Last week saw two qualifying events take place in Preston: the Indian Open 2018 qualifying round (last 128) and the European Masters 2018 qualifying round (last 128).
You can find all the Indian Open qualifiers results on snooker.org including links to the footage of the streamed matches.
This particular tournament never attracts many top players and this year edition is no exception. Relatively low prize money, long trip and a history of tourista epidemics amongst the players are probably the reasons for that. In addition, most of the entering top players have their last 128 match held-over, notably John Higgins (defending champion), Shaun Murphy, Mark Allen and Neil Robertson. So there weren’t many “shocks” at those qualifiers, but the 4-1 defeat of Anthony McGill at the hands of Thor Chuan Leong is certainly a surprise. That said Thor played well and played old-school hard match snooker to which Anthony had no answer.
The results of the European Masters 2018 can be found here, again with links to the videos of the streamed matches.
Here we had a few surprises with Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Michael White, Martin Gould and Ben Woollaston failing to qualify. Also Mark Selby, Stuart Bingham, David Gilbert, Mark Allen and Neil Robertson all had to face a decider before going through. It’s fair to say that the combination of a qualifiers environment and a short format seems to be a bit of a leveler!
The talking point on social media however today is Rory Mc Leod win over Luckas Kleckers in a deciding frame that lasted (about) 104 minutes! It was all started by Barry Hearn reminding everyone of his intention to send letters of warning to the players with an average shot time (AST) over 30 seconds, in an attempt to make the game more entertaining. This got Peter Ebdon up in arms … and I have to say that I agree with Peter here.
Let me remind you that section IV of the rules states that taking unnecessary long time over a shot, or the conception of a shot is deemed ungentlemanly conduct and hence should be tackled by the referee, starting with a warning and going possibly as far as forfeiting the match if the situation persists. This particular part of the rule seems to be very rarely applied, and is indeed very delicate to apply as a lot of factors need to be taken into consideration: the natural pace of the player, the situation on the table, the importance and stage in the match … to name only a few. Yet, it’s in the rules, and if rules are not applied they need either to be amended – if deemed inadequate – or enforced. Anything else makes a mockery of the sport.
Occurences of breach of the section IV rules are certainly not rife in snooker, but I have seen a few, the last time happening in the last round of the World Championship 2017 qualifiers. It was blatant, and I think that everyone watching snooker regularly would have recognised the situation but the culprit got away with it and won his match at ungodly hours over a gutted opponent. This is not right BUT this is typically a situation that will NOT be identified by looking at the AST, even over the match, as it was a long match , and certainly not over a whole season.
Some players are naturally slower, and need more thinking time. It does NOT make them less entertaining. Peter Ebdon is a prime example of that (*). Some low ranked players are under such pressure that they tend to slow down in an attempt to better gather their thoughts and avoid mistakes. Who can blame them? In fact negative play is more damaging to the sport, and more likely to produce long tedious matches than slow execution of the right well thought shots. But there is nothing in the rules to prevent negative play and it would be impossible to enforce anyway.
In short, AST fines is a daft idea by Hearn and one that is bound to fail and to produce more negative play resulting in less entertaining matches rather than more entertaining ones.
(*) Yes, I know, there was THAT QF in 2005 and IMO he should have been warned then, but it’s a one-off. The 2006 World Final final was just a case of two completely exhausted players struggling to the finish line …