Yorkshire hopefuls are aiming to knock stars off their pedestal

Snooker is set to go into extra-time in York during the next fortnight as Barry Hearn continues to revamp the sport.

The williamhill.com UK Championship cues off on Tuesday with the top 128 players in the world all set to compete, meaning an extra three days of competition.

Gone are the qualifying rounds, which ring-fenced the snooker’s elite stars such as Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby.

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Now they will have to face players – rookies or journeymen – from the bottom of the rankings, providing the real threat of some giantkillings at the York Barbican.

The event runs from November 26 to December 8 with Selby out to defend the title – second only to the World Championship in terms of prestige – he won 12 months ago.

It is understandable some top players oppose the new format – opting for exposure to early exits from events would be like turkeys voting for Christmas – but the draw means players outside the top 32 are now competing on a level playing field.

That is music to the ears of players such as Leeds potter Peter Lines. At 43, he has been competing on the tour for 25 years, and his world ranking of 54 meant he would often have to win three or four games just to reach the televised stages of an event and face a ‘big-name’ player.

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Now, the veteran cueman – who opens his tournament on Thursday against Sam Baird – joins stars like O’Sullivan in the first round and says it has shattered the illusion that the elite potters are invincible.

“The new system is really good, it can only help the sport grow,” said Lines. “It gives players the chance to reach the latter stages.

“Also, you play the top players. I have beaten Mark Allen and Matthew Stevens this season. If you play them regularly, you don’t fear them, because you see them all the time.

“It’s not like before where you had to win three or four matches just to play them. You are so under pressure not to get beat.

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“It basically is, now, whoever is the best will be at the top of the rankings.

“The tour now is fantastic. If you’re a young kid you get to travel the world, get to play a game you love playing.

“If you’re good enough now you will definitely climb the rankings. If not, you can have no complaints, you can’t say the system is holding you back.”

Yorkshire interest in the first round at York is swelled by the new format, meaning high-profile opening games for 18-year-old Keighley amateur Dylan Mitchell, who faces world No 1 Neil Robertson next Saturday, and Bradford amateur champion Gareth Green, 23, who tackles former UK champion Judd Trump on Thursday.

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Victory for either of the West Yorkshire amateurs could go a long way to them joining the professional ranks.

Trump, the 2011 UK champion and former Crucible finalist, is just a year older than Green but has already banked over £1m in winnings.

Not that Green is daunted by facing one of the sport’s most charismatic figures on the national stage.

“I will just go out and play,” said Green. “I have played him twice before, and I have beaten quite a few professionals in the competitions that I have played in.

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“It won’t bother me playing Judd. I lost 4-1 the last time I played him, but I had my chances, so it was my own fault.”

Green juggles snooker with a full-time career as an asbestos surveyor, meaning he had to take holiday to compete in the Wuxi Classic earlier this season when he reached the last 64 before losing 5-3 to Scott Donaldson.

He said: “I was gutted with my defeat. I was 2-0 up within minutes, but then after that it was like I had never played snooker before. It was my consistency.

“I thought I should have beaten Scott, that was a match I expected to win. I lost 5-3. He is a young kid who has gone on Tour and who has grinded out results against top players. Anyone can do it, it’s just so annoying.”

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As for Mitchell, this is valuable experience as he hopes to turn professional.

“I am over the moon about facing Neil,” said Mitchell.

“You know what you are going to get from him and I expect to play better against the better players such as Neil and Ronnie O’Sullivan. I know I am not expected to win but it is all experience.”

Wednesday will bring Sheffield’s Joel Walker (he plays Alan McManus), Leeds cueman David Grace (against Yu De Lu) and Bradford veteran Simon Bedford (against Jamie Burnett) to the table.

In-form Ding Junhui – bidding to win an amazing fourth successive ranking title – may be from China, but living in Sheffield for the last decade earns him honorary White Rose status.

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The world No 3 plays Middlesbrough’s Antony Parsons next Saturday, and Sheffield’s Adam Duffy faces Barry Pinches on Thursday.

Then on Friday it is the turn of Indian duo Aditya Mehta – the 28-year-old recently reached the final of the Indian Open – and billiards champion Pankaj Advani, who, like Ding, have adopted Sheffield as their home in England.

Mehta plays Robbie Williams, while Advani, 28, takes on Tian Pengfei.

Tickets for the williamhill.com UK Championship are on sale now – for details call 0844 854 2757 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/tickets.