THE 888.COM WORLD GRAND PRIX came about because ITV4 enjoyed ratings success with their first event, the Champion of Champions, and wanted another.
They didn’t want a great lumbering ranking tournament with its cast of thousands (well, 128) and so the format has, quite rightly, been made to fit their schedules.
So the leading 32 money earners since the World Championship will gather this week in Llandudno, playing purely for cash rather than their ranking position.
It is a stellar field, featuring as it does the game’s star names plus plenty of quality aside, not least Michael White, who has won the last two events he’s played in.
The tournament kicks off on Monday afternoon with world champion Mark Selby against Michael Holt, who took the last place in the 32-man ranking list used to determine the qualifiers.
Stephen Maguire, who has been dragged into the fight for a Crucible seeding, is looking for a confidence boost and plays the second TV match of the day against China’s Xiao Guodong.
At night, the televised matches are Neil Robertson against 20 year-old Belgian Luca Brecel and Ronnie O’Sullivan – who has won the two stagings of the Champion of Champions – tackles Liverpudlian Rod Lawler.
Table two will not be covered in full but there will be a camera on it monitoring developments.
This is another tournament Barry Hearn has pulled out of the air from nowhere, with a £100,000 first prize and terrestrial television coverage.
ITV have rightly been lauded for their presentation and punditry and Llandudno, when it was used for the Premier League, was considered a first rate venue. The tournament is also live on Eurosport International for viewers outside Britain.
Now the circuit has returned to the UK we can say that the run-in to the World Championship has well and truly started. The Big One is just a month away now so it’s a good time to start playing well and any title between now and April 18 could prove an important injection of pre-Crucible confidence.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.