There are only a few days left in the 2019 World Snooker Championship, with four players still in the race to be crowned at the Crucible this year.
The city of Sheffield has once again acted as a superb host for the sport’s blue riband showpiece, first staging the qualifiers near the beginning of April before providing the usual backdrop for the venue stages in what has become commonly known as the 17-day “Marathon of the Mind”.
However, a question that resurfaces around this time of the championship each year is whether or not the length is appropriate in the modern day setting.
The current format has pretty much been the same since the venue stages of the World Snooker Championship became a 32-player field in 1982.
Only one significant change has been implemented in the interim, with the semi-finals increasing from the best of 31 to the best of 33 frames in 1997.
The result is an unusual formula that concludes with the semi-finals actually taking longer than the previous round to complete.
One of the main and obvious reasons for this is due to the arena transforming from the two-table situation to the single table set-up, which is arguably when the Crucible truly comes into its own as one of the iconic sporting venues.
Yet, there is certainly some scope to suggest that the tournament goes on for a little bit longer than it has to.
If somebody had asked me ten, or perhaps even five, years ago if I’d be interested in an altered format, I would have called them out for snooker sacrilege.
These days, my opinion has certainly changed.
There is no doubting the importance of maintaining the multiple session guise that makes every World Snooker Championship so unique compared to everything else on the calendar.
After the controversial UK Championship cull in 2011 and up until the inaugural Tour Championship this year, the World Championship has acted as the sole multi-session festival on the calendar.
But the mantra of “17 days” has perhaps become an overused slogan of sacred worth that many people find it hard to escape from.
In essence, the entire World Championship – from the first round of the qualifiers to the final on May Bank Holiday Monday – takes a month to finish.
For the majority of traditional supporters, that’s heaven or “Snooker Christmas” as the season has become known in some quarters.
There is a case to be made that there can be too much of a good thing, though, and there are times throughout the tournament when there’s the risk of a burnout in peak interest.
Neal Foulds, former world number three and now a respected commentator and pundit for both Eurosport and ITV, posed on Twitter if there is an “argument to make the World Snooker Championship semi-finals the best-of-25?”
The 1987 semi-finalist continued: “Not much needs to change except no morning session tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday.”
“Still a one table set-up and still 17 days. This round can move very slowly and players (are) often fatigued going into (the) final.”
I do think the semis are a bit of a weird sticking point with the tournament. This second Thursday has always been effectively like a rest day. All well and good on some levels but I tend to think the impetus gets lost somehow. Maybe two day semis with a rest day? #snooker https://t.co/inGP7uOsr1
— Nick Metcalfe (@Nick_Metcalfe) May 2, 2019
Personally, I’d go one further and suggest that the second round should also be reduced to the best of 19 frames as well.
Both modifications wouldn’t necessarily spoil the desire for matches that provide epic story lines of comebacks and collapses, the triumph and despair that we all crave to get encapsulated by.
But they would either act as a way of somewhat shortening what is already a mammoth slog or, at the very least, safeguarding against the possibility of stamina playing too much of a factor come the tournament’s climax.
There’s an additional argument that could be made that a slight cutback would result in even more closely fought ties.
Deciding frame epics are usually automatically considered as classics, predominantly because they are actually so rare in occurrence in Sheffield.
Wouldn’t it be nice to potentially create a scenario where even more of the high-profile occasions go right down to the wire, without sacrificing too much in the process?
It’s definitely acknowledged that several of the recent four-session semi-final affairs at the Crucible have been terrific spectacles.
Stuart Bingham and Judd Trump went toe-to-toe in a 17-16 “classic” in 2015, Mark Selby edged Marco Fu with a frame to spare twelve months later, and the Leicesterman repeated the 17-15 scoreline against Ding Junhui in a barnstorming 2017 battle.
Twelve months ago, nerves got the better of both Mark Williams and Barry Hawkins before the Welshman squeaked into the final en route to clinching a third World Snooker Championship title.
But are we losing any of that enthralling late-match soap opera if one of the sessions is stripped away?
Nick Metcalfe, sports reporter for the Metro, appropriately said: “As another journalist said to me last year, is it right that the semis last longer than the final?”
“Of course on some levels I’m a ‘don’t dare touch anything’ merchant. But we probably shouldn’t shy away from tinkering if it improves the product.”
The majority is cautious of change and the motto of “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” is a sound one – to an extent.
But the mere proposal of a few tweaks here and there shouldn’t be dismissed because every sport, including its flagship championship, needs freshening up from time to time.
Other Reaction on Twitter:
Sorry Neal but I think the World Championship should be over a long match format.
Battling the tiredness is all part of the challenge.#WorldSnookerChampionship
— Graeme Webb (@LeftAtTheStart) May 2, 2019
Particularly now that the season is so much longer. Clear players are running on empty during periods of their matches.
— Barney (@Bobinsky1983) May 2, 2019
that’s the whole point of worlds. It’s not just who can play well in one match, it’s who has the strength of mind and stamina to last until the end
— Phil Robinson (@PhiltheRenegade) May 2, 2019
Definitely agree with this. Best of 25 is long enough and has a start, a middle and an end. The final having the extra session works simply as it’s the final… as others have tweeted at least a couple of other tourneys should go long. I’d love the uk to use best of 25s
— John Rothery (@umbertludd) May 3, 2019
Live coverage of the World Snooker Championship quarter-finals is on the BBC, Eurosport, and on Facebook (selected countries).