The “Amateurs in the Pro Game” question.

Following his first round exit at the hands of Si Jiahui, a young Chinese amateur, Shaun Murphy, usually a gracious loser, stated that his opponent shouldn’t have been allowed to play in the tournament at all.

Shaun Murphy unhappy about amateurs competing in UK Open after defeat to Si Jiahui

Shaun Murphy was unhappy following his UK Open exit, stating his victor Si Jiahu should not be in the tournament, on account of being an amateur: “It’s wrong, in my opinion, to walk into somebody who’s not playing with the same pressures and concerns I am”

Last Updated: 24/11/21

Shaun Murphy was unhappy after his exit from the UK Open

Shaun Murphy was unhappy after his exit from the UK Open

Shaun Murphy said amateurs should not be allowed to play in professional snooker tournaments after he lost in the first round of the UK championship to 19-year-old Si Jiahui.

The 39-year-old, who was UK champions in 2008 and runner-up in the World Championship this year, fought back from 5-1 down to level the match but lost the deciding frame to the Chinese amateur.

Murphy, who has won more than four million pounds in prize money in his career, vented his frustration after the defeat in York on Tuesday.

I’m going to sound like a grumpy old man but that young man shouldn’t be in the tournament,” Murphy, known as the Magician, told BBC Radio 5 Live.

It’s not fair, it’s not right… I don’t know why we as a sport allow amateurs to compete in professional tournaments. This is our livelihood. This is our living. We’re self-employed individuals and not contracted sportsmen. We don’t play for a team.”

Si Jiahui edged the contest

Si Jiahui edged the contest

Si is competing as an amateur due to falling off the main tour at the end of last season and takes on 49-year-old veteran Dominic Dale in the second round.

The other 127 runners and riders in the tournament, it’s their livelihood too. It’s wrong, in my opinion, to walk into somebody who’s not playing with the same pressures and concerns I am,” Murphy added.

He played like a man who does not have a care in the world, because he does not have a care in the world. I’m not picking on him as a young man, he deserved his victory.

This is how I put food on the table. This is how I earn money. Since turning professional at 15, I’ve earned the right to call myself a professional snooker player. He hasn’t done that.”

Murphy later said on Instagram he had been playing with a severe injury.

Murphy suffered a 6-5 defeat

Murphy suffered a 6-5 defeat

World Snooker Tour issued a robust response, saying it “strongly disagreed” with Murphy’s claims and insisting the opportunity for young amateur players to compete on the biggest stage formed a “crucial part” of their development.

The organisation said in a statement: “Si Jiahui earns a place in ranking tournaments this season as one of the leading players on the 2021 Q-School rankings.

“While he may have amateur status, he deserves his place in our events, based on his results.

Amateurs play under the same rules as professionals, they can earn prize money and places on the World Snooker Tour based on results.

“Many elite amateur players like Si Jiahui train and compete full-time in the hope of earning a guaranteed tour place, therefore they are competing under significant pressure with no guarantees.

“Providing opportunities for the best amateur players is important for our growth as a sport and that is something that Shaun benefitted from during his early days as a player.

“We have come a very long way as a global sport over the past decade and that has partly been down to the structures we have built both at professional and grassroots level worldwide.

“For the best young players, the chance to compete on the big stage is a crucial part of their development and the development of the sport as a whole.

“We respect Shaun’s opinions, but in this case we strongly disagree with his comments.”

Of course, the opportunity to play in professional events for those who do well and top the “order of merit”, is part of the “Q-School” package and WST are of course under obligation to respect that “contract”. This season there are only 122 players on the tour – something that Shaun doesn’t seem to be aware of – and as a result even more amateurs are involved in pro events than usual.

Despite this, a number of other top players have been supporting Shaun’s views:

Mark Williams had already voiced a similar opinion before the UK Championship started. Mark Williams also suggested that the tour should be smaller in order to allow all professional players to earn a decent living.

Mark Selby supported Shaun views when interviewed afted his first round win.

However, Selby has vowed to “stand by” Murphy and after his win against Muir he told BBC Sport: “I think a lot of players agree with him.

Because he [Shaun Murphy] said it after he lost, people probably think it is sour grapes and he wouldn’t have said it if he had won – but I totally stand by everything he said.

There’s a reason there is a Q School to try to get on [the professional tour], and if you don’t get on, you should have to wait another year and play in the amateur events.

Of course, the latter sentence is not compatible with WST obligations under the current “Q-School contract” to provide opportunities for the amateurs topping the order of merit.

Alan McManus said that Shaun has a point but offers a more qualified opinion:

Shaun’s said it after he’s been beaten, but he’s got a point,’ said the Scot. ‘The way that social media works now, top players especially are not allowed to complain about anything.  He’s got a point but what other way is there round it? 122 players, you need a top up to 128, what are you going to do?

Shaun’s saying that the guy is not playing for any ranking, and of course that helps. But the flipside, you’re playing on the main table, the experienced player would in theory have the advantage. Shaun’s playing with a bad injury, back trouble, that’s not much fun. People will have opinions one way or t’other, I don’t have a huge opinion on it, it’s just the way it is.

Shaun’s anything but a sore loser, it’s nothing to do with that, that’s absolute bunkum. Shaun’s got a view that amateurs shouldn’t be playing pro events. He’s got a point.’

And then… there is Neil Robertson…


Here is the audio …

Now what I find truly baffling and disturbing here is that Neil seems to target the young Chinese amateurs specifically. I’m very surprised that there wasn’t a reaction by WST on this. This is completely wrong in my views.

Those comments came to bite Neil in the bum … as himself then lost to an amateur as well, an English amateur, John Astley.

After his win over Neil, John had his say about the whole “debate”

Amateur John Astley Claims Sweet Win Over Defending Champion Neil Robertson

John Astley created a sensation at the UK Championship on Thursday as the amateur knocked out defending champion Neil Robertson.

An angry Shaun Murphy had said earlier in the week after losing to teenager Si Jiahui that those not currently on the professional tour had “no place in the building” at York’s Barbican – or at any major tournament as a top-up player.

But unranked Geordie Astley, 32, a yo-yo player who has fallen off the circuit twice, proved his worth with a stunning shock 6-2 victory over the Australian.

The last-time three-time UK winner and world No4 Robertson defended his title in York in 2016 he also went out to an amateur in the shape of Peter Lines.

But after world No6 Murphy’s ‘boot them out’ rant Astley was under no illusions that this was an especially sweet win against a man who publicly agreed with Murphy – and one for the little guys.

Astley said: “It probably is the biggest win of my career, in a massive tournament. And maybe the stars were aligned a bit with all that has been said this week.

“I was having a joke about it with my brother this morning who was down with my dad, that wouldn’t it be funny if I beat the defending champion as someone not on the tour.

I had seen Neil’s opinion on it too, which everyone is entitled to. One thing where I really don’t agree with Shaun is about byes, you should earn your wins.

There shouldn’t be byes in a big event, and there is talent off the tour as I and Si Jiahui have shown this week. Shaun said he is trying to put food on the table – but so am I.

There was probably only a handful of people who thought I could win this match. I haven’t won a match in the UK since beating Ken Doherty a few years ago.

Even if I am an amateur at the moment, I do play pretty much full-time, as well as doing some coaching. Snooker is still very much my life, and so I am not a naïve young player.”

It was only the second match Astley had ever won at the UK Championship after the victory over former world champion Ken Doherty he referred to, a thrilling 6-5 success over the Irishman that came way back in 2013.

A crestfallen Robertson, 39, said: “I defended Shaun a bit because I know where he is coming from. Ronnie O’Sullivan drew Michael White and he is not an amateur at all, really.

“Ronnie, me, Shaun would all rather play the world No125 than Michael in the first round. Maybe I paid the ultimate price for expecting things to happen and not forcing them.

Maybe John was fired up by the row about amateurs and even what I had said about it. He was getting a lot of support from friends and family in the arena.

“John is technically an amateur…but it’s not like he’s a 17-year-old golfer. He has spent a lot of years on the tour, and keeps getting on and falling back off, like a semi-pro.

“The reason these guys don’t win more matches is sometimes when they under the pump they don’t produce – but today he did.

“It hurts, as defending champion you don’t want to go out in the first round and I made it a bit easy for him.

“Look, John played a great, brilliant match – the match of his life –  and was fearless out there. He had a crowd, stood up to it and played as if he had nothing to lose.

“I was pretty off the pace for the first five frames, and lacked focus and energy. If I had played well today, I would have won. But I didn’t.”

Whilst I agree that, in sport, no matter what sport, you shouldn’t be allowed to play in events you didn’t qualify for, the thing is that, with the Q-School rules set by WST/WPBSA, the players at the top of the Order of merit did actualy “qualify” to fill the gaps whenever there aren’t 128 professionals in the draw. It’s that simple really.

The “anomaly” here is that there are players on the main tour – and it’s not just one or two – who are significantly weaker than those “top amateurs” and this is an indication that there are serious flaws in the way tour cards are allocated. I don’t want to open the can of worms here and now, but certain “nominations” are clearly wrong as the beneficiaries stand next to zero chance to succeed. The Q-School itself is inadequate in many ways. The pros who just dropped off the tour have a massive advantage over pure amateurs, notably because they are used to the environment and the conditions. The vast majority of Q-School laureates are former pros. This season we have only ONE true rookie.

Lewis will tell me that all this could be solved by opting out of the “ranking” model and opting for an elo type of rating system … he’s rigth but it’s not gonna happen for a zillion of reasons. Let me just cite a few

  • for WST it would mean relinquishing power and control over the “professional” game
  • it would need the various bodies involved in snooker to agree, work together, adhere to the model and the way to apply it. No chance here.
  • it would definitely be harder for the fans to “follow”.
  • that in turn could make snooker less attractive for the betting market, currently its main sponsors


7 thoughts on “The “Amateurs in the Pro Game” question.

  1. I’d also like to remind everyone, but especially those opposed to amateur top-up players, of this year’s Soot Out which featured 31 amateurs IIRC, many of whom rushed to Barnsley at very short notice because several players from one of the Sheffield snooker academies had been in contact with a person who tested positive for Covid. I doubt that that tournament could have gone ahead without them.

  2. I wonder what Si actually does think about all that? Maybe he will feel even a bit intimidated by all that, asking himself what he did wrong, because these Chinese players usually behave quite humble and shy in the world of British media, don’t they?

    • It’s even worse than that. They don’t even get asked for their opinion, and they are prohibited from using social media. Yan Bingtao has been interviewed a couple of times this season, and Ding also on his return, but no other Chinese players at all. It was even worse last season.

  3. A new ranking system would NOT be harder for the fans to follow, for the simple reason that the existing system is a total mess – you have to look back 2 years to calculate how the rankings change. You also have to figure out whether first-round matches count or not, etc. Basically, people use web applications or mobile apps to look at rankings, and those can do any kind of maths and predictions.

    I think a global system would in fact strengthen WST’s control. They can award events ranking status based on criteria which Am and Pro-Am events would be keen to meet. Imagine if playing in an amateur event put you on the same list as Ronnie O’Sullivan (albeit a few thousand places lower down)? What could boost the amateur game more than that?

    But you are right, there’s no chance of them changing the ranking system. But then there’s no chance of becoming a global game. WST have to make a choice whether they are really serious about globalisation, or whether they are just happy to accept revenue from China, the Middle-East and international broadcasters.

    Frankly, snooker could be dead in 20 years without true globalisation. There simply aren’t enough young British talents coming through to sustain it. No overseas player has yet achieved their full potential, for very good reasons.

    Do WST or us, as fans, care about that? Or are people quite happy to give up on snooker after Ronnie, etc. have retired?

    Anyway, there are three true rookies, Wu Yize, Dean Young and Ng On Yee. Ng has missed many tournaments, plays with a facemask (which I’m sure must hinder her, not least because she wears glasses), and doesn’t look at all competitive. Young also hasn’t yet won a match. Wu is of course a fine prospect, with a reasonable chance to stay on tour.

    And now, we apparently have a new classification ‘the Semi-Pro’ – a full-time player who has dropped off the tour, but is still worthy of respect, like John Astley and Michael White. But apparently not Si Jiahui.

    Of course, the missing voice in all of this is Si Jiahui’s. Despite his win, he hasn’t been heard. Maybe it’s a good thing if Victoria is shielding him from media interest, if there is any I actually spoke to Chen Feilong after he beat Shaun Murphy here a few years ago, but he wasn’t interviewed either. Meanwhile Shaun Murphy earned a bit of extra money for the BBC in the second week, as an amateur commentator.

    • I should have written Dean Young is the only rookie coming out of Q-School because that was what I was about.
      Other than that I truly believe that an elo type system would be harder to follow for the fans. How much “points” would be gained or lost would depend from the rating of both competitors for each match. It wouldn’t depend solely on round that is being played. If you look at the kind of stats Matt Huart provides all the time it’s about “X needs ti reach the QFs of comp Y to earn an invitation in comp Z. This type of stat would become way more complex because of the various win/loss permutations. And of course, it would definitely decouple “ranking/rating” from prize money which would not suit WST.
      Also the reason why I said it would weaken WST, is because if this system applies to the sport at all levels, across all bodies in charge, players could stay at the top of the ratings whilst competing mainly outside of their system. As a result, if they were to “lose” some of their “stars” they would become less attractive to both sponsors and broadcasters. Do you think Ding would still play in the UK if he could maintain his status playing mainly in more events in China?

      • It would mean that Ding could play tournaments in China, and travel to the UK for some big events only, such as the World Championship. That’s what I mean by a global game. Under any points-based system, all players have to live in the UK. That’s not a global game.

        And frankly, doing rankings calculations on the back of an envelope is horribly old-fashioned. It’s about online apps now. We all use draws and results, we don’t read the results in the back pages of newspapers. This is what modernisation is about, not dress-codes. The blogs outlining what players have to do are always full of conditions and permutations. It really isn’t simple to follow! With any ranking system, you should be able to enter into your phone “CAN DING QUALIFY MASTERS” and it will tell you.

        Please snooker, modernise!

      • I’m afraid you’ll need to modernise the human species first Lewis… I’m 67, with a background in maths as you know. I’m both baffled and horrified at how confused so many peolple are at simple math reasoning and how reluctant they are to learn new things past the age of 20 (about)… The other day, I read this reasoning by a very well known and respected nutritionist: In the UK 20 percent of young people, under xx, have a deficit in nutrient N, and amongst the adults over xx, it’s the same, also 20% having a deficit in N. So that 40% of the population with a deficit in N… Do you have really any reasonable hope for such person to understand an elo type system? And that person is probably well above average…

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