“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.


Ron Florax said...

The problem is clearly the venue they chose, and the way the venue is set up, not the format. Whilst I was against the seed 1 plays seed 128 thing at first, it seems to lead to more tense matches than anticipated.

JIMO96 said...

I think it's quite insulting for top 16 players to say that the new guys will lose out in a flat system, because they'll be playing Robertson, Selby, Ding etc in the first round. Personally, I'd savour that experience as a new pro, because I wouldn't draw a top 4 player every time.

Also, I think we'll see in the next 2 or 3 seasons PTC entry lists dropping dramatically, and room for 30-40 amateurs in each, as the top guys drop some events from their schedule. Therefore, the new pros, and the lower ranked pros will get plenty of experience "playing each other".

If I'm reading Hearns 5-year plan correctly, then the successful PTC's (Paul Hunter, Kay Suzanne, Poland, Belgium...) will be upgraded very soon to full ranking status, and if that happens, then it follows that they will be replaced with PTC's at new venues (Russia? Scandinavia? Malta?) and that these events will "find their place" on the tour. Meaning that it'll probably be quite rare for a lot of elite players to enter them at the same time. This will solve 2 recent issues: (i) amateurs won't be feeling squeezed out of PTC events and (ii) elite players won't feel pressured to play in them, unless they desperately need the points.

The UK is the first event played in 1 go, without a qualifying stage, at the one venue (and it IS one venue, whatever some pros say). Give it a chance. Carter & Trump would have loved this opportunity when they first turned pro. The tiered system was wrong then, and it is wrong now. In fact it's harder now, because there are 128 guys, not 96 as in Trumps day, or with 32-man tiers like in Carters.

If there was a tournament to except from the flat system, then why not the Worlds? But only seed the elite in it! NOT the top 32, or the top 48. Just have the top 16 at the Crucible as a reward, or perk, and the rest in at round 1. To see the likes of Calabrese v Wilson for a place in the last 32 of a major is BRILLIANT in my opinion, a refreshing change from a dull last 48 match between a journeyman pro and a solid top 32er who've met umpteen times in their career.

Hearn asked for 5 years. There's a year and a half to go, and I think it's all going superbly.

Ray147 said...

It's a pity players didn't have the same attitude as Stuart Bingham and Mark Davis. These 2 players must have struggled financially to stay playing year on year but they kept believing and now they are reaping the rewards. Their love of the game shines through.
It seems that Judd Trump is always one of the first to have a moan-up but he should be grateful that Barry Hearn took over. Snooker would be in dire straits under the old regime (if it existed at all) and they really would have something to moan about then.

jamie brannon said...

I can understand what Dave is saying but I hope the new format isn't introduced for the World Championships, as it could also mean a reduction in frames, not just the loss of snooker's most iconic venue.

Not every tennis and golf event, even those with ranking status, have the same format.

For me, Ali Carter and Graeme Dott's view is most aligned with my own. I'm not overly keen on having the opening round of ranking events being played away from the venue itself, often in another country.

ANON said...

In fairness the 'big' names have had their 1st round matches held over for TV. The reason Judd isn't one of them is that he has been playing awful (31st on the one year list).

I hope I'm wrong, but there's every sign that he's the new Colin Lloyd rather than the new Ronnie...

kildare cueman said...

I agree with JIMO96. The game is exciting now. Every tournament throws up a few different players.

Carter and Trump might not have came through if they turned pro in the same year as 5 or 6 quality players, as they would have been knocking each other out in the early rounds. The way its done now the top players really will be the top players.

Regarding the Crucible, if it has to go then so be it. Just because something works or has tradition doesn't mean it can't be improved upon.