The World Snooker Tour has decided to adopt changes for next season’s UK Championship.
The second oldest ranking event will have a revised format which guarantees that the world’s top 16 players will compete in the televised stages.
From the 2022/23 campaign, the tournament’s structure will mirror that of the World Snooker Championship.
The top 16 in the world rankings will be seeded through to the last 32, with 16 additional players qualifying from preliminary stages.
Prize money has been increased from £1,009,000 to £1,205,0000, with the first prize up from £200,000 to £250,000.
The final stages of the tournament will run from November 12 to 20 at the York Barbican, its home since 2011.
This will be immediately preceded by a qualifying event featuring 128 players, made up by 112 professionals and 16 invited amateurs.
The UK Championship was first staged in 1977 and is one of snooker’s longest running events.
It is broadcast to a global audience of hundreds of millions by BBC, Eurosport, CCTV5 and a range of other outlets worldwide.
China’s Zhao Xintong is the current champion having beaten Belgium’s Luca Brecel in the 2021 final.
In recent years, the event has started with all 128 players in a flat draw, but the decision to seed the top 16 to the last 32 round ensures that the sport’s biggest stars will feature in the televised phase.
Matches will remain best of 11 frames up until the final, which will take place over 19 frames.
WST Chairman Steve Dawson said: “This format works perfectly for the World Championship so it is also ideal for our second biggest ranking event, the UK Championship.”
“This guarantees a star-studded line-up for the final stages, while the qualifying event itself also creates drama and great storylines as 128 players battle for 16 coveted spots at the fabulous York Barbican venue.
“We are also delighted to increase prize money for the event, to the benefit of every player on the tour.
“These changes will enhance the status of the Cazoo UK Championship as one of the outstanding events on our calendar.”
While this format is being unveiled as ‘new’, it’s actually a scenario in which the World Snooker Tour is reverting to type.
For years, snooker operated under a tiered system that offered a certain level of protection to those ranked within the top 16.
But around a decade ago, while the sport was beginning its road to recovery under the leadership of Barry Hearn, the majority of tournaments began to implement open flat draws.
There are pros and cons to both styles of formats, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the continued implementation of each in the future.
In terms of the tiered approach, the marquee names are guaranteed to be involved at the latter stages when the viewing reach is as its highest.
However, there are clear cases to be made that it benefits the lower-ranked competitors as well, who now have easier opportunities, on paper at least, against similarly ranked opponents in the earlier rounds.
One notable disappointing aspect to the UK Championship updates is that the length of snooker matches will remain the same.
With fewer encounters taking place at the Barbican Centre, it seemed feasible to increase the format from the best of 11, at the very least for the semi-finals.
Featured photo credit: WST