The williamhill.com United Kingdom Championship has a fine history forged from 36 years of competition.

The event began as a non-ranking tournament for British and Irish players only but gained ranking status in 1984. It was Steve Davis’s first major title and he won six UK trophies from 1980 and 1987.

Stephen Hendry has five UK titles to his name, Ronnie O’Sullivan four and John Higgins three.

For many years the event was staged at Preston Guild Hall and had a best of 31 frame final but in 1993 the final was reduced to best of 19. Two years ago the best of 17 frame early matches were reduced to best of 11.

This worked well for a 32-man TV format but this year it has changed again, with 127 matches to be played in 13 days at the Barbican Centre in York.

There are so many matches to be crammed in that the venue itself has been split in two, with some matches in the main Barbican arena and some in a sports hall.

This prestigious and much loved event has become the Boxing Helena of tournaments – sliced, cut and squeezed into as tight a space as possible.

The BBC, host broadcasters, was not entirely happy with the ‘flat’ everyone-in-the-first-round format which risked losing the game’s big hitters before the cameras arrived on Saturday.

A compromise has been reached. Seed no.1 plays seed 128, no.2 plays no.127 and so on, which considerably reduces the likelihood of shocks.

Some players are doubtless unhappy with this rigid system but the fact is the BBC pays something like £4m a year to televise their events and it’s completely understandable that they want recognisable faces on the screens, because that’s what most viewers want.

The four top seeds – Mark Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui – have had their last 128 matches held over for TV, although it remains to be seen how competitive these will be as they are each playing amateurs with no experience of the forbidding TV arena.

There is streaming of some earlier matches but the problem for fans is that they have no idea when anyone is playing once the first round is concluded. If you want tickets to watch, say, Judd Trump in the last 64, you don’t know what session to buy them for.

It is, though, a great venue in a nice city and the UK Championship remains a title every snooker player wants on their CV.

The British players will have grown up watching it on the BBC, an often criticised corporation but one, it should be remembered, who created the snooker boom through showcasing it on colour television, and who stuck with the sport after other broadcasters had dumped it.

One constant at the UK Championship is a paucity of shock winners, certainly fewer than in the World Championship.

Selby is defending champion and starts in the group of favourites alongside O’Sullivan, Ding and Robertson.

Mark Allen will be hoping to translate good PTC form into a major event. Stuart Bingham will try to maintain the momentum of his run to the Champion of Champions final.

Judd Trump, the winner two years ago, is looking for much needed confidence and an upturn in form and results.

And there are many, many others hoping to come through the pack and spring a surprise in the biggest tournament staged in Britain since the Crucible showpiece last spring.

It all starts today with TV coverage beginning, as is traditional, on Saturday.


Unknown said...

In 1981, the Canadian trio of Thorburn, Stevens and Werbeniuk took part in the UK Champs. How was this possible, when it was only open to UK and Irish players?

Dave H said...

I think you could play in it if you were resident in the UK, which they would have been.

Snookerbrain1968 said...

Totally compelling profile of Jimmy White last night on ITV4 David.
His contribution to the popularity of the game simply cannot be overstated.
Was fortunate to watch him win his first pro victory, Langs Supreme Scottish Masters in '81 and his last, Players Championship in '04, both in Glasgow.
His well publicised and openly admitted flaws aside, what excitement he gave us all.
Think it was Hearn that said that people buy a ticket for a seat to watch White then sit on the edge of it.
Thank you for some great, great times Jimmy !