KEN Doherty isn’t at all worried about facing world no.1 and newly crowned Masters champion Mark Selby in the first round of the Betfair Snooker Shoot-out in Blackpool this weekend.
Indeed, the former world champion from Dublin reckons a change to the rules in the high-speed, single-frame knockout tournament will work to his advantage at the Tower Circus, where the third annual event gets under way on Friday.
Sixty four of the world’s leading players will be battling it out over three days to succeed Nigel Bond and Barry Hawkins as Snooker Shoot-out champion.
As matches are decided over just a single frame, lasting a maximum of 10 minutes, anything can happen, and Doherty reckons moves to make the play even faster will work in his favour.
The maximum length of time allowed for each shot has been reduced by five seconds this year – to 15 seconds in the first five minutes of any match, and just 10 seconds in the second five.
And 1997 world champion Doherty, who was also twice a runner-up at The Crucible, said: “It’s a tough draw but I can’t see Mark being able to handle the shot clock. He takes 15 seconds just to chalk his cue.
“I’m just going to play safety shots for the first five minutes, and then when it goes down to 10 seconds he’ll be in bits!”
The 43-year-old welcomes the change and not just because he thinks it improves his chances.
Doherty added: “If you’ve got a tough shot, you’ll be hearing the five-second beeps before you’ve even had a chance to work it out. It will be fun to see who can cope with it.
“I can see why they’ve changed it, because when it was 20 seconds (per shot) a lot of players were getting tactical and trying to run the clock down when they had a lead.”
Whatever the rules, Doherty is a big fan of the whole concept. He added: “I love it, especially the way the crowd gets involved.
“I remember a couple of years ago I was playing Neil Robertson and he was clearing up to win. Someone shouted out ‘Taxi for Doherty!’ which I thought was really funny.
“It’s light-hearted, but the players still want to win badly, make no mistake about that.
“There’s no way you can prepare for this event. You have to accept that you might not get a chance.”
And for Doherty, the first player to be crowned world champion as an amateur and professional, returning to Blackpool brings back many treaured memories.
He recalls: “When I turned professional, all the qualifiers were held at the Norbreck Castle.
“When I first went there I had high hopes as I was world amateur champion, but I fell flat on my face and lost my first couple of matches.
“But it was great to come from the amateur game into an environment where the tables were in perfect condition. Gradually I started improving and climbing up the rankings.
“There were a lot of temptations in Blackpool, with the local nightlife.
“A lot of players spent too much time in bars and not enough on the practice table.
“I was very boring – I was there to win snooker matches, so I hardly ever went out. In the end it paid off.”