Today’s news that the UK Championship will be best of 11 frames until the semi-finals is the third change inflicted on the tournament that has diminished its status.
The first came back in 1993 when the final was reduced from best of 31 frames played over two days to best of 19.
This made it feel like any other final instead of closely resembling the showpiece conclusion to the World Championship.
Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis never played in a Crucible final but their 1990 UK final was virtually as good as. It was not only hugely significant in terms of the balance of power in the sport but also a bone fide classic, which Hendry edged 16-15.
Going down to 19 frames reduced the UK’s prestige in the eyes of many, even though we have had many great champions and many great finals since.
The second came in 1998 when the UK Championship was moved from its long established home at Preston Guild Hall, a first rate venue that was synonymous with the tournament.
It has since been moved around various locations – Bournemouth, York, Telford and now back to York.
Now, we have the number of frames reduced from best of 17 to best of 11 up until the semi-final stage.
All of these decisions have been taken for perfectly understandable commercial reasons and mainly for television.
TV didn’t want to risk runaway finals, although you can of course still have them in a best of 19. The move from Preston was to placate a sponsor based elsewhere.
Best of 11s means every match from the last 32 onwards will now be televised. During the last couple of years only half of the last 16 has been played before the TV cameras, effectively creating two separate tournaments.
Years ago, when the top 16 came in at the last 64 stage, they had to win two matches to get on TV as the BBC began their coverage at the last 16.
I always thought this was odd because quite obviously some of the star names would fall by the wayside, but the public’s thirst for snooker in the 1980s was such that it didn’t seem to matter.
This situation was addressed just over a decade ago when it was decided to hold over four last 32 matches (the top 16 now playing a round fewer) for the TV stage.
This precipitated a row about which four players they would be, because the top four in the world are not necessarily the four most popular.
Eventually, to end these arguments, the top four were held over, which meant star names still playing in the pre-TV section.
All of which led us to the rather unsatisfactory scenario of the last few years.
Snooker is snooker. I’d rather watch a 6-5 than a 9-1 but the UK Championship’s best of 17s made the tournament a cut above the norm.
Over longer matches, the narrative has time to shift. Some of the great nights I’ve had at the snooker have been watching comebacks at the UK Championship. I remember two in the same night one year at York: Mark Williams against Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan against Peter Ebdon.
A longer match is a greater test, which is why there have been very few shock winners of the UK title.
And let’s not kid ourselves, here. The real reason for the change is cost cutting, for both the BBC and World Snooker.
The BBC will have four sessions per day to staff rather than six in the early rounds and World Snooker will have two tables to staff rather than four.
Each organisation finds itself, as so many do, in difficult economic times so this decision is perfectly understandable for them both.
Many snooker fans would prefer to live in a fantasy land where nothing ever changes but those who run and broadcast snooker have to live in the real world, where money talks. The BBC has less to spend on sport generally, hence they’ve gone from four snooker tournaments to three. World Snooker has more events to stage and saving a few quid in York will help them do that.
I'm certainly not stuck in the past and recognise that, sometimes, difficult decisions have to be taken.
Nevertheless, the UK Championship has taken another knock. It’s still a big title to win but the various facets that have made it so special have been gradually eroded and it’s hard, for me anyway, not to conclude that its stature has declined as a result.