The South West Snooker Academy Open Festival was held between 9th and 11th March 2012. The festival consisted of the Team Championship, the Open Tournament, the Junior Tournament (under 19s) and the Senior Tournament (over 45s).
The Team Championship
Winners: West Midlands
Runners-up: Snooker Island
The Open Tournament
Winner: Ben Harrison
Runner-up: Kyren Wilson
The Junior Tournament
Winner: James Cahill
Runner up: Travish Furnish
The Senior Tournament
Winner: Steve Downing
Runner up: Steve Winstone
The Team Championship was the main focus for Snooker Island. The event consisted of 20 teams of 5 players, 5 teams per group (4 groups) in league format with the top teams progressing to the semi-final stage. Each league match was one frame per player with all 5 frames played out, and the knock-out stage was simply best of 5 (first to 3 wins, dead frames not played). The team playing order for each match had to be submitted to the Tournament Director prior to each match commencing.
The bulk of the teams consisted of the best players from different regions of the South West, Wales and the Midlands. Snooker Island went down the “fantasy team” route; the other notable team to do this was team MySnookerStats who reached the semi-final stage before losing to eventual winners West Midlands. You can read how the event progressed from their perspective here
I was Snooker Island team captain, and the team consisted of 7 times (so far) ladies World Champion Reanne Evans, Snooker Island backed top amateur Ben Harrison, top prospect and ex-main tour professional and one of the favourites to re-qualify come Q School Kyren Wilson, talented junior Oliver Brown, and Snooker Island forum regular and century break maker Jake Frank, also a junior.
I entered the Open Tournament because it guaranteed 3 frames on the Star tables, something I’d been dying to have another go at since the Pink Ribbon last June. My game is sharper now than it was back then so carrying some form into the event I felt ready to test myself again and banish the harrowing nightmares of impossibly tight pockets which left me mentally scarred last time around.
I was one of the early starters, 9:30am Friday morning, and my opponent was Steve Winstone whose name appears earlier in this blog. I’d never heard of him so didn’t know what to expect, and what I got was someone wearing a t-shirt with his name stitched under a snooker related logo. He must be good then! As it turned out he was the main sponsor of the event and team captain of Waterproof Wallcoatings Nationwide A. And yes, he could play.
I made sure to get up at 7:30am to allow myself a couple of hours to wake up before the match, but even so I am not used to playing snooker at this time of day and I found it very hard to focus early on. The first two frames were fairly closely fought although my long game; pots and judgement of clips on safety shots, was very poor as my eyes still hadn’t woken up. I lost both frames on the colours but was 20 odd behind after the last red was potted in both frames. I grabbed a coffee from the bar (served by none other than Sam Baird) and played much better in the 3rd frame. I was getting used to the table and starting to really enjoy it and my eyes were waking up, but in the end I lost on the black thanks in no small part to a springy bounce after potting a good pink and playing it at what seemed like perfect speed. It looked like I was set for an easy black but the bounce turned that into a long rest and fully extended cue thin clip which I missed, and despite the black ball game lasting 4 or 5 more turns, I didn’t get another chance at a realistically makeable pot. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a crack at a speculative one!
Steve Winstone went on to beat top Welsh amateur Richard Remilie in the next round of the Open and I think he won another couple of matches after that which made me feel better. Immediately after the match I felt as if had I won that 3rd frame I could have come back and won the match, but he was also playing at 9:30am and could play much better than he did as he proved by finishing runner-up in the seniors event. So in other words, I wouldn’t have won even if I had potted that black!
Team Snooker Island
Three of team Snooker Island were also present at the start of day 1, Reanne and Ben didn’t play until late afternoon so they came along later. I managed to watch a couple of frames of each of Kyren, Oli and Jake’s matches in the Open and obviously, confidence grew for the team event. Jake in particular impressed me with two 3-0 wins, after all he isn’t in the same category as the others so I didn’t know what to expect. He closed out one match with a 4 or 5 red clearance of very good standard, and was having very complimentary things said about him from a few Cornwall team lads watching his game.
The first team match of the event was scheduled for 7:30pm, however with 5 teams per group this meant in each round there was a team who didn’t play, and this was our turn to sit out. This was no bad thing as it meant the custom Snooker Island polo shirts only needed to be used two days running rather than three so would be less smelly on the last day!
On the arena table was West Midlands versus team Perfection which I watched from the bar area with Reanne. Reanne knew most of the players in each team as she hails from the same area and plays in the same leagues so she knew what to expect and knew it would be worth watching. Both teams looked very good, several frames were won in one scoring visit and it was clear we were watching two teams more than capable of winning the event.
On table 4 meanwhile we had The Wizards fronted by the self-proclaimed “Wizard of Glos” Craig Scotford. This team is what festivals are all about; they were here for the craic and to play some snooker and have fun while doing it. I joined the action at 2-2 with the captain playing the deciding skin. It’s fair to say the team lead by the captain had spent their preparation prior to the match at the bar, and the buzz word “careless” (in reference to snooker players’ most hated commentary expression) was rife during this frame, mostly from the Wiz himself. Needing blue and pink to win he attempted a long blue with deep screw only to miscue and chip the white over the blue and off the table, much to the amusement of his team. Careless snooker at it’s finest! However straight away he was faced with exactly the same shot and this time played it with top and hammered it home to land perfect on the pink and seal the win. To celebrate, a Wizards tour of Gloucester and a 5am bed time with next match at 9:30am!
The Campaign Kicks Off
First up for team Snooker Island was team Cornwall East and make no mistake this was a strong squad of players. We had the main table in the Kay Suzanne Theatre, we needed to get off to a good start so I went with the banker and put Kyren on first, with Reanne leading by example and stepping in to mark the game.
Kyren was up against a lad called Jay Bullen and he was made to work in the early part of the frame but gained the initiative with a quality 40+ break and moments later sealed the first point for #teamSI (the twitter hashtag for team Snooker Island). Oli then made it 2-0 and next up was Jake.
I knew Jake would be feeling nervous playing in front of his impressive line up of teammates so I stepped in to mark and hopefully help him to settle. Things didn’t go his way though, he was clearly feeling very nervous and wanting to impress his teammates, and was missing balls he would normally pot with his eyes closed. Even when he did pot a ball the lightening speed of cloth caught him out and he lost the white. I think anyone who has ever played team snooker can relate to how he was feeling! So fairly quickly it was 2-1.
Next up was Reanne and she put in the performance of the morning in constructing a 62 break to guarantee the win and take us to 3-1, and not long after Ben made it 4-1.
The next team match was set to start mid-afternoon, before that it was the round of the last 32 in the Open so I went along to support the #teamSI members where I could.
The thing which has stuck from that particular round was the way Reanne polished off her opponent with a clearance which at one point contained 6 or 7 amazing shots in a row. They all had a high level of intrinsic difficulty and were executed to absolute perfection, be it right or left-handed, with a style and grace around the table that would make Mark Williams look like Dave Harold.
Kyren also showed good form in progressing to the last 16 stage, Oli and Jake were going great guns in the junior event, whilst Ben was making it a bit too obvious that he was getting frustrated with his opponents grinding tactics which had the natural effect of making him grind even more! He eventually sorted himself out though and showed a bit of discipline in carving out a chance in the decider, and then as if to make a point once he did get in, made a 100mph frame winning break to seal the match.
Rounds 2 and 3 and Getting Lost in Between
Next in the team event we faced Forest of Dean A. Reanne was first on and she picked up where she left off, putting in a fine display to give us the lead. Ben though was still a bit rattled from his grinding experience and was beaten quite convincingly by Ben Wall in the battle of the Bens. So that made it 1-1. Oli then stepped in and showed great form in his quick-fire 60 break to make it 2-1, then Jake got a much needed confidence boost by sealing his first point and the team win at 3-1. Under no pressure Kyren then did the biz to record the second 4-1 win of the day.
In a day of heavy scheduling, the “big 3” of Kyren, Reanne and Ben had a brief window to grab some food before heading straight into their quarter-final matches of the Open before the next team match. I had a bit of time to kill so went for some food myself and following some word of mouth directions, took a wrong turn and got completely lost, somehow ending up in a quaint little village called Frampton-on-Severn where I was served the best food I’ve had for a very long time in the Bell Inn pub. Stuffed to the gills I returned safely back to SWSA courtesy of Beavis and Butthead on the satnav. Uh-huhuhuh that was cool.
Our next match was against Waterproof Wallcoatings Nationwide B (do I get commission for mentioning it again?) which was ready to get under way despite 3 of my players still in matches. I decided to rest Jake and play myself (captains dilemma, maybe I should have rested Ben instead) because to be honest I was itching to have another frame on those tables and WWNB had suffered two losses so didn’t pose a serious threat, in fact they only had 4 members so one of them asked if he could play twice – how could I refuse?
Kyren had already won his quarter-final match so was first on followed by Oli and they delivered giving us a 2-0 lead. Then came my turn and the less said the better. The climax was a black ball game, I potted the black to yellow pocket and played it with a touch of screw and left hand side to make sure I would definitely avoid the natural in-off to middle pocket, and as my opponent was shaking my hand and we were 3-0 ahead I glanced over my shoulder to see the white still travelling. These pockets are tight, surely it’s going to touch a jaw and stay out even if it doesn’t slow down and stop? Nope, in she goes clean as a whistle, 2-1.
Reanne saved my blushes in the next and ended a very tiring and productive day with yet another victory admitting afterwards that she was exhausted and her feet were killing. I gave her a number 3 start for the morning to reward her efforts with a lie in. Aren’t I nice? Ben then made it 4-1 without breaking sweat.
There was still one match in play out in the arena, and this time it was The Wizards who were playing MySnookerStats and it was poised at 2-2. In the last leg again was The Wiz himself and he was up against Welsh amateur player Alex Taubman who was obviously the clear favourite to win. Indeed that was the case but the frame contained the coveted title of Tweet of the Week. With Taubman 40 or 50 ahead and the table layout and condition of his opponent making the comeback beyond unlikely, I could see The Wiz tweeting something from round the corner while Taubman was at the table having just run out of position. I checked my twitter feed on my mobile to find “Time for naughty snooker” as the Wiz strode back towards the table to polish off his team’s loss.
The evening was rounded off with a trip to Gloucester where Ben, his best friend Nick and myself joined up for a leg of the Wizards Tour, where carelessness and dancing like Mick Jagger were the order of the day.
#teamSI had 3 players still left in the Open in Kyren, Ben and Reanne, and it was Ben and Reanne who were the ones set to square up in one semi-final.
Before that though was our last group match and it was another 9:30am start this time against Belgrave. We needed 2 frames to qualify but obviously 3 would put it beyond any doubt. As it turned out I ended up marking the first 4 frames and thoroughly enjoyed doing so but by the end of the 4th the night before was catching up with me so Jake took the reigns and I think he enjoyed it.
First up was Oli and he made one of the breaks of the whole event that I witnessed anyway. He had one red blocking the black to one corner pocket, but still managed to construct a 70 break without running of position including some fine shots to keep it going. In the end that blocker red was the last one left and he didn’t quite judge the cannon, it was a certain century had it worked out.
Next we had Kyren, and he wasn’t at his best but his reputation saw him through this time as his opponent bottled three good chances at game ball. In the end Kyren woke up and knocked in a fine 34 clearance to seal a 2-0 lead. Reanne was up next and like Kyren before her wasn’t awake enough to recapture the form of the previous day and she recorded her first loss of the event, admitting afterwards that the early start did it for her. Something I entirely related to after that first morning! Jake didn’t fare much better either, losing his match to make the score 2-2, but there’s no excuse for the youngsters feeling the early morning, I have a feeling I know why he wasn’t at the races but I don’t want to get him into trouble with his parents!
So with her next game to be the semi-final against Ben, Reanne had to sit and endure the final frame of the match and watch her next opponent in action. I told Ben I thought we’d qualified, but to just try and win to make sure there was no doubt. Team Belgrave broke off, Ben knocked in a century in approximately 5 minutes.
As an aside, shot of the event occurred that morning while I was marking. On the adjacent table were team WEBSF and I’d picked up through Jake that at least one of them hadn’t gone to bed and the others were post 5am at the earliest. They were still drinking anyway, and there was much banter going on. One of their number was snookered tight behind a baulk colour, and with nothing to lose he chose the hit and hope and launched everything he had into the shot, hitting it as hard as he possibly could. That was funny enough to watch but what happened next – the cue ball careered into the pack sending balls all over the table at high speed, and yet somehow out of the ashes appeared the cue ball travelling at perfect speed and heading back into baulk, squeezing past yellow with millimetres to spare and landing touching the baulk cushion and snookering his opponent on all reds much to the delight of his teammates. “Have some of that!” was his riposte.
Match of the Tournament
So to Ben Harrison versus Reanne Evans. I joined the action towards the end of the first frame and after a black ball fight which lasted a couple of minutes, Ben potted the black to take the lead. I don’t need to say any more because I captured the rest on film and you can watch it here.
We faced group C winners Peters Potters in the semi-final. The fact it started immediately after the Open semi-finals didn’t help matters but Kyren didn’t mind playing straight after his semi (which finished first). I put Oli on first, and after a bit of nip and tuck he came out victorious. Then Kyren was given a good game in the second skin but he looked to be in command throughout however a stroke of misfortune from his opponent sealed it – escaping from a snooker on the brown he hit the brown but then caught the pink which went in the middle pocket and when re-spotted left a free ball which Kyren used to secure the 2-0 lead.
With one frame required from three next up it was Reanne against Dale Pope who was using a 14mm tip (see picture). It looked like a plate and it sounded awful, the sort of noise a two piece cue makes when not screwed in tightly enough, but the guy could obviously play and watching that tip going back and forth as he addressed the cue ball reminded me of a piston. After a long safety exchange, Reanne got in and made a 38 break which ended after a cracking long blue left her touching ball on a red and unable to play for the intended red. She guarded her lead well and secured the 3-0 victory for #teamSI sending us into to the final where we would face West Midlands.
After the match I enquired about the 14mm tip and found out that Dale had made a 60+ break in each of his last 5 league matches, and had also had a 134 total clearance against Doug Mountjoy on Mark Williams’ Star table which apparently has even tighter pockets than those Stars at the Academy! Crazy stuff. The fact the tip was round enough did ensure a good contact on the cue ball so there is method in the apparent madness and Dale seems very happy with it. I love a bit of unorthodox thinking!
So to the final and the captain’s dilemma – what order to play? I sought a few opinions from the team and my own team captain in York and decided to go the Sam Torrence route of front-loading and going for the jugular, believing that with Ben in 4th spot the likely score would be 2-1 to us and I knew he wouldn’t bottle the finish.
This obviously meant playing inexperienced Jake in 5th spot therefore presuming that he wouldn’t be needed. The buck stops with the captain and I did consider playing Jake in first position assuming West Midlands would start strong, but this tactic of “wasting” him to help the others avoid whatever player would play first for WM was too negative and would put us on the back foot from the off, plus our team was plenty strong enough to beat WM anyway. I hope Jake doesn’t mind being mentioned in these terms because he’s a cracking little player, but I’d witnessed team WM on the first night so knew what we were up against!
Kyren opened up proceedings and lead by example putting in a fine display against ex-England International player Daniel Ward. This match was different to the others already, I could feel the tension and to be perfectly honest my own bottle went as I watched it playing out and I felt completely sick!
I had confidence in Reanne though and at 1-0 I was starting to believe we could do this. Her opponent Geoff Williams was obviously was a good player but I had confidence in Reanne given how she had been playing. In one frame matches though anything can happen and sure enough things didn’t go our way and despite giving everything, Reanne never got a clear cut scoring chance. The shot of the frame came after an exquisite safety from Reanne which landed tight on the baulk cushion and looked to be absolutely perfect, but there was a tiny gap down to a red at the other end of the table, and her opponent potted it and scored enough to give himself a good advantage which he nursed for the win. I may have wanted to punch him, but I know a good shot when I see one and it took a lot of bottle to play it and get it!
So 1-1 and next up was Oli against ex-main tour player Gary Miller who has a very unorthodox cue action. His feet positioning doesn’t look right, he had a very wide stance, and he has no backswing, but he knows how to pot balls! From a pretty early stage in the frame I was starting to fear the worst, that we could be taken to a decider and this was the key frame coming up. The problem here was that Oli was playing an experienced player and he was clearly the better match player in the team pressure situation. Oli tried to get going, but took on a couple of ill-advised pots to middle during the frame and I could tell the poor lad was feeling it a bit out there under the pressure of the match situation. This was a vital frame after all.
2-1 down and Ben did the deed in double quick time against Lee Page, also an ex-main tour player and this left Jake to take on the last man Rob James, who was also the 4th semi-finalist in the Open event. In other words, a very big ask!
In the end Jake did us all very proud and put in a sterling effort. He had his man sweating and twitching all over place and for what seemed like 20 minutes or more he kept the frame very tight, messing the table up and forcing his man into a nervy tippy tap exchange with both not wanting to leave the other a red which was hanging over a corner pocket. Jake held onto his 13 or 14 point lead until a missed plant to corner left the door ajar for the opponent to make a 30+ break and guard his lead to the finish. West Midlands won 3-2.
All that remains to tell you is that Ben Harrison won the Open event beating Kyren 3-0 in the final and netted himself £500 in the process.
All in all it was a great event, we all thoroughly enjoyed it and I was very proud of the way team Snooker Island both played and conducted themselves throughout. I hope the perception is that we brought a spark and a touch of class to the festival and helped in some way to enrich the experience for the other entrants to enjoy, even if some of them ended up on the thick end of a beating!
On a personal level I am now lifelong fans of Kyren, Reanne and Oli as well as Ben and wish them all the very best for Q School and the future and I’ll be shouting from the rooftops for any successes they will undoubtedly have.
Some have questioned the tactic of placing Jake in 5th spot, but as captain I have to stand by my decision and say that in the same circumstances I would do the same again. The luck of the draw meant that had I played Reanne and Oli the other way around we would probably have won, but that is a hindsight observation and there is no point in dwelling on such things.
What will follow in due course will be interviews with some of the team members. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the experience and I trust you will all take the time out to watch the exceptional talents of Ben Harrison and Reanne Evans battling it out in the Open semi-final.