Michael Holt heads to the Shoot Out aiming to defend his title and as the most successful player in the tournament’s history, armed with the best snooker he has played in his long career, these is no reason why the Hitman can’t find his target.
Holt lifted the Shoot Out trophy last season after reaching the final the previous year. Another deep run this time round would make a mockery of the suggestion that the event is a bit of a lottery.
The 42-year-old has won 23 matches at the Shoot Out, three more than his closest rival on that list, and he believes the time constraints of the unique event help eradicate one of the biggest problems in his game – overthinking.
Under the shot clock at the Shoot Out, Holt no longer can wrestle with self doubt and indecision, he must play what immediately comes to mind, and it seems to work.
Being regarded as a specialist in the shortest format of snooker is not what he set out to become, but there are much worse things to be, with £50,000 the bounty for the winner.
‘It’s nice because it’s been quite lucrative,’ Holt told Metro.co.uk. ‘I’d rather be a snooker specialist but I’ll take it. It’s obviously been good to me over the years, that tournament.
‘I don’t know why it is, I think it’s chance more than anything. I think the fact that I know the game, I’m quite a natural snooker player, as in I can get down on the shot and play pretty quick.
‘Although, I’m not a quick player if you look at average shot time, 60th or 70th on the list but I never feel rushed at the Shoot Out.
‘My problem is I’m a thinker, stuff will pop in there, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man in Ghostbusters, it just pops in there. My mind is like a Royal Rumble, each wrestler is a thought trying to get my attention, when I’m under pressure they’ll stick another 20 in.
‘I slow myself down from overthinking. Obviously at the Shoot Out I have to just play the first shot I see, which is usually the right one. It’s when you start second guessing yourself, that’s the problem.
‘I’ve been really lucky as well, lucky in that no one has just gone and made 70 against me, because there’s nothing you can do about it. I think that’s where I’ve been luckiest, because someone hasn’t just gone and won.’
There is no fluke in winning 13 of his last 14 matches at the same event, though, and Holt knows it.
‘I think anybody can win a game,’ he said. ‘But not anybody can win the tournament.’
An illustration of how much Holt gets in the zone under the unique conditions of the Shoot Out is that he does not expect to notice the lack of crowd this time round.
Usually held in front of a rowdy, raucous audience at the Watford Colosseum, this year the event is behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes and will be a sterile atmosphere in contrast.
The Hitman knows it will be a different experience for viewers, but doesn’t think he will feel the change.
‘It’s one of them tournaments where the crowd is such a big part of it so it will be missed, but I think from a playing perspective it won’t make that much difference,’ he said.
‘Although the crowd are screaming and shouting, the time constraints focus you, so you don’t notice it that much. I don’t anyway, because you’re so concentrated on potting the next ball that you forget about it.’
Holt first turned pro back in 1996 but has never enjoyed playing the game as much as he does now and is still working hard to add more ranking titles after starting his collection with the Shoot Out trophy.
However long a professional has been playing the game, they will never be as consistent as they want to be and Holt is still driving to level up.
‘I think as I get a bit older, I do enjoy playing snooker, I love it actually,’ he said. ‘I appreciate it a lot more now because I realise how lucky I am now, to do what I do.
‘My dad used to tell me I’m doing something I love and I didn’t listen. Especially in my early 30s, I just didn’t enjoy it, didn’t appreciate it, my attitude stunk, but that’s inexperience. I’m a different person now.
‘I’m enjoying working on things in practice. It’s hard to focus on winning a match, because you can’t control that, but the practice is just dragging your level up as much as you can. Your ranking, your average level is what you do when you’re playing normally.
‘Everyone wins when you play well, but you’ve just got to drag your average up as much as possible and that’s where you’ll find your ranking. Judd Trump’s average is number one. When he plays normal, 70 per cent, it’s better than anyone else’s.’
Holt has the ultimate admiration for the current world number one, partially for his incredible talent, but mainly for the mindset he displays on the snooker table and the dedication he shows off it.
‘Obviously he’s absolutely flying now,’ the Hitman said. ‘Judd’s reached the Holy Grail of not only playing the best, but people will probably miss against him, people will just falter against him when they might not have done against someone else. He’s earned that, it’s not luck, but it happens.
‘There will be a time, in about 400 years, when he starts struggling, he’ll miss a few, lose a few matches and there’ll be a hoo-ha about big shocks. Then people will start feeling they can beat him again and those matches he was winning because people were missing, he’ll lose and it could snowball the other way. But that looks a long way off.
‘His work ethic and his dedication impress me as much as anything. He’d have been forgiven for a week off after that UK Championship but he was straight back in. And why shouldn’t he? He’s flying, best in the world, winning tournaments, having a great life. He’s somebody everyone should look into, he’s an inspiration.’
The Hitman goes as far as saying Trump has the mindset of a psychopath on the baize, something very much meant as a compliment as the top players have the ruthless, killer instinct to finish off their prey that lower-ranked players don’t.
‘What separates Judd from the rest is not because he can screw back a long way, that’s nothing to do with it, that’s just something he can do,’ Holt explained.
‘The thing that separates him is his mentality, it’s brilliant. He’s like a psychopath, he is a human being and he’s a nice kid, but when he’s out there…Mark Selby’s the same, it’s like they feel less.
‘They’ve got this emotionless, horrible part of them, part of their personality that makes them get over the nerves better than everyone else.
‘I don’t know exactly myself, or else I’d do it, but personality traits help because it’s more about being focussed when the pressure’s on. Under pressure your brain wants to think about other stuff and things will pop in there.
‘When you’re focussed all you’re thinking is, “pot this one, get on the next one.” The art of being a top sportsman is doing that at the most pressured moments.’
One of the beauties of snooker is that there is no right way or wrong way to get to that point and what works for Trump and Selby may not work for other players.
Holt believes that every individual should harness their natural game and not be trying to mimic others at the top of the sport, but find what works for them.
‘I’ve been in the game a long time so I’ve known a few champions and they’re all different characters,’ he said.
‘Mark Williams is the biggest liar in the world making out he’s not bothered. He’s an animal, mentally. He wants to win every game he plays, but that’s how he deals with it, by making out he doesn’t care. That works for him. The other extreme is Peter Ebdon. Very focussed, very driven and that works for him.
‘For me, the best way to achieve that is to look at yourself and find out what works for you.
‘Ronnie is just such a brilliant snooker player, you could argue if he had a different mindset he might have been more consistent over the years, but who knows? He’s the best player I’ve ever seen.
‘What sets him apart is just the way he does it. You could watch him and John Higgins make the same break but the way Ronnie does it looks more impressive. He doesn’t look like he’s trying, it’s graceful. But we all know, he’s like a swan, looks graceful but under the water he’s flapping as hard as he can. It’s just the way he does things, it’s amazing.
‘He’s that sort, he’s a peacock, he loves the attention, he loves being Ronnie O’Sullivan, that’s obvious. John Higgins is incredible, but not that type of character, understated.
‘When he beats you, bashes you up, when he shakes your hand he’s virtually apologetic. Ronnie is a different character, he’ll shake your hand and love the applause, that’s just part of him and that plays into how they look at the table.
‘John Higgins is almost embarrassed, but that’s just his character. You can only be true to yourself. As soon as you start trying to be someone else there’ll be conflict with what’s inside you.’
While Holt has loved becoming a ranking event winner, he remains self-deprecating over the status of the Shoot Out and is all the more intent of adding a longer-format trophy to his cabinet.
At 42 he feels his game is better now than it ever has been and with continued hard work, and a stroke of luck, there are plenty more targets for the Hitman to take out.
‘It’s nice to be called out as a ranking event champion but it is the Shoot Out, I’m fully aware of that,’ he said. ‘It’s not a proper format, which my wife Amy is always having a go at me for saying, but it is the Shoot Out.
‘I want to work hard and try and be called out as the champion of a proper format event. That’s the dream and I think I’m capable if I keep doing what I’m doing.
‘I’m playing better than I ever have, more consistent, because I’ve always been very inconsistent.
‘My average level has always been nowhere, I’ve always been very good or no good. If you look at my career, I’ve always beat top players right from the first season of my professional career, I was beating top eight players when I was 20, but then the next match I won’t play so well.
‘That’s why I’ve only been top 32, I’m very good, but when I’m not on, I’m not there. Maybe my attitude has been bad, I’ve been clueless, stubborn to learn, but now I’m not, I’ve got a much better attitude to learning.
‘I can play the level you need to achieve to win a tournament, easily. I might need someone to miss, a couple of bites at the cherry as I’m trying to clamber to get to that level, but then winning breeds winning.
‘Even the best of the best, their first wins they get a bit of help, you don’t just blitz it from the start. I’m not Judd, he’s on a different level, I don’t turn up thinking I can just blast everyone away. I’ve got to get involved, down to the last few days and see where it takes you. If you keep doing that a few times then you can think about winning. I can beat everyone, I’ve just got to keep getting involved.
‘I’m really happy at the minute. I’m happy when I’m playing, in my home life, it’s all good. Just looking forward to trying to do better and looking forward to picking up a big cheque again. I always try my best and we’ll see how we go.’
Follow Metro Sport across our social channels, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For more stories like this, check our sport page.
Go to Source
Author: Phil Haigh