12bet.com UK Championships Preview
Prize money: £625,000 (£100,000 to the winner)
Date: (Saturday December 4th – Sunday December 12th)
Venue: Telford International Centre
The Format: Best-of-17 frames from round-one until semi-finals, Best-of-19 frames final
The Field: 32
With the exception of the game’s annual showpiece at Sheffield, the UK Championship is considered snooker’s second most prestigious ranking event. With one-and-a-half times normal ranking points on offer, along with a prize pool of £625,000, the tournament never fails to capture the imagination of fans everywhere, and more often than not gives a strong indicator as to which players are best placed for glory come Mayday.
The event is not without it’s faults however. It’s new home at the Telford International Centre is almost universally unpopular, and many, including myself, feel that a best-of-19 decider rather than it’s previous 31 frame guise is not adequate considering the event’s standing.
That said, it’s prestige has never been in doubt, it remains an integral part of snooker’s tour and a prize coveted by all those lucky enough to play this game professionally.
Last year’s event:
The game of the tournament was played out between the decade’s two best players, a semi-final between John Higgins & Ronnie O’Sullivan. Higgins took an 8-2 lead with some outstanding play, in a game that looked set to be destined for an anti-climatic reputation. That’s when the most successful player of the noughties found form in a way only he can. A thirteenth frame marked out by a hugely controversial take on the miss rule went O’Sullivan’s way to make it 8-5, before reeling off another three to force a decider. Well placed for the win, an uncharacteristic mistake amongst the balls left matters in the hands of Higgins, who clinically swept up.
The final was deservedly won by China’s Ding Junhui, adding to his 2005 title. His game with Higgins was a cracking affair, with Asia’s number one claiming his fourth ranking event with a 10-8 win. It marked a return to form for the excellent Chinese player after a few difficult years since his embarassing 2007 meltdown against Ronnie O’Sullivan at Wembley. His own weight in Pukka Pies earned, along with a handsome check totalling one hundred grand.
Tournament winners taking part:
5: Stephen Hendry (1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1996)
4: Ronnie O’Sullivan (1993, 1997, 2001, 2007)
2: Ding Junhui (2005, 2009)
2: Mark Williams (1999, 2002)
2: John Higgins (1998, 2000)
1: Shaun Murphy (2008)
1: Peter Ebdon (2006)
1: Stephen Maguire (2004)
1: Matthew Stevens (2003)
1: Jimmy White (1992)
Venue winners taking part:
Ronnie O’Sullivan (2007), Shaun Murphy (2008), Ding Junhui (2009)
This year’s event:
Reigning champion Ding Junhui has show some poor form in Premier League games this season, and in spite of a PTC win, I would not fancy him to successfully defend his title this time out. Ronnie O’Sullivan as ever has had troubles of his own, yet has shown considerably stronger form than this time last year. He will contend, and although he’s not the first name I’d tip for glory, he has won at Telford before, has a good record at the UK, and should cause a stir. Mark Selby has proved to be a frustrating player to follow, but his ranking drought must end at some stage, he is far too good a player not to do so. Telford may be the venue that sees Selby rediscover his winning ways. John Higgins makes a long awaited return to mainstream ranking snooker. His form has been more than noteworthy since his returns with two outstanding displays, including a sensational comeback win in PTC 11. Is he a contender? His reptuation has taken a battering, but his game remains up with the best. Graeme Dott is pitted in the same quarter, and is always among the toughest to get one up on. I feel he has the game to put in a serious display and cause problems at the this year’s event. Mark Williams has played some fine stuff of late, an assault on a third UK title may be possible in a quarter that includes two great legends of the game and former winners, but are unlikely to contend seriously. Neil Robertson has gone a long way to establishing himself as the World’s best, with a World Championship, World Open & World Number One status underlining his label as the man to beat. Of course it goes without saying that he has what it takes to claim a maiden UK title.
Ding Junhui v Matthew Stevens
Mark Allen v Tom Ford
Marco Fu v Barry Hawkins
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Stuart Bingham
Stephen Maguire v Ken Doherty
Mark Selby v Ricky Walden
Graeame Dott v Martin Gould
John Higgins v Stephen Lee
Ali Carter v Mark Joyce
Jamie Cope v Judd Trump
Stephen Hendry v Jimmy White
Mark Williams v Mark Davis
Shaun Murphy v Patrick Wallace
Mark King v Ryan Day
Peter Ebdon v Andrew Higginson
Neil Robertson v Liang Wenbo/ Rory McLeod
Part two will feature a lowdown on each top half player…