The 2016 Sangsom Six Reds World Championship in Thailand has come at a time when the strength of the game in the host nation is greater than ever.
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh is defending the title in Bangkok which he won last year, after defeating Liang Wenbo 8-2 in the final.
Un-Nooh has spearheaded a Thai resurgence, after a good season last year and starting the current campaign strongly.
So far 2016/17 has seen the world number 33 further enhance his reputation. He went on a fantastic run to the last four of the World Open, which included a shock defeat of World Champion Mark Selby.
The charismatic 31-year-old, who is now working with coach Terry Griffiths, also produced one of the moments of the season so far at the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany.
After spurning the opportunity to make two 147s on the final ball last year, Un-Nooh finally broke his maximum hoodoo. Those errors cost the Thai a total of £52,500 and he even appeared on Channel 4’s TFI Friday to recreate the moment he missed his chance. This time he made up for his mistake and cashed in on the £40,000 on offer for a maximum.
Un-Nooh remarked: “The two blacks I missed last year were still in my head. If I had known this one was for £40,000, maybe I would have missed again. I was relieved the black was easy, there was a lot of pressure.”
This follows the success of 20-year-old Akani Songsermsawad who reached the quarter-final stage of the Indian Open, where he eventually bowed out against world number 14 Kyren Wilson.
It’s easy to let the meteoric rise of Chinese snooker overshadow the influence that Thai competitors have had on the game in Asia. However, Thailand’s James Wattana is seen by many as the pioneer for Asian snooker. He gained cult status in his native country in the nineties, as tens of millions watched him claim back to back Thailand Masters titles on home soil in 1994 and 1995. Wattana also went on to reach two World Championship semi-finals.
Much of the success of the current crop of players can be attributed to a renewed dedication to the game, which has seen many travel to the UK in search of coaching and practice partners. The STAR Snooker Academy in Sheffield plays host to players such as Un-Nooh and 2015 World Under-21 Champion Boonyarit Keattikun. Former professional Garry Baldrey runs the academy alongside business partner Keith Warren and believes a solidarity between the players has a lot to do with their success.
Baldrey said: “Wattana was the original flag bearer for Asian snooker. He has acted as a sort of father figure for players like Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Dechawat Poomjaeng. Now they’re doing the same for the younger players coming through. It’s important for them to have figures to look up to, the Thai culture is a very respectful one and they all hold Wattana in a very high regard. We have six of them over at the moment and they all live together.
“Players need to be competing with high quality practice partners. We encourage all the guys from Europe, Asia or Britain that practice here to mix and play against each other. It’s important not to get too comfortable in practice.”
Un-Nooh and Songsermsawad have shot into contention in the one-year ranking list which will determine who qualifies for the World Grand Prix and Players Championship. They currently lie 9th and 30th respectively which would see them both make the Grand Prix in Preston. Baldrey doesn’t think others will be too far behind.
“I think Boonyarit Keattikun is really worth looking out for and Noppon Saengkham is starting to show signs that he is coming back into form. Songsermsawad is really highly rated in Thailand and looks set to do well. I think it is the rise of these players that has spurred Un-Nooh and Poomjaeng on to up their own game. The Thai players really do motivate one another and look out for each other.”
Travelling abroad to pursue a professional career presents many difficulties for the players, however Baldrey feels that the help of the Thai Snooker Association and a new found determination has sparked a surge in their results.
“They’ve realised it doesn’t come easy, they are very disciplined now. It’s very difficult coming out of their own environment. They have to adapt to not only the language but the food and the culture. I know Ding found it very difficult when he originally moved from China to Sheffield.
“The Thai Snooker Association and their President Sindu Pulsirvong have done so much for setting the players up with sponsorship and they give them a lot of backing. Of course while players like Thepchaiya and Dechawat are doing so well, it makes finding sponsorship for the rest of them that bit easier.”