Snooker – people often claim it's boring (second only to darts), but it's growing in popularity across the world and is rapidly attracting a great international audience. The players exhibit immense skill and grace as they wander around the baize, while the tension in the atmosphere keeps all the audience on the edge of their seats. It's known as a civilised game, the one place where players will apologise for a lucky shot, or congratulate their opponent on a good one.
The aim is to pot fifteen red balls (worth one point each), each followed by a colour (yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, black), then all the colours in order, leading to a maximum of 147 points in a frame.
There are three major snooker tournaments in the UK every year (the other two are the UK Championship in December and the World Championship in April / May). The Masters is special because is it invitation-only, open to the top 16 players in the world and selected 'wild card' players
Australian Neil Robertson is tipped by most to win the tournament, ranked no.3 in the world after Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan. He recently beat Mark Selby in the final of the UK Championship, and seems to be on the ascendance. Both Selby and O'Sullivan have won the tournament three times already, whereas Robertson has won it just once, losing to Selby in the final last year.
Each match in this tournament is the best of 11 frames, with the first to 6 going through to the next round. All sessions are at 13:00 and 19:00 GMT. The final takes place on Sunday 19th, with two sessions, this time at 13:30 and 19:00 GMT. It is split over two sessions because it is the best of 19 frames, that is, the first to 10.
Alexandra Palace (known as 'Ally Pally') is a great venue for this tournament. The 'People's Palace' has been a recreation centre for the general public since 1873, and hosting the snooker is just one part of this. One of the big halls, through the Palm Court, has temporary seating erected, placing people in close proximity to the table.
In the background you can hear the quiet click of the balls on the practice table behind the screens; this is a tight fit for the players, but the atmosphere is consequently electric. You can see the commentators in a box over the table, and can buy earpieces which let you tune in to the BBC commentary. You can also see the official BBC box, which looks a bit like a fishbowl and lets you watch the presenters performing to the camera.
It is odd to be inside in the dark during the day, but the atmosphere is worth it. They have been experimenting with different lighting in the auditorium, with the World Snooker logo projected onto the wall, and lasers dancing around between frames, when they also sometimes play music. Players walk on to their own theme tune, carefully chosen by each player to reflect something of their character.
Mark Selby at the Masters - players are close up too
There is the inevitable merchandise stall, but prices are reasonable, and the items generally tasteful and / or useful. Programmes cost £5 and include a biography of each player, as well as a series of articles with people associated with the sport, and other useful information about the tournament.
Tickets are available from as little as £10, and there are still some to be bought. You can also watch it in the UK on the BBC website, or through EuroSport / Sky Sports. It's easy to get there by public transport (Wood Green station or a range of buses) and there is also plenty of parking. If you've never watched snooker before, this is an excellent place to start with the world's best players all in one venue.