Reflecting on the decade: the rankings

2010 is the year Barry Hearn came at the helm and started a process that has completely transformed the sport. Today, I want to look at one particular aspect: the ranking system.

In 2009/2010 the ranking system was points based and static. Players were awarded a fixed number of points for reaching a certain round in the tournament. Most ranking tournaments had an identical “tariff”, the UK Championship and  the World Championship awarding more points than the rest, especially the latter.

The tournaments “proper” – televised – featured 32 players, the top 16 that were seeded according to their ranking, and 16 qualifiers.  There were 96 players on the tour at the time. The 80 players that weren’t in the top 16, had to come through a tiered qualifying system: usually 81-96 v (seeded) 80-65, the winners v 64-49, the winners v 48-33 and finally the winners v 32-17. There was an amount of points awarded at each level and, at each level, the losing seed was still awarded points, usually the amount pertinent to the previous round. The whole “weighting” of the points was favouring consistency more than winning: as an example, usually reaching the QF stage earned a player half of the points earned by the winner. Nowadays even the losing finalist rarely gets that much. Ranking were updated once a year, after the World Championship.

This system was very static. Basically winning most of their first matches would allow a player to stay in the “ranking bracket” they had started the season in. It was also rewarding consistency rather than winning. For instance Stephen Hendry regained the n°1 spot in 2006, despite not going past the SF round – which he reached twice – and losing in the last 16 at the World Championship. In addition it meant that, over a season, the same players kept colliding into each others at a certain stage because the system was seeding based, and their seeding didn’t change over the season.

A player in form had to wait until the next season to reap the fruit of their efforts, a player going through a bad spell was “protected”, at least for the duration of the season.

Right from the start Barry Hearn vowed to make the whole system more dynamic. The first step towards that was taken right away: from the 2010/11 season on, the rolling ranking system came in operation: the rankings were updated after each tournament, whilst the seedings were updated at pre-determined cut-off points. The whole system still remained basically a tiered one for the time being.

This tiered system has drawbacks. It forced lower ranked players to play more matches than those seeded above them to win an event, which was deemed as “unfair” by many. At the time, the qualifying matches were usually played in cubicles, with only a couple of people watching, and in conditions that were completely different from those of the television stages. This meant that the lower ranked players who qualified for a main event were put at a huge disadvantage because their top 16 opponent, who they rarely played, was used to those conditions and they were not. The difference in lighting for instance is huge. So much so that Stuart Pettman, in his book, explains that he had one table installed in his club with “television lighting” hoping that it would help him to cope should he reach the last 32 stage of events. To an extend though the introduction of the PTC (Players Tour Championship) in the same 2010/11 season helped the lowest ranked players to get more used to television exposure and playing the top dogs. But the PTC story is for another post…

The tiered system however had advantages as well. It ensured that the players’ first opponent in a tournament was someone of similar level to their own. There weren’t huge mismatches. The path to the television stage was a progressive one, allowing for player’s improvement and development. This, I feel, is important especially for the rookies on the tour. Granted, to progress, you have to play against better than you, but it’s all a matter of measure. If the difference in level is too big, and if you are spending the whole match sat in your seat, it won’t teach you much. If you are savagely battered in every tournament it’s dispiriting and demotivating.

In the 2014/15 season, Barry Hearn introduced the “money list” system. This had been announced as early as October 2011 and confirmed at the Crucible in April 2012.

Here is an article by Matt Huart, analysing the impact of that radical change in the ranking system.

World Snooker Confirms Money List From 2014/15


As initially suggested as long ago as last October and confirmed by Barry Hearn at the Crucible in April, World Snooker have today announced the introduction of a switch to a money-based ranking list from 2014/15, as opposed to the points based listing currently in place. Click below for a few of my thoughts on the subject…

The Advantages

My initial reaction is really much as it was back when I first blogged about the subject last year, insofar as the advantages and disadvantages remain much as they were then.

Considering the advantages of a ranking list based on prize money earned, the argument made by Barry Hearn during one of his two press conferences during the 2012 World Championship was as follows:

“As a system, a money-based Order of Merit has two big advantages. One, it is much easier understood by the general public rather than a complicated series of points. Two, under the current system, if a younger player came in and won the World Championship in his first year, he may well not be seeded in the top 32. This is clearly ridiculous where the world champion would have such a low rating. By substituting prize money for points, I believe we show a true reflection that is mirrored in other sports, such as the golf tours and the tennis tours.”

“So starting from the new season, we will run two parallel lists. We will operate under a points system, but we will run in conjunction with that a prize money list.”

On a personal level, I have to say that I am not particularly convinced by these perceived advantages, but then as someone who has considered snooker rankings under a points-based system for far longer than I have written this blog, the current system and its various quirks comes almost as second nature to me. I don’t believe that a points-based list such as that currently in operation is difficult to understand per se, but the way that the rankings are currently presented and explained to the general public, could be improved upon significantly. This will be just as important with regard to any future Order of Merit as well because the draft list published today leaves me with more questions than it does answers.

Comparing the situation to other sports as Hearn has done, I wouldn’t profess to be an expert with golf, but I do follow tennis and am slightly bemused by the parallel drawn to a sport which actually uses a points-based system!

Having also followed darts to some degree, I can recall when there was a similar switch to a money-based Order of Merit in around 2007 and I don’t think that it made the rankings any more or less difficult to follow. Whether from the point of view of the general public such a money list is easier to follow I am not so sure. Maybe, I find that a difficult one to judge. Commercially of course there is also an argument to say that it makes the sport easier to sell to sponsors and TV companies, though again I am not the best placed to judge on whether that is in reality the case.


The effects

Turning to the issue of how it would affect players further down the rankings, it is true to say that if a lower ranked player were to win a major tournament such as the World Championship, they would rise up the rankings far quicker than they would under the current system, but is that necessarily a good thing?

In many ways it comes down to what your take is on what a ranking list should reflect. On the one hand, the World Championship is the most important and most prestigious tournament on the calendar, but on the other it is arguable that a two-year ranking list should reflect exactly that, performances over a two-year period.

Obviously on ability and on account of his performance at the Crucible, Ronnie O’Sullivan is clearly better than the 15th ranked player that he currently is, but given the fact that from September 2010-April 2011, Ronnie failed to win a match in an event carrying ranking points, should he be ranked number two in the world under a two-year system as he would be under a money list? It is an interesting one.

As explained in my previous article too, as the structure of events currently stands, I would have serious reservations as to how a money-based system can operate fairly.

This is due to the fact that at certain events, players currently have to win multiple matches in order to earn any prize money and looking at the draft money list posted by World Snooker (some figures within which look somewhat dubious at first glance), major tournament victories aside, realistically if anything it looks to be no easier for lower ranked players who are consistently winning matches without making the latter stages of venues, to climb the rankings.

With round-by-round prize money increases becoming significantly steeper as tournaments enter the latter stages (see here for example), on the face of the figures, I fear that a money list is only going to strengthen the position of those seeded through to the latter stages of events. At least under the present system, seeded losers are awarded half-points which while not indeal, does reward those who are able to win matches, but there is no such leveller in place regarding a potential money list. There was also a good point raised by David Grace earlier concerning the differences in prize money from round to round, which seem inconsistent at best.


Of course though, there are moves afoot to change the current system, with flatter draws at the Welsh and German Masters tournaments coming into play this season, as well as talk of entirely flat draws in future seasons meaning that all players will be able to come in at the same stage of tournaments and have an equal opportunity to progress and earn prize money. On a practical level I am not sure how achievable this really is, surely tournaments would have to be played over a longer period, or there will have to be qualifying rounds which involve the full compliment of 128 tour players, but time will tell. It is hard to imagine that the television broadcasters will be too happy at the prospect of the big names crashing out during pre-tv stages, though perhaps certain matches could be held over to the venue, which in itself is not necessarily fair.

It must also be said, that while I do have reservations as to the change, the current points system is far from perfect, though I would argue that rather than being a problem with points as such, the problem is that the points tariffs for events are questionable to say the least, certainly the 10,000 on offer for winning the World Championship is not a large enough amount given the amount of frames required to win the tournament in comparison to other events offering 8,000 or 7,000 points. Over the past few seasons, the previous tariffs have merely been tweaked, when in reality I believe that they would have probably benefited from a full overhaul following the introduction of PTC events and the decision to ‘upgrade’ events held in China a couple of years ago.


So what judgements can we make at this stage? For the reasons outlined, under the current system of multiple qualifying rounds, with not enough money to finance those going out in the early rounds, I find it hard to see how a money-based ranking list can operate on a fair basis. Even looking at those losing at the early rounds at the venues, the gulf in prize money on offer compared to those in the later rounds is huge and it is arguable that the gulf between those at the top and those further down is only going to widen.

However, given what Barry Hearn said at the Crucible, it looks likely that by 2014 there will be further significant changes made to the structure of both the tour and of individual events. As a result, clearly the switch to a money list has to be viewed not in isolation, but in conjunction with all of these changes, most of which we will not even be aware of yet.

While it sounds like a cop-out therefore, we will probably not be able to draw any firm conclusions until far closer to the switch in 2014…

I completely agree with Matt’s analysis and I certainly could not express it better than he did. Only thing the money list has done is to reward winners, rather than consistency, something I agree with, in principle. But with no money for those losing in the first round, and the flat draw that was made the norm around the same time it just puts even more pressure on the lower ranked players and the newcomers on the tour. And since the introduction of the Coral series, a series of ranking tournaments reserved for those already at the top in the one year list, it’s even harder for those fighting in the lower ranks.

Finally, having events with similar format, requiring the similar effort, but “rewarding” the players in completely dissimilar ways isn’t right or fair in my book. Yet it’s what happens with the current money list.

So lets put it to the test of current results …

This is the top 24 at the start of 2010/11 – the first season under Hearn

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Judd Trump who had just turned 21, and had turned pro in 2005/06 was ranked 30th.

This is the top 24 now…

Screenshot 2019-12-18 at 10.34.44.png

Ten years after 14 of the top 24 of 2010 are still there, Actually 10 of the 2010 top 16 are still in the elite bracket. There certainly wasn’t a big overhaul of the rankings at the top.

Judd Trump was an outstanding junior. After 5 seasons he was ranked 30, and his big moment was just around the corner: in 2010/11 he was to win his first ranking event, the China Open 2011 and reach the World Championship final. Jack Lisowski wasn’t yet a pro.

Of those who aren’t in the top 24 anymore, Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Joe Swail, Dave Harold and Jamie Cope retired. Swail and Cope were forced into it by health issues that ruined their career. Both Marco Fu and Ricky Walden are still competing but have dropped because health issues, Marco needed an eye surgery, Ricky had ongoing back problems. However both are showing signs of a return to form.

Basically, the top guys from then are still the top guys from now: the whole of the class of 92 are still in the top 16 … at the age of 44. And this HAS to be a surprise, because, back then, I remember heated discussions on forums about how the top 16 would look in five years time – 2015 – and most fans weren’t giving Higgins, Williams and Ronnie much of a chance, nevermind Joe Perry.

The only teenager in this field in Yan Bingtao who won his first ranking event at the start of this season. Jack and him are the only ones under 30 and the only ones who entered the tour in 2010 or later.

There has been a lot more movement down the rankings but that’s mainly because now, every year there are many more players dropping off the tour and being replaced. But then again, the Q-school system, the main source of new players, has mainly benefitted “returning” players. That however is a story for another day…

So my feeling is that the new system hasn’t really worked. It hasn’t helped the younger players to get through, and they are the ones important for the future. Why? Well in my opinion, it’s because the current system is way too brutal and it’s made worse by the fact that the young upcoming players aren’t as ready as they used to be because of the decline of the amateur scene (*). Therefore, having them to face a top player in their first round is like throwing them to the wolves. There are some upsets, but not that many. The rookies need more winnable matches to be able to learn and gain some confidence. Surely there must be possible to find a system somehow “in between” the old one and the current one? Maybe a “mix” of flat draws and tiered events all played at the venue from round one?

Next season, there will be one tiered event with all players at the venue in Saudi Arabia… Great? It would be if …

Jason Ferguson defended the gouverning body, stating that WPBSA is a “non political” organisation… yet last year the traditional end-of-year award dinner was cancelled because the people owning the hotel where is was due to happen, are big in Brunei and, allegedly, the cancellation was in protest against human rights damaging laws recently voted in Brunei. Hum?

(*) The exceptions – to an extend – are the players from China, a country where the snooker scene is vibrant, snooker is part of the schools curriculum  and they have academies and strong structures.



4 thoughts on “Reflecting on the decade: the rankings

    • That’s another problem with the ranking system. They have to keep giving people 2-year tour cards, even those who stay on via the 1-year list. They might have thought to give Jimmy a 1-year card (his 40th season) as a compromise, and as a hint…

  1. Well my views on rankings are well-known. A money-list is just a points-based system where the tariffs are decided by tournament organisers and sponsors, so it can’t be superior as a system. It does have some limited appeal as a marketing device.

    Anyway, snooker is completely hidebound with the idea of ‘ranking points’, which dates back to the 1970’s. It’s an affliction which affects the organisers, players, commentators, audiences and the online community. Everyone has been brainwashed by the concept. It strangles the development of the game by restricting the structures of ‘Ranking Tournaments’, such that the Masters, Shanghai Masters and Champion of Champions don’t even count. How stupid is that?

    This week we have back-to-back qualifiers for European events. Because of the ranking system, the German and Austrian players have to go to Barnsley, probably lose, and the crowds at the main event have no local players to cheer. And no Ronnie O’Sullivan, or any top player who happens to lose. If I was a tournament organiser or sponsor, I would insist on “the best 16 players available, 12 qualifiers and 4 wildcards”. The wildcards would include local players, perhaps someone like Jimmy White. Under the current ranking system, that’s impossible. Under other ranking systems, it absolutely is. Those two tournaments will fizzle out, as will others.

    • Yes Lewis, I’m afraid that the whole “European leg” is doomed because you won’t find big local sponsors under the current circumstances. Not just the structure, but the tight association with the betting industry as well. As a mainland European, I’m worried and disappointed.

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