The circuit is full of tournaments these days but very few have a history that can compete with that of the Masters.

Its chief attraction is that it is just for the elite. It is an achievement just to make the field.

Traditionally just for the top 16, the Masters began life in 1975 with just ten players. John Spencer beat his old rival Ray Reardon 9-8 on a re-spotted black and over the last 39 the event has produced great drama, heartache, joy and high quality snooker, which we have celebrated in our countdown of the greatest 20 moments.

This year it’s the top 15 in the world rankings plus Ronnie O’Sullivan who, as per precedent, is automatically seeded second as world champion.

O’Sullivan didn’t play at Alexandra Palace last year but the event in part inspired him to return at the end of the season for the World Championship. He had been sat at home watching on television and then turned up to watch Mark Selby and Graeme Dott – two players he doesn’t enjoy playing – contest their semi-final.

O’Sullivan begins his bid for a fifth Masters title against this year’s only debutant, Robert Milkins, who the Rocket beat 6-0 in the last 16 of the recent UK Championship.

Given this heavy defeat, it makes it a rotten draw for Milkins, but it’s a sign of how far the Gloucester man has come in recent times that he’s in the event at all.

It could be a Selby-O’Sullivan final. We’ve already a couple of those and they were both epics.

Selby has won the title three times and starts his defence this afternoon against Mark Davis.

Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui – former Masters champions both – have been the two players of the season but each have tough opening round ties. Robertson, for the fourth Masters running, faces Mark Allen, whom he beat 6-5 in the quarter-finals last season. Ding must see off Shaun Murphy to advance to the last eight.

Judd Trump will be hoping 2014 is better than 2013. The Masters is the perfect event in which to make a mark. Trump meets Marco Fu in the opening round, with Ding or Murphy to follow.

It’s a tough draw for him but it’s a tough draw for everyone. That’s the point about the Masters: it’s just for the best. With one table and a London crowd, every match is like a final.

To win the Masters is to scale one of snooker’s toughest peaks and join a roll of honour that reads like a list of legends.

This year’s first prize is £200,000 – up from £150,000 last year – but the players don’t need any extra motivation to win this trophy, one of the most prized in snooker.

The Dafabet Masters is live on the BBC and Eurosport from January 12-19. Full reports and behind the scenes news will appear here on Inside Snooker.

Photographs by Monique Limbos.