A Traditionalist’s View of Modernisation (1/3)

by Roland Cox

I have myself been labelled a “traditionalist snooker fan” with the misguided perception that this also means a closed mind to change. This is just one perception mind you, and it comes from the wonderful world of the snooker forum, but all the same I feel it is worth clarifying how a snooker fan of seemingly traditionalist views can also have ideas that would bring snooker into the “Decies” (the 2010’s) and avoid gimmicks which tamper with the rules of this wonderful sport.

Let’s start with the most obvious way of livening things up, formats. Currently we have 3 majors which differ from the other ranking events. They are:

World Championships
Qualifying Rounds – best of 19
1st Round (last 32) – best of 19
2nd Round (last 16) – best of 25
Quarter-final – best of 25
Semi-final – best of 33
Final – best of 35

Matches range from 2, 3 then 4 sessions as the tournament progresses.

The venue stages last for 17 days and have been the same for a very long time. Naturally as with all traditionalists I am of the opinion that this should remain at the Crucible and maintain the same format, and finish on May Day Bank Holiday until the world ends!

Comments – A day off before the final?

World Championship Trophy
Me holding the Holy Grail!

UK Championship
Qualifying Rounds – best of 17
1st Round (last 32) – best of 17
2nd Round (last 16) – best of 17
Quarter-final – best of 17
Semi-final – best of 17
Final – best of 19

All matches are 2 sessions long.

Until recently the venue stage at snookers second biggest tournament lasted 14 days, with the last 9 days being televised across two tables. Prior to the televised stages the first 5 days (Monday to Friday) saw the final qualifying round and part of the 1st round take place across 5 tables. Sometimes a big name would exit prior to the televised stages, but once the cameras were rolling, armchair fans could follow all the action via the BBC “red button” which enables the viewer to choose which table they want to follow.

This was then abruptly altered for logistical reasons (i.e. booking a venue for fewer days costs less money) when the venue switched to Telford. Now the whole event is crammed into the 9 televised days (Saturday to Sunday week) but across 4 tables for the first two rounds with only half of the matches available to the television viewer. The obvious downside to this has been the schedulers’ choice to feature veteran (i.e. more well known) players on their way down the rankings on the television tables, to the detriment of younger less well known players that perhaps would bring in a new audience had they been visible to all outside the venue.

In terms of structure, the UK is a good one. Most matches start and finish on the same day, and are long enough for the better player to come out victorious 90% of the time. The final used to be best of 31 in the 1980’s and early 90’s which obviously took up the whole of the final weekend. Much as some would prefer a return to this longer format finish, in today’s world of hundreds of television channels I am of the opinion that both semi-finals should finish on the Saturday with the final on the Sunday, so the weekend viewer can see the best part of 3 matches. Currently one semi-final takes place on the Friday and the other on the Saturday. The only reason I can think of for this is to avoid a washout Saturday in the event of both semis being poised at 8-0 by the end of Friday night. It would be entirely possible to hold the semi-finals across three sessions and play morning, afternoon and evening sessions however this would leave a final shorter than the semi-finals, unless it also took place across three sessions on the last day. This is still feasible.

My primary objective if I were Barry Hearn would be to return to the previous format last seen at the Barbican Centre in York, or ensure that all 4 tables were televised if the current format is kept. This need not be as professional as the official televised tables – an overhead table shot with one extra handheld camera would suffice.

Comments – Alternative UK format

UK Trophy
UK Trophy

The Masters
Round 1 proper (there is currently a wildcard round) – best of 11
Quarter-final – best of 11
Semi-final – best of 11
Final – best of 19

This is the blue ribband invitational event in which only the top 16 players plus wildcards play. The Masters is steeped in a 30+ year history and it works just fine format wise. The matches take place all on the same match table, and the best of 11 frame format is the perfect length to keep an audience engrossed for the duration and for a match to mature to its natural conclusion without the need for extra sessions to break the flow.

It has been suggested that a more up to date ranking system be used, as there are always cases of players failing to play in the Masters who really should be there given form over the preceding 12 months (case in point this year being Liang Wenbo). However I will come to rankings later, but as a format I am happy with the status quo and don’t see a reason for change. The only change I would make right now would be a minor one – to have the mid-session interval after 5 frames instead of the standard 4.

Masters Trophy
Mark Selby with the Masters trophy

Those are the majors – so what of the other tournaments? Well, just as visiting a new town in England that you’ve not been to before yet it seems strangely familiar with the same shops appearing next to each other; the other ranking events currently all have the same format. This is:

Qualifying rounds – best of 9
1st Round – best of 9
2nd Round – best of 9
Quarter-final – best of 9
Semi-final – best of 11
Final – best of 17

The only difference is in the location of the venue. The qualifiers all take place at Pontins holiday camp in Prestatyn. There is no doubt about it, things need to change.

So as a traditionalist, these are some of the things I would like to see.

UK Format translated to China Open
The China Open is now firmly established on the snooker calendar. There are only two longer format events every year, one taking place in April and the other in December. Players prefer longer formats as they have time to settle, the standards are higher than in other tournaments and the better player has more chance of winning. Holding another longer format tournament in September (for example) would give the snooker fans another tournament to look forward to and act as a gauge on who are the players in form. China is producing more snooker players than any other country outside the UK at the moment, and upgrading an existing tournament to this format would give the country a tournament they can be proud of, and one which is closely followed worldwide.

For the time being, three longer format tournaments per year is enough to keep the traditionalists like me happy, and allow expansion into other easier to manage formats suggested below.

Best of 3 or 5 events held over a long weekend
(A “long weekend” being Friday to Sunday). This is what Barry Hearn and Steve Davis have hinted at and in combination with the above, I am a fan. I am a fan because I saw Steve Davis eyes light up when he talked about it during the UK last year, when he mentioned the emphasis in such events would be on bottle. Not such a lottery as one would think.

Having played many a league match as part of a team where every week you only get one frame to perform, I know how rare it is for that frame to be killed off as quickly as a standard frame in a longer match. The pressure is on from the start and bottle is well and truly tested.

Hearn has mentioned that professional players should have the opportunity to play as often as possible as it is their trade, and he is totally correct in this statement. The PDC darts tour has many non televised events taking place over the course of a weekend, and many weekends across the year. I can see why he feels snooker can benefit from such events and I share the view. The important thing is that it doesn’t replace the longer format tournaments, and that ranking points are reflected in the length of format.

The way I see this working is to hold at least 12 of these events per season across the UK and Continental Europe with the occasional coverage on Skysports who can guarantee end to end coverage. At the end of these lower ranking point events, the best players over the duration go through to a grand final weekend. This could for example be the top 16 based on money won from the previous events, and constitute a knockout event over one final weekend with slightly more ranking points at stake. The same format is kept, maybe making the final best of 7 or 9 frames.

If players are tied on points/money earned prior to the grand final weekend, then a single frame shootout, or a long reds shootout should decide who goes through to the final weekend. By long reds shootout I’m thinking about lining up 10 reds between the middle pockets and giving the players cueball in hand behind baulk line for each attempt to see how many out of 10 they can pot. It’s a practice routine, but it would make for good viewing in a sudden death scenario.

6 reds with shot clock and set play
Rodney Walker attempted to jazz up snooker by announcing a series of, let’s face it, poorly thought out 6 reds events. And they didn’t work. Can you name any winners of these events?

6 reds snooker is not real snooker. Everyone knows 15 reds is real snooker. However 6 reds snooker can work if you use the correct format. Darts knows the correct format and it is set play. In darts set play, each set consists of best of 5 legs, and the match is won by the player who reaches the predefined number of sets.

It works because it is quick fire and snooker is not. A leg in darts lasts at most 4 or 5 minutes whereas a quick frame in snooker is 10 minutes, but can last as much as 40 minutes or more if it gets tactical.

6 reds is quick fire snooker, a frame can be over in less than 5 minutes. Playing first to a predetermined number of frames is boring and doesn’t give 6 reds an identity. Set play however can give this format a lease of life. The beauty of set play lies in the pressure switches during the course of a match – a player can be one visit away from victory, but one miss later will require a further 3 frames to close out the match. It ensures viewers are kept on the edge of their seats by the unfolding drama in front of them, and it gives the players some extra food for thought and tests bottle.

The shot clock in 15 reds snooker does not work. However it is ideal for the quick fire nature of 6 reds snooker, especially in a set play format which needs to keep moving at a good pace to keep the format alive.

In such a format I would remove the miss rule and allow each player just one time-out per frame where they are allowed to stop the clock and compose themselves or assess a difficult position. The shot clock should be no more than 25 seconds. And rests and extensions should be readily available to the players at all times.

Comments – Can 6 reds work?

The old classic format from the 80’s where Davis/Meo were so dominant and Higgins/White had the crowd enthralled needs to make a resurgence. Aside from adding something different to the calendar, it would help to bring out the characters in snooker today as viewers are able to see the players personalities play out in front of the cameras with the banter between team mates as well as the opposition. If you attach a microphone to each player it will help the viewer to understand the thought process of a snooker player and the sort of things they discuss with each other. It will also encourage the players to gel with other players who would normally be opponents, and give life to an otherwise silent sport once players are in the arena.

Team Format
A revival of the snooker World Cup – each country represented by 2 or 3 players with a mixture of singles, doubles, and 6 reds alternate shot. I’m sure I don’t need to add any more than that because it speaks for itself, and judging by the number of times I’ve seen it suggested along with doubles, the fans love it.

Note that both Doubles and Team Format will not carry ranking points.

So that represents this particular traditionalist’s view of snooker formats. In the next blog I will focus on ranking systems and qualification criteria, and the third part will focus on presentation.

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