For the sixth time this season, the world snooker tour heads to the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes as the players battle it out in the opening triple crown event – the £200,000 UK Championship.
The tradition of the Barbican Theatre in York may have been lost, but the standard of play on the green baize is expected to be as high as ever with snooker’s elite all lining up to compete.
Top Trump So Far This Season
Right now, there are none more elite than current world number one Judd Trump, who heads the betting after a sensational start to the new season.
On Sunday night, Trump beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 for the third year in a row to win the Northern Ireland Open, lifting his second title of the season and his eighth in two years.
The 31-year-old has reached the semi-final stage of all five tournaments so far this season and is playing brilliant and consistent snooker. He is scoring heavily when opportunities arise and his refined tactical and safety play has improved bundles in recent seasons.
Trump is well drawn in the third quarter, with a potential clash against Championship League winner Kyren Wilson the only noteworthy opposition standing in his way of yet another semi-final appearance.
Ding Could be UK king again
As a value alternative to the favourite, punters must consider the exciting and talented defending champion Ding Junhui.
The 14-times ranking event winner made a sensational return to form last year in what was only his second win in the three years, but there have been some glimpses already this season that he is primed for a return to the winner’s enclosure.
So far this month, Ding has won both German Masters qualifiers, where he dropped only three frames, and performed well at the Northern Ireland Open last week.
He was beaten by Ronnie O’Sullivan in their quarter-final clash on Friday but had impressed in the four rounds prior to that losing only three frames and beating John Higgins 4-1 along the way.
Rocket Ready for Lift Off?
Ding lines up as seed number one as the defending champion, at the opposite end of the draw is the current world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The seven-times UK Championship winner first won this event back in 1993 and has made a decent start to the new season having reached the final of the Northern Ireland Open.
Playing on in frames despite needing a number of snookers last week, the Rocket claimed he was using all available table time as practice and a bold showing is expected this week.
First Round Advice
Last year’s runner-up Stephen Maguire is another player fancied to go well in this event and can kick off his campaign on Tuesday morning with a comfortable win against 15-year-old Ukranian Iulian Boiko.
The youngster is still finding his feet on the tour and has already been whitewashed by Michael White and Judd Trump this season. The experienced Maguire can cruise to victory and comfortably cover the -4.5 frame handicap. A 6-0 win is also an option at
Another experienced player fancied to coast through his first round match is two-time Crucible finalist Ali Carter, who returned to form last week and can win with a bit to spare against Ashley Carty.
The former world number four won five matches in the Northern Ireland Open to reach the semi-final before he was beaten by Ronnie O’Sullivan. Carter is a fierce competitor and his all-round game should prove far too much for 25-year-old Carty and should be played in the handicap market.
*All odds correct at time of writing