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October 31, 2010

Power Snooker: Cue the revolution.

Snooker’s recent decline in popularity has been both dramatic and, for fans of the sport at least, concerning. The 1985 World Championship final had over 18.5 million viewers – most of them watching it to its famous finish, beyond midnight – whereas just 2.3 million people watched last year’s final. The recent controversy surrounding match-fixing allegations has only contributed to the feeling that the sport has reached a pitiful nadir, in need of much revitalisation.

It was with this in mind that I was intrigued to watch yesterday’s ‘Power Snooker’ event on TV (yes, I watched all eight hours of it – don’t judge me). Basically snooker’s equivalent of Twenty20 cricket, it’s an innovative re-working of the traditional game: players compete for points, not frames, in frantic 30-minute matches; there’s a 20-second time-limit for shots, with a 20-point penalty for exceeding time; there are only nine reds on the table, rather than the normal 15; one of the reds is marked differently, and potting it triggers a chaotic two-minute power-play in which all points are doubled; century breaks gain extra bonus points. Throw in loud music, bright lights, an increasingly raucous audience and some gratuitous hotties, and you’ve got yourself a pretty entertaining event.

Actually, the audience probably deserves a second mention. From cheering – inexplicably – every time the brown ball was potted, to screaming ‘cheat’ whenever the rest was used, to chanting “Ding Junhui, my lord, Ding Junhui!” to the tune of kum-ba-yah, they were brilliantly hilarious and made the event what it was.

It’s certainly not one for the purists, but if it restores some interest in the wider sport, the purists won’t be complaining. After all, it’s not intended to replace the longer format of the game – indeed, quite the opposite. It’s hoped that people who get into the sport via the shorter, faster form will come to appreciate the longer version, too. That’s certainly how it’s worked in cricket – test match attendances have increased, not decreased, since the arrival of Twenty20.

Yesterday’s event was won – predictably – by Ronnie O’Sullivan, who was simply sublime on what was an awkwardly fast table, but all the players seemed to enjoy themselves. It’s a seriously exciting addition to the sport. I hope the event will happen again; I intend to be there.

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