Reforms to snooker

<I know this is a couple of months out of date now, but I hesitated a lot about whether the Dope was the right place for a Brit-China focused sport. But anyway…>

Snooker virtuoso Judd Trump recently expressed the view that the game of snooker was outdated, and outlined some ways to improve the game.

I don’t agree with all of his points, but I really applaud him for raising this discussion. And, before you say it, I know many of these changes are unlikely to happen in the near future, but at least talking about them is step 1.

Change the outfits / relax the rules on dress
Agree completely. I think sports benefit from uniforms, and I know Steve Davis has said the waistcoat / bowtie thing should be kept for that reason.
But, one of the primary benefits of a uniform is that fans can buy the uniforms to show their support and contribute something back, which is not a thing here. So either relax the rules completely and have casual dress, or have a uniform that is uniquely “snooker”, not just dinner dress.

Players should play more open, attacking snooker
Here’s where I part ways with Trump. There is no sport where flamboyancy and effectiveness perfectly overlap. If exhibition-style shots are effective, then natural selection will start to see them get played more often, which actually does seem to be happening. But you can’t force it; players must play to win.
Furthermore, professional snooker players often think long breaks are the pinnacle of great play, and hence what fans want to see, but actually tactical battles are often equally, or perhaps even more, entertaining for the audience.

Need new, young commentators / old commentators are boring
Yes and no.
The John Virgo and Dennis Taylors do a fantastic job. They add so much character and humor to the games.
Furthermore, “old hands” often can give very deep insight from many years of watching games, and accordingly, virtually all sports have at least some seniors doing commentary or analysis.
However, fresh voices and analyses are good too, and I’m all for giving more opportunities to new people.

Sports channels should follow new players more
I agree, but it’s a hard thing to force. Apart from getting far in a major tournament, the only other way to get noticed is if there is something unusual about their play e.g. “So-and-so new guy has the most amazing banana shot you’ve ever seen”.
This is the same as with any other sport – an unproven talent with nothing unusual in their game is not going to get TV time until they are playing the creme de la creme.

One of my own
I would consider cutting down the number of frames in the major championships. I love the game, and even I don’t have the patience to watch a whole quarter final even of the world championships, let alone the actual final. Life is too short.

With regards to outfits, for a long time women’s pool was more successful at getting on TV and earning more money than men’s pool, and one of the reasons was that the women dressed well and presented as more professional, while the men looked like they were playing in a local pool hall or something, wearing T-shirts and jeans or whatever other ratty clothes they wanted to wear.

As for making the game more aggressive/offensive, is there a proposed rule change that would enable this? You can’t just demand that players play differently - they are going to play optimally based on the rules. Rule changes break continuity with the past, making records harder to compare.

It probably is true that modern audiences want a more exciting game. That’s why 9-ball has taken over from straight pool, one-pocket, 3-cushion billiards, etc. I don’t know if you can change snooker enough to make it more exciting while still retaining its nature.

Yes, exactly, and no, there is no proposed rule change as far as I know.

Interestingly though, the game has changed, in waves, despite no particular rule changes:

When the game first broke into the mainstream in the late 70s, it was thanks to flamboyant, showboating (not meaning that as an insult) players like Alex Higgins and then Jimmy white.
These players ultimately got muscled out of the game by more consistent, result focused, break-building play as exemplified by Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.
But finally now we’re in a Renaissance period, where all of the top players of course are steady break builders but many can also incorporate shots with extreme “english”, shot power, or complex multi-cushion positional shots when the situation requires it.

So it’s changing, but I agree, you cant just tell players to play differently.

I thinkmone of the things that limits snooker in North America is the 6X12 table. Most pool here is played at home or in bars, where there just isn’t room for giant tables. And most pool halls only have i e or two snooker tables, if they have any at all. So it’s hard to find places and people to play, which limits its appeal as a viewing sport.

There is one way to change the game without changing the rules - change the equipment. Tables with larger pockets will reward more aggressive play. But that sounds pretty much impossible to do considering the huge numbers of legacy tables out there, some very expensive.

Another way to change strategy in the game would be to change the rules around fouls. Make a foul less punishing, and you’ll get less defensive play.

But ultimately, I do 't know if I’d change the game at all. Snooker benefits from a rich history of great players and great matches. Change the rules too much, and the historical accomplishments of great players get asterisked.

Unfortunately, pool and billiards seem to be quite faddish. A big movie comes out like The Hustler or The Color of Money, or a great pkayer comes along to capture the public imagination and suddently everyone wants to play. Then it fades again.

But ultimately, these games are suffering from the same thing as other sports - they are competing with a bewildering and ever increasing number of alternative entertainments. Most of the pool halls I used to hang out in are gone, and the ones that are left are almost exclusively 8-ball and 9-ball - short, fast games more suited to short attentiin spans.

I’m not sure any major changes are required to the game itself, certainly not the pocket size. The aesthetics are irrelevant to me and if people wanted to make it look different then it wouldn’t bother me but the balance of the game as it stands seems just right.

There have been attempts to bring in different versions of snooker without much success. I mean if you make potting easy (as it is in pool) or the table a lot smaller (as it is in pool) or reduce the number of balls (as it is in pool) you are fundamentally changing the game into something more akin to an existing sport so why not just play and watch that instead?

I liken the major championship game to test cricket or 5-set tennis, it has a length that allows ebb and flow or momentum shifts and scope for both attacking and defensive play. It is hard enough to catch out the unwary at a moments notice, it is never a cakewalk, and its difficulty only accentuates the genius of those that have periods of making it look easy.

Watching fast potting and high scoring is great but equally gripping is a period of tight safety play where a single mistake can let in your opponent and shift the momentum of the match, with 35 frames to play with you can find a lot of momentum shifts. The “one frame a time nature” can see people go on a hot run at any time.

I don’t think the logic of “if you bring this thing from another sport, you may as well be that other sport” always holds. But I agree with you on these specific examples (although I enjoy watching variations of snooker with fewer reds as well as the regular game).

Sure, but is 35 frames the sweet spot, or just what core fans are used to?
And even if it is the sweet spot for ebbs and flows, shouldn’t we also consider the sweet spot for viewership and selling the game?

For the world final, I think so. The earlier rounds are only best of 19 and other tournaments even less.
Once you are below “first to 10” I think you have a different dynamic and if that different dynamic in other tournaments were more appealing I suspect we’d see it in viewing figures but I’m not sure we do.

To me, there are 2 types of snooker announcers. The first type will explain and give insights on the shot, with possible solutions and tactics. This is very interesting IMO. They will also commentate on the shot as it happens and add excitement to it. “Where’s the cue ball going!”

The second type will blather on about obvious trivialities, statistics (that we can all read on the screen as well) and a whole lot of trite, banal, prattle. They annoy the hell out of me and if they are the only ones commentating, I will turn the sound off and listen to something else.

The older commentators tend to be the first type and I much prefer them. I dread them retiring and leaving it all to the second type.

I think Trump is dreaming for the most part.

I agree; maybe before I undersold how much I love commentary by the likes of John virgo. They both entertain and give good analysis, and I agree with you about much of the new crop being quite dry and/or obvious.

However, there’s no intrinsic reason why young guys need to be the boring encyclopedic style, and I have seen some new guys doing good post match analysis. I think there’s a good opportunity for a young guy or gal with a bit of personality to join the regulars and add a lot. I’m not really sure why it hasn’t happened yet.

I do not watch snooker and know next to nothing about it. But I have seen this sort of commentating in other sports. The difference usually boils down to how knowledgeable a person is about the sport they are covering. If someone knows their stuff, they will give you all sorts of insights, predictions, and explanations for what is happening. If they don’t, they will try to fill the time to justify their paycheck.

I suspect that the young people just don’t know snooker very well like the older folks do.

I agree in general and regarding younger on-screen commentating I do like Alan McManus, he always comes across as very insightful but not unnecessarily verbose.

Would this change strategy significantly? A regular foul loses you 4 points, not usually a game-changer. I’d say defensive play stems more from the fear of leaving a good break building opportunity for your opponent.

A couple of simple changes I would make would be outlawing the defensive break that seems to be getting more common (the one where they lay up into the pack by coming off the cushion). Maybe say the cue ball has to contact the reds directly, or a red has to reach a cushion. The other one is stop players from going on when they need several snookers. If you go, say, 3 snookers ahead then the frame is automatically over.

Those are good ideas. Both straight pool and one pocket require the cue all to contact the pack and then at least one or two balls must touch a rail. That makes it harder to break safe.

The three foul rule would be similar to 9-ball, where committing three fouls in a row is an automatic loss of game. In that case, it makes defensive play more valuable.