Northern Ireland Open kicks off at Waterfront Hall
The 2018 Northern Ireland Open has gotten underway this morning with many of snooker's top stars all competing for the Alex Higgins Trophy at the Waterfront Hall.
Here's all you need to know about the event!
When is it?
The Northern Ireland Open starts today, Monday 12th, with the final held on Sunday 18th.
Sessions run from 10am to 8pm in the early rounds, which take place today and tomorrow.
Where is it?
This year the tournament returns to the Waterfront Hall, where it was moved to last year after it made its return to the World Snooker circuit in 2016 at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.
Who's playing in it?
Pretty much all of the best names in the world of snooker!
As well as home favourite Mark Allen, there are 15 of the world's top 16 ranked players in attendance this week, meaning fans will be treated to the likes of Mark Selby, Mark Williams and Ronnie O'Sullivan fighting it out for the Alex Higgins Trophy.
Of that top-16, only Ding Junhui (#8) is not in Belfast this week.
This is the first time that World No.1 Selby has been in Northern Ireland, as he takes on Anthony Hamilton in the opening round, while O'Sullivan comes into the tournament off the back of his win at the Champion of Champions event in Coventry yesterday.
That's great! What about local players?
There are plenty of them too!
As well as Allen, there are five other local players competing in the tournament, with Joe Swail another who will fancy his chances at going far if he can pick up a bit of form. Also in the tournament are Gerard Greene and Jordan Brown, while amateurs Patrick Wallace and Raymond Fry have been invited as wildcards.
But it's Masters champion and International Championship winner Allen who will be Northern Ireland's best chance of a winner, the World No.7 is in excellent form and is eager to impress in front of his home crowd.
So when can I see them?
Gerard Greene is first up today at 1pm when he takes on Oliver Lines (Eng), quickly followed by Mark Allen at 2pm as he faces Niu Zhuang (Chi), with Raymond Fry finishing the day's action at 7pm when he goes head-to-head with World No.13 Luca Brecel (Bel).
Tomorrow, Patrick Wallace is first to the table at 1pm against Peter Ebdon (Eng), while in the 7pm session it's Joe Swail's turn to face Luke Simmonds (Eng) and Jordan Brown meets Robin Hull (Fin).
What happened last year?
Last year's event was won by Mark Williams, who defeated Yan Bingtao in a sensational final to end a seven-year wait for a trophy. Indeed, his success at the NI Open seemingly sparked a good run of form that saw him lift the World Championship crown in May of this year.
I heard there's £1 million on the line... is that true?
Technically, yes, but not for everyone.
If any one player can win all four Home Nations titles - the English, Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish Opens - then they also receive £1m as a bonus. Of course, only one player is still in the running for that bonus, and that's English Open champion Stuart Bingham, who faces Peter Lines today in the first round.
So far nobody has threatened to even come close to repeating their English Open success in Northern Ireland, with Liang Wenbo in 2016 and Ronnie O'Sullivan last year being knocked out in the opening rounds.
What else should I look out for?
Only the top-16 in the rankings get into the Masters in January, and there are plenty of players who aren't yet guaranteed their spot in the tournament. A win in Northern Ireland would help a lot of players.
As defending champion, Mark Allen is already guaranteed his spot - and it would take a severe drop in form for him to fall outside the top-16 anyway - but for most of the players outside of the top-10 they are looking over their shoulder anxiously.
World No.16 Jack Lisowski is the most at risk, and he gets his tournament underway against Hossein Vafaei tomorrow, with Marco Fu in prime position to overtake him and earn that invite if the Englishman slips up. Fu starts with a match against Chen Feilong tomorrow.
How can I watch?
The best way is to go yourself! Tickets are available on the door or via the Waterfront website, with a day pass priced at £20 and a ticket for just the evening session worth £10. Or, if you know you'll be along every day, you can buy a week-long pass for £160.
If you can't attend in person then the games are shown live on Eurosport from 12:45pm each day.
Belfast Telegraph Digital