First and foremost, Happy New Year to everyone – especially all the readers of this website. I hope the holiday period treated you well.
Now enough of that, snooker is back!
Yes, after a much-needed fortnight off – to think, it’s only four years ago that a fortnight off would be the norm once a month not once a season – the roadshow returns as the business end of the campaign begins to heat up.
For from the 4th-30th of January there will only be two days of non-snooker action as six different competitions either get under way or come to their conclusions.
First off this coming weekend will be the resumption of the sixth and final European Players Tour Championship event of the season in Germany.
The field at the Munich Open has already been whittled down to the last 32 as the players make their final attempts to earn one of the coveted places available at the Grand Finals in Galway next March.
Ireland’s Ken Doherty is already assured his place among the field of 32, barring an extreme set of unlikely circumstances, which will come as a huge relief to the former world champion having missed out on the Irish staged events in 2010 and 2011.
Some players on the cusp of qualifying are Scots Alan McManus and Graeme Dott, while Englishmen Anthony Hamilton and Ricky Walden are just outside the automatic places on the Order of Merit.
Two big names who will need very good performances this weekend are Liang Wenbo and Matthew Stevens who, only 64th on the standings, will probably need to win the event.
World no.1 Mark Selby is still in the tournament itself in Germany, as are Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson, ensuring the return to the baize will be as competitive as ever.
Following that is the first Championship League event of the this season.
The Championship League is played under a round-robin format between seven players who all play each other once behind closed doors. (streamed online)
Four proceed to the semis and the winner moves on to the CL Winners Group later this year.
There will be seven CL round-robin tournaments – four in January – with the seven winners battling it out for Premier League invitation in the Winners Group.
The first group will consist of Judd Trump, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Matthew Stevens, Mark Davis and Martin Gould.
The winner and bottom two in each group will be replaced by three new players for the subsequent group.
Confused? Don’t worry about it. It’ll make sense in the end.
A lot of people give off about the Championship League as either being too biased on the players it chooses to compete or for it cramming up an already congested calendar.
Well, the players who are there are invited because of their ranking and it is their just reward for being good enough to be that high up in the standings.
The calendar is a fair argument, because it is indeed a very busy schedule these days, but the Championship League has proven to be a handy little money earner for a lot of the pros over the last few years so I doubt there’ll be too many complaints from them.
Moving on and it’s the China Open qualifiers next week before the big title of the month will be decided at the Alexandra Palace.
Phil Taylor won his 16th world title last night in the London venue but who will be crowned Masters champion come the 20th?
Neil Robertson will be hoping to continue his reign but, as ever, with the top 16 in the world competing, the outcome is fairly unpredictable.
At the end of the month the Sky Snooker Shoot-Out returns – a knockout tournament played using a 10-minute Pot Black frame plus shot-clock format that encourages the crowd to get more involved (noisy) in the action.
Its first year was a success with plenty of close finishes but last year’s outing was incredibly boring and their solution to that is to reduce the shot-clock even further – to one second per shot.
Okay, I think it’s actually 15 seconds for the first five minutes and 10 seconds for the second five minutes, although I’m beginning to lose count of some of these changes. Pun intended.
The Shoot-Out, for all its gimmicks, is a bit of fun that offers players and fans alike a bit of variety and, played over just a single weekend, is not that encroaching on the more serious, traditional ranking events.
Finally, the ever-growing and popular German Masters begins on the second last day of the month and concludes at the start of February in Berlin.
As always, all, or at the very least most, of these events will be covered right here on SnookerHQ.