Wednesday, April 28, 2010

a load of balls and a snooker cue

Obscure annoyance of the day: snooker. Not snooker in general; obviously I'm as snooker loopy as the next bloke, and I've been enjoying the blanket coverage on the BBC's red button service. However: it's at about this stage of the tournament that I always experience a hot flush of annoyance - the transition between the second round matches and the quarter-finals.

Why? Well, I'm glad you asked. It's the length of the matches. Ever since the modern format of the tournament was established back in 1980 (the year before the first tournament I remember watching, Steve Davis' first title in 1981) the lengths of the five rounds in the main televised stages of the tournament have been as follows: best of 19, best of 25, best of 25, best of 31 and best of 35 (i.e. first to, respectively, 10, 13, 13, 16 and 18). The only change was in 1997 when they changed the semi-finals to be best of 33 (i.e. first to 17). So, in other words, the second round matches and the quarter-final matches are THE SAME LENGTH. It's literally madness, particularly when there are second round and quarter-final matches going on in parallel, because then you can't tell what stage it is just by looking at the "best of" figure on the screen. Also, while by this scheme the second round matches are deemed to be three frames more important than the first round matches, and the semi-finals a whopping four frames more important than the quarter-finals, the final is deemed only to be one frame more important than the semi-finals, which seems rather unsatisfactory.

If you decide that the first round will be first to 10 and the final first to 18, then you have a ready-made sequence of 12, 14, 16 for the intermediate rounds. Why would you not do it this way? I literally cannot imagine. If you allow a bit more leeway for change then you might come up with a scheme of 10, 12, 14, 16, 20 for the five rounds, which I reckon would be just about perfect.

Best of 35 is comfortably the longest match on the snooker calendar these days, but, if you still feel that's a bit long, be thankful you weren't watching back in the 1940s, when the final was a gruelling best of 145 frames. And they weren't exactly scooting round the table knocking in centuries every five minutes back then, either; it must have taken months.

Incidentally the two most recent years during which the scoring system was adjusted coincide with the only two years in which the modern championship has been won by a player from outside the UK (Cliff Thorburn and Ken Doherty respectively). So if you get wind of further changes (probably any day now as soon as the WPBSA get wind of this blog post) stick a monkey or two on Neil Robertson or Ding Junhui.

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