First, a disclaimer: I find the rankings and chat about the ranking structure to be the most boring subject in snooker.
However the rankings are devised, be it points or, as it will be from 2014/15, prize money, the best players are always at the top and the worst players (on the professional circuit) are always at the bottom.
This is nothing to do with ‘protection’ for the top players. They all started at the bottom. They got to the top because they are better than the players they overtook.
A player’s ranking position matters less in snooker than ranking bands. There is no material difference in being ranked 20th or 32nd but there is a huge difference between being ranked 20th and 33rd.
I don’t think any less of, say, Shaun Murphy if he falls from fifth to sixth. Neither should he: it makes no difference whatsoever.
Similarly, Ronnie O’Sullivan is down in 16th place in the latest list but this is down largely to him not playing in a number of tournaments. When players play him they don’t think they are playing the world no.16. They know they are playing Ronnie O’Sullivan. His ranking is irrelevant other than as a guide as to where he should be placed in the draw.
The world ranking list was instituted in 1976 when the circuit had sufficiently grown to a level where it needed to rank the players.
The World Championship was the only open event of the time and the list was devised by retrospectively awarding points to the previous three World Championships.
This system was in place until 1982, when it was replaced by incorporating other tournaments. Players received six points for winning a tournament, five for finishing runner-up, four for the semis and so on. Anyone who lost before the last 32 received ‘merit’ points, which was a sort of ‘nearly’ ranking point, or 'A' points, which was a nearly-nearly ranking point. The World Championship was worth almost double the other events.
This system seems quaintly old fashioned now but, in fact, it left an entirely accurate set of ranking lists.
In the early 1990s, it was decided to replace it with a system worked out not by world renowned mathematicians at MIT but by the then WPBSA chairman on the back of a fag packet.
Points were now awarded in thousands. Crucially, both systems used a rigid two-year structure, which meant much talk of ‘provisional’ rankings but undoubted protection for players on a losing run.
We often hear it said that Mark Williams dropped to 47th and got back to no.1. He didn’t. He was only ever outside the top 32 provisionally, which was a guide to form but did not affect seedings.
Barry Hearn’s arrival at the helm of World Snooker two years ago heralded the rolling system which has made it much easier for successful players to move up more quickly.
Now, it’ll be a money list. Some players are for this, others are against it. Many don’t seem to understand it.
The new system will apply for all ranking tournaments, including PTCs. Invitation tournaments such as the Masters and Premier League will not count towards the rankings. Why? Because they are not ranking tournaments.
As usual there has been much frothing at the mouth about the announcement but it has also been argued that the money list better reflects the worth of tournaments.
If an event attracts, say, £500,000 in sponsorship then it is by definition more prestigious than one which attracts £200,000. Therefore, the winner should be better rewarded by winning it.
The huge problem with the new system, though, is that currently a third of the tour doesn’t earn a penny from each ranking event. Prize money does not come in until the last 64 of most tournaments.
If this continues then how are they to be ranked? By ‘merit’ pounds?
Hearn’s long term ambition is to have everyone start in round one, much like the PTCs. Opposition from broadcasters who may be robbed big name players for the events they cover still makes this difficult to push through.
Another problem is the obvious bias towards winning one of the really big tournaments. Winning the world title means it is hard not to finish very high up the list, even if you don’t do much in the other events.
Does this matter? To many it will. Others will feel winning the world title is the biggest achievement in the sport and should be rewarded thus.
What is striking about the prototype list issued by World Snooker today is that there are actually not that many differences to the current list.
Why? Because the best players are always going to win the biggest tournaments. This will remain the case if they start in round one.
It will remain the case if they are awarded points, pounds or gold stars.
The key thing to watch out for in the new system will be the distribution of prize money. If it’s still slim pickings down towards the lower reaches (too slim, I would say) then it will be tougher than ever to climb up.
But if, eventually, everyone starts out together in the first round then it’s a level playing field and may the best man win.
Which he always does.
Which he always does.