FOUR-TIME world champion John Higgins will kick-off the action at snooker’s UK Championship in York next month.

The world number three, who has won the game’s second biggest tournament on a trio of occasions, is scheduled to play one of the two opening matches as the nine-day festival of snooker gets under way at the Barbican on Saturday, December 1.

Organisers World Snooker have released the draw for the £625,000 competition and spectators who come on the first day will also be able to watch 2004 and 2005 York champions Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui, along with former world number one Mark Selby, Graeme Dott and Barry Hawkins.

The world’s top 16 players are all automatically through to the tournament’s first round, where they will play a qualifier who comes through a four-round competition.

Defending champion Judd Trump, the current world ranking leader, enters the fray on Sunday, along with last year’s defeated finalist Mark Allen. Shaun Murphy, Mark Davis, Ali Carter and Stuart Bingham also make their bow on day two.

Neil Robertson, Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens and Ricky Walden have to wait until Monday, December 3 to make their entrances.

The UK Championship will retain last year’s playing conditions – meaning all matches up to and including the quarter-finals will be staged in one session over the best of 11 frames. They will all be completed by the end of play on Thursday, December 6.

The semi-finals will be over the best of 17 frames and held on Friday, December 7 and Saturday, December 8. The final, on Sunday, is over the best of 19 frames.

Potential blockbuster second round clashes, should the top 16 players triumph, include Ding against Selby and Stevens against Allen.

Meanwhile, Pickering potter Paul Davison’s bid to qualify for the UK Championship starts with a first round game against Gareth Allen in the qualifying tournament, which is staged at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield later this month.

Davison, who has had an upsurge in form recently and came close to beating Selby in the last 16 of a recent Players Tour Championship event in Belgium, will have to win four matches – and knock out Nigel Bond and Tom Ford – if he is to make the final stages.

The qualifying event, staged over the best of 11 frames, is held from November 20 to 23.

To buy tickets for the UK Championship, visit the website or phone 0844 854 2757.