888sport World Seniors Championship 2016: Tournament Preview
This weekend sees the return of snooker to Preston’s Guild Hall, with the two-day 888sport World Seniors Championship event getting underway on Saturday afternoon.
The event, which was revived back in 2010 and will now be held for a sixth successive year, sees 16 of snooker’s over-40s battle it out over a sprint best of three format for the £18,000 top prize.
Eight of those players qualified automatically, while eight came through a two-day qualifying event held just before Christmas at the Robin Park Arena and Sports Centre in Wigan.
During the early years of the event when the minimum age limit was set at 45, there were more surprises with the likes of former professional Darren Morgan taking the title in 2011, while a year later fellow Welshman Tony Chappell finished as runner-up.
Due to a combination of the age limit being reduced to 40 and the standard produced by a number of players at that age still competing on the main tour, the amount of current professionals in the competition has now increased significantly, leaving a more familiar line-up.
A year ago of course it was two-time world champion Mark Williams, who competing as a 39-year-old (and being eligible due to turning 40 later during the same season), defeated Ireland’s Fergal O’Brien 2-1 to take the title.
He returns this year to one of his favourite venues at the Guild Hall in Preston as the highest ranked player in the draw and favourite to successfully defend his crown.
First up for him will be Anthony Hamilton, a player who he has a notable history with, particularly during 2002. Back then, it was Williams who came back from 8-5 down to defeat the man who many regard as the best player never to have won a ranking event, 9-8 in the final of the China Open.
Just a few months later however, Hamilton gained some measure of revenge with a 13-9 success at the Crucible to send the former world champion crashing out at the last 16 stage.
Other active world champions in the draw include Peter Ebdon and Ken Doherty, both of whom competed in the event for the first time a year ago and were defeated by Fergal O’Brien. This time around they play fellow current professionals Nigel Bond (World Seniors Champion in 2012) and Mark Davis respectively in their opening matches.
The final world champions in the draw are John Parrott and Joe Johnson, with matches against Darren Morgan and Dominic Dale in prospect. Parrott performed well in spells as an ‘off-tour’ player in 2015 to reach the semi-finals, before being outclassed by eventual champion Williams.
Although he was unable to quite get his hands on the World Championship trophy at the Crucible, Jimmy White was able to claim the seniors crown in 2010 and returns with a match against Gary Lees, who defeated Mark King to qualify this year.
The draw is completed by matches between Rory McLeod and Fergal O’Brien, as well as a contest between Tony Drago and Robert Milkins, who are unlikely to require too long given the speed at which they both play the game!
The event runs from 30-31 January 2016 and will be televised live on Sky Sports.