In this busy week of snooker, the UK Championship qualifiers at the South West Academy in Gloucester take centre stage.
Already putting in the hours has been Ian McCulloch, who has won his first two matches in tight finishes, first edging Luca Brecel 6-5 on the black (after getting a snooker on the pink) and then making an 86 break in the decider yesterday against James Wattana. His reward is a meeting today with Steve Davis.
Ian has always been a grafter, a heavy practiser and it is possibly all this effort that has led him to have neck problems which have seriously affected his form.
He always seemed to play well on TV and reached two ranking finals and the 2005 World Championship semi-finals.
This got him into the top 16 for the first time but Shaun Murphy’s capture of the title wasn’t enough to push Murphy into the elite group and, as the world champion is automatically seeded second in major tournaments, it effectively pushed McCulloch down to 17th.
This was rotten luck as he missed out on the benefits of being a top 16 seed: namely not having to pre-qualify for the final stages.
But he has always been industrious off the table. He does some broadcasting work and playing snooker is no longer everything to him, so although his main tour place is under threat he has other things to fall back on.
Davis of course is back in action just two days after his defeat to Darren Morgan in the World Seniors Championship final.
Steve is playing some good stuff this season. He seems to be really enjoying it again and making a big effort to maintain his pro status. In fact, he said last week he wants to play into his 60s, like his namesake Fred.
Davis won the first of his six UK titles 31 years ago when it was a non-ranking tournament. He was in every UK final bar two in the 1980s.
As a callow youth, I remember being particularly excited by the 1990 final he contested with Stephen Hendry at Preston Guild Hall, which went to a deciding frame.
In those days it was played over two days and 31 frames, so there was plenty of time for the momentum to shift. Davis led 15-14 but Hendry made a typically brave dish in the 30th frame and won the decider.
Hendry was already world champion at this point but the match was in some way symptomatic of the changing of the guard at the top of the game: the Davis years over, the Hendry era beginning.
Of course Hendry himself will be in action tomorrow, against Gerard Greene or Jimmy Robertson.
The only upside for viewers of him not qualifying is that he will be heard on BBC commentary, which he will be doing much more of this season. Of course, this won’t be any consolation to Hendry himself.
Elsewhere in the draw, it seems the Chinese contingent is quietly making progress this season. There is a bunch of them playing today: Tian Pengfei, Cao Yupeng, Li Yan and Xiao Guodong, as well as Liang Wenbo.
The qualifiers are hard, nervy and difficult to enjoy. It’s just about getting through, and the standard of snooker is such that you can play really well and still lose.
For this reason, good luck to all involved.