Potters goes snooker loopy for finals event
It is the event that may well have helped save snooker – and at the end of this month, it returns to Hopton-on-Sea's Potters Leisure Resort for its big climax.
Premier League Snooker was the brainchild of promoter Barry Hearn 23 years ago – his first involvement in the sport – and now represents what many consider is the future of snooker: shorter matches, shot clocks and added razzmatazz.
The popular tournament makes its third successive stop in Norfolk for the 2010 semi-finals on November 27 and the final on November 28, where about 2,000 spectators will watch two days of top quality snooker.
And for 2008 Premier League finalist and 2010 contender Mark Selby, Premier League promoter Hearn is the future: 'I'm a big fan of Barry Hearn and I think what he has done to snooker, even since he came on board in the last six or seven months, he has been brilliant,' said the man known as the Jester from Leicester.
'We have gone from playing six tournaments to 20, and Barry just does what the viewers want. It's the same with the Premier League. Everywhere we go, week in week out, the venues are packed. That's great.
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'At the World Open, I lost first round and I'm not saying it's a bad tournament – it was still great – but everyone is in the same position.
'Barry is making these changes and I think, for the future, the changes are going to be great. Obviously it didn't really help me for the tournament that he changed to best of five because I lost, but it was the same for everyone else and I think it needs that.
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'We need to get the viewers back involved to get the sponsors back involved and so on, where it's been struggling lately, and if it means changing different things to get more views then so be it.'
The seven-player Premier League has maintained its popularity as the rest of the game has struggled in recent years, while Potters has hosted the final-four play-offs since 2008.
Selby's own fortunes in the Premier League have been mixed – making the final in his debut appearance but failing to get an invite back last year.
'I was gutted about last year having experienced it the year before, playing in it and losing to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final,' said Selby. 'Obviously I had a great tournament and it was great to be a part of it, so not being in it last year was a little disappointing but it's great to be back this year.
'There's a little less pressure on us here because there are no ranking points at stake, so we can just go out there and try and enjoy it a bit more. And there is great money to be won – �1,000 a frame and �1,000 a century.
'But at the same time we're playing in front of packed audiences week in, week out, which is obviously what we play the game for.
'It would be great to go on and win this tournament. Other than the main four ranking events, this is the one – probably the fifth biggest tournament we have, and it should be a ranking event I suppose.
'It would be a great tournament to have on your CV, but it is going to be tough this year.
'When I was at Potters two years ago it was great. It was the first time I had ever been there and the good thing was, because it was over a weekend, if you were to win in the semi-final you would have all day the next day thinking to yourself what are you going to do.
'But there were things there – me and my manager had a game of bowls in the day before the final, which was a good laugh.
'If we were somewhere like Brentwood, you just have a walk around the town. But at least there you could still be in the snooker environment but also get away from the snooker as well.'
Selby, 27, is right about how tough this year's competition looks.
It would have taken a brave person to look past Ronnie O'Sullivan – an eight-time Premier League winner who won a record five successive titles from 2005.
But both The Rocket and the first man to beat him in a Premier League final since the inclusion of the 25 second shot clock, defending champion Shaun Murphy, are far from guaranteed a place at Potters in this year's tournament.
In-form world champion Neil Robertson props up the table, while popular Chinese player Ding Junhui is also out of the top four – both indications of the quality on show this season.
League leader Marco Fu has qualified for the Potters final, while Welshman and former world champion Mark Williams is in contention to join him.
And so is Selby, second in the table with games in hand. He hopes his form holds together to be back at Potters for a second time in three seasons.
'This year the Premier League is probably the hardest I have ever seen since it's been going,' said Selby. 'The standard... there's not been an easy match from one week to the next. There never was – but there were easier ones than others. This year it's hard to even pick a winner.
'I started off well this season and won the second PTC (Players Tour Championship) and a six reds tournament in Thailand, which wasn't ranking but still had a lot of top players in it.
'So far I think I've just been consistent. I've not set the world alight and won tournament after tournament, but I've been there or thereabouts, so my form is hot and cold.
'But it's a long season so you can't take too much from you've done early doors. There's still a long way to go.'