With the sport fast expanding worldwide, the snooker season is now effectively never-ending, but so far as prestige is concerned, nothing has changed. For players and fans alike, the tournaments that really matter remain the 'triple-crown' televised on the BBC - the World Championship, Betfair Masters and starting Saturday in York, the UK Championship.
Just like the other two, this is a tournament where the formbook repeatedly stands up. Of the winners since 1997, only Ding Junhui and Stephen Maguire hadn't previously played in a World Championship final, and they were both well-fancied nonetheless. There hasn't been a champion priced above [30.0] pre-tournament since the 1980s.
Back Judd Trump 10u @ [5.0]
Given those trends, there is plenty of mileage in backing the favourite and defending champion at [5.0]. Those odds may be a fraction of the [13.5] available 12 months ago, but by historical standards, Judd Trump isn't a particularly short price. Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis often started much shorter during their peak.
Few doubt the Juddernaut has the potential to emulate those snooker legends and it is a stone-cold certainty that pundits will make comparisons throughout the week. When they do, assuming Trump progresses through the early rounds, expect the betting public to get behind their new favourite.
The draw has been very kind to the 23-year-old, who will take the world of stopping before the final because his closest five rivals in betting terms are all in the other half of the draw. There are potentially tricky hurdles to clear in this quarter, such as Ali Carter, who defeated him at the World Championship, or the talented yet erratic Stephen Maguire. Nevertheless, Judd would rate a very strong favourite even against them, especially having earned two titles and a runners-up spot from his last three events.
Back Ricky Walden 1u @ [60.0]
The second quarter looks by far the most open, comprising of eight players that include three former world champions and a possible future one in Belgian teenager Luca Brecel, not to mention some dangerous alternatives. Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy are rated the likeliest to emerge, but while both are consistent, neither will terrify the opposition. Indeed, having defeated both en route to last year's semi, Ricky Walden should have no fears and the Chester man looks the best trading option at [60.0]. Though never known for his consistency, Walden is a class act on his day and has already won a ranking event playing top-notch snooker this year, at the Wuxi Classic.
Back John Higgins 6u @ [8.0]
Another significant beneficiary of this year's draw is three-times champion John Higgins, with only one serious rival standing between the Wizard of Wishaw and a ninth semi-final appearance. Last year's runner-up Mark Allen would represent a tough quarter-final opponent, but the controversial Northern Irishman must negotiate tricky tests against Marco Fu and possibly Matthew Stevens first. That pair are well capable of reaching the latter stages, yet unlikely to represent a serious challenge to a resurgent Higgins, who recently won the Shanghai Masters and PTC4, before losing to Trump in the Bulgaria final.
Neil Robertson 5u @ [9.4]
Finally, the quarter of death including three very plausible tournament winners - twice former champion Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby. Ding's draw is horrible, starting with the man who defeated him at the same stage of the World Championships, Ryan Day, followed by a probable last-16 encounter with Selby.
That imbalance alone strengthens the case for Robertson, who should have too much in the early rounds for the likes of Tom Ford and Barry Hawkins before having to worry about big-guns.
I suspect Robertson is still progressing and remains over-priced in these top events. Last year he brought his A-game to both the Masters and World Championship, defeating Trump en route to winning the former and only going down to a vintage Ronnie O'Sullivan performance at Sheffield.
The Melbourne Machine seems set to be Trump's closest rival over the long-term, with the pair already producing a series of classics in big-matches over the past 18 months. Trump won the latest renewal 10-8 in the final of the International Championship and it would be no surprise to see them square up for the trophy again next week.