Ronnie O'Sullivan and Steve DavisHaving survived its latest tidal wave of tungsten over the festive period - along with copious amounts of glorious, boozed up characters dressed in various forms of outrageous garb - the Alexandra Palace in North London seems ripe for a spot of shameless ballyhoo every now and again.
The Ally Pally has hosted the PDC World Championship darts tournament since 2008 with the latest edition seeing Adrian 'Jackpot' Lewis proclaimed champion amid a crowd who seemed to prefer lager tops to their double tops. It all seemed to be going off as the 'disgraced' former England rugby union captain Mike Tindall could be unearthed wearing a false beard and shades while being regally roared on by his blue-blooded missus Zara Phillips as the final hurtled towards a typically frazzled conclusion.
Alexandra Palace - home of the PDC World Darts ChampionshipsThe traditionally hushed environs of snooker differ from the frantic length of the oche, but snooker may well benefit from a sprinkling of darting gold dust as it washes up at the Ally Pally for the first time.
The Masters was staged at the old Wembley Conference Centre between 1975 and 2006 and Wembley Arena from 2007 until last year. It is the second longest running tournament of the modern era behind the World Championship. It is open only to the top ranked 16 players in the world.
Steve Davis, the six-times world champion and a triple winner of the Masters in the 1980s and 1990s, feels this year's Masters could be the most competitive since the tournament's inception in 1975. Davis won the last of his three Masters gongs when he recovered from trailing 8-4 to defeat Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-8 in 1997. O'Sullivan, the people's champion, opens this year's tournament on Sunday when he faces defending champion Ding Junhui in a match that sold its 1500 tickets weeks ago.
Davis is more certain about the future of snooker. The Northern Irish player Mark Allen last month castigated World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn, Davis's former manager during his golden days, for shortening the earlier rounds of the UK Championship, somewhat ironically on Allen's way to losing the final to Judd Trump.
It may have the traditionalists reaching for the sedatives, but Davis, a player and pundit these days, is of a mind the longer format of the World Championship may be living on borrowed time as he explained on the cusp of the 38th staging of the Masters.
DK: So Steve, who are the main runners and riders at this year's Masters?
Davis: All of them. Going back in time, you could make a case that only certain people could win it. I think that has gone now. I think you could say that any one of the 16 could win it if they hit a bit of form during the tournament. I understand that makes it a bit hard for you to write about, but that is the bottom line.
DK: Well, you look through the 16 players and there isn't really a weak player?
Davis: You have players playing matches every week, and a lot of different players winning them. Certain players attract more attention obviously, but it would be fair to say that anybody has the ability to win while everybody is vulnerable.
Davis: Yeah. Very much so. I also think it is great Judd (Trump) is playing. He has been like a breath of fresh air to the game.
DK: What do you think of the new venue at Alexandra Palace?
Davis: I have not seen it as a snooker venue. I am sure it is an excellent spot, but once you put a snooker table in it and put seats around it, in many respects it could be anywhere.
DK: It seems to work well for the darts?
Davis: Yeah, but they just go and get p***ed... (said with a laugh)
DK: Would Judd Trump (the UK champion and World Championship finalist) not be the man to beat?
Davis: Well, there will be a lot of eyes on Judd. He is enjoying himself, and a player enjoying himself is always a danger. His problem is that the other players are so good. It is difficult to even begin thinking about who is going to come out on top. The bookmakers will be making players favourites on the strength of money put on, but I'm not certain they are sure who is favourite.
You could argue that a great tip would be to back every outsider. It would be an interesting analysis to see if you would make money over the tournament if you went with that. There is not much difference on the day, so why not back every outsider in every match, and you may have the slight edge in making some money.
DK: The world champion John Higgins traditionally doesn't like the Masters, but maybe the change of venue will suit him?
Davis: Sometimes a change of venue can suit a player. I certainly didn't like playing at the old Conference Centre. I didn't perform well in it, but then John has now played at two venues at the Masters. Perhaps it is just the event, who knows? It is very hard to know why that happens.
DK: Ronnie tends to have the London crowd behind him?
Davis: I think he enjoys it. He is also not far from home plus the crowd are a bit more boisterous in London which suits Ronnie's game, and he tends to respond to that. You can keep shoving names at me, but it comes back to what I said as this being the most open tournament of modern times. There is no player who stands out.
Davis: I think the format of the Masters having the top 16 players has a lot going for it. It you have won that event, you have beaten the cream of the crop. It has also rivalled the UK Championship as the second most important event. The Masters may well have the edge in terms of excitement over the years.
DK: Where do you stand on shortening the length of matches at the World Championship?
Davis: I think there is going to be a natural progression towards having slightly shorter events. That is in keeping with every other sport. It you go too long without a result - as is the case with the semi-finals of the worlds - you lose a bit of momentum. I think it would need minor changes to keep the interest at boiling point.
You could make the argument that you need a result every day. Every match should possibly finish every day. I'm not aware of any changes, but I can see it coming in the future, a time when the semi-finals and final of the World Championship are settled on the day.
You look at Wimbledon and the World Darts - they are both done in a day. To keep the interest, you maybe should not have an overnight situation. That is a tradition you would have to tamper with. As we saw from the UK, it didn't detract from the tournament apart from making the purists unhappy, but the purists have to bow to what the public wants.
Davis: Listen, it was superb entertainment, and the players would prefer longer games to enable the luck element to be taken out. They don't want a lottery. Also, the shorter the matches, the less of a storyline you get. It is just that there is a big argument to be made that there should be a result at the end, so the punters get their fix.
At the end of the day, you could say that a match that has to be continued at the end of the day isn't really sport. Test cricket is similar, but 20/20 has usurped it. You will always get people who scream when you begin to tamper with tradition. It still has to be the longest matches we play, but the World Darts Championship is over in about three and a half hours. You don't hear the darts players moaning about it. There is a lot to be said for tightening things up. That would be my personal opinion on the subject, nothing else.
DK: What was your favourite moment at the Masters?
Davis: It would have to be beating Ronnie in 1997. That was the last time I won a tournament, plus it was the way I managed to do it in winning six straight frames. You feel proud when something like that happens.
DK: Do you miss being at the Masters?
Davis: It has been a few years since I've been there. I just accept it, but I suppose Stephen Hendry would be better to ask. There will be a few players twiddling their thumbs at home thinking, 'blimey, I used to be in that'. Things are certainly changing.
DK: Do you think the ranking system is working better?
Davis: Yes, it is working better. It is more current, and more fun. And I think it will become more current than it is at the moment to make it even more cut-throat. It means you can drop down quickly, and go back up again at the same rate. That has to be good in rewarding current form.
DK: Snooker seems to be a sport on the up again for the first time since the 1980s?
Davis: It is a good time to be a kid trying to make it as a snooker player. You have the chance to have a full-time career in snooker. That is good for the younger players. Some of the older guys will have to question where they are going, but that is understandable. It is going to be a game were you have to fully commit to, but that is like golf. It is a far healthier situation for the sport to be in.
Follow LIVE coverage of the Masters on British Eurosport with Ronnie O'Sullivan facing Ding Junhui at 1.30pm GMT on Sunday.