Norway’s Kurt Maflin is enjoying his best spell on tour since first turning professional as a teenager at the turn of the century. Last season he reached the semi-final of the PTC Grand Finals in Galway, his career best performance in an event which rewards consistency over a sustained period; something perhaps lacking in his early career. Currently 43rd on the projected end of season money list, he is going in the right direction and appears to have his best years ahead of him.
Kurt originates from England but has lived in Norway for a number of years. He speaks fluent Norwegian, he has a Norwegian wife Anita (who plays a bit of snooker herself), and we even had to time the interview so Kurt could watch Norway’s World Cup qualifying match against Switzerland. The interview took place during England’s match! So how Norwegian does he see himself?
I don’t know, probably 50%. I mean I’ll always be English through and through there’s no two ways about it, but I love Norway. It’s a great country and the people over here are really good so I’m happy living over here, although not for snooker reasons.
You live in Oslo?
Yes it’s probably about 7-10 minutes outside the main town, downtown.
How easy was it to learn the language because it looks pretty complex?
It is. I mean people say it’s a really difficult language to learn but I picked it up more or less after about 4 to 5 months, and I was speaking it after 6 months, basically just from watching films and picking up the subtitles. I’ve got a lot of good feedback on my Norwegian; they can’t hear that I’m from England so that’s a positive because they say that with most English people they hear straight away that they’re English.
What first brought you to my attention was following your progress on live scoring before the days of live streaming and watching the scores tick over in these qualifying events, and it became apparent that you’re a very heavy scorer who converts a high percentage of scoring chances into frame winners and century breaks. Then when I finally saw you play it all made sense because you’re very attacking, you’re a great potter and break builder, and you’re not afraid to go for the risk/reward pots which makes you great to watch. How would you assess your game?
I’d pretty much say the same sort of thing. I find it difficult not to go for attacking shots. I’d rather mess up going for a tough shot than going for a safety shot and messing up. I’d rather take the chance for actually going on and winning the frame from that rather than giving it to the opponent. So that’s the way I look at it and I feel that when I’m really flowing my break building speaks for itself.
So do you feel in turning down the safety option and going for the pots that you lost matches you should’ve won?
Definitely. I’ve definitely lost frames and matches by not going for the safety shot but when I look back at my career I would say that 70% of the time I’ve won the frame by going for the ball. So I’m always more liable to do that although I have calmed down a little bit. I’ve started to play safety on key shots. But I find that especially when I’m playing well, if I go for the ball then 7 out of 10 times I’ll get it no matter where the ball is and take the advantage from there. So I’ve got a lot of belief in going for those balls that I do go for.
You seem to play with a cavalier attitude as if you don’t care if you win or lose which is similar to say, Mark Williams. Is that deceptive? Are you a bad loser? Do you beat yourself up after a defeat?
Yes and no. I’ve been trying in the last 6 months or so not to think too much about the game when I’m playing. Like Ronnie, if you look at him he looks like he really isn’t that interested – which he obviously is – but it’s a good way for him to be. I’m trying to do the same thing where if I miss a ball I miss a ball and it’s not the end of the world, whereas before I think I took it a bit too heavily. And afterwards if I do get beat I’ll take it with a smile now. I’ve never been a bad loser; I’ve always congratulated the opponent and wished him well. I’ll probably beat myself up for 20-30 minutes after the match, and then that’s that done. If I play well and get beat then I’ve got nothing to grumble about because the guy has obviously played very well to beat me.
Did you have any influences or favourite players growing up?
Without a doubt Jimmy White. He’s always been my hero since I started watching snooker. I was probably about 7 years old and I think it was the second time he lost the World Championship final and I went in the bedroom after and started crying! So he’s always been a great hero for me and he’s a good friend of mine now, we speak a lot and go out for meals and have a laugh and a joke, and he was at my wedding as well.
How were you feeling after Hendry beat him 18-17?
I was absolutely gutted! I can’t imagine how he feels. I felt terrible for him and I’ve always sort of wanted to win the World Championships and dedicate that win to him.
Who’s the toughest opponent that you’ve ever faced?
I’d like to say John Higgins but I’ve only played him once and that was in the Paul Hunter Classic back when it was an invitational tournament, and I beat him 3-0! I beat him quite heavily with a hundred an eighty and a sixty and I haven’t played him since. The toughest player that I’ve actually played would probably be Peter Ebdon. We’ve played 3 times now and he beat me 4-0 in a PTC somewhere, then I beat him 4-3 in a PTC and then obviously he beat me 10-8 in the Worlds last season, so I would have to say him. There are two players I’ve struggled a bit with though and they are Barry Hawkins and Michael Holt. I haven’t beaten them once and I’ve played Holt 3 times I think and Barry 4 times.
Didn’t you play Barry for a place in the Masters?
Correct. He beat me 6-4.
How did you feel about that because looking back now you must think that might end up being the best chance you’ll have of playing in the Masters?
Yeah that hurt. I’d played pretty good snooker all week; I beat some good players on the way. I think I beat Gerard Greene first round, then Trump, Higginson, Wenbo, Jimmy White and I lost to Barry. I remember it was 4-4 and I was 22 up with 22 on, and he fluked a snooker, I got out of it, he played safe and I potted the brown and went in off and from there it just went 5-4 and 6-4. I can’t remember what happened in the last frame but I felt it should have gone 5-4 to me, and yes I would’ve loved to have played in the Masters at Wembley.
Who were your main rivals coming up through the junior ranks?
At the time it would’ve been Murphy, Selby, Tom Ford and Ricky Walden. We were the five at the time from when we were 10 all the way to 16. I haven’t played Ricky on the main tour, I’ve played Murphy twice and it’s 1-1, I haven’t played Selby on the main tour and I’ve played Tom Ford, I think I’m probably 4-2 or 5-2 up on him at the moment.
You had a solid junior career at national level, can you summarise your highlights?
I suppose it would be winning the under 15s where I beat Ricky Walden in the final, and I won the under 17s back to back and I was in the semi-finals the 3rd year but I had to pull out because I was in the semi-finals of the UK Tour I think it was, and they clashed. Obviously I had to choose the UK Tour which was much more important to get me onto the pro tour. I actually qualified for the pro tour when I was 15 and I started playing on the pro tour when I was 16. My dad had to write a letter to World Snooker, ‘He’s just qualified blah blah can he have his place?’ and I was just turning 16 as the first tournament started.
Was this the same season as Murphy? He was 15 when he first turned pro wasn’t he?
Yeah I think he went up the year before me then dropped off and went back up again. So I think it was his second time up the first time I qualified.
What do you remember of your first season?
I remember thinking that I’d made it! That’s what I do remember thinking, and not putting nearly as much practice in as I should have. I thought I’d arrived basically, and I was quite wrong!
Throughout your early career you seemed to be getting on tour then dropping off and getting back on through the secondary tour or other means such as winning the World Amateur in 2006, and this was before the days of the guaranteed 2 year card so it must’ve been frustrating only to have one year to make a go of it without too many events in the calendar to allow time to settle in. Did you ever think about jacking it in?
I did, I actually stopped playing for two years. It was just before I won the World Amateur in 2006 so I dropped off the tour in I think 2003. I played the PIOS the year after I dropped off, I didn’t get back up and I thought ‘Well that will do me now’ and I stopped playing for two years. So I was working in Norway, and Anita (Kurt’s wife) plays a little bit herself and she was going to play in this Norwegian tournament, so I thought alright I’ll go with you. So I was playing in it, and I got to the final and there was this guy outside, and I knew he was a businessman, and I asked him if he’d be interested in sponsoring me if I was to go back playing. And he said “If you make a hundred break in the final I’ll sponsor you”, so I had a 137 in the first frame and that was that done!
So that was in 2006 after I hadn’t played for two years and I went to the Europeans and lost in the semi-finals to Alex Borg, and then in November I went to the worlds and didn’t drop a match. I won 15 out of 15; 10 out of 10 in the group, and then the next 5. So that got me back into the swing of things. I couldn’t really afford to play – and even now I’m struggling a bit and looking for any sort of sponsorship really – but that got me back on track and wanting to play again. And obviously I dropped off again, and got back on again, and hopefully this time it will just keep getting better.
When you last dropped off tour it was in 2010/11 and you lost 10-9 to Xiao Guodong in the World Championship qualifiers which saw you finish below the cut. Matt from Prosnookerblog witnessed the match and he said it’s one of the best matches he’s ever seen with the pair of you trading big breaks all the way to the end. It sounded like an amazing match to be part of but must’ve been bitter sweet to lose out?
Yes it was, and it was an absolutely great match to be involved in. We both played some great stuff. I think I had 4 or 5 tons, he had 4 tons and I had 2 or 3 80s and Xiao did as well. But one factor that did play a big part is that I had 14 kicks during that match.
You counted them?!
It was one of the first tournaments that my dad – who is also my coach – had been to for 5 or 6 years, and he was counting and told me afterwards. I knew I had a lot but I didn’t realise it was that many but they were at crucial times. That played a big part, if you take away half those kicks then that might have been the frame I needed. But I took it well; I don’t think I could’ve done much more.
A few weeks later you were straight back up through Q School so you must’ve taken the positives.
Yes without a doubt.
Whenever you’re on TV the commentators like to mention the car crash you were involved in and that you came back as a sort of bionic man with a metal plate in your shoulder. Did you think that at any stage your career was over? And when you look back in hindsight with the results you’ve had since then has it played a positive part in your career?
Definitely. I mean English men driving on ice and snow is not really known of so it was an unlucky accident really! I was just driving down a hill after I’d dropped a friend off, lost the steering on the ice and crashed into a car. I went to hospital and they looked at the shoulder and thought it would maybe go back by itself, which a collarbone normally does. I said to the doctor ok, I’m playing in the Challenge Tour or PIOS or whatever it was, in two days’ time, and he said you can’t do that, and I said well I’m gonna! So I flew over and played, and I think it was David Grace I played, and he beat me 4-0 obviously because I couldn’t do anything else other than roll balls, you know?
I thought that this might be it for me, I might not be able to play properly again. So I flew home, went to hospital and I hadn’t just broken my collarbone, I’d broken it in 3 different places and they had to operate immediately. It was meant to take an hour and I think it took 3, and now I’ve got a metal plate in there with 9 or 10 screws. In the winter time it can get a bit stiff, you know over here it can get to -30°C so it does get a bit stiff from time to time but I’m happy because it could’ve been a lot worse.
Your current professional status stems from a 2 year card via finishing high on the PTC list in 2011/12, and then last season you reached the PTC grand finals and got to the semi-finals of that which is your career best result so far. You must love the PTCs?
Yeah I do like them, but I think there should be two matches a day, not three. I think three is a tall order for anyone. I mean you can say it’s the same for everyone which it is, but some will tackle that a little bit different compared to others. But I think the PTCs are pretty good, they’re finished quickly in a couple of days and I enjoyed the PTC finals, obviously because I got to the semis but I enjoyed it. It’s great being on TV every time you play. I actually prefer it; I get a buzz out of being on TV and I play pretty well when I’ve got the cameras pointing at me. I normally play well when I’ve got the adrenaline going. So yes I like the PTCs but I’m glad there’s not 12 this year; 8 is a pretty good number I think.
So you’re not doing the Asian ones this time?
I went to the first one when I qualified for Wuxi. The APTC was a couple of days before that so I played in that. I won’t be going to the second one which is just after the Shanghai because I didn’t qualify but if I qualify next time I will do the APTC.
You’re now well inside the top 64, provisionally on the end of season money list you’re currently 43 so it’s looking good to retain the tour place. The new system with the two year cards and the PTCs is working for you; I bet you wish it was like this years ago?
Definitely, and I think it’s a great opportunity as well for a lot of the young players to experience two years of it.
How do you find playing in the open plan layout? I noticed at Doncaster you had the crowd walking across the line of players’ shots and then you have the referee on the next table or someone ironing the cloth between matches moving in your eye line. It must be hard to remain focussed, particularly on key shots?
I think for me it’s ok because my dad used to do things when I was younger to try and put me off as much as he could. You know he’d stand in the pocket basically and start moving his head and his arms, kicking the table or whatever to try and increase my concentration. But I’m not a great lover of the open plan. I do like the cubicles to be honest and if you’re not playing on the main tables with the cameras and the crowd around you I think it should be a cubicle. Apart from a venue like Berlin at the Tempdrom, because that feels like every table is on the TV. You’ve got crowd round you on every table watching, and I think that’s a great set up.
You came close to reaching the Crucible a couple of months ago losing to Peter Ebdon 10-8 in the last round after playing some great stuff to beat Steve Davis the round before. You must’ve been disappointed to lose out.
I definitely fancied beating Ebdon. I wouldn’t say I was playing that well, the first sessions against Craig Stedman (Kurt’s first qualifying round opponent who he beat 10-6) and Steve Davis (second qualifying round 10-7) were pretty average. But towards the second part of the match, the last 7 or 8 frames, that’s where I started to play my game. So obviously after beating Davis the way I did I felt pretty confident going in against Ebdon and I did really fancy beating him. When I went 8-6 up I didn’t allow myself to think I’d already won but it did cross my mind that he’s got to beat me 4-1. But after that it didn’t happen. I got a kick on the brown to middle where the clearance up to that point with 5 or 6 reds left on the table was an excellent break, I thought. I think there were 2 or 3 reds on the cushion and I dislodged a couple, and I didn’t feel I deserved that kick. That would’ve been 9-8 to me and instead it went 9-8 to him, and in that last frame I was completely empty. So I was disappointed at myself because I threw the towel in a bit.
Have you got any good practice partners in Norway?
What do you do for practice then?
I just practice by myself basically. I do Monday to Friday, drop the little man off at the nursery 9:30am so I’m at the club by 10am and leave sort of 2:30 – 3pm, pick the little man up and that’s me done for the day. I do that Monday to Friday and sometimes I’ll go on the Saturday if I haven’t got any family plans and that’s about it really. Solo solo solo.
And you’re happy with that, it keeps you going?
It does, it keeps me going but it does get boring from time to time but you’ve got to put the work in. Obviously it would be ideal to have a couple of players that are close by but the situation I’m in doesn’t really allow that.
Are there any aspiring players in Norway, young talent with potential?
No not really. It’s just not big enough over here at the moment. I don’t know why it’s not growing as quickly as I hoped it would because they have all the tournaments on Eurosport and there’s a lot of viewers, we know that, a hell of a lot. But there’s just not enough kids taking it up. Here they’re all into skiing and boarding and that sort of stuff.
You would think with the winters and restricted daylight hours a good indoor sport would go down well. Do you think it would mean a lot to host a PTC in Norway?
It definitely would. When I first came here snooker was absolutely nothing. After I won the Worlds that did a bit but there’s probably only a couple of hundred players out of a population of 4.5 million. I think there’s only two snooker clubs in the whole of Oslo and maybe just ten or twelve in the whole of Norway. But I think a PTC would make a big difference here, like I said there’s a hell of a lot of people watching it on Eurosport and I commentate a bit. It is one of the biggest sports over here TV wise. When I played Neil Robertson in a PTC and I won the match from 3-0 down there was so much talk about it on Twitter and Facebook from the Norwegian point of view so there’s obviously a lot of interest when a Norwegian’s playing. So I don’t know, I think I’ve just got to keep getting on the TV!
Your wife Anita is a lady player who played in the amateur rounds of the Paul Hunter a couple of weeks ago.
Yes I think that’s the first time ever actually that a married couple have played in a pro tournament.
I believe so yes. Are you involved in the ladies game at all?
No because she doesn’t play enough. There’s only one of us who can afford to play and she spends a lot of time looking after the little one and doesn’t play in any tournaments. When she came to play in Germany it was mainly to get away with me for a weekend. I mean she’d like to play more but she hasn’t really got the time. So no I’m not involved or up to date with the ladies game.
What are your goals over the coming season or seasons?
My goal this season is definitely to improve the ranking position and qualify for a few venues and get to the worlds for the first time, and to win something. I think I’ve been ready to win one of these events for the last couple of seasons, I just haven’t produced the game that I know I’ve got. So that’s the main goal over the next year and a half, to win a tournament.
You travel a lot don’t you?
A hell of a lot yeah! Last year I think I did 60 flights.
That’s a lot! How do you cope with that?
It does take a toll. You can’t just get in your car and drive home like 90% of the players; I’ve either got to wait a day or two days before the flight back so it is quite heavy really. It’s quite tough having that many days travelling, if you think about it 60 flights, that’s 60 days a year you’re taking off practice which is not a great way to use up your free days.
It’s also expensive!
Yeah last year was at least around £6,000 just on flights.
I read that you were once on Big Break and won the contestant a holiday?
(laughs) That is true yeah. I was actually on there twice, two years in a row. I got to the final both years, I think I was 12 and 13 years old and in the first year I didn’t have enough time to pot the black, and the second year I potted the black with about 35 seconds to spare! So that was great fun, two of the best days of my life.
Who were the other players?
The first year I think it was Tom Ford and Gary Wilson. And I think the second year it was a Welsh player Lee Davis and I think the second player was Paddy McLoughlin. They were great days, they looked after me and John Virgo said something to me which I’ll always remember. After I won it he gave me his waistcoat, you know one of those silly waistcoats which he had! And as he was leaving the after party he said “Kurt, I’ll see you at the Crucible.” and that stuck with me, but it hasn’t come true yet.
Well maybe it’ll come true at the end of this season.
Thanks for your time.
Thanks for the interview.
See Kurt polish off Steve Davis in fine style in the 2013 World Championship qualifiers here:
Thanks to Monique Limbos for the photos. If you are interested in sponsoring Kurt then you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.