Friday, 4 March 2011

Missing the point?

Since snooker returned from the Shoot-Out event in Blackpool, everyone's been talking about the miss rule.

Social networking sites, messageboards, forums and even Snooker Scene has been littered with debate about what's right and wrong with the rule and ways in which it could change.

OnCue editor Gary Moss has been happy to sit back and soak it all up until now. But he called upon our columnist and World Snooker referee Paul Collier to answer some questions and put a few things straight.

Here's what he had to say... 

Gary:  The miss rule has come in for a spate of criticism of late. What's prompted it and why has it become such a prominent topic of discussion?

Paul: The miss rule has been about in snooker for 20 years now, since it was introduced in 1991. It's been accepted for a lot of that time, but when the Shoot-Out was held in Blackpool, and there was a 'ball in hand' rule, people saw another option, and now there's a lot of rumour going around about change.

Gary: For all the criticism, what is good about this miss rule?

Paul: It was brought in because effectively, players were allowing each other to cheat. The rules of the game state that in a snooker, the player must make an effort to the best of their ability to hit the intended ball. However, players were making their best effort to hit the ball in a way that would leave it safe. The classic example was players attempting a two-cushion escape from behind a baulk colour to clip the pack of reds and return the cue ball to baulk. No-one was ever hitting it too thick and spreading the reds. These shots were only ever being played too thin. 

The miss rule was introduced, not to stop this shot, but to make sure that it would penalise players who persisted in playing the shot without achieving their aim.

Gary: What's wrong with it then?

Paul: Because a miss went on to be called for all failed snooker escapes, players are being punished when they are making a genuine attempt, and in a difficult snooker. No snooker is good enough to earn a player 30 to 40 points, but it's happening. It's been taken to the point where players are reluctant to attack because they'd rather accumulate points from a snooker.

Gary: What change would you like to see?

Paul: I agree that when a referee calls the first miss and the same shot is repeated without contact then they have to keep calling misses as the first decision made in every situation is the most important one. But I would like to see the rule changed universally so that after a reasonable number of attempts, I suggest three attempts, then a ball in hand or some similar penalty is implemented. Why should they have umpteen goes at a shot when conceding 30 or 40 points won’t win a frame if they eventually get left in the balls for whatever reason at a later stage and clear up. I would like to see referees take a good look at the situation, use their judgement and possibly some discretion before calling the initial miss when a player has only one logical escape route and makes a fair enough effort. If a player misses by a marginal amount at their first attempt and you call a ‘miss’ you are basically saying to them that they have to hit it. When they are attempting a difficult escape where there may be several or more straightforward escapes, I would agree with the miss time after time. Sometimes however, I would be amazed if a player gets as close to hitting the ball in 3 or 4 subsequent attempts as they did in the initial attempt. This is where problems arise. Referees at professional level have to understand the game and make big decisions when needed.

Gary: What are the players saying about it all?

Paul: In Blackpool, a lot of players could see an alternative and were lobbying backstage for it to be carried into other formats of snooker. But I think now  greater and more detailed discussion has taken place and in general, the players are happy for the miss rule to stay as it is.

Gary: Are we likely to see change?

Paul: I'd be surprised. A letter has been written by World Snooker to try to encourage the views of the players but in my opinion it was poorly worded and it's caused a lot of people to go up in arms about it. I think a lot of people have got their knickers in a twist about it, and although I think referees should be encouraged to universally use their discretion, I see no immediate changes.

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