Snookerbacker

January 20, 2018

The Masters Semi-Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:28 am

….and now, the end is near….

Judd Trump v Kyren Wilson (1pm – or more likely 1.25pm while the BBC piss about)

A re-run of Kyren’s finest hour to date first up. The only time these two have met over more than the tiresome best of seven format was when Kyren lifted his only professional title at the 2015 Shanghai Masters final, beating Judd in a decider over the best of nineteen. He followed that up a couple of months later with another victory over Judd in the Champion of Champions and their last meeting of any significance, over a year ago, saw Judd come out on top 4-2 in the Scottish Open. Whilst it’s always worth looking at the head to heads, particularly where there are patterns which may signal bogey players, for me this one is very much about who brings their best to the table today. Judd finally got going yesterday after a lacklustre start against Shaun Murphy despite Shaun’s attempts to put him off with his best impersonation of Mr Miyagi during the slapstick opening phase of the match. Judd upped the game when he had to, something that he can’t always do against other players and you get the impression that there is a certain type of player that he prefers to play, so I know what my game plan would be today if I was Kyren, tie him up, frustrate him and bring the pace down a notch or ten. Whether Kyren can or will want or get a chance to do this is another matter, he had it easy in the last round against Mark Williams who just didn’t show up at all and for me he has to get the lead early in this to have any chance at all. My guess is that Judd will come out all guns blazing and boss this from the start. He’s in the better form of the two in terms of scoring, has more experience of this place and looks destined for the final.

Prediction: Trump 6-3

Recommended Bet: Over 1 century in the match at 11/10 

Mark Allen v John Higgins (7pm – or more likely 7.12pm while the BBC can’t help but piss about a bit more)

Cometh the time. Cometh the potter. Or something like that. But it feels like these next couple of days are, as the President of the United States might say, bigly, in the life of Antrim’s Mark Allen. He’s battered Ronnie and followed it up with possibly his finest ever tweet and now he faces another formidable opponent in Higgins. The pattern of the tournament so far has been following a monumental performance with a bad one, hopefully this won’t curse Allen tonight and he’ll again bring his usual bull terrier-like game to the table. Higgins is the only player left in this who has won it before and knows what it takes, but he’s also arguably had the easiest path here out of the lot of them. They met in the first round here last year and Allen came through a tense decider and I get the feeling that tonight could be very similar. In fact they have met three times over the years at The Masters and Allen has won all three so he can come into this knowing that history is firmly on his side. I expect the crowd to be quite noisy tonight, possibly about 75/25 in favour of Allen and if it goes close I think we could see an absolute classic in an electric atmosphere that only really here and The Crucible is capable of generating. My advice is to get the beer in, forget going out to spend too much money somewhere where you can’t hear yourself think, get a takeaway or pre-prepare something you can run to the oven to grab in between frames and sit there from start to finish, getting gradually more pissed with every passing frame. Sounds like a plan? Yep. Also save yourself the stress of worrying who wins with just backing a neutral bet like the one below.

Prediction: Allen 6-5

Recommended Bet: Over 9.5 frames at 11/10 

January 17, 2018

The Masters Quarter Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 4:59 pm

After an eventful first round at Alexandra Palace it’s now time to turn our attention to the Quarter Finals played over the best of eleven frames on Thursday and Friday. 

The betting so far has been almost Nostradamus-esque so let’s see if we can keep the good run going. I hope some of you followed the advice and made a few quid out of the first round.  

The matches are listed below in the order that they are being played and if you click on the match it will take you to the head to head record between the two protagonists.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Allen (Thursday 1pm)

The Superlative Police were out in force for Ronnie after his dazzling display against Marco Fu. John Parrott’s eyebrows were arched to their ultimate peak and even Stephen Hendry smiled at one point, that’s how good it was. Here he’s back at his favourite stomping ground to take on Mark Allen who lost to him over this distance recently at the Champion of Champions. Allen hasn’t beaten Ronnie since 2011 but it’s quite strange given their stature in the game that they haven’t played each other more often. It goes without saying that if Ronnie plays like he did against Marco, then nobody is going to stop him this week, but if he’s a little out of kilter I’d say Allen is the sort of player that could put up a decent fight. Allen himself took care of an under par Luca Brecel in the first round and looked pretty good but this is a whole different bag of onions. Despite the fact that Ronnie’s low on magnesium and seeing double, only a very brave punter would lay a penny against him here. He shows no signs of letting anyone get close to him so I’ll go for a repeat of their match in Coventry.

Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-2.

Recommended Bet: Under 8.5 frames in the match at 11/8 and Ronnie (-2.5 frames) at 5/6

Kyren Wilson v Mark Williams (Thursday 7pm)

Despite the excitement generated by Ronnie, the resurgent Mark Williams was the star of Round 1 for me. He was on the verge of a 6-3 defeat against Selby and showed incredible composure to get himself back in it and win a decider. The way he is around the table at the moment reminds me of him at his very best and when he is playing like that I’d argue he is as good to watch as Ronnie is. However, in their only two meaningful battles, MJW is yet to beat his opponent here Kyren, but it has to be said that they are not comparable to this match which is by far and away their biggest duel to date. Kyren played well against Barry Hawkins but didn’t impress as much as Williams did, especially towards the end of the match when it got a bit tense and a repeat of that if this goes close won’t be good for him. For me, Williams in this form is a must back until he shows signs of it beginning to fade, he’s working hard away from the event, putting in hours of practice befitting of a mustard keen junior player and his appetite for the game is almost now rivalling his appetite for a cheeky Nando’s. I’m 100% in the Williams camp on this one.

Prediction: Williams 6-3

Recommended Bet: Williams (-1.5 frames) at Evens     

Judd Trump v Shaun Murphy (Friday 1pm)

Attention all pockets. Many people’s idea of the match of the round here between two players whose previous head to head stats are heavily skewed by best of five Championship League meetings. However if we drill deeper into the stats and take out the minor meetings we find that it’s Judd who holds a commanding lead, with Shaun’s only really meaningful win against him coming over a decade ago in the 2007 World Championship when Judd was just learning the ropes. Since then it’s been largely Judd all the way and perhaps that tells us that the way Shaun approaches the game is right up Judd’s street. I have detected a change in Murphy over the last few months though and if confidence is any pointer to the winner here he’d be favourite, but that head to head record does just place that doubt in my mind and I’d imagine that’s why the bookies make Judd a fairly strong favourite. I’ll be honest, I started writing this thinking of tipping up Murphy, but often you have to go with patterns and that’s when I started having doubts. What I will say is that I think Murphy is a better player now than he was 6 months ago and I’m not sure I’d say the same thing about Judd, so with all that taken into account I’ll take Murphy to pinch it, but not by much.

Prediction: Murphy 6-5

Recommended Bet: Over 9.5 frames in the match at Evens.      

John Higgins v Ryan Day (Friday 7pm)

I always get lambasted on Twitter when I say I don’t really like watching Higgins, perhaps it’s that old British thing of not really supporting winners, but that doesn’t really tally with my admiration for other champions and how they play the game. Sometimes I suppose a player just doesn’t float your boat and that’s Higgins with me. As you’d expect he holds a commanding lead in the head to heads over Ryan Day, who continued his strong recent form with a win over Ding in Round 1. Higgins was at his tenacious best towards the end of the match against McGill and similarly I think Day is a little in awe of John and I can see this match going largely the same way. I expect Higgins to win but given Ryan’s form I can’t see him getting hammered, he has beaten Higgins over similar distances before so it’s not exactly unchartered territory for him and my guess is that he’ll just want to go out and continue to enjoy his rich run of form without worrying too much about the result. There’s been 7 centuries in their last 3 encounters and given the pockets here are playing quite generously, that’s where I’ll be putting my money.

Prediction: Higgins 6-4

Recommended Bet: Over 1 century in the match at 11/10  

January 10, 2018

The Masters Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:30 am

Alexandra Palace once again plays host to The Masters from Sunday, the tournament where the top 16 players in the rankings (usually) battle it out for the £200,000 winners prize, with each match up to the two session final played over the best of 11 frames. Hashtag, Bliss.

This year there are two debutants, namely the first time top 16’ers, Scotland’s Anthony McGill and Belgium’s Luca Brecel as well as a returnee after a nine year absence in Ryan Day, who will be playing at this venue for the very first time. The remaining 13 all played here last year, are pretty old hands at this and are well used to the surroundings of London’s main showpiece snooker arena.

So who are the main casualties that are missing out to make way for the three newbies above?

Well, the obvious first one is Neil Robertson, who, although now back into the top 16 (he’s 13th) unfortunately left it one tournament too late to grab a place by winning the Scottish Open in December, after the final cut off date in the rankings for this. The unfortunate Robbo will be joining the Eurosport team and he’s never short of an opinion so that should be an entertaining addition to their coverage for those who prefer them to the BBC.

Secondly, Stuart Bingham, who again though ranked in the top 16 (he’s 11th) is still serving out his suspension for a breach of betting rules, he’ll be back in a few weeks time. This means that both Day (17th) and Liang Wenbo (18th) make the starting line up this time.

Another player who we’d normally expect to see lining up here but isn’t is Stephen Maguire (19th). His poor overall season last year saw him drop down the rankings though he is moving in the right direction again now. Another recent Ally Pally stalwart Joe Perry (21st), also misses out for the same reason, as does Mark King (20th) despite a spirited attempt to creep through the back door unnoticed at the death.

But as ever, despite it being not the top 16 players in the world this year, it’s a great line up and any of the first round matches could, these days especially, be a ranking event final. Highlights for me are the Selby/Williams clash on the opening Sunday afternoon where we hope they can dish up some winter drama to warm us all up. Mark Allen and Luca Brecel is another which I think will be a cracker and very attacking, while as we move into the week we see another crash/bang/wallop encounter between Judd Trump and Liang before Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter lock horns in what usually is a very entertaining match up, we’ll surely see a decider or two in amongst that lot you’d think.

But whoever your personal favourite is, this is one of the snooker weeks of the year and I almost got though the whole of this preamble without mentioning Ronnie O’Sullivan; winner here for the last two seasons and bidding for a further record breaking eighth Masters title, as he already holds the record with seven. It’s quite staggering that after his first title in 1994/95 it took him a decade to win another one in his own neck of the woods and yet he is still in line to add to this tally. His longevity at the top of the sport alone should quash any arguments about him not being the best player the snooker world has ever seen and he shows no sign of slowing down just yet.

Anyway, here is a look at each match individually in the order in which they are played, remember this is a one table situation throughout.

You can click on the match itself to take a look at each head to head stat, courtesy as ever of the excellent Cue Tracker website.

The way each match slots into the draw is captured in the image either above (mobile view) or to the right (desktop view).

Mark Selby v Mark Williams (Sunday January 14 at 1pm)

The curtain raiser features World Champion Selby taking on Williams in this round for the second year in succession following Selby’s deciding frame win when the pair met last year. Interestingly, for followers of patterns and history’s habit of repeating itself, it’s worth noting that in the six years since the event was moved to Ally Pally only two matches on the opening cosy, sold-out, Sunday winter afternoon live on the BBC have failed to go to a decider. The only exceptions were in 2016 when Mark Allen beat Shaun Murphy 6-4 and back in 2012 when Ronnie beat Ding by the same scoreline. So Bazza’s Big London Show does tend to usually start with a bang. Who can forget Liang Wenbo being one ball away from knocking out eventual champion O’Sullivan this time last year? The numpty. If you look at the head to head between these two and factor all the information above into your calculations, it’s fair to say that if ever a match had decider written all over it, it’s this one. Selby, by his standards has had a pretty poor season so far, he’s only won the most lucrative event in China but it’s his shock defeat to Scott Donaldson at the UK that is most clear in the memory. Williams on the other hand is enjoying something of an Indian summer in his career and looks a contender again at everything he plays in. His win over in Northern Ireland showed that he maintains a champions touch and I don’t think he’ll mind too much being thrust into the limelight again here. I think it will follow the pattern of recent history and go either 6-4 or 6-5 again. I’m going to side with the Welshman to end the World Number 1’s journey at the first stop in an opening afternoon thriller. Get the kettle on, get the posh tin of bikkies out and put your feet up.

On your Marks….

Prediction: Williams 6-5

Recommended Bet: Over 9.5 frames in the match at 5/4. 

Mark Allen v Luca Brecel (Sunday January 14 at 7pm)

One thing I think it’s safe to predict here is that we’re not going to be seeing a lot of safety between two of the most entertaining, attacking players on the tour. Luca is yet to trouble Mark in the three meetings they have had but it could be argued that Mark hasn’t yet faced the new, improved, grown up, inked-up hipster version of the Belgian Bullet and that makes this a mouth-watering tie. Luca has improved in leaps and bounds over the last two seasons, capturing his first title and establishing himself for the first time within the upper echelons of the sport. He’s a fabulous natural talent and has what a lot of the top players have, including Allen, the ability and the bottle to raise his game on the big stage, which he is now finding himself on more and more. For me this could be one of the matches of the tournament and I’d expect, with it being on Day 1, the opening day pockets to do their job and provide us with some big breaks. In terms of a result, I’ll marginally side with Allen who seems in decent form of late, but it would be no surprise if Luca won here and I’d go as far as to say not the biggest surprise if he ended up right at the sharp end come the end of the week. I’ve taken big pre-draw odds on that very thing happening, though said draw could have been a lot kinder to him with a possible clash with O’Sullivan awaiting the winner.

Prediction: Allen 6-4

Recommended Bet: Brecel to make at least one century at 13/8.    

Ding Junhui v Ryan Day (Monday January 15 at 1pm)

The immediate thing you notice about the head to head for these two is that when they meet in big events they usually end up playing a decider. It’s happened five out of the last six times they have played with the other one being won 6-4 by Day, so to say that Ding is a clear favourite in this match would be foolish. Indeed looking back you could argue that Ryan has the edge when they get to the big stage and despite the fact that this is his first match at the Ally Pally he’ll come into this full of confidence, having broken back into the top sixteen, albeit temporarily, for the first time in the best part of a decade at the UK with some of his career best snooker just before the Christmas break. Contrast this with Ding, looking bereft of confidence in the UK and before, following some trouble with his eyes, losing to players that you’d normally expect him to hammer and you have to say that if there is a favourite here purely on recent form, it has to be Day. Ding did manage to qualify for Berlin just before Xmas with a deciding frame win over Gerard Greene followed by a comfortable victory over Nigel Bond, so there are signs that his health troubles are behind him, but to back him here you are relying on the fact that he’s back to top form, which to me is too big an ask in such a short space of time. Win or lose, whichever way you look at it the value in terms of a bet here is Day, especially if you think he might get the job done without the need for a decider and fancy chancing the handicap markets.

Prediction: Day 6-4

Recommended Bet: Day to win at 13/8.   

Judd Trump v Liang Wenbo (Monday January 15 at 7pm)

Another potential corker of a match between two similar style of player who couldn’t really be more equal on the head to heads at 5 matches each, unless you want to be really pedantic as Liang has a 41-40 frame advantage. Judd hasn’t been firing on all cylinders consistently now for a while and there seems to be an element of ‘demons’ with him these past few seasons at times. For me he sometimes tends to overthink the situation rather than play the free-flowing snooker we associate him with, there are signs that the weight of expectation that is routinely placed on him and the tag that some lay at his doorstep of a serial underachiever are beginning to niggle. All too often recently he’s started matches and tournaments in blistering form only for a couple of things to go wrong and the whole mood turn. It’s never nice when the snooker demons start whispering to you in the middle of a match and I suspect that Judd probably needs to work on coping mechanisms for this as he does seem to go into a bit of a sulk sometimes, which doubtless also lifts his opponent’s confidence levels to add to the pressure he’s under. All that said however he’s still having a much better season than Liang, who is the extremely fortunate beneficiary of Bingham’s ban and Robbo’s overdue late rally after the cut-off deadline. The Chinese player can count himself very fortunate to be here at all really as the current 18th ranked player in the world and it does beg the question of why the draw couldn’t have waited until after the Scottish Open. I’ve no really strong feelings on this one but I’d guess that Judd will win with a strong start, silencing the inner voices for now at least, I don’t think there is any value backing him in the outright at the moment though as the bookies seem to routinely have him far too short compared to others in much better form.

Prediction: Trump 6-3

Recommended Bet: Over 1 century in the match at 11/10.   

Ronnie – ‘If I win it I ain’t picking no trophy up that ain’t mine to keep’ – isn’t that a double negative?

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Marco Fu (Tuesday January 16 at 1pm)

Enter The Rocket. Ronnie is bidding for a third straight Masters title in a format and a venue that seem to suit him to a T. He’s not far from home, he plays more or less every day and it’s a nice short week for him with him not starting until Tuesday. He also gets to hang out with all his Eurosport chums when he’s not at work so it’s win win for him every time he comes here to put on a show. I’m not alone in thinking that he even managed to win this last year with his B game, he should have gone out on Day 1 but didn’t and from then on grew as the week went on and who is to say the same won’t happen again this week? I remember when ‘old Ronnie’ used to go into Head Fry Mode against a robotic Marco, but since he’s come out the other side with prototype two he just doesn’t lose to him. It’s almost a decade since the Hong Kong man got the upper hand so there is very little reason to suspect anything other than a comfortable win for O’Sullivan here. Oh yes, by the way, he’s also said that if he wins the Masters this year he isn’t going to pick up the trophy unless he is assured it is his to keep. This is the latest gambit in an ongoing dispute between himself and the governing body regarding silver/glassware, or in Ronnie’s view, the lack of it coming his way after he’s earned it. The powers that be may be hoping that he’s not quite himself on the table this year to avoid any potential embarrassment next Sunday evening.

Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-2

Recommended Bet: O’Sullivan (-2.5 frames) at 9/10.

Barry Hawkins v Kyren Wilson (Tuesday January 16 at 7pm)

These two meet in a big event for the first time, having spent the last few years bouncing around in best of seven events all over the tour, with Hawkins gaining an impressive lead in the head to heads as a result. It’s fair to say that both of them come into this in need of a confidence boost. Kyren has reached two finals this season but hasn’t really troubled the business end of events since October and failed to qualify for the German Masters in Berlin just before the break. Barry managed to get two much needed wins under his belt in that after a hugely disappointing UK Championship, losing 6-0 to Akani and he’s not fared well against the really top players all season. I wonder whether the manner of his crushing defeat to John Higgins in the Sheffield semi-final might have got to him a bit more than it would normally and has been carried over mentally into the new season, these things can play on your mind if you let them. Of course it may be something unrelated to matters on the table that’s stopped Barry being the player we all know he is so far this season. I’d not have a lot of confidence in either of them with a bet and given they could both really do with a kick start to 2018 to turn their seasons around I’d imagine that this one could get a bit twitchy and perhaps a bit scrappy too, which usually means the winning line is harder to fall over, I’d say the winner will have a very tough time in their second round match regardless of all outcomes.

Prediction: Wilson 6-5

Recommended Bet: Over 9 frames in the match at 11/10.       

Shaun Murphy v Ali Carter (Wednesday January 17 at 1pm)

Two experienced sparring partners go head to head in their latest big stage battle with Murphy coming into this in far better form than his opponent. These two have had some cracking battles over the years and perhaps surprisingly for some, it’s Carter who holds the upper hand, having also won their previous meeting in November 6-2 over in China. Murphy’s Champion of Champions final win over O’Sullivan and his subsequent run to the final of the UK to play Ronnie again means he comes into this full of confidence, probably feeling with some justification that he’s currently The Rocket’s closest challenger. He also qualified with ease for Berlin just before Christmas. Carter’s results of late have been quite the opposite, beaten by lower ranked players for much of November and December and failing to make it to Berlin, he’s another in need of a run in something having only made one semi-final this season way back in August. On form, you’d have to plump for Murphy, but these two tend to slog it out and for me this is very much a punch for punch on the day call. As ever when they meet, this is very difficult to predict and you might be best having a look at the breaks markets instead, over this distance and given their prowess for dishing up I’d expect a couple of tons to fly in assuming it’s not a walkover one way or the other.

Prediction: Murphy 6-4

Recommended Bet: More than one century in the match at 13/8.       

John Higgins v Anthony McGill (Wednesday January 17 at 7pm)

I’ve no idea how this opinion would stand up to any scrutiny but isn’t it odd how we always seem to have the obligatory ‘all Scottish clash’ whenever there is a random draw? This time, the only two Scottish players in the top 16 meet each other first round. The head to heads tell us very little and as you’d expect Higgins holds the lead, with their last meeting being a whitewash in the first round of the Champion of Champions (again a random draw) which followed a comfortable victory for Jock the Elder in the final of the Indian Open. McGill has done enough to stay in the top 16 but hasn’t really done a lot more than that this season, barring that final appearance from a depleted field in India and you do feel that at some point he needs to step up the pace a bit to justify his lofty seeding following his Shootout win and subsequent elevation into the top 16 last season. I noticed that he said he hadn’t been practicing over Christmas following his defeat to Jimmy White in the German Masters qualifiers and chose as a result not to play in the Championship League early groups to sharpen up for this. Whether this approach works for him I don’t know but I suspect he’s going to have to be somewhere near his best to compete here against a player who he still seems a little in awe of.

Prediction: Higgins 6-2

Recommended Bet: Higgins (-1.5 frames) at 4/7.

I’ll not be putting up an acca as I think far too many of these matches are a coin toss, in terms of doubling up the recommended singles above I’d say my most confident four would be the Higgins one, the Williams/Selby one, the Hawkins/Wilson one and the Murphy/Carter one. So any combination of those in doubles and trebles is where I’ll be going. Or you could just back all the scorelines and see how it goes.

In the outright I can’t see any value out there really, Higgins at 9/1 perhaps but I’ve had ante-post bets on Brecel at 80/1 and Williams at 66/1, both significantly shorter now so not going to add to that.

December 29, 2017

If it Ain’t Broken….

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 1:13 pm

There is one list which features a number of Chinese players at the top of it.

With the yuletide festivities out of the way it will soon be time again to turn our attention to the second half of a packed season on the baize. Barely a weekend will pass between now and the big one in Sheffield where there won’t be snooker of some description taking place somewhere on the planet.

The man widely held responsible for this wall to wall potting is of course, Barry Hearn, who is never short of a word or ten when it comes to promoting the sports he owns. Just a few weeks ago, he could be heard heralding snooker as ‘the envy of other sports’ in relation to the penalties being dished out to miscreants. Whether they are found to be in breach of betting rules or more rarely, if they have been caught red-handed fixing the outcome of a match or frame, you can be sure that Bazza’s bloodhounds will do their work.

Two common factors in all the cases that have been investigated by the snouts at the Integrity Unit are of course, betting and bookmakers. Invariably, where there is a suspected fix on, someone, somewhere is usually making quite a bit of money out of it. When this type of thing is detected, the bookies get straight on the Batphone to Integrity Chief Nigel Mawer and the wheels of justice start spinning into action, at varying degrees of speed, with resultant punishments following.

It is however, exceptionally rare that this happens, well, at least the punishment bit. The most recent cases where this has resulted in lengthy bans have involved Leo Fernandez, who couldn’t have been more careless in his delivery of a deliberate foul stroke to order and of course, Stephen Lee, who had a file as thick as an extra large double thick sliced loaf once they’d dug out all his various misdemeanours; handing him a career ending ban to have with his doorstep toast.

But is snooker as ruthlessly efficient in rooting out the crooks as Barry would have us believe? Well, my answer to that is no. There is still an open secret in the rank and file of the game that knows it still goes on and it is almost always in a match involving a player from either Thailand or China. It’s clear that this recurring phenomenon is also known to the governing body, why else would they confiscate mobile phones from players hailing from those regions when they arrive at venues as they have started doing recently?

I’m sure the three matches below from the last few months are not isolated incidents and they add to a growing annual list of encounters that have gone exactly to plan before them. It’s not for me to speculate who is behind these fixes, but my guess is that the players are simply obeying orders. Generally, we’d never get to know about them as the betting is limited to the backstreets and bars of the countries involved, but now and again some of this knowledge finds its way into mainstream online betting websites used in other parts of the world, usually two particular firms. Then when these moves are spotted, word spreads in the gambling community and that’s how the likes of me get to find out that the outcome of a match is preordained before a ball is struck.

Let me explain.

Exhibit A – European Masters, 4th August. Micheal Georgiou 4-1 Yu De Lu

In the above chart, the odds on Yu De Lu to win the match are on the right hand side and the eventual winner Georgiou’s are on the left. Put simply, when the odds were first compiled, the Chinese player was a fairly strong favourite to win the match. However, such was the demand for the opposite to happen that just a few hours later Georgiou was being backed at ridiculously short odds to win at Pinnacle and Marathonbet, the two firms who routinely seem to take the hit when this sort of thing goes on. Georgiou rode out a very cosy winner racing to a largely unchallenged three frame lead and landing the gamble.

Exhibit B – Indian Open, 12th September. Matt Selt 4-0 Cao Yupeng

A less significant shift in odds than the previous example but still a marked one. Selt (left hand column) started favourite for the match with recent Scottish Open runner-up Cao marginally odds against. However, as momentum built, Cao’s odds lengthened at Marathonbet and by the time it all began he had drifted a point in the match market, which is pretty rare in snooker, where bookmakers tend to take a line and stick to it. Selt completed the 4-0 victory in rather pedestrian style with just one break over 50, a 55 to be exact. Cao scored just 76 points in the match. The gamble landed again.

Exhibit C – German Masters, 21st December. Mark Joyce 5-2 Lu Haotian

This is a good one. This was what one might define as a ‘quick fix’. Pinnacle this time taking a last minute hit on a Joyce win. In the 36 minutes prior to the start of the match the money started coming in for the Walsall man and the point drift in the odds on the Chinese player kicked in in the time it takes for Fergal O’Brien to eye up a long blue. Perhaps this is the new trend eagle-eyed punters will be looking out for in 2018. The last minute quick fix again delivered the desired result, from 2-2 at the interval, it was one way traffic on their return, perhaps after Lu got his phone back.

So, are these just coincidences? Well, that of course could be argued, but they stand out from the hundreds of other matches that have been played this season already. The money being gambled at online firms is probably from odds watchers on the other side of the world from the bars in China where the whole sting is being stage managed.

It seems clear from various responses from Barry on social media that he is aware of this, he talks of ‘ongoing investigations’ but we are yet to see or hear any evidence of these or any action that is being taken, other than the confiscation of phones, which may be a case of ‘after the horse has bolted’, ‘too little too late’ etc.

Spare a thought here for Stephen Lee, however you might feel about him and what he did, he was suspended immediately following a defeat to John Higgins in the Premier League in 2012 ‘on suspicion of match fixing’ and was never allowed back on the tour from that day forward. Why aren’t we seeing similar ‘pending investigations’ in matches where the outcome has already been shared around the snooker Twitter community with eerie accuracy? Particularly where there is evidence of price drifts as above, prior to the matches in question.

The arguments as to why this happens will be repeated again but the plain fact is that unless it is tackled it will continue as it has done now for years.

To single out De Lu, Yupeng and Haotian would be unfair without also singling out Zhang Anda, Tian Pengfei, Liang Wenbo and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh all of whom have been involved in matches with similar betting patterns to the ones above in the past. That’s even before we mention those who have disappeared from the tour over the years and have gone back to the amateur game in Thailand, where I’m sure there are rich pickings to be made.

So what, if anything, can be done? I’d not go down the obvious road of again questioning snooker’s relationship with gambling, the two have always been close as it could be argued are all sports to a greater or lesser degree. Instead, I’d perhaps argue that this is an inevitable consequence of the globalisation of the sport. Unfortunately, it’s not on everyone’s cultural compass to play fair, it’s also not on your average Chinese or Thai backstreet illegal bookie’s moral compass to not issue some pretty nasty threats should they not get their way.

In the meantime, punters over here will continue to bet on matches in good faith, unaware that in some cases, the result is pre-determined many many miles away. Or you could of course just become an ‘odds watcher’ and follow the money…..

December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas Everyone

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 4:05 pm

Thanks to all readers for your company both on here and on Twitter this year. I’m not blogging as much as I used to and in the spirit of the modern game, very much ‘picking and choosing’ events to cover and to watch.

The next blog you will see on here might ruffle a few feathers. As well as eating and drinking to excess I’m spending the next week gathering and adding to evidence of the continued presence of match fixing in snooker. But let’s not ruin anyone’s Christmas.

In the meantime, be kind to animals, consider rescuing one or donating to charity that helps them, don’t bet on or visit greyhound racing and have a lovely Christmas. My favourite Christmas song of the year is featured below. 

December 11, 2017

Scottish Open

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:07 am

After a pulsating week in York it’s now time to head North of the Border for the Scottish Open from Glasgow, the third leg of the Home Nations series and the final full event of 2017.

I’ll not be covering this on here as it’s not an event that I can really get my teeth into or get excited about. Following this and before the Christmas break there are German Masters qualifiers in Barnsley next week, then finally the potters get a bit of a rest.

For now I’ll just bash a few interest outrights out but like I say, I’ll probably give this one a wide berth. You can see the draw here and the match schedule here and the event is covered live on Eurosport.

Recommended Outright Picks: Neil Robertson 16/1, Yan Bingtao 33/1, Joe Perry 50/1 and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh at 150/1.

December 10, 2017

UK Championship Final

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:41 am

The best of enemies

The final of the UK Championship is once again being contested between two giants of the game. We may have had a fortnight of shocks but as so often happens, when all is said and done it’s big players that win this and 2017 in York will prove no exception.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is going for a record equalling 6th title, only Steve Davis has won this 6 times, even Hendry only managed to win 5 so it’s a chance for Ronald to once again trump the Scot today.

He faces Shaun Murphy, once champion and once a runner-up. Murphy has got steadily better as the week has gone along and given he managed to beat Ronnie in their last final a few weeks ago in Coventry you’d hope that he won’t let The Rocket command from the start as he has been allowed to do in his previous two matches, racing to 4-0 leads over Gould and yesterday, Stephen Maguire.

Their head to head shows Ronnie ahead, but you just get the feeling that Shaun is beginning to peg this back a little lately. Ronnie has benefited this week from opponents failing to take their chances, he’s left quite a few but both Gould and Maguire and to some extent Akani have let him off the hook, will Murphy capitulate in the same way? You would think not.

Revenge will be on Ronnie’s mind as he did not look best amused at losing that final last time. It’s an open secret that the two of these don’t really get on which adds to the atmosphere whenever they meet on the big stage, you can’t beat a bit of needle.

Having recommended Murphy at 25/1 each way in the main preview I can happily sit back and enjoy the match, cheering on for The Magician. If someone was threatening to shoot all my known family unless I made a prediction and given the Nostradamus like accuracy of the semi-final post yesterday I’d plump for a 10-6 win for O’Sullivan given the way his matches have gone this week, but I hope I’m wrong and I hope that Murphy wins, if only so I can crow next time I am invited back onto the radio that this was my first ever radio tip.

It’s been a very enjoyable week, but after this I’m not going to bother with the Scottish Open which starts tomorrow. We’re back to the grindstone of Best of 7 comps which I’m not a fan of, so I’ll just hope that Murphy can upgrade our Christmas nut roast to a luxury mushroom wellington with a triumph today and then see you all back here for The Masters.

December 9, 2017

UK Championship: Semi Final Saturday

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:56 am

The BBC deal is far from a shambles

So here we have it, we’re down to the infamous ‘one table situation’ in York as the final four players contest the best of eleven frames semi finals today after what has been a very entertaining championship.

Barry Hearn turned up at the venue yesterday and when he makes an appearance on your screens it’s usually because he’s got something to announce and yesterday was no exception. This time he was there to reaffirm the BBC’s commitment to showing snooker in the afternoons, unless of course there is some posh boys rugby on or it clashes with a particularly important episode of Flog It. They have further committed to putting it on the red button in the evenings for the next 5 years unless there is something better on at the same time. The Beeb will continue to cover one table at the big three events, namely this, The Masters and the World Championship.

It’s not been confirmed yet whether Dennis Taylor comes as part of the overall deal. Tense negotiations are ongoing and dwarf anything that’s been done so far on Brexit, which let’s face it wouldn’t be difficult. Dennis is asked to sit outside and talk about golf and Patsy Fagan with passers-by while the grown ups make a decision. It’s thought that the deal is worth millions but as ever Bazza is trying to get it on the cheap and pleading with the BBC to include Dennis to bring the price down. More news when I have it.

Anyway, enough of my gossip, here’s what we have to look forward to today, including a mouth watering match this afternoon, click on the match for the head to head stats.

1pm – Ronnie O’Sullivan v Stephen Maguire

Rumour has it that Martin Gould spent most of his pre-match time yesterday carelessly lounging around the venue while Ronnie played on the practice table for a couple of hours. This certainly told as O’Sullivan basically got the match won in the first half an hour before Gould could find anything like his touch. The gifts he handed Ronnie early on wouldn’t have looked out of place under the tree on Christmas Day and the grateful Rocket lapped them up. Whether a better prepared player might have given him a sterner test remains to be seen and possibly will be seen today. Maguire is in fine fettle coming into this and presents Ronnie with possibly his first real test of the championship. As you’d expect, the head to heads strongly favour O’Sullivan, but they have only faced each other twice in anything meaningful in the last 5 years, with one win apiece. I’ve had a feeling all week that at some point Ronnie will come unstuck, but all too often players just seem to melt when they come face to face with him, I don’t think Maguire will, but this has allowed Ronald to build up a head of steam and perhaps now we’ll see him at his very best. I think he’ll shade it, but I think Maguire will push him harder than anyone has all week. Let’s face it, if he’d have caught him in the form he was in against Akani he’d have beaten him, but now there is another win under his belt he faces a more focused animal. Remember in an interesting sub-plot, Maguire is playing this match to nick Liang Wenbo’s Masters slot, with the rest of the field now decided.

Predicted: O’Sullivan 6-4 

7pm – Shaun Murphy v Ryan Day 

Christmas at SB Towers will be upgraded if Murphy can carry off the 25/1 recommended bet this weekend but first he has to contend with snooker’s new deciding frame specialist Ryan Day, who has now finally done enough to be playing at The Masters after Christmas and you have to say deservedly so. Murphy walloped Mark King in the last round and has looked pretty good since his very lucky escape against Liam Highfield earlier on in the tournament. The draw has fallen nicely for him with Higgins and Selby going out early and now just Day stands in the way of him and another grand slam final. Their head to heads tell us very little as the vast majority of them have been in lowly events so we just have to take this one on form coming into it. Day has had three deciders on the spin now and has come through them all so the last thing Shaun will want is this to go close. Perhaps now that The Masters race is run Day will relax a little, but this is still a huge match for him, possibly you might argue the biggest of his long career and it remains to be seen if he’ll rise to the occasion. My guess is that this will be one of those matches where Shaun imposes himself from the start and keeps distance between them, so I’ll take The Magician to pull another winning performance out of the hat and land the each way spoils.

Predicted: Murphy 6-3  

December 8, 2017

UK Championship Quarter Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:00 am

Things are hotting up in York

After a pulsating night on the baize last night which saw Ronnie O’Sullivan narrowly scrape through against Sunny Akani we’re now into Quarter Final Friday. All four quarter finals take place today and as well as the prestige of the UK title itself there is still also the sub-plot of the final line up for The Masters next month still very much in the balance.

Liang Wenbo is in a very precarious position as things stand and he’ll be hoping that the top half of the draw is won by O’Sullivan and that Mark King doesn’t make the final, I think I’m right in saying that if those two things happen he’s safe. Ryan Day now looks almost certain to be lining up in Ally Pally but I’m sure there are anoraks out there who can think of a permutation to stop that happening (I’m guessing a King v anyone but Ronnie final and a certain result in said final would bump Day out)….anyway, this blog is not for anoraks so let’s have a butchers at the four matches taking place today.

Click on the match for the head to head.

1pm

Stephen Maguire v Joe Perry

Two old hands who seem to be at the top of their game this week meet here and one look at the head to head stats shows you who has been the dominant force of the two down the years. It’s almost a decade since Perry last beat Maguire, with 11 meetings since, of varying importance all being won by the Scot. That said, strangely, Perry has won probably their most important match up in the World Championship Quarter Finals back in 2008 in a decider, so if he’s trying to muster up some confidence he could do worse than watch a few shots of that match on You Tube before this afternoon. Quite why Mags has such a dominance over a player who has always been more or less his equal in the rankings for years is a mystery to me but one of the quirks of the game sometimes. Perry was magnificent the other night against Mark Allen and a repeat of that performance has to give him a real chance of breaking this hoodoo, but I’ve been very impressed by Maguire all week and coupled with the head to head will take him to snatch a close one.

Prediction: Maguire 6-4 

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Martin Gould

Just the three past meetings between these two and all of them have been won by The Rocket. I think the one thing we can safely predict here is an open game, Gould seems to thrive sometimes when thrown in the bear pit and it would be no surprise to me if he were to cause an upset here. Ronnie had a long night last night but he seems sharp of mind and focus this week and I don’t think that this will be a factor in the match. I would say however that Ronnie is missing more than he usually does this week and let’s be honest, he should really have lost last night and I dare say a more experienced player would have punished him more than Sunny did. There is a school of thought which says Ronnie already has one and a half hands on the trophy but I’m not sure I agree. I’m going to predict a shock this afternoon, the aftertimers are going to love this one.

Prediction: Gould 6-4

7pm

Shaun Murphy v Mark King

Mark King appears to be riding the crest of a wave of late, a newly found confidence borne of not having to worry so much about where the money for his next tattoo is coming from seems to have given him a real career Indian Summer. Yet again though we have a heavily one-sided match up in terms of head to heads here. The pair have met 14 times and King has won just once, though it must be noted that Murphy’s hold over him was broken in the China Open last year, once Mark had broken his ranking title duck. They met last month in the Champion of Champions on Shaun’s way to lifting the title and although Murphy does have a major edge in their past duels, he never really dishes out a hammering. King’s confidence and cockney sparrow-like charm is quite infectious these days and I think it’s winning him an army of new and nostalgic fans, Murphy gave Ricky Walden a right old walloping yesterday but you’d expect the MK Don to put up more of a fight given his recent form. I think this one will follow a similar pattern to a lot of their previous meetings with Shaun keeping Mark at arms length. Oh yes, I’m not really sure about all this Kojak stuff, it sounds like something that a 5 year old would make up.

Prediction: Murphy 6-4     

Ryan Day v Mark Joyce

The fourth Quarter Final again is heavily weighted in terms of previous meetings. This time, 7 matches played and Day has won 6 of them. You have to say that Day has been extremely impressive this week and for me the most impressive thing about him is that when he’s been asked real questions he has responded, two deciding frames of dominance is not something that you’d immediately associate with Ryan Day but that’s just what he’s dished out in the last two rounds. Joyce is an enigma to me, he just seems every now and again to post results that far outweigh his lowly ranking position while routinely losing to anyone that can hold a cue for three quarters of the season. I’ll obviously favour Day here but anyone betting on this one needs their head examining, it is with absolutely zero confidence or conviction that I make the prediction below, so watch it land.

Prediction: Day 6-3  

December 6, 2017

UK Championship Last 16

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:48 am

The final 16 players left in this year’s UK Championship will be battling it out for the next two days as the arena closes in and we’re now down to what is always referred to as the ‘two table situation’ where the atmosphere at The Barbican really intensifies.

John Higgins once again takes centre stage this afternoon against Mark King alongside the Battle of the Jocks as Graeme Dott locks horns with Stephen Maguire. The chasing pack are making things very awkward in terms of who will be at The Masters in January with Day, King, Maguire, Gould, Perry and Walden all still in it here. Just when Ryan Day, who plays this evening, shook off the challenge of Neil Robertson he now has that crowd breathing down his neck too. It’s still all up in the air and every match in this round bar the two evening ones tomorrow will have a bearing on the final Ally Pally line up with Liang Wenbo and Anthony McGill still uncertain of their starting places and needing results to go their way.

There are just 5 of the current top 16 left in the event which is a new record. The defeats for Barry Hawkins and Luca Brecel yesterday cemented the new age of the numpties and just Ronnie, Higgins, Murphy, Allen and Day are left there, though technically you could argue that Day is actually 17th given we are playing without Stuart Bingham, I’ll leave the official decision to the anoraks on that one.

Anyway, here’s the line up for the next 48 hours. Outright pick Murphy (25/1) is still in there grappling. In terms of fancies in matches they are all so hard to call but given that Dotty has struggled a little with consistency after big wins in the past I think Maguire could win their clash this afternoon. I’d hazard a guess that the increasingly impressive Lyu Haotian will beat Mark Joyce to the delight of Joyce’s mum and it will be interesting to see how Ronnie copes with the speed and tactics of his opponent, who whitewashed Hawkins last night. It’s all up for grabs.

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