The Champion of Champions tournament has proved a big success for players, fans and broadcasters ITV since being revived two years ago after a 33-year absence from the calendar.
And the line-up received a significant tweak last week with the sensational debut title success of Kyren Wilson at the Shanghai Masters.
As things now stand a total of 15 tournament winners are guaranteed a place having received invites for the 16-strong invited field.
Intriguingly though Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has made the event and Coventry’s Ricoh Arena his own personal fiefdom by winning both recent stagings, had not yet confirmed his participation as of last week and returned a signed contract at the time of writing – the only invited player not to do so.
Presumably Matchroom, who run this tournament, will have needed a definitive ‘yeah or nay’ very soon for the draw, ticket sales and marketing reasons and there will be a deadline looming.
O’Sullivan did tweet in September: “Heard a rumour going around I am playing the Champion of Champions – not true.” But neither had he categorically told the organisers he was not playing.
And it is hard to know exactly when he will next be seen, as he contents himself on the snooker front with appearances in Snooker Legends exhibitions, on Essex radio station Phoenix FM, and his Eurosport TV show. If not in Coventry, then the UK Championship in York and the Masters must be favourites.
If the five-time world champion decides not to play at the Ricoh it could be good news for Mark Williams, edged out by Wilson’s heroics in Shanghai.
A pecking order has been drawn up by Matchroom, and the World Seniors is at the bottom of this heap. The major televised events come first, including more mystifyingly the Championship League; then the World Cup winners; then European Tour event winners, then Asian Tour winners.
With three qualifying events left for ‘new’ winners, if all 16 players are not filled by those then the field will be topped up with first Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (World Six Reds) and then Williams.
The only way Williams could now squeak in is if O’Sullivan doesn’t play and all three remaining events are won by players already qualified. While the Welshman would unquestionably prove a welcome addition, as a controversially ‘junior’ winner of the Seniors he could have few complaints.
If there was a winner of the International Championship not already qualified AND a winner of the Ruhr Open in the same position, the winner in Germany would miss out on a last-in, first-out policy of European Tour victors.
On a personal note I have found the Champions event a lot of fun to cover, despite a tricky timings format if you happen to be with the written press, with the two group games in afternoon and then the two winners in the evening, usually leaving no definitive result until after first edition deadlines.
But that is purely an observation rather than a criticism of a good event; put 16 top players on a one-table set-up on live TV with big money at stake, and the action and drama generally takes care of itself, and ITV have done a great job with it, with Neal Foulds and Alan McManus excelling in their roles.
And while I have never been a big one for grabbing memorabilia in 15 years covering the sport, primarily there with a job of work to do and busy tapping away when any trophy-hunting is going on, the Champions event did last season throw up one of only a couple in many years that caught the imagination.
When O’Sullivan opened up his golden envelope from sponsors Dafabet, supposedly with a £100,000 cheque inside after a brilliant final against Judd Trump, there was only a blank, folded sheet of white paper which with a glum look he tossed onto my desk in the media centre. The Rocket did, however, kindly then sign it. The ‘cheque’ has pride of place in the study at home, being rather closer to what I earnt to what O'Sullivan trousered that week.
All in all it was a very lively final-day Sunday in 2014, with Coventry City crashing out of the FA Cup that day upstairs in the stadium to Worcester City in the biggest shock of the round, requiring some multi-tasking and four football reports before the O’Sullivan/Trump finale. This year I expect all the drama to be on the snooker table.
The qualifiers for the Champion of Champions so far, in order of the events with which they qualified if multiple winners, is currently as follows together with seedings:
1. 2014 Champion of Champions (Nov) Ronnie O’Sullivan (1)
2. 2015 Masters (Jan) Shaun Murphy (2)
3. 2015 German Masters (Feb) Mark Selby (3)
4. 2015 Championship League (Feb) Stuart Bingham (4)
5. 2015 Welsh Open (Feb) John Higgins (5)
6. 2015 Indian Open (March) Michael White (6)
7. 2015 World Grand Prix (March) Judd Trump (7)
8. 2015 PTC Grand Final (March) Joe Perry (8)
9. 2015 Shanghai Masters (Sept) Kyren Wilson (9)
10/11. World Cup (June) Zhou Yuelong (10)
Yan Bingtao (11)
12. Lisbon Open (Dec) Stephen Maguire (12)
13. Gdynia Open (Feb) Neil Robertson (13)
14. Riga Open (July) Barry Hawkins (14)
15. Paul Hunter Classic (Aug) Ali Carter (15)
The three possible qualifying events remaining are:
Int Champ Oct 25-Nov 1
Ruhr Open II (Oct)
Asian Tour 2 (Oct 19-23)
If all 16 places not filled by the above, will be topped by (in order):
Six Reds World Championship (Sept) Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
World Seniors Championship (March) Mark Williams
Photograph courtesy of Monique Limbos