Neil Robertson v Ding Junhui Mark Allen v Mark Davis Shaun Murphy v Ricky Walden John Higgins v Ali Carter Mark Selby v Stuart Bingham Mark Williams v Matthew Stevens Stephen Maguire v Graeme Dott Judd Trump v Barry Hawkins
The prestigious Betfair Masters tournament, is one that many snooker fans around the world look forward to and since moving to historic Alexandra Palace last year, seems to have found a home for the long term.
However with World Champion and home favourite, Ronnie O'Sullivan, absent from the event, it is up to the 'new breed' to show what they are capable of and make the casual observer forget about him and just enjoy the snooker.
The five big events this season have all been won by different players, will it be six for six or will the likes of Mark Selby or John Higgins stamp their authority at the start of 2013? Onwards to the preview for the first round!
Neil Robertson v Ding Junhui
Neil Robertson won his second major here at Alexandra Palace last year, dispatching Shaun Murphy 10-6 in the final. Since then he failed to capture any of the other big events in 2012 and put in disappointing showings in the World & UK Championship's, failing to reach the semi-finals of either.
However I can imagine that he will be trying his hardest to finish the second half of the season in style and I would put him still slight favourite above the 2011 champion Ding Junhui, who even with his recent PTC win in Scotland, has not showed any consistancy in the past few months and like Robertson has not won a major event recently. Prediction: 6-5 to Robertson.
Mark Allen v Mark Davis
World Open champion Mark Allen is one of those players that you would of expected to have won a major title with his talent, but has fell short on several occasions and comes in to this event on the back of a first round UK Championship exit against Marco Fu last month.
His opponent is Mark Davis who finally finds himself in the top 16 and in the Masters draw for the first time by value of his ranking position. He had a brilliant run to the UK semis and could easily win against Allen if he plays his best but it is his first time playing at Ally Pally and I would slightly favour the Antrim man here. Prediction: 6-4 to Allen.
John Higgins v Ali Carter
Two-times Masters champion John Higgins has been less consistent in this event compared to the others but with his recent acquisition of the Shanghai Masters title and making a 147 and running Mark Davis close in the UK quarter-finals he seems to be in good nick and I wouldn't bet against him to win a 3rd crown next week.
Carter came within one frame of the UK final in December and seems to be back playing to a decent standard in recent months. However it has been over two years since his last big win (2010 Shanghai Masters) and it would take a brave backer to fancy him to go all the way at Ally Pally. Prediction: 6-4 to Higgins.
Stephen Maguire v Graeme Dott
This all-Scottish clash I could see easily going either way. Stephen Maguire had a slightly better 2012 than the previous one, reaching the finals of the German Masters, China Open and the semi-final of the World Championship. However this season he has once again struggled for consistancy and only had two wins in the majors so far.
Graeme Dott also looked to be treading a similar path in recent months but got a huge confidence boost by reaching the final of the Munich Open PTC, before narrowly losing to Mark Selby. The 2006 World Champion seems to be in better nick at the moment and is more than capable of staging an 'upset' against his higher ranked opponent. Prediction: 6-5 to Dott.
Judd Trump v Barry Hawkins
The afternoon's match sees International Championship winner Judd Trump return to Alexandra Palace where in last year's event he saw off home favourite, the absent Ronnie O'Sullivan. However in the UK Championship, the flair left-hander fell at the first hurdle to Mark Joyce.
He faces Barry Hawkins who finds himself in the top 16 thanks to his Australian Open triumph at the start of the season. Since then the Dartford potter has been decent rather than spectacular but I could see him being right up for the challenge and giving Trump a run for his money. Prediction: 6-5to Trump.
Shaun Murphy v Ricky Walden
2005 World & 2008 UK Champion Shaun Murphy just needs to add the Masters title to be only the eighth player to join snooker's prestigious 'triple crown' club. He looks to be in a great place to do that next week with his recent run to the UK final where he came from 8-4 down to beat Ali Carter 9-8 before being edged out by Mark Selby.
His opponent Ricky Walden, won his second title at the start of the season (the Wuxi Classic), but since then has struggled to string several wins together and if Murphy playing anywhere near his best it should be a simple win for him. Check out the video at the bottom of the preview for Murphy's view on his Masters challenge. Prediction: 6-3to Murphy.
Mark Selby v Stuart Bingham
Leicester's finest Mark Selby has had a terrific run of late, winning the UK Championship, recapturing his world no.1 status and finishing top of the PTC order of merit. He faces another man who is in the best form of his career; Stuart Bingham, who himself shocked the field to win the Championship League a few months back.
After seeing off severe neck problems that blighted him throughout 2012, Selby seems to be back to his best and will take a lot of stopping by some one with the game to match. But as we have seen from Bingham in recent years that he can pull off some great victories and I think this one could run close. Prediction: 6-5 to Selby.
Mark Williams v Matthew Stevens
The last match of the first round sees an all-Welsh tie between two former UK Champions; Mark Williams & Matthew Stevens. It's been a year to forget for two-times World Champion Williams who hasn't featured in any professional finals since the 2011 Shanghai Masters. Since then he hasn't been the same consistent player and it's difficult to see him adding a third Masters title to his collection next week.
Stevens doesn't have any notable form to speak of either. He had a great chance to reach the UK semi-finals last month but lost 6-4 to Mark Davis. However based on recent months I would put him slight favourite over Williams who just seems to lack the confidence that he had in the 2010/2011 season. Prediction: 6-4 to Stevens.
Shaun Murphy looks ahead to the 2013 Betfair Masters (courtesy of SportsBeat Video)