Mark Selby aims to avoid a third successive defeat against Hossein Vafaei when they lock horns in the Masters first round on Sunday.
The Prince of Persia has prevailed in each of the last two meetings between the players, with both coming in the past two editions of the UK Championship.
And Vafaei has been handed an unexpected opportunity to complete a hat-trick following the suspension of Zhao Xintong as part of the ongoing match-fixing investigation.
The world number 18 is subsequently the only debutant in this year’s field, while he will become the 94th different player – and first Iranian – to appear at the Masters since the inaugural staging of the event in 1975.
Vafaei’s latest victory over Selby saw him reach the UK Championship last 16 – equalling his best performance of the 2022-23 season, having also reached that stage at the Scottish Open.
The 28-year-old will certainly fancies his chances of claiming another notable win over the Jester, who boasts a generally modest Masters record in recent years.
Selby is a three-time winner of this tournament – in 2008, 2010 and 2013 – with only Ronnie O’Sullivan (seven) and Stephen Hendry (six) lifting the trophy on more occasions.
However, he arrives for his 16th consecutive appearance at snooker’s most prestigious invitational event having not progressed beyond the quarter-finals since reaching his fifth showpiece in 2014.
Nevertheless, the world number two appears to be getting back to his best. Indeed, he ended his 19-month wait for silverware at the English Open last month, while he has also reached the Champion of Champions semi-finals and a further three quarter-finals this season.
A quarter-final showdown with either John Higgins or Jack Lisowski awaits the winner of this contest.
The match gets underway at 7pm GMT on Sunday and will be contested over the best of 11 frames at the Alexandra Palace.
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