The third-ranking event of the campaign gets underway on Monday with the start of the 2019 China Championship in Guangzhou.
Lots of the higher-ranked players have had the pleasure of being invited to various invitational events on the calendar, several of the lower-ranked competitors have been irked by the lack of opportunities to compete.
Mark Selby returns to Guangzhou as the defending Champion, with this event representing the only one that the former world number one came out victorious in during an unusually barren 2018/19 season.
The three-time World Champion is among a handful of selected players who had their qualifying round fixtures held over to the main venue.
Selby takes on Chen Feilong in his preliminary match while current World Champion Judd Trump enters at the same stage along with Chinese pair Ding Junhui and Yan Bingtao.
The stakes are high for both Selby and Ding, as the 2019 China Championship marks one of the last chances available for them to capture a title that would simultaneously provide them with an invitation into the respected and admired Champion of Champions in November.
Mark Williams finds himself in a familiar situation, having failed to grasp any silverware since the World Open last summer.
The 43-year old Welshman faces fellow countryman Kishan Hirani in the last 64 and is in a difficult section of the draw that also features Ricky Walden and former China Championship winner Luca Brecel.
Notably absent from the draw is Ronnie O’Sullivan, but other heavy-hitters like John Higgins, Australian Neil Robertson, former Masters Champion Mark Allen, and the in-form Shaun Murphy will all be in action.
Murphy has reached the finals of two tournaments in China in recent weeks – losing to Trump in the International Championship title decider before a narrow reverse at the same hurdle to O’Sullivan in Shanghai.
He though faces a tricky opening obstacle from Yuan Sijun, one of the many indigenous players who will be attempting to perform well on home soil.
In a nutshell, the early rounds of these ranking events can be difficult to predict, and it often comes down to which four or five cueists discover form at the right time.
Another significant factor could be how well each plate deals with the conditions. Like some players strive in loud surroundings with a boisterous and energetic crowd to contend with, that might not exactly be the case in this tournament.
The China Championship has been a fixture on the schedule since 2016. But, like a lot of the other events staged in the country, has generally failed to attract large crowds on a regular basis.
With a total prize fund of 751,000 pounds and a Champion’s cheese worth 150,000, the 2019 China Championship provides the next opportunity for players from top to bottom to earn their way from the game.
Written by: Imisa Aruorihwo