Only two ranking events remain on the 2018/19 calendar as the season enters its busiest and most important period – beginning with the China Open in Beijing.
The eagerly anticipated World Championship amazingly gets under way in less than a fortnight with the start of the qualifiers in Sheffield.
Before that, it’s the traditional penultimate ranking tournament of the campaign in China’s capital city.
The China Open has been a mainstay on the calendar for the best part of two decades and represents the country’s oldest and longest running competition.
Its stature as such was rewarded last year when a new contract inspired a rejuvenated format and a significantly bolstered prize fund.
Second only to the Crucible in terms of the riches that are on offer, the China Open has a total purse of more than £1 million.
As a result, it isn’t surprising to see a high-quality field assemble for the China Open draw each year.
That said, new world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan will not be taking part on this occasion, instead choosing to focus his attention on the upcoming blue riband championship.
It’s possible then that the “Rocket” could lose the top spot in the rankings only a couple of weeks after regaining it for the first time in nine years.
Mark Selby, who had possessed a stranglehold on the coveted position for more than four years, could move back ahead of O’Sullivan by the completion of this year’s China Open.
However, the Leicesterman would have to win the title and receive the £225,000 champion’s cheque in order to upset the order at the summit of the standings.
Selby has won the China Open the last three times he has entered it and his general performances in the Asian nation far outclass those of his lacklustre displays on home soil.
But whether or not the 35 year-old’s confidence, which has been shaky for quite some time anyway, has been knocked after being usurped from the number one spot remains to be seen.
Selby meets Craig Steadman in his held-over qualifying round fixture while world champion Mark Williams’ opener in the China Open draw is against Harvey Chandler.
Of the other star names on show, home favourite Ding Junhui will attempt to discover some badly needed form at just the right time.
The Chinese number one has endured a season to forget but there’s still time for him to turn things around and there’s a sense that he has been building up for a timely onslaught in Sheffield – the one destination where the trophy has eluded him.
In-form duo Neil Robertson and Judd Trump face Kishan Hirani and Robbie Williams respecitvely, while John Higgins meets Joe O’Connor.
Some intriguing last 64 contests include two-time champion Peter Ebdon’s date with Yan Bingtao and Kyren Wilson’s match against another talented Chinese teenager in Yuan Sijun.
Aside from O’Sullivan, Shaun Murphy and world number five Mark Allen are the only members of the top 16 who won’t be in action.
Murphy failed to qualify while Allen, one of the most consistent performers of the campaign, withdrew because of personal reasons.
The China Open is a pretty prestigious event in its own right but its importance takes on additional meaning when it comes to the seeding allocations at the Crucible.
Only the elite 16 in the world rankings following the climax of this tournament will gain automatic qualification for the World Championship.
Murphy, in 11th place provisionally, is safe and guaranteed to feature in Sheffield in April but there are others who will be frantically looking over their shoulders.
David Gilbert, currently holding on to the precious final certain berth, entertains only a £15,000 advantage over Ryan Day in 17th provisionally.
A run to the final for any player down to Xiao Guodong in 23rd could prove to be enough to break into the top 16 while anyone as far down as 66th placed Dominic Dale could make an enormous and unlikely leap if they were to capture the silverware next weekend.
For those competitors further down the pecking order and around the top 64 cut-off point, these final tournaments are vital too in terms of their overall tour survival.
Any victory, or defeat for that matter, at this stage of the season could be the difference between staying on the circuit for another term or squandering a professional card.
The format allows for plenty of drama with every game up until the quarter-final stage lasting a possible eleven frames.
A total of 19 frames could be required for the semi-finals before a best of 21 frames final showdown.