Since late in the year of 2009 however, when Hearn took charge, I think it is very fair to say that snooker has seen a revival. There are now 30-odd tournaments throughout the season, with around 20 of them having ranking points attached to them. Some of these events have been controversial, but at least this is now a profession rather than something of a hobby.
However, although Hearn deserves a lot of credit, and I make that very clear, one change has really grated on me. Hearn promised not to touch the blue riband events, by which I, and most others, understood to be the 'triple crown' events: The Masters, The UK Championship and The World Championship. The Masters has been moved from Wembley to Alexandra Palace, however this is seen by most as a positive move so that is obviously not a problem. The problem lies with what has happened to the second most important ranking event, the UK Championship.
The UK Championship began in 1977, and was held in Blackpool. The following year, it moved to the Guild Hall in Preston, where it would remain until 1997, when it was moved to Bournemouth as part of Liverpool Victoria's sponsorship of the tournament. Many felt the Guild Hall to be the finest snooker venue outside of the Crucible, so this was amongst the changes that has led to this tournament's decline.
In 2007, the tournament was moved to Telford, a venue almost universally loathed by fans, and the opening two televised rounds were held in cublicles. For a tournament with such a high reputation, this was a worrying development.
In 1992, Jimmy White won his second major title when he defeated John Parrott by 16 frames to 9. This would be the last year to feature a best-of-31 frames final, from 1993 the final has been held in one day over a maximum of 19 frames. Again, this has seen the prestige of the tournament decline. Although 19 frames is a considerable tally, it now means the the Shanghai Masters and China Open finals are equally as long as the UK Final, which, in my opinion, is a bit silly considering that the UK has always been held in higher regard than either of those events.
Despite this, the earlier rounds have always been held over best-of-17 frame contests. This had always been the case anyway, so at least the UK could boast earlier round matches of far greater length than the rest of the season's ranking events, and was the closest to the World Championship as far as format was concerned. This is no longer the case.
From the first round until the quarter-finals, the UK Championship will now have best-of-11 matches. This, for me, is another nail in the tournament's coffin. The tournament has at least reverted to a more popular venue at the Barbican Centre in York, but to be quite honest: this is a bastardised version of what was my second favourite tournament.
I don't see why the tournament has to be just nine days long, I would love to see it held over two weeks again, though admittedly I'm no expert on tv schedules or whether or not Hearn has options outside of the BBC. I'd love nothing more to see more than one two-day final during the snooker calender. I also think that best-of-11 matches are nothing special, while best-of-17's are.
I've never been a massive fan of the Masters, it has it's considerable charms but I still feel it is thoroughly overrated. I now see the UK as little more than a Masters with ranking points on offer.
Whether the changes are considered necessary or not, one thing is clear in my mind: we once had two truly great ranking events during the season and unless this change turns out to be a disaster, and we see Hearn revert to the original format, it pains me to say that we now have just one.
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