Professional Snooker - 2017 China Open Qualifying
24th-27th January 2017 / Preston Guild Hall, England
BEIJING VIA PRESTON - 2017 CHINA OPEN QUALIFYING PREVIEW
Just a quick reminder that the first ranking event action of 2017 begins tomorrow in Preston with the Qualifying Round for March's China Open.
In contrast to the recently completed one table, invitational Masters last week, the Guild Hall plays host to 120 players with six tables all in operation at once.
The China Open itself has become one of the most established tournaments on the professional circuit. Only the 'Triple Crown' events and the Welsh Open have longer histories than this which are currently still active on the calendar.
Played just before the World Championship, though, I feel the prestige of the final stages is taken away a bit with the main focus of the Crucible (and its qualifiers) just around the corner. History also suggests that winning in Beijing actually somewhat hinders a World Title bid, with no one ever managing to go back-to-back.
However, with £85,000 at stake to the champion, and the chance of a (another) major ranking title to the name, this is a very special competition to win.
As with other Chinese events, the World Champion (Selby), Defending Champion (Trump) and the top two home players (Ding & Liang) all have their Last 128 matches heldover to the venue.
In recent years, with possibly the Worlds in mind, the tournament has seen a couple of big name non-entries and withdrawals. This year, Neil Robertson and Mark Allen (too late with his entry?) from the Top 16 are absent (at the time of writing).
Surprisingly, Ronnie O'Sullivan is set to feature - his first appearance in this since 2012. The Seven-Time Masters Champion will face James Cahill on Thursday evening.
Stuart Bingham, the highest ranked player in action, takes on veteran James Wattana, whilst John Higgins plays Darryl Hill. Masters Finalist Joe Perry faces David John.
One of the ties of the round sees Mark Williams (the only 3 time winner of this title) challenged by young Chinese prospect Zhao Xintong. Jimmy White looks to continue his good form when he meets Sam Baird.