While we are only three events into the 2017/18 season, the players further down the ranking list will already have half an eye on the ranking list as they look to safeguard their positions on the World Snooker Tour beyond the end of this season.
With every pound, dollar or euro to be earned between now and next May potentially crucial, today I take my annual early look at the likely qualification criteria and highlight some of the names who could be in danger over the coming months.
What is the provisional end of season ranking list?
As explained by the text at the top of the latest provisional end of season rankings page, simply put, the table includes all money earned during last season (2016/17), and from the current 2017/18 season.
This differs from the official rolling world ranking list, which still currently includes prize money from the 2015/16 season. As this is set to be deducted throughout the course of this season however, to provide the most accurate picture of the tour survival battle, this money has already been removed from the table as it will not count towards the race for next season’s tour places.
How will tour places be decided?
At the end of this season (i.e. after the 2018 World Championship), all players ranked outside of the top 64, who are not currently on the first year of a two-year tour card, or one of the top eight money earners during the 2017/18 season, not already qualified, will be relegated from the tour.
Already therefore, while we might only be early in the season, in reality we are more than halfway through a two-year race will ultimately determine the players who will be on the tour for the 2018/19 campaign.
Who is already safe?
Those who do not have to worry (for this season at least), are those players who were able to earn a two-year tour card for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, either via the Q School, international competitions or by other means.
All of these players have been highlighted in green on the latest provisional end of season ranking list.
Who is at risk?
In short – everyone else.
All players who retained their main tour places for this season by finishing in the top 64 at the end of the 2016/17 campaign, or who began their two-year tour cards at the start of 2016/17, must earn their place for the 2018/19 season.
Of course those higher up the rankings will have nothing to worry about, but the closer they are to the all-important ‘top 64’ cut-off, the more nervous they will be.
How can players stay on tour?
Essentially there are two ways by which current tour players can retain their tour cards for the 2018/19 season, without the need to re-qualify via Q School:
By finishing in the top 64 of the world rankings at the end of the 2017/18 season.
Traditionally the cut-off point for tour survival, the top 64 on the official world ranking list following the 2018 World Championship will retain their places on tour for at least another season.
What is the cut-off point likely to be in terms of prize money? In recent years the world number 64 has survived with £48,692 (2014), £54,582 (2015), £49,431 (2016) and last season £60,050 was enough to see Noppon Saengkham survive following his maiden run to the Crucible in April.
With the amount of prize money and tournaments on the increase (after three events last season the 64th placed player had £29,625, while this year David Grace already has £46,725 to his name), it is very possible that the top 64 bar could rise to as high as £70,000-£80,000 over a two-year period this season.
The 64 players next May will each earn a fresh one-year card for the 2018/19 season.
By finishing in the top eight of the one-year list, not already qualified for the main tour
Under the ‘one-year list’ route, the top eight players taking into account prize money earned solely during the 2017/18 season, who finish outside of the top 64 on the main two-year ranking list, will earn a new tour card.
This means that players out of the running on the two-year list, for example due to a poor first season (in this case 2016/17), still have every chance of earning a fresh two-year card with strong performances during their second year.
At the time of writing, those currently in place to earn tour places via this route are:
- Cao Yupeng (£13,000)
- Jack Lisowski (£12,600)
- Michael Georgiou (£12,000)
- Tian Pengfei (£12,000)
- Elliot Slessor (£11,000)
- Ian Preece (£8,600)
- Aditya Mehta (£6,600)
- Sam Craigie (£6,600)
The eight players who finish in these positions at the end of this season will earn a two-year card for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons.
What are the main points of interest?
As ever, the main intrigue surrounds the players who from a glance of the current official ranking list would appear to be comfortably safe and with distance between themselves and the top 64, but because the bulk of their prize money was earned over a year ago now, are set to drop down without a strong 2017/18 season.
While there is of course plenty of time for these players to recover the situation, as some of the names below have already started to do, it is also true to say that a number of the players that I have highlighted within thee blogs during recent seasons, have ultimately been unable to do so and gone on to lose their tour places.
Last year the name was Ken Doherty, who did drop off the tour before being handed an Invitational Tour Card by World Snooker and this year it is current world number 28 Alan McManus who has left himself with work to do if he is to remain on tour next season. A Crucible semi-finalist barely 15 months ago, readers might be shocked to learn that the popular Scot began this season risk of losing his tour position.
Of the £128,850 earned during the two-year period up to the 2017 World Championship however, only £30,900 was earned during the course of his most recent season, meaning that the remaining £97,950 will not count towards this season’s tour survival battle and he cannot afford a repeat of last year’s struggles. Encouragingly for the former Masters champion however, he has made a much-improved start to the new term so far with £16,000 already earned and so will be confident of doing enough over the coming months to pull clear of snooker’s relegation zone.
Another name to keep an eye on is world number 39 Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, down to 60th on the latest provisional end of season list. Like McManus, the Thai star enjoyed a strong 2015/16 campaign that ultimately saw him break into the top 32 for the first time last October, but a seven tournament losing streak last autumn contributed to a weaker season last year. Again though, he has enjoyed a stronger start to this season and will be hoping to secure his position over the coming months.
Others players with notable amounts to defend this season include David Grace, with the £30,000 earned following his run to the semi-finals of the 2015 UK Championship set to be removed shortly, as well as Sam Baird and Robbie Williams (both Crucible qualifiers in 2016), and Jack Lisowski having work to do.
Finally, former world champion Peter Ebdon too will have half an eye on the standings as he occupies 54th place, though again he has made a relatively solid start to 2017/18 and it would be a surprise to see him not earn the £20,000 or so that will secure his position.
Of course, there remains more to win during the remainder of the season than ever before and perhaps for the first time in a number of years, there are no players in the danger zone who are so clearly struggling for results, as was obvious with the likes of Ken Doherty last season for example.
As ever, it is likely to go right down to the wire in Sheffield next spring, keep an eye out here at WPBSA.com for all of the latest updates throughout the season!