THAILAND IS KNOWN as the land of smiles but for the next week may well be the land of grimaces too as the Players Championship rolls into town.

Players have not exactly lain idle in recent weeks and the World Championship is just around the corner but there is prize money, ranking points and a trophy at stake as the top 24 from the European Tour order of merit and top eight from the Asian Tour standings gather at the Montien Riverside hotel.

Matches are all best of seven, a cut-throat format but one which often produces high quality contests.

So there is tension in the air. This is an important time of the year to be playing well and the seedings race for the Crucible continues.

Stephen Maguire, who plays John Higgins on Tuesday, is currently 15th in the rankings and, with Ali Carter guaranteed a Crucible spot, cannot afford to drop any lower.

Robert Milkins, who starts out against Chris Wakelin, and Michael White, who faces Martin Gould, are the next two on the list and looking to make ground on the Scotsman.

There will be interest ahead of the China Open next week in the fate of Ding Junhui, who is on a disappointing run, of performances as well as results.

Judd Trump is on his way to Thailand at the time of writing, fresh from his capture of the inaugural World Grand Prix on Sunday.

Bangkok is an incredible city – bustling, oppressive but fascinating too. Thailand was hosting major events long before they became commonplace in China. This was down to the rise of James Wattana, still Thailand’s most successful player, but there is only one Thai in the field for this event, Thepchaiya Un Nooh.

Crowds for Wattana’s matches were always good. For everyone else it was invariably hit and miss. Many Thais simply prefer to watch on television.

As Thailand did not stage any of the Asian Tour events, some may wonder why the finals are in Bangkok in the first place. I’m told World Snooker got a very good deal, which is of course what they are supposed to do.

It’s £100,000 to the winner. There has been much snooker played to get to this point and it’s going to be a memorable week for someone. Barry Hawkins won 12 months ago when the event was held at Preston Guild Hall.

Tuesday’s live matches on Eurosport are (7.30am GMT) Barry Hawkins v Mark King and John Higgins v Stephen Maguire; (12.30pm GMT) Neil Robertson v Marco Fu and Ding Junhui v Joe Perry.

The final takes place on Saturday, leaving a spare day before the start of the China Open in Beijing.


Photographs by Monique Limbos.