Written by Rod Crowley: Having become the home to the PDC World Darts Championship, the Alexander Palace in London will now play host to the prestigious World Masters Snooker Championship, which gets underway on 15th January.
The top 16 players in the world will do battle over the week and although it is not a ranking event, a top prize of over £150,000 ensures that the game's best players are all out to win.
As is the case ahead of any major snooker tournament, it is Ronnie O’Sullivan and world champion, John Higgins who are the favourites to win the title. The snooker betting makes O’Sullivan and Higgins the joint 11/2 favourites with twice winner and current world number one, Mark Selby, next best at 13/2 alongside 2011 world finalist and recent UK Championship winner, Judd Trump at 7/1.
Last year’s winner Ding Junhui will have the somewhat difficult task of taking on O’Sullivan in the opening match of the first round on Sunday, which effectively is a repeat of the 2007 final which the "Rocket" won with ease 10-3.
Higgins meanwhile will be taking on resurgent Welshman and the winner in 2000, Matthew Stevens on Tuesday, while Trump takes on Stuart Bingham on Monday with Selby up against Stephen Lee on Wednesday.
With so much hype around concerning O’Sullivan, it is worth considering that he has not won a ranking event for over two years and although he showed signs of coming back to some sort of form in the recent UK Championship, he still found himself outgunned by Trump in the last 16.
On the plus side, O’Sullivan has made the final of this event five times in the last seven years, winning three of the so cannot be ruled out of winning again.
Trump went on to win the final after beating O'Sullivan where he defeated the controversial Mark Allen 10-8 in the final. Allen from Northern Ireland, found himself in trouble with World Snooker’s Chairman, Barry Hearn, during that event, accusing Hearn of spoiling the tournament by shortening the length of the individual matches. However, the two men have made friends and Allen will come to the "Ally Pally" in determined mood and looking to go one better.
He plays 2010 World Champion, Neil Robertson in the first round, another player who is beginning to find his best form.
Mark Williams, who has proven over the last two years that it is never too late for a snooker player to make a comeback, will open up his campaign on Sunday with a very difficult match against Scot, Stephen Maguire. Welshman Williams is now ranked at number two in the world and has won the Masters twice before.
He would like nothing more than to win a third title but knows that he will have to pull out all the stops to beat Maguire who himself will be lookign to start the year with a good showing on the green baize.
A very difficult tournament to predict the winner, however, form and confidence are always major factors and there is no player on the circuit currently that has more of either than Judd Trump and he can start the new year where he left off in 2011.