Snookerbacker

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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