Blackpool goes potty for snooker revolution

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‘ROCKET’ Ronnie O’Sullivan lit up the Tower Circus with a quickfire 113 on the opening night of the inaugural Caesarscasino.com Snooker Shoot-out in Blackpool.

The three time World Champion delighted fans with the only century break of the evening, limiting Marco Fu to a handful of shots in their one frame encounter.

O’Sullivan, who struck a five minute 147 maximum at the 1997 World Championships, revelled in the new short format, where players go up against a shot clock in matches lasting no longer than ten minutes.

John Higgins was another star performer in the top half of the draw, seeing off Mark Williams with a composed break of 93, while six-time Crucible winner Steve Davis eased through against fellow veteran Peter Ebdon.

But among the notable early casualties were the 2011 Masters Champion Ding Junhui, plus old foes Stephen Hendry and ‘The Whirlwind’ Jimmy White.

Aussie potting ace and current World Champion Neil Robertson is among the fancied names still to play their last 64 match, along with past Sheffield victors Graeme Dott and Shaun Murphy.

Blackpool’s Circus Arena staged the snooker’s first post-war world championship won by Joe Davies in 1946.

Who knows what Davies or the spectators at the Blackpool Tower venue that night would have made of the caesarspalace.com Snooker Shoot-Out, which got under way there last night in front of a rowdy but appreciative crowd.

This single-frame format, in which the time limit per shot is cut from 20 seconds to 15 in the second five minutes, seems tailor-made for the rapid-fire potting of O’Sullivan and it was no surprise that the Londoner stole the show on the opening night.

His 113 – he had plenty of time for more but missed the yellow after clearing the reds – was the highlight of last night’s opening 16 first-round ties in a tournament in which the world’s 64 players compete for the £32,000 first prize – not bad for an hour’s work (the champion will win six of these ten-minute contests).

O’Sullivan’s prolific potting made a fool of former world champion Hendry, who warned us not to expect big breaks as he came onstage for a quick interview just before the action began.

Hendry, beaten by the Irishman Fergal O’Brien, was also a little wide of the mark in his prediction that “the players will need their running shoes.”

Michael Holt was the first to take him at his word by bursting into a sprint around the table, though the format seemed to suit the quick thinkers more than the fast movers and Holt duly lost to Stephen Lee – not exactly built for flying across the floor like Anton du Beke.

Indeed, tactics were to the fore and Mark Allen, who eliminated Ryan Day in the opening contest, was the first to admit to time-wasting – running the clock down by taking every last second over a shot after getting his nose in front.

And there was no chance of delaying too long, with the crowd encouraged to join in for noisy count down of the final seconds. But overall, there was more for the purists and a little less of the gimmicks than might have been expected, despite an announcer who sounded as though he had spent the day recording trailers for horror movies.

But Shoot-Out Snooker was no horror story, more a light-hearted an highly entertaining rollercoaster thriller prefectly suited to its Blackpool setting.

With the players sporting names and numbers on their shirts, the pioneering tournament is the latest brainchild of World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn as he looks to increase the sport’s appeal.

Masters champion Ding Junhui was the most notable casualty, beaten by Welshman Dominic Dale.

In other ties, Nigel Bond got the better of Joe Jogia, Robert Milkins got past Martin Gould, Jamie Burnett was beaten by Andrew Higginson and Alan McManus won against Michael Judge .

The final two games of the night saw Marcus Campbell beat Jimmy Michie and Mark King earn victory against Jimmy Robertson.

Liang Wenbo had to withdraw for personal reasons, allowing Tony Drago into the next round.

The remaining 16 first-round games get under way at noon today, followed by the second round this evening from 7pm.

The final 16 play down to a finish from 2pm tomorrow, with the final scheduled for 9pm.