The biggest ranking event of the 2019/20 season so far gets under way on Tuesday with the first shots set to be taken in the UK Championship draw.
Reigning champion Ronnie O’Sullivan heads an elite field at the Barbican Centre, which is set to host the tournament for the 15th time.
The “Rocket” became only the third player in the event’s history to successfully defend the UK title, beating Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen in the final.
Stephen Hendry was the last man to capture the crown three times consecutively and a victory for O’Sullivan in 2019 would also see him surpass the Scot’s long-held all-time ranking event record of 36.
O’Sullivan narrowly missed out on achieving the feat in the recent Northern Ireland Open as Judd Trump denied him glory in Belfast for a second successive season.
The pair will be the two heavy favourites in York too and, as the two top seeds, have been separated on opposite sides of the UK Championship draw.
Both competitors will be expected to emerge from their opening challenges with O’Sullivan facing Irish amateur Ross Bulman and Trump in action against unheralded Moroccan Amine Amiri.
Neither Bulman or Amiri have much experience on the Main Tour so O’Sullivan and Trump will be highly fancied to progress easily.
Indeed, the UK Championship draw favours the top ranked players in general because the format works in that the first seed plays the 128th, the second seed faces the 127th, and so on.
The result is that it guarantees a more manageable opponent on paper for the top 16 members, although it does also provide the chance for greater shocks to occur.
These upsets aren’t completely irregular either, with then world number one Mark Selby suffering a first round exit to James Cahill twelve months ago and Ding Junhui being ousted by Leo Fernandez in 2017.
Still, over the best of 11 frames it is likely that the marquee names will get off to a good start and that tougher tests will await later in the event.
The UK Championship is the sport’s third longest running tournament behind only the World Championship and the Masters.
It’s alongside those two other BBC-televised competitions that the UK Championship helps to make up the Triple Crown – effectively snooker’s three majors.
O’Sullivan’s success in 2018 was memorable in that it represented his 19th Triple Crown title, a new record that will prove difficult for any future contender to overcome.
Trump, who is bidding to become the first man since Hendry in 1996 to win all three Triple Crown events in the same year, still boasts just three but is demonstrating the kind of form at present that could see him dominate for some time if he were to stay consistent.
That consistency is, of course, what has largely separated the likes of O’Sullivan and John Higgins from the rest as they have been at the very pinnacle of the sport for an incredible amount of time.
Higgins, a three-time winner, gets his UK Championship campaign going against Peter Lines while Selby meets Andy Hicks.
Two-time champion Ding, meanwhile, will look to put his recent struggles behind him when he starts off against Duane Jones.
Ding is hovering just inside the cut-off point for invitations to this season’s Masters and needs to consolidate his position if he’s to ensure his safe return to the Alexandra Palace in January.
The likes of Joe Perry, Ali Carter, and 2004 UK champion Stephen Maguire are all vying for a spot in London too, in what has become an enjoyable subplot to follow during each UK Championship.
Several other former champions will be seeking to put in a challenge in an effort to etch their names onto the trophy once again.
Neil Robertson produced a scintillating performance to deny Trump in the Champion of Champions final earlier in November and the Australian will hope to carry that form forward when he plays Alex Borg on the opening afternoon.
Shaun Murphy has been an ever-present at the business end of events this season – especially in China, it must be said – and the 2008 UK champion opens his account this year against Eden Sharav.
Mark Williams took a rest and chose to skip Northern Ireland, so could feel rejuvenated as he prepares to take on Fraser Patrick.
One of the ties of the round sees last year’s runner-up Allen in action against Jimmy White, the UK champion way back in 1992.
A unique aspect of the UK Championship’s history is that it has rarely, if ever, been won by a complete outsider or someone who doesn’t belong at the sport’s top table.
It’s this impressive roll on honour that, despite a reduced format in recent years that often angers the traditionalist fan, helps to underline its continued prestige.
The UK Championship draw is awash with talent and it’s always hard to predict an eventual champion at the outset of an event that receives 128 entrants.
Yet, the likelihood of this year’s winner ultimately coming from the above small crop of players is high.
Several others will obviously attempt to have their say and it promises to be another fascinating UK Championship in store.