Premier League

The 2011 Premier League gets under way this Thursday as ten tournament champions from last season contest a revised format of the invitational event.

In recent years, seven players played each other once in a best of 6 format with points awarded for a win or draw and nothing for a defeat similar to most round robin scenarios – with the top four in the standings progressing to a semi-final play-off.

This year, though, there have been widespread changes with the number of contenders increased to ten.

Over the course of ten weeks, each Premier League night will consist of only four players competing in a semi-finals and final over best of five frames.

This means that the ten cueists will only play in four of the weekly nights with one point awarded for each frame won – rather than matches won.

This means that, theoretically, a player can achieve a total of 24 points over the course of the league stage if he was to win all four nights he played in.

The four players with the most points at the conclusion of this stage will qualify for the play-offs as normal.

As with previous Premier Leagues, the shot clock will continue to be a prominent element with a speedy 20 second time limit for the first four frames of each encounter.

If any best of five clash goes into a decider, the Sky Shoot-Out rules will apply whereby the frame will be a maximum of ten minutes – 20 seconds shot clock for the first five minutes and 15 seconds for the remaining five.

Furthermore, there has been an altercation to the ‘miss rule’. The player in a snooker will have three attempts to get out of it before his opponent is granted cueball-in-hand.

Confused? It won’t be too difficult to get up to speed when the first night is over with.

As stated, the ten players comprise all the winners of tournaments during the last campaign.

Ronnie O’Sullivan returns as the defending Premier League champion while Matthew Stevens was victorious in the Championship League.

John Higgins as world champion, Neil Robertson as World Open winner, Judd Trump as China Open champion, Mark Williams for winning the German Masters, Ali Carter having claimed the Shanghai Masters, Ding Junhui as Masters victor and Shaun Murphy for winning the Players Tour Championship Grand Finals will all be in attendance.

Finally, crowd favourite Jimmy White completes the line-up for his triumph in the 2010 World Seniors Championship with the ‘Whirlwind’ returning to the Premier League for the first time in four years.

Unsurprisingly, White is one of the quartet that kicks off the series this week in Skegness as the organisers, I’m sure, are keen to get proceedings off to a successful start with regard ticket sales.

The 49 year-old takes on UK and Welsh Open champion Higgins in the last four with Neil Robertson going up against Matthew Stevens in the second semi-final match.

Initial feelings towards this fresh layout are mixed. The fact that each player only contends in four of the ten nights, as well as not being required to play all of their opponents, is a little odd and doesn’t really adhere to what a league format should consist of.

However, with the exception of the absent Mark Selby, there arguably hasn’t ever been a line-up quite like this before which should ensure exciting snooker is provided each week.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has won six of the last seven Premier Leagues and it will be interesting to see if the ‘Rocket’ can maintain that dominance this year.

As the shot clock has been reduced from 25 seconds, speed and fluency around the table should play an even greater role which will surely play into the hands of the three-time world champion.

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