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Big Changes ahead for Snooker
 Posted on Thursday, May 10 2012 @ 18:33:00 UTCby admin
Snooker The 2012 BetFred.com World Snooker Championships
The Crucible Theatre
55 Norfolk Street
S1 1DA

21 April - 7 May 2012

Ronnie O'Sullivan - 2012 BetFred.com World Snooker Champion
All photography ©John-Patrick Fletcher - used by Pro9 with express permission.

Big Changes ahead for Snooker

Having defeated Ali Carter 18-11, Ronnie O'Sullivan has now won the World Snooker Championships four times. In doing so he officially moves into the elite group of snooker players in history where his fans have always believed he belongs. It has been a long road for Ronnie to get here when you consider his various personal issues during a career spanning eighteen seasons at the very top of the game. A harsh critic may say four World Titles is underperforming for Ronnie, such is the genius of his talent. He has been in four finals, winning all of them. Regardless of how many titles he could have won he now holds a haul of World Titles that matches his impact on the baize. Well done to him.

The subplot to the World Snooker Championships was the changes about to hit the game. The World Snooker Championships at The Crucible, lauded every year by the nostalgic TV commentary team of past top professionals such as Ken Doherty, Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorne, John Virgo, Stephen Hendry, Neal Foulds and Steve Davis was the only tournament not tweaked by World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn as he looks to have the impact of snooker that he had on the PDC Darts, which has enjoyed a renaissance under his control. So far one frame shootout tournaments where there is one prize, Powerplay Snooker and shortened tournament formats have been introduced to freshen up Snookers appeal.

Next season, the changes continue with a fifty week season containing twenty six tournaments. Rankings will be decided not by points, but by prize money. It is a far cry from a season consisting of six ranking tournaments across the year where the players who were in the top sixteen were highly liked to remain in there. Breaking into the elite top sixteen was difficult and rarely achieved. The same players won tournament after tournament and the game was structured to heavily reward those at the top. There was no strength in depth in terms of tour quality and it showed with little movement for a generation in terms of the regular players we watched on television.

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The Crucible Theatre - Sheffield

Let me ask you a question. Have you heard of Mike Dunn, Tom Ford, Jimmy Michie or Ben Woolaston? The general public may not be aware of these players. All these players are in the top fifty in the world, most of them for many, many years and are all highly skilled snooker professionals who would dazzle you if you saw them playing in your local club. Would you consider players from yesteryear like Dave Harold, Andy Hicks and Jimmy White to be past it? You may be surprised to learn that each of these players remains ranked in the top fifty snooker players in the world, which is a highly credible ranking in any cuesport discipline. There is a public perception that outside of the top sixteen rankings a snooker player is either declining in their career or simply not good enough. It is these players in particular who will now have their chance to shine under a system that rewards dedication, where a strong season will result in a good ranking and a bad season will be fairly reflected in the players ranking.

Not many players broke through within the old ranking system. Todays top players such as Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby were professionals for many years before breaking into the elite of the game. What made it so difficult for these professionals to get to the top? They had the stroke, the dedication, but it still took many years. Then I look at current European Number 1 9-Ball player Chris Melling and wonder why it is that someone with such a quality cue action did not make it in snooker. He did spend a few years on tour then dropped off, but his success in 9-Ball is not solely down to the bigger pockets. Like many others, Chris is so good he could pot them through the eye of a needle if he had to. The problem was the tour was not designed to filter opportunities through the rankings. Right or wrongly, you had to get to the top quickly or miss out.

The impending changes have ruffled a few feathers with the established professionals. Stephen Hendry decided to retire after losing in the quarter finals of this years World Championships citing a schedule conflict between spending time with his family and his other business interests against the increasing demands of the snooker tour. Hendry is fortunate enough to be able to retire and never work again having enjoyed huge success in his snooker career, however, he is the exception rather than the rule. Whilst Hendry, O’Sullivan and the other top pros were making hundreds of thousands per year on the old style tour, many more pros ranked only slightly lower in the twenties and thirties were struggling to make a good wage every season. This does not bode well for snookers strength in depth and many highly competent players were forced to find other work to support themselves financially as snooker was not providing for them. Golf, for example, does not have this problem and has many more participants as a result.

Upon winning his fourth World Snooker Championship, Ronnie O’Sullivan announced a six month break from the game. He also expressed dissatisfaction with what he called “blackmailing” of players who face financial sanctions from World Snooker if they miss tournaments without good reason. Barry Hearn needs to manage the transition carefully because losing too many big names will, in the short term at least, be damaging to snookers commercial appeal. The task for Hearn is to take the players with him without alienating too many of the established tour pros. It takes time to create new stars.

Who do I expect to benefit the most from the new system? The cream will rise to the top as in other sports and I believe important character traits of professionalism; dedication and attitude will be even more important now. Players who I believe are best placed to benefit from the increased demands are therefore, in no particular order, Shaun Murphy, Matthew Stevens, Stephen Lee, Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby. Stevens and Lee have benefited greatly from the additional tournaments, aiding their return to the top sixteen after a spell in snookers lower ranks. Judd Trump should do well too, providing he continues to work hard and develops an O’Sullivan-like safety game to go with his excellent potting game.

Judd Trump

Next season should be very exciting and whether you like the impending changes or not, the players will be much more motivated to practise in the much shortened off-season to grab the additional rewards that snooker as a sport now offers. This means snooker being played at a higher standard by more players, which can only be good for the game.

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