The final stages of the UK Championship has been played over best of 17 frames since its second staging in 1978 but this year is reduced to best of 11s.
Many observers have had their say about this, myself included, but what do the players think about it?
With the qualifiers getting underway next week in Gloucester I asked some of them to find out. It’s not really a representative sample, but their views are still interesting.
Mark Williams won the UK title in 1999 and 2002. He was runner-up last year to John Higgins.
He started out fiercely deriding the format change: “I think it’s terrible. There are a lot of tournaments now and there’s no reason to mess with the big ones. Will the World Championship be next?”
The change saves money on outside tables and allows the BBC to cover every match from the last 32 onwards.
Williams is glad the tournament will now be played entirely in a TV set-up, but is still against the reduction in frames.
“I think it’s right to play it on two tables because nobody wants to be in a cubicle,” he said. “It’s probably fairer the way they’ve done it but it should have been left as best of 17. Best of 11 is another sprint and there are enough sprints already.”
Dominic Dale, a student of snooker history, had no time whatsoever for the changes.
He said: “I think reducing the frames takes a lot of the prestige away. Maybe they should give the tournament fewer ranking points if there are fewer frames. All of the players will be against it because it makes the tournament more of a lottery, but as usual the players come second.”
In fact, not all of the players are against the alteration in the format. Stuart Bingham, this season’s Australian Open champion and a generally positive sort, had no problem with it.
He said: “It’s good because the last 32 will all be televised. I’ve heard a few other players talk, saying you shouldn’t change the UK and World Championship because it means anyone can win them, but the World Open was best of fives and the final was Neil Robertson and Ronnie O’Sullivan. The UK has always been the second biggest ranking event. Some think it’s harsh to change it but you have to get with the times and I think it’ll be good.”
In theory, a shorter format gives players outside the elite a better chance, although most tournaments are won by the best players regardless of the format.
Andrew Higginson, who won a PTC earlier this season, should, by this logic, be all for the changes. Except he isn’t.
“I understand why it’s been done, so that all the last 32 matches can be shown on television, but in my opinion the prestige of the tournament has gone down,” he said.
“There are certain tournaments you shouldn’t change and this is one of them. I say that even though under a shorter tournament you have a better chance against the top players because they have less time to settle.”
It’s seven years since Stephen Maguire won the UK title at York. The tournament returns there this season after a gap of five years but the Scot is aghast at the best of elevens.
Maguire said: “They’ve ruined it. I can understand it from a TV point of view but the UK Championship used to be the second biggest tournament on our calendar. Now it’s been reduced to 11 frames and the person running the game said he wouldn’t change the big events. A year in and he has.”
So there we are, a flavour of player feeling, albeit from a very small group of players. I agree that best of 17s gave the UK Championship a certain prestige that will be lost by making it more like a bog standard ranking event.
But regardless of whether players, pundits and fans agree with the format changes, I imagine everyone will just get on with it when the tournament starts on December 3 and if the quality of snooker is high, as it usually is, then there's no reason why it can't be an enjoyable week.