Snooker Shoot Out 2021: What is it? Why are Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump missing?
The snooker Shoot Out celebrates a decade when it begins at 1pm (GMT) live on Eurosport on Thursday. Unlike the previous 10 tournaments, this one will be a more sober-suited affair with no noisy fans swilling beer and music blaring between frames. The chaotic nature of the rapid matches is not for everyone with the world's top three Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Ronnie O'Sullivan all opting out.
Holt and Yuelong | Snooker Shoot Out 2020 | ESP Player Feature
It's snooker, but not as we know it. All the matches at the Shoot Out are played over one frame lasting a maximum of 10 minutes and under the constraints of a shot clock encouraging a quickfire thought process and fluid game management skills. Think of it a bit like snooker's version of a Super Over in 20/20 cricket compared to the Test matches of the elongated World Championship.
The televised origins of the Shoot Out perhaps lie in the old Pot Black programme on the BBC, staged in various forms from 1969 until 2007, which used to invite the sport's leading figures to play a frame of snooker with the final traditionally contested over the best of three frames in the late 1970s and 1980s, back in the days when players played safe with safety in mind.
With the demise of Pot Black, last lifted by 1997 world champion Ken Doherty 14 years ago, there was room for a rapid replacement with the Shoot Out first being held in 1990 and won by Welshman Darren Morgan 2-1 against Mike Hallett without ever gaining sufficient traction at the time to progress its popularity.
An invention called Power Snooker was held in 2010 at the O2 in London amid much fanfare, walk-on girls and won by Ronnie O'Sullivan, with Martin Gould successful in Manchester a year later, but it was deemed too complicated, lacked wider appeal and disappeared into obscurity after the Shoot Out was revived in 2011.
Upon its return to the spotlight as a non-ranking tournament, the world's top 64 competed for a £32,000 top prize that saw 1995 world finalist Nigel Bond defeat Robert Milkins 62-23 in the final.
Despite encouraging attacking play, there is space and time for tactical prowess. Using your time wisely does not always involve potting balls if you can establish a worthwhile lead and can keep the balls relatively safe.
Holt celebrates Shoot Out victory
Between 2011 and 2015, the event was hosted by the Circus Arena in Blackpool before moving to the Hexagon in Reading, the former home of the Grand Prix, in 2016. The switch to the Colosseum in Watford coincided with the contentious decision to award the Shoot Out ranking event status with the winner earning a place in the Champion of Champions later in the year.
Despite several objections to ranking points due its random nature (no player has won it twice over the past decade), 90 out of 125 World Snooker Tour professionals voted to keep the ranking status of the Shoot Out with 35 voting against the proposal weeks after Scotland's Anthony McGill triumphed in 2017.
Each frame is 10 minutes
Shot clock stops players wasting time
First five minutes = 15 seconds per shot
Second five minutes = 10 seconds per shot
Five-point penalty (or value of ball of pink or black if attempted) for failing to play shot within allocated time
Players must hit cushion with any ball or pot a ball with every shot
All fouls give opponent ball in hand
Players lag for break-off like in pool with the white played from the baulk line off the top cushion. Nearest to the baulk cushion wins the lag
Blue ball shoot-out settles tied matches with players aiming to pot blue off its spot from within the D
Where is it being held this time?
The event is usually held at boisterous venues that feel more suitable to darts with players dressed in t-shirts with their surnames plastered on the back, but that is the glitzy selling point of the Shoot Out with the paying public allowed to converse between shots and enjoy a few pints of confidence while the players are scrambling for their lives over only one frame.
The Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes has become the temporary tent if not home of snooker behind closed doors during the pandemic with the Shoot Out the ninth ranking event of the season hosted by MK between Thursday, February 4 and Sunday, February 7.
Who is the defending champion?
Michael 'The Hitman' Holt of Nottingham claimed the first ranking title of his 25-year professional career and a £50,000 first prize with victory over Zhou Yeulong 64-1 in the 2020 final. Holt became the first player to reach successive finals at the tournament after losing 74-0 to Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the 2019 final.
Holt also holds the record for playing the most matches (32) and winning the most matches (23).
'He better hurry up!' - Teenager Lei wins thriller at Shoot Out
Why does it matter?
Despite its more light-hearted nature, it has serious undertones. The Shoot Out carries with it ranking points which are vital for players battling to protect their World Snooker Tour status and also those armed with aspirations of qualifying for future tournaments.
The top 16 on the one-year list after the Welsh Open qualify for the Players' Championship later this month while the winner of the event is automatically entered into the invitational Champion of Champions event. A first-round loser at the Champion of Champions collects £12,500 meaning £62,500 is potentially available overall to the winner if you add in the Shoot Out's £50,000 first prize.
It is also part of the six-event BetVictor European Series that includes the Championship League, European Masters, German Masters, Welsh Open and Gibraltar Open, all LIVE on Eurosport. The winner of the series collects a hefty £150,000 bonus.
Why are the world's top three players missing?
It is snooker, but not as they know it. Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and O'Sullivan are not keen on the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the tournament which can see players lose a match without playing a shot.
World champion O'Sullivan competed in the 2020 event for the first time in five years, but vowed never to return after losing to world number 104 Billy Castle in the second round.
“I will never play in the Shoot Out again. I love it as an event, but as a player there is no value," he said. “I played it this year, the first time in five years, because everyone said they were enjoying it and I thought ‘I have got to see what it’s all about’.
As a player I don’t like playing in it, but I can step back and see as a spectator – which is the most important thing at the end of the day – it is enjoyable to watch.
World number one Trump last played in the tournament in 2016, reaching the last 32, a year before it attained ranking event status. Robertson's solitary appearance came a decade ago when he reached the quarter-finals in Blackpool, but he has never viewed it as a classic form of snooker acceptable to the purist.
Billy Joe Castle ousts Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Shoot Out
Trump leads the BetVictor Series on £120,500 after his German Masters success, ahead of European Masters champion Mark Selby on £88,000, in the race to claim a £150,000 bonus as series winner, but, like Robertson, was not tempted to increase his earnings by competing at the Shoot Out.
Australia's UK champion Robertson was scathing when World Snooker Tour decided to give the event ranking status in 2016.
"Absolutely nuts. A huge slap in the face to any player who has actually won a proper ranking event," he said.
Who is playing this year?
Drama as re-spotted blue settles match at the Shoot Out
Former world champions Selby, Doherty, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Stuart Bingham and Shaun Murphy will compete with new Masters champion Yan Bingtao also in action. They are joined by Champion of Champions holder Mark Allen and former world finalists Kyren Wilson, Barry Hawkins and Matthew Stevens.
12-times women's world champion and Eurosport pundit Reanne Evans faces China’s Si Jiahui with women's world number four Rebecca Kenna meeting Germany’s Simon Lichtenberg.
Rising snooker stars Connor Benzey (England), Dean Young (Scotland), Dylan Emery (Wales), Robbie McGuigan (Northern Ireland) and Fergal Quinn (Northern Ireland) also gain entry to the tournament via WPBSA nominations.
Anything else I should know?
Ken Doherty, Jimmy White, Barry Pinches, Nigel Bond, Rod Lawler and Alan McManus will all compete this year as the surviving six members of the original Shoot Out event in 1990.
Mark Selby 16/1
Kyren Wilson 16/1
Jack Lisowski 20/1
Yan Bingtao 20/1
Mark Allen 20/1
Stuart Bingham 20/1
John Higgins 22/1
Shaun Murphy 25/1
Barry Hawkins 25/1
Mark Williams 28/1
1990 Darren Morgan (Wal)
2011 Nigel Bond (Eng)
2012 Barry Hawkins (Eng)
2013 Martin Gould (Eng)
2014 Dominic Dale (Wal)
2015 Michael White (Wa)
2016 Robin Hull (Fin)
2017 Anthony McGill (Sco)
2018 Michael Georgiou (Cyp)
2019 Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Tha)
2020 Michael Holt (Eng)
The winner will earn £50,000 from a total prize fund of £171,000.