Top seed Allen is well-drawn
Carter to maintain good form
Murphy looks on verge of a title
The top-16 players on the one year ranking list set out in pursuit of a £125,000 first prize tonight, at the Players Championship in Wolverhampton. Those who have not been following the scramble for a place may be surprised by the line-up.
Several big-guns failed to qualify
Absent from this field are Ronnie O'Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Mark Williams and John Higgins. Four out of the top-seven in the World Championship betting. Furthermore, several leading contenders are matched against one another in the opening round. Following Robert Milkins' victory in Wales, this looks ripe for another surprise winner.
Mark Allen has earned over three times more than anyone else this season and takes the number one seeding. Odds of 7.413/2 in such a weakened field are perfectly reasonable, especially from this draw.
Allen forgiven one poor performance
The Northern Irishman starts out against Joe O'Connor, whom he has beaten on all three of their previous encounters. To be fair, this is no certainty - the last was by a single frame margin and they both reached the same quarter-finals stage in Wales as Allen. Nevertheless, he's entitled to start strong favourite.
Luca Brecel or Jack Lisowski present a sterner test in the last-eight but I'd still favour the reformed, improved, safety-conscious Allen against either of these open players. Friday's poor performance in defeat to Milkins came out of nowhere as he'd previously looked as likely a winner as any in Wales.
Carter good value against Trump
If making it to the semis, Allen's likeliest opponent is Judd Trump. Again, a strong favourite to progress from a mini-section involving Milkins, Ali Carter and Tom Ford. However Trump is not all that reliable at the moment, as defeat to Daniel Wells last week demonstrated.
I would note Carter's head-to-head stats against this trio. Against Trump, a highly respectable 5-5. He leads Milkins 8-3 and Ford 4-0. He beat both en route to that German Masters title, thrashing Ford in the final.
On very recent form, Milkins and Carter warrant serious consideration, but it is surely asking too much for the former to win back-to-back. If Carter beats Trump, this draw may well open up to his advantage. 20/1 appeals from an each-way perspective.
Yuelong overdue a breakthrough title
The third quarter looks similarly open. Ding Junhui and Kyren Wilson are the two favourites, but neither is reliable. The alternatives, Gary Wilson and Zhou Yuelong, have respectively won and lost ranking finals this term.
Gary is hard to fancy based on anything he's done since the English Open. Ding lost 4-0 to compatriot Cao Yupeng last week. Kyren has been very disappointing by his standards, showing nothing like the heavy scoring of last season.
Set against those question marks about his rivals, 28/1 looks pretty generous about Yuelong. His form has also gone off the boil since a strong start to the season but that is reflected in these odds.
Even before Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong were banned, many believed with good reason that Zhou would ultimately prove their superior. He was overwhelmed in both ranking final appearances, perhaps betraying a lack of belief, but he definitely belongs in this company. In this weaker field, this could be the week he breaks through.
Murphy looks a winner-in-waiting
Without doubt, the best first round match is Mark Selby versus Shaun Murphy. Whoever wins will start a strong favourite against either Ryan Day or Chris Wakelin in the quarter-finals and may become tournament favourite. I think whoever wins this will reach the final.
I'm opting for Murphy to bounce back from yesterday's defeat in the final. Earlier in the tournament, 'The Magician' was in genuinely magical form. We've seen this several times in recent months, only for Shaun to blow tournaments with one poor performance.
The negative is a 17-12 head-to-head deficit with Selby, with the Jester dominating in big matches. When they met in December, Selby produced a trademark comeback to nick it 4-3. However on very recent form, Murphy has the edge.
*Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty