Well it has been two days since I returned from Blackpool covering the World Snooker Shootout for Snooker Island. And I returned shattered but happy from having a great time.
As top flight tournament snooker returned to the seaside resort for the first time since the days of the Mercantile Credit Classic, the excitement could be felt as I made my way to the Tower Arena from my hotel, a mere five minutes walk away.
Of course Blackpool is also synonymous with ballroom dancing and if I was a judge sitting and giving a mark, what “paddle” would I be waving? That is a tough one, but in the best way possible (keep reading to find out my mark out of 10)! It produced excitement and generated enthusiasm from the fans who were only too willing to remove their gags for this tournament and get involved with the matches.
This could well be heralding another golden era for snooker as the increasing amount of tournaments, albeit some with a different flavour, has generated renewed enthusiasm among the casual fans. And this had all the ingredients of an entertaining weekend. A different format, but one that was easy to understand. Even more heartening were the amount of children watching in the arena. Hopefully this will inspire them to take up the sport. Even as soon as I checked into my hotel on Friday lunchtime I was asked “Are you here for the snooker”? That tells you everything, it is a re-born sport, with people talking about it. (Either that, or they weren’t used to visitors at this time of year – Ed)
In the 80’s where you had the mainstream ranking events, you also had competitions such as the World Doubles and World Team Cup which were hugely popular with the public. From the outside looking in it seems that this successful formula is being replicated in the 21st Century. There is nothing wrong with a bit of variety. In fact the sport needs it to keep fresh, with a different style of challenge awaiting the players and ultimately the fans.
And with the German Masters scheduled to start in Berlin tonight it also provided players with valuable match practice ahead of the Berlin event. Ranking points were not at stake, but still there was a very healthy prize fund. A perfect opportunity to get the cue arm flowing in a tournament without the worry of defending valuable points.
The shot clock and allotted time format generated entertainment in itself. Those who are familiar with the Premier League will know that shot clock gives an allotted amount of time for a player to play a stroke. It was snooker’s equivalent of 20 20 cricket, complete with the colourful tops the players and referees were sporting. Those ten minute matches certainly served up exciting finishes as players who were trailing and at the table charged round trying to make up the deficit, playing solely on instinct, but maybe trusting to a little bit of good fortune. No better example of this came than in the Rory McLeod v Tony Drago clash when McLeod snatched victory in the final seconds with a hit and hope black which double kissed the white and ricocheted around the angles before dropping into the top corner pocket (see diagram). Or when Neil Robertson timed his run to perfection, striking the cue ball with one second to spare for a winning 37 break from 36 behind to knock out Alan McManus.
Of course the format combined with the random draw of matches meant that the prospect of higher ranked players losing was greater than usual. And on Friday we witnessed the likes of Stephen Hendry, Stephen Maguire, Mark Allen and Ding Junhui all bowing out. Out too went Peter Ebdon, who fell to Steve Davis, while Shaun Murphy, Jamie Cope and Barry Hawkins were among those eliminated on the Saturday early session. The second round draw largely kept the “bigger” names apart. But the draw for the third round threw up Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Selby. Selby left to stand and watch as the Rocket hammered in a 123 break.
As the quarter finals began there were still three members of the current top 16 left in the competition in the shape of O’Sullivan, Mark King and Neil Robertson. But three would become one when Robertson bowed out to an inspired Marcus Campbell, and King to Nigel Bond, while O’Sullivan progressed against Mike Dunn and joined Bond, Campbell and Robert Milkins in the last four.
Just under half an hour later O’Sullivan departed after being outplayed by Milkins and Bond edged a see-saw of a match against Campbell. As the fans took their seats for the final would the title be going to Darley Dale or Gloucester? The answer came at 9.05pm when Bond clinched his first tournament victory since 1997 by beating Milkins to collect the £32,000 first prize.
My only reservation was seeing the amount of vacant seats on the balcony of the Tower Arena as I sat watching and taking notes towards the back of the lower tier. However this could be remedied after those watching at home and enjoying it could well be motivated enough to purchase tickets for next year should it continue.
So earlier I raised the question that if I was judging and marking out of 10 what score would I award? Well I take everything into account, and it is a 10 from me for a tournament that is a massive winner.