We go again.
The festivities are over and the transition from one year to the next fully complete, so it’s time once more to knuckle down with the resumption of the 2017/18 snooker campaign.
It’ll be full steam ahead pretty much from now until the start of May when the 2018 world champion is ultimately crowned at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
There is still an abundance of tournaments to contest between now and then, though, with the return of the Championship League kickstarting January’s action on the baize.
The Championship League, entering its eleventh edition as a mainstay on the calendar, will be played out between this week and the end of March with its now familiar format once again providing several players with some hardened, competitive match practice ahead of the season’s run-in.
Played behind closed doors in Coventry, the Championship League features seven groups of seven players each in a round-robin and knockout guise, producing seven group winners who will compete in a final Winners’ Group to determine the overall champion.
Along with obtaining a handsome top prize and silverware, a triumph will also likely guarantee safe passage into the lucrative Champion of Champions later in the year, a prestigious ITV event that is also held at the Ricoh Arena.
John Higgins is the defending champion after his victory over Ryan Day in last year’s final but the Scot won’t be entering the fray until Group 7, meaning the 42 year-old will have just one opportunity to qualify for the Winners’ Group.
Indeed, the Championship League is a bit of an odd tournament as it often rewards losing, if perfect timing can be applied to maximise the potential earnings available from the competition.
That is because the runner-up, two semi-finalists, and the fifth-placed player from each of the preliminary group stages gain another bite at the cherry in the subsequent league jostle.
Welshman Day began last year’s tournament in Group 1 and qualified for five group play-offs before finally sealing his place in the Winners’ Group with victory in Group 6.
The Riga Masters champion’s exploits ensured that he actually earned more money than Higgins, with dosh awarded for frames won in the event as well bonuses given for strong performances in the respective play-offs.
It’s fair to say that the Championship League divides opinion but it’s there as an opportunity for some of the top players to fine-tune their games at a key point of the term and it certainly worked for Day in 2017 as the 37 year-old simultaneously reached the final of the World Grand Prix before capturing a maiden ranking event title in Latvia at the outset of the summer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Day has again taken up his first chance at entering and features in Group 1 on Tuesday and Wednesday alongside Kyren Wilson, Stephen Maguire, Mark King, Michael Holt, Anthony Hamilton, and Zhou Yuelong.
The Championship League isn’t televised but is generally streamed on selected online betting websites with the event being tailormade for the gambling market.
Although there are generally some late withdrawals in this tournament, below is currently how the event is set to line-up with who is scheduled to be in action in each group.
Kyren Wilson, Ryan Day, Stephen Maguire, Mark King, Michael Holt, Anthony Hamilton, and Zhou Yuelong.
Four players from Group 1. Introducing Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, and Barry Hawkins.
Four players from Group 2. Introducing Mark Allen, Ali Carter, and Anthony McGill.
Four players from Group 3. Introducing Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy, and Liang Wenbo.
Four players from Group 4. Introducing Mark Williams, Martin Gould, and Ricky Walden.
Four players from Group 5. Introducing Michael White, Joe Perry, and David Gilbert.
Four players from Group 6. Introducing John Higgins, Luca Brecel, and Ben Woollaston.
Seven group winners.