Sky Sports commentator Phil Yates gives us the lowdown on the 888casino Shootout, which gets underway at Blackpool Tower Circus on Friday… 

How should the Shootout be regarded? As just entertainment?

Absolutely. I love the tournament. When I went up to Blackpool for the first one I had grave reservations. I’ve been doing commentary for Sky for over 20 years and I wondered what was going to happen. But I really loved it and I thought it was great entertainment – and that’s the key word. If you win the Shootout it doesn’t mean you’re going to go and win at the Crucible but for the crowd there and for Sky Sports viewers, they love the format. It’s simple, it works and it provides a lot of fun.

Is it possible to predict the winner of the Shootout?

No. There are 64 players and I’d say 50 of them have a chance of winning. I think it’s possible to predict who won’t win. I’m not going to name any names but I think if you’re a slow, ponderous player the odds are so heavily stacked against you that you can’t possibly win. Nigel Bond [the 2011 champion] in his latter years has been involved in a few grinds but he can play quickly if he wants to. Martin Gould [2013 champion] has been a revelation. For me, the highlight of the whole event was when he made that total clearance. And Barry Hawkins [2012 champion] is a very capable player, who plays at a nice rhythm. If you’re really slow, though, you can’t win but anybody else can. 

Is there anything that links the three previous winners – Nigel, Barry and Martin? 

One thing which links them is that they all absolutely love the game and are prepared to embrace any kind of format. In their status in the game, winning £32,000 means a lot. Nigel’s had a very successful career, which is now in the autumn, but £2,000 is a lot to all of them. For Barry, winning that event led to much bigger things. It made him realise that he could compete under pressure on TV and of course he went on to win the Australian Open. You could say the same about Martin Gould, who won the Championship League.

One good thing about the tournament is that players lower down the rankings get to play on TV and in front of a crowd. So for them it’s a chance to showcase themselves, isn’t it? 

Very much so, yes. And there’s a lot of pressure involved in the tournament. It’s a unique format and they’re all out of their comfort zone even Steve Davis made some tactical errors in one of his matches. So if he can make errors, not knowing the rules or the nuances, anybody can. It’s a full house throughout. It’s a real crucible of pressure because it’s not something they’re used to week in, week out. 

Does some of the crowd behaviour go over the top? 

I think it does sometimes. You would think Saturday night would be the rowdiest but traditionally it’s been the Friday night, for whatever reason. The first year I remember Mark King going on last and playing a match while the crowd was doing a Mexican wave, which you don’t see very often at snooker. It can go over the top but I love the witticisms from the crowd, that’s fantastic. Generally speaking that’s amusing, but I’m not into all the shouting out while players are down on the shots. 

Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Judd Trump and Ding Junhui have all decided not to enter. How much of a blow is that?

I think it’s a real shame. When Ronnie played in it the first year he made the first century break and he made it look so easy, it was fantastic. With the very hectic schedule I can understand players picking and choosing tournaments. If they want to miss the Shootout, fair enough. You can’t play in everything. There’s no way I’m going to criticise Neil Robertson, who has committed to playing in a large number of tournaments. Ding’s had a hectic season, plus you have to factor in the fact he’s travelling to and from China. I would like to see Judd there because I think the tournament’s format is perfectly suited to him, and the crowd would like to see him there as well.

This event has a shot-clock but it’s the only event that does. There was a time when it looked like the shot-clock might come into other tournaments but it didn’t happen. Does it have a place?

I think in a ranking event, if you brought in a shot-clock you would need to make it something you wouldn’t really notice. If I was bringing it in I’d make it 45 seconds with maybe three or four time-outs a frame. What you’d have there is a shot-clock which wouldn’t make any difference to the vast majority of the shots or how the frames were played, but it would prevent slow players from spoiling it for more rhythmic players. Having said all that, traditionalists are dead against it and the way the game is at the moment, you don’t often see a really slow player through to the latter stages of a tournament anyway. So is it really worth it? 

Can you give us one name to win it? 

How about Jack Lisowski? I’d love to see that. He’s got the game to score heavily over a short period of time, but it’s like pulling a needle out of a haystack to predict a winner. It’s the hardest tournament to predict the winner of.