What are provisional rankings?

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Last month, I looked at the basic principles behind snooker’s world ranking system, including what prize money won is counted and how long that money will count towards a player’s ranking.

But once published, what value does the ranking list have in practice? What do terms such as ‘provisional rankings’ and ‘seedings cut-offs’ refer to and why do I talk of ‘races’ to particular tournaments in my blogs?

Below I attempt to explain these terms in a little more detail…

Seeding cut-off points

The draw for every ranking tournament, is seeded in accordance with the official world ranking list published at a particular date. This date is commonly referred to as a seeding ‘cut-off’.

For example, the seeding cut-off for the Dafabet Masters tournament came after December’s Coral UK Championship and the 16 highest ranked players at that date (with the exception of Ali Carter due to his protected seeding applied this season, see below), were able to qualify for the tournament.

This is despite the fact that the rankings were since been revised further following the subsequent Lisbon Open, demonstrating that it is possible for the world rankings in place at the time of the tournament to differ from the seeding list. While the official rankings are updated after each tournament carrying ranking points, the seeding list for tournaments is only updated periodically, at specified dates set prior to the start of the season.

During the course of the 2014/15 season there will be six mid-season revisions , as well as a final revision following the World Championship.

The importance of seeding cut-off points

It is often said that following the introduction of flat draws to many full-ranking events in recent seasons, that world rankings are no longer as important as they once were, but nevertheless there do remain important benefits to being ranked as high as possible.

Most obviously, players ranked up inside of the top 16 immediately prior to the World Championship will qualify for the venue stages of the event at the Crucible automatically, while those outside will be required to win three qualifying matches in order to do so. Furthermore, as referred to above, the top 16 following the Coral UK Championship were able to qualify for the Dafabet Masters event a month later.

But there are more subtle gains too, for example that for the majority of events, those ranked inside the world’s top 64 will avoid being drawn against a fellow top 64 player in the first round of events. Similarly, those ranked inside the top 32 will avoid their fellow top 32 players until at least the third round.

When seeding lists differ to the official rankings

While tournament seedings will generally follow the official world ranking list, there are a number of notable exceptions to this.

The first is that at ‘full’ ranking events at least (ie not European or Asian Tour events), the defending champion will always be seeded number one for a tournament, regardless of their actual official ranking.

Secondly, the reigning world champion will be seeded second at every full ranking event during the following season, except the World Championship at which they will be installed as top seed.

Finally, for this season only, Ali Carter has a protected seeding of 13th, in accordance with the decision taken by the WPBSA and World Snooker following his treatment for cancer earlier this season.

A practical example

The effect of all of the changes detailed above can be seen in the draw for the 2015 Dafabet Masters, where defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan was the number one seed, reigning world champion Mark Selby was the second seed and Ding Junhui, as the top ranked player at the designated seeding ‘cut-off’ point following the Coral UK Championship, was the third seed.

Unusually therefore, current world number one Neil Robertson was actually seeded fourth for the event.

Provisional/Projected Seedings

Over the years, you may have read or heard reference to ‘provisional’ or ‘projected’ seedings, but what do these terms mean?

Because of the operation of pre-determined seeding cut-off points for events, it is possible to calculate in advance of those dates, the points that will count towards a player’s ranking at that time.

This will inevitably differ from the actual, official ranking list published previously, due to the fact that prize money is both added to and removed from the ranking list throughout the course of the season.

For example, at the time of writing, halfway through the 2014/15 season, we can identify that all prize money earned from the 2013 World Championship, to the 2015 China Open, will determine the seedings for this year’s World Championship.

In order to gain as accurate a picture as possible as to the how the so called ‘projected’ seeding list for the 2015 World Championship currently stands therefore, we must discount a number of events that currently count towards the official world rankings, but will not as of April 2015. These include for example, the 2013 German Masters, Welsh Open and China Open events.

By looking at such an unofficial list, it is possible to be able to predict with greater accuracy what results particular players will require in order to achieve a particular goal, than by looking at the official ranking list.

The Race to the Crucible

As is often the case, it is perhaps best to further explain the above by considering a practical example.

At the time of writing, Stephen Maguire is currently ranked 12th on the official world ranking list issued following the Xuzhou Open. On that list, he sits comfortably inside the world’s top 16, some £62,653 clear of 17th placed Mark Williams.

However, if we are to look at the so-called ‘provisional’ list, from which all points earned during the events staged between January 2013 and the 2013 China Open have already been deducted, then we can see that the two players are separated by just £5,066 as it currently stands.

This is because of Maguire’s vastly superior results to those of Williams during that period almost two years ago and the fact that while the prize money earned during that period currently counts towards the rankings, it will not by the time of the seeding cut-off for this year’s World Championship.

As this example illustrates therefore, for both fans and the players themselves, it is important to be aware of the provisional list and the subsequent race to the World Championship to the same, if not a greater extent than the actual official rankings.

This is something that you will be able to follow in detail here at www.wpbsa.com with my regular updates during now and the end of the season.