Should Quick-Fire Snooker Be Rankings Worthy?

By The Way - Weekly Columns

ByTheMinSnooker

One of the big debates every year on the snooker calendar is whether the Snooker Shoot-Out should be a ranking event and whether it qualifies as “proper” snooker. As the tournament took place a couple of weeks back I thought this would be a perfect time to look at the event and the impact it has on both players and fans of the game. I will start off with a quick summary of the tournament this year for those people who missed it and then look at how the fans perceive the event as well as the players.

2018 SHOOT OUT Most people will know that this is a one event with some changes to the standard snooker rules. Each match is a 10 minute frame with the winner being whoever has the most points at the end. For the first 5 minutes, there is a 15 second shot clock and it goes to 10 seconds after that. You must pot a ball or hit a cushion (with ANY ball in play) every shot and any fouls result in ball in hand anywhere on the table. There is a blue ball shoot out should there be a tie. The event started 8 years ago but was only made a ranking event two years ago allowing all 128 professional players to enter. Like every year, some of the top 16 did not enter so it was topped up with amateurs. Some of these players managed to get through a couple of rounds but as always the cream rises to the top and none got past the second round. The winner was Michael Georgiou who beat Graeme Dott in the final. Before this event he had never got past the last 16 of a ranking event. He was able to make a century and an 82 in the seven frames he played. He also beat a top 16 player in Luca Brecel and a past Shoot-Out winner in Nigel Bond. The win also propelled him into the World Grand Prix this week (the top 32 earners over 12 months) where he beat Luca Brecel again in round one. I did coverage on this website of the majority of the event so if you want more details, please follow this link: https://www.bytheminute.co/types/snooker.

FROM A FANS PERSPECTIVE I personally love the Shoot-Out as being a stand alone event that is different from normal snooker tournaments but I can understand the argument that people give that it is not “proper” snooker as it changes some of the rules. An established fan of snooker may not enjoy the Shoot-Out due to the quick fire nature of the event. They are used to sitting down for an afternoon to watch a match unfold. They enjoy the ebb and flow of one person doing well and (hopefully) the other player coming back at them. They like watching top players show off their safety skills and placing their opponent in difficulty. There will be slower moments and then a player can reel off the century in a matter of minutes. It's a little like watching Test cricket when you might have an hour when nothing happens and then everything changes in a few overs. The Shoot-Out is the opposite. Continuing the comparison, it is the T20 of snooker with the crowd being a lot noisier and every match completed in a short space of time. Due to the shot clock, there will be more mistakes made on safety or positional aspects and players are more likely to miss pots. They also have to change the way they play their safety shots as they cannot roll up behind a colour. It makes the frames more attacking overall. One of the main benefits for me is that you get to see players that a casual fan (one that only watches the Triple Crown events) will not get to see play regularly. I watch a reasonable amount of snooker so I am aware of some of these players but even I will admit that I hadn't heard of some of the amateurs. Even those that I had heard of, I hadn't seen them play. Now, admittedly this isn't quite the same as watching them in a normal frame of snooker and there will be more nerves involved, but does give an indication of their skills. It shows their cue ball control when making a break at the least. There are some players I might now follow more closely because of the event. I also think it has the chance to get new fans involved in the game. To some extent adults, but more importantly children as they will be the ones to create the next generation of snooker players. I have a four year old nephew for example, who I know would not watch a “proper” snooker match as he would be more interested in playing with his toys. However I could see him be persuaded to sit on someone's lap for ten minutes to watch a frame. He could be encouraged to say what colour was potted. Obviously that is an extreme example considering his age, but there were more children in the audience than you would normally see at other events. That may be because parents don't have to worry about keeping them quiet but it shows the appeal the sport has.

FROM A PLAYERS PERSPECTIVE This will obviously vary between where a player is ranked and also their own speed around the table. A top 16 player will not necessarily feel the need to play in this event as the winner gets £32,000. They can make that two/three times a month easily by getting to the pointy ends of other events throughout the year. This also quite a busy time of year for snooker players. In November, there were only two days with no snooker on and there was only one day off before Christmas in December. The middle of January onwards is also very tied up. I can certainly understand players who have gone deep in tournaments wanting to take a break especially if they are secure in the top 16 (no qualifying for the World Championships). However for the mid/lower ranked player, a £32,000 top prize makes a huge difference. I mentioned earlier that Michael Georgiou qualified for the World Grand Prix with the win. He will automatically get £5,000 more qualifying for the event and potentially a lot more if he gets through a few rounds. It also means a lot more TV coverage as a ranking event winner is more likely to get the main table and at the World Grand Prix there are only 2 tables giving you a 50% chance of being on TV. As the event is now a ranking title, the winner also gets to play at the Champion of Champions in November which again will increase earnings. Those won't necessarily help the rankings overall as they are not ranking events but the prize money is not to be sniffed at. Even if you don't win the event, the prize money doubles every round. Many lower ranked/amateur players struggle with the financial aspects of the tour and have other jobs as well. That obviously means less time for practice and so any extra money they can earn will help greatly. The TV exposure will also help them to get more sponsors. If they are always playing on the outside tables, then sponsors will not see the benefits as no one will see the logos. As for TV exposure, it helps their confidence if they are able to play a reasonable frame against a top player. In a best of 7 (or 9) match, the top player will eventually overcome the less experienced player. The one-frame shoot out is much more of a lottery though and if the lower ranked player gets in first, they have as much chance as the other player to make a framer winning break. The tables play slightly differently under TV lights and tend to be quicker which the less experienced player will not be used to. Playing at the Shoot-Out in front of the cameras will allow them to get used to that. As for speed around the table, there are some players who naturally take more time to think about their next shot to get good position and some that take a while to get down on the shot. However I am always surprised at how well some of these players can do. Sunny Akani for example has a very deliberate way of getting down on the shot, but he managed to get to the quarter-finals (where he lost to Martin O'Donnell). There are a few of players who are not known for speed – Ebdon and Lawler being the two main ones. Ebdon lost in round two and Lawler in round 3. This shows any player can do well if they want to.

SHOULD IT BE A RANKING EVENT? In a word, no. I said earlier that I like the fact that it is a stand alone tournament like the six-reds event in Thailand. I enjoy watching the quick fire matches and seeing players that I might not see otherwise on TV. However I also love more traditional snooker events. I can see how some fans like the event and how some don't like it. However you can choose to watch it or not. I feel it will bring new fans to snooker which is always a good thing. However that shouldn't mean that players should get ranking points for playing in it. I mentioned earlier about the prize money being useful to lower ranked players. I know that the ranking points and the possibility of getting into other events is something that lower ranked players will consider but as discussed the money is the important thing for them. There is also the benefit of playing on TV and getting used to being the centre of attention. None of this means that the event needs to be ranking.

What are your thoughts? Do you think it should be a ranking event? Why or why not? Feel free to leave a comment below.