129 players head to Doha in Qatar this weekend for the 2016 IBSF World Championship.
Among them is a strong three-man Irish team comprising TJ Dowling, Michael Judge and Jason Devaney.
Dowling earned his place after capturing a third National Championship in May – an incredible 18 years after his last domestic success in the season-ending tournament.
Devaney and Judge were the top ranked competitors at the end of the 2015/16 Irish campaign.
The trio will be hoping to progress far in the most prestigious international amateur event in the world.
The champion’s list is packed with star names who have gone on to have successful professional careers – including Jimmy White, Stephen Maguire, Stuart Bingham, not to forget Dublin’s Ken Doherty and Antrim’s Mark Allen.
Yet, he championship has been dominated in recent years by cueists hailing from Asia.
In fact, eight out of the last nine winners have come from the continent – including each of the last six.
India’s Pankaj Advani returns as the defending champion having not accepted his invitation to rejoin the professional circuit.
The 31 year-old, hugely popular in his homeland, could very feasibly survive on the Main Tour but seems more content with the odd stab at amateur snooker tournaments in support of dominating the billiards scene.
Advani, and indeed the three Irishmen, will accept progression from the round-robin phase as the bare minimum in terms of their overall expectations.
After reaching the knockout stages the event generally becomes more cut-throat, where momentum rather than form is just as crucial to potential glory.
There are a host of talented players from all over the globe in search of the title, and with it a likely ticket onto the lucrative Main Tour.
Naturally, the other home nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland provide likely contenders – especially Welshman Jamie Rhys Clarke, who has lost in two European Championship finals and at the same hurdle in the 2015 World Under-21 Championship.
Further afar, participants from India, Thailand and especially China will probably feature come the business end of proceedings.
One of the men representing the latter country is Yuan Sijun, who has caused many upsets as a wildcard in professionally run tournaments over the last year or so.
The teenager twice whitewashed Martin Gould while he has also emerged victorious in meetings with Andrew Higginson and Ian Burns.
As luck would have it, Yuan has been drawn in the same group as Devaney while Dowling, who triumphed in the Irish Open last weekend in Carlow, finds himself alongside 2012 champion Muhammad Asif of Pakistan.
Judge appears to have the easiest initial league phase on paper, but does have a notable name in James Mifsud to contend with – the Australian being the brother of Steve Mifsud who won this championship in 2002.
Elsewhere, Germany’s Lukas Kleckers, Brian Cini of Malta and Swiss Alexander Ursenbacher will be some of the young Europeans to keep an eye on throughout the week.
Ursenbacher was defeated in a dramatic decider by Xu Si at the IBSF World Under-21 Championship in August.
Really don’t know why Advanti or any player who if they win , will not accept the main tour card . No point playing if a player does not want the card. What happens if both finalist’s don’t want the card ? Will WS give it to a semi finalist . I think not !