A Review of Q School 2021

Posted on: 14 June 2021

Last edited on: 1 August 2021

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After many gruelling weeks of Q School, we finally have 14 players willing to flex their muscles to compete on the professional tour.

  • Two players are 50 years old or older.
  • Three qualifiers are teenagers.
  • Just one individual will be making his debut on the tour this season.

The upcoming season starts with the Championship League on 18th July at the Morningside Arena in Leicester.

The likes of Michael White, Ross Muir, Soheil Vahedi, Ben Mertens, Brian Ochoiski, Paul Davison, Tony Knowles and Sanderson Lam failed to get back on tour this year. This shows how high-standard and tough this year’s Q School has been.

The following 14 qualifiers have earned their two-year tour card and deserve our congratulations! Any player will tell you how brutal and unforgiving Q School actually is. It’s a phenomenal feat to qualify via such a gauntlet.

Below are the qualifiers in full:

  • Event 1: Peter Lines, Fraser Patrick, Jackson Page, Yuan Sijun
  • Event 2: Barry Pinches, Craig Steadman, Michael Judge, Alfie Burden
  • Event 3: Ian Burns, Lei Peifan, Dean Young, Duane Jones
  • Order of Merit: Hammad Miah, Mitchell Mann

There have been several points of view throughout Q School.

  • Do the relegated professionals have an unfair advantage over the other amateurs?
  • Is there much truth in the idea that the pool of young talent is so shallow?
  • Does this qualifying format continue to be fit for purpose?

Let’s go through these talking points step-by-step.

Do the relegated professionals have an unfair advantage?
It’s hard to argue otherwise looking at the list of players who qualified during this year’s Q School. Nine out of 14 qualified players booked an immediate return to the World Snooker Tour. These players have spent the last season playing professional matches on a regular basis and plenty of opportunities to practice. They usually come into Q School looking fresher than the amateurs. This is certainly the case when most amateurs didn’t have opportunities to practice, as most clubs were closed for months during the pandemic.
This year was the first time where relegated professionals were “seeded” in the Q School draws. At least this evens things out, as it is almost guaranteed that these recently-relegated players will face each other multiple times to qualify. The point of Q School is that they have as much chance as everyone else to qualify. These professionals deserve a chance to get straight back on after relegation. One could argue that if a relegated professional failed to qualify in a field full of amateurs, that might indicate that they aren’t ready to play on tour again yet.

Why is the amateur scene of young players so far behind?
As mentioned before, the lack of availability to participate in local competitions and to practice doesn’t help. Nor does the increasing waves of long-term uncertainty that is affecting young people harder during the pandemic.
But there have been concerns for many years over the lack of young players coming through in snooker. It’s great to see Yuan Sijun, Lei Peifan and Jackson Page return to the tour. But some are worried that 19-year-old Dean Young is the only rookie out of this year’s Q School qualifiers. There is also a greater annoyance among some that these young players are not able to wrestle the baton from the veterans’ grasp.
There have been many theories as to why there is a lack of young talent in snooker. These reasons include too many modern distractions, an increasing number of closing snooker clubs and even simply not being good enough. Barry Pinches recently posted that youngsters are against much tougher opposition than they were decades ago. Experience has become a more vital asset of a snooker player over the year.
There is a lot to catch up on while everyone recovers from the pandemic. The amateur scene will need a significant boost to get itself back onto its feet or the sport is in danger of losing home-grown talent.

Is Q School still fit for purpose?
Q School has prided itself as the main route to becoming a professional snooker player since 2011. Q School has attracted hundreds of international snooker players every year. Barry Hearn once said in 2020 that Q School “has proved the best and fairest way for players to qualify for the Tour.” Its most successful products include David Gilbert, Zhao Xintong and ranking-event winners Michael Georgiou and Jordan Brown. We could see future success for fellow qualifiers Louis Heathcote, Jamie Jones and Alexander Ursenabcher.

Q School is accessible to all and provides a format that caters for hundreds of amateur players. But it doesn’t guarantee that it produces the best players. This is because everyone is under monstrous pressure. A player gets three chances to peak and if one fails all three, then that is it until next season. There is a feeling that Q School churns out those who are the best at endurance rather than the best and most consistent players.

I still believe Q School to be fit for purpose. The reason why Q School receives more focus this time around is that most parts of the wider qualification structure haven’t been available due to COVID.

I think there should be more tour cards available in the Q Tour (formerly known as the Challenge Tour). It comprises events across Europe and, in theory, it would produce the best and most consistent performers. But it needs time to bed in and be run properly to make it a legitimate way to qualify for the professional tour. We will have to wait and see.

Note: This review has been written for SnookerHub by clusterofreds.com

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