The Shanghai Masters qualifiers got under way today at the Metrodome in Barnsley.
The third ranking event of the campaign is also the second that uses the old flat 128 draw format – the others being the already completed Australian Open won by Judd Trump and the season-ending World Championship in Sheffield.
This means that the top 16 players in the world rankings have what has become a now rare piece of protection with defending champion Ding Junhui, one of the bookies favourites, already assured his place in the last 32 next month.
For the majority of the rest, the qualifiers mark a return to the congestive cubicle set-up and a grueling passageway through to the main draw – especially for the lower ranked competitors.
Tuesday marked their entrance to the fray and those seeded between 65 and 128 will be forced to finish four ties should they be booking a flight to China.
Some of those already off to a good start are recent Crucible qualifiers Kyren Wilson and Robin Hull.
22 year-old Wilson is widely regarded as a potential star of the future and emerged from a tricky contest with Daniel Wells 5-3 while veteran Hull prevailed against amateur Oliver Brown.
Other former World Championship regulars also enjoyed a strong opening day with a pair of two-time semi-finalists in Joe Swail and James Wattana prevailing in tight 5-4 tussles – the latter over countryman Ratchayothin Yotharuck.
Malta’s Tony Drago, meanwhile, took the last three frames in a 5-3 win over Ahmed Saif of Qatar with countryman Alex Borg ending the challenge of amateur Joe O’Connor.
With an array of withdrawals, there were quite a few opportunities for the non-pros but only one was able to take his chance.
Scotland’s Eden Sharav, who twice lost at the final stage of Q-School in May, had a top run of 72 in his 5-3 win over Chris Norbury and he’ll take on Ireland’s David Morris in the next round.
It was a mixed day for China’s own hopefuls with Lu Ning, Lu Chenwei and Cao Xinlong all suffering early exits to Sam Baird, Stuart Carrington and Jak Jones respectively but there were contrasting fortunes for compatriots Tian Pengfei and Lu Haotion.
Tian edged David Grace in a decider while teenager Lu continued his rise up the ranks with a confident 5-1 drubbing of Chris Melling.
Elsewhere, Michael Georgiou continued his impressive return to the Main Tour with a 5-0 whitewash over Ryan Clark.
Georgiou failed to win a single match in his only other season on the circuit but earlier’s triumph marked his fourth out of eight encounters so far this time around.
The 26 year-old has an intriguing match-up with fellow Englishman Jack Lisowski for a place in the penultimate round and, despite being the underdog with odds of 12/5, Georgiou might be worth a punt given Lisowski’s inconsistent displays.
Michael Wasley had to come from 3-1 down to beat Fraser Patrick 5-4 while there were similarly close successes for Joel Walker, Vinnie Calabrese, Alex Davies, Lee Page and Stephen Hallworth.
Scott Donaldson and Hammad Miah also prevailed in tough 5-3 clashes but there were easier routes into the second round for the likes of Chris Wakelin and Allan Taylor.
Tomorrow see the likes of Jimmy White and Ken Doherty begin their quest to Shanghai with the former coming up against fellow stalwart Joe Swail – who is a 4/6 favourite with William Hill betting online.