FROM SNOOKER SCENE MAGAZINE by Clive Everton
The Players Tour Championship, which will be played to a finish at the Helix theatre, Dublin on March 16-20, has had its teething problems although there seems to be unanimous agreement that it is better to start something new even if it has to be altered in its second year rather than not try at all.
The six English PTCs have been played behind closed doors at the World Snooker Academy in the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
While the Professional Darts Corporation's PTC works perfectly well under these conditions, it does not suit snooker players to play matches in conditions that resemble those in a private billiard room. It simply does not feel right.
While the middle and lower ranked players have played many a match in front of the proverbial man and a dog (or even no man and no dog) there was invariably at least the possibility of a few spectators.
For a top player, the problems of adjustment are much greater. Instead of playing in front of sizeable crowds, and television cameras in many cases, there is suddenly no one there but him, his opponent and the referee with no atmosphere to feed off.
This impinges on the intensity a player may bring to such matches.
"I try every match I play," said Neil Robertson. "But I think in all sports the top players hold something back for when it's really important "[In the PTCs] I mostly play it as it comes without pressing the 'stop, don't lose' button that I would at the Crucible or somewhere like that."
Robertson also discovered that lower ranking players were "really up for it" with a chance to do some giant killing in a way that he was not.
"When I lost [in Prague] to Jimmy Robertson he played better than anyone has ever played against me except for a top player on television."
Returning late from a summer at home in Melbourne, and missing three PTCs in all, Robertson did not qualify for the Dublin play-offs.
It would be possible, by knocking down a few partitions and reconfiguring the space at the Academy to produce something more suitable next season. Even so, the British based PTC events should be distributed around the country instead of concentrating them in one venue.
It is also far from ideal, incidentally, for qualifying competitions or the new Qualifying School to be played behind closed doors.
Snooker Scene hopes that Barry Hearn, for World Snooker, will at least accept
Paul Mount's offer to stage this season's final qualifying competition of the World Championship (March 4-15) at the South West Academy, which does have suitable playing facilities and viewing and eating arrangements for spectators.
The 2009 final qualifying produced £10,000 in ticket sales but the problem was that costs like hiring the badminton hall at the English Institute of Sport, erecting, maintaining and dismantling four tables there and various other miscellaneous expenses piled up £50,000 on the debit side.
It is understandable that Hearn does not want World Snooker to do this again.
As for the Academy itself, attentive Snooker Scene readers will already know that Hearn was lumbered with the lease when he became World Snooker chairman.
He wants to remain on good terms with Sheffield council in the light of the Crucible relationship and is-thus reluctant to up sticks and leave unless Sheffield has an appropriate alternative tenant.
Perhaps the Academy may have a role to play (though surely not 365 days a year) in the new coaching strategy quietly announced last month whereby WPBSA will integrate its coaching activities with those of the International Billiards and Snooker Association.
Mark Williams supported enough events to qualify for the Dublin play-offs but believes that, this season, "too many points" were awarded for PTC events. "There's no spectators at the Academy and the playing conditions haven't been good enough in Europe."
The contrary argument is that the availability of ranking
points was supposed to be an incentive to enter.
Some players could have been more supportive of the PTCs, particularly those in Europe, but in some cases they proved a negative influence by withdrawing after their participation had been announced.
Hearn said that he was "disappointed" that Ronnie O'Sullivan had played in only two PTCs in England and none on the continent, simply not turning up in some cases without giving prior notice of withdrawal.
O'Sullivan tends, these days, since his separation from his previous partner, Jo Westwood, to devote time at weekends to his two young children.
Furthermore, since he can command a five figure fee for a one night exhibition on the continent it may look like hard work to win six matches in two days to earn a first prize of £10,000 in a PTC.
The issue is, though, that neither O'Sullivan nor any other player should withdraw without proper notice or good reason.
The snooker world can therefore expect the introduction of a scale of automatic fines for non-appearance, rising progressively until the third fine triggers a period of suspension.
Appeals may be made but are likely to be successful only for a very good reason, like bereavement. Claims of illness might have to be verified by a WPBSA doctor.
In the meantime, 24 players are due to show up in Dublin with Shaun Murphy, who competed in all twelve PTCs, topping its order of merit, as top seed.
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