Everybody’s favourite tournament to hate starts on Thursday with the Shoot Out in Watford.
For the first time, the Shoot Out has been accredited a ranking event status, with all 128 professional players invited to take part at the Colosseum.
It’s fair to say that the Shoot Out has divided opinion since its inception back in 2011, but its upgrade to a full ranking event has been met with almost widespread criticism within the game.
This is mostly for two rather large reasons.
First, most people believe that one-frame encounters are simply too short to be considered worthy of being incorporated into a ranking event, with the overall champion of a mere seven frames now set to be on a par in the history books with the likes of a world champion.
Indeed, if somebody captures their maiden ranking event trophy on Sunday it is expected that we consider that triumph in the same light as, say, Matthew Stevens’ sole ranking success at the 2003 UK Championship, or the German Masters glory earlier this month for Anthony Hamilton.
The second reason is that the rules of the game have been significantly altered in the Shoot Out.
Every frame is limited to just 10 minutes, with a 15 second shot clock during the first five minutes and 10 seconds per shot enacted for the remainder of the time.
In addition, fouls result in ball in hand so you can place the white anywhere on the table, while with every shot played the player must either pot a ball or hit a cushion.
The rules have led to some exciting climaxes with an often brazen crowd encouraged to secede from the normal practice of general hush inside a snooker venue.
The Shoot Out was always seen as a bit of fun, and a decent way for some of the lower ranked competitors to earn a bit of money.
In 2016, Robin Hull beat Luca Brecel in the final to become the sixth player in six years from outside the top 16 to prevail.
The £32,000 he collected, albeit not counting towards his ranking position under the old invitational guise, would have gone a long way in safeguarding his immediate future.
For sure, this amount of money will prove extremely useful to anybody in the rankings who can now pocket the sum with victory this week.
It could be the difference between breaking into the top 16 and automatically qualifying for the World Championship in April, or perhaps the top 64 and maintaining his place on the circuit for the next campaign.
Yet, nothing deters from the fact that this has been a deplorable decision which completely undermines, diminishes, and disrespects the history of ranking events in the sport.
It’s also a shame because its inclusion on the calendar is otherwise merited, offering fans something a little different and faster to enjoy once every year.
But it is what it is, and it’ll be interesting to see whether this year’s edition will be participated in with as much geniality as in previous Shoot Outs, with so much extra now at stake.
For traditionalists who disapprove of it becoming a ranking event, they can vote by using their remote controls, although it’s unlikely that this will have too much of a bearing on the final TV ratings, and a lot of those naysayers will probably get sucked in at any rate.
Several of the marquee names like Mark Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, and Judd Trump have decided against entering – arguably seeing it as a waste of their time – but the majority of the rest of the 128 professionals are in the line-up alongside a number of amateur top-ups.