UK Championship Change Chastised

There has been quite a lot of discussion over the last few weeks in the build up to this year’s UK Championship in York.

The anticipation is as high as ever but there has been a sour taste left in many people’s mouths following the decision to alter the format of the sport’s second biggest title.

Over the guts of the last twenty years, it has been commonplace for most ranking events to be played over best of nine frames until the last four stage.

However, the World Championship and UKs were always the exception to this rule and offered at least two-session encounters through every round – including the qualifiers.

The Worlds is obviously the biggest and most important event to win but the extra distance and stamina required to lift the UK title is what made it, without question, the second major.

Because of that, the winners list of the tournament is littered with snooker’s most famous names with, like the Worlds, very few outsiders being able to get their name on the famous UK trophy.

This year, there is an air of caution on whether or not the event will boast the same prestigious aura that it once held.

Next week, the qualifiers will be played under a best of 11 format – similar to The Masters – and will be used right up until the semi-final stage in December.

In the last four the format will revert back to the best of 17 and the final will be the best 0f 19, as normal, but the magic and intensity of the event has been questioned.

The reasoning behind the switch is simple. The reduced number of required frames ensures that all clashes from the round of 32 onward will be on a televised table.

By some accounts, this is fair enough and it is indeed better that those who qualify for the tournament proper will not be forced to produce the goods in a cubicle in front of one man and his dog.

Yet, so many of the ranking events on the calendar already follow a similar guise and the more strenuous system offered a throwback to when the game first rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s.

There is a continuing risk that events are becoming too generic and that the first port of call as a solution to any problem is to reduce the amount of frames or add the element of a shot clock.

The fact that Barry Hearn promised that the three flagship championships in the Worlds, the UK and the Masters would remain untouched at the outset of his reign as World Snooker chairman has irked many followers.

His tenure is less than two years old and while there is no doubting the fact that he has instilled a breath of fresh air to a sport that was ailing in the course of that time, this alteration has come as a warning sign for potential further changes to arise in the future.

What next? A shortening of the World Championship itself? We certainly hope not!

Regardless, the qualifying rounds for the return of the UK Championship to York begin on Sunday.

It will mark the first time in 23 years that Stephen Hendry will compete in the preliminary stage having dropped out of the elite Top 16 in the world rankings last month.

The likes of Steve Davis, Jimmy White and Peter Ebdon will also be in action as well as Irishmen Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien, Davy Morris and David Hogan.

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