27.7.10

WHAT MAKES SNOOKER SPECIAL

There’s much talk about new formats in snooker, about speeding up play, about attracting a new, young audience.

I’ve got no problem with any of that. Outsiders look at snooker and see a sport that has barely changed in years.

The late, great Alex Higgins shook it up in the 1970s but it’ll take more than a single figure to do the same now. No sport can be that lucky twice.

But while I welcome innovation, I would warn those charged with leading this bright new era not to mess too much with the very ingredients that have created so many great memories for millions over the decades.

Snooker’s attractiveness is based on its capacity to author dramatic psychological sagas. It is not a physical sport but the mental strengths and weaknesses of players are laid bare for all to see and this leads to an emotional investment on behalf of the viewer.

Who will hold their nerve? Who will crack up completely? These are the fascinations through which audiences can become hooked for hours at a time.

In the August issue of Snooker Scene, out next week, we include an interview I have done with Martin Gould in which he speaks honestly about his 13-12 defeat to Neil Robertson from 11-5 up at the Crucible last season.

The only good news for Martin is that he wasn’t the first – and certainly won’t be the last – to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

So many careers are littered with regrets at having lost matches, and particularly finals, having held commanding, surely unimpeachable, leads.

But what makes these at times heartbreaking losses so compelling is the amount of time they took. Finals, especially at the Crucible, allow time for doubt to creep in, anxiety to take hold and seemingly unsurpassable leads to be overturned.

Snooker’s great appeal has always been the slow burning drama it generates.

Shortening the length of matches will dilute this drama.

The shot clock will do the same. A shot clock is not necessarily a bad idea but it should not be introduced to artificially speed play up. Rather, it should guard against players dragging the pace of play down.

That is why 20 seconds a shot is certainly too short and 25 almost certainly too short.

In the Premier League, where there are no ranking points up for grabs and which has in any case always been attacking, the players cope fine but in a ranking tournament, with more at stake, all a 25 second shot clock would do would be to drag the standard down.

Players would panic, rush and miss more. Balls would run scrappy and frames could well take longer to complete than normal.

But a 40 second per shot limit would be a different matter entirely. It would stop players taking a minute or more to consider reasonably straightforward shots but should not cause rushing and the errors that brings either.

I remain unconvinced about the need for a shot clock at all, but it is almost inevitable it will feature at some point during the season.

And, as I said at the start, there’s nothing wrong with trying new ideas. Snooker should move with the times and take a look at itself instead of arrogantly assuming all is rosy in the garden.

But drama in snooker comes from the possibility that exists for whole matches to turn round, and these have to be of a certain length for that to happen.

Snooker is a sport of many facets. A scrap on the colours can be as enjoyable as a flawless century break.

But the best matches tend to be the close ones and the most memorable of these tend to be where one player has held a big lead only to see it reduced: think Taylor v Davis in 1985, Higgins v Davis in the 1983 UK Championship, Davis v Thorne in the same event in 1985, Paul Hunter's three Masters comebacks, Hendry v White in 1992 and so on, and so on.

Alex Higgins’s 69 break against Jimmy White at 15-14 down in their 1982 semi-final would have been considered a great contribution at any time in any match.

But what makes it so iconic and so well remembered is the point at which he made it: with his back to the wall at the end of a four session match. It was appreciated all the more because the audience, like Higgins, had come through the battle and were into the endgame.

How a player stands up in such a scenario, after so many hours, so many frames, is what makes top level snooker such a gripping sport.

Jimmy White would probably have been world champion had the final been best of 11. But it wasn't and he wasn't and that's the point.

Shorter formats, though fun, do not have the same appeal because they cannot generate the same drama.

Barry Hearn understands this. Some characterise him as a populist who cares little about the history of the sport but this is nonsense. In fact, he is steeped in the history of the sport. He was there in the 1980s. He knows what made snooker great in the first place.

And that is why he has pledged to 'ring fence' the majors and leave them free of gimmickry.

At the same time he has to work on snooker's staid image and find a way of marketing it to bring in new fans.

That's why shorter formats and events aimed more at entertainment than pure sport have their place - as long as they augment the traditional game and do not encroach so far into it that people no longer believe it's worth watching.

The challenge for Hearn and snooker as a whole is to recognise what makes the green baize game special and safeguard that while at the same time still embracing the age in which we live.

Its success at balancing the two will to a large degree decide the fate of the sport over the next decade.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

If Alex Higgins and Paul Hunter were still alive and in their pomp there would be no need for shot clocks or one frame shoot out tournaments.

Alpha

Executor said...

Alpha?

Why? I mean, why Paul Hunter? Unfortunately I got to follow snooker only after P.H. died so I have no idea how would he react.

In fact I think shoot out is a great idea and it will be a great event, great show & fun to watch. Too bad it is on Sky not Eurosport...

kildare cueman said...

Bang on the button with your observations Dave.

There is no harm in gimmickry between events. It brings in new viewers, a percentage of which will no doubt become followers of regular snooker.

At the start of the last snooker boom, pro-ams, teams, round robins and pool/snooker challenges were all fair game.

As the money and popularity of snooker increased, these events fell away and were replaced by the standard 9 frame matches and the circuit as we know it, established itself.

It is now time to rebuild, and the same thing is happening, although this time, with a better pilot at the helm..

I know I suggested allowing deliberate fouls on a previous blog. This would do away with the miss rule and introduce a new tactical dimension to the game.

I still consider it worthy of scrutiny, but as a less radical change, it could be chosen only when a player is in a snooker.
The player could call "shot" or "space", when the ref declares a total snooker.

If the player attempts to get out of the snooker he would call "shot" and normal proceedure applies, with a miss being called.

If the player deems the snooker too dificult to escape from, he can call "space" in which case he plays the cueball into space. The incoming player then recieves 7 points and has the option of playing or making the fouler play again from where the balls lie.

I believe this is a better rule than the one that currently exists. It stops a player getting an inordinate amount of points from one, possibly fluked, shot.

Id like to hear other opinions on my suggestion, or an alternative suggestion from other bloggers.

Anonymous said...

Well said Dave. Spot on.

Anonymous said...

Absolute rubbish kildare cueman. There is nothing wrong with the miss rule - just get on with it.

Anonymous said...

all a shot clock does is bias the event in osullivans favour. wonder why that is.

Anonymous said...

kildare renaming a pushout as "space"

wow

CHRISK5 said...

Superb article,emphasising that
longer format events & matches generate the greatest drama.

The last few months have seen
many new initiatives - The PTC
format,Sky Shootout,Power Snooker &
a possible World Cup - all these
have given more playing opportunites,while potentially creating a new audience aswell.

However,even the 'blue riband' majors could still do with a
timely facelift.

World Champs - 14 day event.
UK Champs - Best of 31 Frame Final.
Masters - More relaxed dresscode.
World Open - experiment with
the shot-clock.

Anonymous said...

do not tell ronnie that long matches are better or he will change his POV next week.

i agree with you dave!

Betty Logan said...

Why would you need a shot-clock in a best of 5, Chris? Should we add an extra couple of pockets to the tables while we're at it?

I don't understand the idea behind a 14 day world championship either. Getting it down to 16 days would be a good idea because it would allow it to finish on a Sunday, since the world doesn't revolve around a British bank holiday, but since it has to run from weekend to weekend why not use all three weekends?

Anonymous said...

What should happen to the World Champs? The problem is that the standard is so high these days that the two who make it to the final are completely knackered. We haven't had a "classic" final for a few years now. Robertson could barely make a 50+ in his victorious final. However I'm the first to say that I love the long matches. So after all this rabbitting I don't really have any answers!

Dave H said...

I have an answer: cut the semi-finals to best of 25.

The players would be less tired for the final and you'd shave a day off the tournament so wouldn't have to finish on the Monday.

What other sport have semi-finals that last three days?

snookerbacker.com said...

I think that is the answer Dave, that way also if it does finish on the Sunday before the Bank Holiday Monday in the UK, younger viewers might actually be able to stay up and watch it. They should also bring the two sessions of the final day forward by at least an hour and a half.

Betty Logan said...

I'd be against a three session semi because it means you will get finalists that have never played a four session match, let alone won one. I think if you went with three session semis you would have to cut the final to three sessions, because players facing a new format for the first time in the final isn't exactly ideal, and by cutting the final to three session you invariably reduce the prestige of the event.

There are two possible solutions: the simplest solution would be to play three sessions on the Thursday and just play the last session of each match on the Saturday, and sacrifice Saturday night at the Crucible by playing them in the morning and afternoon. It means both players only play a single session and have the night off. The second solution is to retain the double table format, and play the semis across two days, maybe even slip in a day off before the final and play a day long Pot Black or something with all the old pros.

CHRISK5 said...

Betty - For World Open,have say
a 30 sec shot-clock for the Semis
& Final only (one table set up)

Dave & Snookerbacker are correct on possible modifications to the
World Champs - best of 25 Semis,
with the Final on Saturday/Sunday,
with earlier session starts too.
(1pm & 7pm or something similar)

A small degree of Snooker's decline
in the previous era was that the
televised majors stayed the same &
looked too identical to each other.

Again,none of us are talking wholesale changes - just sensible tweaks to give the prestige events
a fresh boost.

Sonny said...

I think the whole of the World Championships should be left untouched in terms of format. It's been this way for years, it's always sold out and the 4 session semis over 3 days is something I personally revel in once a year. If tv don't want it this long, then don't broadcast until round 2. I hope that never happens obviously but that's one solution.

As for best of 25's, they should bring those back for certain ranking finals like used to happen in the 80's.

But the shorter format event such as the PTC and the new World Open I equally don't have any problems with. If there were only 6 of them in a season and nothing else, then obviously I would. But in terms of sheer numbers of events I embrace them. But equally the season ideally needs 2 to 3 longer format events as well to balance things out.

And the one concept I am absolutely 100% dead against is a 40 second shot clock.

If you bring a shot clock into an event then fair enough, it's a shot clock event and you see a different sort of snooker. But keep it to the 20 - 25 seconds so it has identity and puts the players under extra pressure.

If you bring in 40 seconds across the board you'll alienate snooker clubs across the land. How do you play a game when you're spotting the balls for your opponent and equally beeping away at a stopwatch? When someone is down on the shot do you say "5 seconds" like in pool? How off putting would that be?

Also when you watch the Premier League there is a vast inconsistency at the point the clock starts. It's down to the judgement of the player controlling the clock. A new rule relying on human judgement is not something the game needs.

Finally speaking as a fan of Mark Selby it would mean I would miss out on his inventiveness when he thinks his way out of a difficult position. The fact he takes more than a minute occasionally is neither here nor there. He does it when he's faced with a challenge, usually at a critical point in the match and it gives the commentators time to discuss what the problem is and possible solutions so it allows the viewer information in snooker strategy, and hopefully will help them to appreciate it more.

If you have to bring in anything, it should be an average shot clock with a player being warned if it exceeds 40 seconds for the duration of a session or something like that. The referee has the power to talk to the players if they feel they are taking too long. Maybe backed up by average shot time stats they will feel more obliged to have a word. And naturally this would only happen in televised events so it wouldn't affect the way the next generation are being brought up through the clubs of the land.

Anonymous said...

Snooker © The Fine Art Method 27/07/10
A secret is wasted if not shared
Hello Dave
What makes “Snooker Special”! Congratulations lad, a great subject that is really everlasting as a topic and has a kind of purity in motion not yet neither harnessed nor understood by many.

Pro’ Snooker has almost reached its boarders in “Winners and Losers” and as trophy and title holders but some way short of a set chorography as part of “Snooker Coaching” not as an after thought or late addition to the game but part and parcel for all beginners.

The game is in its infancy Dave and needs change but especially female teachers. The old “Chestnut” that you have to be a champ to teach is a fallacy.

A keen person only needs a good syllabus Dave and the art of self expression in snooker jargon. The old “Watch Me” and I’ll show you again, has been a detriment to women teachers and created a “Sport” of copycats adopting each others bad snooker habits like an official dogma.

A personal opinion Dave! One female coach would infuse ten times more progress into the game; as the damage likely done by the next hundred male self inflicted coaches. Mr Hey You

kildare cueman said...

Im pretty sure the 1985 world final was on a sunday.

How did they swing that? Did they start on a Friday?

Think a best of 25 final mightn't be a bad thing for the UK, ending on the sunday afternoon/evening

CHRISK5 said...

The last classic Worlds Final was
Murphy & Stevens in 2005.

Since then,each Final has been
diluted by one player or Both players with little left in reserve

The ultra-long Semis shouldn't be
to the detriment of the supposed
Showpiece Final - the last few years,that has clearly been the
case - Best of 25 for the Semis
would still be classed as a
medium/long format & a test in
itself - But the Final should
always take greater priority.

Better TV schedueling would also
give a 40% viewer increase too -
no matter what the standard is.

As the new initiatives take off,
hopefully more time gets spent focusing on minor improvements
to all the Major prestige events.

Only the blinkered would say they
don't need any changes at all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Semi-finals should be 2 days. But here's where the fun begins, as the BBC (and it took them a good while to work out,) that having a major sports occasion on a bank-holiday weekend would be good for TV ratings. Agreed the final should start earlier on the Monday, but would negotiations get tense if the WSA were to make changes - and put future snooker contracts on the Beeb in trouble? Must be careful.

And just to go back on a point. BBC/WSA didn't schedule for world finals day on bank holiday weekend until 1996. If you go back to other finals they may have just fell by accident on BH weekend. Also, i remember Hendry v Bond in 95 finishing at about 8pm on a normal Sunday evening, so it has been achieved before to drop back to Saturday/Sunday final...Thursday/Friday semi (or whatever suits!)

As for Snooker's challenges with tournemnts per se, let's have as many varieties as possible. No, don't tamper with the blue-ribboned tournaments - they are the lifeline of the sport - but we are getting into a position now, where there is beginning to be more tournaments, and i've always felt that if we have enough great world ranking/invitational tournaments (which will come,) then yes to shot clocks, power snooker, premier league. It entices the young and keeps the old happy. Perfect formulation and the sport keeps a healthy profile in the media...We all want that surely? No?

Thanks, Joe

Dave H said...

I don't think that's quite right. The tournament either used to start on Good Friday and finish on a Sunday or start on a Saturday and finish on May Bank Holiday.

All that said when Alex won in 1982 the tournament finished on May 16.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

What point isn't? True that the BBC used to start over the Easter bank holiday, then it gradually got moved...by 3 weeks.

Surely that is the way the WSA calender run though?

How was the calender in 1982 for it nearly run into another bank holiday weekend? I wish the professionals had that now.

Thanks, Joe

Betty Logan said...

I'm not convinced reducing the semis to two days actually solves anything though, if you go straight into the final the next day. It's the fact that one player plays two sessions and invariably ends up burning the midnight oil the night before the final that is causing the problem. Dott really struggled in the final. It's nothing new really, Ebdon was visibly tired in 1996. It's mad when there is a session going spare on the first day of the semis!

Dave H said...

Joe: I was saying that for at least 25 years the Championship has been timed to either start on Good Friday or finish on May Day Bank Holiday

SupremeSnooker.com said...

Anyone who says Barry Hearn is only interested in the gimmicks is talking rubbish.
The format of the World Championship and UK Championship will not change at all. If anything, Barry was reluctant to introduce entrance music at The Crucible, but the players talked him into it.
I also strongly suspect that bow ties and dinner jackets are here to stay in those two events. He understands and respects the traditions of the game. These are here to stay.
However, there is no denying that certain events do need freshening up.
The Grand Prix was at its peak when it was sponsored by Rothmans and was staged at the Hexagon Theatre in Reading. Its prestige gradually diminished once these two factors were removed, and in recent years it's looked tired and increasingly irrelevant.
As for my local event, the Welsh Open, the quality of the snooker itself is fine, but the way it's packaged most certainly is not.
It's been staged at the Newport Centre in recent years, home of some of the worst bar staff I've ever seen! It might be acceptable for a one-off Premier League night, but it isn't fit for purpose when it comes to staging a major ranking event.
There were far too many empty seats, the set was a drab grey, there was no atmosphere for many of the sessions, there was little prize money and few ranking points to play for, the trophy itself was insignificant and ugly, and the quality of the television coverage on BBC Wales wasn't up to scratch (although they had an excellent presenter in Oliver Hides, who also happens to be a good bloke and a former colleague of mine).
If all these factors are addressed (and much of it isn't rocket science), the Welsh Open has the potential to be a brilliant and exciting event.
I gather the Welsh Open has been making a significant loss in recent years. Maintaining the status quo really wasn't an option in the long run.
Events like the Sky Shootout and Power Snooker are fun ways of introducing a new and younger crowd to snooker. It's also resulted in ITV and Sky returning to WPBSA snooker for the first time in some years. This can only be a good thing, and I'm sure it'll ultimately lead to them showing an interest in more traditional snooker.
It also gives Barry further options if he doesn't get the response he wants from the BBC. If the BBC really are serious about cutting down from four tournaments per year to three, in my opinion they should be faced with the threat of having the remaining three tournaments sold elsewhere.
Regards,
Marcus

Anonymous said...

Dave - if you cut the SF down to 2 days that would mean playing the opening session of the 1st SF in the morning. Last year Ali Carter was very tired and jaded in the opening session of his SF against Neil Robertson after a midnight win against Shaun Murphy. He lost the session 6-2 and never really recovered.
He had very little recovery time (with a 2pm start the following day) and surely it wouldn't be fair to ask him to start his SF 4 hours earlier at 10am (and also come back at 7pm for his 2nd session).

jamie brannon said...

What sport has quarter-finals or finals that last two days though? I don't think cutting semis to two days is a bad idea, but not because other sports don't have three day semis. After all a great test match can last five days.

Dave H said...

True, but they don't then start another Test match the next day.

Anonymous said...

In theory cutting the SF to 2 days is a good one but how do you do this and avoid the possible situation highlighted at 8:19AM?

jamie brannon said...

No, but is there not way we could have a breather before the final? I liked the joke about Ebbo on Twitter.

Also we dont play Thursday morning in the semis, maybe that could be used in some way.

Anonymous said...

the best way to make it more lively is to get rid of the dividing wall

!

Anonymous said...

Jamie 2:10PM - don't you read other posts? How can you start the SF's on the Thursday morning without severely reducing the chance of the player who came through their QF on the Wednesday evening.
The case of Ali Carter has already been highlighted on here!!

Betty Logan said...

If you want to play the semi over two days you could re-jig the table allocation: You could organise the schedule so that the first and second quarter finals (who are tied for the semis) play concurrently on the different tables. That means they only play one session on the Wednesday so there would be no problem playing two sessions on the Thursday. The two quarter finalists who play two sessions on the Wednesday would only have to play one session the Thursday. It might not be an ideal solution but it would at least stop one player coming in fresher.

Anonymous said...

"If the BBC really are serious about cutting down from four tournaments per year to three, in my opinion they should be faced with the threat of having the remaining three tournaments sold elsewhere."
Regards,
Marcus

Are you serious? If snooker leaves the BBC it would be a disaster for the sport in the UK. Do you seriously think that sponsors would pay anywhere near the same amount for an event shown on ITV4 or Sky, or that new sponsors would consider paying the current rates if it isn't on BBC?

Keith said...

The other issue is why they have to have 8 frame sessions - it's a convenient number, but isn't set in stone, as they manage 9 in round 1. How about first to 15 semis - 9/9/11.

I would also question the need for 25-frame matches in round 2, surely 19 frames is enough at that stage.

Betty Logan said...

At this rate the world championship will end up as the UK Championship!

The simplest solution is the one nobody has suggest so far:

Leave the Crucible

Move to a bigger arena and play more matches concurrently. You could finish it on the Sunday and have a day off before the final.

Executor said...

Leaving Crucible might be modern, innovative, all that let's-go-with-the-modern-era stuff... but hopefully I would not be the only one who thinks it will be one of most stupid decisions in recent years.

Although I can still see Betty Logan's point.

Anonymous said...

Snooker © The Fine Art Method
A secret is wasted if not shared
Dear Betty Logan @ !:19 pm.
Your suggesting of a bigger arena without selling drink, or with lots of “Lovely Girls” screaming there heads off is a no go idea.
The games trouble is not enough people are not willing to pay good money to watch the same repetitive performances that seldom entertains or a glimpse of something “Snooker new”.

Please accept Betty that professional snooker cannot exist without “Subsides” and subsides cannot be created without Sponsors and sponsors demand TV and TV demands “Entertainment”, it’s a vicious circle lass.

Within a year Betty the few bob left by Sir Rodney for tournaments will be gone plus funding the generous wages and expenses for Barry’s personal board members.
The interest by ITV and SKY will quickly disappear or stipulate only top names as Barry always demands in his “Seven Man League”.

Women’s coaching schools by women teachers will rejuvenate the game. Students teach themselves with the correct instructions.
The “Watch Me” and I’ll show you again method has failed for eighty years, but still a compulsive method of coaching between father and son or champion and “Paying Student”, its time for change. Mr Hey You.

Anonymous said...

another dreadful post by Hey You