Leeds: Pankaj Advani spearheads a strong Indian challenge in the first ever unified World Billiards Championship, commencing here on Saturday with as many as 65 players, including defending champions Mike Russell and Bangalorean Revanna Umadevi in the fray.
The tournament is being jointly organised by two world governing bodies. The newly-formed World Billiards Ltd has brought together the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF) and World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).
Advani, who at only 27 is himself a multiple World champion, is currently embroiled in some controversy after qualifying for the final stages of a professional snooker event due to start in China while the World Billiards Championship is still taking place.
Advani has taken the decision to withdraw from the event in China to concentrate on billiards, something which has delighted the billiards fraternity but somewhat angered the snooker aficionados.
For the first time this year both lady and junior players will be competing alongside the men. Junior champions from England, India and Ireland will also be pitting their skills against the best in the world. Countries sending players for the first time include Guernsey and Canada.
Favourite for the title is current World Champion and undisputed king of billiards Russell. Originally from England but now based in Qatar, Russell is making the annual trip to defend the title he has made his own, having won a total of 16 world championships since his first in 1989 at the age of 20.
Other contenders for the title include former champions Peter Gilchrist (Singapore) and Geet Sethi (India) who alongside Russell are the only players to have made a competitive 1,000-break in the modern game.
Also expected to mount a strong challenge this year is 10-time Australian champion Matthew Bolton who last year recorded a break of 831 on his way to the final of the timed event.