NEIL ROBERTSON has described the new prize money ranking list, coming into force for the new season, as “a terrible system.”
Robertson was world no.1 for almost all of the 2013/14 season but has dropped to third as the new two-year prize money system comes into effect.
Mark Selby, who won £300,000 for becoming world champion a fortnight ago, regains no.1 position ahead of Ding Junhui, who won five ranking titles last season.
Robertson’s 17-15 defeat to Selby in their Crucible semi-final ensured he lost top spot – and the Australian was scathing about the new money list.
He said: “For me, there is no world rankings any more in snooker, it’s just a money list. It’s a terrible system. The winner of the world title gets £300,000 and the runner-up £125,000. Under the previous system the winner got 10,000 ranking points and the runner-up 8,000. So it’s basically the equivalent of the runner-up getting 4,000 ranking points.
“The winner of the World Championship is pretty much guaranteed to be world no.1 for five or six months, which is ridiculous. If Ronnie won the world title I could win the next four or five tournaments and still be behind, which isn’t right. There’s too much importance on first place.”
Robertson was speaking after his defeat to Selby in Sheffield. Words read on a page can offer seem like sour grapes but these were not. The 2010 world champion is certainly not the only player to feel this way.
However, the top 16 under the new money list is strikingly similar in terms of names to how it would have been under the old points format, albeit with the placings different. The big winner of the new system is Ronnie O’Sullivan, who was languishing in 33rd place going into the World Championship having hardly played at all during the 2012/13 campaign and in fewer tournaments than his main rivals during 2013/14. He is now fourth, having picked up £250,000 for winning the 2013 world title and half this for losing to Selby in this year’s final [though would still have been behind Robertson even if he’d won the title].
But does anyone reading this now believe O’Sullivan is not one of the best four players in the world? What he has shrewdly done is pick and choose which events to play in and then back himself to do well in them. This included victory at the Welsh Open and success on the European Tour.
His rivals have not done this, although many would argue they have no reason to. They are, after all, professional snooker players so playing in professional snooker tournaments is what they should be doing. Selby’s world title victory after a long, busy season rather poured cold water on the ‘burnout’ talk.
But it all begs the question of what the rankings should reward: consistency throughout the course of the two year cycle or individual peaks of achievement.
Is reaching 15 semi-finals over two seasons a more significant feat than winning three titles?
The rankings have had a chequered history. 25 years ago winners of tournaments received six points, the world champion getting 10. This changed to a system which awarded points in the hundreds and thousands.
But over a 15 year period from 1983 to 1998, there were only two world no.1s: Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry. No sensible person would argue they were not credible in this position.
Is Selby? Has he been the best player of the last two seasons? He would certainly be in the top four by most neutral judgements. And of the six stagings of the game’s three major tournaments (though the Masters does not count towards world rankings) he has appeared in five finals, winning three titles. Alongside Robertson, Ding and O’Sullivan he has been a consistently successful performer, but there is no doubt his Crucible money has been the key factor in pushing him to top spot.
Some would say, so what? Surely the World Championship is by far the most important event – and by far the most difficult to win – and should thus be rewarded appropriately. The argument Robertson makes, though, is that the top prize is so big – roughly the equivalent of winning four ‘regular’ ranking titles – that it skews the ranking list too much.
I would agree with him, but there are also other factors to consider, some commercial. Primarily, the prize money list gives World Snooker greater bargaining power with promoters who now know that the prize fund will determine the prestige of their events. In an ideal world this would lead to one-upmanship between promoters which would drive up prize funds – although this may actually only drive up first prizes.
The main problem with the prize money list is that not all ranking tournaments are played under the same format. Most have the ‘flat’ 128 draw but there are three more played under tiered qualifying and the field for the Players Championship finals is decided on a separate order of merit.
Players now losing their first match in tiered events will keep the money but not see it count towards the ranking list, a compromise of sorts.
Like any brave new world all this should be given time to see how it works. I’ve never been convinced that the general public – as opposed to hardcore snooker fans – could care less who is ranked where or how the list is worked out. Snooker players, of course, have every right to take an interest in both.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.