Following a month that has seen the sport’s biggest invitational event played out at the Alexandra Palace, ranking event snooker returns to our screens a week on Wednesday with the venues stages of the 2016 German Masters in Berlin.
Of course as regular readers of my blog and indeed followers of snooker will be aware, we are now entering the stage of the season where various ranking battles and event qualification races come to a head.
One such race is that to grab one of the 32 spots at the second World Grand Prix in Llandudno, with just three ranking events to be completed before the all-important cut-off point.
Already important last season, the World Grand Prix takes on greater prestige this year, the event having been upgraded from non-ranking, to full-ranking event status.
This means that those who qualify will be guaranteed to add a minimum of £2,500 to their world rankings and with players battling for both tour and places at the Crucible during the next couple of months, this could prove crucial…
- Click here to view the latest race to the World Grand Prix
Similar to last season, the top 32 players on a one-year ranking list will qualify to play at the 2016 World Grand Prix.
All prize money earned from last June’s Australian Goldfields Open, up to and including the 2016 Gdynia Open which concludes on 28 February, will be included.
This means that at the time of writing, the German Masters, BetVictor Welsh Open and Gdynia Open are the final three counting events towards qualification.
For the avoidance of doubt, this does not include prize money won from invitational events, for tournament high breaks, or maximum breaks.
There are seven players currently ranked inside the world’s top 32 on the official two-year ranking list, who as it stands would fail to qualify for the World Grand Prix.
Leading them is recent Dafabet Masters winner Ronnie O’Sullivan, who of course has already lost in qualifying for the German Masters and has chosen not to enter the Gdynia Open.
With the prize money earned from his Masters victory not counting towards qualification, he will need to reach at least the final of the BetVictor Welsh Open, more likely win the event, if he is to make it to Llandudno, where of course he reached the final in 2015.
Also struggling to qualify from the top 16 after a difficult season to date is Ricky Walden, who again will not be travelling to Berlin.
Further down the list, Robert Milkins, Mark Davis (though he is next placed in 33rd currently) and Scottish trio Graeme Dott, Alan McManus and Anthony McGill are also set to miss out unless they are able to earn big money at one of the upcoming three events.
Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham were both in danger of missing out prior to my look at this list in November, but their runs to victory at the Betway UK Championship and Gibraltar Open semi-finals respectively look to have secured both their positions.
With seven currently set to miss out, there are of course seven ‘lower ranked’ players currently in line to take their places and these include Asian duo Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Tian Pengfei, both of whom have shone so far this season.
Ruhr Open winner Rory McLeod also occupies one of the 32 spots at present, but having struggled for results since that victory has slipped down to 31st and is far from certain of qualification.
More secure however is Betway UK Championship semi-finalist David Grace, who has come from nowhere to claim what is currently 15th place in the race to Llandudno.
Riga Open runner-up Tom Ford is another who is currently in position to qualify, together with Luca Brecel and Mike Dunn.
Of course there is still time for things to change, however the bigger money events have now largely been concluded and so it would take a strong run somewhere from one of the players currently outside of the bracket to make a significant move.
Last season, £42,083 was enough for Michael Holt to take the final qualifying space, however with three fewer counting full-ranking events in 2015/16, it might be that a season total of closer to £30,000-£35,000 by the close of play in Gdynia will be sufficient this time.
The bar is currently set at £26,950 by 32nd placed Mike Dunn.