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He says: "There is a gambling culture in snooker, and many players relax in that way.However, I am a compulsive and I don't know when to stop.As he painstakingly irons the cloth, it is clear that more care is being taken of this one.Next Saturday, the world No 19 has one match in a converted badminton hall at Sheffield's English Institute of Sport to clinch a place at the Crucible Theatre and the World Championships for what would be a 13th time.To huge debts could be added a marriage under severe strain and a promising career in danger of going into a tailspin.As he bottomed out in the quest for stake money to put on the next dog, horse or card, King admits: "I found myself in a situation where I was even thinking about doing a robbery to get money to gamble. I was considering quick fixes, stealing and stuff like that.King, now a father of three and in his 20th season as a professional, is speaking at his snooker club – the Q Ball in Chelmsford – in a private room adorned by faded billiard-hall pictures and containing the table where he is about to start practising.
"Of course there are times when you feel like you can't be bothered with the meetings. They're 25, but look 105, white as a ghost, crying, their wife has left, [they've] done all their money, and their kids hate them.Final qualifiers to reach the annual showpiece are notoriously tense affairs but for King, who will be checking in next week for his regular Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Essex, a bigger battle is slowly being won.The player, who at one time ran up gambling debts of £100,000, estimates he has squandered a total of £500,000 – or around half his career prize money.Bank statements would come through, and I'd hear 'Mark...' and I'd know from the tone.She'd say, 'You've been gambling again', I'd lie through my teeth, get aggressive, but eventually admit it." King also admits that he has suffered two minor gambling lapses since 2003, but is happy to confirm his last bet was six years ago.
And the road to Damascus moment, when it eventually came, was not accompanied by any fanfares or blinding flashes of light.