The penultimate ranking event of the season gets under way on Monday with the start of the China Open in Beijing.
The revamped tournament — China’s longest running ranking event – now boasts an impressive total prize fund of £1 million and will see next week’s champion collect a cool £225,000.
The jackpot will represent the largest cheque to ever be awarded in the sport outside of the United Kingdom and takes snooker in the country to an entirely new level.
Most of the top players will be there, not only as a result of the increased rewards on offer but also because the China Open has generally become a sought after trophy down through the years.
There has been plenty of history attached to the tournament, notably with a teenage Ding Junhui announcing himself and Chinese snooker to the world by claiming his maiden title in 2005 at the expense of a fading legend in Stephen Hendry.
Twelve months ago, world number one Mark Selby became the first player to win the China Open and the World Championship back-to-back, lifting a so-called “Curse” that had seen all the previous winners fail a few weeks later at the Crucible.
Results in the China Open obviously also have huge ramifications for the final automatic places available for the Worlds, with several players set to battle it out in an effort to avoid the dreaded three-round qualifiers at the English Institute of Sport.
Matt Huart, of ProSnookerBlog fame and now the WPBSA media officer, has written an excellent and informative piece surrounding all the different permutations involved with who needs what in the Chinese capital.
A lot can indeed happen over the upcoming week but of pressing concern for Mark Allen will be his last 64 tie with Noppon Saengkham, as a defeat for the Northern Irishman will mean he would become the first Masters champion to have to qualify for the World Championship.
Welshman Ryan Day will be the most nervous man in Wales as the two-time ranking event winner, who failed to qualify for the China Open, desperately clings onto the 16th and last spot.
Meanwhile, Ronnie O’Sullivan heads east in the form of his career and in search of a record sixth ranking event title of a single season.
The “Rocket” is among a handful of players, which also includes Selby, as well as local duo Ding and Liang Wenbo, who have had their last 128 ties held over to the main venue.
Interestingly, if O’Sullivan and Selby advance beyond their opening obstacles, the pair could meet lower ranked players who have already caused them problems this season in high-profile encounters.
O’Sullivan would clash with Elliot Slessor, who ended the 42 year-old’s brief hunt for the million pound bonus in the Home Nations series, while Selby’s UK Championship conqueror Scott Donaldson would await the world number one.
Selby, of course, has had trouble with plenty of players up and down the rankings this season in what has been a spell to forget for the “Jester”.
The 34 year-old’s demise has been so great that his once seemingly untouchable tally at the top of the rankings has come to within reach for O’Sullivan and the latter could even regain the position for the first time in years by the time this term reaches its conclusion.
Most of the other heavy-hitters are in attendance, with the exception of 2011 and 2016 champion Judd Trump, who suffered a shock defeat to Jak Jones in the preliminary round back in Barnsley.
The majority of the players will be hoping to play themselves into form at a crucial junction of the campaign while those down near the bottom of the rankings have their tour survival to compete for.
It all makes for a very interesting week of snooker, with a lucrative opportunity and plenty of subplots making for a dramatic storyline in progress.