The Shanghai Masters qualifiers start tonight with two preliminary round matches before the bulk of the action gets underway tomorrow.
Qualifying from round one is like swimming through glue: long, difficult and improbable.
However, Dave Gilbert proved it can be done by making it to the final stages of the Australian Goldfields Open.
Every player on the circuit has started in the first qualifying round at the beginning of their careers. The best make it to the top 16 so that they don’t have to qualify – whatever the system.
But I think it’s true to say that the circuit is much more competitive now because the increase in playing opportunities has led to more players who are match sharp. You have to play well from pretty much frame one of each match to make it out of the Sheffield quagmire.
And make no mistake: players this week will play really well and still not qualify.
Most of the qualifiers for the Australian Open were experienced players of several years standing. The young guns barely got a look in.
I’ve found over the years that the new, young players very often – whether they realise it or not – underestimate the older guard.
Maybe this is natural youthful arrogance: that old bloke can’t be much good, certainly not as good as me.
But the players often dismissed rather disparagingly as ‘journeymen’ are in fact hard as nails competitors, skilled in survival.
They may not necessarily excel in the main arenas but have the table-craft and experience to teach some of these young whippersnappers a green baize lesson.
The qualifiers are a kind of snooker apprenticeship. It’s where you really learn the game at the professional level, not just on the table but the psychological dimensions that affect your thinking and confidence.
Learning takes time, however much skill you have. But the cream will eventually rise to the top.
You can follow the qualifiers on worldsnooker.com and on the excellent WWWsnooker.