It’s a step into the unknown for me at the PTC in Gloucester this weekend. I play either Andy Marriott or Steven Hallworth and, quite frankly, I know nothing about them. I wouldn’t know them if they walked up to me in the street. That’s the beauty, and one of the dangers, of the PTCs. You’re either up against a top player in the world, or an amateur who you know nothing about, and as I said, that can be dangerous.
I like to know who I’m playing and, most often, will decide what tactics I’m going to adopt depending on who my opponent is. I like to know what their style is going to be and think about the match beforehand.
With an amateur, you don’t know anything so you have to exercise a wee bit of caution. They could come out potting crazy balls left, right and centre, even off the lampshades sometimes! On the other hand, they could be in awe of playing a top professional and, sometimes, there might be an inferiority complex on their behalf, and that is something which you could use to your advantage.
Most amateurs are good players, and it’s good for the game that they can enter these PTCs. They get to play a top pro, hang around with the players they see on TV, so it’s a wonderful experience for them.
But I have to focus on my own game. On paper it’s an easy match, but in reality there are no easy matches. And you never know who you’re going to get. For example, Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott meet each other in their first match, and that could be worthy of the final.
In the recent Shanghai Masters qualifiers I scraped over the line 5-4 against Andy Hicks, but then got blown away 5-0 by Dominic Dale. On that occasion I got my tactics completely wrong, I was trying to pot anything and everything but ended up putting him under no pressure whatsoever.
With most players, you know how they’re going to play, if they’re going to come out and pot balls or adopt a more cautious, safety-minded approach. Some attacking players you know will go for every half-chance available, so maybe you give them those chances and hope they miss, leaving you to get in and take advantage, and win the frame.
Or you can continuously try to tie them up in knots, force them to take on long pots which, again, you hope they’ll miss. I like to go into a match focusing on my own strengths, but at the same time thinking ‘how are they going to play’, or ‘how should I treat this match’. Sometimes there are too many things to think about and you just don’t know!
I call snooker ‘chess with balls’, because there are so many options and tactics to consider. It’s fascinating but, at the same time, you can over-think sometimes. I’m still learning the game, and this is all part of the learning process.
I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics when I haven’t been practising. The swimming and the cycling have been the stand-out sports for me. And I can tell you, there’s been an incredible reaction up here in Scotland after Sir Chris Hoy picked up another two gold medals.
He’s such an inspiration, not only because he’s Scottish but also because he’s at the peak of his sport. I was in the club the other day with Alan McManus and Stephen Maguire and we were talking about it, saying how incredible he is. He is some athlete. What Hoy has done is remarkable, and I like to think that if he can do it, then so can I.
Read more Living Snooker blogs.
If you enjoy it, remember to share it with other sports fans