The Coral English Open got under way on Monday, initiating the inaugural Home Nations Series.
The Home Nations comprises four ranking events staged in Great Britain and Ireland, the traditional homes of the sport, with a staggering bonus of £1 million on offer to any player who can somehow manage to emerge victorious in all four.
The open format meant that the first round draw threw up some intriguing contests between highly ranked competitors who would normally have expected an easier initial challenge.
Stuart Bingham was one such name perhaps bemoaning his luck as he came up against top 25 player Robert Milkins, and the 2015 world champion found himself in trouble when he trailed 3-1.
However, a 78 reduced the 40 year-old’s arrears to one and he forced a decider after nicking the sixth on the black – a decider he duly triumphed in for a relieved success.
Other tough encounters on the opening day in Manchester included Alan McManus and Ryan Day’s 4-1 victories over similarly ranked Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Kurt Maflin respectively, while Matthew Selt played nicely in beating top 16er Joe Perry 4-2.
Elsewhere on the hectic schedule, Stephen Maguire clinched a final frame triumph over Gareth Allen thanks to a 117 in the decider but fellow multiple ranking event champion Jimmy White was unable to advance from his final frame thriller, downed 4-3 by young Chinese talent Zhou Yuelong.
China’s no.1 Ding Junhui enjoyed a much swifter progress into the last 64 following a whitewash win while compatriot Zhang Anda ousted rookie Irishman Josh Boileau 4-2.
Meanwhile, two-time world champion Mark Williams had an eventful opener when, barely minutes into his clash with fellow Welshman David John, the 41 year-old miscued and damaged his tip.
A 15 minute interval ensued to give Williams the opportunity to make some repairs and, despite a mid-match wobble, he eventually overcame John 4-2.
Two young players who didn’t endure much drama, though, were Kyren Wilson and Micheal White.
White knocked in runs of 94, 89 and a brace of 75s as he routed Jason Weston, the latter scoring just a mere point throughout the contest, while Wilson produced an equally dominant display in beating amateur Wayne Townsend.
Several amateurs have been invited to take part in order to make up the numbers in the tournament, and there was success for one of them as Jamie Bodle, the current English amateur champion, recorded a brilliant 4-1 triumph over Matthew Stevens.
Peter Ebdon was another high-profile casualty, but the 2002 world champion succumbed to a much-improved player on the circuit in Stuart Carrington.
Among the other winners on Monday were the German Masters champion Martin Gould, Northern Ireland’s Joe Swail and Thai trio James Wattana, Akani Songsermsawad and Kritsanut Lertsattayatthorn.
Tuesday will see the first round come to a conclusion with the likes of recent European Masters champion Judd Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby entering the fray.
Crowd levels at Event City on day one were decidedly mediocre, so it’ll be interesting to see how much it will improve as the week goes on considering the Players Championship at the same venue earlier in 2016 was also badly attended.