This Friday sees the start of the qualifiers for the Betfred.com World Championship.
Yes, it really has come round that quickly.
There are in effect two World Championships: the one everyone watches on TV or at the Crucible and the dogfight to get there. The latter can often be more interesting and more exciting.
To not be at the Crucible as part of the 32-man field for the televised phase is to end the season in disappointment. I’ve known players literally leave the country so as to avoid the 17-day marathon, although with increased global TV coverage this gets harder every year.
The Crucible, which has just been refurbished, holds an iconic place in the hearts of snooker players everywhere. To experience its unique atmosphere is a goal in itself. To win the title there is a lifetime’s ambition come true.
The first day of qualifying, staged at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, sees a few ghosts of Crucibles past return for the pre-main tour round.
These are professionals who remain WPBSA members, among them David Taylor, the ‘Silver Fox’ who was one of snooker’s best known faces in the 1980s.
Taylor, now 66, last played in the World Championship 13 years ago. He last played at the Crucible 23 years ago. He was a semi-finalist there 30 years ago.
Why enter this year? Well snooker is, as with all players, in his blood. He won’t qualify but his participation will please nostalgics.
Taylor faces Bournemouth’s Paul Wykes in the first round.
Les Dodd competed at the Crucible three times, the last of which was in 1994. A former slimmer of the year, Dodd is not quite as svelte as he once was but is back for another go and plays Philip Minchin on Friday.
Barry West was so set on becoming a professional snooker player that he didn’t bother to go and pick up his O Level results.
He played twice at the Crucible, in 1987 and 1988, losing first to Ray Reardon (the six times champion’s last ever victory in Sheffield) and then to Doug Mountjoy. West meets Christopher Flight this week.
Four non-main tour players will face off against James Wattana, Jordan Brown, Michael White and Brendan O’Donoghue until we get down to the last 96 proper.
The final qualifying round takes place from March 7-9.
If you’ve never been to watch, I heartily recommend it. I’m not saying there’s tension in the air but there’s more twitching than you’d find in Bill Oddie’s holiday snaps.
There are six tables and you can watch at least three at once from the back of the badminton hall.
And there are many star names in action, including former champions John Parrott, Ken Doherty, Steve Davis and Graeme Dott as well as six times runner-up Jimmy White, twice finalist Matthew Stevens and younger faces pushing for top 16 inclusion, notably Judd Trump, Liang Wenbo and Ricky Walden.
This isn’t the World Championship you will see at the Crucible and by the time April 17 comes along the qualifiers will be all but forgotten.
But if you like your snooker tense, dramatic and – for some – heartbreaking then the qualifying atmosphere is one to be sampled.
Details of how to buy tickets can be found here.