Roll-on, Roll-off…

It has been an interesting tournament so far in Wales and one that like many others has adopted a roll-on, roll-off schedule of matches, but is this really the best way to structure ranking events?

The system used this Tuesday and Wednesday has seen the afternoon session start at 1pm, with three matches started at that time, all to be followed by another within the same session. Ideally these are then followed by the start of the 7pm evening session and another set of matches, but this can only be the case if the previous action draws to a relatively swift conclusion.

In Newport however we saw on Tuesday that both the matches involving Shaun Murphy and Stephen Hendry were long (though hardly marathon), affairs and by the time Peter Ebdon and Anthony Hamilton took to the table for their match, it was well past 8pm. In the end that match ended up finishing up at 0:55am, but with it ending at 5-2, it could have gone on until much later had there been a deciding frame involved.

Then on Wednesday it was a similar story as the afternoon matches on table two again overran left Joe Swail and Martin Gould waiting until nearly 8:30pm to get their match underway. Thankfully for those up at work the next morning the match came to a conclusion relatively early thanks to Joe Swail running out a 5-1 winner.

All in all it appears to be a situation that is not just a risk, but almost an inevitability as it is asking a lot to have two best of nine matches completed within six hours, including intervals and the time between matches. Of course it is possible that the matches may finish well within this time, but if two matches on the same table go the distance and we see a few tactical exchanges, then an overrun looks likely.

So what is the solution? The obvious answer would be to follow the example of the World Championship and have three sessions, one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The problem with this however is that the early starts might affect the crowds at the arena, indeed I believe this was the case at the Northern Ireland Trophy in 2006 and was the primary reason for the switch to the current system. Also the spectators will no doubt enjoy being able to see two matches for the price of their ticket and might feel that the value is not there just to see one match.

How about a few extra tables at the venue in order to get the matches done quicker? At the UK Championship there are four in operation due to the longer format in place so could this be an option at other events? Probably not would appear to be the answer as it would mean that less matches would gain TV exposure and there are of course practical limitations caused by the size of the venues.

Perhaps the ideal answer is really far simpler, just bring the start time for the afternoon session forward by an hour and so give the two matches an extra hour to be completed in.

Either way, hopefully in the future a more appropriate system can be found. While it could be a lot worse than it is at the moment, I can’t help but feel that it could be a bit better.