FORMER champion Stephen Maguire says the Betway UK Snooker Championship has lost its status as one of the top three tournaments in the world.

Maguire, who lifted the trophy at York Barbican in 2004, was speaking after his first round win yesterday against China's Cao Yupeng.

The Scotsman is unhappy that there are only four practice tables for a tournament involving 128 players.

During the first round, there are 16 players in action in each session - with four games in the main arena and four in the adjoining sports hall.

"This used to be the second biggest tournament in the world - but it's not anymore," Maguire insisted. "It's gone from second to fourth or fifth.The International is bigger, the Masters is bigger, and there is that new tournament in China (the China Championship) that I wasn't in!

"This is still a 'big' tournament, a good tournament to have on your CV, and I was lucky enough to win it 100 years ago!" he quipped. "But you can't get a practice, there are too many boys here, and too many people on the tour.

"I didn't even try to get a practice table, I didn't even attempt to go down," he added. "I had heard there were only four tables so, when there are over 100 boys, what is the point?"

The Betway UK Snooker Championship is still regarded as part of the 'Triple Crown' by the game's governing body World Snooker and is the second biggest ranking tournament in terms of prize money. However, both the Masters and the China Championship - which are non-ranking events - offer £200,000 to the winner.

The winner of the UK Championship pockets £170,000 and this year's prize fund of £850,000 is a record for the event.

Maguire strolled to a comfortable 6-1 victory over Yupeng and now meets rising star Zhao Xintong who beat last year's surprise semi-finalist David Grace.

Grace, who trains at the Northern Snooker Centre in his hometown of Leeds, had led 2-1 in the early stages before losing the next five frames.

"It's a little bit disappointing," he admitted. "I really enjoyed playing in the TV set-up and getting to the latter stages last year so I wanted to do it again.

"My performance was not great but I didn't do that much wrong - he just absolutely pots them off the lamp-shades!

"It was a tough draw so I am not going to beat myself up too much about it. I don't feel I am that far away."

Leeds' Peter Lines pulled off the shock of the tournament on Thursday night - winning 6-3 against defending champion Neil Robertson.

The afternoon session had attracted a healthy crowd to the main arena where the last two world champions - Mark Selby (2016) and Stuart Bingham (2015) - were both in first round action.

Bingham scored a hat-trick of century breaks on his way to an impressive 6-0 win over Poland's Adam Stefanow. Selby took slightly longer to get past Andy Hicks but still won by five frames.

"There was a couple of hundred people watching, a good crowd," said Bingham. "York is a great city and long may the tournament continue being here."

Assessing his own performance, he added: "If I keep playing like that I have got every chance. And I felt nervous which is good. I still remember Tiger Woods saying he would rather play someone who is calm than nervous. If they are nervous it means something."

Selby was equally happy with the atmosphere inside the main arena and questioned why matches are not televised by the BBC until the second round on Saturday afternoon.

"It's strange to actually come to the venue where the tournament is going to be played to a finish and it not being televised? When we go to Barnsley (where qualifiers are staged for the Shanghai Masters and German Masters) you sort of understand it's not televised and you have to play one or two matches to get to the main event.

"But actually coming to the main event and playing in the arena knowing its not televised is quite strange. I was happy with the crowd - but there must have been someone good playing after me!"

In Thursday afternoon's other games, Jimmy Robertson beat Malaysia's Thor Chuan Leong 6-0, Jamie Jones was a 6-1 winner against Eden Sharav, and Nigel Bond lost 6-3 to Yu Delu.

In the morning session, Iran's only professional snooker player Hossein Vafaei Ayouri surrendered a 4-1 lead in his defeat by Cheshire's Andrew Higginson.

Former world number two Ali Carter won 6-1 against Christopher Keogan and Robbie Williams beat Thailand's Akani Songsermsawad.

Dominic 'The Spaceman' Dale edged to a 6-5 victory over Leeds-based Sanderson Lam and Graeme Dott breezed past Welshman Ian Preece.

Two-time former world champion Mark Williams overcame a neck injury to win 6-1 against outsider Jason Weston.

There is no play today (Friday) but the second round starts at 1pm on Saturday afternoon.

Pickering's Paul Davison will play his second round match against Ben Woollaston at 1pm on Sunday afternoon.

Tournament sponsors Betway, meanwhile, have launched 'Crazy Snooker' featuring Neil Robertson and Mark Selby. The game is available to play in the Barbican's Cue Zone from Saturday until December 4.

Betway are also offering snooker fans the opportunity to win prizes in an interactive snooker quiz game called Baize of Glory.

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