Just 26 days after Mark Selby’s victory at the 2016 World Championship, the snooker circus rolls back into town with start of the 2016/17 season at the Guild Hall in Preston on Saturday.
With a number of key changes in store over the coming months, today I take a look at some of the most significant for players and fans alike and try to highlight the key themes to follow this season.
View the full calendar for next season at worldsnooker.com
The Home Series
The most significant change this season is the introduction of the new Home Nations Series, which will see events in England, Scotland and Ireland join the existing Welsh Open to form a new four-event series.
Cardiff’s Welsh Open will retain its long-standing February date in the calendar, but the three new tournaments will all be held prior to Christmas, beginning with the English Open in October.
New overseas events
There are also significant additions to the calendar outside of the UK, including the European Open in Cluj, Romania, the Indian Open in Hyderabad and the World Open in China.
The Indian Open was held most recently in 2013 and 2015, while Shaun Murphy won the previous staging of the World Open against Mark Selby back in 2014.
Making way for these events will be the European Tour, which had run under different monikers for six seasons since 2010. Notwithstanding this change, three of the events staged last season which formed part of the European Tour, specifically the Riga Masters, Paul Hunter Classic and Gibraltar Open will continue to be held this season.
New seeding structures
First announced back in February, the new season will also see significant changes to the seeding structures employed at various tournaments. These changes are set out in full here, but the key points to note are as follows:
- The formats for the World Championship, UK Championship and Shanghai Masters will remain as they were during last season.
- The formats for the International Championship, China Open, Indian Open and World Open will be played under the existing format first introduced mid-way through last season
- The Home Nations Series (Welsh Open, English Open, Scottish Open and Irish Open) will adopt a new format, with the top 16 seeded and placed in the draw, but the other 112 players drawn at random
- The German Masters and European Open will adopt a similar new format as above, but with 32 players seeded rather than 16.
- The Paul Hunter Classic, Riga Masters and Gibraltar Open will be completely unseeded.
For the first time there will be just two events held (World Championship and Shanghai Masters), which will not have an entirely flat structure.
In respect of the new formats for the Home Nations Series, German Masters and European Open events, at face value these appear to be similar to seeding structures seen in the ATP tennis tour, with a set number of players seeded and the remainder being drawn at random.
Some have argued in recent seasons that the importance of being in the top 16 has been eroded and there will be some debate as to the impact of this change upon that.
On the one hand, this change goes some way to restore that benefit as players up inside the top 16 will be guaranteed to avoid the others in that bracket until the last 16 stage at the Home Nations Series events. The unlucky player in 17th place though could draw one of the top ranked players from round one.
The other side of the coin however is that with the top seed now able to draw 17th from the very first round, they have lost out in comparison with the alternative system, under which they are guaranteed to play somebody seeded outside of the top 64 in the first round.
As ever, opinions are likely to differ on this change, but from a viewer perspective and in particular as someone very familiar with such a system from the tennis side, I await with interest to see how it is received in snooker.
A new season of course means new players and with the conclusion of Q School on Sunday we now know who most of those players will be. As ever, there is a mix of returning ex-pros and tour rookies, looking to emulate the progress of Zhou Yuelong and Oliver Lines in recent seasons.
A full breakdown of where all of the new players will come from can be found in my previous blog, but notable stories include:
- Hammad Miah and Leo Fernandez re-qualified for the tour via the European and Asian Order of Merits respectively as amateurs
- Cao Yupeng, Michael Georgiou and Craig Steadman successfully re-qualified for the tour at the first attempt having dropped off at the end of last season
- Seven players from China have secured new two-year tour cards from the start of this season, five joining the tour for the first time
- James Wattana will receive a new invitational tour card, but those previously issued for Steve Davis (retired) and Stephen Hendry have not been renewed
- There will be no fewer than ten rookies joining the World Snooker Tour next season
World Grand Prix, Players Championship
Both the World Grand Prix and Players Championship will have new homes next season, with the venues switching to the Preston Guild Hall and Llandudno respectively.
The qualification criteria for the World Grand Prix remains the same as last season, ie a one-year ranking list from the start of the season, running through to the conclusion of the German Masters on 5 February 2017.
The criteria for the Players Championship however has seen a change, with the event adopting a similar process to above, but also counting prize money earned at the World Grand Prix, Welsh Open, Shoot Out and Gibraltar. Further, the event will only see 16 players qualify, compared to 32 in previous seasons.
Yes you did just read that right, from this season the Shoot Out tournament will become a ranking event for the first time, with its field increasing from 64 to 128 players.
A controversial decision which has provided a big talking point in recent days, it does now mean that the event will form part of the crucial Race to the Crucible as the season approaches its traditional May climax.
Ranking themes to follow
A year ago I looked to predict some of the themes to follow during the season and two in particular ran right through to the end of the season, with Ding Junhui and Stuart Bingham involved in very different ranking battles. But what stands out for this season at this stage?
A key theme will be the progress of Ronnie O’Sullivan, who with over £180,000 of his ranking total of £296,250 to be removed prior to the cut-off for the 2017 World Championship, is currently forecast to drop to 16th position in the (very) early race to the Crucible.
Of course there is a long way to go before we get to that point, but of course many likely said the same about Ding Junhui around this time last year. O’Sullivan can at least relax as far as Masters qualification is concerned, the six-time London winner guaranteed to be present as defending champion.
Former world champion Stuart Bingham is another with a significant amount of money to defend this season, following his victories at the Crucible and the Shanghai Masters a couple of seasons ago. In fact, £497,045 of his full ranking total of £586,720 is due to fall this season, although the majority will not be until the end of the season following the World Championship.
Elsewhere, Kyren Wilson is another to watch, as with barely £20,000 to defend during the entire season from his 2014/15 season, the only way is likely to be up for the newest member of the world’s top 16. With even an ‘average’ season, it would be no surprise to see him pushing for a top eight place, but following his quarter-final run at the World Championship this season, expect to see him climb even higher over the coming months.
Also look for Ali Carter to climb the rankings now with little to defend a couple of years on from his battle with lung cancer, while the man who beat him on the way to the last four of this year’s World Championship, Alan McManus, could make a return to the top 16 for the first time in a decade with a strong season.
These are just a few of the main themes and facts about the new season that stand out, but what will you be keeping an eye on over the coming months? Let me know @prosnookerblog on Twitter.
The new season gets underway with the Indian Open qualifiers this Saturday at the Preston Guild Hall.