Defending champion Shaun Murphy crashed out on the opening day of the 2016 Masters after a 6-4 defeat to Mark Allen at the Alexandra Palace.
Former winner Ding Junhui is also out following a similar scoreline loss to world champion Stuart Bingham in the evening session.
Allen and Murphy were meeting in the tournament for the second successive season after the Englishman ousted Allen en route to collecting the trophy 12 months ago.
Indeed, Murphy had the edge over his Northern Irish opponent in several of their head-to-heads, which many predicted would give him the psychological edge in their eagerly awaited contest.
However, Allen, who scored heavier early on to help open up a cushion, took advantage of a crazy decision in the sixth frame by Murphy to continue with a third attempt on an open red which he had previously already missed entirely while trying to orchestrate a thin safety.
Murphy duly missed the ball a third time, initiating the three misses and you’re out rule, gift-wrapping a late Christmas present to his challenger – who was able to establish a 4-2 cushion.
A second century from Allen extended that to 5-2 and, even though Murphy gallantly replied with one of his own to get to within one, the ‘Pistol’ finally completed the well-deserved victory.
Allen is now 29 and has been around the top echelons of the sport for the better part of a decade.
Yet, he is still searching for his maiden major breakthrough, leading some to question whether it will ever happen.
Allen can mix style and strategy with the best of them, but his major downfall is his lack of consistency.
He can make three tons in a match but also waste a series of opportunities, leading him to often lose clashes he ought to have really dominated.
Back in the quarter-finals this year, and with a seemingly winnable encounter between either Barry Hawkins and Joe Perry up next, it will be interesting to see if this could be the week Allen joins the elite.
While there were big breaks aplenty in the first tie, the following session of snooker between Bingham and Ding largely failed to capture the imagination.
Both men have struggled in the event in recent years, with Bingham having boasted just one victory overall and Ding having lost in the last 16 in every edition since his Masters success in 2011.
That sorry run, and in fact the Chinese’s current spell of dismal form, will continue as the 28 year-old made another early exit from an important competition.
The highlight of what was an otherwise scrappy affair came in third frame when Bingham looked set to make only the fourth maximum break in the tournament’s history.
Bingham had one made against him by Marco Fu last year but, after sinking a difficult 15th black, failed to cut back a tricky yellow while the break reached 120.
That gave ‘Ballrun’ a 2-1 lead and a further run of 70 allowed him a two-frame advantage at the interval.
Thereafter, though, the breaks dried up and the story of the game became more about who could make the least mistakes.
At 4-4, an elongated topsy-turvy ninth frame that could have gone either way eventually sided with Bingham, who subsequently won the next frame for victory.
It prolongs a sad period for Ding, a player desperately lacking any kind of confidence at the moment, and it will be intriguing to see if he’ll even feature in the 2017 Masters such is his current dramatic slide down the rankings list.
On Monday, Hawkins and Perry take to the baize with Allen awaiting the winner, while preceding that is a potential humdinger between Judd Trump and Stephen Maguire.
Categories: Snooker News