We have had two editions of the BetVictor Championship League Snooker in 2020. Very unusual, but I like it! I enjoyed watching the CLS earlier in June, when it was an invitational event. Now it has become a ranking event. The format is quite different from other tournaments: competitors are placed in groups of four and everyone plays everyone within a group. Each match consists of four frames: a win grants three points and a draw grants a single point. Only the player that tops his group advances to the next stage. In case of two or more players having the same number of points, frame difference is used as tiebreaking criterion. For me, that’s a recipe for a lengthy and yet unpredictable tournament.
Before the second stage starts, here is a full recap of the first 16 days of competition:
As expected, the world number 1, Judd Trump, topped group 1 with two wins and one draw against Alan McManus. Ryan Day advanced to the next stage with 6 points. Day made a magnificent 147 break against Rod Lawler, the first maximum of the season. What a nice way to start! In my opinion, the final black of his 147 is the shot of the tournament so far.
Robert Milkins topped group 3 with 6 points. Jamie Jones came close to top the group but lost more frames than Milkins. Barry Hawkins is also through having scored 6 points to lead group 4. Come to think of it, Hawkins has fallen out of the top 16, which is kind of sad. I wish him a very good season because he is too good a player not to win more tournaments.
These four winners will compose the first group of stage two, which will be the toughest and most interesting to watch.
Dominic Dale topped group 5 without having lost a single match. I was surprised, considering that Stephen Maguire and the talented young player Louis Heathcote were in the same group. Irish amateur Leo Fernandez (The Lion) won his first two matches and took his final match to a decider against Dale, who won 3-1. Maguire took third and Heathcote came last. Maguire has not yet shown his top form since he won the Tour Championship last season.
The Chinese player Zhou Yuelong topped group 6 with 5 points. Zhao Jianbo also finished with 5 points but lost more frames than Yuelong. Matthew Selt led group 7 with two wins and one draw. In group 8, Shaun Murphy made light work of Martin O’Donnell, Jimmy White and rookie Peter Devlin, having an almost perfect record with 9 points and only one frame lost (against O’Donnell). He was outstanding, given the fact that he had tendinitis.
Luo Honghao played very solid snooker to top group 9, which had Mark Allen as favorite. Allen took second place with a single win and two draws. Group 10 saw the promising talent Zhao Xintong on top with 6 points. The swiss player Alexander Ursenbacher topped group 11 undefeated.
Anthony McGill was in group 11 too, but didn’t manage to win a single match, thus coming last. This was pretty much unexpected, specially taking into consideration the form that he displayed in Sheffield. Finally, Stuart Bingham had a perfect record in group 12, having won all three matches against James Cahill, Yuan Sijun and Pang Junxu, not to mention that he didn’t drop a single frame. Impressive.
Surprisingly, Rory McLeod, who is back in the professional tour, topped group 13 with 7 points. Jack Lisowski took third with 4 points, 5 frames won and 6 lost. Liang Wenbo moved to the top first in group 14 but lost his final match to Graeme Dott, finishing second. Dott was the winner of group 14 with 7 points. Dott seems to be comfortable among the top 32 these days; he might do well this season.
Jamie O’Neill topped group 15 with 6 points. He was the only one to have won twice in the group. The European Masters champion, Mark Selby, secured the top spot of group 16 undefeated. As always, he remains a fearsome competitor with a huge appetite for titles. I think he will make it to stage three.
Ken Doherty took the first place in group 17 without losing a match, and leaving behind the favorite Niel Robertson, who finished second. It’s a little bit annoying that only a few players were able to book their place in the second stage with 9 points… Anyway, Andrew Higginson and Eden Sharav took the third and fourth places, respectively. Xiao Guodong was the undefeated winner of group 18 with 7 points, same as Ken Doherty in group 17. Iranian Hossein Vafaei was leading group 18 with two wins until losing his last match, and the top spot, to Xiao Guodong.
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh was the winner in group 19 with the usual 7 points. I’m a fan of his snooker; he plays with such ease and makes his breaks so effortlessly. Hope his game matures as to allow him to win ranking tournaments other than the Shoot Out. He played such a thin cut to a red that I almost had my coffee spilled on me. Sunny Akani, Peter Lines and Lee Walker were the other contestants. Jordan Brown topped group 20, denying the top 16 player Yan Bingtao a place in the second stage.
Group 21 winner was revealed in the very last match between David Gilbert and Lu Ning, which ended in a draw. Gilbert took the first place because he had scored the highest brake (both players were tied on points and frame difference). Scott Donaldson was the winner of group 22.
Mark King finished first in group 23. Both Donaldson and King had two wins and one draw. World Championship runner-up Kyren Wilson was flawless and topped group 24 with four wins and no frames lost. How so? His group had only three members (Daniel Wells tested positive for COVID-19), so they played each other twice.
Higgins was fast to show his powers in group 25. He took his foot off the gas in the last match against O'Connor, becoming another 7-pointer winner. It has been a while since Higgins won his last ranking event. I expect him to win something this season. Martin Gould was the winner of group 26, which had Brazilian Igor Figueiredo in it. The Brazilian potted a very nice pink with the rest, one of the highlights of the first stage. I hope he stays on the circuit. Norwegian Kurt Maflin finished third.
Tom Ford denied the defending champion Luca Brecel the chance to defend his title in group 27. Jamie Clark made it to the next phase in group 28. He played the same kind of snooker that allowed him to beat Mark Allen in Sheffield. Clark had three wins and one draw (his was another 3-member group).
Now for the last group of stage two. First is Joe Perry coming from group 29 with 6 points. Having recovered his cue (which had been stolen), Mark Davis topped group 30.
Two Chinese players, Tian Pengfei and Li Hang, topped groups 31 and 32, respectively. The latter won all his matches and thus ended with 9 points. Tian Pengfei booked his place in stage two on his highest break of 122 against Noppon Saengkham. Young rookie Iulian Boiko earned a thousand pounds in group 32 for finishing third. Not bad for a 15-year-old.
Why do I have the feeling that this tournament has been going on forever? Honestly, I had lost track of what was going on. But I guess things will become more interesting now that only 32 players remain. It should get more intense somehow. The second stage starts on October 26.
Next up: the English Open on October 12.
And that’s it for this post. Remember to stay calm and play snooker (or at least watch snooker, in my case)!