|Organisation(s)||World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association|
|Total prize fund||£600,000|
|Current champion(s)||Shaun Murphy|
The Masters is a professional invitational snooker tournament. Held every year since 1975, it is the second longest running tournament behind the World Championship. It is one of the Triple Crown events, and although not a ranking event, it is regarded as one of the most prestigious tournaments on the circuit. The reigning champion is Shaun Murphy.
The Masters began as an invitational event for the top 10 players. The field was expanded to 12 competitors in 1981, and 16 in 1983. Since 1984, the standard invitees have been the top 16 players in the world rankings, with the addition of two or three wild-card places in tournaments held between 1990 and 2010.
Stephen Hendry holds the record for the most Masters titles, having won the tournament six times. Ronnie O'Sullivan has won five titles. Cliff Thorburn, Steve Davis, Paul Hunter, and Mark Selby have each won the Masters three times. Alex Higgins, Mark Williams, and John Higgins have each won the title twice.
Three maximum breaks have been made in the history of the tournament, all by overseas players. Canada's Kirk Stevens made the first in 1984, China's Ding Junhui made the second in 2007, and Hong Kong's Marco Fu made the third in 2015.
The tournament was held for the first time in 1975 at the West Centre Hotel in London, when the top ten players were invited. The event was sponsored by the cigarette company Benson & Hedges. John Spencer won the inaugural tournament by defeating Ray Reardon 9–8 in the final. The following year the event moved to the New London Theatre and in 1979 to the Wembley Conference Centre. In 1981 the number of players invited to compete was increased to 12, and then increased again to 16 in 1983.
From 1984 onwards the top 16 players in the world rankings were automatically invited to the tournament. In 1984 Kirk Stevens became the first player to make a maximum break at the event against Jimmy White in the semi-final. In 1988 Mike Hallett became the first and to date only player to be whitewashed in a Masters final, losing 0–9 to Steve Davis. Stephen Hendry maintained an unbeaten record in the event, a run which included five successive championship victories, from his first appearance in 1989 until his defeat by Alan McManus in a final-frame decider in the 1994 final. Hallett reached his second final in four years in 1991, but lost 8–9 against Hendry, despite leading 7–0 and 8–2. This defeat effectively ended Hallett's days as a major force in the game.
In 1990 the sponsors introduced two wild-cards, granted by the game's governing body at their discretion, who would play wild-card matches against the players seeded 15th and 16th for a place in the first round of the tournament. For the 1991 tournament, the Benson & Hedges Championship was introduced: this granted the winner one of the two wild-card places. The other continued to be granted by the governing body.
In the 1997 final, Steve Davis defeated Ronnie O'Sullivan in a match disrupted by a streaker. Davis came back from 4–8 down to win the remaining six frames in a row, clinching the final at 10–8. The 1998 final went down to a re-spotted black in the deciding frame; Mark Williams defeated Stephen Hendry 10–9 after having trailed 6–9. In the 2000 final Ken Doherty missed the final black in a 147 attempt, and eventually lost to Matthew Stevens.
After the 2003 Masters, Benson & Hedges had to end their sponsorship of the event due to UK restrictions on tobacco advertising, and the tournament was unsponsored in 2004. In 2005, Rileys Club became the sponsor of the event. There was also no qualifying competition, and both wild-card places were awarded by the governing body, but the competition returned the following season. SAGA Insurance took over sponsorship of the tournament in 2006 and later the same year agreed to a deal to sponsor the event until 2009. 2006 was also the last year the tournament was held at the Wembley Conference Centre, before it was demolished in the same summer to make place for redevelopment. Following the death of Paul Hunter in October 2006, Jimmy White led calls for the Masters trophy or tournament to be renamed in honour of Hunter, who had won the title three times in four years between 2001 and 2004. Lindsey Hunter, widow of Paul Hunter, later expressed her wishes for the trophy to be renamed, claiming that "...everybody expected it. Every player I've spoken to, every fan, thought it would be a definite". World Snooker, the sport's governing body, decided against renaming the trophy, stating "Our board unanimously agreed that the Paul Hunter Scholarship was the most fitting tribute. Just as Hunter himself rose swiftly through the amateur ranks, the scholarship will give a gifted young player the chance to fulfil his talent through elite training."
In a slight change for 2007, one extra discretionary wild-card place was awarded, bringing the total number of players up to 19. The event was held at the Wembley Arena. For 2008 the tournament reverted to having only two wild-card players.
Ronnie O'Sullivan appeared in four successive finals from 2004 to 2007, winning in 2005 and 2007. Paul Hunter won the first of these, recovering from 2–7 down to win 10–9 against Ronnie, making five century breaks along the way. This was Hunter's third Masters win in four years. O'Sullivan put on a great display to defeat John Higgins in the 2005 final, 10–3. The next year, they met once again in the final, which saw a very high standard of play throughout the match, including back-to-back total clearances of 138 and 139 for O'Sullivan to win frames 2 and 3, before losing the next five frames in a row. In the deciding frame, O'Sullivan made a break of 60, before letting Higgins back in the frame. Higgins made a clearance of 64 to win the title on the black. However, O'Sullivan redeemed himself the in 2007 by dominating Ding Junhui, winning 10–3 and then comforting the clearly upset youngster afterwards. In the same year Ding Junhui became the second player to compile a maximum break at the event, a feat he achieved against Anthony Hamilton in the wild-card round.
In the summer of 2008 SAGA Insurance pulled out of the sponsorship of the event, and the event was unsponsored in 2009. The event was sponsored by PokerStars.com in 2010. The qualifying competition was removed again for the 2011 Masters, no wild-card places were given, and the event was sponsored by Ladbrokes Mobile. The final of the event made history, as it was the first to feature two Asian players in the final. In 2012 the event was moved to the Alexandra Palace in London, and was sponsored by BGC Partners. The event was sponsored by Betfair in 2013. Since 2014 until at least 2017 the tournament is sponsored by Dafabet.
The defending Masters champion is seeded 1 while the current World Champion is seeded 2 (assuming that it is a different player). The remaining places are then allocated to the top players in the world rankings, seeded in order of those rankings. Since the defending champion and current World Champion are normally ranked in the top 16, the field generally consists of the top 16 ranked players. The exceptions have been:
- In 2006 World Champion Shaun Murphy was ranked 21 so that Ian McCulloch, ranked 16, was not automatically invited. McCulloch was, however, the wild-card choice.
- In 2013 Stephen Lee, ranked 9, did not play because he was suspended and so Mark Davis, ranked 17, was invited.
- In 2014 World Champion Ronnie O'Sullivan was ranked 24 so that Graeme Dott, ranked 16, was not invited.
- In 2015 Ali Carter was seeded 13, despite being ranked 18, because of illness that had stopped him from playing for an extended period, and so Graeme Dott, ranked 16, was not invited.
In 1984 and from 1986 to 1990 the draw was determined by the seedings with 1 playing 16, 8 playing 9, 5 playing 12, etc.. For 1985 a slightly different system was used. With the introduction of the wild-card round in 1990 this system meant that seeds 15 and 16 had to win a match to reach the last-16 where they would immediately play either of the first two seeds, generally the defending Masters champion and the World Champion. A change was introduced in 1991 so that seeds 9 to 16 were randomly drawn to play seed 1 to 8.
In 1996 the last-16 and quarter-final rounds were extended from 9 to 11 frames while the final was extended from 17 to 19 frames. Wild-card matches were extended from 9 to 11 frames in 1999.
For the 21 tournaments from 1990 to 2010 there was a wild-card round in which two additional players (three in 2007) played against the players seeded 15 and 16 (14, 15 and 16 in 2007) to reach the last-16 round. In most years one of the additional players was the winner of the Masters Qualifying Event while the other wild-card was selected. There were no qualifying event for the 1990 and 2005 Masters and both players were selected in those years. There were also two selections in 2007 when the wild-card round was extended to three matches.
The inclusion of wild-card players meant that there were an additional two or three matches to be arranged. The tournament continued to be played over 8 days but three matches were played on Sunday and Monday instead of the usual two (and Tuesday in 2007), so that the last-16 round was still completed on Wednesday. In 2007 all three wild-card matches were played on the first Sunday so that the last-16 round did not start until Monday.
There were a total of 43 wild-card matches. In 19 of these matches the seeded player played the winner of the Qualifying Event. In the remaining 24 matches the seed played a selected wild-card. The players selected as wild-card were Jimmy White (5), Ding Junhui (3), Steve Davis (2), Marco Fu (2), James Wattana (2), Ken Doherty, Peter Ebdon, Andy Hicks, Alex Higgins, John Higgins, Paul Hunter, Stephen Maguire, Ian McCulloch, Ricky Walden and Gary Wilkinson.
None of the players who played in the wild-card round won the tournament although two players, John Higgins (in 1995) and Ding Junhui (in 2007) reached the final. Both these players were wild-card selections. Two seeded players who played in the wild-card round reached the semi-final, Jimmy White (in 2004) and Mark Williams (in 2010). The winner of the Qualifying Event never got beyond the last-16 round.
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