As always, the defending champion will kick off proceedings at the Crucible Theatre on Saturday morning, with Ronnie O'Sullivan starting his bid to emulate Stephen Hendry's seven world titles.
Ronnie to start with stress-free win
His draw, frankly, could have been a lot worse. Mark Joyce qualified at the 18th attempt after coming through a weak section. A shock is highly unlikely but he's experienced and has enough craft to avoid humiliation. I think we'll get a decent run from combining a couple of correct scores - 10-5 and 10-6.
The other frontline contender in action is Neil Robertson, who starts against the same opponent as last year. He's now beaten Liang Wenbo five times on the spin, dating back eight years.
Nobody arrives in better form following his Tour Championship win and I can see Robbo hitting the ground running - he's done so on several occasions at the Crucible before only to flop in the second week - but the handicap lines for this match offer little value. Swerve it in favour of alternatives.
Gould to trouble Bingtao
Upsets are far more plausible in the other three matches. The other morning match looks an absolute cracker with the Masters champion taking on one of the strongest qualifiers. Martin Gould produced one of the best first round performances here last year and played well in qualifying.
The 'Pinner Potter' scored heavily in the previous round, hitting four 80+ breaks. He's long been one to follow on a hot streak and perfectly capable of matching Yan, who isn't a prolific ton-maker, in the break-building department. Try 23-10 about Gould hitting more centuries.
Jones set for another Crucible run
The qualifier most fancied to go on a run is Jamie Jones, who reached the quarter-finals in 2012 and beat Shaun Murphy on his last Crucible visit in 2018. The Welshman is resurgent after a strong comeback season and has a promising early draw. He starts against a frequent underperformer in this championship in Stephen Maguire.
Rather than taking 6/4 about the upset, though, I prefer 11/10 about Jones to win the +1.5 Handicap as it covers the 10-9 loss. 6/5 about Over 2.5 Centuries is fair too. Jones is no slouch in that department and Maguire often hits tons even when otherwise playing badly.
Gilbert to go to the wire again
Finally, a match that has 10-9 either way written all over it. On the basis of their respective form over recent years, David Gilbert would be a shoe-in against Chris Wakelin but I doubt this will turn out one-sided.
Wakelin turned around a terrible season with excellent wins over Matthew Stevens and Xiao Guodong to get here. He took Judd Trump to a decider at the Crucible in this round three years ago.
Gilbert meanwhile has endured a poor season and has openly struggled with the Covid lockdown. He lost in the first round last year and urgently needs to progress for ranking purposes. Expect this to be close, and nervy, with more than 16.5 Frames.
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