Snookerbacker

June 26, 2015

Australian Goldfields Open Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:49 am
Judd's back to defend his title.

Judd’s back to defend his title.

Before the potters get the best part of a month off in July, there is the small matter of the Australian Goldfields Open to play in Bendigo, this is usually an enjoyable tournament and ideal for insomniacs who like their snooker when the rest of Europe is asleep.

It all starts on Monday at midnight UK time with two matches involving the wildcards. The two who have been chosen this time are probably the best of a quite poor bunch with one being an ex-pro and another being a half decent amateur, but thankfully they aren’t, on paper anyway, the handful that some of the Chinese ones can prove. They still shouldn’t be in it though.

The coverage for this on the betting sites is usually entertaining, the commentary of Robby Foldvari alone is worth switching on for, his velvety, dulcet, relaxed style and tone of voice will probably have you nodding off in seconds, much like anyone who ever saw him play snooker used to. The studio coverage is usually good too and sometimes they get some of the players in to add their analysis, which is also a plus.

Of course the downside for viewers this side of the globe is the time difference and it’s only really the 10am starts that get the attention of most, though early risers like myself usually tune in for the session beforehand. It’s fair to say it’s not a tournament for people who don’t like mornings and also prefer an early night.

A lot has been made of the absentees, with one website even claiming it devalued the tournament. But who have we actually lost? Ronnie never plays in this, Ding isn’t playing very well anyway and is hardly missed at the moment, who else? MJW, Barry Hawkins…..but look who IS in it…World Number 1 Selby, World Champion Bingham, Home Favourite Robbo, Fans Favourites Judd, Allen, Smurf, The Captain…established winners like Higgins and Maguire as well as exciting players like Jack Lisowski who faces Judd in the first round, Michael White and Iran’s Hossein Vafaei Ayouri.

Devalued? Nonsense. This will take a hell of a lot of winning. More devalued was the field last week, with some of the names competing in the World Cup completely unheard of, when four man teams from more established snooker nations would have been a lot more interesting and brought in a lot more competent players.

The draw can be viewed below along with a brief look at what might happen and a few recommended bets. If you’re getting involved you can watch on said betting sites or on Eurosport at selected times.

You can view the Eurosport schedule for the week here. You can view the Order of Play at Snooker Island here.

CLICK ON THE MATCH FOR HEAD TO HEADS.

Wild Card Round

Matt Selt v Ben Judge 
Ben Woollaston v Adrian Ridley 

These two matches should be little more than practice sessions for the two main tour players Selt and Woollaston. Judge is a former professional but he’s never really made a mark and his only significant wins have really come in the 6-Red format, Selt, assuming he’s not spent every waking hour since qualifying on the golf course should take care of business comfortably. Ridley has never been professional and this is probably his biggest match to date, again other than 6-Reds where he’s actually beaten John Higgins. He had a decent run in Q-School a few years back when Martin O’Donnell beat him in the final match to make pro, but I don’t think he’ll trouble the tenacious Woollaston.   

Recommended Bet: 2 points on both to win (-2.5 frames) pays over 7/4 at Bet 365. 0.5 point on them both to win 5-0 pays 44/1. 

Quarter 1

Judd Trump v Jack Lisowski
Xiao Guodong v Ian Burns
Stephen Maguire v Joel Walker
Ricky Walden v Andrew Higginson

The obvious match that the eyes are drawn to is the encounter between Judd and Jack, once flatmates but now in different stables having had different fortunes the past couple of years. Jack, now being coached by Terry Griffiths holds the upper hand in the head to heads and I wouldn’t rule out a shock there. Joel Walker is another capable of causing an upset but with Maguire making the trip following his week in China, perhaps he’ll give this his best shot. Ricky Walden usually starts the season fairly well so he might be worth an interest in the outrights, but it’s very hard to know how any of the players that have not hit a competitive ball since The Crucible have prepared for this, Walden, who lost first round, being one of them.

Predicted Match Winners: Lisowski, Guodong, Maguire, Walden.

Predicted Quarter Winner: Ricky Walden.

Quarter 2

Marco Fu v Martin Gould
Michael Holt v Gerald Greene
Mark Allen v Mark Joyce
Neil Robertson v Matt Selt/Ben Judge

Marco Fu, who won this two seasons ago and then surprisingly chose not to defend it last year, returns to face Martin Gould. Presumably Marco, like Maguire, chose to enter because he was in the World Cup last week. Michael Holt is another who is now being coached by Griffiths, perhaps that might help him achieve more than he has to date, Terry seems to wave a magic wand at times and Holt is a player that undoubtedly has the game but perhaps lacks confidence at times, Griffiths is by all accounts a master at bringing the best out of players with these problems. Mark Allen and Mark Joyce tend to have close ones and Joyce is probably the kind of player Allen hates playing, meanwhile the expected match between close pals Selt and Robertson is an early test for the home hero who is attempting to land a title on home soil for the first time.

Predicted Match Winners: Fu, Holt, Allen, Robertson.

Predicted Quarter Winner: Neil Robertson.

Quarter 3

Mark Selby v Mark King
Dark Mavis v Jamie Jones
Michael White v Hossein Vafaei Ayouri
Shaun Murphy v Ali Carter

Mark Selby has comfortably beaten Mark King on their last 5 meetings and there is little to suggest that he won’t do so again having had the warm up, albeit cut short surprisingly early, last week in China. Mavis is yet another in the Griffiths stable and this feels like the sort of tournament that he could make a breakthrough in, I’d say he’s a dark horse in this. Ayouri qualified in style and there are a lot of people in the know who rate the Iranian very highly, his cue action is very solid and it will be interesting to watch his progress this season. Ali Carter has been working hard over the summer and needs a strong season to climb back up the rankings, he has a tough opener against the World Championship runner up Murphy, but holds the advantage in the head to heads between the two.

Predicted Match Winners: Selby, Mavis, White, Carter.

Predicted Quarter Winner: Dark Mavis.

Quarter 4

Joe Perry v Jamie Burnett
Rob Milkins v Ben Woollaston/Adrian Ridley
John Higgins v Michael Georgiou
Stuart Bingham v Fergal O’Brien

The World Champion Stuart Bingham returns to the tournament that arguably started him on the road to riches a few seasons ago. A former champion here, he’ll go into this I’m sure feeling that he can now win anything, but a tough opener against The Ferginator awaits. He’s in a tough section and John Higgins, Rob Milkins and Joe Perry are all players that could emerge from the week with a trophy going through customs. It’s really hard to know who has been busy on the practice table and who will go into this a little rusty, for that reason I think this week might see a few unexpected results and possibly even a lower ranked winner, I’d look at someone like Perry to have a run in this personally.

Predicted Match Winners: Perry, Milkins, Higgins, Bingham.

Predicted Quarter Winner: Joe Perry.

Recommended Bets: 3 point acca pays almost 3/1 on Selt and Woollaston (W/C round), Selby, Mavis, Perry and Higgins. 1 point on Lisowski at 7/2. 1 point on Carter at 23/10.

Recommended Outrights: 3 points on Robertson at 9/2. 1 point each way on Perry at 28/1, Walden at 33/1, Mavis at 80/1.

June 5, 2015

Aussie Open Final Qualifying Round

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:19 am

Crossed fingersIt’s the final day of qualifying in Crawley to see who will board the flight to Bendigo to join the 16 seeded players at the venue. This sees the successful crop from the week take on the higher ranked players playing for the first time.

Now I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but the way the betting has gone in this I can’t resist giving a small French Horn type toot given that every recommended bet this week has landed. If today’s does the same then this will be the first ever 100% tournament in the blog’s 5 year betting history. Even if it doesn’t, I hope everyone who follows this often turgid corner of the internet has made enough to have a jolly good weekend and more besides.

There are some mouthwatering ties for the connoisseur today and the big question will be how rusty some of those coming in on the final day will be compared to those who have been improving all week and are match sharp.

There are, in the words of one totally idiotic American politician, a lot of ‘known unknowns’ today, or should that be ‘unknown knowns’? Or even ‘unknown unknowns’? Anyway, it’s not a ‘known known’ kind of day that’s for damn sure as apples and no mistakin’.

The streamed matches are pretty good too, this morning we have Jack Lisowski playing Jimmy Robertson and Martin Gould against Michael Leslie. This afternoon we’ve got Marmite Matt Selt against Zhang Anda and Jamie Jones against the increasingly dangerous Chris Wakelin and then tonight The Captain Ali Carter takes on Kyren Wilson alongside the leprechauns ‘must watch’ of The Ferginator against The Outlaw, O’Brien v Swail. So it’s a good day of viewing ahead for us anoraks.

After this decent start to the season it all starts going downhill, for next week sees an event in which I have next to no interest; the understatedly named World Cup, which sees ‘teams’ of just two players competing as a proud nation over in China to become World Champions. Though to me it’s just a doubles tournament with really short matches so I won’t be getting involved in it at all and I’ll probably give it a miss unless I become hospitalised or paralysed from the neck down in the next week and have bugger all else to do.

So back to business, can the bet below make this an historic week for the blog? Only time will tell…..

You can take a look at the running order today here and keep up with the live scores as they happen here.

Recommended Bet: 2 point treble on Jimmy Robertson, Mark Joyce and Matt Selt pays over 5/1.

June 4, 2015

Aussie Open Qualifiers Day 4

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:17 am
Kept the run going.

Mitchell Mann: Late night potting kept up the good run.

The action continues today in Crawley as the penultimate qualifying round is played out over three sessions. 

This round is where the players who have won at least one match this week already and in some cases two, play to decide who battles it out tomorrow against one of the seeded players ranked 17-32 in the tournament.

This means that tomorrow will see the likes of Ali Carter, Martin Gould, Peter Ebdon and Ben Woollaston joining in against players who you’d assume are a little more match sharp than their higher ranked opponents.

Another player who presumably will be joining in tomorrow is Mark King, I say presumably because on Monday when I was happily tweeting away about the opening day’s play he replied to one of my inane ramblings with a four word question: ‘What comp is this?’. When I revealed this to him he disappeared for a bit, presumably checking his diary and hurriedly re-scheduling the family outing he had planned to Alton Towers for Friday (he needn’t have bothered as it turned out). A little careless on the part of the K-Dog to say the least.

Another who enters the fray tomorrow wanting to book a ticket to Bendigo is our old friend Matt Selt. Now our Matt might be about as popular with some as a ginger stepson, but you can’t deny that his improvement of late has seen him climbing the rankings and making venues on a regular basis. He’s making so much dosh these days that he’s even bought himself a posh watch, now all he needs to do is learn to tell the time and he’s laughing. Only joking Matt, you know I love you really (I don’t).

As for those who are in action today, 2014 SB Classic Runner-Up Mitchell Mann had a real marathon last night, eventually seeing off David Grace 5-4 in the small hours while I was tucked up in the Land of Nod dreaming of containing safeties, dump shots and a return to the Best of 125 first rounders and two month-long finals. So to awake this morning to see that the 100% recommended bet success rate remained in tact was a nice little start to the morning, let’s see if we can keep it going today with the slightly more ambitious bet below.

It’s also great to see my pal Allan Taylor still in there after a fine win yesterday over Stuart Carrington. The Assassin now faces Li Hang who played in fancy dress yesterday for reasons known only to him. This dress code rule needs tightening up if they are going to allow that to happen in my opinion.

You can take a look at the running order for the week here and keep up with the live scores as they happen here.

Recommended Bet: 2 point treble on Jack Lisowski, Chris Wakelin and Hossein Vafaei Ayouri pays over 9/2.

June 2, 2015

Australian Open Qualifiers Day 2

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:43 am
Thumbs Up: Syd started with a win.

Thumbs Up: Syd started with a win.

The Australian Open continues today in Crawley as we see the last batch of first round matches followed by the next tier of players joining in the action for Round 2.

This tournament of course, along with the Shanghai Masters is still operating the old qualifying format, meaning that when each round commences, the higher seeded players join in. This is because the contracts for these events say so and when they come up for renegotiation, Bazza will be wanting them both to adopt the flat structure he so loves.

Personally, I quite like the fact that this is a bit different and although there will be those who will bang on about fairness and how much better the flat structure is, at least here the lower ranked players actually get a chance to play some competitive snooker rather than being pitched against a high ranked player straight off and getting hammered, leaving with nothing but crumbling confidence and an ever increasing overdraft.

Of course, the downside to this is the fact that the lowest ranked have to win 4 matches instead of 1 to get any sniff at decent money and a place at the venue, if you don’t count the incentive of the lucrative £45 (minus tax) prize for the Highest Break in the qualifiers that is, which one lucky potter will be cashing in come Friday evening. But as the season gets underway, I think it’s healthier for them in the long run to know what winning and competing feels like. For example, take the newly qualified Q-School graduates, wouldn’t they rather win a couple of matches to keep their confidence high than get drawn against a top 16 player and getting walloped, bringing them back down to earth with a bump?

So I say vive la différence and if those who sign the contracts want to keep this as it is, let them. Wait until we get to the mainstay of the season with the best of seven flat structure tedium and you’ll be crying out for events like this one if you’re anything like me. Which I appreciate you are probably not.

Yesterday saw said Q-School graduates Syd Wilson, Eden Sharav, Rhys Clark and Duane Jones all win on their tour debuts, while Dan Wells and Paul Davison also made a successful return with wins. However, it wasn’t a happy return to the tour for Jason Weston who came a cropper, with the final Q-Schooler Gaz Allen playing this morning. Sandi Lam also made a successful tour debut having qualified through the EPTC route earlier in the year.

The fourfold recommended yesterday landed so that’s a nice start to the new season. It’s worth getting involved in these best of nine framers, they are much safer to bet on than the shorter formats which unfortunately are becoming increasingly the norm these days, much to the delight no doubt of the bookies, who are also the sponsor of choice for almost all events, funny that, you’d almost think they are the ones really running the show as they watch the mugs do their conkers on the short matches.

You can take a look at the running order for the week here and keep up with the live scores as they happen here.

Recommended Tuesday Fivefold: 2 points on David Grace, Gareth Allen, Steven Hallworth, Sean O’Sullivan and Robbie Williams pays 11/4 at Boyles. 1 point double on Joel Walker and Zhao Xintong pays over 11/2 at Ladbrokes. 

June 1, 2015

Australian Open Qualifying

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:18 am
Just south of Crawley

Just south of Crawley

Crawley isn’t in Australia, that much I do know despite my quite frankly terrible geographical knowledge, but what I also know is that this is where the new season begins as the Australian Open qualifiers get underway.

It’s nice to kick off the season with Best of nine frame matches too, before we get into the body of the season where the best of sevens become the norm and result in me switching off a bit before we get to the UK and the Masters period.

The Aussie Open as usual is characterised by a lot of pickers and choosers. Even some of the Q-School Order of Merit listers didn’t want to play and that means we go way down the list to top the 128 strong field up, giving this the feel of a pro-am for the first couple of days.

The 10am session sees Jimmy White back on the baize as well as the professional debut of my mate Syd Wilson. It also sees two more of the recent Q-School graduates, returning professionals Paul Davison and Jason Weston in action, as well as a couple of more established names like Nigel Bond and Jamie Cope, both of whom find themselves way down the rankings these days.

You can take a look at the running order for the week here and keep up with the live scores as they happen here. In terms of the morning matches I’d give the decent Sam Craigie a chance against the quite unpredictable Bond but nothing else really stands out from the first crop of matches.

The afternoon for me offers more of a betting opportunity and I’ll kick off the season with a four fold on the merry men below.

Recommended Bet: 2 points acca on Duane Jones, Eden Sharav, Fraser Patrick and James Cahill, pays over 5/2.  

May 3, 2015

World Championship Final: Murphy v Bingham

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:23 am

The final match of a busy season for the top players is fittingly also the biggest match of the season, in terms of prestige, money at stake and distance and it’s Stuart Bingham, fresh from a thrilling win last night over Judd Trump, who faces Shaun Murphy in this season’s World Championship Final at The Crucible.

Last night provided a much-needed epic match, notching the tournament for me up from a 5 out of 10 to a 6. Trump’s incredible fightback was littered with centuries and Stuart rolled with the punches and came out the other end battered, bruised and tear-soakingly victorious in undoubtedly the match of the championship, if not the season.

There are already people out there claiming that this final is a bit of a letdown, in terms of who is contesting it and protesting that they won’t bother watching it (they will). But these two are there as of right and are two of the best and most consistent players of the season. We usually end up with the best player over the two and a bit weeks lifting the trophy at the end and there is no reason why either of these two can’t fit that mugshot profile come Monday night.

So before posting what can only really be a token prediction, you know the drill by now in terms of bets, back the overs on the centuries as these pockets are generous, here’s what the two protagonists had to say after their wins.

Murphy for me has looked almost unbeatable in his last two matches and is cueing better than anyone else here and probably the best he has ever done, so for me I think it’s his to lose. I’ll say now that I’d like Stuart to win, primarily because it’s clear how much it would mean to him and how he would react if he did, I don’t think there is enough Kleenex in the UK to mop up his tears.

But the heart cannot rule the head when it comes to the serious business of punting and if you are looking for an interest in this I’d go somewhere along the lines of 18-13 to Murphy which is best priced 11/1. You can grab the overs on the centuries (+5.5) at 5/4 so that’s probably worth a punt too.

In terms of a novelty bet, Murphy is playing so well that I’d risk a couple of quid on him to make 5 centuries at 15/2 or 6 at 18/1. You can also get 25/1 on there being a 147 in the match if you are feeling really adventurous, though I’d say that’s unlikely.

So there is enough in there to keep any small, medium or large punter interested and watching.

Let’s hope it’s a classic, a black ball decider would be good, just like 30 years ago.

April 30, 2015

World Championship Semi Finals: The One-Table Situation

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:09 am
I hope she likes snooker.

I hope she likes snooker.

While we have all been in the Land of Nod, dishing out the Z’s and dreaming hazy baizey dreams, the table pixies under the watchful eye of The Snooker Gods, have been hard at work at the Crucible with fluffy spanners, spiritual levels and magical fairy dust to transform the most cramped arena in snooker into the vast gladiatorial epicentre that is, ladies and gentlemen, the legendary one-table situation. 

The four warriors left to fight to the death are a former champion, two former runners up and a 39 year old newbie, perhaps not, when we all looked at the quarter final line-up, the four that we expected to be the last ones standing, but all there as of merit and all in fine fettle.

The action kicks off at 1pm this afternoon when Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins take to the baize, which means Shaun will be able to assess and tell us all about the kickage levels before anyone else now that the tables have been turned. Nature loving Barry is straight back out there following his win last night over, it has to be said, a rather sour loser in Neil Robertson in another decider, he’s making quite a habit of these.

Tonight sees Judd and Ballrun start out their best of 33 frame marathon with the feverish Judd perhaps having expected to be facing Ronnie, but Ballrun overcame the fragile Rocket last night in very assertive style, the most watchful fanatics having long since detected that Ronnie was not ‘at the races’ either during this match or any of his others. Once more, the favourite tag proved too much for him and perhaps his winning days here are over, just like John Higgins.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at how these might pan out.

Shaun Murphy v Barry Hawkins

Shaun has looked very sharp on the table this year and even picked up a ‘Best Dressed Player’ award from the sponsors yesterday now that he has returned that ridiculous clowns outfit he turned out in the other day for a bet to the fancy dress shop on Sheffield High Street. Barry in the meantime is again proving the old adage that The Crucible is very much a ‘horses for courses’ venue, lining up in his 3rd consecutive year at the one table situation. He’s generally very underrated is Baz and I’ve been guilty of this myself for too long, he’s a player that flies so under the radar that even if he arrived today wired up with a backpack the US Intelligence Agencies would decide he’s not worth the bother, but something tells me this underdog tag suits him just fine. Murphy on the other hand is a player that most of us believe to be firmly planted in the world’s top 5 (5 or 6 if you are Willie Thorne) and having achieved the ‘Grand Slam'; an accolade hastily made up by the BBC, this season by winning the Masters, he’s now up there with an elite bunch of the game’s greatest and most good. Their form coming into this championship could not really have been more different, Murphy has had a very good season and Barry has been pretty awful since December, but having survived three ‘too close for comfort’ encounters he’s somehow made it here and given that he’s not been used to being at this end of a tournament for quite a while he seems fresh enough and unlikely to use burn-out as an excuse. Maybe it’s the great British country air at his cottage that’s doing the trick. So who wins? Well I think it will be Murphy. At this stage you have to side with the player who you believe is in the better form and the way he closed out the match against McGill leads me to believe that if this gets close he can do the same here, he’s also not had the inconsistency that Barry has shown at times during his matches. But he’ll have to be right on his game, if he isn’t, prepare for another grappling win from The Hawk, who given everything I have said I do think is a pretty generous price to win for value hunters.

Prediction: Murphy to win 17-14

Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 3.5 centuries at 10/11.       

Judd (right)

Judd (right)

Judd Trump v Stuart Bingham

Judd was nothing short of awesome against Ding and anyone that watched the first six frames and nothing else this week and is about to jet off on holiday will return expecting to read that he is the new champion of the world. He’s been threatening to perform like this here for the last couple of seasons but this time it all seems to be clicking into place and he now finds himself odds-on favourite to get his hands on the famous old trophy and read all the names of the traditionalist anoraks and old farts that have won it before him. He’ll also get the chance to give Burger King some much needed publicity in the press afterwards; such a noble cause. Stuart will be many people’s idea of a party pooper having knocked out the narky, unstable and frankly childish Rocket in clinical fashion. I for one don’t want to watch Ronnie if he’s not on his game and I’m glad he lost, his behaviour at times to me was bordering on gamesmanship and he’s lucky that he’s still being allowed to get away with it by some, though not all, of the referees. I think this match could be a cracker in terms of the standard and I expect Bluebell Wood to be the main beneficiaries. Both of them are approaching the match right at the top of their game so there is very little to split them. But I, like a lot of others now, think this is Judd’s time to shine and I can see him having a session in amongst these four where he takes a stranglehold on the match. As I said in the original preview a couple of weeks ago, he will be world champion, it’s just a question of when rather than if. He won’t get many better chances than this and all he has to do is to play the way he did in the last round and he’ll be covered in confetti on Monday night. He just has to keep his focus and not let the thought of winning put him off.

Prediction: Trump to win 17-11.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 3.5 centuries at 4/5.

Recommended Double: 2 points on Murphy/Hawkins +3.5 centuries and Trump/Bingham +4.5 centuries pays just on 3/1. 

April 27, 2015

World Championship Quarter Finals Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:30 pm
The Smiling Assassin

The Smiling Assassin

The perceived wisdom when it comes to the longer match format is that the cream will usually or always (age dependent) rise to the top and with 7 of the world’s top 8 players lining up alongside a qualifier who shamelessly took advantage of a mystical, often denounced, but now 100% irrefutable curse, to fight out the Quarter Finals, it appears that there is something to be said for this well worn, much quoted and misquoted adage. Who said it first anyway? 

It’s already been a good tournament, though for me not yet exceptional, but you sense looking at this line up that it’s about to get a whole lot better. All of them, without exception, are playing well enough to win the tournament outright and whoever does come out on top will be a worthy champion, whether it be a sick one and a sixth one for Ronnie, a pleasant second for Robbo or Smurf, or a first and foremost for McGill, Hawkins, Ding, Judd or Ballrun (each of whom will be cursed next year).

Bettingwise, it’s not been fantastic but not a disaster either, some success in the outrights will correct all that anyway. Judd was the original preview pick and he’s in with as good a chance as any of them, so I’ll cling to that and cheer him on from the pocket, the one that’s not sponsored by BK. You got it.

As for who I would like to win, it’s a very difficult one. The old shameless and helplessly foolish romantic in me that listens to Richard Hawley albums when I read this back, will obviously say McGill as everyone likes a fairytale. Don’t they? But when it comes to the two players left in it that I feel deserve to be a world champion sooner rather than later it has to be the winner of Judd and Ding. Anyway, let’s have a look at each of the matches still left and see what the bookies are offering up to entice us in again.

CLICK ON THE MATCHES FOR THE HEAD TO HEAD. 

Ringleader of the Tormenters.

Ringleader of the Tormentors.

Anthony McGill v Shaun Murphy

Tuesday 10am & 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm

What an achievement whatever the result of this match might be, by Anthony McGill. His ‘Licensed to Thrill’ tag has been well earned with tension filled victories over Maguire and the cursed champ Selby. His demeanour around the table and general approach is to me one of a player who can’t quite believe this is happening; but as another old adage warns; beware the smiling assassin. Can he beat Murphy, the last qualifier to lift the trophy a decade ago, in his sixth long match? Well obviously as the tournament goes on it will get harder and harder for him to blot out what is actually happening, on the other hand he has already far exceeded his own expectations and might just relax. Anthony doesn’t strike me as the kind of character that will let this get to him too much but surely, if he’s going into the final session of this with a chance, whether he be ahead, level, or a couple of frames behind (probably the best place to be), the realisation will begin to dawn on him of what he stands on the precipice of? Murphy, who appears to be taking his Magician nickname a little too far by dressing up as one, claiming that the snooker dress code is too restricting (though obviously not restricting enough in his case), is cueing well and his long game in particular looks in tip-top shape. He is winning easily but in the matches against both Hull and Perry he won a lot of frames that he could easily have lost so perhaps the scorelines were slightly flattering, alternatively, perhaps Shaun commands so much respect on the table that his opponents are rendered useless. Either way, this is a match where I’m not going to recommend a bet on the outcome as I don’t know how McGill will react either at the start or at the end, nobody does, it’s guesswork. The facts are that Murphy is much more experienced here and in general, he has never lost to McGill and is flying out of the traps in every match he plays and asserting himself early, make of that what you will, but like I say, beware the smiling assassin….even if he gets beaten easily, there should be plenty of chances for Ants to land the bet below over this distance, it should be quite an open match.

Prediction: Murphy to win 13-11

Recommended Bet: 3 points on McGill to make at least one century break at 4/6.   

Country Life

Country Life

Barry Hawkins v Neil Robertson

Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am & 7pm 

Robbo remains a lot of people’s big fancy for the title, including his mentor and mate Stephen Hendry so who am I to argue? He is undoubtedly cueing very very well and dominating proceedings in the matches he has had so far. But arguably he hasn’t been tested at all yet, for whatever reason both Jamie Jones and Ali Carter didn’t get a foothold in their matches with him when players in sharper form may have done so and given him more of a test early on. However well he is cueing, Robbo is giving chances to his opponents and I think he will continue to do so, his safety and tactical nous remain one of his strongest assets and undoubtedly win him more frames than a lot of people who just see the century maker bully give him credit for. Barry Hawkins did a mini-Houdini act to come back and beat Mark Allen, who looked in decent form and he is clearly once again enjoying the Crucible atmosphere from the natural beauty of his rural escape just a few miles outside Sheffield. The very likeable Barry has had such a quiet season, mainly because he’s kept on losing, that he’s a bit of a surprise package here despite his high ranking. He’s come through two close ones already but is probably still pretty fresh and up for this having had such a bad run of form prior to coming here; his lack of focus being largely, according to him anyway due to his general attitude towards practice and travelling, both an unfortunate and highly inconvenient by-product of being a top level snooker player. But the Rampant Robbo (they’ll nick it, trust me) has won all their really meaningful matches and you have to fancy him to do so again. But he’s no kind of price to back and I reckon Hawkins could easily make a decent match of this, I also think the centuries bet is probably worth a go between two players who don’t get distracted when they have won a frame and tend to mop them up for the ton-up punters. I think the first session of this is key and assuming Robbo doesn’t get off to a flyer and romp away to 6-2 up or better, this one could be closer than some might expect, I’d actually not be a bit surprised if Barry ended up winning.

Prediction: Robertson to win 13-10.

Recommended Bet: 4 points on over 2.5 centuries at 4/5. 

Time to get Naughty.

Time to get Naughty.

Ding Junhui v Judd Trump

Tuesday 10am & 7pm and Wednesday 10am

What a match we have in prospect here between two players that will have their sights set a little higher than a Quarter Final exit. As if we weren’t looking forward to it enough the pre-match talk from both gives it that bit of (albeit pantomime) edge. Ding proclaimed with a cheeky grin that Judd was ‘lucky’ last time he beat him here and that he’d ‘beat him this time’, in response Judd claimed that Ding’s opponents so far have ‘made him look like he’s playing better than he is’ and that he would be ‘showing him how good my form is on the table’. Come onnn….I love all that me. Personally, I think both of them, even without all the bravado which they are obviously both being told to do by the powers that be, look ready to win their first world title and a big part of me thinks that the winner of this will do just that. Their head to head sheds very little light on things, it’s incredibly close as you might expect with Ding having won a few more frames than Judd, but their matches in big tournaments have been more or less equal, so no real advantage there for either player despite how much past encounters will be raked up to try and find some psychological clues. I suppose it comes down to who plays the better on the days of the match. To some extent, Judd has a point, Ding, however different his attitude might be this season has benefited from a terrible performance by Dark Mavis and a total collapse from John Higgins, who should really have won the last frame of their match when Ding wrapped up the win, as well as a fair few others. In truth, if you were to turn the clock back 3 years, Ding would definitely have lost to Higgins without a shadow of a doubt. Judd however has been solid and measured, making his way through in quiet rather than crash, bang, wallop style but his game to me looks more or less the finished article these days. I hope this is a cracker and I’m going to stick with Judd, I just feel that going into this, he is playing the better match snooker of the two and that is what will be the difference between them.

Prediction: Trump to win 13-10

Recommended Bet: 4 points on the winning margin being under 4.5 frames at 4/6. 

Another crack at Ronnie

Another crack at Ronnie

Stuart Bingham v Ronnie O’Sullivan

Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 2.30pm & 7pm

A great performance from the understated and underrated Stuart Bingham against Graeme Dott books him a place in only his second Crucible Quarter Final, in which he faces the same player that walloped him here two years ago, 13-4. Indeed the head to head is heavily weighted in favour of O’Sullivan as you might expect, but Bingham has beaten him twice over the longer/ish distance so he shouldn’t go into this with any sense that history is stacked against him. Indeed Ballrun is a much better player now than he was even back in 2013 and inflicted a defeat on Ronnie in York just a few months after his Crucible disaster when The Rocket looked to be playing very close to his best and heading for the title. The two also have a bit of previous and the needle is never far from reaching boiling point if Ballrun ever has the audacity to push Ronnie close, interestingly, it’s never the other way around. Right, that’s the case for Stuart out of the way. As for Ronnie, he’s been very different this week to the Ronnie of the past three years, his discipline isn’t there and he is behaving at times like a petulant child, despite the fact that he’s nearly 40. He’s almost snapped his cue, taken his size 8’s off for dramatic effect, talked about his passion for shagging, pimped for more media work and been warned for ‘lewd’ cue gestures (basically wanking); so a standard week in the life of snooker’s biggest barnpot. But on the table he’s sharp, whether he is up for the fight more now that his nemesis Selby is out of the equation remains to be seen, but I reckon that he’s probably quite pleased that someone else beat The Jester before he’d have to give it another shot as I am certain that the defeat in the Final last year hurt him like no other ever has. I don’t necessarily think that Ronnie is that far ahead of some of the others now and something still tells me he won’t be winning this, but I can’t realistically see him losing this one.

Prediction: Ronnie to win 13-7.

Recommended Bet: 5 points on O’Sullivan (-4.5 frames) at 4/5.

Recommended Acca: 2 points acca at Bet 365 pays over 7/1 on: McGill and Hawkins to make at least one century each, Ding v Judd over 21.5 frames and Ronnie v Bingham under 20.5 frames.     

THANKS TO MONIQUE LIMBOS FOR THE PHOTOS. 

April 22, 2015

World Championship Second Round Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:39 am

Crucible ImageI’m back from my annual pilgrimage to The Crucible and ready to make a fairly deep arse dent into the sofa in the East Wing Lounge of SB Towers, as we move steadily into the second round and the best of 25 frame matches.

I’ll be recounting tales and takes on what I’ve experienced and felt and some of the people I have met for the first time and caught up with over the course of the next few days, as I settle down with the vast majority of the rest of you to enjoy the remainder of the tournament on TV, no doubt at some points watching from a peeping position behind a cushion as the BBC continue to treat me and you like we’ve only just hatched.

In the meantime, the preview below will be updated as and when all matches are known, with predicted scores and where appropriate, recommended bets. Simply click on the match to reveal the previous head to head record.   

Mark Selby v Anthony McGill

(Thursday 1pm, Friday 10am & 7pm)

The defending champion is the first seed back in action, as is traditional, following his epic battle with Kurt Maflin which again saw him do what he does so well in the heat of battle and under intense pressure; win. I think seeing Selby play live in surroundings like The Crucible now for a few years and in particular the other day and last year when he played Ali Carter has made me something of a convert. OK, I have always rated him highly, I’ve sometimes not enjoyed watching him that much but I don’t like some, think he is slow. But now, I think he’s the best match player in the world when he is on song, he really is that good and a worthy world champion. The latest to try and prove that ‘The Curse’ is real is Anthony McGill, who is the latest in a line of players to put a premature end to Stephen Maguire’s fading hopes of ever being champion. McGill is of course a fine player and a great lad on top, but can he cause another upset? Well, my short answer is no, my clarification being that I think Selby will go into this wanting to win every session, so I’d guess he’ll win the first couple 5-3 and 6-2 and then complete the job, not letting Ant too near him, it just feels to me like it will be that kind of match now Selby has had a scare.

Prediction: Selby to win 13-7.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Selby (-4.5 frames) at Evens.  

Joe Perry v Shaun Murphy

(Sunday 10am & 7pm, Monday 1pm)

When he’s not moaning about kicks or disrupting everyone’s Twitter timeline answering questions, Shaun Murphy is actually a half decent snooker player. A potentially very tricky draw in Robin Hull was brushed aside by Smurf in a clinical way and he’s clearly in really good form. Joe came through a less testing opener against Zhang Anda but both will feel refreshed after getting to this stage with a chance to get to know the table, having spent a lot of time on it. Joe was my initial outside tip to do well here and be the surprise package of the tournament, but I have to say, having seen how well Shaun is playing it’s put some doubts in my mind. So with that in mind I’m going to abstain from a bet on this one and watch, seated on the fence. I think Joe will need to make sure that Shaun doesn’t get an early foothold in the match, if he does, he might run away with it.

Prediction: Murphy to win 13-9.

Barry Hawkins v Mark Allen

(Friday 2.30pm, Saturday 10am & 7pm)

Despite saying he’d have to work on his game a bit to get further, Mark Allen did manage to rattle off 9 in a row against Ryan Day, who for me gifted him so many chances it was hard for Mark to not take advantage and in the end it looked like nothing more than a routine win, it’s a mystery to me why Day played so poorly from 3-1 up. Barry Hawkins in the meantime came through the mill against Matt Selt, almost losing from a very strong position in the face of a rampant comeback by the Marmite Man. But Barry didn’t actually do a lot wrong while Selt was closing the gap and before that had looked pretty good, as he also did in the decider, keeping his nerve when he could easily have folded. I can see this one being quite close actually as their only previous World Championship match was back in 2011 when Allen won a decider. The head to head is rather skewed and at first you’d think Allen had something of a hoodoo over Hawkins but I’d argue that in the only two real big encounters they have had it’s 1-1, with Barry winning the last meaningful one in Berlin in 2013. The bet below to me looks good value as I think they will both reach double figures.

Prediction: Allen to win 13-12.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on winning margin being under 3.5 frames at 11/10.   

Ali Carter v Neil Robertson

(Saturday 2.30pm, Sunday 2.30pm & Monday 7pm)

Neil Robertson will be lots of people’s pick for the title after his impressive first round display against Jamie Jones. The way in which he dominates opponents is really a strength of his and these days when he gets a lead in a match you very rarely see him get pegged back, though it has to be said that Jamie was far from his best and offered Neil very little in the way of resistance. Ali was more workmanlike against Angles and looked very good once he got himself in amongst the balls, there was some rustiness in his long game and he’ll know that he’ll have to get on the practice table and concentrate on that, but in the balls he remains as good as I’ve seen him, his flawless and rock steady cue-action for me explains why he does so well under the intense pressure this place creates. That said, only a brave man would back against Robertson here and that shows in the way this is priced up, which is probably about right given the season they have both had. For me a more interesting proposition with these two heavy scorers is the centuries market as you’d expect there to be a few once frames are secured so the bet below appeals.

Prediction: Robertson to win 13-9.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Over 2.5 centuries at Evens. 

Ding Junhui v John Higgins

(Thursday 7pm, Friday 2.30pm & Saturday 10am)

John Higgins brushed off his championship chances after his opening victory but I think that was a conscious move on the part of the wily Scotsman, who I’m sure deep down believes that he’s not finished just yet. He played very well in patches against Rob Milkins and indeed afterwards Rob said he thought Higgins had a great chance in this. Ding, on the other hand was so engrossed and focused in potting balls that he somehow forgot that he was on a maximum break on his way to a comfortable first round win over Mavis. For me however, this masks two things, firstly, Mavis played as badly as I’ve seen him play for 90% of the match and despite looking on paper like a really tough first round draw he continually let Ding off the hook in a match that was characterised by both squandering a number of straightforward chances. I felt after the match that despite the hullabaloo surrounding Ding’s blunder, the real question was why his form in general is so poor. OK, there is always room for improvement and a win is a win, but there aren’t many who have gone on to win this without any glimpse of their best form going into it; Ronnie of course being the exception after a season off. It goes without saying that Ding has the talent and game to be World Champion but my feeling going into this is that Higgins is overpriced, he’s also in my view there to compete at the end so the value is Higgins and the bet is that it will be close whoever wins to cover it if Ding prevails.

Prediction: Higgins to win 13-11.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on Higgins at 6/4. 3 points on winning margin under 3.5 frames at 11/10. 

Marco Fu v Judd Trump

(Sunday 10am & 7pm, Monday 1pm)

These two met at this stage two seasons ago and Judd ended up the winner 13-7, so anyone who is a believer that history can repeat itself has their correct score bet right there. Marco came through the first round in typical Marco fashion, nothing fancy, just getting the job done. Judd, complete with a line on his back and a rather unsavoury sponsor logo who doesn’t really need any extra publicity had got the job done against Stuart Carrington in the first session and took his foot off the gas in the second, knowing that it was only a question of when, not if, he would win. In the past, the old Judd might have let a player like Marco get under his skin a bit but not now, I’d say this would be a major shock if Judd lost and I still believe he’ll be a big player in this at the end. I just wish he’d ditch the logo and then I could cheer him on.

Prediction: Trump to win 13-7

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Trump (-3.5 frames) at 10/11. 

Graeme Dott v Stuart Bingham

(Friday 10am & 7pm, Saturday 2.30pm)

A very hard one to call this between two players who on their day are very evenly matched, with Graeme undoubtedly of the two the player with vastly the superior Crucible record. Dotty clearly loves it here and proclaimed himself a ‘Grand National Horse that’s been running over 7 furlongs all season’ in his post-match interview after his win over Ricky Walden. Stuart was himself a little hoarse after his first round victory so all this points to a real race to the line between these two established players. The head to head shows that when they do face each other it usually ends up being close so I’d put nobody off another winning margins bet, I’d also guess that winning frames here is more important to them than big breaks so I would definitely go for the unders on any century bet. But for me, the clue to this match is in their records here, Dott loves it and thrives on it and Stuart has always under-achieved at The Crucible. Dott for some reason isn’t favourite and I think the bookies have got this one wrong, so in terms of value, you have to back form horse Dott.

Prediction: Dott to win 13-8

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Dott at 11/8. 2 points on Dott (-2.5 frames) at 5/2. 

Matthew Stevens v Ronnie O’Sullivan

(Saturday 7pm, Sunday 2.30pm, Monday 7pm)

The perceived wisdom holds that this is nothing more than a routine win for Ronnie, even Mark Williams, a great lifelong friend of Matthew Stevens seemed to insinuate as such after his 10-2 drubbing, claiming that Matthew would have to up his game substantially to stand any chance of diverting The Rocket. Ronnie in the meantime is being his usual impish self, touting for shoes for his surprisingly small size 8 feet and claiming that ‘shagging’ is one of his four current obsessions; to me he doesn’t look focused enough yet to win this tournament, but that could of course change. As for this match, I’ve tried to think of an angle for a bet and it’s proving fairly difficult to find any value as I am firmly in the O’Sullivan camp in terms of thinking who will win, not necessarily who I would like to win. The safest bet here I think with two fluent scorers and Matthew to me looking like he might just nick 7 or 8 frames is the overs on the centuries so I think it’s best to stick with that.

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 13-7

Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 2.5 centuries at 10/11.

RECOMMENDED ACCA: 2 POINTS PAYS JUST OVER 4/1 ON SELBY (-3.5), HIGGINS (+3.5), O’SULLIVAN (-3.5) AND DOTT (+3.5).  

April 16, 2015

World Championship Preview: Trump Can Play the Ace Card

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 2:41 pm

WC TROPHYIt’s here. For snooker fans the best two weeks and three days of the year starts on Saturday, like an extended Christmas for baize hungry fanatics, as all eyes descend on the home of snooker; The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, for the start of this year’s World Championship. Thankfully back with the sponsor it should never have lost, Betfred.

I had planned to lead this piece with talk of ‘The Crucible Curse’, but even this has been overshadowed by the shambolic way in which the draw took place earlier.

Someone carelessly forgot to make the You Tube link live for us to watch and we were left collectively scratching our heads as random tweets started to appear with the draw contained in them, incredibly at one point the BBC and World Snooker differed on who Shaun Murphy had drawn, the governing body incorrectly tweeting Smurf’s first opponent as Anthony McGill. Shaun himself could be seen briefly (when the draw did eventually appear just as it was about to finish) with a golf club in his hand menacingly walking towards the chief protagonists before the whole thing went off again just before Betfred’s Mark Pearson swore live on air. Just prior to this a round of applause finished things off as everyone in the room, Bazza and Nugget included, remained blissfully unaware what a total cock up the whole thing had been from start to finish.

Even the reigning champion Mark Selby was forced to ask someone on Twitter who he was playing on Saturday morning as a healthy mixture of incredulity, humour, disappointment and the odd insult flew at breakneck speed to the World Snooker Twitter account. Slapstick scenes and all rather typical in a way, a total balls up from the off, you’ve just got to take your hat off to the governing body, nobody fucks up quite like they do.

But anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the curse. It really materialised properly when Steve Davis lost to Tony Knowles 10-1 in 1982 when a hot favourite to retain the title he had won for the first time a year earlier, but before him Terry Griffiths and Cliff Thorburn had fallen foul of The Curse and since then, no first time winner has gone on to retain the title, the last total failure being Neil Robertson.

So can the current champion Mark Selby break this unusual pattern? This mystical mystery? He’s racking up the curses too, as from winning the China Open he is also up against history and the snooker gods again, with no winner of that ever going on to win this. It never rains but it pours.

The BBC will probably mention ‘The Curse’ one or two, or several hundred times depending on how far poor old Mark gets so you have to feel for him. He’s saying all the right things but to me he looks like a man overcome with, possibly even possessed by these mystical demons, either that or he had a bit of a cold at the press launch the other day. So is The Curse real? Well, there’s a few who think it is and I ain’t gonna argue with no snooker gods on this. No Sir.

Right, it’s time for the match by match preview with recommended bets, I’ll also include my idea of the winner at the end though the title of the blog does give you a fairly obvious clue, so either scroll right down, or read on and get in the mood….

CLICK ON THE MATCH FOR THE HEAD TO HEAD RECORD.

Can he conquer the Crucible Curse?

Can he conquer the Crucible Curse?

QUARTER 1

Mark Selby (1) v Kurt Maflin (Saturday 10am & 7pm)

Kurt Maflin came through a gruelling match with Fergal O’Brien, narrowly pipping him in a decider on Wednesday evening. He’s been rewarded by a match against the reigning champion in the time slot that I think most qualifiers wanted to avoid. Selby himself hinted at the launch of the event that he wouldn’t mind drawing a Crucible debutant and that is exactly what has happened. Mark himself said that The Crucible is so unique that it can take a bit of getting used to and if Maffers doesn’t switch on from the start he could find Selby gone without trace. As with all great players, Selby is not only dangerous from behind but he’s also a very strong front runner. Kurt has beaten him on the main stage in the past though in Berlin, but the vast Tempodrom and the tiny, almost claustrophobic Crucible are two very different animals. I think Selby will come through here and probably win with a bit in hand.

Prediction: Selby to win 10-5.

Stephen Maguire (16) v Anthony McGill (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 7pm)

An all Scottish clash for the opening weekend as 16th seed Mags takes on Anthony McGill who qualifies for The Crucible for the first time following another dramatic match with Mark King which he very nearly lost from a winning position. Long standing readers of this tripe will know that I really rate McGill, he is a bit old school and perhaps that’s why, he also likes The Smiths. But again the question needs to be asked about how he will adjust to this venue against a player who will feel that he should probably have been World Champion by now, but who is without doubt still good enough to be. Again, my money has to be on the seeded player here, I hope Ant gives a good account of himself and I’m sure he will but I can’t see him winning.

Prediction: Maguire to win 10-7.   

Joe Perry (9) v Zhang Anda (Wednesday 10am and 7pm)

Joe Perry is now a force to be reckoned with and I have a feeling he might come out of this quarter the winner. He has to be happy with his draw here, he has played Zhang ‘Mighty Mouse’ Anda twice in PTC events and never lost a frame to him. Most will remember Zhang taking Hendry to a decider in his debut here a few years back, that was one very very strange match that in that even though it went close you never really thought Hendry was going to lose. He’s done well to get here again anyway after a quiet season. But Perry has landed a plum draw here and returns to the scene of his great match against Ronnie last season. He could be a dark horse in this I reckon.

Prediction: Perry to win 10-4. 

Shaun Murphy (8) v Robin Hull (Wednesday 2.30pm and Thursday 7pm)

Unlike Joe, Shaun has landed what I believe to be one of the worst draws he could have had, but strangely the bookies odds don’t suggest this. Finland’s Robin Hull is a great player, dogged by health issues over the years, he has never quite reached the potential we know he has, but maybe in his later career he can start putting that right. He’s played Shaun twice before, losing both times, but he comes into this with three solid wins behind him, including a defeat of Ben Woollaston, knocking in 6 centuries and countless other 70 plus breaks along the way and on the back of a Last 16 spot in the China Open. He is clearly in a rich vein of form. So could this be a shock? Yes, I think it could be, after all Robin played very well here last year against Ronnie, but Masters champion Shaun has played well all season and can’t be underestimated, I reckon this one could be very very close, possibly the tie of the round.

Prediction: 10-9 to one of them. 

RECOMMENDED BET: 2 points on Hull at 6/1 with the sponsors. 5 points on Hull (+4.5 frames) at 10/11. 3 points on Hull to make a century in the match at 11/4 with Bet 365.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Joe Perry. 

Best taken with a pinch.

Best taken with a pinch.

QUARTER 2

Barry Hawkins (5) v Matt Selt (Sunday 10am and Monday 10am)

Matt Selt can’t really be compared to Marmite, as not enough people love him, but it has to be said that he’s playing the pantomime villain so well these days you’d almost believe he really is a total bellend. His tongue in cheek comment about wanting to draw Ali Carter to ‘bash him up’ like the last time they played (when Ali won) was taken totally the other way by some. Possibly as a result of some previous in the week involving smashing balls all over the place and calling a respected promoter a ‘fat mess’ in a very public spat. But in amongst all this he is playing the snooker of his life and he’ll be happy to have drawn Barry, a former runner-up, who has not been in great form for a while, though he did show slight signs of improvement in China. Very much like the match above I think this one could go very close to the distance and Selt has the momentum and the game to score a very unpopular win. Pass the marmite.

Prediction: Selt to win 10-8. 

Mark Allen (12) v Ryan Day (Tuesday 10am and 7pm)

Mark Allen’s recent World Championship form has been pretty poor for a player so good. In the last three years he’s done no better than the Last 16 and has been beaten at this stage twice. He’s been handed another very tough draw here and his head to head with Ryan Day is very close, Allen being one up on matches and Day leading their frame scores by a single rack. Allen has been busy preparing for this while the other top players were in China so should come here fresh, Day proclaimed himself ‘knackered’ after the qualifiers but he’s not playing until Tuesday so he’ll have a chance to get some rest. Match sharpness might be the key here and that’s why I’m going to side with the Welshman.

Prediction: Day to win 10-8.

RECOMMENDED BET: 3 points on Day at 2/1.

Ali Carter (13) v Alan McManus (Monday 7pm and Tuesday 2.30pm)

Surprisingly these two have only met once since 2006 and their head to head stands at 2-2. Angles produced what his final round opponent in qualifying Mitchell Mann called ‘the best safety game I have ever seen’ and undoubtedly that is how he wins matches these days. Ali hasn’t got going again yet since his time off but he always plays his best at The Crucible, very rarely does he lose matches here through playing badly and his first round record is as good as anyone in the sport. I watched all his match with Selby last year at close quarters and Mark was just ruthless, his safety was sublime and when he got in he scored, Ali stayed with him but he was just too good in the end. I think if Ali goes into this match in the same mindset he’ll win, as he’ll compete in the safety department and Alan will not punish him as heavily as Selby did.

Prediction: Carter to win 10-7.

Neil Robertson (4) v Jamie Jones (Sunday 2.30pm and Monday 2.30pm)

Neil Robertson will be many people’s tip for champion, he’s very consistent and has had a lot of time away to prepare having flown home early after defeat in China, some might say after a rather disinterested performance. He is also playing an opponent in Jamie Jones that he has never lost to in four meetings and we all know how Neil can use things like this to his advantage in the mind games department. It’s great to see Jamie back here, he was a quarter finalist a few years back and won over a lot of people, what followed was a slump in form but he’s now back to the venue where people remember him most. That said, he beat amateur Adam Duffy in his last match in qualifying 10-8 without making a break over 50. To say he will have to improve markedly to trouble Robbo is putting it mildly. Though I don’t think Neil will win the title, I can see him progressing here with a few frames to spare.

Prediction: Robertson to win 10-4.

RECOMMENDED QUARTER WINNER: Neil Robertson.

QUARTER 3

Ding Junhui (3) v Dark Mavis (Monday 2.30pm and Tuesday 10am)

Before the draw was made I thought Mavis was the one that most would want to avoid. To me in the qualifiers he looked very solid indeed and breezed through his final match in no time against an under-par Ken Doherty. He’s drawn the enigma that is Ding Junhui, walloped by lower ranked opponents and amateurs all season and unable to buy a win, he showed some signs of recovery in China where he also beat Mavis 5-1. That would suggest that perhaps he has been fooling us all year and just fancied a bit of a rest before making the big push at the end of the season. His Crucible record could be better and he’s lost in Round 1 twice in the last 3 years, famously last time to Michael Wasley. I still don’t think this venue suits him for whatever reason and once you have it stuck in your head that you should really play better here that’s a difficult demon to shift. I think he’ll probably win here but I can’t see him lifting the trophy and I’d take him to lose in the last 16.

Prediction: Ding to win 10-8. 

John Higgins (14) v Rob Milkins (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 7pm)

Higgins is coming in to form at just the right time and when that happens at this time of year you need to sit up and take note. I have already recommended an each way bet on him at 40/1 and I don’t see any reason to change my mind as that represents some decent value. He has landed another very tough draw in Rob Milkins who came through a decider on Wednesday night and is straight back on this weekend. Rob has had much the better of their recent meetings and John hasn’t beaten him since 2011, the pattern being that Higgins won their first four and Rob has won the next four, something that does tend to creep in when the very best players get toward the end of their careers. But this is The Crucible and this is John Higgins and I for one can’t oppose him here.

Prediction: Higgins to win 10-6.     

Marco Fu (11) v Jimmy Robertson (Saturday 10am and Sunday 10am)

The super consistent and constantly underrated Marco Fu takes on Jimmy Robertson who makes his second career appearance at the venue. Jimmy came through a real test against Xiao Guodong in qualifying and that has to give him confidence, though facing the rather robotic Fu first thing on Saturday may not be the best tonic for him. Their head to head doesn’t really tell us anything or give any clues and it’s a match that I think will probably go as most would expect, a solid, workmanlike, nothing to write home about win for Fu.

Prediction: Fu to win 10-6.

The time is now.

The time is now.

Judd Trump (6) v Stuart Carrington (Wednesday 7pm and Thursday 1pm)

Before everyone started hating Matt Selt, it was usually Judd who took the brunt of a lot of quite unfair abuse on social media, I say unfair because from what I have seen he’s a nice lad. He faces Crucible newbie Stuart Carrington who he has never played before professionally though apparently they played a lot as juniors. Stuart knocked out the promising Joel Walker, the vegan powered Peter Ebdon and the dangerous Li Hang to get here so he’s proved he can handle all types of player over the long distance. We all know what to expect with Judd, all out attack when the mood takes him but these days a more measured tactical game with it when he has to. Since about November I have had the feeling that this is Judd’s year, something just feels right this time. I’m certain he will be a World Champion and now feels as good a time as any. He’s my tip for the title.

Prediction: Trump to win 10-3

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Judd Trump   

QUARTER 4

Ricky Walden (7) v Graeme Dott (Saturday 7pm and Sunday 2.30pm) 

Grumpy Graeme didn’t like having to play 3 matches to qualify but he played them and won through to face Ricky Walden, who still hasn’t got a nickname, that’s if you discount the rather erotic sounding ‘Stamina Man’ and the less memorable ‘From Chester’. Oddly, for two players that have been around for so long and often been ranked in similar sections they have only met twice and never in a major tournament. Graeme has been scoring well in the qualifiers and as we know, gives it his all in every match. Ricky has had a good season, winning the International Championship and finishing runner-up in India so he’ll go into this with confidence. It’s a tough one to call this but I just think these days Ricky is a notch higher than Graeme in terms of scoring and consistency so I’ll side with him.

Prediction: Walden to win 10-8.    

Stuart Bingham (10) v Robbie Williams (Monday 10am and 7pm)

Robbie Williams came back to stun Michael Holt in the qualifiers and is a player that snooker folk know is a warm order, he was also responsible for knocking out Poomjaeng to the dismay of Charlie Chaplin fans across the globe who were looking forward to more of his slapstick antics at The Crucible. Robbie will hope this goes slightly better than last season, when he was soundly walloped 10-2 by Neil Robertson on his Crucible debut. Stuart Bingham is one of the big boys these days and not someone you want to run into in the early rounds, when he’s on song he’s as good as anyone and like Joe Perry, I think he might be a bit of a dark horse in this and I’d expect him to make at least the Quarter Finals.

Prediction: Bingham to win 10-5.  

Crackers

Mark Williams (15) v Matthew Stevens (Tuesday 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm)

The all Welsh clash has all the hallmarks of the tie of the round as these two good friends cross cues in a repeat of the final 15, yes that’s 15, years ago. God I feel old. If there is a player that you’d say is the ‘form horse’ coming into this championship it is without doubt Williams. His recent form has been superb and the results have followed, despite only picking up the World Seniors trophy at the age of 39, he has maintained consistency now for months. Matthew has again had a quiet season but a bit like Ali Carter usually produces his best here. I’m really looking forward to this one but I think the way MJW has been playing lately may be the difference between the two so I’ll take him for a narrow win.

Prediction: Williams to win 10-7.

Ronnie O’Sullivan (2) v Craig Steadman (Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am)

Despite repeatedly trying to claim that he isn’t favourite this year, he is. Yes, The Rocket has been playing down his chances with a bit of reverse psychology for a while now. However, as this post shows, he possibly doesn’t like being favourite at all. He faces another Crucible newbie in Craig Steadman, who was feeding the media some great lines after qualifying with a good win over Jamie Burnett having previously knocked out Michael White. The two have never played each other before and Craig did actually say that this was the draw he wanted so he could enjoy the experience and I’m sure he will. As ever when weighing up a World Championship, you have to take into account ‘which Ronnie will turn up’, his mindset lately has looked increasingly fragile and I think his defeat to Selby last year dented his belief a little. But it goes without saying that if his head’s screwed on right he is the man to beat, but something is telling me that this year someone, possibly Judd, will do just that.

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 10-4

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Ronnie O’Sullivan.

PREDICTED SEMI-FINAL RESULTS: Perry to beat Robertson and Trump to beat O’Sullivan.

PREDICTED WINNER: Judd Trump 

RECOMMENDED OUTRIGHT BETS: 4 points on Judd Trump to win the World Championship at 13/2. 1 point each way on Joe Perry at 80/1. (Previously Recommended 1 point each way on John Higgins at 40/1). 1 point on Joe Perry to win Quarter 1 at 11/1.

RECOMMENDED ACCAS: 5 points on Selby, Neil Robertson, Bingham, Perry and Trump pays a shade over Evens. Add Fu for a 4 point acca pays over 7/4. Add Mark Williams for 3 point acca pays 11/4. Add Walden and Higgins for a 2 point acca pays over 8/1.

TWO ONE POINT BIG PRICED BETS: Robin Hull to hit highest break at 150/1 and Kurt Maflin to hit highest break at 100/1 at Sportingbet.

OTHER: 3 points on Robin Hull and Kurt Maflin both to make at least 1 century in their first round matches at over 7/1 with Bet 365.

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