With the inaugural European Masters set to get underway tomorrow morning in Romania, you might be expecting to read my usual in-depth preview of what the tournament might have in store for us over the next seven days.
With a packed month ahead on the World Snooker Tour however, today I will instead take a broader look at the event, together with the English Open and International Championship competitions, which will culminate in the final seeding list for the UK Championship and Northern Ireland Open.
I also flag up the key world ladies, disability and billiards events to be staged during a month packed with snooker and billiards…
First up will be the aforementioned European Masters, the first ever ranking event snooker tournament to be held in Romania from Bucharest’s Circul Globus venue. The event was originally set to see 128 players make the trip to the venue, before the decision was taken to hold two qualifying rounds, which took place just days ago at Preston’s Guild Hall.
In terms of the field, 11 of the top 16 have made successfully made it through, Stuart Bingham and Ding Junhui the highest ranked absentees, together with Joe Perry, Kyren Wilson and Mark Williams. Both world number one Mark Selby and five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan won their opening qualifier, with their second round matches held over to the venue at the request of the promoter.
Away from the familiar names in the draw, players to watch include Scott Donaldson, who came close to knocking out eventual champion Ding in Shanghai, before managing to defeat former world champion Bingham to qualify for this event, while 16-year-old World Cup winner Yan Bingtao also impressed with qualifying victories against Tian Pengfei and the tour’s newest father Ian Burns. Michael Wild and Rhys Clark also deserve mention, Wild coming back from 3-0 down against Jamie Jones to book his flight to Romania.
As with the qualifiers, the format will see matches played over the best of seven frames, up to and including the quarter-finals, before increasing to the best of 11 for the one-table semi-finals stage and culminating in a best of 17 frames final.
Following the conclusion of play in a week’s time, there will be no rest for the tour as the action rolls straight on to Manchester for the first event of the new Home Nations series, the English Open. Players will be looking to not only claim the Steve Davis Trophy, but also complete the first leg of a four-tournament series that could earn somebody an incredible £1,000,000 bonus if they are able to capture all four titles.
This event will see 128 players straight into the Event City venue, which most recently hosted the Players Championship won by Mark Allen back in March and there will be a near-full compliment of professional players, only seven of the 129 main tour players having not entered.
From two tables in Romania, there will be eight in Manchester, with 64 first-round matches to be held over the first two days, followed by a complete round each day until the final on Sunday 16th October 2016. As at the Welsh Open, which will be the final event of the Home Series next year, the format will see matches played initially over the best of seven frames, increasing to the best of nine for the quarter-finals, best of 11 for the semi-finals and the best of 17 for the final.
In terms of the draw, the event will be the first to adopt a brand new format which sees the top 16 seeds placed in the draw, with the remaining 112 drawn completely at random. This is why for example 11th seed Joe Perry can play 24th seed Matt Selt in the very first round, while 15th seed Kyren Wilson plays amateur Wayne Townsend. It will be interesting to see as the event progresses whether this will result in a few sections opening up for some of the lower ranked players and whether we have a few more contests between the big hitters in the opening rounds.
As ever with 64 matches to be played early on over a sprint format, it is difficult to pick out individual matches but some to stand out include Ronnie O’Sullivan against the steadily improving Jimmy Robertson and the in-form Ali Carter against Luca Brecel. On paper, Alan McManus and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh are also very closely matched in terms of ranking and with neither having won a match this week in Preston, one is guaranteed a return to winning ways.
Finally, the match between Lee Walker and Aditya Mehta is one of a few that might be a little below the radar, but involves two players whose results are on an upward curve and could turn out to be particularly hard-fought.
Following a week’s break after Manchester, the month will then be rounded off by the tour’s return to Daqing, as the city prepares to stage the venue stages of the International Championship for the second time following John Higgins’ victory in 2015.
Again, qualifiers were held across three days in Preston earlier this week, with just Mark Allen and Barry Hawkins falling of the top 16 players, while Kyren Wilson elected not to enter the competition. Four last 128 matches have been held over to the venue, involving defending champion Higgins, reigning world champion Mark Selby and home favourites Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo.
Since its introduction to the calendar back in 2012, the International Championship has become one of the most popular events on the calendar, with its longer format best of 11 frames matches (not to mention best of 17 frames semi-finals) and impressive prize fund more than enough to grab the attention of fans and players alike. Although the cut-off date to qualify for events such as the World Grand Prix and Players Championship might still be a long way off, only the UK Championship boasts a larger prize fund than the competition beforehand and so a strong performance at the event could prove to be crucial.
More immediately in respect of rankings, the final list following the tournament will also be used to determine the seedings for Northern Ireland and also the UK Championship, with a good run potentially making life easier at those events, in theory at least.
With the exception of next month’s China Championship, these three events also offer the final chances for players not yet qualified to make it the Champion of Champions tournament at the Ricoh Arena. For the latest on the Race to the Ricoh, read my most recent update blog.
WLBS, WDBS and WBL Events
If the October wasn’t set to be busy enough, there will also be key events staged by the WLBS, WDBS and WBL during the course of the month.
First up will be the second event of the 2016/17 WLBS Women’s World Ranking Series, as the field heads to Leeds for the LITEtask UK Ladies Championship. The title was won last year by Hong Kong’s Ng On Yee, who will be looking to maintain her 100% start to this season following her victory at the Paul Hunter Ladies Classic in August. The event will take place from 8-9 October 2016 at the Northern Snooker Centre, Leeds.
Just days later it will be the turn of the WDBS, with the 2016 Open Disability Snooker Championship to be held at Gloucester’s South West Snooker Academy. The event will be the fourth event to be staged by World Disability Billiards and Snooker, with a record number of entries already guaranteed.
Finally, the month will also see this year’s World Billiards Championship take place at the Northern Snooker Centre from 14-26 October 2016. More information can be found at their website.
I will be at all three events, with updates and media to follow here at WPBSA.com and our social media channels, together with updates from each of the World Snooker events.