The second ranking event of the season gets under way on Sunday with the International Championship draw returning to Daqing in China.
An annual fixture on the calendar since 2012, the International Championship has a top prize of £175,000.
Mark Allen is the defending champion following his 10-5 victory over Neil Robertson in 2018.
The Northern Irishman finally etched his name on the trophy after previously falling at the last hurdle on two occasions.
While last week’s Riga Masters was bereft of star quality, the International Championship draw is, by contrast, awash with the game’s very best.
World number one Ronnie O’Sullivan is a notable absentee but the rest of the marquee names will be on show.
While Allen faces veteran Peter Lines, Judd Trump will make his debut appearance as the new world champion in his heldover qualifying round fixture against Jordan Brown.
John Higgins, one half of Scotland’s World Cup winning partnership from June, Ding Junhui, and Riga Masters champion Yan Bingtao are in action in the preliminaries as well.
The likes of last year’s runner-up Robertson, Mark Williams, Mark Selby, Kyren Wilson, and Shaun Murphy have already emerged from the qualifying section to reach the last 64.
Even though the International Championship draw would suggest that this event is one of the more prestigious on the schedule, the reality is a little more sketchy.
Launched in 2012 as China’s answer to a fourth major in the sport, the International Championship initially drew positive reactions after an event with big crowds and longer formats helped to energise the game in the Asian nation.
Yet, attendance levels dissipated thereafter and its move from Chengdu to Daqing in 2015 didn’t help matters much.
The purse remains high, which is obviously one of the reasons why the players continue to flock there in numbers.
International Championship Sunday TV matches:
9:30: Allen – P.Lines, Robertson – Bond
14:30: Trump – Brown, Yan Bingtao – Burden
19:30: Ding – Lichtenberg, Higgins – Wu Yize
There is also a full schedule by table, but it seems that all 8 tables are streamed in China anyway.
— Nikolay (@Nick007J) August 2, 2019
Unfortunately, the atmosphere rarely lives up to the billing and once Chinese interest wanes, especially any demise of home hero Ding, there’s not much good to say about the viewing in terms of atmosphere – albeit it will be interesting to see what impact Yan’s success last week has on the confidence of Chinese snooker overall.
It’s a general pity because the format does lend itself to the possibility of there being more exciting matches to watch.
With best of eleven ties up until the semi-finals and two-session 17-frame contests in the last four, there are plenty of opportunities for runaways and comebacks.
Last year’s edition produced a staggering 107 tons, the first time a professional tournament eclipsed the century of century breaks mark.
Critics lambasted the ease at which the pockets received the attempted pots, but at least it did add an attacking and more entertaining mindset to proceedings.
Whether this year’s tournament will follow suit remains to be seen but the impressive roll of honour would suggest that, irregardless of all that, this event tends to end up in the hands of a heavy-hitter.