Shaun Murphy’s ideas and why I disagree

Shaun Murphy is doing a podcast with MC Phil Seymour and in the last instalment he aired ideas … that, to say the least, I strongly disagree with (and I’m not the only one).

Here is what it’s about, as reported by Phil Haigh

Shaun Murphy wants change to ‘absolutely ridiculous’ World Snooker Championship format

Phil Haigh Tuesday 13 Sep 2022

Shaun Murphy believes the World Snooker Championship format is ‘absolutely ridiculous’ as he feels that the top 16 in the rankings beginning at the last 32 stage ‘doesn’t make sense’.

Before all the drama at the Crucible every year there is a rigorous qualification competition, to see which 16 players lower down the rankings will join the world’s top 16 on the sport’s most famous stage.

While some would argue that they have earned it, Murphy feels that it is far too big an advantage for the top 16, of which he is one.

Players near the bottom of the rankings need to win four matches just to make the Crucible and Murphy believes the advantage being given to the best players is akin to Usain Bolt starting races 15 metres in front of his rivals.

The 2005 world champ says it is almost scandalous and would have a flat draw for the sport’s biggest tournament.

‘If it were up to me the entire format of the World Championship would change,’ Murphy said on The onefourseven podcast. ‘The top 16 would NEVER start three or four rounds ahead of everyone else on tour.

I think it’s absolutely ridiculous, scandalous almost that the best players in the world start three rounds ahead of everyone else. I think it’s ridiculous and one of those very strange nuances in sport.

Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, the equivalent is saying: “Usain, we know you’re the quickest so you can start 15 metres ahead of everyone else.” Doesn’t make any sense to me at all.’

While he was in the mood for changing things on the World Snooker Tour, the Magician also reckons the Masters should be a ranking event.

While the top 16 play in the London competition, his argument is that it is not invitational, anyone on tour can win their way into the top 16 so prize money should count on the world rankings, which is not currently the case.

The one thing I would change to the Masters tomorrow, because it’s done on the rankings and in my opinion, certainly over the two-year ranking list people have the same opportunities to be in it,’ said the 40-year-old.

If it were up to me all events would count on the money list. That would be the only think I would change about the Masters.

I think it’s very, very strange that what has widely become acknowledged as our second biggest tournament in the game doesn’t count. I think that’s a weird one and I don’t subscribe to the arguments against that.’

Let us first dispatch the thing about the Masters. Murphy himself says “certainly over the two-year ranking list people have the same opportunities to be in it“. What about those in their first year then? Did he forget they exist? They would obviously be put at a disadvantage, wouldn’t they? Contrary to the “Series” events, for which qualification is based on the one year list, qualification for the Masters is based on the lat 2 years and therefore it can’t and shouldn’t be ranking. It’s that simple.

Now about the World Championship … for me, most events should be played in this tiered format, rather in the current dominant flat draw format, provided that

  1. They are played right before the main event
  2. They are played at the same location, and preferably at the same quality venue as the main event, with spectators.
  3. They get the same media coverage as the main event with quality broadcasting and media on site

These are the reasons behind my opinion

The gap between amateurs and pros has widened in recent years. It’s plain for all to see. There are many reasons for that, but that’s not the object of this post. The young pros coming on the tour need more matches, and more winnable first round matches to help their development. The current flat draw is far too brutal. It is soul destroying. It offers no path for development.

They also need to “sample” the atmosphere of the big events. This is why those qualifying rounds should be played at the main venue, with full media coverage.

They need to be played right before the main events. Currently, players beaten in the qualifiers may have weeks without anything to play in. This season there will be players who may have only the shoot-out to play in between mid January 2023 and the World qualifiers early April. That’s not going to help their development and it’s soul destroying. Those players will arrive at the World qualifiers without any “match sharpness”. It’s simply not right. It’s totally counterproductive.

And, finally, but importantly, the tiered format ensures that less players are on zero prize money. To be precise, it would be 32 players in that situation instead of 64. Even with the guaranteed prize money this season, it’s important. It’s important because it’s money they actually won, which matters psychologically, and it’s ranking points.

Would it offer “protection” to the top players? Not really. They will come cold into the latter stages against players who will have at least one match under their belt with money and ranking points already guaranteed. Yes, financially, they will be protected, but not in terms of ranking points. So unless they win, that “protection” won’t last.

The comparison with Usain Bold doesn’t hold. Giving him 15 meters head start would “translate” into giving the snooker top player a one or two frames advantage at the start of a match. BTW, as far as I know, in most track and field competitions even top athletes go through some qualifying rounds.

There… persiste et signe … as we would say in French.

6 thoughts on “Shaun Murphy’s ideas and why I disagree

  1. Hi Monique
    I know that seeded players receive no ranking points if they lose their first match.
    That is why I highlighted the fact that if they only win 1 match they get more points than a player in round 1 winning 4 matches .
    This is grossly unfair.
    Now that the £20000 guarantee has come in there is no pressure on rookies or youngsters walking away with nothing.
    Also remember there is only a small chance of any low ranked player drawing a top player in any given tournament and they are more there capable of beating those players as has been proved time and time again. It happened in the UK championship’s many times in the opening rounds last season .
    I Totally disagree that there are many weak pros at the bottom of the rankings
    If the tour were to be made a bit bigger to give more amateur players an opportunity the extra pros could be asked to pay entry fees .
    But I’ve never agreed that there isn’t enough money on tour to support 128 or more players.
    The Prize money distribution is the problem. It’s very top heavy .
    Regards Barry

    • Thank you for your contribution, Barry. I totally agree with you that the system is very top heavy. Too much so, definitely. I would be more than happy if the money was distributed in a more equitable way. And I would definitely disconnect the prize money from the ranking or rating system. For WST it’s all about being able to say “Look what a great sport we have: X won over one million this season . Look, what a shock! Y climbed from 70th in the ranking into the top 16 overnight!” That will hit the media, the fact that half of the tour can barely make a living out of their sport doesn’t. At the end of the day, we both love this sport, and we both want to see young players progress and be successful and happy. They are the future. We just do disagree about what the best “structure” is to achieve that goal. And I’m still standing with my claim that there are some very weak players at the bottom of the rankings. I don’t want to name names and I don’t want to elaborate here on how they got there whilst much better players are now amateurs…

  2. Is this the same Shaun Murphy who less than a year ago launched a tirade against amateur players competing in the UK Championship? In fact, his outburst may have led to the new format this season, where the top-16 now get byes into the 5th round. I don’t believe he would be advocating a flat draw in the World Championship if there was any chance it could actually happen. I suspect he’s just trying to mend some of the damage he caused by his earlier opinions, and appear to be more ‘inclusive’. Maybe he’s also concerned about his own position…? Anyway, we know it can’t happen: a 7-round World Championship is logistically impossible, and everybody expects to see all of the top players at the main venue.

    As you know, I’m in favour of a variety of formats, and particuarly of smaller tournaments without qualifiers, targeted at different levels (i.e. ‘stratified’). The real problem is that the system dictates that all events must be 128-player, which is far too inflexible.

  3. I know we agree to disagree on this matter Monique and I will point out knowwhy I know a tiered system gives top 16 players a huge ranking advantage.
    Let’s say a rookie pro qualifies for the crucibke 2 years running then loses his 1st match at the crucibke .
    He will have won 8 matches out of 10 an 80%win ratio which is a very impressive statistic and effort) and will receive £40,000 in ranking money .
    Let’s say a top 16 player wins his first round match in each of those two same tournaments and loses each of his last 16 matches .
    He has won 2 out of 4 matches a 50% win ratio ( very average) and will get £60,000 ranking points .
    So the top 16 player has won 6 kess matches and has earned one and a half times more ranking points than the rookie who won 8 matches !
    How anyone can see this as a fair and progressive system is beyond me.
    I turned professional in1989 and know that the tiered system wasn’t thought up by some mathematician or diverse group of players trying to come up with a fair and equal ranking system.
    It was devised by top players who were running snooker and trying to protect their own ranking . When I turned professional it was a 3 year ranking list and it was possible for a low ranked player to win 60 matches over 3 seasons and get less points than a top 32 player winning 1 match !!!
    The tiered system was subsequently kept in place and made more tiered by boards that had player managers of top 16 players on those boards ( I wonder why? ) .
    I also strongly disagree with your point that the gap between amateurs and pros has never been bigger .
    In my opinion the opposite is true as you could replace the bottom 30 to 40 pros with the top amateurs and the tour wouldn’t be any weaker .
    Just take a look ath the q school order of merit or the last 32 of q tour . Also amateurs like Daniel Wells and Farak Ajaib running well in pro events not a surprise anymore.
    In fact I think the tour could be made a bit bigger adding 32 players and a preliminary round .
    There are lots of very good young players not getting the same opportunity as previous generations when there were alot more professionals and that’s a crying shame to me.

    • Yes, you are right about the level of top amateurs. As you may know, I have implemented a global ranking system with over 7000 players – I’ve measured how good they are. The real difficulty is that young players find it very difficult to break into the top-64. Basically, they can’t win enough matches against established professionals, even lower-ranked ones. It’s the players ranked 50-100 who are now so much stronger than they used to be. A tiered draw may help a little, but not as much as it did 20 years ago. Young players spend their first few years just fighting to stay on tour, and the constant pressure usually wrecks their competitiveness.

      I also agree that most of the changes we have seen recently (introduction of the ‘Cazoo Series’, qualifiers for the Home Nations, tiered draw in the UK Championship, increasing the prize-money for winners, etc.) seem to be about trying to keep the ‘big names’ at the top for as long as possible. Whilst this may make sense in promoting the game now, it creates problems for the future of snooker. I’m not even sure professional snooker can survive the sudden loss (within a decade) of such names as Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and perhaps Shaun Murphy.

    • Indeed we agree to disagree on this Barry, and I truly appreciate that you take the time to comment on and contribute to this blog. I know you “grew” through a tiered system and that you feel that it offered too much protection to the top players. You are right on that. In that system of the past, in each round, the seeded player, should they lose, was getting the same amount of points, and money as the winning players in the previous round. That meant that it was enough to win a couple of matches in each season to stay in the same “seeding layer”. and, for the top players, to guarantee basic income and stable seeding for the next season. That was indeed too much protection and it was compounded by the fact that the seeding was frozen over the entire season. This is NOT was I have in mind. In the tiered system I wish for, the losing seed would get zero ranking point and the seeding/ranking would be updated after every event. That would remove the kind of “protection” you had to fight through. What I want is a system where the young and rookie players are not pitted against the very top in their first round match and walk away with no money and no ranking points more often than not. It’s far too brutal. I’m not a believer in throwing people in a choppy sea to teach them how to swim. I want a system where, in most events, the young and rookies get a more winnable first match. I want a system where less players walk away with empty pockets after the first round. In the current flat draw system, it’s half of tour. In the system I wish for it would be 25%.
      My remark about the growing gap between amateurs and pros stems from the fact that the Q-School actually promotes very few rookies. Most Q-School laureates are former pros who have been competing recently on the tour. Lewis, in his answer to you, expresses the opinion that the 50-100 ranked players are now much stronger than in the past. I agree with him. There are some very weak pros in the last “slice”, the 101-128 (130 this season). Certain “nominations” systematically promote players who don’t have the required level. The aim is to promote snooker in “areas” where it’s not that well developed. I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea at all. It rarely works if ever. I also don’t have hope that the tour will be extended to more pros. The money isn’t there. The only answer to that would be to evolve from “professional” ranking system to an “inclusive” rating system. Such system is well known to be used in chess, but it is/has also been used in physical sports, notably in table tennis. Such a system would actually “blur” the divide between “amateur” and “pro”. Therefore WST will never accept such idea as they would lose their “power” over the professional sport.

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