March 31, 2012

China Open Final

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:18 pm

Peter Marches On.

We have reached the Final of the China Open and it will see Stephen Maguire and Peter Ebdon battle it out over 19 frames for the right to be crowned this year’s champion.

It’s an unexpected final, not so much with Maguire as he has been playing well lately but he has of course benefitted from a huge fluke against O’Sullivan to get here. But Ebdon, as he did in 2009 when he won here has shown absolutely no form coming into it.

For him to find himself in the final after wins over Matthew Stevens, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui is something of a shock. That year incidentally he went on to lose in the First Round at the Crucible to Nigel Bond, for anyone that believes in patterns of form.

In truth today’s semi-finals were a bit of an anti-climax, Stephen Lee never looked like the player he has been for the past couple of months and Maguire won with a little in hand and was never really troubled after the mid-session interval. As for Peter, it was more of the same and hard match snooker took him through against Ding. The focus will always be on Peter’s pace of play but he did miss very little and is clearly in great, if rather slow form.

The betting hasn’t gone very well this week and it’s time to refocus now for the World Championship and just write it off as one of those events. I think Ebdon will win tomorrow and I will probably back him but will not recommend a bet. If he plays as he has been I would predict he’ll start getting to Mags quite early on and not let go. It might be a good match to play in-running/crawling if Maguire starts well. For a scoreline, I’d go with 10-6 or 10-7 to Ebbo.

The winner of course gets into the Premier League, I’ll bet Bazza will be delighted to welcome Ebdon into that with open arms, gritted teeth and a clenched fist.

It’s also a big day for the Tipster Contest as after a season of battle it is all going down to the final match. The updated table is here and the long and short of it is that if Maguire wins, Deco800 will win it and if Ebdon wins Odds-n-Sods will. Regulars will be aware that the man behind Odds-n-Sods is the late Richard Preen who sadly passed away a few weeks ago after a battle with a long-term illness. Should Rich win we can hopefully make suitable arrangements. He continues to be very sadly missed as a contributor to the blog and would I’m sure have been having some verbal sparring with Deco tomorrow.

The best of luck if you are having a bet on the Final.

Stephen Maguire v Peter Ebdon 

Past Meetings:

Player 1 Player 2 Tournament Date Round Result
Peter Ebdon Stephen Maguire Players Tour Championship 5 2011 23.09.2011 Round 1 4-2
Peter Ebdon Stephen Maguire Malta Cup 2007 01.02.2007 Round 2 5-2
Stephen Maguire Peter Ebdon European Open 2004 01.03.2004 Round 1 5-4

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March 30, 2012

China Open Semi Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:22 pm

Peter has changed his attitudes as well as his diet

We are down to the last four players in this year’s China Open after a marathon day in Beijing. If ever you wanted a bit of variety in your snooker today was the day for you.

The first session was fantastic, I didn’t know where to look as Ronnie and Mags on one table were serving up a tightly fought match whilst Lee and Judd on the other were serving up another snooker treat.

I still find it hard to understand how Maguire actually won as Ronnie always seemed the cooler, more composed of the two and Mags missed a lot of chances. But the answer is that he fought and never gave up, OK he fluked the black, but in truth Ronnie should have finished the match off with a clearance, playing a poor positional shot on the final red and leaving Mags the chance to hit back which he took. While the quality wasn’t quite up to either of their usual standards, the match was a fantastic advert for snooker and drama at it’s best.

Judd and Stephen’s game on the other hand was for the most part, fantastic. Judd started like he meant business but the unphased Lee answered with two centuries and ended up taking four on the spin to go 4-2 up. Judd fought hard but struggled towards the end of the match if truth be told and perhaps to the hyper-critical he exposed the failings that are still there at times in his game. I still don’t think he should be favourite for the World Championship but he is more than capable of proving me wrong and the bookies right if he is on song for a fortnight. Anyway, Stephen held himself together to continue his fabulous recent run and faces Mags tomorrow morning.

The second session was a little less frantic and Ding Junhui took care of Ali easily enough without either of them really doing anything special. In truth Ding looked in control from early on and ran out a comfortable 5-2 winner. Like all great players he is an excellent front runner, but it’s great to see Ali back and playing reasonably well.

Robbo and Ebdon served up what can only be described as ‘old-school snooker’. The two greatest headworkers in the modern-day game spent the best part of five hours trying to outsmart each other and I actually really enjoyed it. Ebdon remains an enigma, impossible to read and foolish to write off. He has the courage of a lion and the will and determination of a dog with a bone, he is truly one of a kind. His vegan diet received a few mentions and it turns out that Peter David Ebdon has been blogging all about it without telling us. His story of why he has turned to veganism is, as you would expect brutally frank and honest and can be read here. I greatly admire anyone that can make changes like this for the right reasons, being a lapsed vegetarian myself he certainly puts me to shame.

Anyway, Robbo could not compete with Peter today and the 5-3 scoreline was about right in the end. Having already backed Robbo for Sheffield, I’m actually glad he lost and think him getting back to old Blighty as soon as possible can only be a good thing, he’s still in cracking form.

In terms of the betting, the morning session could not have gone worse and the afternoon could not have gone better. The recommended double making up for the morning results. We are still a bit behind in this and I’ll be having a go to get back on an even keel at least over the weekend.


Stephen Maguire v Stephen Lee (h2h 4-4)

Two players in their best form for a decade and with a level head to head. So a nice easy one to predict then. Lee played better than Mags did today but I always take into account the Ronnie Factor with some players and I would expect him to play better in this match. Lee is currently the best player in the world on form, there is now nobody who can deny that, a runner-up in the World Open, the winner of the PTC Grand Finals and now this. So why is he continuing to be the outsider in matches? I can’t think of a reason so therefore I’m going to back him tomorrow. It’s a straight double your money bet and I’m happy to recommend it.

Recommended Bet: 4 points on Stephen Lee at Evens with Boylesports 


Ding Junhui v Peter Ebdon (h2h 10-1)

Yes you read that head to head correctly. Ebdon has only beaten Ding once in eleven meetings, which was their second back in 2006 when he beat him in the UK Championships. Since then it has been Ding all the way, granted a few of them have been in minor events. Their most recent meeting was 5-2 in the German Masters last season but Ebdon is playing than that better now. These two go a long way back and it was actually Peter who first started shouting about Ding when they used to practice together in Ding’s formative years, I think that the relationship they had in practice has continued on the table and I feel Ding has the edge on Peter for whatever reason. I fancy Ding to win quite strongly here.

Recommended Bet: 3 points win on Ding (-1.5 frames) at 4/5 with Paddy Power

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Boylesports SB300 Tipster Contest Latest

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:10 pm

As we approach the final stages of the season-long Tipster Contest for the big bets at the Crucible it remains in the balance. Season-long leader Deco800 can still be caught, it’s down to the wire and the latest standings are here

March 29, 2012

China Open Quarter Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:41 pm

Apparently it's very good for the back.

It’s Quarter Final time on Friday and four cracking matches we have too. Today was as eventful as ever and the off-table news was that poor old Mark Selby had to withdraw with a neck injury, leaving Ding Junhui with nobody to play with so he went through automatically.

The first session saw a resumption of the one-man show that is Ronnie against MJW. Ronnie continues to dominate the meetings between the pair and as one rather cruel Tweeter put it, in jail terms MJW might be referred to as Ronnie’s ‘bitch’ (only joking I loved it, bit too near the knuckle for a Photoshop image though as I would like you all to return at some point). This time Ron won 5-1 and never looked like losing, the pair go way back and like most psychological issues we adults have it can probably be traced back to childhood, perhaps in this case to their early meetings on their respective roads to riches. They are due to meet in the Last 16 at the Crucible and if I were Mark, I’d chat to someone that might be able to put his head right for that one or we can expect more of the same (just not Terry bloody Griffiths…). It’s a shame, because if they were both at their best it would be some spectacle for us all.

Judd and Stuart Bingham had a great battle, Bingo at 3-2 up was beginning to look in command, much like their match in the Masters recently where he led by the same score, only for Judd to again produce when he had to and take command. I still don’t feel Judd is anywhere near his UK form from December and will have to up it a few notches in Sheffield, but he’s getting there and is possibly peaking again just in time.

Stephen Lee shows no sign of stopping his amazing run of late and even if he loses tomorrow against Judd he will go into the World Championship in ultra confident mood. One thing about Lee is that he doesn’t get carried away and what he has got lots of is bottle, he wasn’t in my calculations for Sheffield but I did nibble at the 66/1 a couple of weeks ago and I’m glad I did, even though I don’t think he’ll win it. Anyway, Stephen saw off the tenacious terrier Graeme Dott 5-3 in what looked like a decent battle.

Finally, Stephen Maguire, another player in form saw off Ricky Walden in a very slow match that went to a decider. I found that quite odd as they both usually don’t hang around so that tells me it was either a tight tactical battle (unlikely) or a bit of a hackfest (more likely).

The second session was greeted with the news of Selby’s withdrawal and Ding’s walkover. It is beginning to look like Ding’s lucky week after his comeback in the first round to beat Ben Woollaston and then this. I have it on good authority that the local massage parlour Ding recommended to Mark last night, coincidentally called ‘Dings Delights’, when he complained of feeling tired had absolutely nothing to do with events today. It is perfectly normal practice for the session to finish with Fat Ling Long sitting on the opponents, I mean the clients, head for ten minutes.

Someone in better health today was Captain Carter. Ali putting in another winning performance against Lu Ning, who of course knocked out Shaun Murphy yesterday. Ali can take great heart from his form so far. The thing is, even though he has been on a bad run and despite his health problems he hasn’t played that badly in defeat and the wins, when they come, usually by definition keep on coming. I’m delighted for him as he has been a long term supporter of the blog and is a great sport. I’d love to see him get into tip top shape for Sheffield and I will be there to cheer him on.

Goldilocks won again, Neil Robertson this time knocking out Hendry who must be so frustrated at the inconsistency he is showing in matches. Brilliant one minute, couldn’t hit a bulls arse with a shovel the next. Robbo won 5-3 but could easily have lost had Hendry taken the chances he was given, he’s just missing far too many easy balls these days to be a contender again I’m afraid.

Finally, Peter Ebdon put paid to John Higgins Crucible preparations by beating him in a decider. Higgins hasn’t won anything since the Crucible last year and for me isn’t a contender this time around. There will be those who scoff at me saying that but I genuinely believe it, I don’t think he’s one of the names that can win it despite not having a bad draw, semi-finals at best for me.

Ebdon’s win managed to throw the customary turd in the pie as regards the betting. Had he won we would have been looking at a level book for the week give or take a point or two, but as it is we only managed to recoup a few losses with the trebles and acca which included three winners and non-runner Selby. Back to the drawing board….

Shall we meet again?


Judd Trump  v Stephen Lee (h2h 2-2)

Judd played well when the pressure came on him today but was helped by some misses by Stuart which players like Lee in current form would have taken. It’s really difficult to know how Lee is playing but I expected him to make it this far. I think Judd will be fired up for another possible meeting with Ronnie in the semi-finals which I am sure the fans over there will be going berserk for, he seems in the mood to defend his title successfully and my outright book hopes he does, I’ll predict Lee’s great run will end tomorrow.

Prediction: Trump to win 5-3

Stephen Maguire  v Ronnie O’Sullivan (h2h 3-14)

Ronnie seems to have holds over players, as discussed above with MJW. Maguire is another who very rarely produces his best against the Rocket and Ronnie to me looks sharp and focused now. He’s going to take some stopping in this and I don’t think Maguire is the player that is capable of doing it. It’s a Judd v Ronnie semi-final on the cards all the way for me.

Prediction: Ronnie to win 5-1

Recommended First Session Bet: 4 point double on Trump and O’Sullivan at an Enhanced 7/5 with Boylesports. 


Ding Junhui v Ali Carter (h2h 6-3)

Hopefully after the morning session I won’t feel the need for a bet on this and I will be cheering on Ali from afar. I don’t think he’ll win as I’m not sure his game is yet up to the standard he’d like it but often with players in Ali’s current situation it’s all about confidence. If I was him I’d just go out and enjoy it and not worry about rankings and the like, safe in the knowledge that he’s back mixing it with the big boys and can go into the Crucible with this tonic inside him. However, I reckon we’ll be seeing Ding in Sunday’s final.

Prediction: Ding to win 5-2

Neil Robertson v Peter Ebdon (h2h 1-3)

This is my kind of snooker match. Two of the greatest headworkers in the game go head to head. Expect plenty of shifts in seating posture, long toilet breaks, lingering over shots when it is blindingly obvious which one they are going to play, ice-rattling and towel rubbing as they try their best to outsmart each other in the psychological stakes. Of course, they would both deny they employ tactics like this, all the best headworkers do. I love it and long may it last. Funnily enough they have played each other in this very event the last two seasons and both times Ebdon has won 5-1, the first time the ‘1’ that Neil scored included a 147, he was to go on to win the World Championship just a few weeks later. Ebdon seems, from the scoring at least to be hitting form, I think he might send Curlytots home to prepare for the bigger fish he has to fry in Sheffield.

Prediction: Ebdon to win 5-1 (why not?)

Recommended Bet: 3 points double on Ding (-1.5) and Ebdon (+2.5) at just over 7/4 with Apollobet.

Recommended Bet: 2 points win Ronnie O’Sullivan to win China Open at 7/2 with Betfred

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March 28, 2012

China Open Day Four

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:14 pm

We saw Two Ronnies today

It’s Day Four of the China Open and after we saw two Ding’s yesterday today was firmly a case of The Two Ronnies with Mr O’Sullivan producing a grandstand finish after having his followers very worried indeed about his state of mind.

The early session this morning started with comfortable wins for both John Higgins and Mark Williams who both came through 5-1. Higgins outsmarting The Dentist Rory McLeod and by all accounts looking a bit more like the World Champion who has largely gone AWOL this season up until now. MJW warmed up for his stint in Burtons next week with a win over wildcard Jin Long, his arsecheeks firmly trousered up for the time being.

Ricky Walden sent Mark Allen home and also brought a calamitous end to a decent bet I had running. But at least I can take comfort in the knowledge that poor Marky won’t have to suffer any more and can come back home to prepare for Sheffield, the poor lamb.

Joe Perry once again failed to put away a commanding lead and was beaten in a decider by Ballrun Bingham. Stuart looked to be on his way to a maximum in frame 8 but broke down on the penultimate red. Very careless, I’m sure you will agree.

We then came to the afternoon session and this saw Ronnie up against Marcus Campbell on one of the live tables. It seemed for all the world after three frames of the match that Ronnie had no intention of playing well and the whole will he or won’t he nature of him getting to China seemed destined to end in calamity. But as ever Ronnie brought us just what we didn’t expect and eventually started playing something which resembled snooker. A missed pink from Marcus when he had a chance to take a 4-0 lead seemed to ignite an otherwise lacklustre Rocket and from then on he grew in strength. Marcus did have his chances to put the match to bed however but in the end the break to seal the final frame that Ronnie made had a feeling of inevitability about it and he now faces MJW. I wonder if our ‘arse’ bet might get a mention in commentary? Of course, there are other high street shops available in which to show your buttocks, in the interests of journalistic balance.

Shaun Murphy came up against wildcard Lu Ning. After going 2-0 down and then levelling at 2-2 you sensed that Shaun had ridden the storm. But no, Lu Ning then produced back-to-back centuries and a break under pressure in the seventh frame to send Shaun packing. Matthew Stevens also came unstuck against a resurgent Peter Ebdon who appeared to dictate the pace of a fairly slow match. Both had centuries but it was Ebdon that seemed to be scoring more consistently throughout and he ran out a 5-3 winner and now takes on Higgins. There was some good news however for us fans of Ali Carter, the Captain winning a decider against Dom Dale and setting up a tie with Shaun’s conqueror Ning, it would be great to see Ali go deep in this to give him the lift he needs in time for the Crucible.

In terms of betting it has been something of a calamitous day. Three of the outright picks were beaten, Allen buggered up the treble, Perry snatched defeat from the giving hands of victory and Matthew brought down a double. Other than that everything went well….

So to tomorrow and Ronnie’s record against MJW will again be the subject of much discussion, for a player as good as MJW it is difficult  to know why his record against Ronnie is so poor, that leads you to believe that Ronnie is the bet again tomorrow. Judd Trump also has something of a hoodoo over Ballrun Bingham, but not quite to the same extent. Seeing as Judd is now my last remaining outright hope I have to stick with him again there. Maguire and Walden is a very close one to call, Mags holds a 3-1 advantage in head to heads and did look very good yesterday, I’d marginally side with him. Another difficult call is Lee and Dott, but Lee’s form and a significant head to head lead (8-2) convinces me that he is worth sticking with.

In the second session Ding and Selby renew their rivalry. They have met four times in the last year and it’s two apiece, that’s a real gun-to-head job but I’d marginally favour the Jester on recent form. I can’t see Peter Ebdon extending his winning run against John Higgins despite the fact that he is a player that sometimes just plays well for a week after months of woeful form, he did just that in this in 2009 when he beat John in the final, but I can’t see him repeating that here.

I’ll be hoping that Ali can continue the run and see off Murphy’s conqueror Ning, he’s a decent price for those that feel Ning has had his moment in the sun. That just leaves Hendry against Goldilocks as the barnet everyone wants to ruffle their fingers through returns (or is that just me?). I don’t know why but I actually quite fancy Hendry to win that one, I have a bit of a feeling about him this week and I don’t mean the same type of feeling I have when I see Robbo’s hair, you know, the tingly one.

Recommended Bets:

4 points double Trump and Higgins at 4/5 with Boylesports

4×1 point trebles and a 1 point acca Lee, Maguire, Selby and Carter (best at Boylesports where the Acca pays almost 13/2)

1 point win Stephen Hendry to beat Robertson at 2/1 with Betfred. 

28 Ronnie O’Sullivan 5-1 Mark Williams
25 Judd Trump 5-3 Stuart Bingham
27 Stephen Maguire 5-4 Ricky Walden
26 Stephen Lee 5-3 Graeme Dott

29 Ding Junhui W/O Mark Selby (Selby has withdrawn due to a neck injury)
32 Peter Ebdon 5-4 John Higgins
30 Ali Carter 5-1 Lu Ning
31 Neil Robertson 5-3 Stephen Hendry

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Watch Martin O’Donnell’s 147 break

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:12 pm

Snookerbacker Classic Champion Martin O’Donnell made his first competitive 147 break over in Basel last weekend and you can watch it here (first few reds missing).

Martin told us all about it earlier in the week here.

SB300 Tipster Contest Update

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:00 pm

The latest update on the season-long Boylesports Snookerbacker 300 Tipster Contest following the last 32 of the China Open is here. Can Deco hang on to his lead?

The winner gets £300 worth of free bets from Boylesports on the World Snooker Championship.

Click the banner below to open an account with Boylesports and receive a FREE £40 BET when you place a £20 bet


March 27, 2012

China Open Day Three

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:06 pm

We saw two Ding's today

What drama we saw at the end of Day 2 with Ding Junhui completing a comeback of Lazarus proportions to defeat Ben Woollaston 5-4 in front of his home crowd.

But before Ding’s heroics we witnessed some one-sided stuff in the earlier session with the exception of one match. Mark Selby who was apparently feeling unwell, came through 5-0 against wildcard victor from yesterday Li Hang.

See, the thing with Selby these days is that you would never know he is sick as he always looks half dead anyway, so the opponent is none the wiser as to whether he is genuinely ill or feeling at fit as a flea, giving the World Number One an immediate psychological advantage if he so much as picks his nose (which he does sometimes as we all know). We only have it on the commentator’s say-so that he was sick, he looked totally normal to me and the scoreline doesn’t suggest it’s anything to worry about for those that follow his every bottom wiggle and visual gag. He’ll be fine.

Stephen Maguire played very well again and kept up his impressive first round ranking event record with a swift dispatch of Barry Hawkins, who now heads off to the qualifiers for the World Championship in Sheffield which start next week. Mags won 5-1 and didn’t miss much at all.

The Dentist Rory McLeod meanwhile was busy going about his work against a 14 year old Chinese player who had a bit of toothache in his baby teeth. Rory swiftly, or rather not so swiftly, set about administering the anaesthetic before putting his victim to sleep, winning 5-0. The next patient in the queue is John Higgins, who didn’t find Rory all that easy to shake off in Sheffield last season.

The other match was a really long drawn out affair and Fergal O’Brien lost out to wildcard Jin Long. The man they (well, I) call The Ferginator looked set to win at 53-0 up in the decider only for his opponent to clear up with a 65 to snatch it. It’s a cruel game and even crueler when you are playing a player with nothing to lose and no right to be playing you. So Fergal joins Michael Holt and Jamie Jones on the growing list of those players that I’m sure would tell Barry where to stick his wildcards given half a chance. Here’s a clue, the sun don’t shine there and MJW will be showing his in Burtons window very soon assuming a certain Mr O’Sullivan breaks off tomorrow.

The second session saw a valiant attempt by Jimmy to oust Judd, but in the end the dream was shattered despite glimpses of quality from the Whirlwind. I really hope this signals a push to get to the Crucible for the first time in a while, it would be great to see him there just once more. Graeme Dott whizzed through the final two frames of his match against Mark King to book his place in the next round, it had looked like being a tight one but the Terrier obviously got the bit between his teeth and started rattling them in at a rate of knots. On the other table, Stephen Lee’s excellent recent form continued as he rattled off five on the spin after losing the first frame to Tom Ford for an easy victory.

But Ding’s match produced all the drama and Ben Woollaston will be having nightmares on the long journey home and wondering how he let Ding back into it. The mid-session interval changed everything and Ding rattled five on the spin from nowhere to clinch his first ranking event match win in China this season, to the delight of the incredibly enthusiastic crowd. He now faces Selby.

In terms of the betting so far it’s going ok, we’re ahead and with the 9/4 recommended fivefold landing on Day 2 that sets us up nicely. A win for Mark Allen against Ricky Walden would land the 5/2 maximum stake treble from the tournament preview with Maguire and Lee both coming through easily enough, which should secure a tournament profit after just three days. Fingers crossed.

In terms of tomorrow it’s a day that will be more of a watching brief for me. I don’t fancy bets in the matches involving John Higgins or Mark Williams in the first session, they should both win but they are no sort of price to be betting on. As I said above I’ve backed Mark Allen anyway so am happy to just keep an eye on that one. My other interest for the morning will be Joe Perry to upset the odds against Stuart Bingham. Stuart was whitewashed by Michael Holt in China last month and isn’t in the best of form lately, Joe however is winning more than he is losing and might be a player seeds will want to avoid if he makes it to the Crucible.

For the second session, I’ll hopefully be relaxing after Marky has won but if not I’ll be putting a decent single bet on Matthew Stevens to beat Peter Ebdon which realistically is the only bet of the session for me. Ronnie takes on Marcus Campbell and anything might happen there but you’d suspect a win for the Rocket. I suspect Shaun Murphy will cruise through and there may be those that will like the big name fourfold of Higgins, MJW, O’Sullivan and Smurf which pays just on 15/8 at Boylesports but I’ll not be risking that one.

I think Ali will bounce back with a win over Dom Dale but again the price is not enticing me in so it’s just the one single for me tomorrow at this stage. Though if Allen wins in the morning I’ll probably have a good bet on Stevens (current best price 8/13 with Boylesports).

Recommended Bets:

2 points Joe Perry to beat Bingham at 11/10 with Boylesports 


24 John Higgins 5-1 Rory McLeod
16 Mark Williams 5-1 Jin Long
14 Mark Allen 2-5 Ricky Walden
10 Stuart Bingham 5-4 Joe Perry

Seeing as Mark Allen let the acca down I’ll try and recoup with a 2 point double on Carter and Stevens pays almost 2/1 at William Hills. 


15 Ronnie O’Sullivan 5-4 Marcus Campbell
20 Shaun Murphy 2-5 Lu Ning
23 Matthew Stevens 3-5 Peter Ebdon
19 Ali Carter 5-4 Dominic Dale

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Test Post

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:34 am

A thing of beauty

Sorry, having some technical issues today and having to do live test posts.

But it does give us the opportunity to once again marvel at Neil’s barnet

I had to take it off the last post as for some reason the post didn’t like it.

I always said this blog had no taste.

Oh by the way, Spongy in the comments says that Phil Yates gave the blog a nice plug this morning.

Happy Days

End of Test.

China Day Two

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:00 am

(Please note that there are some technical issues on the blog this morning and that some comments may disappear as I try to fix them)

It’s Day Two over in Beijing and the undoubted talking point of Day One was obviously Neil Robertson’s hair.

Neil clearly landed in China minus his straighteners or converter plug or heaven forbid both, but the result was a glorious peek at his naturally bouffant barnet and we all feel much the better for it.

All the comedians on Twitter were out in force comparing our Neil to everything from a labradoodle dog through Shirley Temple to Harpo Marx, but it was clear for all to see that this was merely symptomatic of the jealousy directed at him as a result of the follicular versatility of the man from Melbourne.

At one point I thought that such were the levels of static electricity being produced from his golden locks that it might upset his game and cause heavy contacts. But in customary fashion he battled hard against a clearly distracted Jamie Cope who strangely played with a grin on his face for most of the match (I wonder why?) and came out an eventual 5-4 winner, vowing to keep his new look until he is beaten.

Personally, I prefer his classic Aussie blonde look but Mrs SB disagrees and to her the natural Robbo will always be tops. We have had to agree to differ on that one.

Another player famous for his hair is Jimmy White, our Jim had a thatch back in the day to cover a bald spot and he has never looked back. In spurts he looked like the Whirlwind of old today as he and his horsehair perma-toupee saw off his wildcard opponent 5-3. Jimmy looked to be heading towards a 147 at one point and was just a fraction out with position after 10 reds and blacks and it wasn’t to be.

On the non-televised tables, the follicularly challenged Mark King came through his wildcard and the man with a quiff you could ski-jump off Michael Holt became the first of two casualties to the wildcards, being beaten by Li Hang who now faces Mark Selby.

In the second session, another baldy Peter Ebdon managed to beat a little boy who should have been at school and Ben Woollaston saw off his wildcard opponent with relative ease. Welshman Jamie Jones lost to wildcard Lu Ning and no doubt will be yet another player frustrated by this sham of a round.

But the main talking points were all in the match concerning Stephen Hendry and Martin Gould. Hendry kicked off with a 135 and looked in fairly good nick for the majority of the match, despite still missing the odd ball just when you thought he was settled.

It was neck and neck all the way and poor old Phil Yates in the commentary box was getting very animated at times when his hero Hendry was in the balls, there was never more than one frame in it and it came as no surprise when it went to a decider.

Hendry looked to have thrown away his chance with two reds left and gifted a match-winning chance to Gould who somehow conspired to miss and let Hendry in for a match-winning clearance to win on the black. Some accused Hendry of gamesmanship as he unscrewed his cue after missing the penultimate red but that took away from what was a great piece of drama. Gould will be living that shot over and over for a while, it isn’t the first time he’s managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory and he remains in a really poor run of form going to Sheffield. Hendry marches on and who knows how that golden let-off might affect him? The crowd are clearly pulling for him.

So to Day 2 and in the first session I’d expect to see wins for Selby and The Dentist, Rory McLeod without too much fuss. The only outing for Rory’s opponent so far was in the World Open when he lost as a wildcard to Jimmy Robertson 5-2 and Selby should have too much for Li Hang, I think he’s hitting form at the right time after a quiet run and he tends to play well in China.

I think the prices on the match between The Ferginator and Jin Long are about right with Fergal edging favouritism, but I would not be at all surprised to see Jin win as of course he had a run in the World Open beating Sam Baird and Ding. In the other first round match of this session I would plump for Stephen Maguire who kicks off the recommended treble from the tournament preview.

In the evening I’d say Ding will be OK against Ben Woollaston. Ben looked very nervous in front of the cameras recently in Galway and though he will learn from this experience, a match in China’s biggest event against it’s biggest star might just be too much for him at this stage in his career. Stephen Lee is the second leg of the treble from the original preview as he takes on Tom Ford, I’d expect Judd to beat Jimmy even though I thought Jim played well earlier today and I hope that he can make a push to the Crucible this year as I would love to see him there. In the last match I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mark King upset the odds against Dotty, King tends to save his best for China these days and has had a match to prepare him and Dott is not the best traveller in the world.

Recommended Bets:

1 point Jin Long to beat Fergal O’Brien at 5/4 with Boylesports

1 point Mark King to beat Graeme Dott at 7/4 generally available 

2 point Acca on Trump, Selby, McLeod, Ding and Lee pays just over 9/4 at Boylesports

7.30am UK Time

17 Mark Selby 5-0 Li Hang
13 Stephen Maguire 5-1 Barry Hawkins
3 Fergal O’Brien 4-5 Jin Long
8 Rory McLeod 5-0 Zhou Yuelong

12.30pm UK Time

18 Ding Junhui 5-4 Ben Woollaston
9 Judd Trump 5-3 Jimmy White
12 Graeme Dott 5-2 Mark King
11 Stephen Lee 5-1 Tom Ford

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