Stuart Bingham will play his first match after completing his suspension for snooker betting against legend Jimmy White in the China Open qualifiers on Sunday.
The four-day qualifying event, which takes place at the Metrodome in Barnsley and gets under way on Saturday, has taken on a much greater importance after the announcement last week concerning the revamped China Open.
From this year’s edition, China’s oldest ranking event will boast a total prize fund of an incredible £1 million, with the champion in April set to collect £225,000 – a record jackpot awarded outside the UK.
With only the top 16 in the world rankings guaranteed an automatic place at the World Championship, it’s now more vital than ever to perform well in the China Open, the penultimate ranking event of the campaign.
Bingham’s six-month ban, three of which were suspended, for snooker betting has concluded just in the nick of time and it’s imperative that the 2015 Crucible champion hits the ground running because he has drifted towards the bottom of the top 16 in the provisional rankings during his stint away.
The 41 year-old meets the “Whirlwind” in an eye-catching first round draw, with the format for the new and improved China Open increased to the best of eleven frames.
Defending champion Mark Selby and world number two Ronnie O’Sullivan, along with Chinese duo Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo, have all had their preliminary round fixtures held over to the main venue.
Mark Allen, fresh from his maiden major triumph at the Masters last Sunday, will get back into the thick of the action against Allan Taylor on Monday.
The Northern Irishman, who pocketed £200,000 for his victory in the prestigious London invitational, could really do with continuing his strong run of form as he is another high-profile player who is languishing in the provisional rankings.
Kyren Wilson, who agonisingly lost to Allen in the final at the Alexandra Palace, faces one of the numerous Chinese competitors hoping to reach their home tournament in Li Yuan.
Another, teenager Lu Haotian, is involved in one of the more intriguing last 128 affairs against Welshman Ryan Day while Zhao Xintong faces China Championship winner Luca Brecel.
Australia’s Neil Robertson, who won the last ranking event of 2017 to jump back into the top 16 after the briefest of exits, will meet Robin Hull while John Higgins, Judd Trump, and Shaun Murphy encounter Adam Duffy, Jak Jones, and David Grace respectively.
Ireland’s Ken Doherty is up against Noppon Saengkham with fellow Dubliner Fergal O’Brien entertaining Hammad Miah, Josh Boileau challenging Barry Hawkins, and Leo Fernandez set to do battle with Mark King.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)