The inaugural Evergrande China Championship gets under way on Tuesday as the 2016/17 campaign continues to build momentum.
16 players have been invited to Guangzhou for the lucrative five-day event, with a whopping £200,000 on offer for the champion crowned on Saturday – the most ever to be awarded outside the UK.
The field consists of the world’s top 10 ranked competitors following the conclusion of the recent Shanghai Masters, the remaining top four earners from this season so far, and two wildcards nominated by the Chinese governing body.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is the most notable absentee from the stellar cast, pulling out despite the fact he was already in China last week for the International Championship.
Replacement Mark Williams won’t be displeased, though, with the two-time world champion guaranteed a hefty £15,000 just for showing up and competing in the first round.
The format for the China Championship mainly mirrors last week’s ranking event in Daqing, with best of 11 frame encounters until the semi-finals, before the latter increases to 17 frames.
The final will again be played across 19 frames, of which only 11 were needed yesterday when Mark Selby hammered Ding Junhui to capture his ninth ranking event title.
Selby will begin this week as the favourite again but it’s extremely difficult to maintain a prolonged run of form.
Judd Trump did very well recently to follow up his European Masters success with another final appearance and a run to the last four at the weekend, but in defeat to Ding on Saturday he looked shattered.
That said, the massive prize fund and the feeling of exclusivity to this event should inspire most, if not all, of the players to find their A-game.
Unfortunately, the plan is that this will be the only year that the new venture will be staged as an invitational, with the goal from next time to upgrade it to a full ranking event comprising 128 players.
Considering there are already four ranking tournaments in China, it might have been nice for the country to boast an event of prestige open only to the elite, similar to the Masters in England.
Still, perhaps the success or otherwise of this week may alter future proposals.
Aside from Selby, who takes on Anthony McGill in his opening tie on Tuesday, a case could be made for practically anyone in the draw launching a concerted tilt for glory.
Trump takes on World Open champion Ali Carter while Ding will be hoping to bounce back from his humiliating defeat as he battles Marco Fu.
Welshman Williams, meanwhile, is involved in an intriguing affair with old foe John Higgins and Neil Roberson also meets a familiar face in Michael Holt.
Holt stunned the Australian at the World Championship before Robertson gained his revenge a couple of months later to capture the Riga Masters.
A refreshed Mark Allen, who failed to qualify for the International, could be one to look out for, the Northern Irishman up against Ricky Walden.
Stuart Bingham and Liang Wenbo clash in a repeat of their thrilling English Open semi-final while Shaun Murphy plays Joe Perry.
Action will be live on Eurosport.
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