UK Championship: High stakes for lower-ranked players with careers on the line
The first few days of the UK Championship seem something of a low-key affair with the BBC cameras yet to be switched on, but their importance cannot be underestimated for many players, with snooker careers heavily impacted by the early skirmishes at the Barbican.
All 128 players come in at round one at the UK and most attention will be on the big names, largely strolling into the next stage as they take on amateurs and those near the very foot of the rankings.
How the top players perform will take the headlines and any shocks will attract the most attention, but it will be defeats that fly under the radar that could have the most profound consequences.
Defending champion Neil Robertson was asked by the BBC who would likely be contending for the title this year, but he also pointed out: ‘The UK Championship is massive, especially for the lower players and their rankings.’ He is spot on.
With first round losers leaving York with nothing and £6,500 on offer for making round two – much more than most other ranking events open to all 128 players – that sum could well be the difference between a player being professional or amateur come the end of the season.
Last year’s edition of the UK Championship was a great example of this as every single player that won their first round match in Milton Keynes is still on the main tour.
In contrast, 14 professional players who lost their first matches last year no longer hold pro status, while nine more who were beaten in the first round also dropped off the tour but have since bounced straight back through Q School.
There is one anomaly in that Jimmy White won his first round match and still dropped off tour, only to be handed an invitational tour card, so one win in York is no guarantee, but it is hugely significant.
Clearly some of those players who were dumped out first round last year were never going to retain their tour status, I’m afraid I’m looking at you Amine Amiri and Alex Borg, but for many others one win at the Barbican would have made all the difference.
The likes of Ian Burns and Luo Honghao went into the UK Championship last year in the top 64, lost first round and ended up dropping off.
Gerard Greene did just enough to retain his tour status at the end of last season finishing eighth on the one-year list with £23,000, a large part in thanks to his win over Daniel Wells at the UK.
Nine players who dropped off tour were within £6,500 of Greene on that list and lost first round at the UK, so would have been saved by a solitary win.
Obviously there is more to it than this, players have the whole season to rack up the prize money required to stay on tour and the World Championship offers much more cash than the UK, but clearly the coming days will have huge consequences if last year is anything to go by.
Between the UK Championship and the World Championship qualifiers in April, there are precious few opportunities remaining for some players to pick up much prize money at all.
For any that have already failed to qualify for the Scottish Open, German Masters and European Masters, the only scheduled ranking events they are likely to play until Sheffield are the Shoot Out, Welsh Open, Turkish Masters and Gibraltar Open.
There are also fewer chances to book your place on tour for next season than there were for the current campaign, with the return of qualifiers from around the globe.
Windows of opportunity remain, but with prize money at events like the Shoot Out and Gibraltar so small, they are only just open and will be unceremoniously shut pretty soon.
Speaking to one player outside the top 64, he is already resigned to dropping off tour at the end of the season unless he can muster up a run to the last 16 in York.
He may not need as many as three wins at the UK, but a first round defeat and he would need something of a miracle – specifically a great run in World Championship qualifying – to survive, and we are still months away from that event.
With the importance of this opening round at the Barbican looming large, sympathy has to go out to world number 82 Lee Walker who has been forced to withdraw due to a positive Covid test.
His personal window of opportunity for tour survival has just been significantly swung inwards and only the gentlest of breezes now blows through it.
There will be glory and vast riches won at the business end of the UK Championship, but far from the ticker tape of the trophy presentation, there will be despondence and despair in the unglamorous setting of ‘Arena Two’ where players will be battling for their snooker lives.
Keep an eye out for them. They’ll appreciate it.
The first round is live on Eurosport from 23-25 November, with the draw and schedule available here.
2022/23 WST season tour card structure
Full qualification list for next season
Top 64 from the two-year Prize Money World Rankings after the 2022 World Championship: 64
Players awarded a two-year Tour card for the 2021/2022 season (not already qualified): 31*
Top 4 players from 2021/2022 one-year ranking list following the 2022 World Championship (not already qualified)** 4
CBSA China Tour**: 2
Q School**: 12
WPBSA Q Tour**: 2
WSF Championship**: 1
WSF Under-18 Junior Championship**: 1
World Women’s Snooker Qualifiers**: 2
EBSA European Qualifiers**: 2
APBSF Asia Pacific Qualifier**: 1
PABSA Americas Qualifier**: 1
ABSC Africas Qualifier**: 1
*Final total subject to change if any of these players finish inside of the top 64 of the two-year prize money rankings after the 2022 World Championship
**Players will receive a two-year tour card
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