Northern Ireland Open draw

Northern Ireland Open Draw and Preview

The next stop on the snooker roadshow is Belfast with the return of the Northern Ireland Open draw to the Waterfront Hall this week from Monday.

Northern Ireland Open draw
Williams has risen back to no.2 in the world rankings since last year’s win. Photo credit: World Snooker

Mark Williams is the defending champion after his dramatic 9-8 triumph over teenager Yan Bingtao in last year’s final.

It was a win that ended an almost seven-year barren spell for the Welshman and initiated an incredible run of success that culminated in a third World Championship crown at the Crucible in May.

Williams, who defied months of celebration to also capture the World Open crown in August, meets Alfie Burden in the opening round before a potential clash with Ali Carter as early as the last 64.

As the English Open champion from last month, Stuart Bingham is the only man still in the hunt for the £1 million bonus that would be awarded for claiming all four Home Nations series titles in a single season.

The 2015 world champion, who plays Peter Lines first, must add the Alex Higgins Trophy, along with silverware in Scotland and Wales later this term, if he’s to pocket the sport’s richest jackpot.

No player has even threatened to support their English Open success with another in Northern Ireland, with both Liang Wenbo and Ronnie O’Sullivan exiting in the early rounds in the past two seasons.

O’Sullivan flies into the Emerald Isle on the back of collecting a third Champion of Champions title on Sunday when he overcame Kyren Wilson 10-9 in a thrilling contest that ebbed one way and then the other.

The “Rocket” has a day off to enjoy his latest glory before entertaining Soheil Vahedi on Tuesday afternoon.

One of the ties of the opening stage sees world number one Mark Selby tasked with the difficult challenge of veteran Anthony Hamilton.

This is the first time that the three-time world champion has entered the Northern Ireland Open draw and it’ll be interesting to see if he can finally begin to replicate his form in China on a baize closer to home.

Selby finds himself in a tricky bracket with European Masters champion Jimmy Robertson a potential opponent in round two and two-time ranking event winner Anthony McGill possibly awaiting thereafter.

Elsewhere, the majority of the marquee names, aside from Ding Junhui, will be in action with the likes of John Higgins, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, and home favourite Mark Allen also in the Northern Ireland Open draw.

Allen, winner of the International Championship at the beginning of November and in fantastic form of late, will begin his quest against China’s Niu Zhuang.

Some intriguing looking fixtures from the first round include the battle between Michael Holt and Stephen Maguire, who is attempting to hold on to one of the final places in the top 16 in the crucial Race to the Masters standings.

Jack Lisowski, in 16th spot provisionally with just this event and the UK Championship remaining before the invites to the Alexandra Palace are finalised, faces former world amateur champion Hossein Vafaie.

Marco Fu, along with Carter and McGill, are the players in close proximity to make a late charge into the elite 16 and the Hong Kong star begins his tournament with a match against Chen Feilong.

Meanwhile, last year’s runner-up Yan meets Zhang Anda and there’s another interesting all-Chinese clash between youngsters Lyu Haotian and Luo Honghao.

Of the Irish involved, Ken Doherty faces Scott Donaldson while fellow Dubliner Fergal O’Brien has been drawn against David Gilbert, another cueist who could challenge for a Masters spot with a strong week.

Local amateurs Patrick Wallace and Raymond Fry, who have been invited as wildcards, take on Peter Ebdon and Luca Brecel respectively.

As always in the Home Nations, the first four rounds will be contested over the short best of seven frames format before a gradual increase in the final three rounds at the business end of the competition.

Live coverage will be on Eurosport and Quest TV.

Click here to view the Northern Ireland Open draw (times: CET)

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