It is only six weeks until the World Championship but there are still three ranking events to be played and the first of them starts on Monday in Haikou, China.
The World Open carries a first prize of £85,000 and features 64 players, plus four Chinese wildcards.
Mark Allen has won the Haikou title for each of the last two years and could do with a good run again after some disappointing results of late. With points from his 2012 World Open triumph coming off, Allen is in a battle to retain his top 16 seeding for the Crucible.
He starts out on Monday against Mike Dunn in one of the TV matches and it could be that happy memories of the tournament will provide the spur he needs.
Among the first round matches are Shaun Murphy against Jimmy White and Stuart Bingham, fresh from his victory in Asian Tour event four, against another snooker legend, Steve Davis.
White and Davis are each trying to keep their tour cards and need every pound they can earn before the end of the season, when the rankings revert to prize money. White is currently 60th on this list and Davis 63rd, with the top 64 staying on.
Neil Robertson has been very consistent all season but his best form came earlier in the campaign. Since he won the UK Championship in December the world no.1 has not been quite as impressive, although this is judging him by very high standards.
Robertson starts out against Jamie Jones, a player who has gone largely off the radar since reaching the quarter-finals of the 2012 World Championship.
Mark Selby is still searching for his first major title since winning the 2012 UK Championship. His first round opponent is the experienced Anthony Hamilton.
Judd Trump headed to Haikou boosted by having won the Championship League. Snooker is a confidence game and any title is a fillip, so Trump will be feeling good ahead of his last 64 encounter with Sanderson Lam or Chen Zifan – an amateur versus a wildcard in a professional ranking tournament.
Haikou is not the easiest place to get to and last year several cues went missing on a local connecting flight. It isn’t cheap either, and those losing in the last 64 round might well reflect they’d have been better off – certainly financially – playing this round in the UK.
Crowds weren’t great last year, due largely to absurdly high ticket prices. With even more tables this year what crowds there are will be spread even more thinly. The problem with big venues is that if they aren’t full there is a distinct lack of atmosphere. Haikou is on an island and not in a hugely populous area so spectator numbers were never going to be high, and the ticket prices haven’t helped change this.
ITV4 televised the event in the UK last season but the ratings weren’t anything special and they aren’t showing it again. Thankfully Eurosport’s commitment to the sport is more substantial. Their coverage starts at 6am UK time on Monday.
This is an exceptionally busy time, not just in terms of actual playing but travelling as well. With the PTC finals being moved to Preston it means those players involved flying back to the UK from Haikou, then straight out to Beijing before returning for the game’s showpiece tournament.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, sitting out the two Chinese events, may well be forgiven for having a chuckle to himself as he prepares for the Crucible marathon, safe in the knowledge that his main rivals are in danger of tiring themselves out.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.