THE CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS, sponsored by 188bet, has proven to be a hit with snooker fans since it was added to the calendar in 2013.
Some tournaments have a crowded field but this is just an elite group of players who have won titles in the last year, with a focus on quality over quantity.
A £100,000 first prize and live terrestrial coverage in the UK on ITV4 add to the prestige and the Ricoh Arena in Coventry has proved to be a first class venue.
There is, though, an elephant in the room this year or, to be more specific, a champion not in the room. This was a tournament made for Ronnie O’Sullivan and he produced some fine snooker to win it in 2013 and retain the title last year. This season, he is not playing. It remains to be seen what effect this has on the box office.
The action kicks off on Tuesday with Stuart Bingham (pictured above) hoping a return to British shores will kick-start his campaign. He starts out against Zhou Yuelong, who received a place in the tournament through partnering Yan Bingtao to victory for China’s B side in the World Cup.
Zhou is a talented 17 year-old but relatively inexperienced in such an environment. Even so, it feels rather like Bingham is on a hiding to nothing: he’s expected to win but if he loses it’s a big shock.
The second match is a Shanghai Masters final rematch between Kyren Wilson and Judd Trump. Wilson won that one 10-9 and this is one of his rewards – a place in a prestigious invitation event.
Given his recent form, John Higgins will start favourite in Wednesday’s group 1 but faces stiff opposition from Ali Carter. Joe Perry, so consistent of late, meets Indian Open champion Michael White in the other match.
On Thursday, Neil Robertson heads group 4, taking on surprise Ruhr Open champion Rory McLeod with Yan facing Shaun Murphy.
It’s traditional in such events to have a ‘group of death’ and it’s probably Friday’s group 2, which features Mark Selby, Stephen Maguire, Barry Hawkins and Mark Allen, who secured the last place on Sunday night with his victory in Bulgaria.
The British players do a lot of travelling these days but there’s something special about playing on home soil and this tournament proves that you don’t need ranking points to make an event special.
ITV’s formidable commentary team of Clive Everton, Neal Foulds and Alan McManus will once again be in place to guide viewers through all the action from 12.45pm on Tuesday.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.