Friday, 4 May 2012

Time to tinker?

Is it time to change the format of the World Championship semi-finals?

That's the question being asked and answered by snooker fans over the past 24 hours.

The last four battles at the Crucible have been played over a best-of-35-frame format since 1997 when it changed from 31 frames.

Picture by Monique Limbos
This means players must win 36 frames to reach the semi-final but still need 35 more to lift the world title. On this basis, you can understand why seven-time Crucible champion Stephen Hendry used to say the World Championship never really got started for him until the semi-finals.

The final five days of the tournament sees the intensity of the tournament amplify and this is where the World Championship becomes the ultimate test everyone talks about.

While there's a uniqueness of this lengthy battle for the sport's biggest prize, we've seen in the past fatigue take its toll with some finals becoming a battle of the last man standing.

It's important we strike a balance.

Some snooker purists say the format of the World Championship should never be changed and it will only lead to more going forward but there's always room for improvement and it's important the tournament looks after the players as much as the fans and broadcasters.

There are so many questions to be answered. Why are people talking about change now? Should we lose a session in the semi-final?  Should time be built in for a break between the semi-final and final?

I don't have all the answers but I'd like to offer some of my thoughts.

There's a well-known saying that says: 'If it's not broken, don't fix it'. I fear a lot of people are calling the structure of the semi-finals into question as a knee-jerk reaction to an underwhelming first day of one-table action yesterday.

I'd be quick to argue that every match can have good and bad sessions, and we could see both semi-final games spring into life today.

These longer matches are all about the slow-burning drama and so far, they're both perfectly poised. People should probably be careful what they wish because down the years we've seen some classics at the semi-final stage. Last year's showdown between Judd Trump and Ding Junhui was one of the finest matches I've ever seen over four sessions.

This leads me to the conclusion that maybe the issue is more about schedule than format.

Making the World Championship final is a special achievement for any player. It's therefore right that the semi-final should remain a stern test, which the current four-session format ensures.

1 comment:

  1. I have no memory of what the discussion was like in 1997 when they first made the decision to increase the length of the semi-final, but I don't really understand why it ever happened in the first place. I'm certainly not one to complain as a fan because I'm a big supporter of lengthier matches, but if I had been running World Snooker, I can't imagine what would have compelled me to increase the semi-finals by a whopping two frames. What was the rationale?

    I doubt it was a case of "it was broken, so we'd better fix it" because over 31 frames or 33 frames, the difference is negligible and adding a couple frames seems like a shoddy repair job. Either way, that's all in the past and it's before my time as a fan so there may well have been something I don't understand about that period of time in snooker history....or it was arbitrary and unnecessary as David Hendon has suggested a couple of times.

    All that said, I would hesitate to change the format in any significant way (I've still got steam coming out of my ears about the UK Championship's transformation into the "UK Masters") but I don't think re-visiting the schedule is out of the question. The fatigue effect is very real and depending on the players involved in the final, it can produce unwelcome results having to play so many frames with so little downtime--poor Graeme Dott is still trying to shed his falsely fabricated image as a "slow player" from when the headlines covered his glacially late finish with Peter Ebdon in 2006 (and he openly admits to pretty much giving it to Neil Robertson out of fatigue in 2010). I'd also wager that we'd have seen a more dominant performance in the final out of Ken Doherty in 2003 if he hadn't had to survive three final-frame deciders en route, whilst Mark Williams only lost 19 frames to reach the final. The fact that Ken only lost 18-16 is momentous given the journey it took to get there.

    Someone mentioned the idea of giving some rest time to the winning semi-finalists by staging a third-place playoff between the losing semi-finalists over a best-of-19 frames. Popular with fans I'm sure, but I'm not sure that the players would be very warm to the idea of losing in the semis and then playing another match. It might be better to stage some sort of exhibition to give the finalists a break. Or perhaps taking the second round matches down to a Best-of-21 could open up some more time.

    Or hey, how about 18 days of snooker instead of 17!? Just stretch it out even longer and you'll get no complaints from me. =)