Popular but controversial, the Snooker Shoot-Out has never been won by a top-ranked player, and this year’s event was no different, world No53 Thepchaiyah Un-Nooh beating Michael Holt (No46) in last night’s final.
It is popular because of its one-frame quick-fire format, each frame time-limited to 10 minutes and each shot time-limited to 10 seconds at the halfway point of each frame. Equally, whereas the spectators of every other professional tournament are enjoined to remain silent during play, a rogue cough at the wrong moment attracting angry glares from referee and players, the Shoot-Out crowd are allowed to bawl and bray, and they do. Bow ties and waistcoats are verboten.
It is controversial not only because of its format, which is not everyone’s cup of tea, but also because since 2017 it has been a ranking tournament, which decision divided the professional snooker community. Neil Robertson described the move as “absolutely nuts”; Peter Ebdon called it “a complete wind-up”; for Mark Allen it made “a massive mockery of our sport”; Mark Williams accused World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn of “losing his marbles”.
The best analogy is provided by cricket. For a match to be termed first-class, it must be played over a minimum of three days, and allowance must be made for two innings per side. So a three-day County Championship game between Somerset and Hampshire is first-class, whereas a one-day international between England and West Indies is not. The distinction is not intended to disparage the one-day game, nor does it do so. If you saunter down to Taunton to watch a gentle three-dayer (first-class), you will not see batting to rival Viv Richards’ legendary 189 not out for West Indies at Old Trafford in 1984, a one-day innings I remember well, for it made England’s bowlers look third-class; yet, despite being immeasurably classy, Richards’ innings was not technically first-class.
For ‘first-class’ in cricket, read ‘ranking’ in snooker. Purists cavil at the idea of time-limited snooker being classified as ‘ranking’ – and, for what it is worth, I cavil with them.
Nonetheless, just as Richards’ 189 not out 35 years ago sticks in the memory for its sheer class, despite its not being first-class, no one who saw Un-Nooh’s scintillating six-minute 139 clearance in yesterday’s semi-final, his opponent Jamie Clarke reduced to deferential applause as the Thai potted ball after ball against the clock, will ever forget it. And he followed that a few minutes later with a sparkling 74 to beat Holt and take the title.
Un-Nooh is yet another lowish-ranked player to win the Shoot-Out. But he has been ranked as high as 32 in the past, and is one of the most freakishly gifted players in the game. Still only 33, but as lithe and lissom as a teenager, he has the potential to climb the rankings and, although as I say I personally lament the Shoot-Out’s ranking status, I hope his triumph will be the fillip he needs to win a proper ranking tournament soon.