One televised tournament. One day. Two matches. Both fixed.
That is the stark reality of what happened on the opening day of the 2016 Welsh Open – one of the darkest moments in snooker’s history.
Two talented professional Chinese players were corrupting the game – Yu Delu and Cao Yupeng deliberately fixing the outcome of their matches.
Now Yu is suspended from the sport until early 2029, while Cao must serve a 30-month ban after admitting breaches of the sport’s rules.
How did we get here?
Suspicious betting patterns at different matches in which the pair played prompted the sport’s governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), to open an investigation.
The WPBSA has a dedicated integrity unit and worked with data outfit Sportradar, with support from the UK Gambling Commission.
Yu and Cao were charged in May and two hearings were held to examine the evidence before a three-person independent tribunal chaired by David Casement QC, sitting with barrister Yasin Patel and solicitor Tarik Shamel.
Both Yu and Cao admitted breaches of the rules – but their roles and co-operation with the inquiry varied greatly, which was reflected in their sentencing.
Yu Delu – banned until 24 February 2029
The tribunal found that Yu “engaged in deliberate and premeditated corruption to secure substantial financial gain for his friends/associates and himself”.
Over a period of 30 months he fixed five matches at five different tournaments. He also admitted lying to investigators, failing to cooperate with the investigation and betting on snooker when banned from doing so.
The 31-year-old, like English player Stephen Lee – the former world number six – faced a 12-year ban, but this was reduced to 10 years and nine months after he made a late guilty plea.
Lee has never admitted the offences he was convicted of in 2013 and will be 50 before he can make a competitive return to snooker.
Yu, whose actions were described by the tribunal panel as “a scourge to the game of snooker”, was also ordered to pay more than £20,000 towards the WPBSA’s costs.
Cao Yupeng – banned until 24 November 2020
The 28-year-old admitted to fixing three matches in 2016 and failing to fully co-operate with the WPBSA inquiry.
A suspension of eight years was initially considered before he was given credit for his plea of guilty, which reduced it to six.
He will serve a suspension of two and a half years unconditionally. The remaining three and a half years are suspended – on condition he complies with a written agreement to “provide significant assistance to the WPBSA in its anti-corruption work”.
After stonewalling his initial interviews, he made a full confession and expressed his sorrow for being involved.
“He explained that he had been involved in fixing matches as a result of his financial difficulties, although he maintained he had not fixed any matches since 2016 but admitted he received £5,000 for each fixed match,” said the tribunal panel report.
He was ordered to pay more than £15,000 towards the WPBSA’s costs.
How big was the scandal?
Pretty big. On that day of the Welsh Open, 38 betting accounts in the Far East – using sophisticated computer software – attempted to place a total of £250,000 in one second on the result of Cao’s match against twice World Championship runner-up Ali Carter.
Carter won 4-1, and as with all the other opponents, there is no suggestion he was aware of the plot.
But Cao knew he had to fix the match – for example, to ensure the match only lasted a certain number of frames, or that Carter won by a particular margin.
The attempted coup, which could have netted a profit of £1m, failed after alarm bells rang with Asian-based bookies whose own computer programs raised suspicions.
The tribunal found that, in one of the matches Yu fixed, the stakes placed on the result were £65,000 and would have generated a profit of £86,000.
Text messages were analysed which “showed discussions clearly referring to match-fixing and also his own betting on snooker matches”.
One text showed Yu “taking the initiative in offering match-fixing services to a person he was in communication with”.
“The misconduct of Mr Delu represents a scourge to the game of snooker,” the tribunal panel noted.
What were the fixed matches?
Yu Delu admitted fixing in five matches:
- Indian Open qualifiers: WON 4-3 v Martin McCrudden – 12 February 2015
- Paul Hunter Classic: LOST 4-1 v Dominic Dale in Germany – 29 August 2015
- Welsh Open: WON 4-3 v Ian Glover – 15 February 2016
- European Masters qualifiers: LOST 4-1 v Michael Georgiou – 4 August 2017
- Shanghai Masters: LOST 5-3 v Kurt Maflin – 15 November 2017
Yu won two of the five fixed matches, but had arranged for the correct score to be 4-3 to either player.
Cao Yupeng admitted fixing in three matches:
- Welsh Open: LOST 4-1 v Ali Carter – 15 February 2016
- Indian Open qualifiers: LOST 4-0 v Stuart Bingham – 30 June 2016
- UK Championship: LOST 6-1 v Stephen Maguire – 24 November 2016
Cao also failed to provide material that was requested during the investigation.
He told investigators that he received £5,000 for each of the matches he fixed.
“Cao Yupeng has shown true remorse,” said WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson. “He will assist the WPBSA in player education and in its fight against corruption, which is reflected in his reduced sanction.”
Meanwhile, more allegations of corruption are being investigated
World number 43 Jamie Jones was suspended last month. He has been accused of being part of a plan to fix the outcome of a match between fellow Welshman David John and Graeme Dott in 2016.
Former professional John was suspended in May. Scotsman Dott is not under suspicion.
What of snooker’s image?
“It is very sad when talented players are attracted to the opportunity to make money from fixing matches,” said Ferguson.
“We have very effective prevention and monitoring processes that protect the sport. Where players ignore this, they risk their careers and they will be caught.”
And this is where snooker’s rulers have been smart – with a carrot-and-stick approach. Yu serves a ban four-times longer than Cao’s, as the latter will help with educating players in China and improving integrity.
Individuals who spend long periods away from home, sometimes on their own, are vulnerable to approaches from corrupt outsiders. But rather than brushing the issue under the carpet, or simply ignoring it, the sport has tackled it head on.
“It is appropriate that a message is sent out that this conduct is both dishonest and dishonourable and will be met with severe sanctions,” said the panel.
The timing of announcing the sanctions was unfortunate – during the UK Championship sponsored by a large bookmaker, Betway.
It also meant the news came out a day after World Snooker was part of a launch in France by billiard sports to be included in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“There’s never a good time for these headlines to hit the public domain, especially with the UK Championship taking place at the moment,” said WPBSA vice-president Nigel Mawer, who led the investigation and is a former head of economic and specialist crime with the Metropolitan Police.
“But the most important thing snooker has shown is that it’s absolutely dedicated to removing corrupt players and ensuring it is a fair sport.
“It is difficult because of the problems in gathering evidence in the Far East and this case may be a watershed moment.”
Betting analysis, interviews and other methods are used to try to establish the details of a case, he told Sportsworld on the BBC World Service.
“I think the real success of this case is that the evidence we had was so strong that the players pleaded guilty so there was no need to have a trial,” added Mawer.