The International Championship is down to its final four contenders with Mark Selby leading a strong semi-final quartet in China.
The defending champion is back into the last four of a ranking event for the first time since his third World Championship triumph in early May and will play Martin Gould for a berth in the final on Friday.
Unique to the calendar on the main tour, the semi-final stages of the International Championship takes place over two days with former runner-up Mark Allen up against young home pretender Yan Bingtao on Saturday.
The reason for that is because the tournament in Daqing is the only one outside of the Crucible that requires two sessions for the semi-finals, with the format increased to the best of 17.
This, of course, leaves plenty of opportunity for twists and turns to occur, and hopefully we’ll be in for a dramatic conclusion to what has been an event of varied reception.
The snooker on show has been mostly entertaining, with lots of good play intermixed with an array of tight, thrilling finishes – none other than in Allen’s nail-biting 6-5 victory over Judd Trump in Thursday’s quarter-finals.
However, the atmosphere inside the arena has been dreadful from the outset, made worse by the early exits of Ding Junhui and Ronnie O’Sullivan, and it’s been the norm to see row upon row of empty seats behind the players in action.
Claims, unverified, from here and there across social media that the ticket prices are worth a month’s salary to the average Chinese Joe fan shed some light on the situation, with World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn also stating that, while they have put pressure on the promoters to lower ticket prices, it’s ultimately down to the organisers to set the price – and for some reason, they seem content with the results.
Whatever the cause, it’s a complete embarrassment of a set-up and totally belittles an event that once claimed that it had aspirations of being regarded as the fourth major.
With £150,000 on offer for the champion on Sunday, the International remains an important and lucrative competition regardless, and it’ll be interesting to see if there can at least be full houses for the last three encounters of the week.
As mentioned, Selby and Gould take to the centre stage on Friday with the world number one on course to capture a first title of the campaign.
Indeed, it was at the International Championship last year when Selby really kickstarted his wondrous season of lifting the three richest ranking events on the calendar.
Gould had an even slower start to this term than his esteemed opponent but has excelled this week, with eye-catching deciding frame defeats of Kyren Wilson and Ali Carter in the process.
The pair has played seven times outside of the Championship League, with Selby boasting a narrow head-to-head record, but they have only once clashed in a format longer than the best of seven frames.
Selby will no doubt begin the fixture as the favourite, particularly as he generally finds an extra gear towards the business end of a tournament, but Gould is a dangerous player and this represents arguably one of the biggest opportunities in his career.
The “Pinner Potter” has of course already won the German Masters, but the International Championship carries a much bigger purse than what he received for his exploits in Berlin last year.
In the second semi-final, Allen meets the player of the tournament after the 17 year-old Yan recorded another huge scalp by ousting 2015 winner John Higgins 6-2 in the last eight.
Yan, who accounted for Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round, has shown no signs of fear this week despite his lack of experience on the big stage.
If the 2014 world amateur champion goes on to win the trophy at the weekend, he’ll beat O’Sullivan’s 24-year record of being the youngest ever ranking event champion.
Allen will represent another stern challenge, though, with the Northern Irishman finally back in form this season after a prolonged spell in the doldrums.
The three-time ranking event winner failed to make a single semi-final appearance throughout the entire last season but has already notched two in this one – both coming in China.
The 31 year-old came close to capturing this title three years ago before being narrowly edged out by Ricky Walden in the final, so will be hoping to go one better on this occasion.
Allen’s only prior tie with Yan ended in defeat at last year’s English Open, but that materialised over the much shorter best of seven frames guise.
It promises to be a compelling couple of days on the baize then, so let’s just hope that the fearsome foursome will have a crowd to entertain in Daqing.
Live coverage continues on Eurosport.