“It’s like a circus,” said Judd Trump last night of the UK Championship.
I’m not sure when circuses started to get such a bad rap but that’s a side issue. Trump’s point was that there are too many tables and too many matches being played in York.
He added: “with four tables in the main venue for a UK Championships, I think that’s just poor. When it is down to two tables with the barrier up, you feel like you’re at a tournament where there is pressure.”
Actually, had Trump been a top 16 player 20 years ago he would have played in an eight table set-up at Preston Guild Hall and had to win two matches to reach the televised stage, but his was not the only voice questioning the wisdom of bringing 128 players to the Barbican Centre.
Far from it. There seems to be three categories of player: those who agree with the new system, those who have accepted it and those who are against it. Of these, the latter camp are the most outspoken.
The main arena features four tables. The two in the middle, configured for TV, are spacious enough but the two at either side are not.
“They’ve crammed four tables in. It should be three in my opinion,” said Ali Carter, a semi-finalist at York last year.
“They’ve taken 128 players to a venue but, for me, I don’t think it can accommodate it.
“The table I was on had about five foot of room around the black spot area. When you’re tight on the side cushion you can’t walk into your shot. It’s like you’re closer than at the Crucible.
“It’s not for me, this flat draw. I think it was working last year so I don’t know why they’re doing this.
“The top 16 all started at the bottom and got to the top. Why doesn’t everyone else have to do that?”
The counter to this is that the previous, labyrinthine qualifying structure was stifling new talent. However, Graeme Dott argued that the flat draws are even more damaging to young hopefuls.
“I think it hinders the players coming through,” he said. “Neil Robertson fell off the tour originally. If he’d got back on in this format, how would have he have done? If he’d been beaten by the players he was being beaten by, how would he have handled playing Ronnie O’Sullivan? So you would have lost him. Would Judd Trump have found it easier?
“I think it’s wrong for the future of the game. I don’t think it’s good for snooker. Kids coming through should learn their trade.
“People think it’s a great idea now but ask them halfway through the season. Eight players didn’t enter the UK Championship because they don’t have the money.”
Some would say top players just want to protect their privileged positions.
Of course they do. Who wouldn’t? They’ve worked hard to attain them. They’ve put the years in at soulless qualifiers and now they want the rewards for those efforts.
But not every top player agrees with Carter and Dott. Stuart Bingham, first and foremost a snooker lover, has the attitude to just play, hopefully win and the perks will come.
“I felt a little bit tight against the wall but from Wednesday it’ll be down to two tables,” he said.
“I’ve read a few comments from people saying it’s like a PTC. But it is what it is. You have 128 players coming to a tournament and have to fit them in somewhere. You just have to get on with it.
“I’d love to be 20 now and in the game. I’m 37 and one of the oldies but I wish this was happening 20 years ago. Someone could come here, have a buzz up and get to the quarters, semis or maybe even win it.”
Nigel Bond has been around longer than most. He’s been at the top and now he’s down in the middle ranks. Wherever he's been ranked he has remained a sober, measured voice in any debate.
“The format is fine,” Bond said. “I was in the Sports Hall but at least you feel part of the tournament in the fact that you’re at the venue.”
Most would agree that snooker had stagnated before Barry Hearn’s takeover in 2010. A dearth of new faces and a paltry number of tournaments had seen the sport slowly gurgle towards the plughole.
The truth is, it is too early to judge whether the flat draw innovation will be a positive for snooker or not.
But I would say this: if it’s the right system, then it must be used in every event, including the World Championship. To not do so is hypocrisy, almost an admission that it is wrong.
This would mean the end of the Crucible. Is four decades of tradition worth losing for the sake of completely levelling the playing field?
I would also say this: players have every right to comment on their work conditions. This is their livelihood after all.
The problem, though, is that to the outside world they can just seem like a bunch of moaners, unappreciative of what they have.
To many, playing professional snooker where financial rewards are high seems like a dream job. The temptation is to just say, ‘get on with it’ and there may be something in that.
The danger with this year’s UK Championship is that all anyone wants to talk about is the format.
Ultimately, like every other event ever played, it will come down to who plays the best. For all the talk of quantity, it is quality which always triumphs.