First and foremost, happy new year to all of my readers, Twitter followers and everyone else involved in snooker.
Yesterday here at my WPBSA.com blog I took a look back at some of the most memorable moments in snooker from 2015, a list that you can look at again here.
Today though on the first day of the New Year it is time to look ahead to some of the themes to follow and events to look forward to during what promises to be an intriguing year in 2016…
Race to the Crucible
There can be only one place to start and that is with the Betfred World Championship, an event that always seems feel that much closer following the turn of the year, the venue stages just three and a half months away now.
Of course there will be plenty of intrigue before a ball is struck in Sheffield as the main tour players battle it out over the season’s remaining events to qualify automatically for the Crucible as a member of the world’s elite top 16.
Even for those comfortably ranked inside of the top 16, there will be interest in this battle as the top 16 will be seeded for the venue stages in accordance with their rankings following the China Open. For example the top seed (who we know will be defending champion Stuart Bingham), will be guaranteed to play the 16th seed in the second round, the second seed set to play 15th and so on.
As ever, once the Dafabet Masters has reached its conclusion and attention returns to the ranking event circuit, the race to the Crucible becomes arguably the most important theme to follow during the second half of the season.
No doubt that 2016 will prove to be no exception and you can take a look at the latest standings on that list here.
The Crucible curse
Once at the Crucible itself, attention turns to who will be emerge victorious and for a second successive year, whether the ‘Crucible Curse’ will be dispelled.
In 2015 of it was the turn of Mark Selby to fall victim to the so-called curse and this year Stuart Bingham will look to become the only first time world champion to successfully defend their title in Sheffield.
Can he do it?
Not only is the Betfred World Championship a hugely significant event in its own right, but it also represents the final and biggest opportunity for players to earn prize money in the race to stay on tour for the start of the 2016/17 season.
A reminder will follow of the various routes onto the tour in a subsequent blog post, but with each and every ranking event set to take on varying degrees of importance between now and the end of the season, expect regular updates to follow on this blog between now and May.
Battle for Number one – can Bingham do it?
While Mark Selby might enjoy a comfortable lead at the top of snooker’s world rankings as we enter 2016, there is a very real chance that Stuart Bingham could end the season as world number one for the first time in his career.
That is because with £300,000 set to be removed from his ranking total in May, following the expiration of his ‘points’ earned by winning the world title back in 2014, Selby is currently set to drop a few places down the rankings at the season’s end.
Of course with £330,000 available to the winner in Sheffield next year, any number of players could climb to top spot with the Crucible title and of course Selby himself will be one of the favourites to defend his prize money and remain there.
But the next twelve months could represent Stuart’s best chance to add another significant achievement to his CV.
Ok so it might not be the most high profile event on this list, but once again the Gdynia Open is set to be one of the year’s most significant for a large group of players, with no fewer than three significant ranking lists to be decided by results in Poland.
I have already mentioned the battle for main tour places and as ever, eight of those will be determined by the final standings on the European Order of Merit, which concludes following the Gdyinia Open.
Add to that the battles for places at the Players Championship and World Grand Prix, not to mention the EBSA Amateur Order of Merit and the importance of the season’s final European Tour event becomes clear.
The Home Series
Indeed not only does Gdynia mark the final event of this season’s Kreativ Dental European Tour, but it represents the final ever European Tour event before the calendar is restructured at the end of the season.
In part, this is due to the creation of the new Home Series events, first announced by World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn at the Crucible earlier this year.
Full details will be announced in due course, but with new events set to be held in Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester, joining the well-established Welsh Open in Cardiff, next season’s calendar promises to take on a very different look.
And as an extra incentive, if any player is able to win all four of those events during the same season, they will pocket an incredible £1,000,000 bonus.
Another new event in 2016 will be the new European Championship, which will become the first ranking event to be held in Romania and the dates of which were announced recently by World Snooker.
As with the Home Series, more details will follow in due course but it promises to be another strong addition to the snooker calendar.
Back to the Future
But it is not just all about new venues however as 2016 will see the return of professional snooker to both the Preston Guild Hall and the Hexagon in Reading, both locations with rich snooker history.
The former, which last hosted the 2014 Players Championship Grand Finals event won by Barry Hawkins, will stage the World Seniors Championship later this month, while the Hexagon will welcome 64 players for the Shoot Out just a fortnight later.
Those are just a few of the things that we have to look forward to on the snooker calendar during the next 12 months, indeed I have not even mentioned huge events such as the Dafabet Masters or Betway UK Championship.
What are you most looking forward to in 2016? Let me know on Twitter @prosnookerblog