November 27, 2013, 2:14 pm
I really can't believe it's that time of year again.
The UK Championships in York really starts "Major" season for us snooker players. Like Golf has The Masters and Tennis has the Australian Open, we have The UK Championship. A tournament steeped in history and prestige and rightly so is one of our biggest events. Second only to the World Championship.
Last year I played well through the week and almost took the title for a second time, losing in the final to Mark Selby. By winning in York and then The Masters at the Ally Pally last January Mark showed what's really achievable in snooker if you get on a good run of form. Hopefully this will be the week things turn round for me.
My best match last year was probably the semi final against Ali Carter. Trailing 4-8 I seem to remember the team talk with my manager going something like, just go out and play with freedom, you've nothing to lose now and see what happens. It's not over till we're on the M62 going home. So I just went out and gave it everything. Somehow an hour or so later it was 8-8 and we were into a decider.
I think we both had chances in the last frame and we were both really nervous. Fortunately for me I got the right chance at the right time and managed to pot the last few balls to take the win. I remember being quite emotional at the end of the match as it was a lot to take in. It's not often something like that happens and it meant the world to us both. We're good mates too so it was a little bittersweet but I guess that's sport.
I was really chuffed for Ali when a couple of months later he went on to win the German Masters in Berlin. My family and I were at home shouting him home watching the coverage on Eurosport.
I've been spending a lot of time preparing for this tournament working on my game and all the areas I think I'll need to do well. Things like break building, safety shots, tactical play and shot selection to name a few.
I'm also using a new tip this week. I've always used an Elk Master but this week I'm going to try a Talisman as it's been tempting me for some months now and I hear quite a few other players are using them too.
Ok guys I'm off to finish my prep for the UK's this week. I really can't wait to get started and will be back with updates throughout the event.
All the best,
November 22, 2013, 6:57 pm
Just recently I said on Twitter that I was going to go off and have a serious look into the subject that is 'the Kick'. It has - and still is having in my opinion - a major impact on our game.
My first port of call was to a good friend and respected university lecturer Robert Ledger and his efforts have been second to none in addressing this problem.
From the outset it's important that we make a clear distinction between 'the Kick' and a bad contact.
Firstly they're not the same thing. A bad contact is something that has been in the game in one form or another since it started. A slightly heavy or dull contact usually slows the cue ball down a touch but does not generally effect the pot.
These are caused by a number of factors, including chalk, dust, fibres from the cloth and also human error. A bad strike can definitely cause a bad contact a bit like a bad putter can make the ball bounce along the green in golf.
A Kick, where the balls literally bounce off the playing surface and, on a slow motion camera, can be seen trying to climb one another and, in some cases, cause the object ball to miss its target, is a chemical reaction and can be fixed. But to understand the fix we must know the cause.
A Kick in its most basic form is caused by increased friction between the two balls in contact. This is something we've heard several times before, but the reason for this has never been discovered...until now, I believe.
This increase in friction is caused by a chemical reaction taking place involving four elements - the cloth and the oil in it, the phenolic resin covering of the ball and the table heaters. Essentially if we could maintain the balls' outer coating of phenolic resin throughout a match we would never see a Kick. It's the breakdown of this outer coating during play that causes the increase of friction.
This breakdown is caused by the oil used in the cropping or finishing process on the cloth before it leaves the factory and when heated by the table heaters and other elements in an arena setting actually erodes the surface of the ball,
exposing a less smooth surface underneath.
When this exposed part of the ball strikes another, we get a Kick. If, during a longer match, two eroded sections collide we get a massive Kick.
So how do we solve it? One suggestion of how to fix the problem would be at source and try to get the cloth manufacturer to use a different oil in it's cropping process.
A different way would be to turn off the table heaters at tournaments as it's this heat from underneath which causes the oil in the cloth to transfer onto the surface of the ball and erode it. This is why you very rarely see a Kick in a snooker club. None of the tables have heaters so the process is slowed right down. It does still happen but only once in a blue moon. If you look back at snooker in the 80s and early 90s before the introduction of table heaters, Kicks were almost unheard of.
Of course these two solutions do involve some big changes and understandably will take some time to filter through but in the meantime there is a third solution.
It turns out that the ball manufacturer produces a cleaning product a bit like a car wax. Clean them first removing all impurities and then apply this cleaning product. By the time you've applied it to them all it will have started to dry and is then ready to be buffed to a high polish restoring the ball to a 'showroom' or 'factory' finish. This will ensure Kick-free snooker until of course the oil in the cloth eats its way through and exposes the underneath surface of the ball. If and when you get a Kick you know that it's time to re-apply.
At tournaments this, of course, means that there would need to be 'new balls' ready to be swapped in at the first sign of a Kick, a bit like how they change the balls in tennis every seven games. After seven games of hard hitting professional tennis they now know that the balls will have degraded to a less than perfect condition. So if they can do it, why can't we?
All the best,
November 18, 2013, 4:34 pm
So it didn't go my way in Antwerp but again I felt I played pretty well. I can definitely see encouraging signs coming through from all my hours on the practise table. It's just frustrating waiting for it to all click together.
Straight back into the swing of things though this week. Today I'm filming Question of Sport in Manchester. I'm on Phil Tufnell's team today, which is always fun.
The last few times I've been on I've won so I hope we can keep that little run going.
After filming I'm straight down the M6 to Coventry for the Champion of Champions tomorrow. I'm playing Mark Selby who won in Antwerp this weekend so is obviously in good form. Only my best will do.
Hopefully I'll be busy all week preparing for the finals in Coventry at the weekend but if not, I'll be practising for the UK championship that starts next week where I play Lee Spick on the 28th.
I'll keep you posted with how things go,
Until next time,
November 13, 2013, 1:12 pm
Recently I've been struggling for results on the table and it's been a bit of a head scratcher. Usually when a player in any sport starts to see his form drop or results change, the fix is normally to put more hours in on the table practising. But my work rate this season has been way above anything I've done in recent years, only adding to my confusion.
On my return from the International Championship in Chengdu a couple of weeks ago my manager Brandon suggested I looked a bit match rusty. Not table time, but match play.
This got me thinking. Usually I'm one of those guys that practises five days a week mostly on my own in the club working on different routines and my technique, not spending that much time actually playing other players.
So with Brandon's comments ringing in my ears I've been spending a lot more time playing some other pros in the hope that this match play practice will be the missing link.
Having thought about it quite a lot it makes perfect sense. Practising on my own is all well and good but when I play a bad shot or miss I can always have another go or reset the shot and take it again. This doesn't apply when playing someone else.
If I miss against one of these lads I have to swap the cue for some white gloves and pick the balls out! But it definitely sharpens you up and after nearly two weeks practising with Ian Burns, Ricky Walden, Rod Lawler and Andrew Higginson I really feel like I'm getting somewhere with it. But the proof is in the pudding.
I'm off to Antwerp on Friday for the Euro Tour event there this weekend and next week is the new Champion of Champions in Coventry followed closely by the UK Championship in York so now would be a nice time for things to come together.
Until next time,
Best wishes, Shaun.