A frenetic month of February continues with the first matches in the 2019 Snooker Shoot-Out draw taking place on Thursday in Watford.
Everybody’s favourtie annual tournament to hate returns to the calendar for a ninth successive season.
The ranking event divides opinion like no other as it follows a unique format that requires a player to win just seven frames in order to capture the title.
Each match lasts just one frame while the use of shot-clocks and other variations on the normal rules tend to rile traditionalists of the game.
Such is the randomness attached with the Shoot-Out that no player ranked inside the top 16 has ever emerged with the silverware.
Michael Georgiou was the surprise front-runner twelve months ago when he prevailed against Graeme Dott in the final.
The Watford Colosseum will host the competition, which encourages more interaction with a boozed-up audience, for the third year in a row.
The 2019 edition will feature only a few out of the world’s top 16 with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, and Ding Junhui not featuring in the Snooker Shoot-Out draw.
A champion’s cheque worth £32,000 might not be an appealing proposition for the marquee players but for those ranked further down the pecking order it can be a career-changing sum of money.
For Georgiou, the Cypriot’s victory in 2018 allowed him to surge up the rankings into the top 64 and duly earned him a spot in other lucrative events such as the World Grand Prix and the Champion of Champions invitational.
Many will argue, probably justly, that this kind of tournament has no right being a ranking event.
But the sport can benefit from experimenting with different formats and the Shoot-Out unquestionably attracts the attention of newer fans each year who wouldn’t otherwise follow action on the green baize.
As long as it doesn’t become a more regular occurrence, it should at least be tolerated and the relentless backlash that comes from certain quarters, especially on social media each year, is tiresome and often needless.
German Masters champion Kyren Wilson is the highest ranked player in the draw but it’s Barry Hawkins who represents the pre-tournament favourite with the bookies.
Such is the unpredictability of the Snooker Shoot-Out draw that the 2012 champion’s snooker betting odds online are at a staggeringly high 20/1.
There’s not much point in dissecting the line-up as any one of the 128 competitors involved could gain the luck required to win a succession of speedy ten-minute frames.
But for what it’s worth, Georgiou entertains former world champion Peter Ebdon in the first round and seven out of the eight former winners are in the line-up.
One of the more eye-catching ties sees People’s Champion Jimmy White take on eleven-time women’s world champion Reanne Evans.
While the Shoot-Out might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is still usually worth a watch as it provides a bit of lighter entertainment in the middle of what is a hectic period of action on the calendar.