I really like the 6-reds format and if the shoot-out is ranking I can’t see why an event under this format can’t be. It presents the players with different challenges to what they face in 15 reds snooker. The frames are quick – most of them anyway – and that makes this format suitable for events with an initial round-robin phase. This could help new and young players as they would be guaranteed to play several matches against opponents of different strength and various “styles” and it wouldn’t drag as much as the ranking Championship League or the forgettable “Pro Series”.
In this particular event, most matches were streamed one way or another: on ES/Discover+, on YouTube and on Facebook. It can be done. It should be done for all events, on all tables.
A massive effort was made by the Thai organisers to ensure that all players felt welcome and valued. Although the main focus was on table one, all the tables were in the same arena, in the central space, with seats all around the “playing area”. Such setup contributes to a good atmosphere. It also ensures that no player feels “relegated” on that “last table”, far away from the limelights, where only a man and his dog sit watching … if you are lucky”.
About Ronnie’s performance
Ronnie came to play in the 2023 six-reds World Snooker Championship, having never played under that format before. He really wanted to do well but lost in the last 16 to Ding Junhui, the eventual Champion and a player who has lot of experience with the 6-reds format and had a lot of success in this event before as well. Ding has been in the final three times, winning it twice. Basically, up to and included the semi-final, he bossed everyone.
Hereafter are excerpts of an article by Eurosport. It contains quotes from Ronnie, about the event, about snooker in Asia, about his friend James Wattana, and about the way he currently sees his future. The latter of course may change over time, as, for him and all of us, life and new experiences constantly shape our dreams, expectations, hopes and capabilities.
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN REVEALS WHERE HE WANTS TO END CAREER AFTER REACHING LAST 16 AT SIX RED WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPIONSHIP
Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed he would like to finish his playing career in Asia after reaching the last 16 of the Six Red World Championship in Bangkok with a 5-2 victory over Stan Moody on Wednesday. He also praised former world No. 3 James Wattana for his “massive” contribution to the growth of the sport in Thailand. Stream the Six Red World Championship.
“The six reds is scary, the frames are over so quick,” he told reporters. “One mistake and it is game over. You get someone in a snooker with the reds open and they are bang in trouble if they don’t get it right.
“I wanted to experience it and I am very glad I came. I plan my year well in advance, there can be priorities, and everyone has the chance to invite me to their tournaments.
“I can’t go to them all, but I am happy to be here this year. I’d like to finish my career off in Asia, snooker is more popular here than anywhere, Thailand and China, Hong Kong.
“In Covid it was impossible but my sponsors like to see me in Asia – they are the No. 1 events they want me to play in. So in the future I may skip events in the UK to play the majority here.”
O’Sullivan also praised three-time ranking event winner Wattana for raising the profile of snooker in his home country.
“I played James out here in his peak,” he said on WST. “I played him in a match and we had to stop for the adverts and he was on every advert, Nescafe, Thai Airways, and I was sitting there thinking this geezer is unbelievable.
“I’ve never ever hung out with anyone so famous. When he was in his prime, he couldn’t go anywhere and needed a security police escort to go everywhere.
“He’s been massive for Thai snooker. Thailand snooker is very strong. They’ve got some fantastic players and that is because of James and what he has done in the game.“
Not everything is great in Asia, far from it, but I can understand why Ronnie likes it so much over there. The life is very different from what it is in Britain. The smells, the colours, the food … everything stimulates the senses, for good and sometimes, truth to be said, for not so good. It’s much closer to the mediterranean way of life than to what people experience in the north of Europe. As Laila, gently teasing Ronnie, once put it: “He’s so Italian!”.
You only need to watch the first minutes of this video shared by Jason Ferguson to understand what I mean. I starts with a stroll through the local open market.
The reception players get in Asia, the hospitality, the decorum around the events … all of it make the experience very special. The players are made to feel valued. I’m certain that Ronnie was extremely disappointed to lose early.
Here are some more snippets – quotes and images – shared by Jason Francis:
Jason is already thinking about a series of exhibitions with Ronnie around Asia…
The goal of this piece is to share some ideas about the current state of the sport we love, snooker, and how something most fans never question, the ranking system, shapes the sport. It also discusses a radical alternative to the ranking system, a rating system, that would bring benefits but also huge challenges.
As premises to this piece, I want to state a triplet of important things
This article wouldn’t exist without the major contribution of Lewis Pirnie. Lewis is passionate about snooker and its future, He has put a lot of work into this website where he explores the opportunities a snooker rating system would offer, explains the maths behind such a system, and provides tools and simulations to help us understand the benefits and challenges such a system would bring. Thank you Lewis.
In this piece, I DO challenge the current definition of “professional snooker player”. The current common understanding by fans is that a professional snooker player is someone who holds at WST Tour card. My definition of a professional – not just in snooker but in any endeavour – is someone who actually earns a living out of their occupation. In snooker, “occupation” would mean playing it for a living and or coaching for a living. In that light there is probably a significant number of snooker professionals in China, players who are not on the “Main Tour” but play in CBSA events, whilst, on the other hand, probably half of the WST card holders are only part-timers. The £20000 guaranteed income of course is a big step in the right direction, but for players with a family in particular and those residing in the UK as ex-pats, it isn’t enough to make a living.
One of my main motivations for this piece is the utter absurdity and unfairness of the “money list ranking system” if pushed to the extreme. The unfairness is obvious: depending on the sponsor(s), events requiring similar efforts, are possibly rewarded with very different retributions, money-wise and ranking-wise. As for the absurdity … just imagine that some oriental prince or princess would decide to offer crazy money to hold the Shoot Out in their country, as a one-off, and that they would offer ten times what’s on offer today for every round, bar the final that would be rewarded with £50 000 000 … just because they can. Would the players refuse to play in it? I doubt it. Would it completely send the ranking system into absurdity? Of course it would. The winner of that would be “World Number One”, with all the spin-offs that come with it, for two years and nobody would be able to catch them, even if they don’t win another match during those two years.
Ranking and Rating … what is it about?
A ranking system aims at presenting its population – in our case the WST tour card owners and some amateurs who have been offered the opportunity to play in WST “ranking” events – in an “order” that reflects their value in reference to certain criteria – in our case the money they earned in those events over the last two years.
A rating system aims at determining the strength of the members of its population in accomplishing certain activities or tasks. In sports a rating system aims at determining what the strength of its exponents are at their sport: the higher the rating, the better the sportsperson. One of the best-known types of rating systems, is the Elo type and the study Lewis presents on his site uses a rating system of that Elo type.
I suppose that the readers of this blog are familiar with the current ranking system used in snooker, but not necessarily familiar with the way an Elo type of rating system would work. It’s all explained in detail by Lewis, with examples and simulations.
I will however (try to) explain the fundamental principles of such a system as applied to snooker, without any mathematical formulas.
Every time a match of snooker is played between two players who own a rating, both players’ ratings are likely to change depending on the outcome of the match. These changes are the result of a transfer of points between the players. In most cases, the winner sees their rating increase, whilst the loser sees their’s rating decrease. Here are the statistical principles that will determine by how much:
The number of points transferred from one player to the other, and the “direction” of the transfer depends essentially on the likelihood of the actual outcome. The more likely the outcome, the smaller the number of points transferred, the lesser the impact on both players’ rating. It’s no rocket science. If players are close in rating, they are supposed to be of about the same strength and therefore, the match is expected to be close, especially in longer formats. If that is what happens indeed, the rating of both players will change, but not by much, the winner will gain a few points, the loser will lose a few points … that’s all. If one of those players whitewashes their opponent in a best-of-25 though, that’s a different story. It’s highly unexpected and the number of points transferred between players will be much higher, impacting their rating more significantly. Using Lewis (not zero-sum) model, in some extreme cases, when the ratings of the players are significantly different, the loser of the match may even see their rating improve, whilst the winner see theirs impacted negatively . This could happen for instance if a player with a very low rating were to lose in a decider to one of the “top” rated players in a long format match. In such a scenario, despite the defeat, the low-rated player will have done much better than expected, and been rewarded for it, whilst their top-rated player will be “punished” for underperforming badly.
The likelihood of each of the various outcomes in any specific match is obtained through a mathematical method taking both players’ rating into account. Each possible score has a probability of actually happening, The higher the probability, the likelier the outcome. Lewis explains this with graphics in the piece referenced above.
As you have understood by now, the rating of an active player evolves constantly. It’s susceptible to change after every match played. Of course a mechanism has to be put into place to prevent a player from “sitting” on their rating by simply not playing.
Some of you will tell me that this is far too complicated and cant be used in snooker, but actually it is used. Indeed this is the kind of mathematics that the bookies use to “price” the snooker matches they offer for betting. They, no doubt, have their own internal rating of the players and when huge amounts are placed on a very unlikely outcome, this triggers “alarm bells”.
Of course, it is well known that an Elo rating system is used in chess. You might be surprised however to learn that a “players rating system” and a “team rating system” are used in basketball, including in the US NBA. Table tennis federations use/used rating systems as well. Even the FIFA World Football rankings now use an Elo formula! It’s used outside sports as well.
What would be the benefits of a rating system in snooker?
Provided that the necessary guarantees about proper conditions, refereeing, and integrity can be met, there would be quite a few benefits but here are, in my perception, the main ones:
Inclusiveness. This is a system that could be used at all levels of the sport, anywhere in the world: debutants, club players, proficient amateurs and professionals (i.e players whose main source of income is snooker), women and men.
Fairness. It would be independent of the amount of money this or that promoter – or any country going after sportswashing – would be willing to put in any event. The available earnings would still be a major factor to attract the best players, but it would not impact the sport’s rating.
Flexibility. This is a particularly important one. A rating system would allow WST to offer tournaments for specific groups of players without impacting the rating of those not in those groups. It would also allow to organise or participate in concurrent events, including pro-ams, maybe in distant locations, offering more opportunities and giving players more choices. For the older players, it would mean that they can keep their rating without playing in everything. They just need to play enough whilst progressively building a “post-snooker” career.
No need for a Q-School … if WST wants to be, and sell itself as, the promoter of the best events for the 128 best snooker players in the World they can still do so … all year long. There is no need for a Q-School. The official rating could evolve all year long and be available at all times. Players could and would join and leave the “best 128” elite as their rating evolves.
What are the drawbacks then?
Because of course, it’s not just that simple. Here are a few pitfalls I can think of.
To bring the full benefits of a common rating system the various bodies involved in snooker at all levels need to agree and work together, including when it comes to safeguarding the integrity of the sport. We all know that this isn’t currently the case and that this is a major issue with no solution in sight! Currently the necessary constructive collaboration is probably a utopia.
It would deprive Matt Huart, and a good few others, of his/their favourite occupation: predicting what will happen in the rankings, what round should this or that player needs to reach to stay on tour, or qualify for this or that event. That would become a very arduous because the combinatorics would become far too complex.
Everything currently based on the “one year list” would need to be rethought. Maybe “biggest upward movers” in the last 12 months, or since the last World Championship, rated above a certain threshold or something like that would do …
WST would need to re-invent themselves as the notions of professional and amateur would be blurred. It would break their “monopoly’ to an extent, maybe making the negotiations of certain contracts, notably with broadcasters, more difficult.
Lewis was traveling yesterday. He’s attending the 2023 German Masters starting today. He had a difficult trip because of works on the tracks. Despite the tiredness of the long trip, he took the time to read this piece and send me his comments. Thank you Lewis and enjoy the snooker.
Hereafter you’ll find Lewis feedback that I have not otherwise already included in the text above:
I think Pankaj Advani said it costs around £25000 simply to play snooker professionally. Perhaps he means as an overseas player, whereas many young British players still live with their parents, or are dependent on wives’ income, etc. Others of course have to have jobs to supplement their income. Overseas players don’t get a British Working VISA, so cannot work and play. Soheil Vahedi wrote about that.
I would still have ‘tour cards’ and therefore some kind of Q School (although I’ve had words to say about its format). The fact is, players need to have some kind of guarantees – they need to get mortgages or bank loans. So to allow some of them (but maybe not 128) guaranteed entry into many of the tournaments is probably necessary. But there could also be some tournaments whose entry is solely determined by their Elo Rating. This gives the tour variety and flexibility. There could also be tournaments (mainly Pro-Am) where players needed to be BELOW a certain Elo Rating to enter. This is what is called ‘stratified’.
I’m not sure that snooker governing bodies need to work together, at least not very much. If WST are responsible for a global ranking system, that’s up to them. They don’t need to consult anyone. Of course, it then gives them new powers (over the amateur game) as assigning amateur events ‘ranking status’ would be much sought after. For example, if a club held a tournament which refused women entry, then WST could simply not count the event for ratings, which would likely lead to fewer players entering. Power!
One-year ‘money lists’ could still be used, for example as qualification routes for events like WGP, Players’ Championship and Tour Championship. If WST really are wedded to the idea of highlighting how much money the top players earn, they could still do that. But not for things like promotion and relegation, top-16 qualification (Masters and World Championship seedings), and any situation involving amateurs.
Don’t stop at the somewhat click-bait title. This piece actually does put the current issue into perspective and it also confirms some of the things Ronnie and Judd hinted at when they said that snooker will survive.
Match-fixing scandal threatens to turn snooker’s boom into bust
Concerns grow over the influence of organised crime in snooker, following charges against 10 Chinese players.
Match-fixing charges against 10 Chinese snooker players in the biggest corruption scandal to engulf one of the world’s fastest-growing sports has left fans and organisers fearful for the future of the game.
The players, including 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao and that year’s UK championship winner Zhao Xintong, have been suspended as part of an investigation into claims of “manipulating the outcome of matches for betting purposes” by the integrity unit at the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).
The revelations have raised questions about the influence of betting syndicates often run by organised crime gangs on a sport with a growing global following.
The rise of snooker – a game invented by British army officers in India in the 1870s – has largely been fuelled by a growing interest in the sport in East Asia, particularly China.
Once largely confined to the United Kingdom and Ireland, where it came to attract large TV audiences in the 1980s and 1990s, snooker’s wider growth was driven by the emergence of Asian players, such as Thailand’s James Wattana and Ding Junhui of China, whose 2005 China Open victory at the age of 18 kick-started a Chinese snooker boom.
The sport is now played by more than 120 million people worldwide and attracts TV audiences of 500 million. It is striving to complete its image transformation from a game played in smoky back-street halls by vying for inclusion in the 2028 Olympic Games.
“Snooker underwent a transformation from about late 2009 when Barry Hearn took control of the professional game,” said Marcus Stead, editor of Snooker Scene magazine, referring to the businessman credited with popularising the sport in Britain in the 1980s who became the WPBSA chairman two decades later.
“The game was at a low ebb but there’s now a lot more snooker being played. If you go back to the so-called golden age of snooker in the 1980s, most of the players were from Britain or Canada or a few from South Africa.
“It’s now much, much more global. The sheer number of players in China is absolutely enormous. You’ve also had growth in continental Europe and Australia.”
While some have questioned whether this growth has left snooker open to match-fixing, experts in sport integrity say it is at no greater risk than many other sports.
“Snooker is not the most at-risk or most affected sport,” said Tom Mace, director of global operations for integrity services at Sportradar, the sports technology company that monitors betting and worked on the WPBSA investigation.
“Because of the scale of this current action and the WPBSA’s strict zero-tolerance approach, where you’ve got 10 players from China being suspended, it may appear that snooker is the most at-risk or affected sport compared to others but from our perspective that’s not the case.
“It currently sits seventh in our all-time list in terms of matches detected per sport. The likes of football, tennis, basketball, table tennis, ice hockey all have higher numbers of suspicious matches detected. Snooker is not exceptional in terms of match-fixing risk.”
Sportradar’s 2021 annual report on betting corruption and match-fixing recorded 903 suspicious matches in 10 sports, across 76 countries – a record over the 17 years it has monitored sports integrity.
The company, which has its headquarters in St Gallen, Switzerland, estimated these matches generated some 165 million euros ($180m) in match-fixing betting profit. As the world’s most popular sport, football accounts for 694 suspicious matches, or 77 percent of the total, followed by basketball with 62 and tennis with 53.
This means one in every 200 football matches monitored by Sportradar in 2021 was suspected of being influenced by match-fixing.
The propensity for betting-related corruption is closely tied to the level of gambling associated with a sport. So while snooker’s risk is not as high as some other sports, “it does have a very consistent and very strong global betting coverage”, according to Mace, largely due to the fact that it is popular in places where there is a well-developed betting culture.
As an individual sport, snooker is vulnerable to fixing as a single player has a greater influence on a match than in team sports. While match-fixing is a global phenomenon – Sportradar’s report found Europe accounted for more than half of fixed matches – there is a perception that Asian snooker players touring far from home are susceptible to approaches from criminals.
“The 10 players who’ve been suspended are all young Chinese players,” said Snooker Scene’s Stead.
“They’re thousands of miles away from home, a lot of the time their English isn’t particularly good, they’ve only got each other for company and they’re not being managed particularly well.
“That leaves them very vulnerable to being approached by well-connected people from the Chinese criminal fraternity,” added Stead.
“The implication has been that these young Chinese players had been told there would be unpleasant consequences for themselves and their families if they didn’t do as they were told.”
An independent hearing will evaluate the evidence against the 10 players, who face lengthy bans from the sport if they are found guilty.
There are also concerns about the effect the scandal could have on the sport’s following in its largest market.
“Yan Bingtao is spearheading a generation of Chinese players at the moment who are said to be the future of the sport, so this news comes as quite a disappointment, mainly to [fans in] China who follow these players and hold them in high regard,” said Shabnam Younus-Jewell, host of the BBC’s Framed podcast.
“Over in China, because snooker is such a massive sport out there – they absolutely love it, kids play it in schools – there will be a real feeling of dread there about what’s going on,” she added.
“This feels like a huge investigation, one of the biggest carried out by the WPBSA, and there’s a feeling – people have called it a dark day but it could be more than that … It’s a really difficult and quite a murky situation.”
Many acknowledge that the WPBSA has done much in recent years to tackle corruption, with clear rules and methods for informing the authorities about approaches to throw games.
“If you are approached you’re supposed to inform them using a confidential phone line or email address and the procedures make it very clear that if you are found guilty you will face a very long ban, which will ruin your career,” Stead said.
However, the disparity in earnings between those at the top of the sport and those who fail to progress in tournaments is thought to be an element driving corruption. Of the 130 players on snooker’s main tour, fewer than half earned more than 40,000 pounds ($49,600) prize money last season, from which travel and accommodation costs must be paid.
“For risk profile, we look at the betting coverage versus the wealth of the athletes, how much money players earn,” said Mace.
“In snooker, the top 16 are fairly comfortable but if you look at the prize money distribution and players’ earnings, once you’re outside of the top 16 or top 32, these players are not making huge money.”
“We live in a dreamworld, if we think we can eradicate [corruption] completely, there still needs to be a greater investment in this on a global scale. It’s now on the agenda and there are not many sports that don’t recognise it as something they need to tackle and invest in but still the money needs to improve,” Mace added.
Highlighting some parts in bold/underline is my doing.
Again a lot of the quotes above hint at a strong possibility that some, if not all, of the currently suspended players might have been forced into this, as Ronnie and Judd both suggested in their reactions immediately after the suspensions were announced.
They are easy preys for crooks when they arrive in the UK. Just imagine … you’re a teenager, you barely speak the language, your family is on the other side of the world. The money you earn, if any, may seem to be a lot at first, and there are many temptations around, nice clothes, restaurants, maybe the casino … But the cost of living is much higher than at home. Before you know it, you have debts. And there comes a fellow citizen, an adult, who lives in the country for while, offering to help you… It’s easy to fall in that trap.
Of course we have to wait for the full investigation results. Meanwhile, I think that we should keep an open mind. I have read things like ” But how??? Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao have been earning good money from the sport!”. That’s true, they have earned good money in the last couple of years, but maybe the facts that they are investigated for are older than that, dating back to a time when they weren’t earning much.
The 2023 Shoot Out gets underway this afternoon. The event is supposed to be fast, furious, crazy and fun. Many players though are not exactly feeling much optimism at this moment in time. The truth is that Snooker is in a crisis and the malaise many feel for a long time has been exposed when it was announced that the 2023 Turkish Masters is canceled.
Anthony Hamilton: ‘Snooker’s not flying, it’s a thin veneer between success and disaster’
Phil Haigh Tuesday 24 Jan 2023 9:59 pm
After this week’s news that the Turkish Masters will no longer be happening in March, many professionals face a quiet few weeks ahead and Anthony Hamilton feels it is symptomatic of ongoing problems on the World Snooker Tour.
The 51-year-old has been on tour since 1991, so has seen plenty of ups and downs in the sport and he reckons we are witnessing something of a decline right now.
The loss of the string of big tournaments in China due to the pandemic is an ongoing problem for the sport, and with events not cropping up to replace them, it is a tough time for those outside of the sport’s elite.
While those riding high in the rankings are more than busy enough with limited-field events, many on the tour are short of playing opportunities and the cancellation of the Turkish Masters is a real blow.
Hamilton, ranked #40 in the world, plays at the one-frame Snooker Shoot Out this week, but after that faces a break of over two months before playing in World Championship qualifying, as he has not qualified for the Welsh Open or German Masters.
World Snooker Tour are looking into a replacement event to take the Turkish Masters’ place in the calendar, but things look bleak for some professionals if they are unsuccessful.
‘We’re playing in a tournament so we’ve got to be happy haven’t we?’ Hamilton told Metro.co.uk of his trip to Leicester for the Shoot Out.
‘Unless they fill the gap with some poxy Championship League or whatever, as it stands, certain players like myself won’t be playing for 10 weeks now till the World Championships.
‘A lot of us will put the cue down for a month and pick it back up again for the Worlds. It’s not great is it? I’ve not won a match for quite a while now [UK Championship qualifying in November], when I play in the Worlds it might be close to six months since I’ve won a match.
‘That’s something that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. It is what it is, I guess, I’ll get enough practice in for the World Championships. The only good thing is that no one will be particularly sharp.
‘I’m getting my cue out for the Shoot Out, but I can’t really be bothered because it’s going to go away for a month. Unless they get something on, whatever it is, anything would be better than nothing. It’s hard to muster up any real enthusiasm unless you’re in other tournaments like the top players are. The rest of the tour are in a bit of a malaise.’
The calendar doesn’t appear empty between now and the World Championship starting in April, but the upcoming Players Championship just features the top 16 on the one-year ranking list, followed by the Tour Championship which is just for the top eight.
Players down the rankings are short of earning opportunities and Hamilton expects some will be turning to part-time jobs, which, in turn, will harm their snooker.
‘If this was like five years back and I had no money in the bank…that’s a position a lot of pros will be in now, you would seriously have to think about going to work behind a bar just to pay the bills,’ said Hamilton.
‘It’s hard to do both, when you’re young it’s possible because you’ve got the energy to practice and work, but when you’re getting on it’ll be detrimental to your snooker because who’s got the energy to do both?
‘It’s not going to kill you, don’t get me wrong, but it might be five per cent off your snooker and that’s enough to not earn anything from snooker.
‘I’m playing alright, but I haven’t been paid since the UK in November. That could be five months in between cheques. I’ve lost matches, of course, but you’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough money in the bank. You need a float, because this could happen every year. If you’ve not got a float you’re f***ed.
‘My hat goes off to players, I know them personally, who’ve got young kids. When I was their age and I could play, I still didn’t have the balls to think that I could start a family off the back of this job.
‘It never materialised anyway, but I used to think to myself, “If I had two kids, I don’t think I could guarantee getting them through from snooker.” I probably could have done, but that’s the thought process you have, even as a good player. It’s an easy life in some ways, because you’re not told by The Man what to do but you’ve got no guarantees, that’s the tough part.
‘But that’s what sport is, really. Other than football and a few others, it’s working class and you’re basically gambling whether you get paid or not. That’s the decision you make when you get good, whether you want to deal with it or not. We might moan about it, but it’s our decisions ultimately.’
The Sheriff of Pottingham has no intention of turning his back on the sport he has dedicated his life to and he hopes there are brighter times ahead, but he certainly sees a dip at the moment, which he traces back to the retirement of Barry Hearn, who was the sport’s driving force until 2021.
‘The tour is going downhill a bit now,’ he said. ‘It was always going to when Barry retired, or semi-retired. He’s not pushing forward with the job of finding money, there’s no one better at it. As always, the most annoying people on the planet get s**t done. He’s certainly got his merits.
‘Snooker’s not flying. You listen to some people and it sounds like it is, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s a thin veneer between success and disaster at the moment, if you ask me.
‘It’s not all bad. Snooker is in a better state than it was before Barry arrived because it was on its knees then. But it’s not all roses like some people would have you believe.
‘I understand where they’re coming from, because they have to get sponsors interested, but every now and then they need a dose of reality, and the reality is a lot of players are on their arse. That’s the reality.’
Anthony is not the only one feeling that way. As it happens, there was a discussion going on on twitter yesterday, after someone pointed out that currently only 54 players, out of 131, have earned over￡20000, the amount guaranteed by WPBSA/WST. It goes to show how very much needed that move by the governing body was and is. But ￡20000 is only ￡1666.67 per month and that’s not much at all especially if you have a family to support. Let’s not forget that from these ￡1666.67, we need to subtract their professional expenses (travels, hotels, practice fees).
There were calls to bring back the PTCs. Of course a return of the PTCs would get the players playing. The truth however about those events is that to break even the players had basically to reach the last day. The vast majority of players were out of pocket playing in them. Ronnie at the time spoke about “buying ranking points”, there was a lot of truth in that. Also those short events were not cheap to organise: they required a lot of tables and fitters to take care of them, a big venue, many referees. I know first hand that the events in Belgium, despite huge crowds, and massive support from amateur players, were a financial loss for the organisers. Bringing them back is not sustainable, at least not in their original form.
The return of the Chinese events would be a big help. For now, only the Shanghai Masters, with its 16 players field, is on the cards. It’s some light at the end of the tunnel but it isn’t enough. Also it remains to be seen how the current match fixing affair, involving ten Chinese players, will impact the collaboration between WPBSA and CBSA, if at all. For now it seems that CBSA is very keen to get the sport clean and to bring ranking events running again in China.
But WST needs to work hard on bringing more events to mainland Europe. It’s a matter of credibility if you call yourself “WORLD” tour but it’s not that easy. Brexit certainly doesn’t help and finding good sponsors – away from the betting/gambling business – isn’t either.
Our sport for sure has some serious challenges to face…
For some reason all those thoughts brought back this song by Bob Dylan into my head …
Yes, it’s old, it’s been first published in 1962 and, yes, I’m old enough to remember the first time I heard it on the radio back then. It’s still relevant… even in snooker.
Zhao Xintong and Zhang Jiankang have been withdrawn from the BetVictor Shoot Out, and replaced with a straight swap in the draw with the next available players on the Q School 2022 Order of Merit. Zhao Xintong is replaced by Haydon Pinhey and Zhang Jiankang is replaced by Michael Georgiou.
WST has decided to increase its donation to official charity Jessie May Children’s Hospice at Home to £15,000, based on the number of century breaks made at the Cazoo Masters.
Before the tournament at Alexandra Palace started, WST pledged £500 for every century up to a maximum of £10,000. But the final century tally was 30 and WST will now donate the full total based on £500 per century, which is £15,000.
Bristol-based charity Jessie May provides nursing care at home for children and young people with life limiting conditions who are not expected to live beyond the age of 19.
WST Chairman Steve Dawson said: “After such a fantastic Cazoo Masters tournament and a barrage of centuries, we have decided to boost the donation to Jessie May up to £15,000. We know what amazing work they do for vulnerable children and their families. The pandemic has really affected their funding and we urge everyone to have a look at what they do and dig deep to support them because private donations are vital to their future.”
Kim James-Coggins from Jessie May said: “All of the team at Jessie May are truly grateful for the support from WST. The impact your support has on our nurses and families is incredible.”
I’m glad that WST took that decision considering that many families, especially the most “vulnerable” ones, continue to suffer from the combined effects of the pandemic and the Brexit induced economic crisis in the UK. There is nothing worse for a parent than to lose a child, or to raise a child knowing that their life expectancy is limited and every day is a struggle. Well done WST, well done the players who scored as many as they could.
As for the match fixing issue, I can only urge everyone to wait for the results of the hearing and the full facts before asking for “life bans” … What annoys me is that some of those taking the harsh stand are the same who regularly pleaded leniency for Stephen Lee, asking for him to be allowed back “because he has such a Rolls-Royce cue action”. There should be consistency, no matter the nationality of the players.
IF it is proven that some of the older players in that group lured/coerced their young compatriots into a match fixing scheme, yes, they should get a life ban and should be sent back to China with no possibility to return to the UK or anywhere in Europe. Not just because of the match fixing, but more importantly because the vile betrayal of confidence. I’m sure that many parents of Chinese teenagers sent to the UK to play professionally were glad to know that their kids weren’t alone and that older, more experienced fellow citizens would be there for them. It’s only normal. It would be the same for UK parents if their teenagers were sent to live as ex-pats in Asia. That betrayal, above all, IF true, is unforgivable.
Snooker will survive. Cycling survived the countless doping scandals. The Tour the France is still watched by millions. Formula One survived despite the terrible decisions that deprived Lewis Hamilton. A couple of heads fell and the circus goes on. Snooker is much cleaner than most sports, especially those that attract the BIG money.
In this piece I want to look at the good things that happened in snooker in 2022
The guaranteed ￡20000 income
That announcement by WPBSA/WST was probably the best news of the year in my views, and a massive step in the right direction for the sport and the players. It’s particularly important for the young players and those from outside the UK who, because of the UK centric organisation of the sport, have either to move to the UK and live as ex-pats or to travel back and forth every odd week. Both “solutions” come at a high cost financially and emotionally. At least, this will help with the financial side of the situation. And it’s only right. They earned their professional status – well most of them did – and it takes two to play a match. No matter how well both may play, one will lose. Both though will have contributed to the tournament, both have brought value for the fans, the venue, the broadcaster. It’s only right that they get something for it, if only to cover their basic expenses. It’s NOT “rewarding mediocrity”, it’s recognising their efforts and contribution to the sport.
The tiered qualifiers for the UK Championship
Since the format of the event had been shortened to best of 11, the UK Championship had clearly lost in prestige and many fans were struggling at still seeing it as a “Major. Also the strict seeding system, imposed by the BBC who didn’t want to cover the first round, but still wanted all top players at their television stages had produced more than a reasonable share of boring complete “mismatches”. The decision to adopt the same tiered qualifying system as used for the World Championship has worked a treat. It’s been years since we sensed such a buzz around the UK Championship early stages. Part of that buzz came from the excellent coverage of the qualifiers on Eurosport and on Facebook, supported by the never fading enthusiasm of Rob Walker. I hope this format becomes the “permanent” one for this event as it’s so much better on all accounts.
The Asia-Oceania Q-School
It had been promised years ago and it was long overdue. Thanks to the efforts of the Thai hosts of the event, a lot of matches were available to watch on Facebook in a very reasonable quality. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality on show, certainly in the latter stages of the event, and the four laureates are certainly at least as good as your average UK Q-School qualifier. Mohammad Asif is a quality player who regularly reached the latter stages in IBSF events for years, and, of course, we got Dechawat Poomjaeng back! 👏
The first Turkish Masters
Going to new places is always a good thing for any sport and the 2022 Turkish Masters in Antalya was certainly a success. Antalya is a lovely place and the event was well supported by the local fans. UK fans may not be aware of it but Turkey has an old and rich tradition in billiards, more specifically in carom and three-cushions. Turkey had and has some of the very best exponents in the latter discipline, most notably the extraordinary Semih Sayginer, Mister Magic. So, it’s not surprising that snooker was appreciated. Judd Trump offering the fans a 147 in the final, en route to victory was the icing on the cake.
The return of the Hong Kong Masters
The 2022 Hong Kong Masters saw the return of professional snooker on Chinese territory for the first time since the covid crisis began. It was far from easy to organise but it ended up being a fantastic success story. The final, where Ronnie beat the local favourite, Marco Fu was played in front of the biggest crowd ever recorded for a snooker match with nearly 9000 persons attending in the venue. The atmosphere was incredible. It was a dream final. Earlier Marco had delighted his fellow citizens by making a 147 during his match against John Higgins.
WBBSA/WST efforts to improve “hospitality” at events.
This has been ongoing for some years, but it was really apparent at the last UK Championship. There is a real effort by the snooker bodies to improve the fans experience. In York, the setup in the arena had been completely rethought and the fan zone “extended”. Top coaches and top players made themselves available to meet the fans, discuss with them, demonstrate their skills and give “hands-on” advice. The fan zone is not a new feature, and the coaches “on duty” have always been dedicated, but in York it grew to a new dimension and it was hugely appreciated. Judd Trump is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s always ready for those things and his desire to grow the sport is genuine. One area where improvement is still needed though is the quality of the food on offer for the “ordinary” fan. It’s quite baffling that in so many venues that are primarily sports halls or leisure centres, the food on offer, if any, is very mediocre, basically “fast food” stuff. Yes, there are practical reasons for that, but surely it can be improved.
The latest but certainly not the last of Jason Francis’s brain-children, the 900, has been a blast. You have to admire Jason’s energy, creativity, love for snooker and communicative enthusiasm. He found sponsors, he found away to stream the event, he got Rachel and Fouldsy on board in the studio, Lee “the Shirt” Richardson everywhere, Billy Castle in the com box… All the players involved loved it. And we as spectators loved it too. There was good snooker, there was drama, there was a shared passion all around. It was diversity at its best: young prospects, seasoned players, veterans, women and men, able-bodied and disabled … all first and foremost snooker lovers and players. The only “downside” for me was the schedule. It was midnight here when the streaming started. It does take something special to get me staying awake up to 3 in the morning… well, this did. 😂
The growing “Podcasts Scene”
Yes… growing! It’s not just that quality podcasts have multiplied, they get longer and bigger by the week. A special mention here for Phil Haigh, Nick Metcalfe and David Hendon. All year long we enjoyed quality interviews, informed opinions and well thought-out analysis.
Rescuing Snooker Scene
When it was announced that, because of Clive Everton’s poor health, Snooker Scene would be discontinued, for many snooker fans it felt like the loss of a dear friend, for many even the loss of a “childhood friend’. This should have been expected – Clive turned 85 last September – but it still came as shock. But thanks to Nick Metcalfe, and the team he gathered around him, the magazine will live on and Dave Hendon still contributes. The first “post-Clive” issue is already in the hands of the grateful fans. Thank you.
Tomorrow I will look at the “bad” or at least “not so good” things that happened in snooker in 2022. I will leave the current match fixing inquiry out of that post though, as I reserve it for the final piece of this mini series. It will be branded as the “ugly”.
This piece is the first of a small series looking at the highs and lows in our favourite sport, snooker, during 2022. The focus here will not be solely on those who won at the table, but also on those in snooker who won important personal battles.
When reading this, keep in mind that those are only my personal views, not some kind of “truth”. So … here goes.
Hossein Vafaei – 2022 Shoot-out
The Shoot-out is not the most prestigious event, many, including me, are of the opinion that it should not be ranking, but this was a remarkable, and difficult, victory for Hossein Vafaei and not just because he became the first Iranian player to win a professional ranking tournament.. This whole year has been extremely difficult for him. His beloved grand-mother had past away just before the tournament and a tearful Hossein dedicated his win to her. The political situation in his country has been awful and he recently admitted to being terribly worried about his loved ones and crying watching the news. In comparison a snooker title looks quite unimportant but to achieve it under the circumstances deserves respect and praise … no matter some of the questionable opinions he expressed 😉
Fan Zhengyi – 2022 February European Masters
Fan’s first ranking title came as a total surprise. Nobody, except, maybe, those practising with him, expected it. His win over Ronnie in the final was seen as a big shock. Of course, it was in a way, but the signs were there from the start of the week. Indeed, en route to the final, he had beaten Aaron Hill, Kyren Wilson, Yan Bingtao, David Gilbert and Graeme Dott. That’s him overcoming five top 20 players, including three top 16 players during the week. The pundits didn’t rate fan at all. One reason for that was that he hadn’t scored many centuries during his pro career thus far. What they apparently didn’t know is the story behind it: in an interview with Liu Song in China, he had explained that he deliberately avoided making centuries, wanting his first professional century to be a 147. After the 2021 World Championship, he dropped the idea… Fan hasn’t done much since and this is probably not that surprising. He’s a shy character and all of a sudden the spotlights and expectations were on him. He needs more time to adjust to this new situation.
Robert Milkins – 2022 Gibraltar Open
The Gibraltar Open is not the most prestigious tournament in the calendar. It is actually the last event still played under the old “PTC” format. But, for Robert Milkins, winning it at 46 years of age, it was the best achievement of his career, especially after what had happened at the 2022 Turkish Masters only a couple of weeks before. Robert indeed had let himself down badly when he became heavily inebriated in Antalya, caused havoc, got into a raw with fans and then collapsed in the toilets, hurting himself. Rob is not a bad guy, not at all, and he was deeply ashamed afterwards. In Gibraltar, he redeemed himself big time.
Gary Wilson – 2022 Scottish Open
Gary Wilson is a very talented player, we all knew it. Most notably he had reached the semi-finals at the Crucible in 2019. He was beaten at that stage by Judd Trump who went on to lift the trophy that year. But Gary had also been very inconsistent throughout his professional career and had opened up about his struggles with depression and other mental health issues. His pride and sheer joy lifting the Stephen Hendry trophy were heartwarming.
The Serial Winners
We had two serial winners this year.
Neil Robertson was probably the best performer of the first half of the year, winning the 2022 Masters, the 2022 Players Championship and the 2022 Tour Championship. In the latter he beat John Higgins by 10-9 in the final, having trailed 9-4. In 2022 Neil has won 39 of the 50 matches he played. He has reached no less than seven semi-finals.
Mark Allen has dominated snooker since the start of the 2022/23 season. He’s far ahead of everyone else in the current one year list: he has earned himself 405000 points … Ryan Day is second wit a comparatively meagre 136500 points. Mark has won two titles this season: he has defended his Northern Ireland crown and has won the 2022 UK Championship. He has won 31 of the 39 matches he has played so far this season. But, more importantly, Mark has won his personal battles, sorting out his private life and getting much, much fitter.
The Goat – Ronnie O’Sullivan
By winning his 7th World Title at the Crucible last May, Ronnie has definitely cemented his place as the greatest of all times … for now, because, of course, such a status stands only ever until someone does even better. But it will take some beating this one! He now owns nearly every record in our sport: most World Titles (7- joint wit Stephen Hendry), most UK Championship titles (7), most Masters titles (7), most ranking titles (39), most “Triple Crowns” (21), most centuries (en route to 1200…), most maximums (15) … and more. He’s won two more titles this season already: the 2022 Hong Kong Masters and the 2022 Champion of Champions.
THE PARADOX OF RONNIE O’SULLIVAN: THE FIGUREHEAD AND REBEL WHO PUT GOAT STATUS BEYOND DOUBT IN 2022
Ronnie O’Sullivan won a seventh world title in 2022. It confirmed his greatest of all time status, writes Dave Hendon. Yet, as ever with The Rocket, that only tells half the story. The 47-year-old Rocket, Hendon writes, manages to be both a figurehead and a rebel at the same time, simultaneously putting snooker on the map and then scribbling over it.
Ronnie O’Sullivan began 2022 as most people’s pick for snooker’s GOAT but with a nagging reason to dissent from this view: he had six world titles to his name while Stephen Hendry had won seven.
Any doubt as to his status was removed by O’Sullivan’s magnificent triumph at the Crucible in the spring, the crowning moment of his whole career which reduced him to tears in the arena and the Eurosport studio.
This was the real Ronnie: passionate, committed and emotional. The World Championship, with its prestige, profile and length of matches, is like no other event. It’s like climbing a succession of mountains, having to survive various rockfalls along the way.
Throughout the 17 days O’Sullivan’s focus was exemplary. There were no major slips on table or off it. Judd Trump came back at him on the final day but O’Sullivan recovered his composure in the concluding session.
Seventh heaven had been a long road. There was a time when some doubted, given the turmoil his life was in off table as a young man, whether he would even win one world title.
But O’Sullivan has proven to be snooker’s great survivor, coming back time and again from all manner of setbacks, controversies and his own love-hate feelings about the sport to dazzle us once more. This year, he cemented his place at the head of the pantheon.
The World Championship is snooker’s ultimate prize, far outstripping any other. It is a such a Holy Grail that players unsuccessful in Sheffield can end up being defined by coming up short, as Jimmy White will attest. Therefore, a Crucible win can make up for deficiencies elsewhere. It can also mask the true picture.
Between winning his sixth world title in 2020 and seventh in 2022 O’Sullivan played in 29 tournaments and won only one of them, last season’s World Grand Prix. The last event he captured played under the flat draw format in which every player comes in at the last 128 stage was the UK Championship four years ago.
So although O’Sullivan dominates the headlines, he is not actually dominating the sport. Nobody is, because the standard through the ranks is now so high that lower ranked players are more than capable not only of causing upsets but of winning titles. Fan Zhengyi, a completely unheralded player stationed 81st in the rankings, was the best example of this when he beat the Rocket in the European Masters final last February.
Where O’Sullivan can still be backed to come good is in an environment which feels special, in which his stature is amplified, hence he triumphed at the Hong Kong Masters this season, an elite event which attracted a record live audience of 9,000 people. He also won the Champion of Champions, another one-table, big money tournament designed for the best.
The everyday events which form the bread and butter of the circuit do not get his juices flowing as much after 30 years on tour, so in these he tends to be vulnerable.
It makes sense. If he put as much intensity into every event as he did the Crucible this year he would burn out. His strategy instead is to treat tournaments as mini-breaks, not putting too much pressure on himself. He checks out the route for his morning run, finds a local coffee shop and also plays a snooker match or two.
At this stage of his career, enjoying the experience of being at tournaments is as important as whether he wins them, although he is clearly still a competitive animal in the arena, often berating himself for mistakes and talking down what appear to mere mortals to be strong performances.
But when he gets knocked out he is usually gracious. In fact, most of his uncomfortable interviews come when he has won.
He has received criticism from fellow players. Hossein Vafaei bizarrely called for him to quit the game before the World Championship. Shaun Murphy questioned a perceived lack of gratitude towards snooker at the UK Championship.
Some players feel O’Sullivan receives special treatment. In some ways they are right, but then again he is special. It’s always his face on the posters, his name in lights. He is used to sell a sport from which many others make a good living.
Snooker will ultimately survive without him, but it will miss him. It should count itself lucky that his popular brand of play and at times eccentric personality continues to bring in huge audiences. There is ample room for others to shine, and they do, but many fans still come to events first and foremost because of him.
So what does 2023 hold? O’Sullivan’s profile is set to grow further with the release of the Netflix documentary filmed last season, which includes his Crucible triumph.
It will bring him – and snooker – to new audiences, so promises to be a positive for the sport, although it will doubtless also touch on the aspects of the game that he dislikes.
The paradox of O’Sullivan is that he manages to be both a figurehead and a rebel at the same time, simultaneously putting snooker on the map and then scribbling over it. Yet the game still runs through his veins. The many retirement threats have come to nothing. He is 47 now but plays like a young man. There is no obvious decline. His eyesight is good and he keeps himself physically fit.
The truth is, through his own remarkable achievements O’Sullivan has reached the enviable position of having nothing left to prove. Any title he wins now is only adding to a formidable legacy of greatness.
The last question mark against him was removed in 2022. On snooker’s most revered stage, our sport’s great survivor outlasted them all, and proved beyond any reasonable doubt that he is the best there has ever been.
And more …
Of course there were more winners this year, here is the complete list (source cuetracker.net)
Special mentions to …
Joe Perry who won his second ranking title at the 2022 Welsh Open, at the age of 47. Only Ray Reardon did better: he was 50 years old when he won his final ranking event in 1982… Joe does a lot for the game, and for the young aspiring amateurs. Without his help Neil Robertson may never have fulfilled his huge potential and may never have achieved what he has in our sport. He deserves more recognition for his contribution to the game than he actually gets from the fans.
Mark Selby who won the last event of the season, the 2022 English Open ending a bare spell that lasted over a year and a half, but is also winning a much more important battle against depression and has found the courage and strength to talk openly about it.
In the coming days I will publish three more pieces about the year 2022 on the baize: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Stay tuned…