World Snooker has announced a new agreement that will see the China Open become the second richest tournament on the calendar from this year.
The four-year contract between the sport’s governing body and the Chinese promoters will begin with the 2018 event taking place in its usual early-April time slot.
A total prize fund of £1 million will include an eventual champion receiving a whopping £225,000 jackpot – second only to the £425,000 on offer for capturing the world title.
In 2017, the China Open winner received a small £85,000 in comparison, from an overall purse of just over half a million pounds.
Also intriguing is the format, which will see the final played over the best of 21 frames, allowing for two frames more than usual.
A tournament under the moniker of China Open was first played in 1999, when Ronnie O’Sullivan emerged victorious in Beijing, but the event properly came into its own from 2005 when a teenage Ding Junhui upset Stephen Hendry in the final to initiate the current Chinese wave in the sport.
Over the last few years it has become commonplace for some of the bigger names to skip the China Open in an effort to get mentally ready for the marathon of the mind that is the World Championship at the Crucible.
Yet, with such an enormous jackpot now on offer for the penultimate ranking event of the campaign, it’s unlikely that many, or any, of the competitors will be taking the risk of missing out on the lucrative opportunity.
For those further down the rankings, the China Open will also represent a major final chance to break into the top 16 in the world rankings before the cut-off point for the World Championship, where the elite bracket gain automatic qualification.
With the International Championship, Shanghai Masters, and World Open all providing winner’s cheques of £150,000 during this campaign, it seems clear that the Chinese market is making a stand to becoming the financial flag-bearer in the sport.
World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn said: “We are delighted to be working with Star Xing Pai and Beijing Fuhua for the first time on what will be a truly magnificent China Open event.”
“For many years the Gan family and their organisation Star Xing Pai have shared our vision to bring our sport to a new dimension, and they have been outstanding supporters of snooker over the past decade.
“This is a fantastic announcement which establishes the China Open in Beijing as the flagship tournament in Asia.
“It’s remarkable to think that back in 2005 when this event was first staged, the total prize fund was only £200,000 and the top prize £30,000 – that shows how far we have come in the past 13 years in terms of the growth of snooker in China.
“This is a great deal for the players whose earning opportunities have never been better, and the fans who have this superb event secured for the next four years.
“We look forward to working with the Star Xing Pai and Beijing Fuhua teams for many years to come.”
There will be a qualifying round next week in Barnsley, with players needing to win one match to get through to the final stages.