And so, that’s it. After a season full of twists and turns, another world championship is upon us.
In a month, it will all be over and one of the 144 participants will have achieved snooker immortality, either by joining the honor roll as a champion for the first time or by improving their status in the game by winning it. again.
The 17-day Crucible Marathon, which begins April 16, is a test of endurance for gamers, streamers, and fans. But the championship begins today with ten days of qualifying which bring their own distinct drama.
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The qualifications are played at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, a few kilometers from the Crucible. Snooker’s Theater of Dreams is close at hand but, for most, the exit from the city will be a disappointment.
However, 16 players will advance to join the top 16 seeds in the first-round draw. A total of four rounds will decide the composition.
There are a few big beasts standing in the way of ISE prospects, including former finalists Ding Junhui and Ali Carter, two-time semi-finalist Stephen Maguire and 2006 champion Graeme Dott. Fan Zhengyi and Joe Perry, who won the European Masters and Welsh Open respectively this season, will also be in attendance, as will Shootout champion Hossein Vafaei and Dave Gilbert, who won the campaign-opening Championship League.
Legendary figures such as Jimmy White and Ken Doherty enter the fray in the early rounds while two-time semi-finalist Marco Fu returns to action after spending two years in Hong Kong during the pandemic.
There are also four players in the draw and a group of amateur players invited to give a more international touch.
Some players have the double header of trying to qualify for the Crucible and keep their tour cards. Among those facing relegation are two-time runners-up Matthew Stevens, former Shootout winner Thepchaiya Un Nooh and Michael Holt and Eurosport commentator Dominic Dale.
All in all, it’s a recipe for ten days of high anxiety. Years ago, unless you watched them in person, these qualifiers passed anonymously, with fans only able to follow score updates on teletext (young readers should ask their parents what it is ).
Lately, live score on the internet has been used to watch the points roll, but now Discovery+ and the Eurosport app will have all four tables live in each session, with commentary on Table 1. The popular coverage of the World Snooker Tour Judgment Day returns for the final qualifier. round.
So the World Championship is now a month-long event with £500,000 to the winner on May 2. This money will be well earned.
The event has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Billiards was the quintessential cue sport in Britain at the start of the 20th century and snooker was considered an upstart.
In 1924, Tom Dennis, a gambler and snooker hall owner, wrote to the then-governing body asking them to consider promoting a professional event for the new game. He received a sardonic response: ” It seems doubtful that snooker is popular enough to warrant the successful promotion of such a competition.”
Two years later, Joe Davis persuaded the powers that be to reconsider and a ten-man world championship began in 1926, with Davis winning the title the following May. He used the entry fee money to purchase the silver trophy still awarded to the champion to this day.
A general view outside the Crucible Theater ahead of the Betfred World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
Image credit: Eurosport
Snooker’s fortunes went through ups and downs before interest in television began in the 1970s. Over the past four decades, the World Championship has become a popular fixture on the sporting calendar and attracts many the attention of the whole world today.
Part of its appeal is its continuity, both the iconic location and the fixed time slot. April means Sheffield just like December means Christmas.
For so many snooker fans, it conjures up childhood memories. I first went to the Crucible when I was 13. Like everyone who has been there, I couldn’t believe how small it was compared to my perception based on TV coverage.
Entering this theater was like entering a magical land. The game I saw was absolutely rotten, but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.
We are often sentimental about sport because it provides a common thread throughout our lives, a soundtrack marked by emotional ups and downs, joy and disappointment. We invest heavily in the fortunes of players because they excite us, frustrate us and amaze us at the same time. And their accomplishments are worth nothing if not for the profound effect they have on people they will never meet.
Many of us therefore associate great sporting moments with those we love with whom we have shared them. They remind us of happy times and not even rampant commercialism will dull the power of sport to bring people together.
Snooker is a sport that has made its way into the big time. It did not come from public schools or universities. He was never the plaything of the establishment. It’s not sporty and often lasts late into the night. Its players tend to be rooted in working-class life, well-made regular guys.
Mark Selby celebrates winning the 2021 World Championship
Image credit: Getty Images
For all these reasons, it’s been ridiculed over the years, but cultural snobbery won’t dull the enjoyment of millions around the world, for whom the coming month will be mostly about putting a meaningful footprint on the couch.
Could there be a shock winner this year? Only two qualifiers have prevailed as champions since the Crucible began in 1977. Terry Griffiths won the title on his first attempt in 1979 while Shaun Murphy broke through the pack in 2005.
The top 16 is a formidable group, but this season has seen so many upheavals that there may just be one more ahead of us.
The pleasure is to discover. The championship is like a long soap opera. There will be sessions that last so long that you’ll question your sanity, but there will be times that might live with you forever.
It’s sports. Every day, from the first of qualifying to the last of the final, is another stitch in the grand tapestry of our biggest event.
So, snacks at hand, it’s time to focus. No sleep until May 1.
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