There have been several different systems used to determine the best players in the world, but how would it look today if we incorporated the very first?
Judd Trump, of course, deserves to top the world rankings list at the present on the back of all his recent success on the Main Tour.
However, as it turns out the reigning world champion wouldn’t be number one if the snooker standings were still determined by the original method.
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing an abrupt end to most sport, including snooker, there hasn’t been any live action of late to report on.
It was for that reason that I started writing about seasons of yesteryear, a memory shot of campaigns during the Crucible era.
A few people have been in touch to express their enjoyment of the new series, and in the next couple of months we’ll certainly get through them all.
But one reader also raised another intriguing point – what would the rankings look like under the old system?
These days, the world rankings are calculated rather simply, by totting up all the prize money earned over the course of two years in the numerous events that are awarded ranking status.
Back in 1976 when the world rankings were initially devised and officially ratified, it was even more straightforward.
At that time there was only one ranking event, the World Championship which later that season would be staged in Sheffield for the first time.
Therefore, the results of the previous three World Championships were used in order to come up with the appropriate placings.
Five points were given to the world champion, four for the runner-up, three for the beaten semi-finalists, two for players who lost in the last eight, and one point for those downed in the first round.
Ray Reardon was the obvious first world number one, with the Welshman having claimed the world title for four successive years between 1973 and 1976.
As only three editions counted, though, Reardon topped the world rankings list with 15 points, ahead of Alex Higgins with nine.
Eddie Charlton, Fred Davis, and Graham Miles completed the top five, with soon-to-be world champion John Spencer all the way down in eighth.
Fast forward a few decades and what would the situation be like now?
Trump, although undeniably the best player overall, wouldn’t in fact be classified as the game’s world number one.
Instead, that honour would go to John Higgins, the Scot having reached the last three World Championship finals at the Crucible.
Despite suffering defeats on each occasion, Higgins would boast 12 points – five more than Trump in second.
Kyren Wilson, Barry Hawkins, and Mark Williams would be in the top five, with Ronnie O’Sullivan all the way down in 14th spot.
A lot of people complain about the current system but it’s pretty reasonable to say that it’s substantially fairer than relying on the one adopted in 1976.
Somewhat interestingly, though, only two players who are currently inside the world’s top 16 aren’t included on this made-up pecking order – Jack Lisowski and Yan Bingtao.
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This is very interesting. Certainly the new system is fairer. With the old system players could win one or two qualifying matches, then lose but receive no points. Some quirks with old rankings are: 1. For 1982/1983 Alex Higgins would have been world number 1, but he had two ranking points deducted for misconduct; 2. For 1983 /1984, the first ranking tournaments were included – the Jameson and the PPT – this led to the 1983 world championship gaining double points, but the other two world championships that also made up the list did not, which meant that, picking on example, Tony Knowles picked up 6 points for reaching the 1983 world semi-finals whereas Ray Reardon only gained 4 points for reaching the 1982 world final; 3. While the 1982 Jameson International became the first ranking tournament outside the world championship to count towards ranking points, the 1981 Jameson International was actually the first tournament to be truly open to all professionals outside of the world championship (given the UK championship’s limitations on professionals having to reside within the UK, which existed between 1977 and 1983); 4. Eventually, to get round the issue of players winning matches but not winning enough to pick up ranking points a ludicrous (in my opinion) system of secondary ranking points was introduced (called ‘A’ points), which only really counted if two players had the same number of ranking points. Just a few comments on the evolution of the current ranking system.
Oh dear! This is actually my specialist area (I work in statistics and computer algorithms).
The earliest system was basically a back-of-the-envelope solution to provide seedings for the WC – with few tournaments there wasn’t much to go on. Unfortunately this set the terrible trend towards ‘ranking points’ and ‘ranking tournaments’, with systems that can’t even include the Masters, Champion of Champions, Shanghai, etc. In the modern age it’s an embarrassment, more so because proper methods are so easy to implement. There could be a ranking system that can deal with flat draws, tiered draws, invitational tournaments, leagues, Swiss events, challenge matches. It could be applied to amateurs just as well, which would transform the amateur game, giving players a roadmap for improvement. Such systems exist in other sports (chess, bridge, cricket and most online gaming, for example), and are used routinely by betting companies to calculate the odds.
The reason given in support for the current system is because ‘the man in the street’ wouldn’t accept anything else, i.e. we are all too stupid to understand anything other than a prizemoney list. This system is choking the game – it’s the reason why tournament structures are so limited, why Ronnie O’Sullivan and others will quit, why lower-ranked players live in poverty, why players suffer burn-out and depression from constant travel, why young players can’t make the transition to the next level, why attendance for some events is so poor, why professional snooker cannot be truly global.
I think what will ultimately break this is when rich backers (e.g. Saudi) start inflating some top prizes to cause distortion at the top (even more than usual). However, I can only imagine a simple fudge will be introduced. Other tournaments (like Shanghai and PHC) may prefer to go invitational. But the fact remains – the ranking system is there to promote the large sums of money available, at least until the coronavirus hit starts taking effect.
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