Another week, another tournament, and the Welsh Open, sponsored by the Chinese branch of 888, is upon us.
This tournament has something going for it that most of the others we’ve already seen this season do not: a long history.
First held in 1992, it is 20 years old and has played host to some excellent snooker over these two decades, first in Newport, then in Cardiff and latterly back in Newport.
Wales has a snooker heritage which has produced several legends – Reardon, Griffiths and more recently Williams – and many other professionals and amateurs of distinction.
The Welsh Open has never attracted as much TV and sponsorship money as some of the other events but it's the same game with the same players and presents the same set of challenges.
Those who like to spend their time complaining about stuff will doubtless target the best of sevens.
Have fun with that but I won’t be joining in. It is hidebound thinking to believe best of nines should be the format for every tournament, the same thinking that got the game into a mess in the first place.
More significant than the length of matches is the environment in which they are played.
The best of sevens allow the whole tournament to be played on two televised tables. I’d rather this than have a table nobody outside Newport can watch.
The playing field is level and, whatever the format, this will favour the top players. Doing it when the pressure is on, when the attention is on, is what separates the best from the rest.
As if to prove this point, here are the eight quarter-finalists from last year after the best of seven stage was completed: John Higgins, Matthew Stevens, Ali Carter, Ding Junhui, Stephen Maguire, Mark Williams, Mark Selby and Graeme Dott.
Picking a winner is, as usual, a thankless task. There are so many players performing to a high standard and, just when one seems to have the momentum, another grabs it from them.
I was very impressed by Mark Allen’s general attitude at last week’s Championship League.
To an outsider who has never been to Crondon Park it may look like a bit of a knockabout but it’s actually very intensive snooker and Allen dug really deep to win group 6 as he regards playing in the Premier League as something to aim for.
I had a chat to him afterwards and he said his 3-2 defeat to Marco Fu in the winners’ group final two years ago is one of his biggest snooker disappointments.
So maybe Allen will be one to watch this week if he employs this same mindset.
A few legends made it through the qualifiers yesterday as Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty beat younger opponents.
These three between them won the first four Welsh Opens. Consider this too: when they played in the first in 1992, which Hendry won, not a single member of the current top 16 had turned professional.
What about Davis? You really can’t keep a good man down it would seem. To beat Ricky Walden, who has had a good season, is another result for the grand old man of snooker to celebrate.
Judd Trump plays naughty snooker but Davis’s brand of the game is clever snooker. With his vast knowledge he is still capable of competing and thus of getting results.
Like Davis, Hendry and Doherty enhance any tournament in which they play. What will be interesting for Hendry is whether he can start getting wins over players ranked higher than him, which he hasn’t done regularly for a while.
Neil Robertson of course represents a formidable first round opponent for the three times champion.
And what of Ronnie O’Sullivan? All sorts of obituaries about his career were being written before the German Masters but he responded in the most emphatic manner possible by winning the title.
His top 16 seeding for the Crucible is pretty much secure now barring something from out of leftfield but O’Sullivan has a tough first round encounter with Fu, a player who has beaten him eight times, not a feat most can boast.
Higgins is the defending champion. The Welsh title was one of many he swept up on a wave of intensity and emotion last season, which he has been unable to maintain this.
Selby is the world no.1, a proud place to be but also a position from where the only way is down.
Selby is looking for a good run in a tournament to build up some confidence having gone a little flat in the latter part of the season.
The same can be said of Ding, who was poor by his high standards in losing to Yu Delu in Berlin.
The qualifiers include the experienced – Peter Ebdon, Mark King, Andy Hicks, Fergal O’Brien – and a couple of faces new to audiences, such as Adam Wicheard and, in a match held over to the venue, Sam Baird.
So a week in Wales, with all the fascinations that ranking event snooker provides.
Hope everyone enjoys it.