The ongoing investigation into alleged match-fixing in snooker has resulted in a couple of changes to the 2023 Masters draw.
As soon as the celebrations for the New Year die down, the attention on the snooker calendar inevitably turns to the Alexandra Palace.
The top 16 players in the world rankings are invited to compete for the sport’s most prestigious invitational prize in early January every twelve months.
This year’s edition of the competition, which boasts a top prize of £250,000, gets under way on Sunday in the English capital city.
But the event has already taken some knocks with two of its expected participants becoming embroiled in a damaging scandal.
- CLICK HERE: Former UK champion Zhao Xintong suspended
Zhao Xintong and 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao have both been suspended from the sport pending an investigation that has also seen eight other Chinese competitors under suspicion.
On Thursday, it was announced that Zhao would be replaced in the lineup by Hossein Vafaei, who will become the first Iranian to play in the tournament.
Vafaei was ranked as the world number 18 when the seeding positions for the Masters draw were determined following the conclusion of the UK Championship in November.
Last year’s Snooker Shoot Out champion will take on Mark Selby on the opening day of action on Sunday evening.
It was previously announced that Yan’s replacement would be David Gilbert, who was officially ranked at number 17 after York.
An out-of-form Gilbert, a two-time Masters semi-finalist, will look to seize his unexpected opportunity when he encounters Mark Williams on Tuesday.
The fiasco encompassing the alleged case into corruption means that there will be no Chinese players participating in the Masters for the first time since 2006.
The rest of the draw remains unchanged, with nine former Masters snooker champions in total among those in the field.
Defending champion Neil Robertson will begin his defence against Shaun Murphy, which marks a repeat of the 2012 and 2015 Masters finals in which the pair won one title decider apiece.
World champion and world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan entertains Luca Brecel as he bids for a record-extending eighth Masters crown.
At 18/5, the Rocket is the betting favourite to secure glory again in 2023. Click here for more odds from Novibet.
Meanwhile, the in-form Mark Allen – already a winner of the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship this season – takes on last year’s Masters runner-up Barry Hawkins.
World number two Judd Trump plays Ryan Day, with John Higgins and Stuart Bingham facing Jack Lisowski and Kyren Wilson respectively.
2023 Masters Snooker Draw
Neil Robertson vs Shaun Murphy
Kyren Wilson vs Stuart Bingham
Mark Allen vs Barry Hawkins
Judd Trump vs Ryan Day
Mark Selby vs Hossein Vafaei
John Higgins vs Jack Lisowski
Mark Williams vs David Gilbert
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Luca Brecel
Featured photo credit: WST