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  Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 12:39 GMT
Masters milestones
Six-time winner Stephen Hendry and former champion Ray Reardon

Click here for list of previous finals

by BBC Sport Online's Mike Burnett

The Benson and Hedges Masters is one of the most established events in the snooker calendar, and second only to the World Championship in age.

The top 16 in the world, plus two wild card entrants will battle it out for a share of more than 500,000, but only the best man will take home a cheque for 175,000.

With so much to play for, it is not surprising this event has been host to so many legendary characters and finals over the years.

Despite being a non-ranking event, this invitational commands respect across the snooker world and began life in 1975.

The name may have been the same, but both the venue and the format have changed with the number of competitors rising from 10 to 18 at the present time.

1976 champion Ray Reardon
Ray Reardon: An early Master

In its first year, the Masters was held at the West Centre Hotel in London's Earls Court as England's John Spencer overcame Welsh wizard Ray Reardon in a tense 9-8 final.

The match had to be decided on a re-spotted black in the final frame for Spencer to claim his 2,000 first prize.

While other events have often struggled to gain recognition in the early days, the Masters has never suffered from that problem.

The following year, the event moved to New London Theatre in Drury Lane, before finally settling in its present location at Wembley Conference Centre in 1979.

Such a big tournament requires an appropriate venue, so where better than Wembley with its 2,700 seating capacity.

Hall of fame

Not surprisingly, the Masters has provided more than its fair share of thrills over the years from the sport's top craftsmen.

Reardon may have lost in 1975, but was back the following year to snatch the title 7-3 off Graham Miles.

Between the end of the 1970s and early 80s, a new batch of talent was to emerge in the Masters.

Within the space of four years, Alex "Hurricane" Higgins ended up twice winner and twice runner-up,

One-time champion Terry Griffiths seemed to be a permanent fixture in the final in the early 80s, achieving the highest break of the tournament an unprecedented three times.

Canadian Cliff Thorburn clocked up three titles between 1983 and 1986, but this was soon to be dwarfed by a young Scot called Stephen Hendry.

Cliff Thorburn took the title three times
Canadian Cliff Thorburn won three Masters titles

Making his debut in the tournament in 1989, he had the gall to go and win the trophy.

Hendry went on to take the title another four years on the trot, but had to overcome a few hairy moments on the way.

In 1991, he staged an impressive comeback, winning 9-8 against Mike Hallett after being 0-7 and 2-8 down.

It was a mortifying defeat for Hallett who missed out three years before when he was crushed 9-0 in the final by Steve Davis.

Amazing feat

Just before the 1993 tournament, Benson and Hedges issued a challenge to Hendry in recognition of him winning the four previous times.

The firm said if he won, Hendry could keep the trophy - which is usually returned for safekeeping after it is presented to the winner - permanently.

Of course, Hendry did win and the cup was his for the keeping.

Six-times winner Stephen Hendry
Hendry quite literally took the trophy in 1993

As a result, the following year's winner, Alan McManus, was presented with a new trophy, which has been used ever since.

While Hendry was to claim the title one more time in 1996 to make it six overall, the only maximum break in the tournament's history goes to Kirk Stevens.

The Canadian achieved the epic 147 mark in his semi-final match against Jimmy White in 1984.

Ironically, White beat Stevens 6-5, making a 119 break in the clinching frame.

Modern times

Ronnie O'Sullivan first played in the event in 1994 after qualifying as a wild card by winning the 1993 Benson and Hedges Snooker Championship.

He lost 5-1 to Dennis Taylor in the first round, but won the tournament the following year, and made it to the finals in 1996 and 1997.

Both times O'Sullivan lost to arguably the most successful players ever to hold a cue, Hendry and 80s legend Steve Davis.

Davis was the "comeback king", not just in his career revival, but also by beating O'Sullivan from being 8-4 down

In the last two years, Irishman Ken Doherty has been the unfortunate runner-up, losing to Scotland's John Higgins and most recently Welshman Matthew Stevens.

And the 2000 defeat was particularly hard for Doherty to swallow after he missed the black for a 147 maximum break in the 15th frame.

The Masters celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1999 and snooker fans will not be surprised to see it still going strong after another quarter of a century.

Benson and Hedges Masters finals

2000 Matthew Stevens 10-8 Ken Doherty
1999 John Higgins 10-8 Ken Doherty
1998 Mark Williams 10-9 Stephen Hendry
1997 Steve Davis 10-8 Ronnie O'Sullivan
1996 Stephen Hendry 10-5 Ronnie O'Sullivan
1995 Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-3 John Higgins
1994 Alan McManus 9-8 Stephen Hendry
1993 Stephen Hendry 9-5 James Wattana
1992 Stephen Hendry 9-4 John Parrott
1991 Stephen Hendry 9-8 Mike Hallett
1990 Stephen Hendry 9-4 John Parrott
1989 Stephen Hendry 9-6 John Parrott
1988 Steve Davis 9-0 Mike Hallett
1987 Dennis Taylor 9-8 Alex Higgins
1986 Cliff Thorburn 9-5 Jimmy White
1985 Cliff Thorburn 9-6 Doug Mountjoy
1984 Jimmy White 9-5 Terry Griffiths
1983 Cliff Thorburn 9-7 Ray Reardon
1982 Steve Davis 9-5 Terry Griffiths
1981 Alex Higgins 9-6 Terry Griffiths
1980 Terry Griffiths 9-5 Alex Higgins
1979 Perrie Mans 8-4 Alex Higgins
1978 Alex Higgins 7-5 Cliff Thorburn
1977 Doug Mountjoy 7-6 Ray Reardon
1976 Ray Reardon 7-3 Graham Miles
1975 John Spencer 9-8 Ray Reardon

Benson & Hedges Masters
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