The new International Championship, for which the qualifiers started today, carries a first prize of £125,000 and is played over a best of 11 format with semi-finals best of 17, essentially the same as the UK Championship.
So does this new event new qualify as the fourth ‘major’?
The big three titles are generally accepted to be the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters.
Their prestige is proven over decades. They are tournaments every snooker player wants to win.
However, there are no actual grand slams as in tennis or official majors as in golf. In snooker, the ‘majors’ are merely tournaments which have developed into the biggest on the calendar.
This was relatively easy for the big three as for a time they were pretty much the only tournaments on the calendar.
Crucially, they are also televised by the BBC. This means that, in the UK, they reach the biggest possible audience.
There’s no doubt that winning one of these three titles is a significant achievement. Paul Hunter, whose name adorns the European Tour event in Germany this week, won the Masters three times, which is often mentioned in relation to him. Far less often mentioned are his three world ranking titles.
It’s unlikely Dennis Taylor’s black ball defeat of Steve Davis would have been so celebrated had it been in the deciding frame of, say, the British Open final.
However, the Grand Prix, the BBC’s fourth tournament until they dropped it, was never really considered to be any bigger than the other British ranking events, though it was much more prestigious when sponsored by Rothmans and held in Reading than in its later, peripatetic years.
Can the International Championship have major status conferred on it so early in its life?
Probably not, although it is clearly now the biggest Chinese event.
And what does it matter anyway? The truly competitive players try and win every tournament they enter.
When you hear a player say at the start of the season that they are ‘targeting the majors’ it’s a sure sign that they will have a poor campaign.
You’ll have better chance of success in a ‘major’ if you win other titles because your confidence and form will be sky high.
A Davis or a Stephen Hendry tried to win everything and pretty much did. Barry Hearn once said that Davis never even used to ask what the first prize was in tournaments he played in. It didn’t matter. He just wanted to win.
Then again, if he hadn’t won six world titles, six UK titles and three Masters (seven, five and six for Hendry) then he wouldn’t be thought of as such a legend.
This new Chinese event certainly is prestigious and it’s nice to see in an era where short formats are the fashion that a (slightly) longer format has been introduced.
Personally I’d like to see a return to the old ITV finals played over 25 frames, but something tells me that isn’t going to happen.