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Pinches triumphs as Hearn’s revolution gathers pace

August 17, 2010

Feeling the pinch: Norwich's Barry Pinches has struggled in past big events but is enjoying the PTC

Barry Hearn’s World Snooker takeover was finalised with little fanfare but some tredipation among certain players. Though most supported his plans to take the sport to a new audience, others pointed out that giving him a 51% stake in the game marginalised those who play it – who had previously had much more of a say in how it was run.

Yet the first fruits of the takeover are already being tasted in Sheffield. The inaugural Players Tour Championship is a third of the way through; the fourth event of twelve won yesterday by Norwich’s Barry Pinches. The format is simple: twelve weekend events, involving 128 players (including 32 of whom are amateurs, admitted after a qualifying stage). All matches are best of seven frames, the tournament costs £100 to enter and once a player reaches the last 64 (by winning one match) he begins to accrue money and ranking points. Six of the events take place at Sheffield’s snooker academy, the other six around Europe. After the twelve events – the last of which is in November – each player’s prize money is tallied up and the top 24 play in March’s televised finals event, provided they have competed in at least three of the six domestic events and three of the six European ones.

The tournament is a good idea for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gives the players more events to compete in. The obvious attraction of ranking points and money combats complaints such as those of Mark Selby, who talked of being a “part-time professional” under the old system in which players would regularly go six weeks without an event.

Mark Williams won the first PTC event in Sheffield - zimbio

Secondly, it ensures amateurs meet professionals on a regular basis, which can only be a positive thing for the future of the sport. Though the matches last only a maximum seven frames, it gives young players a chance to pit their wits against the best. This has also been of benefit to lower-ranked professionals such as Pinches, who beat Ronnie O’ Sullivan 4-3 in yesterday’s final. Usually a player ranked 57th would rarely have the chance to play the world number 3 and then only if he had qualified for a major ranking event (indeed, as he alluded to in his winner’s speech, Pinches had only met O’ Sullivan three times in a long career before the Players Tour).

The £10,000 Pinches receives for winning the event is also significant; only two months into the new season he has already taken home £17,100 (he finished runner-up in the second PTC event, gaining £5,000). Last season he made £19,630 in the whole year.

Pinches’ performances see him top the table after four events, ahead of Selby, Mark Williams and Tom Ford, who have all won one event apiece. Some unfamiliar names appear in the top 24 and with eight events left there is a good chance several will appear in the March finals. The events do provide fewer ranking points than the major tournaments, so it is not as if the world’s best will all feel obliged to appear every week, but it is an intelligent, worthwhile introduction to a snooker calendar that previously had a disappointingly low number of ranking events. The final event is cleverly scheduled for TV too – falling three months after the UK Open and two before the World Championships it should attract a decent audience without risking snooker overkill.

Three-time world champion O' Sullivan finds the World Championship 'boring' - worldsnooker

Of course, this is not destined to be the sport’s flagship event to appeal to a new generation; the quirky, value-free invention Power Snooker is being prepared for that. That takes place in October and it remains to be seen how successful it will be. There is also January’s ‘Shoot-out’, a one-frame knockout tournament in which frames can last no more than 12 minutes. As The Videprinter argued earlier this year, if these type of events bring a new audience to the game, then good – but the calendar should not be based around them. In fairness to Hearn’s embryonic World Snooker though, the first season seems to have been balanced well.

Just three months after world number one John Higgins was suspended indefinitely on the eve of the biggest day of the season amid match-fixing allegations, it seems surprisingly reasonable to be cautiously optimistic about the future of the sport.

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