The World Grand Prix returns to Llandudno this week as it gets under way on Tuesday in Wales.
Judd Trump, who just won the Championship League for a record third time, returns as the defending champion having beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan in last year’s final, like he did at Crondon Park on Thursday.
12 months ago in its inaugural edition, the World Grand Prix was merely a lucrative invitational event that boasted the top 32 money-earners of the previous year.
While the criteria for qualification has remained the same, there is an added incentive to perform well on this occasion as any money garnered counts towards the world rankings list.
This is extremely important for those players hovering around the top 16 mark, of which automatic qualification for the World Championship is at stake for the competitors who can break into the elite bracket before Sheffield.
As things stand, multiple ranking event champions and former Crucible semi-finalists Ding Junhui and Stephen Maguire both lie outside the crucial cut-off point on the provisional standings.
While Ding has begun to show a glimpse of a return to form in recent weeks, Maguire has continued to be plagued by the inconsistencies which have dogged large chunks of his career.
The idea of both of these mainstays of the top bracket attending Ponds Forge for the qualifiers would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago but there has been a semi shift in the powers of norm over the course of the last year or so.
One key member of the chasing pack is Kyren Wilson, the Shanghai Masters champion who is now within an extremely narrow margin of a rise into the top 16 for the first time.
“It’s very close between me and the two players just ahead of me, Stephen Maguire and Liang Wenbo, there is less than £1,000 between us,” said Kettering’s 24-year-old Wilson, nicknamed The Warrior.
“It looks like it’s going to be a very close race and there are three big events left now. Anyone behind who wins one of those events can jump ahead into the top 16. Stephen Maguire hasn’t made it to Manchester so it will be chance for me to catch him.
“I don’t want it to go down to one match at the China Open. If I can win a tournament before then I won’t have to worry about it. If I did have to qualify it would be very tough and I think it would be hard for someone to win three best of 19 matches and then do well at the Crucible, because it takes a lot out of you.
“Last year I lost in the first round against Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon. There is so much strength in depth on the tour now that nearly every draw is tough. It’s our biggest event and everyone wants to get to the Crucible so it’s very intense. The year before that I made it to the Crucible and having got a taste of it I would love to be back this time.
“A year ago I was on the borderline of the top 64 and in danger of losing my tour card. That brought a lot more pressure than being on the fringes of the top 16 so I am not as worried now. This season has been a whirlwind for me in terms of the progress I have made. I feel my game has always been there, it was a case of proving it. Only three years ago I was off the tour so if I could get into the top 16 in that short space of time it would be a great achievement.”
Wilson, seeded fourth, faces home hope Jamie Jones in the first round of the World Grand Prix, with Ding up against Ben Woollaston and Maguire, who only squeezed into the tournament in the 32nd and last counting spot, is tasked with the difficult challenge of battling countryman John Higgins.
China’s Liang Wenbo, who currently tentatively holds onto that crucial 16th place in the world rankings, is up against Graeme Dott in the last 32.
Away from that battle, there’s the obvious matter of an important title to play for.
The quartet chasing the top 16 positions could all easily contend come next weekend’s business end of proceedings but the tussle for the trophy is more likely to include the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Trump.
The latter has the most difficult opener of the lot on paper as he is tested by local favourite Mark Williams.
However, as the matches up until the semi-finals are all just best of seven frames, there’ll be plenty of opportunity for upsets.
It’s a shame that as many as three rounds need to be played under the short format guise but overall the World Grand Prix was a well-received tournament last season and its return, live on ITV4, is certainly welcome.
Can there be a repeat of last year’s box-office showdown between O’Sullivan and Trump?
Well, they are both on opposite sides of the draw and clearly in form, so don’t write it out.