The third ranking tournament of the 2018/19 campaign takes place this weekend in Germany with the return of the Paul Hunter Classic.
Now in its 15th year of existence, the Paul Hunter Classic – named after the three-time Masters champion from Leeds who was the inaugural winner and passed away in 2006, is one of the longest-running events on snooker’s calendar but unfortunately it has lost a lot of its allure in the last couple of years.
The pro-am event, when it was arguably the flagship competition in the now defunct European Tour series, once attracted all the marquee players who each wanted to play in front of the large and appreciative crowds at the Stadthalle in Furth.
However, since the Paul Hunter Classic became a full ranking event, its stature and prestige has significantly reduced and it is now considered one of the least important – highlighted by a dreadful turnout for this year’s edition.
A mere nine out of the top 32 players in the world rankings have opted to participate in 2018, which will likely provide a whole host of cueists who wouldn’t normally feature at the business end of ranking events with an opportunity to perhaps compete for some silverware.
Probably the main reason for the lack of entries is the prize fund, which is the lowest of the 20 ranking events on the calendar with just £20,000 on offer for the champion.
Half a dozen years ago, this would have been quite a hefty amount to play for but such has been the sport’s rapid rise in recent times, with champion’s cheques in excess of £100,000 now the norm, the Paul Hunter Classic has fallen adrift.
In fact, there were many who were predicting that last year would be the last staging of the event under World Snooker but it did manage to make the cut again, albeit it remains interesting to see what kind of long-term future it possesses.
It’s a pity that it can’t attract the bigger sponsorship that is necessary to provide it with a richer purse because the German fans offer so much in terms of an atmosphere, which is in stark contrast to a lot of the action that is seen in the dull and often empty arenas in China.
Two-time champion Shaun Murphy will be the favourite for this year’s title in the absence of all the stars, with Kyren Wilson and Luca Brecel the only other members of the elite top 16 in action.
Murphy finished runner-up twelve months ago to Michael White, who will also make a welcome return to the scene of his second ranking success.
Other than those four, the in-form Jack Lisowski is potentially one player to keep a close eye on over the upcoming few days as he bids to join the illustrious band of ranking event champions and continue his rise towards the top 16 in the world rankings.
Lisowski lost in the final of the Riga Masters at the outset of this term to Neil Robertson and suffered an unexpected collapse to eventual champion Mark Williams in the quarter-finals of the World Open earlier this month.
The likes of Chinese duo Xiao Guodong and Zhou Yuelong will be among a number of players with pedigree lower down the pecking order who will fancy their chances of tasting glory for the first time in their careers as well.
This Paul Hunter Classic could also prove important for the players around the top 64 cut-off point with perhaps a unique opportunity to pocket what would be a decent amount of money for those wily competitors.
In the hunt too will be an array of amateurs, whose preliminary rounds – which will offer a whopping 47 places into the main draw – have already been completed in Furth.
Among those looking to upset the odds are women’s world champion Ng On Yee, up-and-coming prospect Jackson Page, and 2007 Paul Hunter Classic winner Barry Pinches.
The first round proper will begin on Friday with the champion set to be crowned on Sunday evening.