ALL roads have been leading to the Crucible for many players for the past few months, despite the tour rumbling on and other titles and big money being up for grabs.
The 17-day blue-riband tournament, the Betfred World Championship, gets under way on April 18, meaning that the current China Open in Beijing marks the last event before qualifiers for the big one commence.
And the issue of whether a good run at the oldest and most established event in China is a help or a hindrance in Sheffield is one on which most players would have an opinion.
Accepted wisdom is divided into pretty much two straightforward camps for the top players who would retain a realistic hope of winning, or at least having a good run, at both events.
One school of thought would have you believe that there is no substitute for winning matches and boosting confidence, and a strong display would stand a player in good stead.
The other would point to the risk of burnout and arriving tired at the Crucible, with relatively little recovery time should a player get to the final in Beijing.
Neil Robertson, who has of course won both titles, was phlegmatic after his shock first-round exit to Dechawat Poomjaeng.
Despite the agonising nature of the defeat on the final black and the natural disappointment of a true competitor and genuine title contender at going out early, the Australian could find compensations.
He said: “The only positive is that I go home early now and prepare even better for the World Championships.
“The only real result for me now is trying to win this or any tournament, so I’d almost rather go out now than get to the semi-finals.”
Mark Allen, another of the game’s fiercest competitors, failed to qualify for the China Open having decided not to enter India, meaning a lot less travel ahead of the World Championships in a particularly packed period of the calendar.
And speaking at the Welsh Open he also could take some consolation from his disappointing defeat, wondering if there might yet be a pay-off in the one that matters most.
Judd Trump speaking before this year’s China Open, saw both sides of the debate – being the standout example of a player who has done well in both in recent years in 2011. That year Trump enjoyed his big breakthrough success in Beijing before losing to John Higgins in the Crucible final.
Trump probably represents the views of a lot of top players in that he would seek to take the positives however they come – be it wins in China over likely Crucible rivals and the confidence that brings, or an earlier exit and extra time to prepare at leisure back home.
But how do the recent statistics stack up, and do they reveal anything of note? A quick glance reveals that Trump is not only the sole winner of the China Open in the last 10 years to get to a Crucible final, he is the only one to get past the quarter-finals.
And further to that, five of the last 10 China Open winners have gone out in the first round in Sheffield, while another in Ding Junhui, after his 2005 win in Beijing, failed to qualify.
It all suggests that winning the China Open can seriously damage your Crucible health – so the way sport goes, expect someone to completely confound that sequence this year.
Photograph by Monique Limbos