The 2019 UK Championship resumes on Saturday with the remaining 64 players set to battle it out throughout the next week at the Barbican Centre.
York stages the sport’s second biggest ranking event for the 15th time, with a record total prize money of more than £1 million up for grabs.
The champion next Sunday will collect £200,000 from that pot, one of the richest cheques in the game today.
The UK Championship stands alongside the World Championship and the Masters as a Triple Crown event – snooker’s three major events.
Predominantly won by a top player, competition for the 2019 UK Championship is sure to be fierce so let’s take a look at some of the key contenders left in the draw.
The “Rocket” has won the UK Championship in three out of his last four appearances in the tournament – in 2014, 2017, and again twelve months ago.
The 43 year-old’s only defeat in that period came in the final in 2016, meaning O’Sullivan has won an incredible 28 out of his last 29 matches in York.
Last year’s triumph represented a record seventh, surpassing Steve Davis’ number of six that stood since 1987, and also marked a 19th Triple Crown success in total.
This figure surpassed Stephen Hendry’s tally of 18 and O’Sullivan could eclipse another of the Scot’s records if he were to emerge victorious next week and capture a 37th career ranking event crown.
Rival Shaun Murphy did O’Sullivan a small favour by exiting in the first round, but also in the same quarter of the draw are potential threats in Ding Junhui – albeit lacking in form – and Kyren Wilson.
Looking deeper and potential semi-final opponents could be either Neil Robertson or John Higgins.
O’Sullivan, whose first ranking trophy was sealed as a 17 year-old in the 1993 UK Championship, has been imperious in this event in recent years but there’s undoubtedly a player in greater form at present.
Trump has enjoyed a remarkable 2019 that began with a demolition of O’Sullivan in the prestigious Masters in January.
The 30 year-old’s most recent success also came at his esteemed fellow Englishman’s expense when Trump landed a repeat victory over O’Sullivan in the final of the Northern Ireland Open this month.
In between those wins, Trump has captured a maiden World Championship, returned to the summit of the rankings as the world number one, and added two additional pieces of ranking silverware to boot.
The Bristol potter could become only the fifth player in the history of the game to hold all three Triple Crown titles at the same time if he were to land the 2019 UK Championship trophy.
Trump’s ability to destroy opponents with his scoring has been supported by a newly acquired taste for getting the job done with his B-game – highlighted by several gritty victories en route to his World Open glory this term.
The 2011 UK champion will be looking at Marks Selby, Williams, and Allen as possible obstacles to overcome in the bottom half of the draw.
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) November 28, 2019
While the attention has primarily focussed on O’Sullivan and Trump, given their general dominance of the bigger events over the course of the last year, there is one other player worth considering in that regard.
Neil Robertson hasn’t won quite as many events as the other two in that timeframe but he’s been a consistent force throughout 2019.
A Welsh Open success early in the year was quickly followed by consecutive runners-up finishes to O’Sullivan in the Players and Tour Championships.
After claiming the lucrative China Open in Beijing, Robertson also recently triumphed in the Champion of Champions – pipping Trump in a barnstorming final battle that lasted the distance.
Robertson is a two-time UK Championship winner so knows what it takes to get the job done here.
The Australian appears to be in a difficult quarter of the draw on paper, with the likes of Higgins, Stuart Bingham, Jack Liswoski, Yan Bingtao, and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh possible future opponents beyond his last 64 clash with Robbie Williams.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, and Mark Selby have bagged each of the last seven UK Championship titles between them.
O’Sullivan and Robertson are probably more favoured to repeat their previous victories but it would be foolish to write off Selby.
The former world number one’s form remains patchy but he did return to winning ways with success in the English Open – his first on home soil for more than two years.
It should go without saying, but the “Jester” would become more dangerous the longer he lasts in the event.
Selby relies heavily on his ability to grind out results but, when he can conjure his best, he is extremely difficult to overcome – underlined by his eight Triple crown titles.
The 36 year-old’s quarter of the draw is littered with experienced players but realistically none who are in the kind of form that would scare the three-time world champion.
The above four are probably the most likely to advance to the 2019 UK Championship semi-final stage but, of course, it isn’t always that simple.
Indeed, 14 out of the top 16 players in the world rankings progressed from the first round earlier this week.
Of those, there are a few who stand out as credible forces that could upset the odds somewhat.
Northern Ireland’s Allen reached the final in 2011 and 2018 so will be looking to make it third time lucky this year.
Three-time winner Higgins has reached the semi-finals in the last two ranking events and will be thankful to see Trump, his thorn on both occasions, on the opposite side of the draw.
Williams can never be ruled out but perhaps isn’t demonstrating the kind of drive necessary to be the last man standing in this tournament – recently quipping that he hates playing snooker.
Kyren Wilson, Barry Hawkins, and Stuart Bingham are inevitable in the mix but perhaps haven’t produced a high enough level this season to sustain a run at the Barbican Centre.
Then there’s Ding, who has been nothing short of diabolical by his standards for far too long, but remains an incredible talent that could spark into life at any given moment.
How timely a run in York would be for Ding Junhui…
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) November 27, 2019
Outside the Top 16
The thing about the UK Championship is that it rarely, if ever, throws up a shock champion.
O’Sullivan’s first victory 26 years ago was a surprise in its brilliance, but everybody knew by then that the then teenager was destined to be a superstar.
Perhaps Doug Mountjoy’s second UK win in 1988 at the age of 46 or Stephen Maguire’s complete annihilation of the field in 2004 would count as minor shocks, but neither player is unworthy of their name being etched on the trophy.
Who, then, could possibly spring an upset and lead the chasing pack to glory in eight days?
Immediate attention would naturally swing towards the young crop of up-and-coming Chinese cueists.
Yan Bingtao won the Riga Masters at the outset of this campaign and, like Zhao Xintong, seems to be one strong week in a major tournament away from unlocking his full potential.
Thailand’s Un-Nooh reached the final of the World Open but, forever unpredictable, it seems a stretch to imagine he’d stay consistent for long enough in York.
While there are plenty of great players right through the draw, none of the supporting cast stands out as a name who could go on a giant-killing spree.
The UK Championship, with a rich history that dates back to its inaugural staging in 1977, is set for another glorious week.
The Barbican Centre in York, always well-attended and brimming with atmosphere, has become its rightful spiritual home.
As its roll of honour would substantiate, the outcome is generally the same with one of the sport’s marquee names managing to emerge triumphantly with the title.
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump are the obvious favourites and fans would unlikely voice displeasure if that were to be the final in just over a week’s time.