Yesterday produced another surprise winner, as Ashley Carty prevailed in Group 16, a group featuring the current number two in the rankings, Neil Robertson.
Ashley Carty is the second young player, after Harvey Chandler last week, who nobody expected to win his group, played excellent stuff and sent the favourites packing. I really love this event, because it gives the likes of them the opportunity to show what they can do and how good they are.
How good they are comes to no surprise to me; I have watched them play in amateur events for years. They haven’t been able to bring that on the professional tour until now. Why? I have said this before and I’m saying it again: the current system is far too brutal, it doesn’t offer a path for development. The young players are set to play a top player in round 1, more often than not. With no money for first round losers they are put under extreme pressure. When playing on outside tables in qualifiers it’s hard to convince a sponsor to support you. This week, with £1000 guaranteed, and the certainty to get to play three matches on television, we have seen Ashley and Harvey blooming.
Young players should be seen as the future of the game – they are – and therefore worth investing into. Minimal prize money to first round losers should not be seen as rewarding mediocrity, it should be seen as an investment. Not all investments earn you a return, whatever your trade, but not investing is a sure path to decline.
The state of the amateur game is such that young players who qualify for the main tour aren’t ready. That’s plain for all to see. All very young players who had a modicum of success in the last years come from China, a country where there is a strong amateur scene, and where academies and structures are funded by the authorities in order to properly support the sport’s development.
I hope that snooker bosses will reflect on what happened this week, and consider going back to a tiered system, or a round-robin system, at least for some events. That would help the young players. I also hope that they come round the idea to pay minimal prize money to the first round losers. By playing they contribute to the tournament, win or lose they bring value to the events, the sponsors and the venue. It would only be fair and it would ease the pressure on them. Throwing people in a choppy sea and hope they learn to swim is bound to result in drowning for most, including many who had the potential to become champion swimmers.
It’s worth to remember that someone as good as Neil Robertson was relegated several times before finding his foot in the professional game. He wasn’t ready because, in his home country, the level of the amateur game was not as good at in the UK. For all his talent, it took him more than two years to get where he needed to be, and even in when he started to get the results, his game was still very raw. Those who watched him play back around 2007/2008 will remember. “If they are good enough, they will make it” simply isn’t true, every player is different and so are their circumstances.
And, as I’m at it anyway, I’d like to see a return of the points system, with events with similar formats being rewarded the same way. If there are no points available for losing a first match, whatever the round, there is no protection of the top players, quite the opposite as they are bound to face stronger opponents from the word go. It’s simple enough to understand. Players and fans would easily figure out what any player needs to do at any stage of the season to reach their goal. And, if sponsors want the big boys in their events, they will still need to put good money on the table.
I know that round-robins are not popular with some players, or with the bookies, because of “dead matches”, but that’s easy to avoid. With prize money depending on their place in the groups, players have an incentive to try their best even when they have no hope to progress anymore.