The eagerly anticipated World Snooker Championship qualifying draw was announced by World Snooker on Monday.
A total of 128 players will head to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield from Wednesday hoping to win the three matches required to reach the main event at the Crucible Theatre in less than a fortnight.
The top 16 in the world rankings are already assured of their places in the last 32 after sealing their spots in the elite bracket following the conclusion of the China Open, in which Mark Selby emerged triumphant for the third time in four years.
The dreaded qualifying stages have become well-known in snooker circles as a thrilling event on the calendar that provides every bit as much drama and tension as any major tournament.
The rejoice and jubilation of a player meeting an expectation to reach the sport’s “Marathon of the Mind” is countered by the despair and heartache felt by those who just miss out every year.
It’s a cut-throat format, the last surviving event from the pre-Barry Hearn era that offers protection to players inside the top 16.
It’s particularly harsh on somebody like Ryan Day, who missed out on an automatic berth by a margin of less than £13,000 despite the fact that he is a two-time ranking event winner from this campaign.
Day faces WSF Seniors Championship winner Igor Figueiredo in the first round and could run into former world champion Peter Ebdon at the final hurdle, with the winner from 16 years up first against fellow veteran James Wattana.
People’s Champion Jimmy White has a very tricky opener against young talent Sam Craigie and the signs of a return to the stage of so many of the Englishman’s famous victories and defeats don’t look great with Joe Perry, Mark Davis, and Michael Georgiou also in the same bracket as the “Whirlwind”.
Irish followers will be interested in the intriguing clash between 1997 world champion Ken Doherty and countryman Josh Boileau, who will likely drop off the Main Tour in May after a chastening first stint as a professional.
Dublin’s Fergal O’Brien is in the same section as his fellow Irishmen and faces one of the numerous Chinese competitors in the draw in Yuan Sijun.
Teenager Yan Bingtao, who some believe could even threaten for World Championship glory this year, is involved in another tasty tie with another up-and-coming star – Welshman Jackson Page.
Five-time ranking event winner Stephen Maguire begins his quest with a fixture against Allan Taylor while Reanne Evans and world women’s champion Ng On Yee face Dominic Dale and Matthew Selt respectively.
Live coverage of the qualifiers will be on the Eurosport Player and Facebook Live from April 11-18.
Click here to view the complete draw. (Times: CET)