Feeling The Pressure
We often talk about pressure at the business end of sporting events, but there are no easy rides for snooker players. It is cut-throat stuff from the off.
Lack of tournaments mean a dearth of earning opportunities, while the absence of sponsorship affects the levels of prize money that can be won from those limited opportunities. Three average golf tournaments on the European Tour would more than cover the entire prize fund for a snooker season.
It is a fact that the Embassy World Championship accounted for more than 25 per cent of the total prize money pool in snooker's eight world ranking events in the 2003-04 season.
In all, there was just under £5m for the 128 main-tour players to aim at, but almost £1.7m went to the top ten on the one-year ranking list. The rest was shared between the other 118 professionals at an average of £27,000 per man.
If you took the next ten on the one-year list they would take another sizeable chunk out of the pool and it soon becomes apparent that a large proportion of players are earning peanuts in terms of prize money and clearly not enough to make a decent living.
Unlike golf, where you can earn millions without ever threatening to actually win a tournament, there is no comfort zone in snooker.
Another form of pressure facing certain players is the ranking system. While a full field of the 128 players on the main tour is the perfect number for a straight Grand Slam-style knockout event, that is not how it works, possibly because of the logistics of playing 127 matches at one venue, but more probably because TV stations do not want to be faced with a string of unknowns when the cameras finally arrive. And in best-of-nine frame matches, that would always be possible.
What happens is this; the top 16 do not come into tournaments until the last-32 stage, while those ranked from 17-32 enter at the last 48 stage, and so on. It is a form of protection, but it comes at a price.
At the more advanced stages of qualification, anyone who loses their first match receives only half the ranking points of someone who goes out at the same stage but has already won a match to get there in the first place. In many cases a top-16 player losing his opening match can earn less ranking points than someone who goes out of the event two rounds earlier.
Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to spot a number of players who are facing more than usual pressure from the start of the season. Some will be able to cope with it, but many will not and they will soon present themselves to you - every year you will soon latch on to a few players who suffer a string of defeats. Bookmakers may also know this, but they find it hard to make the sufficient reaction in their odds.