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Preview: International Championship

The action returns on Sunday with the start of the International Championship in Daqing.

Mark Selby English Open (WS)

Selby’s last ranking success came at the Crucible in May. Photo credit: World Snooker

The lucrative ranking event, arguably the most prestigious in China, is back on the calendar for the sixth time with a whopping £150,000 again on offer for the champion.

Mark Selby is the defending champion and the world number one’s appearance comes fresh off his first victory of the season at the invitational Haining Open.

Once a fixture on the calendar as part of the now defunct Asian Tour, the Haining Open has continued for the last couple of years as part of the China Tour and has maintained a similar overall format of mixing amateurs and pros.

Selby emerged from a decent field with the title on Saturday, beating fellow Leicester cueist Tom Ford in the final and compiling a spectacular 147 break in the process.

Following the 34 year-old’s heroics last season, in which he captured a record-equalling five ranking trophies, Selby has been mostly quiet during this campaign so far.

It is worth remembering, though, that the “Jester” wasn’t at his best at the outset of the last campaign either before a triumph in the Paul Hunter Classic in late August, ironically courtesy of another final defeat of Ford, spearheaded his prolific period of dominance.

Despite no ranking event semi-final appearances to his name yet this season, Selby will undoubtedly begin the International Championship as one of the favourites.

The world number one is among a number of players who have had their qualifying round match held over to the main venue with 2015 winner John Higgins and 2013 champion Ding Junhui also requiring the additional match.

The majority of the field enter at the top 64 stage having already negotiated the preliminary stage, so will need six victories in order to come away with glory the following Sunday.

Since its inception in 2012, when Judd Trump won the inaugural crown, the International has attempted to lay claim to being one of the sport’s majors and certainly the biggest in China.

While the first edition helped fuel those ambitions with thrilling contests and a fantastic atmosphere, pretty much all of the last four tournaments, whether held in Daqing or its former home of Chengdu, have been mostly disappointing.

Attendances tend to be low, particularly early in the week, and it’s impossible to truly consider an event as a major under such a setting.

However, the primary attraction of the International is the format, which follows the longer best of eleven guise until the semi-finals.

The last four then, rather uniquely in today’s overlook for the sport, becomes a two-session best of 17 affair, before the final is determined across 19 frames.

Last season’s final was as one-sided as they come, with Selby dismantling Ding on home soil by a seismic nine frame margin.

The pair has been developing an interesting and often compelling rivalry over the last couple of seasons and they could clash again in the semi-final stage next week.

Of course, plenty of focus will surround Ronnie O’Sullivan, who produced a devastating display to claim the English Open title last week in Barnsley.

O’Sullivan, who meets either Yan Bingtao or Wang Yuchen in the first round, is in the opposite side of the draw to Selby and Ding, so many will be hoping for a grandstand climax to the competition.

A high-quality field means that, as always, it will be difficult to predict a winner, but the longer format would lead one to think that the marquee names will emerge come the business end of the proceedings.

The recent history books would suggest just that as well, with well-established top 16 players having dominated the final appearances aside from David Gilbert’s surprise run two years ago when he lost out to Scotland’s Higgins.

This event will be the first without former world champion Stuart Bingham, who will begin a suspension from the sport for betting that will see him out of action until late in January.

Yet, the likes of Trump, Shaun Murphy, Barry Hawkins, Mark Allen, Kyren Wilson, and Anthony McGill will all be hoping to challenge.

Australia’s Neil Robertson is involved as well, and will be desperate for a strong showing as he tries to squeeze into the final places available for the prestigious Masters in a couple of months.

Meanwhile, with so many Chinese success stories from this season, it’ll be interesting to see if one of the host nation’s crop of improving talent can go deep again.

Coverage of the International Championship will be live on Eurosport throughout the week.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)



Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.