Let’s not be so quick on the draw!

I’ll admit that it was all too easy to criticise in the aftermath of the faux pas made during the live streaming of tuesday’s International Championship draw. Now that the dust has settled, maybe it’s appropriate to cut WS some slack on this one!

Although you could argue, and plenty did, that mistakes of a routine nature were made, i’m sure we all know that it was an honest one, and let’s face it, the damage isn’t terminal. I could tell by quite a few of the Twitterati comments that most who tuned in regard it a good initiative. It’s something that a lot of players have long requested (myself included) now that we’re more or less all ensconced in this age of social media. I know the players enjoy tuning in to watch over lunch or whatever, it aids transparency, which we all like to see, and I’ve no doubt it adds to the snooker fan’s tournament experience in getting to feel being a part, however small, of the draw process. So let’s not panic, or clamour to ditch the idea. I’ve no doubt WS will iron out any problems soon enough. I have offered myself to assist in any way going forward, but really, pretty much any player would be of value, considering these draws / formats are second nature to us, as a part of all our snooker upbringing. They / we will get it right for sure. On a lighter note, the silver lining is that it was nice to see Nigel and Ivan twitching on live tv almost as much as I do.

I consider it worth a mention that credit should go to Simon Brownell for the way he engaged the players on social media following the draw. In assuming full responsibility for the errors made, it was good of him to field questions from numerous players etc, and give quick and reassuring answers. I can think of many a time down the years under previous governing bodies, when you’d have struggled for any reasonable response, so for that, the players are appreciative i’m sure.

Now, i know i’m  not exactly splitting the atom here, but this would be my thinking as to how a flat 128 seeded draw should pan out, whether it’s live tv or not!

Initially, only the top 32 seeded balls should be drawn out. These will all be drawn randomly, but still separated by seeding. Before drawing any of these – only two are to be ‘placed’ in the draw. These are obviously the number 1 at the top, and 2 at the bottom.

Now put balls 3 and 4 in the bag, and whichever of these is picked out first will be in the top half, seeded to meet seed 1 in the semi’s. The other will go in the bottom half with seed 2.

Then seeds 5-8 go in a bag, to be drawn at random and placed as they come out in descending order from the top of the draw in the only four slots available for a top 8 seed.

Follow the same process with seeds 9-16 in the bag, and place again in descending order as they come out, going in the eight slots available for these seeds.

Do the same for seeds 17-32, again descending from the top as they’re randomly picked out, filling the sixteen slots available for this batch.

Now you have the top 32 randomly picked and placed in the draw, effectively having one top 32 player for each mini section of four spaces.

The remaining 96 balls are then picked from two separate bags. One containing seeds 33-64, the other with seeds 65-128. Starting from the top again, you fill each mini section of four by drawing two balls from the big bag (65-128), then one from the small bag (33-64) and place in descending order as they come out. 

The initial drawing of the top 32 may be tedious to begin with, but it really should only take 5 minutes or so, and at least the full draw can then be executed without fear of any mix up. I’m sorry for the long winded explanation, but it’s not easy to write it down in just a sentence or two. 

As i’ve said, let’s show some patience, as i’m sure the mistakes made will be rectified soon enough, and hopefully we can all enjoy watching, and being part of the live draws in the future. To be honest, i can’t think of many one on one sports that conduct draws so openly. This has to be a good thing, and long may it continue.

Yours in snooker.    Alan McManus 

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Wilson has a ball in Shanghai. And will be justly rewarded.

Congrats to Kyren Wilson on a fantastic win in this week’s Shanghai Masters. He’s a player who’s style on and off the table has always impressed me. On it, he has all the attributes to be a top player – great potter, fluent, attacking, and an exceptional temperament to go with it. Off the table, I’ve been super impressed with the way he carries himself at tournaments. He’s a really nice lad, always well mannered, and does things his own way (but the right way). What I mean by that is he gives the impression that first and foremost he’s there to do a job. What’s so different in that you might ask? Well, I’ll give you an example…..I remember a few years ago at an event in Gloucester. I didn’t know Kyren too well at the time, it was late evening and I was in the practice room having a knock, where a group of young players (mostly amateurs) were standing around laughing and joking. Kyren came in for his 30 min practice slot, pleasantries weren’t exchanged (nor need they be), his cue was out, and he spent the whole time on the table. You could tell it was important that he got his table time in before his match the following morning. The point being, that lots of players would like to be successful, whereas others really want to be, and there’s a huge difference. I remember thinking at the time….oh oh, here’s a lad who’s got a big chance of going places in the game. It’s always good to see hard work and dedication gain just desserts, which brings me to the other main point of this post…..

I said at the top that Kyren will be rewarded, and I mean this in a ranking sense. The fact that we now have a pounds for points ranking structure is a good thing IMO, and World Snooker can be pleased with that decision. His Shanghai win means that Kyren jumps from 54 to 22 in the updated world rankings. This wouldn’t have been near possible under the old points structure, where I’d guess a jump of maybe 15 or 20 spots (at a push) for winning a major would’ve been more the order of the day.

The problem then, was that any time a mid to lower ranked player went deep in a major ranking event, they could follow it up with a couple of early exits in the next two events, thus largely nullifying the good work done in the first place. Not so these days…Kyren will now rightly retain a certain  amount of security in the ranking list over the next couple of seasons. Even if a player so wished, they could then miss out on one or two smaller events with no immediate threat to their position, a prerogative that’s been well earned. Obviously the day will come (in 2 years time) when the big pounds for points accrued will fall off, but that comes to all players eventually after a run of success. It’s unavoidable.

Gone are the days when lots of people, both inside and outside the game held the opinion that higher ranked players were “protected” in some way, and I have always concurred that they were to a degree. Mainly in that back then, if a player won most of their first round matches, they’d comfortably hold on to a ranking position, and in some cases even go up a few places without ever getting near the business end. That’s not to say that any players were at fault of course. It was simply a product of the then system.

As ever, there have been good, and not so good ideas implemented in recent seasons (always will be). Kyren’s example this week in the current pounds for points system is largely a positive for me. It would be nice to see others grab a piece of that action.

In my next post, I’ll be covering the question of main tour numbers, the finance involved, and a few other relevant points.

Thanks for reading.

Yours in snooker.    Alan McManus

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Two things that virtually all professional snooker players have in common is a graduation from the amateur game – and a fondness towards it. After all, it’s of a time when you learned your trade, made your first century, became a scratch player, pocketed that first hundred quid in some pro-am etc, lifted your first silverware (well okay…it was plastic really)!

Added to that, you can be sure that most pro’s will retain a connection in some shape or form, be it some friends who still play either for fun or because they can’t quite shake the bug, or they’ll know a few local lads who are looking to make the jump to the main pro tour.

If I’m being honest, it’s the scale of the jump that would most concern me if I were a teenager trying to make the grade in today’s snooker environment. I’ll get down to the reasons why just shortly.

There have been differing routes to the pro ranks over the last 30 years or so. Be it by invitation, the old pro-ticket series, scrapping through against the 500 or so takers in the ‘buy to play’ era of the early ’90s, various ‘open’ or ‘PIOS’ tours, or winning one of the premier English, European or World amateur titles on offer.

You can bet your bottom euro that all of the above were extremely difficult pathways towards gaining full pro status. Why?…..because to come through any of those systems you had to come out on, or very near the top of an amateur game that in its own way was every bit as competitive as the professional game itself. Sadly, those days are all but disappearing.

For me, I’ve always been a bit dubious as to the merits of allowing amateur players to enter PTC events. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good in a sense that World Snooker allow pretty much anyone the chance to play and compete against seasoned pro’s in good conditions on a bigger stage than they’re used to. After all, Barry Hearn has stated many times that he’ll create opportunity for all players regardless of their standard, and he’s been as good as his word on that score. But at what cost to the amateur game? – are they really getting a regular chance to play against the pro’s? – and most importantly, does it help their development? For some, you could argue yes. But for the vast majority, I’m not so sure.

First off, the expense involved in the PTC trips are considerable. At an estimated £500 a time once flights, hotel and entry fee are factored in for a UK based player, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of amateur players are trying to run before they can walk? I’ll reiterate that I don’t lay the blame at the door of World Snooker – after all, they’re simply giving players the opportunity to enter. There’s no rule that says anyone has to. The main problem as far as I can see, is the lack of regular amateur events for UK based players, and a qualifying structure to the pro tour without the expense I’ve mentioned. There are a few initiatives outwith the amateur bodies who do sterling work in putting on local tournaments for youngsters to enter, Paul Mount and his staff at the SWSA in Gloucester, and the Snookerbacker series of events are two that can be commended for their efforts, but they can’t do it all on their own. Perhaps a coming together of administerial minds would go a long way to finding a better solution for everyone?

Take my own country as an example, and this may surprise you – I know that it’s been 5 years since any Scottish amateur player has won a penny in a PTC event. In that time, I would estimate that there’s been somewhere around 150 to 200 entries in that time. If my arithmetic is correct, we’re getting to the better part of £100k of expense to travel around Europe, 9 times out of 10 not even making it through the amateur rounds. And that’s just Scotland! It doesn’t make any sense to me.

The point is – there’s a way to learn your trade in our sport, and it doesn’t involve traipsing around Europe 6 times a year, with little or no practise facilities, spending 5 days or so playing one or two best of 7s against guys you should be competing against in the far less expensive haven of your own back yard. Now I know there’s a wider issue here, with the game expanding to Europe and Asia having to be considered in any tour qualifying criteria, but that’s for another day. I would add that I’m all for the mainland European players being allowed entry to PTC events, at least their expense is far less, more of them would obviously make it through to the main draw, they’d get to see the required standard up close and personal, and it might just push a few of them on towards becoming better players. But surely resurrecting some kind of UK players tour for our home based players would be a better solution all round? Let’s face it, it would mean a huge drop in cost, easier travelling, no more hanging around for a few days waiting on a flight after being beaten, keep the entry fee at a similar level to PTC’s, and quite a few of the players would actually pick up a few quid for their troubles, while being regularly competitive. Amongst other upsides to that kind of set up, would be virtually guaranteeing that the very best players over an 8 or 10 event series would top the rankings and justify them gaining however many tour places are on offer, while gaining valuable experience and plenty of match practise at the same time.

I could give you dozens of examples down the years of players coming through to the pro tour in what I’d call the proper way with the proper attitude, but let me give you two of fairly recent times. Firstly Judd Trump – as a junior player I know that pretty much all he did from the age of 12 until turning pro in his late teens was travelling around England playing in almost any tournament he was eligible to play in. I first saw him play in a big Pontins final in the early 2000s against ex pro Mike Hallett. The first thing that struck me was the attitude. You didn’t have to be Einstein to see that all he cared about was having a cue in his hand, a table with 6 pockets, and an opponent to play against. Considering his undoubted talent and obvious hunger to learn, it would still take 10 years at least for Judd to make the top 16 and onto becoming one of the very top players that he is today. Think about it – that’s 10 years of hard graft, doing it the correct way……ie constant tournaments almost every weekend, a strong practise ethic and a willingness to learn. Even then, I’m sure Judd himself would admit it that it took him 3 or 4 years as a pro before he started performing to anything like the standard we see from him today, and there are good and typical reasons for this. But the key thing is that the hard yards were firmly tucked under his belt, so that by the time of turning pro, he was match tough having served his snooker apprenticeship under all sorts of conditions.

The other is young Oliver Lines. I first got to see him play in a PTC event in Sheffield around 4 Or 5 years ago against Jamie Burnett. I could see that he had plenty of tools in the locker, but was a million miles away from the standard required for that level. Oli is fortunate to have had the wise advice of his dad Peter, who is himself a very fine and current professional player from my own era in his corner. As I’m a big fan of his game, I often ask him how young Oli is getting on with his snooker, and I’m sure Peter won’t mind my giving you a small, but crucial insight into his development as an amateur…..Peter was willing to enter him in a few Sheffield PTC events as they were only 30 mins drive away which made sense, but as far as sending him around the costly European events before he was ready for that level – he would much rather Oli practise or play a smaller event at home, or he would send him to the Star academy in Sheffield regularly where he got the benefit of a full day’s practice against one of the established pro’s who play there. The beauty of this, although you don’t know it at the time, is that while you might be picking balls out all day long against a Ding Junhui etc, you’re actually learning far more than you’d think. It’s very much a sink or swim scenario, you either think ‘nah, this ain’t for me’ – or you knuckle down, watch and learn, go back to the practise table and get back in amongst it, armed with what’s been learned. It’s a certainty that you’ll take plenty of heavy trouncings, but with the proper application, desire, and a bit of talent….the day will come when you’re the one who starts dishing out the pain so to speak. It’s no easy path I can assure you. But it’s vital to serve a tough schooling if you have aspirations of mixing it on the main tour.

This may come across as a harsh assessment, but I’ve got to call it as I see it…..and what I’m seeing are the same amateur players over the last 5 years, most of whom look farther away from making it to the main tour than when they started entering PTC events. Look, I’m not having a pop at anyone in particular here, as I see this as a collective problem. Obviously there’s never going to be a return to the heady days of the 80’s and 90’s when you could play 4 or 5 days a week in any number of tournaments, be it weekend national events, to pro-ams 4 or 5 nights a week as I was fortunate to do myself.

If the amateur game in the UK is to thrive as in the past, then changes have to be made if we’re ever going to produce a batch of quality anything like the O’Sullivan, Williams and Higgins era of the early to mid 90’s who as we know came through the amateur ranks competing against each other regularly on a domestic level – and those three were just the tip of the iceberg. Back then, you could bank on a whole new battalion of talented and match hardened players coming over the hill every couple of years. It all comes down to regular and affordable competition. The platform or conditions in which amateurs compete isn’t important in the slightest, simply give them competitive knockout events to play, and the rest will take care of itself. It always has when it comes to producing talent.

Here’s a final thought – I’m sure we’ve all heard the sentence “It’s a young man’s game” uttered over the last 20 years or so……Well in 1995 it was fast becoming that, with a Top 32 average age of 29 at that time (and twenty players under the age of 30)….. Fast forward to today, and the average age of the Top 32 stands at 34 (with just nine players under the age of 30). It’s simply a consequence of what’s lacking at amateur level.

Yours in snooker.        Alan McManus

Should the amateur game look back to move forward?

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Welcome to my player’s blog on all things snooker

Hello to my fellow fans of the baize.

Over the coming weeks and months, i hope to bring you some of the news and views on the World Snooker tour from the player’s perspective. I’ll also be able to give you an idea of some pro’s and con’s of life on the snooker tour…..yes – the long flights, the the extensive garnering of knowledge of which airlines have free changeable flights, the various venues, the hotels, and meeting other jet lagged fellow players in the breakfast lobby in the wee small hours, praying that breakfast starts at 5:30am and not 6. The local food, restaurants and any other gen that’s at all worthy a mention.

Some of the more serious topics I’ll be covering will range from my opinion on grass roots snooker, the state of the amateur game, Tour qualifying criteria, the tougher end at the lower reaches of the pro rankings and the cost involved, right through to issues regarding players at the higher end of the snooker spectrum.

We’re fortunate in this age of the Internet to have a numerous and varied gaggle of fine snooker bloggers who collectively do a grand job in covering up to the minute results, current ranking updates, projected rankings etc etc. I’ve said in the past how much their diligence and dedication is much appreciated by the players and fans alike, and long may that continue. If I can add something a wee bit different for you then it’ll have been worth it.

One thing there’s rarely a dearth of in the player’s room (as Jason Ferguson, our chairman would testify) is healthy debate on some, although more likely all of the logistical decisions which of course have an impact on all professional players. As most of you are well aware, it’s 5 years now since Barry Hearn won control of our sport. With the change at board level back then being very much along the lines of ‘Out with the old, and in with the new’, then life at the snooker coal face swiftly followed suit. I for one – have considered for some time that the vast majority of change has been of a positive nature. Again, let’s hope that trend continues. I’m sure it will.

As this little blog will be very much an ‘as we go’ kind of thing, I’m keen on hearing any suggestions that you guys might have as to any playing issues you feel are worth covering, and I’ll do my level best to get on it.

I’ve a few things in mind at the moment, one being what will happen regarding the APTC Tour uncertainty as regards the postponement / cancellation of APTC 1. With PTC Finals berths, and full Tour spots potentially up for grabs. However, I’m sure in the fullness of time all will be made clear.

As I don’t want to write only about the serious stuff, there’s a few ideas I have for a regular feature. One will be a players, officials and referee’s Q&A which will be the same set of questions to each of the guys or gals. It will be mostly non-snooker related, lighthearted questions which I hope you’ll enjoy. If any of you players etc fancy getting involved then give me a shout at the venues if you’ve got a half hour to spare. Or if there’s anyone in particular you’d like to do hear doing my Q&A, let me know – and I’ll do my best to be a pest.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you guys soon.

Alan McManus

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