To Sofia, Yixing…

Following eight long days of qualifying in Gloucester, there is no rest for snooker’s biggest stars this week, as the action moves on to Bulgaria tomorrow, for the first European Tour event of the season.

From there, the action heads further east as the first Asian Tour event of the campaign will be held in Yixing, prior to the start of the Wuxi Classic a week on Monday…

  • Click here to view the draw for ET1
  • Click here to view the draw for AT1

So next stop Bulgaria, as snooker returns to Sofia, following its successful début in the city at last season’s ET4 event, won on that occasion by Judd Trump, in a quickfire final against John Higgins.

Both Judd and John will be back this year, as will Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Barry Hawkins, Graeme Dott and Matthew Stevens, of the game’s upper ranked players.

Also in action will be world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who will be making his first appearance since his Crucible victory a month ago. Interestingly, O’Sullivan finds himself in Judd Trump’s section of the draw, with the two set to meet as early as the last 16 stage of the event.

In fact while there are a few top 16 players missing from the draw, generally the field is a strong one, aside from the notable exception of all of the tour’s many Chinese and Thai players.

With concerns pre-season as to the amount of space that would be available in the drawsheets for amateur players, it is good to see that there are a number who will be involved here in Bulgaria. These include Sanderson Lam, who takes on second seed Judd Trump in his opening match, as well as Sam Harvey, Christopher Keogan, Michael Wild and no few than 19 local Bulgarian amateurs.

As ever at the PTC, or European Tour events as they are now known, it is difficult to read too much into the drawsheets. Indeed my attitude to these events is that for the players it is very much a case of getting through their opening three matches and through to Sunday’s last 16, then they can start to think about winning.

Are there any dark horses to keep an eye on? On the evidence of the recent qualifiers, Scotland’s Scott Donaldson has started the season in good form, while Gary Wilson, Alex Davies and John Astley have also won matches in both events so far.

Liam Highfield has also made a strong start to the season, as well as Dechawat Poomjaeng, who has backed up his Crucible heroics by qualifying for the first two venues of 2013/14. Michael White and Ben Woollaston have also kicked on from strong World Championship runs, while Jamie Cope has shown signs of a welcome return to form, hopefully having found a way to better manage the tremor that has surely been the cause of his recent dip in form.

Meanwhile, following the conclusion of this even on Sunday evening, the action moves on to Yixing next Tuesday, for the first Asian Tour event of the campaign, where a number of those Asian absentees from Sofia can be found.

Held in China shortly before the Wuxi Classic, it will come as no surprise to read that the majority of British players who have entered the tournament are those who have qualified for that event, though there are a couple of notable exceptions.

In particular, I am surprised to see Mark Selby enter, given the level of prize money and ranking points available, having lost out to Andrew Pagett in qualifying for the Wuxi Classic qualifiers. At the time I thought that the defeat might prove to be a blessing in disguise for Selby, giving him an extended break during the summer, following suggestions that he was affected by ‘burn out’ at the Crucible. He has obviously decided however that he will be best served to just keep on playing and it will be interesting to see whether he can gain some confidence in Yixing.

Others to be included in the draw, but not in Wuxi include Michael Holt, Matt Selt, Paul Davison and Daniel Wells, while it will be good to see both Igor Figueiredo and Hossein Vafaei Ayouri involved, two players who have found their opportunities limited due to financial and visa problems respectively.

From there, the field will then head to Wuxi, for the last 64 stage of the first full-ranking event of the new season. You can read my round-up of the qualifiers here, while since then it has been confirmed that Jimmy Robertson, Adam Duffy, Vinnie Calabrese and Reanne Evans are the four pro players who have been selected to play local wildcards at the venue.

A more in-depth preview of that event will follow closer to the time, while there will of course be regular updates to the latest projected seedings and latest provisional money lists here at PSB over the coming weeks.