Next stop on the snooker tour is the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, which hosts the Champion of Champions invitational event from Monday afternoon. Paul Krishnamurty provides his usual analysis of the draw and four-pronged staking plan...
"Mark Allen has started the season strongly and is fancied to give the elite a serious run for their money, at last."
Although it will never be able to rival the history and prestige of snooker's triple crown, the revival of this non-ranking tournament after more than 30 years looks like another masterstroke from Barry Hearn. A field restricted to 16 and including all of the game's big-guns seems, rather like The Masters, geared to producing an elite winner and so it proved on last year's comeback renewal.
Back Ronnie O'Sullivan 12u @ 3.7511/4
Ronnie O'Sullivan justified favouritism with an exciting 10-8 defeat of Stuart Bingham in the final, and the pair again go head to head in the first round. While the latter is always respected, and went on to gain revenge soon after last year's encounter in the UK Championship, Ronnie's 8-2 career head-to-head record must be seen as an obvious clue.
While Ronnie was some way off his best in China last week, he should have benefited from match practice and will take plenty of beating here. If he beats Bingham again, then Shaun Murphy or Marco Fu await in the quarters. Again neither showed peak form in China and the way O'Sullivan has repeatedly dominated Murphy, leading 9-2 throughout their careers, is an ominous stat.
Back Barry Hawkins 2u @ 25.024/1
Only two of the quartet in Group 4, (in effect the second quarter), make any appeal and given the head-to-head history between Barry Hawkins and Ding Junhui, backing the former at these odds is a no-brainer. They are tied 6-6, but Hawkins has fared better in the bigger events like the World Championship. Moreover, Ding has yet to recapture last season's record-breaking form.
Before they are scheduled to meet in the group final, they will have to respectively negotiate John Higgins and Dominic Dale. For my money Higgins is basically finished at this level yet, due to his reputation, still prohibitively priced. The evergreen Dale, however, could well give Ding a run for his money.
Back Mark Allen 4u @ 15.014/1
Group 3 is the strongest section on paper, containing four perfectly realistic winners. None would be more popular than Ali Carter, following his successful battle against cancer, and 'The Captain' is certainly not out of it. He plays Neil Robertson first up, with the Aussie is looking strangely vulnerable at the moment. Joe Swail last week became the latest journeyman to beat Robbo, who has rarely lost to much lesser players in recent years.
So far as finding the outright winner is concerned, though, I'm more interested in the other group match. Ricky Walden and Mark Allen square up in a repeat of Sunday's International final, and I'm backing the latter to gain immediate revenge. Again, these two are 7-7 apiece throughout their careers, but Allen has considerably greater potential. He's started the season strongly and is fancied to give the elite a serious run for their money, at last.
Back Mark Selby 7u @ 8.07/1
Finally a very straightforward selection. Mark Selby has been given the dream first round draw of Steve Davis, which means he can probably get away with being rusty after a break. After that the tournament becomes best of 11, and we know from his amazing Masters record that Selby prefers the longer matches.
While he's probably cruising through, his two group opponents will be hard to separate. It's anyone's guess whether Judd Trump will bring his A-game to Coventry or anything like it, but he never represents betting value. In contrast, Stephen Maguire is a tempting proposition both for tomorrow's match and at around 28.027/1 on the outright.