The World Snooker Championship begins at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre on Saturday against a troubled backdrop.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 2006
Sat 15 April - Mon 1 May
Coverage on BBC TV, Interactive and Radio Five Live
Last year's competition produced one of the biggest shocks in the event's history, when qualifier Shaun Murphy beat Matthew Stevens to win the title.
Murphy, 23, starts the tournament with a first-round game against Thai star James Wattana (1000 BST).
But the build-up has been muted as several top players refused to promote the event after a sponsorship row.
Some players have boycotted the media after they lost out on personal sponsorship deals with firms who are competitors of the tournament's new sponsor, the online casino 888.com.
And Welsh star Stevens has dubbed the sport "a shambles" after a drop in the number of tournaments and prize money.
But reigning champion Murphy appears happy and relaxed ahead of his championship defence.
"If other people want to talk about the pressures of being world champion, that's fine. But I've not really experienced that - I've enjoyed every minute of it," he told BBC Sport.
Thirty two players will slug it out for the 2006 world title and a first prize of £200,000, down £50,000 in the first year since tobacco sponsorship ended.
Ronnie O'Sullivan, champion in 2001 and 2004, is rated favourite to regain the title despite not having won a match in a ranking event since October 2005.
O'Sullivan faces 39-year-old Dave Harold in a first-round game on Tuesday, when seven-times winner Stephen Hendry will also open up his bid, against Nigel Bond.
The first day of action on Saturday sees 1998 champion John Higgins face world number 34 Mark Selby, while veterans John Parrott and Steve Davis are also in action.
Parrott, 41, who failed to qualify for the championship last season for the first time in 21 years, has been drawn against 2004 runner-up Graeme Dott.
Davis, 48, says he has no plans to retire and will be looking for a repeat of his efforts last year, when he reached the quarter-finals.
The 'Nugget' is up against Andy Hicks, who is in danger of dropping out of the world's top 32.
Monday sees two-times winner and China Open champion Mark Williams in a tricky opener against Nottingham's world number 15 Anthony Hamilton.
And Jimmy White, six times a losing finalist, gets another world championship campaign under way on Wednesday.
The popular 43-year-old takes on 2003 Regal Scottish champion David Gray.