For the last three years, two considerations have superceded all others when weighing up snooker's three major championships. First, is Ronnie O'Sullivan playing? Second if he is, is there anyone in his section of the draw or indeed at all likely to compete with, let alone beat him?
As the first of this season's triple crown gets underway in York this week, the answer to the first is good news. Fresh from defending his Champion of Champions title, Ronnie begins his bid for a fifth UK Championship title on Thursday against Daniel Wells, at the rather prohibitive odds of 1.051/20.
Regarding the likelihood of him failing to win, defeat in the World Championship final and a failure to land this title since 2007 show he is not invincible. Nevertheless, all of Ronnie's recent performances on the stages that matter most to him suggest that odds of 3.55/2 about him winning the title represent a solid value bet.
Just recall O'Sullivan's achievements last season. So far as the top titles are concerned, he won three from five attempts, losing only to Mark Selby 18-14 in the World Championship final and Stuart Bingham 6-4 in a classic quarter-final here last year. In landing the Welsh Open, he won by a frame aggregate of 36-10. His 28-7 margin at The Masters was even better. At times it was literally perfect snooker.
Ronnie looked set to keep that amazing run in Sheffield until literally the final day. From looking home and hosed with a 10-5 lead and trading below 1.11/10, he fell prey to Selby's remarkable comeback powers.
However even in defeat, his generous response to a rival with whom there was no love lost, offered further evidence that O'Sullivan is a reformed character. In the last three years, he's transformed from being an unreliable, troubled genius to the ultimate pro with the perfect temperament. In all bar three matches during last year's majors, he indeed looked invincible.
The turning point came in the 2012 German Masters. Staring defeat in his first round match against Andrew Higginson, Ronnie looked set to drop out of the world's top-16 and face the humiliation of having to qualify for the World Championship. He fought back to nick that match 5-4, then produced another sterling comeback in the final against Stephen Maguire.
Having secured a Crucible place, he then went on to win a third world title but then shocked the world by announcing indefinite retirement. While many felt he had no love for the game and would never return, a remarkable comeback defence of his title without a warm-up, again winning every match comfortably, further enshrined his legendary status.
Whereas previously it would have been hard to justify a case for him being the greatest ever ahead of Stephen Hendry, even Hendry agrees now. The 'new' Ronnie is balanced, serene and visibly determined. Witness his fist pumping after resisting a Judd Trump fightback last time or overhauling a deficit against Joe Perry at The Crucible. In the past, he never seemed that bothered about winning!
So long as he continues to defy the ageing process, odds of 3.55/2 are simply too big. At York, it's hard to see him failing to reach the semis, if the seedings correctly measure his biggest dangers. Ronnie has beaten Barry Hawkins in their last eight encounters, while John Higgins is well past his best.
After that, one could never write off the threat from the likes of Neil Robertson, Ding, Selby or Trump, but at the last-four stage he'd be nowhere near these odds. The best plan is to get on now, watch Ronnie cruise into the semis and re-assess if necessary. He's normally odds-on by that stage.
Back Ronnie O'Sullivan 12u @ 3.55/2