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  Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 00:47 GMT
O'Brien's perfect pace
BBC Sport's snooker commentator Clive Everton looks back on Wednesday night's action at the Benson and Hedges Masters.

In snooker it is not how long but how many, so it matters not whether a frame-winning streak is made at the electrifying speed of Ronnie O'Sullivan at his best or at the more sedate pace which comes naturally to Fergal O'Brien, the Republic of Ireland world no 9.

Only the scoreboard really matters, and at the Benson and Hedges Masters on Wednesday it showed a 6-5 win for O'Brien over Mark Williams , the world champion and winner of the Masters three years ago.

Over the whole match, Williams averaged 18 seconds per shot, O'Brien 27, but there was never any hint that this was falling outside acceptable limits.

Some players have the natural ability to cite a shot more quickly than others, and once he has settled on it a player must be allowed to take as long as he likes.

Fergal O'Brien: Slow but effective
Fergal O'Brien: Slow but effective
He will only impair his own performance if he takes more preliminary addresses of the cue ball than he feels he needs.

Equally, there are certain shots which call for more thought than others.

Extra seconds

The referee must caution a player whom he considers is playing deliberately slowly in order to put his opponent off, but the grey areas in this matter include the length of time a player may take to consider various shot options or advance planning.

Some tend to take an extra few seconds to nerve themselves to actually play a particularly important shot.

O'Brien has been known to chalk his cue three times for the same shot in this sort of situation.

At the Nations Cup in Reading last month, Alan Chamberlain, the referee, considered that O'Brien was playing unduly slowly even in the context of a clearly vital frame.

The WPBSA's referees assessment committee adjudication was that Chamberlain had applied the rule correctly but that his accompanying comments had been inappropriate.

Ill-chosen

"You're taking far too on for your selection," Chamberlain had said before adding: "Come on, let's get it finished. Television knocks off at five o'clock."

Chamberlain, one of the circuit's best and most experienced referees, later accepted that his supplementary remarks had been ill-chosen, and it was probably just as well that Jim Elkins, tournament director at the Masters, changed the refereeing rota, switching Chamberlain to the evening match and sending out Jan Verhaas for Williams versus O'Brien.

Williams, topping the world rankings by a commanding margin, had not managed to find his best form since Christmas, but this was nevertheless a great win for O'Brien, who scored heavily and maintained his self-belief even after losing two frames he certainly should have won.

Assisted by breaks of 54 , 88 and 102, O'Brien led 3-1 and 36-0. 92 from Williams rescued that frame and he added the sixth on the black after O'Brien had missed a relatively easy frameball point.

From 3-3 it went to 4-4 and then two costly mistakes from O'Brien, who was 40 in front when he missed the penultimate red of the ninth from close range.

Although Williams made a very cool 41 clearance to lead 5-4, O'Brien had the mental resilience to make 99 to equalise and, from around level-pegging in the decider, 53 to win the match.

His quarter-final opponent will be his fellow Dubliner, friend and practice-partner Ken Doherty, who, full of confidence from winning the Regal Welsh Open, disposed of Anthony Hamilton 6-1.

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