The Partypoker.com Premier League, which begins again this week, is now one of snooker’s longest running events.
First held in 1987, it was the brainchild of Barry Hearn, the Matchroom supremo, who has taken snooker to parts of the UK not served by tournaments ever since.
The league’s current format is a series of live six frame matches featuring seven players under a 25 second per shot time limit.
Under this, Ronnie O’Sullivan has been unstoppable and starts favourite again this year.
It’s the perfect event for O’Sullivan, but the shot clock is only a small part of this. What he particularly likes about the league is that it is just a one night deal: he turns up, he plays, he goes home. It means the hanging around that you get at tournaments – and which he hates – doesn’t come into it.
There is also usually a great atmosphere because Premier League crowds are traditionally very strong and O’Sullivan, like most top players, revels in such an environment.
And don’t forget the not-so-small matter of £1,000 a frame and £1,000 for a century, making the league potentially more lucrative than a number of ranking tournaments, even though the top prize has been reduced by £20,000 this year.
Joining O’Sullivan in the 2009 line up are world champion John Higgins, world no.3 Shaun Murphy, Hong Kong’s Marco Fu, Aussie Neil Robertson, seven times Crucible king Stephen Hendry and Judd Trump, who won the qualifying tournament, the Championship League.
This isn’t the field everyone would have picked but Hearn is the promoter and he can choose whoever he wants. If it wasn’t for him, the league wouldn’t be taking place at all.
Which of these players can stop Ronnie this year?
Robertson, like quite a few players, did not adapt well to the shot clock on his debut a couple of years ago. If he can get used to it, he has every chance of success because this event favours attacking play.
The same therefore applies to Murphy, who I would expect to reach the play-offs.
Trump is still inexperienced on the big stage and this will be a big test for him. Will he sink or swim? Time will tell.
Hendry hasn’t impressed in the league in recent years and Higgins hasn’t won it since 1999, although both are obviously capable of doing the business.
For me, though, Fu is the dark horse. He won the league in 2003, albeit before the shot clock was introduced. He has a metronomic style but isn’t slow.
And, unlike most players, he has a superior head-to-head record against O’Sullivan.
But, the likeliest outcome is still victory for the world no.1.
No wonder Ronnie once described the league as his favourite event outside the World Championship.