It looks like there will be at least one wildcard for January’s Wembley Masters but, for the first time in years, there is no outstanding candidate.
One of the reasons for this is that the new ranking system ensures that the top 16 going to Wembley are, by and large, deserving of their places.
There is nobody who has won a ranking event since the last Masters not in the top 16.
So who should get the nod this season?
Before I run down the likely candidates, a history lesson...
The Masters wildcard was instituted in 1990 for one reason and one reason only: Alex Higgins had dropped out of the top 16 and organisers wanted him in the tournament.
Pretty quickly, the sponsors, Benson and Hedges, realised that if they also ran a qualifying event they could get additional media coverage and name penetration.
That qualifying event has now been scrapped and I would say rightly so: the way you qualify for the Masters is to get in the top 16.
Some people have argued the Masters should be a ranking tournament. They are wrong.
Its prestige comes from the fact that it is just for the elite. Giving it ranking status would just leave it like all the other events.
The wildcard should do one of two things and, in a perfect world, both.
Firstly, and most importantly, it should get publicity for the Masters. So a popular, well known player or someone with a story behind them would be the choice.
Second, it should reward a player outside the top 16 who has done something of merit.
So assuming there will be one wildcard this season, who is on the list of possible recipients?
Last year it went to Jimmy White. This was controversial given his form but he brought a huge crowd to Wembley Arena, including contestants from the reality TV show ‘I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here.’
White failed to produce a performance anywhere close to his best and there are no real arguments for inviting him this season outside of the fact that he would, again, draw a crowd.
There would be greater grounds to include another veteran, Steve Davis, who caught the imagination with his run to the World Championship quarter-finals last April.
Davis is a snooker legend, a three times Masters champion and more popular than ever.
But what would it say about the game to invite someone past their best who has had more than enough Wembley outings already? Also, as he is a WPBSA board member, it would look dodgy, even if it wasn’t.
I’d prefer it to go to a younger player.
Liang Wenbo would have been in under the previous ranking system but has already lost his top 16 place.
He has done this because of his own failure to perform but I have sympathy with him and he would add something to the tournament.
Judd Trump won the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany but, like the other players who have done well on the PTC, will have his own reward by playing in the grand finals next March.
Tournament organisers could decide to go with a player who will bring publicity to the Masters regardless of their playing record.
Reanne Evans is the first woman to compete on the circuit in 14 years but has so far failed to win a match.
Luca Brecel of Belgium is just 15 and has already been invited to Power Snooker but is yet to make much impact on the PTC, even though he did win the Plate event in Bruges.
Igor Figueiredo is Brazil’s first ever professional and, though his match against Mark Williams at the World Open lasted only 39 minutes, he proved himself to be a likeable character with an entertaining playing style.
Jamie Burnett reached a ranking final in Shanghai just last month but is unlikely to be invited given that a decision is still pending on whether Scottish authorities will press charges over betting patterns surrounding his match with Stephen Maguire at the UK Championship two years ago.
There are others just outside the top 16 – Ricky Walden, Matthew Stevens, Barry Hawkins – but nobody who can be said to have a claim on the place.
With this is mind, an idea occurs to me. Barry Hearn is a populist so why not let the public decide on who the wildcard will be?
World Snooker could pick six or seven candidates – maybe some of those mentioned above – and run a poll on their website.
The winner then gets to play at Wembley.
Snooker depends on the fans for their support so why not let them decide for once?