Snookerbacker

January 19, 2020

The Masters Final

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:36 am

We meet again

They have been turf war rivals since they were juniors in Essex and today on the second biggest stage of all the two forty-somethings clash for the right to be crowned Masters Champion on the first year of a new decade.

Ali Carter and Stuart Bingham may not have been the names most were expecting to be lining up today (although ahem, I did advise Stuart as a decent each way bet in the original preview) but it’s still a scintillating prospect of a final for all sorts of reasons.

Ali of course shouldn’t even really be playing and has taken full advantage of the generous Christmas present afforded to him by Ronnie O’Sullivan’s decision not to play, I wonder how The Rocket is feeling now about that knee-jerk reaction given that the overall feel of the week has been very much the type of showpiece tournament he professes to love and in which he usually thrives? I’d hazard a guess that he won’t be missing next year.

Stuart has his eye on leg two of the triple crown having won the world but never the UK and the similarity of this run to his world championship win is not lost on snooker fans. At The Crucible too his previous record before going all the way was pretty woeful and he’s turned his previous Masters disasters on their head this week having been beaten first round eight times in nine appearances.

I’m not going to predict a result, I just hope it’s a decent spectacle to finish off what has been an entertaining week. If not the best standard of snooker overall, with only 15 centuries up to now, we have seen it has certainly served up several moments of drama.

Just a note that both players are yet to make a century in the tournament and I think if the winner were to keep that statistic it would be a major first in the modern game and something of a 21st century Perrie Mans tale, who famously won The Masters back in 1979 with a highest break of just 48. Quite amazing JV.

So let the Essex turf war commence, will be Ali’s Pally or Ballrun’s second crown? You can take a look at the dead level head to head record here. 

January 18, 2020

The Masters Semi Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:44 am

Do you remember the first time?

It may not be the line up that anyone was expecting but we still have a great weekend of snooker ahead of us at Ally Pally in what has been one of the strangest Masters tournaments of recent years.

The new set-up has been almost unanimously praised by the players and fans and it really feels now that this is a huge occasion again. I have always thought that this was the one to win after the World Championship and I think this week and the changes that have been made have cemented that reputation, so much so that I’m already looking forward to next year and possibly a trip to ‘that London’ to bag me a sofa.

Coupled with this overall feel in terms of tournament ranking lists is the downgrading of the UK Championship format which I hope will be the next thing to be looked at. Let’s get back to the last week being two session matches from the Last 32 onwards rather than this car boot sale feel with multiple tables, it would bring back the prestige to the event, much like the tweaks to this have done. Personally I don’t even think the UK is third in the rankings anymore, such is the extent to which the new format has ruined it.

I particularly like the new graphics that are being used this week and the montages made for each individual player based mostly on their nickname, but god knows what they are going to do if Ricky ‘I haven’t got a nickname’ Walden ever qualifies again. He’ll probably just have a big RW behind him as nicknames are forwarded and rejected by a panicked Rob Walker and the BBC nickname department. Fingers crossed that Ricky continues to operate outside of the upper echelons of the sport.

The sofas are innovative and I think definitely suit the arena, luckily the tournament is scheduled to coincide with a DFS sale, Bazza as ever doesn’t miss a trick. I’m less keen however on the bar at the top and a few people have commented that it’s not really sound proofed and can get a bit shouty as the free bar flows. I’m not a fan of all this corporate hospitality stuff and in my experience it is usually full of freeloading arseholes, usually rich (financially, definitely not intellectually), who are rude to the serving staff, but if that’s the way things are going then so be it. Give me the hushed tones of The Crucible any day of the week. Quiet please. 

Anyway, we’ve all got a semi on today so who is your winner from here?       

Shaun Murphy v Ali Carter (1pm Saturday)

Controversy overshadowed Ali Carter’s quarter final win over John Higgins, a win he somehow achieved by only making one break over 50 in the match. It’s clear that a lot of people on social media just don’t like Ali these days and decided that because of this, he cheated. This is quite a childish and simplistic way to approach things in my opinion and my guess is that if it had been a player they liked they’d have formed a different opinion, I prefer to judge the situation rather than the person in it. I’m of the belief that Ali obviously believed he’d made contact with the yellow ball and therefore immediately corrected the referee, who really should have taken one of two options at that point, either stand her ground or ask for a second opinion from the second referee (who arguably could have intervened to offer support), but it’s such an intense atmosphere out there especially for a referee relatively new to this type of occasion and who prior to this I have to say has been faultless. People are people and we all make errors of judgement, even I did that once. Whatever the outcome, I don’t think this affected the result either way and Carter is here because he won 6 frames and Higgins won 3. Murphy has been very workmanlike so far, nothing fancy but doing enough and clearly reaping the rewards of the hard hours on the practice table over the festive season while everyone else was getting trousered. Ali holds a slight advantage in the head to heads and I know that Murphy is a player he likes playing as almost inevitably you are going to get chances throughout the match. But if he doesn’t up his scoring in this, which I suspect he will, there is only one result. Murphy has that swagger about him this week and looks fully zoned in so I think he’ll just have a bit too much for Ali in the scoring department in this one, he’d still be my pick for the title at this stage.

Prediction: Murphy 6-4   

Dave Gilbert v Stuart Bingham (7pm Saturday)

Well, there is a head to head record to sit up and take notice of. These two have played each other ten times and Bingham has won every single time yet it is his opponent who starts this match as marginal favourite. It’s not even as if you can explain this away by saying that lots of these matches came at a time when Dave Gilbert wasn’t as good as he is now, Bingham clearly has his measure and that alone should really be enough to cast the form book aside and absolutely lump on the Essex man. There is no doubt that Dave is enjoying his debut at Ally Pally and his clinical scoring is seeing him establish unassailable leads against players who have traditionally been a notch ahead of him in the rankings, he’ll have to do the same again tonight you feel against a player who is slowly finding his touch and is now further in this than he has ever been before. I tipped up Stuart to reach the final in the original preview by virtue of what I considered to be a generous draw and I’m going to stick with him solely because of that head to head. If he could set up a final against Murphy it could be the biggest grudge match Ally Pally has ever seen.

Prediction: Bingham 6-3

January 16, 2020

The Masters Quarter Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:10 am

After a first round full of surprises it’s time to move on to the last eight, the matches are covered below and if you click on the match it will take you to a magical place full of statistics for your inner anorak.

Shaun Murphy v Joe Perry (Thursday 1pm)

Plenty were expecting this to be a showdown between the Current World and UK Champions but Shaun and Joe had other ideas. Murphy looked as sharp as a tack in dispensing with Judd, he said afterwards that he’d only had Christmas Day off the table in the break and missed lots of family functions to practice, so there is a lesson to us all, it is clearly worth falling out with all your nearest and dearest over Christmas to get results. Joe was cool as the proverbial cucumber in his clinical dismantling of Ding, who apart from a 135 break in the second frame looked back to the Ding we knew and didn’t love before the UK, in other words, distinctly average. If you take out a couple of best of three framers these two have played which Joe won you will deduce that The Gent has only beaten Murphy once in 7 meetings and a head to head like that may play a part in the final outcome. For me Murphy may just have the edge here but I expect a high quality encounter between two players who have been there and bought the waistcoat. Murphy has a great chance to reach the final now the draw has opened up and it won’t have escaped him, I’d make him favourite for The Masters now.

Prediction: Murphy 6-3       

Ali Carter v John Higgins (Thursday 7pm)

These two went through a phase a couple of seasons back where they seemed to be meeting every other week and when you look at the head to heads they have locked horns many times over the years, more so than some players who have been in the highest ranks over the same period. Quite amazing JV. It has to be said that on the big stage Higgins has a decent advantage over Ali. Both you could argue are possibly past their best these days but the competitive spirit never dies and you won’t find many players with more of that than this pair. Higgins beat some bloke doing a poor impersonation of Barry Hawkins in the first round and looked OK, if a little shaky on the long ones. Ali used a Mark Selby fist-pump to inspire him to turn the tables on The Jester in the first round and is looking to make the semi-finals for the very first time in his career. I think this is a tough call, particularly if Carter gets an early lead. I suspect that whoever is ahead after five frames may kick on and win, but who?

Prediction: Higgins 6-4   

Dave Gilbert v Stephen Maguire (Friday 1pm)

Come on then, how well did Dave Gilbert play on his Masters debut? Perhaps because his wife Abbie was nearby on the sofa, presumably with a nice glass of something he might have just felt like he was practising at home, whatever it was he took to the Ally Pally like a racist to Brexit and if he reproduces that performance for the rest of the week he should really win this, what a sporting moment that would be. Maguire produced the mother of all comebacks against Robbo and left the stunned Aussie shell-shocked. Clearly Maguire has been knuckling down lately in practice and is reaping the rewards in the big events following his UK final appearance. As ever with this tournament it’s how they turn up and play on the day, if they both play their best we are in for an absolute classic and if that is the case get on the overs on the centuries. I’m plumping for Dave to win a classic because I kinda love the guy.

Prediction: Gilbert 6-5   

Kyren Wilson v Stuart Bingham (Friday 7pm)

Two of the more assured performances without the bells and whistles saw Kyren survive an early Jack Lisowski onslaught to win six on the spin and Stuart dominate after the mid-session interval to send Mark Williams packing. What strikes me most about this match up is what I’d say is an unlikely head to head record and whenever I see that I have to take it into account. Ballrun has only beaten Kyren once, albeit convincingly in their six meetings and given the vast gulf in experience between the pair I find that quite surprising. There is no doubt that Kyren raises his game to another level in the big events and the way he coolly dealt with Jack when he could easily have lost his head early on was testament to that. Stuart has a woeful record at The Masters, similar to the one he had at The Crucible before he lifted the trophy, could that be an omen? I did tip up Stuart in the main preview though I admit I wasn’t aware then that Kyren has something of a hold on him, but given Ballrun has hammered him once on the big stage, I’m sticking with the big man.

Prediction: Bingham 6-4 

January 9, 2020

The Masters Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:30 pm

The World Champion and defending Master is back.

Sunday afternoon sees the start of the snooker showpiece of the winter as we all settle down to watch The Masters from Alexandra Palace in London, which isn’t really a palace but let’s not dwell on such things when we have sixteen of the best players on the planet competing for the top prize.

Much will be made of the absence of Ronnie O’Sullivan and my guess is that knowing him, he’ll find a way to grab a headline or two over the course of the week just to make sure we haven’t forgotten that he’s letting them all win by not coming. It’s a shame that he isn’t playing and I have to say when he said earlier on in the season that he’d not play in the UK, this or the World Championship I thought this was the one he was least likely to swerve, but he’s full of surprises is our Rocket.

Anyway, as we all know, he’s not the best anymore and Judd Trump is back to the scene of his triumph last year ahead of his World Championship procession to defend his title. As ever, it’s not necessarily the holder who plays in the opening match anymore and Judd fans will have to wait until Tuesday to see their hero, with newly crowned UK Champion Ding Junhui facing Joe Perry in this year’s BBC Sunday afternoon delicacy.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at what the first four days have to offer up. Click on the match to take you to the head to head record as well as other anoraky facts and stats at Cue Tracker.

Top Half

Judd Trump v Shaun Murphy (Tuesday January 14 at 1pm)

An unlikely UK Championship exit at the hands of Nigel Bond put paid to Judd’s attempt to hold the UK, Masters and World Championship trophies in his cabinet at home the other side of Christmas. But his run from the start of the season to that defeat was very strong and you could argue that he was overdue a careless one. After his disastrous season last year, Murphy came firing out of the blocks to claim the China Championship at the start of the season just after a narrow defeat to Ronnie in Shanghai’s final, so his work over the closed season with Chris Henry has clearly reaped the rewards. Judd dished out a drubbing in their last meeting in the final of the International Championship and holds a narrow advantage in the head to heads. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to his defeat in York, whether it signals the start of a quiet period leading up to his defence in Sheffield or whether it will simply motivate him to recapture his best, it’s a real test for him this and I can see this being a tight one.

Recommended Bet: Over 9.5 Frames at 11/8 with Hills.     

Ding Junhui v Joe Perry (Sunday January 12 at 1pm)

The curtain raiser at Ally Pally on that cosy Sunday afternoon with Hazel and the gang is traditionally a match I tend to win money on. I don’t even usually look at the players in any great depth, don’t even glance at the head to heads, I don’t ask what the form book says, I don’t question whether one of them can bully the other in the scoring or tactical department, I merely back over 9.5 frames and have a punt on a decider. It’s amazing how many times this materialises. So, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  

Recommended Bets: Over 9.5 frames at 5/4. Match to go to a decider at 7/2.  

Mark Selby v Ali Carter (Sunday January 12 at 7pm)

Of all the people that Ali Carter would not have expected a Christmas present from it’s Ronnie, but that is precisely what he was given when O’Sullivan announced he wasn’t playing here so the World Number 17 takes his place in the tournament to face the three times Masters champion, who for one reason or another, hasn’t really done much in this since his last final in 2014, never progressing beyond the Quarter Finals since then. Selby has an extremely good record over Ali, the last time they met was at The Crucible back in 2014, in a match I watched from beginning to end from the press seats, it was a masterclass from Selby in keeping your opponent at arms length on his way to the title. Ali has only won 2 matches in The Masters in his whole career and sometimes I suppose a venue, or a feel of an event can do that, with that in mind, you’d have to fancy the in-form Jester to prevail here and perhaps recapture his best form on the BBC.

Recommended Bet: Selby -1.5 frames at 8/13 generally  

John Higgins v Barry Hawkins (Tuesday January 14 at 7pm)

A combined total of 50 years in the professional game between these two and surprisingly in all that time they have only met 10 times. Quite amazing JV. As you’d expect, Higgins has the upper hand but they have had two close battles in their most recent encounters with Barry most recently winning a decider in Shanghai. For a player of Higgins pedigree you could argue that his Masters haul of two titles is something of an underachievement and he’s made no secret of the fact that this isn’t a favourite venue of his. Barry has done OK here without setting the place alight and does tend to be a bit in and out just lately, with Higgins having had the best season of the two so far. I’m sensing that Higgins is beginning to just lose a little bit of the magic, particularly in his long game, but he obviously remains as tough as teeth to beat. This is another that I can see coming right down to the wire, possibly even the last few colours to decide who progresses, it just has that feel about it to me.

Recommended Bets: Over 9.5 frames at 11/10. Match to go to a decider at 10/3.     

Bottom Half

Neil Robertson v Stephen Maguire (Monday January 13 at 1pm)

The first thing that struck me when I looked at the head to head stats between these was the lead Maguire has; ‘have I missed something here?’ I mused, but it turns out that this is mostly attributable to the early days in Robbo’s professional career when Mags was arguably at his career best. Since Robbo became World Champion he’s established a lead in the head to heads between the pair, though Maguire has beaten him at The Masters before and quite convincingly too. The UK Championship to me represented the best chance Mags has had to win a major for a decade and I think part of him will see his defeat to Ding as a chance missed given the way he was playing to get to that stage. His main issue down the years much like Robertson has been consistency and I’m sure both of them would rather have been playing someone else. Robbo is very generously donating stacks of his own money for the centuries made in this event to the Australian bushfire victims and for any of the annual Masters Mugs like me who have a go on a ton in every match, I’d be very surprised if this was the match to let us down.

Recommended Bet: Maguire to make at least 1 century in the match at 11/8 with Marathon Bet.   

Mark Allen v Dave Gilbert (Monday January 13 at 7pm)

It’s great to see Dave Gilbert making his Masters debut after 17 years toiling away on the circuit, his run to the semis and so nearly the final in Sheffield capped off a tremendous season and he’s carrying through some of that form into this one and is now firmly established in the top 16. Mark Allen is always a threat at The Masters and the rowdy nature of the (unknowledgable) Ally Pally rabble seems to be right up the sharp-shooting Pistol’s alley. They’ve not met that often down the years but Allen as you’d expect is ahead on the stats, although their last meeting at the beginning of the season saw Gilbert winning 5-3, a sign that he can now mix it with the best of them. I just feel that a combination of a new venue and the fact that Allen likes it here will see the Northern Irishman over the line with a couple of frames to spare this time.

Recommended Bet: Mark Allen (-1.5 frames) at 20/21 (widely available)     

Kyren Wilson v Jack Lisowski (Wednesday January 15 at 1pm)

The two least experienced players in the line up face each other first up with Lisowski currently enjoying a superior head to head over his more successful opponent. Kyren has been a little subdued by his standards so far this season and hasn’t really troubled the business end of anything so far, other than a World Open semi-final appearance early in the season. He’s also lost quite a few matches to players outside the top 16, more perhaps than any other player here this season, so clearly that’s a concern for his fans. Lisowski, like Kyren, is another who has established himself in the top 16 in a relatively short period of time after a few years of that dreaded tag of being ‘the next big thing’. I think this could get a bit twitchy and I can’t see either of them running away with it, I also think that if one first round match won’t have a century in it and sends a few of us into therapy again, it is most likely to be this one.

Recommended Bet: Over 9.5 Frames at 6/5 with Hills.

Mark Williams v Stuart Bingham (Wednesday January 15 at 7pm)

The first round concludes with a battle between perhaps the two least likely world champions of the last decade. 52 years between them as professionals and a pretty close head to head to match, heads that incidentally have significantly less hair on them than when they started out. It’s actually quite surprising that they haven’t met more than they have considering they’ve both been in the upper(ish) echelons of the sport for the best part of 20 years, but sometimes that’s one of those strange quirks that snooker throws up. Talking of throwing up, MJW has taken to posting videos of him totally off his trolley over the festive period and if his preparation talk is to be believed he’s not really all that bothered at all about snooker anymore. Yeah Right. That said, I think Bingham is due a run in something and if he can get over this one I think he’ll make the semis and from there anything is possible.

Recommended Bet: Bingham to win at 10/11 (widely available)

Further recommended Bets: Outrights – Mark Selby at 7/1 and Stuart Bingham each way at 25/1

Recommended Treble – Over 9.5 frames in Ding/Perry, Higgins/Hawkins and Wilson/Lisowski pays almost 9/1 at Hills

Annual Masters Mugs Bet (recommended on Twitter last week) – 33/1 on a century in every match at Ladbrokes/Coral (now backed in to 22/1)    

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