The players return to China this week for the third ranking event of the season in the country – the lucrative International Championship in Daqing, which starts on Sunday.
The International Championship has become a permanent fixture on the calendar since its launch in 2012, when Judd Trump edged Neil Robertson 10-8 to become the new world number one.
Originally, this event was heralded as a potential fourth major, an addition to the sport’s prestigious Triple Crown of events that are already staged in England, as China’s continued boom ensured that it required something more substantial to promote.
At first, it appeared as though the potential was there for something special to grow as the first edition six years ago in Chengdu boasted a longer format, rare at the time but becoming gradually more common these days, and an unusually vibrant atmosphere at the venue.
Unfortunately, that was the only year when the crowds came and, instead, the International Championship has turned into another generic and soulless competition in China.
Albeit, a rich one.
With £175,000 up for grabs for the champion next week, it’s hardly a tournament to be sniffed at and the current world number one Mark Selby has become a master at capturing these Chinese titles in recent seasons.
In fact, the 35 year-old is a two-time defending champion of the International Championship and will return to Daqing in positive spirits after his recent success in the China Championship at the start of this month.
Selby is one of a number of players – including world champion Mark Williams and home favourite Ding Junhui – who have had their qualifying round fixtures held over to the main venue.
The three-time world champion meets Li Yuan in the preliminary stage before a potential clash against Ken Doherty, the winner of the UK Seniors Championship on Thursday in Hull.
Once again, there’s no Ronnie O’Sullivan in the draw while the likes of John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, and Luca Brecel all exited in surprising fashion in Barnsley a few weeks ago.
Trump and Robertson, though, will be among the key contenders hoping to dethrone Selby with Masters champion Mark Allen, Kyren Wilson, and last week’s English Open victor Stuart Bingham also expected to be in the hunt.
Wilson, already twice a winner on the Main Tour this term, has one of the more intriguing last 64 ties as he’s tasked with facing talented teenager Yuan Sijun.
Trump, meanwhile, is tested by veteran Alan McManus, who is in danger of dropping off the circuit at the end of this campaign having dropped down the rankings to just above the top 64 cut-off point.
With the matches up until the semi-finals played over the best of eleven frames, one would probably expect the higher ranked players to have more of a chance to settle and safely progress through to the business end of proceedings.
The International Championship also provides the last opportunity for the players to gain an invitation into next week’s Champion of Champions in Coventry.
As there have only been twelve different winners since last November when Murphy prevailed at the Ricoh Arena, four of the next highest ranked cueists who haven’t already qualified stand in line to be added as top-ups for the 16-man field.
That leaves Belgium’s Brecel in a precarious position in last place in those provisional standings and the 23 year-old could lose his spot if there’s a new winner of the International Championship or if someone can usurp him in the rankings list with a good performance this week.