With only one more counting event before the cut-off point for the Alexandra Palace, there’ll be plenty of attention given to the Race to the Masters over the next couple of weeks.
The draw for the UK Championship was released on Monday and there’s an abundance of excitement building for the first Triple Crown tournament of the campaign.
While the primary focus will naturally be on who can emerge with the title at the Barbican Centre in York, one subplot will surround the final positions that are available for the prestigious Masters invitational in January.
As usual, there are 16 spots up for grabs, with invites awarded to the top 16 in the world rankings following the conclusion of the UK Championship in early December.
All the players down to Shaun Murphy in 11th in the provisional standings, including Mark Allen who will be seeded first as the reigning champion, have their places safely assured in the Race to the Masters.
That means that the likes of world number one Mark Selby, world champion Mark Williams, and seven-time winner Ronnie O’Sullivan will all definitely feature in the draw.
For the remaining five competitors in the top 16 as it stands, work needs to be done to guarantee a crack at lifting the Paul Hunter Trophy and claiming the lucrative £200,000 winner’s purse.
That said, only a very specific set of circumstances would result in Stuart Bingham and Ryan Day missing out, while Belgium’s Luca Brecel is also in a relatively healthy position despite not enjoying any great deal of form of late.
Stephen Maguire, in 15th place and hoping to return to the Masters after missing the last two editions, and possible newcomer Jack Lisowski are the remaining two who stand to complete the line-up.
With no prize money given to first round losers in ranking events, Maguire and Lisowski will be desperate to get off to winning starts in the UK Championship against Simon Lichtenberg and Zhang Jiankang respectively.
A first round defeat for either or both would potentially leave the door ajar for one of the chasing pack to pounce and make a late bid for qualification.
Hong Kong’s Marco Fu is the man most primed to make an attack, with the 2011 Masters runner-up just £6,100 short of Lisowski in the provisional Race to the Masters list.
Interestingly, Fu and Lisowski could clash in the last 32, the same round in which Maguire could face Ali Carter – who lies in 18th place at the moment.
The likes of Anthony McGill, David Gilbert, Joe Perry, Yan Bingtao, and Graeme Dott require deep runs to the business end of the UK Championship in order to steal an unlikely berth.
Of course, with £170,000 on offer for the UK champion, more than twenty players down the pecking order can give themselves a shout if they can land the title in York – albeit, should it get to that point, they might have more pressing concerns to deal with.