness the build-up! Alas, I am relegated to clips and highlights, offering glimpses of a player's heart that has worn the task of surviving this long with the finish line just ahead...

I take solace in the knowledge that as I am now a dedicated follower of the game, these rare moments from the past are ones I will bear witness to when they happen, as they happen in the future. 

As the tour plunges into the 2012/2013 season and as more and more camcorders are installed into cell phones, pocket watches and dog collars, more and more videos of these great moments in sport will be captured forever for future generations who inherit the patience that a sound appreciation of the game calls for.