The second ranking event of the season gets under way on Wednesday with the China Championship in Guangzhou.
The China Championship was launched as a lucrative 16-man invitational last year, with John Higgins collecting a cool £200,000 champion’s cheque for beating Stuart Bingham in the final.
With the field increased to 128, the main prize has been reduced to £150,000 for this year’s edition as a full ranking event, but the total prize fund of a whopping £700,000 has it in line with two other major Chinese ranking events – the International Championship and the World Open.
Somewhat unusually, the tournament begins and ends midweek, in contrast to generally all snooker ranking events that finish on a Sunday.
The event’s schedule, which will run from Wednesday until Tuesday, was apparently changed at the request of the tournament promoter.
Mark Selby makes his maiden bow in a ranking event since he captured a third world crown in May and is the 9/2 favourite in the snooker betting odds.
It will be interesting to see what kind of form the world number one is in following several months away from the sport, which included a spell on the sidelines in June after a toe injury kept him out of the Riga Masters.
Selby plays his held over preliminary round match against local amateur Luo Honghao on the opening day of action as the last 128 is completed with the remaining matches.
Reigning champion Higgins and Chinese stars Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo also had their qualifying encounters held over to the main venue, while three further Chinese amateur wildcards get the opportunity to face professional opposition in Andrew Higginson, Daniel Wells, and Tian Pengfei.
Like the Riga Masters, the wildcards will now immediately join the main draw rather than a separate round, which in previous seasons forced the unlucky pros to endure an additional fixture.
Like Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan also returns to ranking event action for the first time this campaign, having received a walkover in his Preston preliminary back in June.
O’Sullivan last month reached the final of the invitational Hong Kong Masters, where he lost to Neil Robertson, and faces fellow Englishman Sam Baird in the last 64.
Robertson will be hoping to continue to reignite his career after a spell in the doldrums as he meets Li Hang while the in-form Ryan Day, champion in Latvia, will play Cao Yupeng.
Ireland’s Ken Doherty, arguably the player of this term so far after bouncing back from dropping off the circuit in April by qualifying for the opening five ranking tournaments and reaching the semi-finals in Riga on the back of his invitational tour card, is involved in an intriguing battle with fellow former world champion Shaun Murphy.
Other standout ties include Mark Allen’s match with Matthew Stevens, Marco Fu’s bout against talented Iranian Hossein Vafaei Ayouri, and Stuart Bingham’s match up with teen sensation Yan Bingtao.
With only three players from the top 32 out of the mix – Kyren Wilson, Ricky Walden, and Dominic Dale lost their opening matches at the Guild Hall – it is sure to be a competitive week as the big money starts to be handed out this campaign.
Coverage will be live on Eurosport and the Eurosport Player throughout the tournament over the next seven days.
Click here to view the draw. (Times CET)