Ever since Barry Hearn took the reigns of professional snooker, the sport has taken off to unprecedented levels. There are more players at amateur and professional level, more tournaments, prize money, TV coverage, and statistics such as the amount of centuries made on average are showing the level of players to be much higher also. This season we saw tournaments in 11 different countries, and one of the many challenges this poses is a logistical one.
In previous years, when the game consisted of far fewer, yet longer tournaments (at the low-point the professional game consisted of 6 ranking events plus the invitational Masters). That meant bigger gaps between tournaments, more time to set up events at the venue and fewer tables at the venue, as there were fewer matches to be played. That had to do with the fact that all tournaments seeded the top 16 players, and drew them against 16 qualifiers who came out of several seeded qualifying rounds usually played in England. That has now changed and most tournaments have either 64 or 128 players at the venue, whilst tournaments generally are played over the same number of days.
What’s the problem, you may ask? Well, there are many effects this has had, among other things the prevailing of shorten best-of 7 frame matches. Generally, ranking event were, and in many cases still are, played over best-of 9. These formats are fairly close, but best-of 9’s have a 15- minute interval after 4 frames, and of course have potentially 2 frames more. This has lead some critics to pronounce best-of 7’s a lottery. Personally I feel that this is a strange conclusion to draw, and I will back that up with the list of tournament winners from the PTC series, which has seen 63 tournaments and 10.054 matches played.
The top 10 winners of these events contains names such as Selby (6x), Robertson (4x), Trump (4x), Mark Allen (4x) etc. In fact, there were very few winners who were not ‘big’ names. One would have to say Rod Lawler, Marcus Campbell, Andrew Higginson, Barry Pinches and Ben Woollaston are not (yet) known as huge tournament winners, but with the exception of Wollaston who is at the beginning of his career they are all players with at least 15 years experience on the professional circuit.
A similar thing can be said if we dig into the amount of matches won and the amount of frames won in these tournaments. It is again the big names of the sport which come to the fore. Based on those numbers we can conclude that best-of 7’s, while they produce more shocks than best-of 9’s are certainly no lottery, and the winners of them are still likely to be higher on the ranking list than the losers.
Another effect which has grabbed snooker headlines recently has been playing conditions. There have been a lot of complaints from players about the quality of tables, cloths, balls, referees, venues, reporters, lighting, biscuits at the venue, color of the venue toilets, basically everything one can complain of. I would certainly not want to do away all of these as rubbish. Obviously these comments come from people who have played snooker all their life, and know how the equipment is supposed to behave, but I do notice a marked increase in complaints about kicks and jumping cushions recently, interestingly countered by a similar amount of compliments about same from different players in the same tournaments.
A notable development is the use of Aramith (the producer of snooker balls) Ball Polisher to be used to clean and polish the balls between sessions. This was trialled unannounced by World Snooker at the European Tour - Event 5 in Portugal last December, won by Stephen Maguire, and raised a vast amount of questions and complaints. Many players revered the changes, saying it was the first tournament in a long time where they felt in control of the balls and where they hadn’t had a single kick, yet many players claimed to feel all-over-the-place and not being able to predict the cueball’s movements to within 500 miles. There is not necessarily a right or wrong in this discussion, but World Snooker has since withdrawn the product pending further testing, and has provided each player with a bottle of the stuff so they can practice with it. There are two things
about this: firstly: the product needs a polishing machine to be applied to the balls to ensure an even coat on each ball and the same amount of polish on all balls, and whilst these machines are common place in clubs all over Europe and the world, they are apparently a rarity in the UK. Indeed Robert Milkins claimed to have never seen nor heard of one in his roughly two decades of experience. I must say I am baffled by this, as this polish has been around for far longer than I can remember in clubs where I have played in various countries. I am therefore at a loss as to why World Snooker has never used this product, and why when they did use it in Portugal, they had a poor referee spend all day hand-polishing the 12 sets of balls in use (for the record, that is 264 balls polished at least 3 times a day by hand...). There are learning points here for both the players, who should give the polish a chance, and World Snooker for doing their homework a touch better.
On the whole, snooker is in a very different place than it was even only 10 years ago when I first picked up a cue. Nearly all developments have been positive for the sport as a whole, its fans and players, so I guess that proves that while Barry Hearn’s approach isn’t exactly democratic, it certainly works! “The boy done good!”
Written for Snooker Magasinet