Snooker: Snooker buffs tested on eight times table as UK Championships open in Preston

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The Independent Online
THE UK Championships began at the Guild Hall, in Preston, yesterday with the balls rolling on eight tables and a potential flashpoint on one of them as Dennis Taylor met Alex Higgins in a first-round grudge match. But the Ulster pair defused the tension with smiles for the cameras before their first session. Taylor was still smiling when he walked off at the end of the match with a 9-3 victory and a place in the last 32.

Their table attracted a crowd of about 350 to witness their first meeting since their match at the Irish Masters at Goffs in April 1990, which came six weeks after Higgins threatened to have the 1985 world champion shot if he ever returned to Northern Ireland.

'There was no animosity during the game,' Taylor said 'We were both concentrating on our game. We shook hands before the start - what else was I supposed to do, kiss him.'

Taylor, who is struggling to save his place among the top 16 after five straight defeats this season, was first into his stride in a match that began untidily. Cries of 'Come on, Alex' grew fewer as Taylor made breaks of 32, 54 and 34 to lead 3-0 in 51 minutes.

Higgins, the world No 61, eventually opened his account in the final frame before the mid-session interval, but when play resumed Higgins could only sit and watch as his 44-year-old rival produced runs of 85 and 87 to move 5-1 clear. Higgins convincingly won the seventh but Taylor finished on a high with a break of 44 to take him 6-2 clear.

Higgins's best break of the match, 73, gave him a glimmer of hope when play resumed but Taylor stamped on the putative revival by taking the last three frames in 51 minutes.

(Photograph omitted)