The Masters Snooker

Where: Alexandra Palace, N22
When: 15/01/12

Snooker is sport’s answer to Marmite. For every person like me who loves it, there’s a significantly higher proportion of people who hate it. This merry band of disbelievers find the behaviour of people who can sit and watch 22 balls being knocked around a few square metres of baize mysterious at best. Others complain about their favourite daytime telly usurped by the sport on a handful of occasions throughout the year.

If you’ve reached this second paragraph then it should be safe to assume you, like me, are in the former, smaller group of snooker disciples. If so, you probably already know that the second most prestigious tournament in snooker is arguably The Masters – an elite, invite-only competition in London for the world’s top 16 players. No ranking points are offered in the capital; players compete for pride, glory and the £150,000 first prize.

The 2012 tournament sees The Masters depart from it long established home at Wembley and shift across North London to the lofty heights of Alexandra Palace. I sit here writing the start of this post from my seat in the audience before the opening match of the tournament – a mouth-watering clash between Chinese defending champion Ding Junhui and Ronnie O’Sullivan – snooker’s Mr Unpredicatable. That match will be followed by Williams vs Maguire tonight.

Having attended the Master’s twice before, at the Wembley Conference Centre in 2005 and Wembley Arena in 2011, my first impressions of the new venue aren’t good. I can’t help but feel the tournament has been downgraded. The inside of the arena, where the table is, looks identical. However the venue itself falls short. The box office is a table; the merchandise stall has all the appeal and organisation of a school tuck shop. There is insufficient catering for the 1,500 spectators and these have to be shared with members of the public. As do the 10 urinals and two toilet cubicles.

Hopefully these are fixable teething problems at a fledgling venue as it would be a shame to tarnish snooker’s showcase of the best of the best.

For the record:

O’Sullivan survived a late Ding comeback to clinch a 6-4 victory with a break of 125.

Williams soared to a 4-0 mid-session interval lead before Maguire fought back to trail 5-4, before being snookered by Williams who used the opportunity to take the win.

Verdict: Despite the concerns over the venue, I came here to watch some of the best snooker players do battle and for that the Masters is London’s only chance to witness their talents. At £25 for an all day ticket, taking in two matches, the value is brilliant. I ended up seeing 20 frames – £1.25 a frame. You’d struggle to play the game for yourself for that price. I’d take O’Sullivan’s meticulously compiled, match-winning century break over my mediocre mid-30s efforts any day.