Two thoughts about the game …

As we have a rare break from competitive snooker, it’s a good opportunity to reflect about our sport, its exponents and its governing body.

Mark Selby’s brain freeze.

During his QF match against John Higgins in Belfast, Mark Selby took 6’13” over one single shot. Mark was 66 ahead, with 67 on. He needed just one more red to leave his opponent needing snooker. John Higgins needed all remaining reds with blacks to be able to win. The situation on the table was such that Mark had no easy red to go at. He could have gone for one along the top cushion but it was very risky because he had to cue over the black – very close to it – whilst elevating the cue. If he missed the red, there was every chance he would leave it. He did however have other options, much easier ones, if he chose to play safe, and knowing that Higgins needed all reds with blacks and all colours to follow, the obvious choice was to make that clearance as difficult as possible to achieve by sending a wisely chosen ball safe.

The above is a video showing Mark’s thinking time vs Ronnie’s fastest 147. I suppose it’s just a bit of fun. There were however quite a few nasty reactions on social media, and Mark got quite a lot of stick, even being accused of plain gamesmanship. Mark freely admitted that he had been guilty of over-thinking and showed a good sense of humour in the face of the abuse he got.

This was the reaction of the commentators:

Eurosport commentator Neal Foulds led the backlash against Mark Selby after he took six minutes and 13 seconds to play a shot during his Northern Ireland Open quarter-final defeat to John Higgins.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Mark Selby trailed John Higgins 4-2 in their Northern Ireland Open quarter-final when he suffered an almighty brain freeze in the seventh frame.

Selby returned to the table with a 66-0 lead when Higgins fluffed a shot, leaving a selection of simple safety shots available to the English Open champion.

Higgins needed to clear the table perfectly – five reds, five blacks plus the colours – to pinch the frame, but Selby decided to deliberate… and deliberate… and deliberate over his next shot.

What followed was one of the most bizarre passages of snooker as Selby cut a baffled figure, eyeing up various angles without committing, while the referee stood silently alongside him.

Six minutes and 13 seconds passed before a shot was finally taken – 53 seconds more than Ronnie O’Sullivan’s fastest 147 maximum in 1997 – as Selby’s hopeful red found the jaws of the top pocket and ricocheted away.

‘IT’S OUTRAGEOUS’ – FOULDS BAFFLED

Eurosport commentator Neal Foulds couldn’t believe what he was watching.

At 3:20: “Mark has just tangled himself up in knots here for no reason. If he doesn’t fancy a pot, he’s got to play safe. That’s all there is to it. This is ridiculous in my opinion, it’s much too long over a situation where he’s not in any trouble whatsoever.”

At 4:40: “It’s unacceptably long. I’m a big fan of Mark, but this is just not on I’m afraid… it’s outrageous.”

At 5:45: “He’s just got to play a shot. It’s stupid. He’s taken root here. How many more times is he going to sit on the table, look at that red and not play it? If only he knew this is six minutes.”

Was it gamesmaship? I certainly don’t think so. I have seen gamesmaship happen, more often on side tables than on television. I have never seen it restricted to just one shot. It’s usually spread over a significant period of time. It involves wasting time on most shots, if not every shot. It usually also isn’t limited to taking long thinking time at the table. More often than not, it also comes with getting out of the chair slowly, returning to drink a bit, asking the ref to clean the balls etc… and I have seen referees refusing to clean the balls and telling the player that they had just been cleaned and certainly didn’t need cleaning again. It may even involve chalking whilst the opponent is on the shot, or stirring the ice in the bucket. To me, Mark just “froze”, there was no ill intention, and John Higgins, asked his opinion after the match, said that this can happen to any player.

Should the referee have done something? Yes, probably. No formal warning, but a quiet word to get Mark back into reality.

Barry Hearn felt the need to have his say as well. 

‘I don’t want to see a player given that long over a shot again’: Barry Hearn insists there will be no repeat of Mark Selby’s six minute shot at the upcoming UK Championship

  • Mark Selby was criticised for his slow play at the Northern Ireland Open 
  • The world No 6 took a total of six minutes and 13 seconds on a single shot
  • Barry Hearn says a repeat won’t be allowed at this month’s UK Championship

The sport has made progress eliminating slow play – with a ‘name and shame’ policy dragging down average shot times.

World Snooker chairman Hearn said: ‘I don’t want to see a player given that long over a shot again at the UK Championship.

‘Six minutes is a hell of a long time, unbelievable really as there are only so many computations.

‘Mark himself said he was guilty of over-thinking the shot, and he has summed that up pretty well.

‘But I would like to think the referee after a reasonable amount of time on any difficult shot should make a point of saying something. Six minutes is too long.

‘I understand the ref’s reticence to a point at a tense moment, but generally I wouldn’t expect a player to take anywhere near that long without being asked ‘Can you make your mind up’?

‘I would add I am less concerned in principle over one shot or one frame – and more bothered with consistent offending.

‘And we are very pleased overall with the progress on speed of play by naming and shaming those falling outside the 30 seconds a shot.’

To me, it’s important that the refs feel comfortable when intervening in such situations and, maybe, there is something that can be done to help them in that respect. The referees should be reassured that the authorities will back them, and players should be explained that such intervention is not driven by the assumption that they are cheating but by the necessity to keep the game fluent for the sake of the viewing audience.

Amine Amiri

Amine Amiri, from Morocco, got on the tour this season because he won the African games. To win that he played three matches against African amateurs, lost one, won two. As a pro, he’s played just one match, at the English Open 2019. He was whitewashed by Barry Hawkins, who restricted him to 49 points. His high break in professional competition is just 30.

Now, in the UK Championship 2019, and in the Scottish Open 2019, he’s due to face Judd Trump. There is every chance that he gets beat heavily twice. I wish he can at least take a couple of frames, but I’m not to hopeful.

Unless something really unexpected happens, he will have earned nothing for his efforts so far this season. Yet, like everyone, he needs to eat, live somewhere and pay his bills.

What’s my point? Well, my point is that all the signs are there that this player is nowhere near to the level he would need to play on the main tour. It has been a pattern with African nominations, and Oceanian nominations. It’s not those guys fault either. Even if they have the talent, they most problably don’t have the structures and infrastructures, nor the type of opposition and the opportunities to play competitively that they would need to reach the required level. They are lambs for the slaughter on the main tour.

I do understand the will of WPBSA to develop snooker in those regions, to make it a truly international sport. And for those guys to progress, they obviously need to start to play against tougher opposition under professional conditions. But surely there must be a better way than throwing them to the wolves right away? When you get battered time after time, and there is a chasm in level, it can be quite soul destroying.

Why not offer those nominees a one year scholarship in an Academy in the UK, and free entries in the Challenge Tour events, along with a commitment to play in at least half of them? (visa issues might make it difficult to play in all events). Then, depending on their results, and making sure that they want to commit, they could be offered a two year card. Just a thought.

 

 

 

One thought on “Two thoughts about the game …

  1. Yes, in fact if the referee had intervened, it might have actually helped Mark Selby get unstuck, and shock him into taking a fresh view of the position. There probably has to be a maximum thinking time, and this might be difficult to administer, but the AST time recordings do allow for individual shot times to be flagged, so a red light could be possible on the referee’s box.

    Amine Amiri’s unlucky draws do at least promote the African game, although perhaps not wholly positively. Unfortunately, the first round of the UK is not televised on the BBC, so we don’t get to see the African player. Two years ago Basem Eltahhan was outplaying Mark Selby, but after a succession of defeats his game fell apart. Of course it’s too early to tell how good Amiri might be, but if we had a global ranking system… It would be reasonable to give continental champions a wildcard for the World Championship, International Championship and World Open, but possibly not the full tour. A Swiss-style Q School would potentially allow players to be fast-tracked provided they achieved a certain number of wins.

    The issue is similar to that of the women players, and everyone seemed happy that Reanne Evans participated in the elite Champion of Champions. However they decide to promote the game, there’s going to be a period of several years when the results are horrible.

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