Alok Kumar would face a tough battle to repeat his last year's double crown winning feat in the National Billiards and Snooker championship, commencing at Mumbai on Saturday at the suburban Goregaon Sports Club.
Alok, representing the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board along with exciting Bangalore youngster Pankaj Advani, has to overcome stiff challenge from a plethora of talented players with proven record at both national and international levels.
Asian snooker champion Alok has been placed in Group 'A' in the main draw of both the senior billiards and snooker tournaments, commencing on January 16 and 23 respectively.
His main challengers in billiards are seven-time former world pro champion Geet Sethi, Asian Games double gold winner Ashok Shandilya, current Asian champion Devendra Joshi (PSPB) and Advani.
In snooker, Alok has to deal with tough challengers including Advani, Asian Games gold medal winner Rafat Habib (Railways), Delhi-based Petroleum Board rival Manan Chandra and former Asian champion Yasin Merchant.
There are other dangerous floaters too like Shandilya (Railways) and Maharashtra's Sarang Shroff and Aditya Mehta to contend with.
The women's draw, starting tomorrow, is much easier to predict, with Maharashtra's Thakur sisters -- Anuja and Meenal -- all set to battle it out for top honours in both billiards and snooker.
Chitra Magimairaj and Uma Devi of Karnataka, Vidya Pillai of Tamil Nadu and Neeta Sanghvi and Heena Khandelwal of Maharashtra are also in the fray.
The junior billiards and snooker events, whose qualifying rounds are to start on January 12 and 14 respectively, would also be keenly contested with Advani given the pride of place in both the events, being the defending champion.
Advani is expected to face stiff opposition mainly from Mumbai-based Aditya Mehta, India number two Sourav Kothari of Bengal -- son of former world amateur billiards champion Manoj Kothari.
The winners and runners-up of each group would enter the round of 16 in senior billiards while in snooker they would reach the round of 32, according to chief referee Ajay Rastogi.
Matches would be of one and a half hours duration in the league phase of billiards while in the knock-out stage they will last for 2 hours in the pre-quarters, 3 in quarters and 4 in the semi-finals and final.
In senior snooker, till the knock-out phase matches will be fought over 5 frames while in the elimination rounds they would be fought over 7 frames in the round of 32 and 16, over 9 in the quarter-finals and semi-finals and over 11 in the final.
The senior billiards final is slated for January 22 and the senior snooker final, which would bring the curtains down on the nationals being organised in Mumbai after 20 years, will be played on January 29.
Group A: A Kumar (PSPB), Rupesh Shah (Guj), Jaswinder Singh (Raj), Amit Sharma (Del), D Lilly (Pun), qualifier.
Group B: B Bhaskar (Kar), Antim Singhi (TN), M Srinivasa Rao (AP), A Akhtar (Chand), A Rehani (Del), qualifier.
Group C: A Shandilya (Rlys), A Savur (Kar), Gagandeep Singh (HP), Niraj Kumar (Bih), N Kohli (UP), A Haque (Ori).
Group D: D S Joshi (PSPB), K Venkatesh (Rlys), B S Suresh (Kar), K Jnanjaria (MP), Jagjit Singh (HP), qualifier.
Group E: P Advani (PSPB), Y Merchant (Mah), P Prakash (TN), K Someshwar Rao (AP), S Mumtaz Ali (Bih), qualifier.
Group F: S Kothari (Ben), A Agarwal (Mah), S Khalid (J and K), S A K Jailani (Ker), Y Rai (MP), D Verma (Pun).
Group G: D Sitwala (PSPB), S Parikh (Rlys), V Abrol (J and K), V M Benny (Ker), P V Shivkumar (Pondi), S Sen (Ori).
Group H: G Sethi (Guj), R Thakkar (Mah), B Damani (Ben), I S Malik (UP), K Selvakumaran (Pondi), qualifier.
Group A: A Kumar, S Talwar (Chand), Imran Kha (UP), qualifier.
Group B: P Advani, A Arya (MP), Akhil Sharma (HP), qualifier.
Group C: R Thukral (Del), D Raj Kumar (Kar), K Selvakumaran, qualifier.
Group D: R Habib (Rlys), A Singhi, N Prakash (UP), qualifier.
Group E: M Chandra (PSPB), K Rohomitra (J and K), Harpit Singh, qualifier.
Group F: B V S Murthy (Kar), Jaswinder Singh (Rlys), J Manocha (Ori), qualifier.
Group G: B Damani (Ben), L Vatnani (AP), B Shivkumar, qualifier.
Group H: Y Merchant, D Verma (Pun), D Jhanjaria, qualifier.
Group I: D S Joshi, G Sethi, P Kinger (Har), S Das (Ori).
Group J: D Lilly, F Tengra (Mah), M Verma (Bih), qualifier
Group K: A Shandilya, N Kumar, A Madhu (Raj), qualifier.
Group L: R Jagtiani (Rlys), D Sitwala, M Poddar (Ben), D Kataria (Har).
Group M: R Shah, John Bosco (AP), Kamaldeep Singh (Del), qualifier.
Group N: S Kothari, C Ravindranath (Kar), S Pradhan (Megh) qualifier.
Group O: S Shroff (Mah), S Anand (Del), G Makkar (Chand), S Sen.
Group P: A Mehta (Mah), P Prakash, A Sharma (Megh), qualifier.