World number one Ronnie O’Sullivan will be looking to better last year’s quarter-final exit by opening up with a 888.com World Championship victory against Stoke’s Dave Harold, his opponent still going strong at a sprightly 40 years of age.
Shaun Murphy will begin the defence of his title against Thailand’s James Wattana when this year’s prestigious tournament gets underway on April 15.
This year’s draw has also thrown up a string of mouth-watering clashes, with seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry set to face Nigel Bond in his first round match.
The pair met each other in the 1995 world final and Hendry triumphed 18-9 after a superb display in the best-of-35 frame match.
Six-times world champion Steve Davis will play Devonian left-hander Andy Hicks, a semi-finalist in 1995.
Crowd favourite and six-times runner-up Jimmy White will play Surrey’s David Gray, although a mix-up with this year’s live draw saw the Whirlwind originally pitted against Nottingham’s Michael Holt.
However, following a brief period of confusion it was confirmed White, who is danger of dropping out of the top 32 unless he finds some much-needed form, will play Gray in his opening match.
Meanwhile Holt, who was knocked out in the last 16 by Davis despite having led 8-2, will play last year’s semi-finalist Peter Ebdon.
Holt said: “I heard the draw and was delighted I was playing Jimmy, but then I found out I was playing Peter.
“No disrespect to Peter, he’s a former world champion and a great player, but I would have loved to have played Jimmy at the Crucible. That’s a match you dream of as a young boy!”
Two-times winner Mark Williams, a champion in 2002 and 2003, takes on Anthony Hamilton, another Nottingham potter, while three-times Masters champion Paul Hunter plays Aussie Robertson.
Hunter has been battling with cancer and Robertson was keen to wish his opponent the best of health and is looking forward to a great match with the Yorkshireman.
“I just hope Paul’s as well as he can be. I wish him the best of luck and can’t wait to play him,” said Robertson.
The remainder of this year’s draw sees former winner Ken Doherty – who won the Malta Cup this season – play Beckenham left-hander Barry Hawkins, while Preston Grand Prix winner and Masters champion John Higgins meets Leicester’s Mark Selby.
2005 UK champion Stephen Maguire plays Londoner Mark King, fellow Scot Graeme Dott meets the popular John Parrott, Welsh Open winner Stephen Lee plays Tiptree’s Ali Carter, Cambridgeshire’s Joe Perry meets Welshman Ryan Day, and Bearsden’s Alan McManus faces Hong Kong’s Marco Fu.
888.com World Snooker Championship, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (April 15th – May 1st, 2006)
First round: Shaun Murphy (Eng) v James Wattana (Tha), Steve Davis (Eng) v Andy Hicks (Eng), Jimmy White (Eng) v David Gray (Eng), Peter Ebdon (Eng) v Michael Holt (Eng), Matthew Stevens (Wal) v Joe Swail (NIre), Ken Doherty (Ire) v Barry Hawkins (Eng), Alan McManus (Sco) v Marco Fu (HKg), Stephen Maguire (Sco) v Mark King (Eng), Stephen Hendry (Sco) v Nigel Bond (Eng), Graeme Dott (Sco) v John Parrott (Eng), Stephen Lee (Eng) v Ali Carter (Eng), Paul Hunter (Eng) v Neil Robertson (Aus), John Higgins (Sco) v Mark Selby (Eng), Mark Williams (Wal) v Anthony Hamilton (Eng), Joe Perry (Eng) v Ryan Day (Wal), Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) v Dave Harold (Eng)