I first went to Shanghai in 1999. The China International, as the tournament was then known, featured four Scottish semi-finalists for the first time in a world ranking event.
John Higgins beat Alan McManus and Billy Snaddon, a top bloke whose form hit a downward spiral soon afterwards, beat Stephen Hendry. Higgins beat Snaddon to win the title.
Snaddon and even Hendry have departed the stage. McManus has had a good season so far but hasn’t qualified for the Shanghai Masters, which starts on Monday.
Higgins’s form this season has been poor, possibly because he has barely played. He beat Mark Allen in the Premier League last night despite a well below par performance.
In some ways, this will give him satisfaction. If you can still win despite not being close to your best then it speaks to your fighting qualities. Mark Williams often did this when he was world no.1 whereas other top players seem to go to pieces when things aren’t working out.
But Higgins’s long game was non-existent last night and he will have to play a lot better to win the title in Shanghai, as he did 13 years ago.
His quarter includes a rematch of last season’s China Open final between Stephen Maguire and Peter Ebdon, which Ebdon won 10-9 after a right old slog. Ebdon’s form and confidence has returned just when he seemed to be in some decline. He puts this down to his vegan diet and this month is eating only raw food.
Maguire has won a PTC but it is these major ranking events that the top players really want to do well in.
Mark Selby is defending champion and meets Jamie Cope in the first round. The last two times they have played in China, Selby has won 5-0.
His quarter includes Shaun Murphy, who faces the inaugural Shanghai champion, Dominic Dale, as well as Ding Junhui, whose only real success in his home country seems to come in the China Open in Beijing. Stuart Bingham, whose will-play-anywhere attitude is to his credit, also makes this a tough little quarter.
Judd Trump, the second seed, faces a potentially tricky opener against Barry Hawkins, who won the last full ranking title, the Australian Open. It doesn’t get any easier after that: Mark Allen or Marco Fu (if Fu beats the wild card).
The other quarter features Williams, Wuxi Classic champion Ricky Walden, Matthew Stevens and Neil Robertson. The Australian has a poor record in China by his own high standards. The law of averages would suggest this has to end at some point.
The dreaded wild card round is almost certain to send some of the qualifiers packing before the tournament proper has begun.
Steve Davis, 55, faces a 16 year-old, Zhu Yinghui, for whom the great man’s record of achievement will be largely irrelevant.
Jamie Jones, looking to kick-start his season after a disappointing time since his run to the Crucible quarter-finals, meets Lu Ning, who beat him in the China Open last season.
Shanghai is a great city. There’s lots to see for anyone minded to leave the tournament hotel. This tournaments starts with a red carpet parade, which you don’t get in, say, Newport.
There’s also a first prize of £75,000. That first time I went there it was £42,000.
It ended, as I recall, with a drunken singsong which resulted in me forgetting to retrieve Michael Holt’s shoes from reception after he’d left them behind, something for which he still hasn’t forgiven me.
We’ve drifted a little from eye-watering analysis of the runners and riders for the title, but that’s the point: these days there are so many players who fancy their chances.
The winners’ circle is widening all the time, which should guarantee an entertaining week’s snooker at the Grand Stage.