Shambolic first day at the 2021 Nothern Ireland Qualifiers

This is WST report about yesterday at the 2021 Northern Ireland Open qualifiers:

Stevens Books Belfast Spot

Matthew Stevens edged out Zhao Xintong 4-3 in a high quality contest to earn a place in the final stages of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open.

The qualifying round runs until Friday this week in Leicester, with places at the Waterfront Hall at stake – the televised phase to take place in October.

After losing the first frame, former UK and Masters champion Stevens took three in a row with breaks of 99, 111 and 66. China’s Zhao hit back with 75 and 51 for 3-3. The decider came down to a tactical battle on the brown, and Zhao was unlucky to go in-off when attempting safety, gifting Stevens the chance to clear for victory.

Peter Devlin came from 2-0 down to beat Alexander Ursenbacher 4-2 with a top break of 84. Cao Yupeng also made an impressive fight back, recovering a 3-1 deficit to beat Robbie Williams 4-3, compiling runs of 95 and 65 in the last two frames.

James Cahill, a late replacement for Graeme Dott, fired runs of 97, 104 and 87 in a 4-2 win over Chang Bingyu, while Lu Ning made a 33 clearance in the decider to beat Scott Donaldson 4-3.

The story of the day though isn’t in this WST report.

For most of the day, the livescores didn’t work. As a result, even now, most matches don’t have frames scores. I suppose they might come at one stage as they must be on the match sheets… hopefully.

WST has posted that those qualifiers would be on Eurosport app. This wasn’t the case. and going by ES schedule this won’t be the case today either. The only snooker available on ES schedule are repeats of the British Open final.

I, being in Greece, was able to watch the matches on My friends in the UK couldn’t though and the only way for them to watch the snooker was via betting sites.

Even so, for most of the day, scores were not displayed on table 2 at all. This made it extremely difficult for the team to provide their usual service to the fans. It was a nightmare.

With just two tables, and no crowds, the qualifiers environment is absolutely soul destroying. It’s dark, lonely and lifeless. Before it all started, one player had told me that they were allowed to bring one companion at the venue and that this person would not be allowed to sit in the arena to watch their match. Really? With only two tables in use that would have been at most 4 spectators in the whole arena. You have to wonder why such drastic restrictions are imposed on the players when only the night before a full house of spectators was allowed to watch the British Open final at the same venue.

Come on WST/WPBSA, this is not right. Yes, it’s their job. It’s a difficult enough job as it is, it should not be made worse by depressing surroundings and unecessary isolation.

Don’t be surprised if we have “shocks” here or if top players shun events if they are required to qualify in such conditions.

The only “light” on the day for me was to see Jan Verhaas at the table, a rarity in recent times.



10 thoughts on “Shambolic first day at the 2021 Nothern Ireland Qualifiers

  1. It’s hard not to feel like snooker is close to being on its “last legs”. Ronnie’s eventual retirement might prove to be the fatal blow…

  2. It’s distressing for me to see the demise of the Home Nations events. There were questions why Stephen Hendry didn’t enter, but it’s pretty clear he wants to concentrate on events with a live audience, which will nodoubt include the Scottish Open for him, even though it will actually be in Wales (the result of a different bungle).

    Maybe the plan is to have a vote for next year’s schedule: either Home Nations to continue with qualifiers behind closed doors using 2 tables, or to move to best-of-5 matches now that the precedent has been set.

    For those outside the top-16, this qualification environment could be their main experience of professional snooker this season. It may be impossible to see someone like Dean Young or Wu Yize in a live match until the World Championship. Meanwhile the elite players are fast-tracked to the main venue.

    • The top players being at the main venue is almost certainly a ” sine qua non” request by the sponsors/broadcaters. Regarding next year, a lot will depend on how “open” the world will be. If China events come back it could change many things. There is no way they will be able to block a full week for Home Nations qualifiers.

    • Maybe, if we give WST the benefit of the doubt, the main problem at the moment is still Covid restrictions.
      Without restrictions I would expect the Home Nations to revert to their proper format of 8 tables and all matches up to the quarter finals best of 7 at the venues.

      • I’m not sure about those restrictions Michael. They just held an event with crowds at the same venue last week… The arena was packed for the final.

      • Sorry – I meant for the main venue. The Home Nations are usually 8 tables and all 128 players.

      • I hope you are right, but the 4-table set-up is part of the plan, to do with streaming rights. They can fit qualifiers in the calendar. This week they are taking 5 days because they are using only 2 tables for 44 matches. They could do it in 2 days with 4 tables, or move to best-of-5 matches.

  3. At a time when WST were still advertising on their site that we could watch via Eurosport, I contacted Eurosport to ask why I couldn’t get it on the Player.
    I was advised that they don’t have broadcasting rights for this event – in the UK or in other countries.
    The WST website was changed after the event was well underway.

    On the WST app, Graeme Dott is still down to play Chang Bingyu, who, as is also reported on the app, has been beaten by James Cahill.
    Later today Anthony Hamilton is listed as playing Ali Carter.
    There are a number of other ‘mistakes’ on the app making it untrustworthy at best.

    In my opinion, this shows a total lack of respect for the fans on the part of WST.

    With regards to Jan Verhass, he was ref at the Elliot Slessor/Zhou Yuelong quarter final which ITV decided not to show in preference for the pundits talking about the Wilson/Gilbert game and then the first frame of the Williams/Walden game.
    I was watching the Slessor game on Bet365 and saw that Jan was using the remote to record the scores and they were replacing balls after a miss without the aid of TV. All seems like WST doing a bit of cost cutting to me.

    I realise that snooker is very much a minority sport, but these things are hardly a good advert or an incentive for the players.

    There does appear to be something going sadly wrong with WST at the moment which is compounded by their lack of communication with fans.

    • Yes, it is true that snooker is a minority sport, but probably we are an even smaller minority if we care about lower-ranked players. Most snooker fans are only interested in the top players, and these qualifiers are irrelevant to them. It’s not a coincidence that they haven’t been carefully organised.

      • That most snooker fans only care about top players is nothing surprising. It’s probably the same in all sports: only the stars are known by the casual fan. But that the governing body doesn’t is extremely worrying because all players start as unkown rookies in the lowest ranks.

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