The Welsh Open gets under way today in a revamped format that sees the entire tournament contested in Newport.
Now in its 23rd year on the calendar, the Welsh Open is the third longest running ranking event, with only the World and UK Championship in existence for a longer period.
The World Open, under its former guise as the Grand Prix, has technically been in operation since 1982, but, with a new name and played thousands of miles across the globe, it’s effectively been a new event since 2012.
Since 2005 Newport has played host to the Welsh Open but this will be the last year as it returns to Cardiff from next season.
Newport may not be one of the nicest towns in the United Kingdom – famously characterised by an ‘Empire State of Mind’ song parody a couple of years ago – but it has been a decent venue for snooker down through the years.
The Newport Centre is relatively small in comparison to the ones we are now accustomed to in Europe but crowds have predominantly shown up in their numbers, particularly as the tournament reaches the business end of proceedings.
Whether the fact the tournament is now a whopping 12 days long will play a factor in low attendance, especially in the early stages, only time will tell.
What will help is that all of the top players are competing for glory over the next couple of weeks, including world and Masters champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The ‘Rocket’ takes on amateur Mitchell Travis in the opening round, who of course ousted Marco Fu in the first round of the UK Championship back in December.
As ever, with 64 opening round fixtures there is no point in previewing all the games but there are some intriguing ties to look out for.
Ireland’s David Morris, who has excelled on his return to the circuit and beat Mark Davis to qualify for the China Open this week, takes on recent Gdynia Open champion Shaun Murphy.
Like Morris, England’s Gary Wilson has enjoyed a similarly good season and is on the cusp of earning a place inside the world’s top 64 come the season’s conclusion, but he has arguably the most difficult task of anybody as he challenges the player of the year in Ding Junhui.
The only man who rivals Ding this season is world no.1 Neil Robertson and the Australian will have an abundance of experience in his bout with Chinese teenager Lu Haotian while defending champion Stephen Maguire takes on Elliot Slessor.
Finally, another young player emerging through the ranks is 22 year-old Kyren Wilson, and he takes on fellow Englishman Judd Trump.
All of the matches up until the quarter-final stage are only best of seven frames so there will be plenty of opportunities for shocks and upsets.
The last eight will be played over the more regular nine frames, the semi-finals will be best of 11 while the final on March 2nd is the standard 17 frames.