The 2020 Snooker Shoot Out draw took place last week and, in a change of pace from previous seasons, almost everyone has entered.
The controversial ranking event, which is back on the calendar for a tenth straight year and a fourth in a row at the Watford Colosseum, gets under way on Thursday.
In the past, the majority of the marquee names had opted to skip the unpredictable event that relies predominantly on speed and a great deal of luck.
However, with £50,000 up for grabs for the champion on Sunday, only five out of the elite top 16 have decided to not take part.
There are quite a few reasons why the Snooker Shoot Out draw features more of the bigger stars this year.
Not only has the prize fund increased, but the event is also the third leg of the inaugural European Series – a four-tournament swing in which the highest earner at the end pockets a £150,000 bonus.
Neil Robertson and Judd Trump are fighting it out near the top of that order of merit but neither has entered this week, meaning there’s an opportunity for several contenders to narrow the gap before the Gibraltar Open next month.
The Shoot Out’s close proximity on the calendar to the next event on the Coral Series is another reason for its increased importance.
With the Players Championship next week in Southport, defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan currently lies in the precarious 16th and last qualifying spot on the provisional one-year rankings.
The “Rocket” is in the Shoot Out field for the first time since 2015 but the William Hill sportbook rates the 44 year-old as the 10/1 favourite.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen in a competition that incorporates a variation on the traditional rules of the game.
A single ten-minute frame, shot clocks, ball in hand, and having to hit a cushion are just some of the changes adopted.
The Shoot Out is also famous for its unique atmosphere, encouraging boozy boisterousness rather than the humble hush that is the norm for snooker at venues such as the Crucible Theatre.
Such is the obvious unpredictability of the event that no member of that year’s top 16 has ever won it.
I enjoy it, great fun and lots of drama….even if it’s different drama to a world semi final.
But it’s different rules to normal Snooker, and I don’t think it’s fair that someone could lose a top 16 place for example based on someone having a strong run in the shootout
— Paddy (@PaddyH20) February 17, 2020
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh is the reigning champion after claiming his maiden ranking title twelve months ago, compiling the tournament’s highest ever break of 139 en route.
Barry Hawkins and Michael White are among the other former winners who are in this year’s Shoot Out draw.
While there’s a sense of randomness to it all, the tournament could be important for that pair and a number of others who are involved in various ranking scraps at present.
Hawkins, for example, is 15th on the provisional Race to the Crucible standings and in danger of missing out on an automatic spot in Sheffield, while Welshman White is currently outside the top 64 on the end-of-season list and in line to be relegated from the Main Tour.
The Shoot Out will be a combination of fun and serious then over the coming few days in Hertfordshire.
As its slogan goes, the clock is ticking.
Selection of First Round Ties (L128)
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Alan McManus
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh vs Alex Borg
Jimmy White vs Matthew Stevens
Shaun Murphy vs Kishan Hirani
Kyren Wilson vs Michael White
Mark Williams vs Luca Brecel
Barry Hawkins vs Jackson Page
Mark Allen vs Luo Honghao
Stuart Bingham vs Andrew Pagett (a)
Ian Burns vs Reanne Evans (a)
Aaron Hill (a) vs Robbie McGuigan (a)