The fourth annual Snooker Shoot-Out will take place this weekend at the Circus Arena in Blackpool.
The Sky Sports event has been pretty successful over its tenure on the calendar so far and this promises to be no different with tickets all but sold out for the three days of action.
The Shoot-Out adopts a completely different format to all of the other tournaments in the season.
An invitation event, the top 64 in the world rankings who were asked and elected to participate will be in Friday’s first round draw.
Each match requires only one frame, much like Pot Black, but that’s generally where the comparisons to the famous 1970s and ’80s tournament end.
The single frame is played over a ten-minute period with a 15-second shot clock for the opening five minutes and a reduced 10-second time allowance for the remainder of the contest.
If the frame has not been completed after the 10 minutes have elapsed, the player with the most accumulated points advanced to the next round.
There are a few other funky add-ons that ensures it differs considerably from the traditional game.
Players must hit a cushion or pot a ball with every shot while all fouls results in a ball-in-hand scenario, rather than being placed in the usual D-area.
Finally, in the situation where the scores are tied at the end of the frame, the outcome will be determined with a re-spotted blue.
The first year the Shoot-Out was held was generally considered an entertaining affair, with quite a few dramatic and close encounters adding to the atmosphere and tension of a fresh initiative.
However, as players began to grasp the concept and became more aware of the strategies to employ, the frames became more consistently mundane and the last two editions have been less interesting – at least for the seasoned snooker fan.
For the more common Joe, the Shoot-Out is seen as a way of helping to create interest in the regular game by hooking a new audience with bang-smack-wallop, speedy snooker.
It may not be everybody’s cup of tea but, in fairness, it doesn’t have to be.
It doesn’t really take up too much time on what is albeit a busy yearly calendar and, in addition to that, it’s generally a positive thing to include a mixture of tournament formats throughout a campaign.
Fans and players alike grow weary of the same-old, same-old that is produced at most top-level ranking events.
This isn’t a ranking event, and therefore should be allowed to provide any format it sees fit to attract a major televised audience.
Following the demise of the Premier League, this is effectively the last remaining tournament that Sky Sports presents – although they do also broadcast the World Seniors.
The big ambition is to try to get a ranking event back on one of its channels but that prospect still seems a fair way away.
For now, the Shoot-Out, with its glitz and glamour that includes walk-on ladies and a boisterous crowd, is the best that snooker can get.
Several of the top players will be in the North West of England this weekend but three of the top four players in the world – Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui and Judd Trump – as well as recent Masters champion Ronnie O’Sullivan have all chosen to stay at home.
UK and Masters runner-up Mark Selby is the highest seed, with the likes of Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy and John Higgins also in the draw.
The winner, though, has tended to come from someone further down the rankings, such is the unpredictability of the format.
Barry Hawkins is seeded high this year, at no.3, but he was way down the pecking order when he captured the title in 2012 – a victory, though, that spearheaded success in the Australian Open the following summer.
Nigel Bond claimed the inaugural crown while another Englishman is the defending champion in Martin Gould.
There are a few interest Last 32 clashes, most notably the prospect of Mark Allen and Mark Williams doing battle.
Top 16 players Ricky Walden and Mark Davis clash, as do Shaun Murphy and Robert Milkins – the 2011 finalist – as well as Stuart Bingham and Joe Perry.
A bit of lighthearted fun then for a change, which can’t be a bad thing really, though with £32,000 up for grabs for the champion the players will be taking it at least a little bit seriously.
The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.