The Betfred.com World Championship qualifiers get underway in Sheffield today, a few miles from the Crucible but, in a snooker sense, light years away from the game’s theatre of dreams.
Only 16 players are going to make it through the qualifying quagmire as legends of the sport join seasoned campaigners and new faces in trying to make it.
It’s always a nervy couple of weeks. It means so much to get to the Crucible.
There are many players at the qualifiers who have already played in the TV stages and just as many who have not.
But who is going to make it this year?
Obviously, the players seeded 17-32 are at an advantage in only having to play one match, but this won’t lessen the anxiety they feel.
There are several players in this bracket having good campaigns. Peter Ebdon has just won the China Open, although in the past tournament wins seem to have taken quite a bit out of him (when he won the China title three years ago he immediately lost in the first round at the Crucible).
Ebdon will play Sam Baird, David Grace, Alfie Burden or Jack Lisowski, all younger attacking players.
Lisowski suffered a disappointing reverse to Steve Davis on his World Championship debut last year. He has found it difficult this campaign to adjust to building on the great start he made last season.
I think Jack will be fine eventually, but if he does come through to play Ebdon it will be very tough.
Stephen Hendry is in the world qualifiers for the first time in 24 years but has only lost one qualifier all season and, over 19 frames, is going to be hard to beat.
Hendry still beats most players ranked below him, just not many ranked above him. He faces Yu Delu, Michael White or Matt Selt, all three of whom could pose him problems. Hendry, though, will be more determined than at any point this season. He has played at the last 26 Crucibles, a proud record he wants to continue.
Ken Doherty, who beat Hendry in the 1997 final, has done little of note since reaching the Australian Open semi-finals last July. He could well play an Anthony, McGill or Hamilton, in the final qualifying round.
Steve Davis and Jimmy White, the two oldest players on the circuit, each have to win two matches to qualify.
White could play Liu Chuang, who beat him 10-9 last year, before Jamie Cope in the last round. Davis could play Ben Woollaston, who is having a good season, to meet Dominic Dale.
But who is going to make it? And more particularly, who will be the surprise names who come through this year?
For the last couple of season’s we’ve had the likes of Zhang Anda and Andrew Pagett come through the pack. Of course, shock qualifiers wouldn’t be shock qualifiers if they could be predicted, but that needn't stop us trying. In years past, several unheralded players have made it. Remember Spencer Dunn? Or John Giles? Or Paul Cavney?
The Chinese contingent is quietly improving so maybe one of them can go the whole way. Tian Pengfei is a player who seems better than his world ranking and Li Yan has already qualified for this season’s UK Championship.
Kurt Maflin plays the sort of attacking game in which he doesn’t expend as much mental energy as some of the more methodical players.
Sam Craigie has produced some good results this season and Adam Duffy, who lives close to Sheffield, also has potential.
Who knows? The fun, for the fans anyway, is in the finding out.
The action starts today with the WPBSA non-tour members round, always a bit of a slog. John Parrott is the star name featuring here.
Ludicrously, there is only one match tomorrow, and that’s assuming Igor Figueiredo turns up, so the main action starts on Saturday with the last 96 round.
Good luck to all the players involved. This is like a school exam, driving test and trip to the dentist rolled into one.
There will be disappointment for many and joy for some. There will great drama along the way.