The Premier League, an ever present fixture on the circuit since 1987, will undergo a major format change this year.
There will be ten players involved – an increase of three – and each night will be a mini four-man tournament in its own right, with a winner.
Each of the ten players will compete in four of these mini-tournaments. Points earned will decide the top four who will compete in the play-offs.
These semi-finals and finals will be best of five frames. The shot-clock will be reduced from 25 seconds to 20 for the first four frames. The miss rule has been changed so that players will have three attempts to make a legal contact. If they fail to do so, ball-in-hand anywhere on the table will be awarded to the incoming player.
If any of the matches reach 2-2 the decider will be played under the Shootout rules: a maximum of ten minutes with a 20 second shot-clock for the first five minutes and 15 for the next five.
Prize money for the eventual winner has doubled to £60,000 but there will no longer be £1,000 a frame to play for.
So why the change? Promoters Matchroom felt the Premier League had become a bit stale and resembled a series of exhibitions.
In fact, it’s always been that. The League’s great contribution to snooker has been in taking top players around the UK to places not usually served by the game, as well as providing some big paydays for the game’s leading lights.
The financially lucrative nature of the Premier League means it rates much higher in many players’ priorities than audiences may think.
I’ll reserve judgement on the new format until the event starts – on August 18 – but the first observation is that it is no longer actually a league. The players will no longer all play each other.
There is now a simple qualifying structure for the event. The field is made up of winners of last season’s major tournaments, plus Matthew Stevens, who won the Championship League qualifier.
Tenth place has been awarded to Jimmy White, who won the World Seniors Championship. This means Mark Selby, the world no.3, misses out.
On the face of it, choosing White over Selby is highly questionable given that they are separated in the rankings by 52 places.
However, Selby didn’t win a tournament last season. If he had, he’d have been in.
And although White has undoubtedly been shoe-horned in, if I were the promoter – putting up my own money and looking for a return through ticket sales – I’d have him in the tournament without hesitation.
The complete field is: Ronnie O’Sullivan (defending champion), John Higgins (World champion), Ding Junhui (Masters champion), Mark Williams (German Masters champion), Ali Carter (Shanghai Masters champion), Judd Trump (China Open champion), Neil Robertson (World Open champion), Shaun Murphy (PTC Finals champion), Matthew Stevens (Championship League winner) and Jimmy White (World Seniors champion).