AFTER his victory over Mark Selby, one that saw the top four all disappear from the Players Tour Championship Finals in the first round, David Gilbert was understandably bullish.
Gilbert is one of those players burdened with the ‘under-achiever’ tag, a back-handed compliment because most people believe in there somewhere is a fine player who should be challenging.
And they include Selby, who was generous afterwards about someone with whom he has crossed swords with since junior days.
Bit whether or not he progresses further in Preston the 32-year-old from Tamworth admitted afterwards that having qualified this was a title he genuinely believed he as a lesser light could win.
World No36 Gilbert said: “I think that realistically this is the only tournament that someone like me, lower down the rankings, can turn up and win it. Definitely.
“I can’t possibly beat a Ronnie O’Sullivan over the best of 35 frames or the best of 25 frames. But if you get lucky in a first to four, then why not this week for me or anyone else?”
World No2 Selby said: “Best of sevens, the standard nowadays you don’t really have to do that much wrong to be losing the game.
“In my match against Dave I missed a couple to go 2-0 down, and then didn’t get another chance after that to do anything right or wrong, and the match was over.”
On the obvious point, Gilbert is of course correct. He clearly has a better chance of beating Ronnie O’Sullivan, or even Joe Perry who he was due to face in the last 16, over the best of seven frames.
When the short-format PTC events came in, some were braced for a litter of shocks and surprise title-winners. But in the vast majority of cases that simply has not materialised.
At Preston at the last-32 stage as well as Gilbert you had Gerrard Greene and Ben Woollaston as genuine surprise winners, but all three are accomplished players in their own right.
But a brief survey of who has won the PTC events this season, and the Grand Finals in the first three years of existence, tells a story.
This year on the European Tour there have been wins for John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ricky Walden, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Allen, Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy – all also full ranking event winners.
And the Finals have seen wins for Murphy, the now banned but five-time ranking event winner Stephen Lee, and Ding 12 months ago.
Even with all the early big-name casualties at the Guildhall it would be a huge surprise if one of the established and proven winners did not lift the trophy.
Why is this, given there can be no doubt that the shorter the match, the more even the playing field should be?
The answer almost certainly lies in the mind of the protagonists. Yes, you only have to win four frames – but it is those last few, crucial balls that count.
As in tennis, where a match can hinge on a couple of break points here or a tie-break moment there, snooker often comes down to who plays best under the most intense pressure at key stages.
The top players are there for a reason, they cope with that pressure and come through it successfully more often than the rest.
So however many frames the matches are played for – you need the winner’s gene when the stakes are at their highest.
Many would enjoy Gilbert or another lower-ranked player coming through to win this week – but they will need more than a short format to do it.
Photographs by Monique Limbos