Snooker returns on our screens tomorrow with the first event proper of the season: the Riga Masters 2018. Unfortunately for the event – and for its future – a number of top players decided to give it a miss: no Mark Selby, no John Higgins, no Ronnie, no Ding, no Judd Trump. But the World Champion, Mark Williams, is there, as is Ryan Day the Defending Champion. BTW, both had their last 128 match held over and both are through to the last 64 as their opponents withdrew! Despite a few big names missing it should be a good tournament. It will be on Eurosport and on Eurosport player. Ryan Day is a fantastic player to watch when on form and one who is underrated IMO.
The Riga Masters offers £50000 for the winner, not fantastic, but not bad for a three days event either. And Riga is a gorgeous city, well worth a visit: here is a photo album I made when I was in Riga four years ago.
On the Saturday, the third Challenge Tour event of the season will take place in Riga as well. This event has only 25 entries and THAT is definitely not great. There were discussions on Facebook as to why this is happening. One factor clearly is money, another is time. The players here are amateurs, many have a job, not necessarily one that pays well. A number have a family as well. They seem to find it difficult to sacrifice their money and time for those events. Why? Are they not eager to fulfill their dream and to become pros? I don’t think it’s that simple. Lets have a look at a few things that might deserve a rethink.
- The Challenge Tour offers two tour cards, going to the ones topping the Order of merit. I’m afraid that, as the series unfolds a number of players may feel that they have no chance to reach one of those two top spots and just give it up. Some ,of course, might see that by persisting they will get useful experience and will probably enter the next Q-school much better prepared. But not everyone will see it this especially if money is tight. So this is what I would consider instead: why not have the top 16 of the Order of Merit competing in a final event, the “Challenge Championship Grand Final”? This of course is inspired by what happened in the days of the PTCs: it culminated with the “Players Championship Grand Final”. The finalists of this event would get the tour cards. This way more players would feel that they do stay in contention for the duration of the season.
- There is neither live scoring, nor streaming (at least not in this part of the world). As a result it’s hard to follow what’s going on and it’s probably also much harder for the players involved to convince a sponsor to support them, which would ease the financial pressure. Sponsors are looking for visibility. Maybe it’s worth looking into the costs and the possible benefits of having a proper live scoring as well as having a couple of tables streamed.
Finally, on Saturday, in Gloucester, we will have the Pink Ribbon 2018. The Pink Ribbon is a charity Pro-Am and all money gathered goes to help charities that support Breast Cancer sufferers and their families. It’s been held every year since 2010. In the past, some very top players have played in it. John Higgins was there in 2011, as the reigning World Champion, and the runner-up, Judd Trump was there as well. Stuart Bingham won it in 2012. In 2013 Joe Perry beat Barry Hawkins in the final, Barry had been the runner-up in Sheffield that year. In 2015, Ronnie won it, sporting a quite peculiar hairdo.
This year, Robert Milkins, the defending Champion is the highest ranked player in the competition. These are the “pros” involved this time
As you can see this is a mix of actual pros and Challenge Tour players. The clash of dates with both the Riga Masters AND a Challenge tour event obviously hasn’t helped. How come? Well unfortunately the organisation of a pro-am this size – they have over 270 entries this year, and it was well above 350 in 2015 – takes time. The players need to plan and make themselves available. Clive Brown, who is Tournament Director, needs to find enough referees, and manage to organize the whole event. Everything is done by volunteers. This year the date had to be set before WS calendar was disclosed. The assumption was that end July would be a good time because in the previous couple of years the season started already in June and then featured a gap of 2 or 3 weeks towards end July. Hard luck. This year June was “free” and the first event proper of the season went to clash with the Pink Ribbon. Surely there must be a way to avoid this? I know that WPSA can’t possibly take every possible pro-am into account. That’s obvious. But surely they must have a good idea already of what their next season calendar will look like around end February- early March? Why not have a talk about it even if it’s not yet in the public eye? Anyway, I’m sure the event will be played in great spirit as ever and you’ll have pictures coming your way throughout!