“Better than Power Snooker” was my view of the new Caesarscasino.com Shootout after Friday’s evening session – not exactly the biggest compliment you could pay.
By this afternoon my opinion had been upgraded to “better than expected” but tonight’s session won me over. There was some genuine drama at a rocking Tower Circus in Blackpool.
Mike Dunn displayed a steely nerve to see off Alfie Burden on the black. Rory McLeod outrageously fluked the black to beat Tony Drago in the dying seconds. And then Neil Robertson, with one second to spare, struck the cue ball to pot the black and beat Alan McManus.
What we’ve also seen is how good these players are. I thought the super-fast shot clock may result in farce but, in fact, the players have adapted.
I’d argue it’s done the slow players a favour: there is no time to look for what can go wrong.
Ball in hand has cut out rolling up behind colours but it also puts pressure on the player who receives it: it’s up to them to make the most of it and not all have.
The Shootout has not replaced a tournament. It is a new addition to the circuit, designed to give Sky a distinct event.
Once upon a time they bid tens of millions for the World Championship but were turned down (the fact that the then WPBSA board included several BBC commentators was surely a coincidence).
Sky doesn’t want the scraps of the circuit and so it’s entirely understandable that if they are to show anything then they desire something out of leftfield, which Barry Hearn has dreamt up.
Sky’s first rate production values and varied commentary team have done a great job of bringing across the atmosphere.
And the venue is superb. It’s a bear-pit similar to Goffs, the long time venue of the Irish Masters and would make an ideal home for a tournament like the Masters.
There are elements of the Shootout I don’t like. By and large, the crowd add to the atmosphere but there are inevitably a few ‘comedians’ who, emboldened by drink, shout out all manner of boorish witticisms that add nothing whatsoever to the viewing experience. Hats off to referee Michaela Tabb for asking for a bit of decorum tonight.
I could quite cheerfully never hear that American voiceover guy again and the whole thing probably went on too long.
So I’ve enjoyed the Shootout on the whole but the one thing I hope is that there isn’t a kneejerk reaction from people within the game – particularly players – that this format should be flogged to death or even introduced for ranking events.
It works as a one off, a piece of entertainment to enjoy once a year, but that’s as far as it goes.
Naturally it’s not for everyone, although a number of those who took against the Shootout have nevertheless kept watching it, presumably so that they can be mortally offended all weekend.
There is a new ranking event starting on Wednesday and two new ones next season, so those lamenting the death of the game are well wide of the mark.
Opinions will differ, but Hearn looks like he’s unearthed another winner.
As Ali Carter put it: “It’s a bit of fun, that’s how the players are treating it.”
Bearing in mind what else is going on in the world, what is really wrong with that?