The week-long German Masters qualifiers concluded on Saturday with a string of top stars failing to book their spots at the Tempodrom.
Only six members from the top 16 managed to make it through the preliminary phase of the competition at the Morningside Arena.
Berlin will still host the likes of defending champion Zhao Xintong, Neil Robertson, and Kyren Wilson when the round of 32 takes place in February.
But so many of snooker’s marquee names have crashed out and will not appear this season at what many believe to be one of the finest destinations on the annual schedule.
Judd Trump, Mark Selby, and Mark Williams each lost in deciding frames in the first of two qualifying rounds during the week.
The in-form Mark Allen – winner of last week’s UK Championship – John Higgins, and Shaun Murphy were among the stars who bowed out in the second round.
It results in a situation where the German Masters and the Tempodrom’s terrific group of supporters will not be entertained by several of the game’s leading protagonists.
There is of course an argument to be made that these players had their opportunity to qualify, and if they were good enough on the day they would have won.
That has been the basis for the structure of the tour throughout the last decade, a mostly flat format in which every player enters at the same stage.
But a lot of those events begin from the first round at the venue, or at least have the top 16’s opening matches held over to allow fans the opportunity to see their favourites – as is the case in the Home Nations series.
The German Masters, with restricted space at the Tempodrom and limited time, has always adopted the two-qualifier approach, and it’s not a new thing that many of the bigger players have failed to reach the venue.
But the success of last week’s revamped UK Championship should act as a pointer to how the tiered approach can completely raise a tournament’s identity.
For years, the UK Championship’s prestige had suffered under the flat draw, but that was definitely rectified during the 2022 edition.
Critics will claim that the best players in the world already receive enough protection, and to a degree they are right.
The Cazoo Series and invitational events like the Masters and the Champion of Champions provide the top performers with more chances to earn money.
However, there is a counter argument to suggest that the best players have earned the right to be in those situations.
Is it correct that these players are then forced into a cubicle to compete in a qualifier?
It is likely this very requirement that led to world champion and world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan withdrawing from the German Masters qualifiers on Monday.
Thankfully the German fans have a reputation for being some of the most appreciative in the world, and their support will probably still be as enthusiastic as ever in February.
Yet from a marketing standpoint, aren’t the snooker authorities shooting themselves in the foot by letting a scenario such as this develop?
In what other sport would it be considered okay for the most marketable players to compete and lose before the TV stages of an important tournament?
Top 16 should really be seeded to most main venues (if not all). Just my opinion, although probably unpopular
— GaryOnCue (@GaryOnCue) November 26, 2022
Snooker’s hardcore fans will not mind that there’s three amateurs in the last 32 of the German Masters, or that only two members from the world’s top eight will be involved.
But outside of that pretty narrow target group, it’s undoubtedly going to be more difficult to promote encounters boasting lesser-known competitors.
Flat draws have their place in some tournaments during the calendar, but the German Masters is one event that would clearly benefit from the tiered approach.
German Masters Draw
Zhao Xintong vs Tom Ford
Tian Pengfei vs Anthony McGill
Jimmy Robertson vs Zhao Jianbo
Sam Craigie vs Kyren Wilson
Peng Yisong vs Jimmy White
Jack Lisowski vs Zhang Anda
Xiao Guodong vs Fan Zhengyi
Elliot Slessor vs Joe O’Connor
Neil Robertson vs Joe Perry
Chris Wakelin vs Si Jiahui
Matthew Stevens vs Luca Brecel
Robert Milkins vs Daniel Wells
Louis Heathcote vs Cao Yupeng
Li Hang vs Ali Carter
Ricky Walden vs Yan Bingtao
Pang Junxu vs Ross Muir
Featured photo credit: WST