Features and Interviews

Flat Draw Paints a Sorry Picture

It has been a fiercely contested debate since day one – are flat draws good or bad for the sport?

Ronnie O'Sullivan broken ankle

O’Sullivan and many other big names will be sitting out the German Masters – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

From my point of view I was initially in favour of the initiation of a system which would allow all professional players the opportunity to enter an event on an even keel.

It gives lower ranked players a more realistic chance of emerging through the early rounds and, in doing so, crucially earn a living.

At first, it was thought, and argued by World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn, that the best players didn’t deserve any protection and if they were good enough they would continue winning.

For the most part, that ideology remains true.

However, through a number of variable factors the sport’s stars have become increasingly prone to becoming casualties too early in tournaments – which has the very real threat of effecting sponsorship and attendances in the long run.

While it had become the norm for at least one or two of the top seeds to exit in the qualifying stages before even reaching the venue, the German Masters preliminaries over the weekend produced a strikingly high six top 16 names who failed to ensure their progress to Berlin.

This included Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, John Higgins and Ding Junhui, four of the most high-profile and crowd-pulling performers on the circuit.

One argument is that they don’t deserve to be in the tournament because they lost to an opponent who, regardless of any ranking, cued better on the given day.

This is a fair but equally shortsighted defence.

Snooker is already a global sport but has ambitions, rightly so, of growing larger.

This has seen the sport be successfully taken to countries such as Germany and China, where the potential for further riches appears unlimited for now.

Just today it was announced that Romania will stage the European Championship – a new ranking event – from 2016.

Yet, only for so long will investors in the game, both fans and sponsors alike, tolerate the absence of the sport’s biggest stars from their arenas and TV screens.

Part of the problem is the fact that there are qualifying rounds at all and that these are predominantly staged in England in front of one man and his dog, often thousands of miles away from where the actual tournament will be hosted.

It is understandably difficult for the likes of Mark Selby and Judd Trump to motivate themselves for such encounters given their association with big-time razzmatazz at the business end of competitions.

Some will call that unprofessional but you would rarely see a similar situation in another sport.

The Murphys and the Robertsons have done their hard graft to reach the top already and shouldn’t be punished for it, or so the popular adage among many of these players goes.

Unfortunately, in a 128-man Main Tour, it is nigh impossible to provide a venue big enough to withstand the demands of staging a ranking tournament in a sufficiently short enough time span.

Doing so would require a further reduction in formats, which ironically would probably lead to even more of the poster faces suffering unexpected defeats.

So, if the flat draw remains should there then be a reduction in the number of professionals competing on the circuit?

This idea has been bandied around quite a bit over the last year but would go completely against any attempt to make snooker more global.

Indeed, it would potentially be the most damaging motion of all if implemented as it could further limit the already insufficient set of opportunities available for players outside of the UK to develop their game at the highest level.

Several issues then for the sport to deal with and seemingly not many viable solutions.

While flawed, the old tiered system, which is still used to determine who qualifies for the World Championship at the Crucible, did boast a methodology of meritocracy.

The major problem was that there were players who rarely got any opportunity to compete at a venue, sometimes throughout an entire career, which severely affected their income power.

Somewhere in between the old framework and the new might provide a feasible resolution.

Reduce the tour to 96 players, with the top 32 in the world seeded through to the main event.

That leaves 64 players to battle it out in the dreaded cubicles for the remaining 32 spots in the tournament proper.

It’s not a flat draw but it does still give everyone lower down the rankings a fair chance to succeed, while it somewhat protects those who are in a current midst of success.

In addition, it safeguards their position at most venues which can already handle the request of 64 competitors, meeting the important demands of Joe Public and Mr. Business.

This option comes with its own set of problems but one thing is for certain, a tweak needs to be made because the sport cant go on staging its big ranking events without its biggest stars.

2 replies »

  1. Looking at the ranking list, no. 64 earned £44k over 2 years. That’s approx. £22k per year (not including some amounts not included on the ranking list that would pertain more to higher ranked players). Deduct world snooker fees and some tax and that is the cost of doing the circuit with nothing left over. Clearly the game should be cut down to 64 pros, and then guarantee these guys a living over the course of the year, maybe £30k min. Have 24 pros come in and out each year through qualifiers. The currently system is wrong with probably at least 28 out of the 128 essentially no-hopers. If I was hosting an event I’d absolutely want the big names there. Maybe the tiered system of old wasn’t too bad. The flat draw, instead of bringing new talent and fresh faces through more quickly is instead resulting in some of the big draws not making it through. This might be a consequence of the lack of talent lower down the ranks, which is in turn a consequence of the lack of rewards and large expenses involved getting into the game in the first place. Remember, in golf, a new tour pro is already up a million in endorsements, and similar with tennis. Snooker hasn’t got that kind of money lower down so it at least needs to be made cheaper to get involved in. Bottom ranked pros and some amateurs are having to fly abroad at great expense to chase the dream in some of the minor tournaments (PTCs). There should be more qualifiers throughout the year to give wannabes something to play in to hone their game, and just have the 64 going around the tour to events. Hearn says the best will make it through no matter what the system, but there aren’t Hendry’s or O’Sullivans or Higgins waiting in the wings unf. These guys don’t exist cos there is no amateur game to bring them on.

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  2. Having 128 players in the maIn draw every tournament was always a very ambitious idea and so far only two events (The UK and Welsh) have had the whole lot at venue and both tournaments have had criticism for the set up. 64 players seems a much better fit considering the logistics of running a tournament plus the amount of money in Snooker. I think it would work well to have about 48 or 50 tour card holders who are guaranteed a spot in every main tour ranking event. The rest of the places could go to qualifiers and maybe 2-4 wildcards who could straight into the draw without needing a separate round. If there was a European and Asian Tour with decent money on offer it would be the place where players from outside the UK could develop while also allowing them a crack at the qualifiers for some of the main tour events.

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