Power Snooker: Computer Game Snooker

by Roland Cox

Power Snooker is the new innovation in snooker which has just had its first screening on ITV4 live from the O2 Arena in London.

Since the scheme was announced I had studied the rules, watched the cheesy promo video featuring Ronnie O’Sullivan and marked the date on my calendar when I had to stay in and watch it. I did entertain the idea of going along but decided I didn’t want to spend the necessary money for something I was still sceptical about. But I went in with an open mind to see how my reservations about rules such as the double points Power Zone played out for real.

The Game
I will assume the reader already has a grasp of the rules and focus on the gameplay. First of all (and it’s something I didn’t realise before watching), the breaker gets first chance after the break shot. This means as in pool the break off shot has extra significance and if you want to be good at Power Snooker you will have to learn to perfect this shot to maximise your chances of scoring first in the rack (this is not snooker so I choose ‘rack’ rather than ‘frame’). The break-off is like a serve in tennis and holding serve equates to getting in first, potting the Power Ball and remaining at the table until the 2 minutes of bonus scoring time is up. If you are proficient at this you will take some stopping.

The potting of the Power Ball is the next significant move of the frame after the break off. As the two minutes of double scoring power play carry over to the opponent if you miss, the ideal time to pot it is when you have a good scoring opportunity i.e. don’t pot it if you can’t get on a colour unless tactics such as having a big lead and limiting your opponent to use up power play time in a safety battle dictate this.

The rule which I was most sceptical about turned out to be the saving grace of Power Snooker racks turning stale after the power play time has run out. This is the Power Zone rule whereby if the white lands in baulk the balls count double when potted. Where this comes into its own is towards the end of the rack with just colours remaining (and thus usually after the 2 minutes of power play has expired). Neil Robertson demonstrated the beauty of it when trailing Shaun Murphy he smashed in a long pink down the rail from the Power Zone and screwed the white back into baulk (Power Zone) to have a successful attempt at a double point black. 26 points clawed back in a 2 shot visit and but for a sitter of a 10 point Power Zone blue in the next rack which would have left another Power Zone pink, he could have stolen the match from under Murphy’s nose from what a few minutes before had seemed an unassailable lead. And therein lay the excitement and drama and the potential of Power Snooker.

The tactical side to Power Snooker lies in scoring heavily early on in the match and guarding your lead as the time runs out. When the matches are close you must try to stop your opponent getting into power play mode before you and yes, there is room for a safety game although unlike conventional snooker, this never gets too bogged down.

A couple of matches into the experience something clicked with me. This is like a computer game. Power Snooker is Computer Game Snooker! Those of us who have ever been hooked on quick fire mouse controlled overhead pool games like Funkypool and Quick Fire Pool will instantly recognize the compatibility of Power Snooker to computer games like this. The shot clock, the time limits, the table, the power play mode – it’s ideal for the generation brought up on computer games and could easily have been thought up by a computer programmer.

The table is a regulation snooker table but Saturday’s event sported a nice deep green/grey cloth with the Power Snooker logo emblazoned on it and presumably future Power Snooker events will have scope for different coloured cloths to add to the appeal for the computer generation. There is no D as there is in snooker because there is a “behind the line” pool style rule so no need for it. When the Power Ball is potted the lights change, a sound signifies the start of Power Play mode and when it runs out there is another sound and the lights revert. Just like in a computer game.

And the regulation rests at each end of the table deserve a mention because they were very stylish and would look good on any snooker table!

The Players
I’ll get on to Ronnie O’Sullivan later but him aside the star of the show was undoubtedly Ali Carter. In his opening match he made full use of the Power Ball leaving Mark Selby to play catch up in every rack which to his credit he managed until the last game, but Carter used the rules to his advantage by walking around the table to run down the clock and made everyone aware of his intention via being miced up. It was all done in a good spirit and he enjoyed banter with the crowd who were pantomime booing him to the finish. This was early in the day before the all day drinking turned the crowd more rowdy. Carter eventually lost out to Ronnie during which the Rocket scored the only run out of the day with a break of 139 + 50 bonus points.

Shaun Murphy attempted to enter into the spirit and play along with the crowd, but a few ill-advised quips had the viewers at home shaking their heads and by the end of the night I’m sure Murphy himself would rethink “If the crowd were like this at every tournament it would be brilliant” given some of the abuse thrown in his direction.

Mark Selby was openly yawning as ITV4 went live to him for the start of the walk on – presumably still recovering from his late night finish at the EPTC event in Gloucester the night before. It was a funny moment and he put in a good performance but was always chasing against Carter. Current World Champion Neil Robertson as previously mentioned was involved in the best match of the day against Shaun Murphy. Robertson’s Power Zone potting helped the viewer and crowd finally get into the format having sat through 3 matches amid much head scratching as people got used to the game. Robbo’s hopes were ruined when a member of the crowd shouted out as he was down on an important pressure red, and despite the missed 10 point blue at the end this proved to be his downfall.

Luca Brecel at 15 made his British TV debut and he was no disgrace against Ronnie O’Sullivan and demonstrated why he is one of the main names to look out for in the coming years. He rushed too much though and played a few thrashing attempts at pots as the time ticked down which demonstrated a lack of experience with the format. He was first on as well which presumably didn’t help matters as those still to play had the chance to work out a strategy from watching the first matches.

Ding Junhui had a good day and had a good chance of winning the final until a vital miss on the Power Ball red left the door open for Ronnie O’Sullivan to run off into the distance. The crowd were behind him which was nice to see, especially as he was up against Jimmy White (in London) in his first match. It will do him good that the crowd got to see a bit more of his personality, and he made me laugh in his interview after the semi-final against Murphy when asked about the crowd singing “Ding Junhui m’lord, Ding Junhui” to the tune of Kumbayah with a puzzled but good natured response.

As for Jimmy White, I couldn’t help but find it spookily ironic that whilst he was on national television taking part in this new format, the man who beat him in all those finals in the 1990s Stephen Hendry could be seen on the live stream from the EPTC in Gloucester struggling against Joe Perry in front of 100 internet viewers and an audience of about 10. It was one of those moments where you can’t help but stop and wonder what it all means…

The Referees
Let’s get one thing straight – the referees did a fantastic job. Between Michaela Tabb and Patricia Murphy they really had their work cut out to stay on top of the games and there were the inevitable scoring errors followed by instant corrections but you try sitting at home and working out what the break goes to when it’s fast and furious double and occasional quadruple scoring. Power Snooker has got to be the hardest cue sport ever to mark. On a computer game it would do all the calculations for you but keeping abreast of the scoring as well as everything else going on with all the clocks and time limits and calling misses requires the concentration levels of a fighter pilot.

Michaela stole the show for me by penalising Ronnie O’Sullivan for breaking off with the white beyond the baulk line. She knew the white was past the line given she had just walked past the line of baulk colours to stand behind the player as he broke, and showed everyone that she was in control and that there was an enforcer amid the pandemonium of crowds, clocks and computer game noises. Of course the commentators made the meal of it you’d expect and used the word “controversy” several times which was frankly ridiculous but also typical of ITV commentators.

The Commentators
Clive Everton is the best snooker commentator in history but he’s finally met his match – he is not a Power Snooker commentator. I am a big admirer of Clive and have a huge amount of respect for him and it shows his passion for snooker that he was willing enough to take part and give Power Snooker a chance, and he seemed to enjoy it. But his typical Cliveisms such as “211 the difference….” fell flat when part 2 of the sentence telling us how many points were left didn’t follow as he presumably sat back wondering what was going on. At the time there was one red left on the table and it was the Power Ball. I worked out that there were 140 points left on the table if you potted everything from the Power Zone but it’s meaningless anyway and it took me until the rack was over to work it out.

Ali Carter was the best commentator (he did commentary in the final after his match had ended) because he had played the game and knew the tactics and what the player would be going for. It was good to hear his thoughts on Ronnie O’Sullivan as I’ve seen him lose to Ronnie so many times now I had often wondered what his thoughts were. He is clearly in awe of Ronnie’s ability to adapt to any conditions like the fast cloths and make everything look easy, but then who isn’t?

As for the other commentators, I couldn’t even tell you their names, to me they were typical ITV commentators.

The Crowd
The crowd were on the whole very good natured and good spirited. However as with darts crowds allowed to drink all day there are always a few by the end of the night who ruin it for everyone. I don’t want to get bogged down in talk of the crowd, after all this is what gatherings of predominantly English males between the ages of 18-30 who get hammered on a day out are like and I’m sure the organisers expected it. I have no problem with banter and calling out but just so long as it’s not deliberately attempting to put a player off such as what happened to Neil Robertson, and also calls of “miss” were shouted at Ding as he was down on the shot in the final. People who do this should be kicked out and the same goes for darts – there has to be a line somewhere. But there appeared to be a policy of everything goes and there was no crowd control attempted by the referees as would happen in snooker. But the way a few behaved isn’t the fault of the majority or of Power Snooker, and if you take the game to another city or country you’ll get a different crowd experience.

But the crowd did add to the atmosphere, getting excited when the player at the table had a shot at the Power Ball as well as the brown ball adopted by them as the day wore on. My favourite chant was “Ali bumaye” aimed at Ali Carter after the famous Mohammed Ali chant from the Rumble in the Jungle.

Ronnie O’Sullivan
Ronnie O’Sullivan is a one off; I think we’re all agreed on that. It’s no secret that he doesn’t like playing hard match players at snooker, the sort of players who take excessive time on their shots and will generally mess the table up as well as the opponent’s head with endless bouts of safety, and who like to scrap it out to the death leaving both players exhausted by the end.

He has often be cried snooker as “boring” and needing to change which is always to be taken with a large pinch of salt because he loves the game, he just gets frustrated when he isn’t allowed to play the way he likes to play. The shot clock in the Premier League Snooker event clearly suits his quick thinking around the table and until he lost to Shaun Murphy in last year’s event, he was untouchable at shot clock snooker.

It is therefore no surprise to see his overwhelming enthusiasm for Power Snooker. He has described it as “21st Century Snooker” and in a way he is right because if snooker had only just been invented then there’s a strong chance it would be like this given the computer game nature of Power Snooker and that we are in an age where generations of kids now entering adulthood have been brought up on games consoles.

Ronnie clearly had the time of his life on Saturday. There was no mention of why he pulled out of the EPTC event at Gloucester the day before which was bad form seeing as the event organisers who had been promised he would play and sold tickets on that basis didn’t get any notice that he wouldn’t turn up. He said “shit” on ITV4 during a mid-afternoon interview, and he was chatting up one of the Power Girls during the walk on for one of his matches. But as expected all that was forgotten when he was at the table. He is the first Power Snooker master, totting up more points than anybody else in each round and scoring 572 points in the final against Ding Junhui as well as being the only player to successfully run out a rack with a break of 139 which he did against Ali “Bumaye” Carter. At the end of the night he seemed disappointed it was over and wanted to play another game. I think it’s safe to say if the EPTC at Gloucester had been Power Snooker instead of real snooker then he would have turned up.

But this is Ronnie O’Sullivan. Love him or hate him, he is a master cue-man and one of the very best who has ever lived and you have to accept he is who he is. He gets frustrated and wants to get on with it, his attention span has always been questionable and Power Snooker suits him down to the ground. I would not be surprised if it ends up being his preferred cue-sport from now on and he starts to play less main tour snooker if the opportunity is there for him to do so.

What does the Future Hold for Power Snooker?
Let’s get one thing clear – Power Snooker is not a sport, nor is it a threat to real snooker. In fact it’s a blessing for reasons I’ll come on to.

Power Snooker is pure entertainment and it has a lot going for it. It looks good on television, it has a more relaxed atmosphere than match snooker with the crowd participation and banter with the players, but also it lends itself to some spectacular shot making from the players who are encouraged to go for the sort of shots they wouldn’t go for in real snooker tournaments. Also the time restrictions of each match make it perfect for TV schedulers who know exactly how long the games will last.

One rule which has been questioned by the critics is the 50 bonus points for a century break which increases to 100 and then 200 bonus points for successive century breaks. I don’t have a problem with the bonus point but given the alternate break format it means it is out of your control to get the 100 bonus which is a minor flaw in itself. For reasons of continuity and to bring the bonus into play I think the player who pots the final black in a rack should break off in the next frame as happens in certain pool tournaments. This would allow for record breaking possible runs of scoring. If the format became first to 1000 points it would make more sense to use this however first to x means TV schedulers lose control of match lengths. But if I were to tinker that is the first thing I would change.

I understand a lot of money has been pumped into Power Snooker and more events will follow. I expect these to be invitational events held over one or two day weekends when there is no other event going on in the snooker calendar. I would also expect to see some of the top pool players like Mika Immonen and Efren Reyes invited to mix it with the top snooker players, and coverage to be broadcast in lots of different countries. I can see Power Snooker taking off in America and that can’t be a bad thing. It is made for US television and is the sort of thing they lap up over there.

I would imagine as the events unfold there will be a table with the top scores players have made in the 30 minutes (Ronnie O’Sullivan currently sits top with 572) and also a record of the number of run outs for each player, and if they change the alternate break format and let breaks carry into the next rack then a highest break scoreboard too. In fact, just as would happen if it was a computer game.

But it needs an arena, a crowd, one table, and a lot of people behind the scenes to make it work and it also has limited appeal. I loved it, but if there was a week-long tournament which attempted to be a serious sport then forget it. It is entertainment and that’s all it is, and any more than one or two days and my boredom threshold will reach its limit much as it does with 9 ball pool. As a series of one offs with all the glamour and glitz and playing to a big crowd then I will always tune in from now and will go to see it in the flesh for the experience. But whoever wins holds no importance to me.

Real Snooker
I make no apologies for heaping praise on Power Snooker. I know a lot of snooker fans detest it and will never be interested in it. But I don’t see why you can’t enjoy more than one cue-sport. I am a big fan of World Rules 8 ball pool; I think it’s a great game which is possibly even more tactical than snooker. I also enjoy watching the masters play 3 cushion billiards, but that is not a tactical sport it’s more of an art form. I also enjoy playing billiards, but that is not a spectator sport and would never take off if were televised. In fact snooker pretty much killed off billiards 50 years ago.

Snooker lovers should see Power Snooker for what it is and not feel threatened into slagging it off. It’s a pretty well thought out concept, it uses the shot clock how it should be used, it has gimmicks to keep you entertained and it’s good to watch. It’s not sport though, real snooker is sport. There has often been a section of “sports fans” who like to say snooker is not a sport. Well I never really cared for the difference between a sport and a game, it never had significance for me until now and snooker is most definitely a real sport.

Snooker is a thinking man’s sport. Snooker is about strategy, pressure, wits, bottle, stamina, guts and glory. If players look good in winning snooker matches then they gain a following of supporters and if they grind out results then they don’t. Either way, it is a level playing field and it is a battle of wills and the strongest player will generally come through. It is a character testing sport. Power Snooker by contrast is quick fire no thinking entertainment.

Why I am hoping that Power Snooker takes off is because it means finally real snooker will be left alone. The shot clock has found its home in Power Snooker. The shot clock doesn’t belong in real snooker. The shorter format has found its home in Power Snooker and not 6 reds snooker. Ronnie O’Sullivan can rest easy and have somewhere to vent his talent and hopefully help him to focus properly on the major snooker events. In short, all those critics who bemoan snooker and think it should be altered to accommodate x and y can now focus on Power Snooker and get what they are looking for without damaging real snooker. And for starters the Premier League Snooker event should seriously think about switching to Power Snooker.

As I mentioned before in reference to calling it Computer Game Snooker, it will appeal to the younger generation who may be under the false impression that snooker isn’t cool. Start off with Power Snooker, and then move on to real snooker. I think long term the conversion rate will be more Power to Real than the other way around although initially there will be a few who switch allegiance to Power Snooker without looking back, but then I would see that more as a purge and cleansing exercise.

If Power Snooker really does take off big time and there is worldwide demand for it, then good. It will bring in new fans to the game of real snooker. All the players and the vast majority of the public know already that the only game that counts and the only events to win that put your name in the history books occur in real snooker. Power Snooker can get you rich and famous but you haven’t proved yourself as a proper player unless you win riches in the main game.

And if Power Snooker is here to stay then real snooker can hold tournaments ranging from the short format World Open through to the 17 day marathon World Championships without naysayers demanding changes to what is the best sport on the planet.

As an alternative though, Power Snooker is the best I’ve seen.

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