June 21, 2017

The Curtain Raiser: Riga Masters Opens New Snooker Season

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:50 am

After a week long worth of qualifiers in Preston to establish the starting fields in both this and the China Championship in August, the real curtain raiser for the new season starts on Friday with the Riga Masters from Latvia, which will be fully covered by Eurosport.

Essentially this event is a slight teak on the old PTC format thankfully with one less round at the venue, opening up with 7 tables in action, followed by 5, before it moves to two main tables for the last eight onwards. They’ve also made the semi-finals and final a little longer than the seven frames format in that they are now the best of nine.

Neil Robertson returns to the scene of his most recent trophy, strange to think that having started the season so well he was to not lift any more silverware over the course of a long season, while battling with his very modern addiction, that of video games, which put him off stride on the table and led to an ultimately disappointing season for the Aussie. Do we have a new curse? Who wants to win this if your season goes tits up afterwards?

Contrast this with Mark Selby, snooker’s most recent millionaire who won a total of 5 titles last season including 2 of the big 3, he’s got so much dosh these days that he can afford to pick and choose his events this season and despite entering this he is a late absentee. Apparently however this is no summer holiday choice on the part of The Jester, Mark has apparently carelessly dropped an unspecified but I assume fairly heavy object on his toe, so misses this because of injury rather than choice.

I’m not going to be covering the best of seven frame events this season, they don’t really interest me and in a way it helps me look forward to the events that I always enjoy. I’ll probably watch a bit of it if I am sat in front of the telly at any point but for me the snooker doesn’t really get interesting until it starts getting a little cooler and the nights become a little darker and earlier, not when it’s blazing sunshine outside.

But that’s not to say it won’t be a decent event for those that choose to watch it, but from a betting point of view I’ll probably just stick to the outright market as I find the best of sevens very unpredictable and am seeing less and less value in the match betting as the bookies become a bit more savvy to any potential ringers out there. But at big prices, the ‘one in each quarter’ tactic looks to be the way forward for this event, especially given the lack of big names in the field.

The flatter playing field is definitely more evident nowadays and the old adage that anyone can beat anyone has never been truer within the lower ranks especially, so match betting in short formats in snooker these days is a slippery slope to being a bookies mug punter in my opinion, though we do often see the cream rise to the top at the business end of things.

If you are planning to duck in and out of events this season as I am you can take a look at the full calendar for the season here.

Riga Masters Outrights: Stephen Maguire (12/1), Mark Williams (20/1), Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (100/1), Hossein Vafaei (125/1). 

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

Here’s the Eurosport TV schedule for the Kaspersky Riga Masters in the UK.

Friday 23 June

0900-1145 LIVE day one on Eurosport 1
0900-2000 LIVE day one on Eurosport Player
2145-0045 Day one on Eurosport 1

Saturday 24 June

0900-1245 LIVE day two on Eurosport 1
0900-1300 LIVE day two on Eurosport Player
1630-1825 LIVE day two on Eurosport Player
2110-2300 Day two on Eurosport 2

Sunday 25 June

0900-1300 LIVE quarter-finals on Eurosport 1
1430-1700 LIVE semi-finals on Eurosport 2
1830-2130 LIVE final on Eurosport 2

May 30, 2017

One Week in Preston: Riga and China Qualifiers

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 1:01 pm

All focus on Preston again this week.

The snooker season gets underway in Preston on Wednesday with a week of qualifiers for two events, the Riga Masters and the China Championship. The final stages of Riga will take place at the end of June and the China Championship will conclude in mid-August.

As there is currently an election on in the UK I’m putting in place a policy of my own this season. My manifesto states that I’m not going to cover any of the best of seven events in any great detail. It worked last season and made me look forward more to the events with the longer matches, I don’t like the short matches so I’m not going to bother with them, simple as that.

So for the first event, the qualifiers for Riga, I’m giving it a wide berth. However, when the matches revert to Best of 9 frames for the China event I’ll post up a few predictions when the bookies get their act together and price them up.

It’s fair to say that quite a few of the game’s big names have decided very much like myself to not get involved in Riga, there’s no O’Sullivan (unless you count Sean), Higgins, Trump or Ding so a somewhat depleted field are competing in that one, with a lot of the places being made up by the Q-School Order of Merit list posse, who remember still have to pay entry fees unlike the main tour professionals, who now enjoy free entry to all the events they want to enter.

All those names missing for Riga do appear in the first round draw for the more lucrative Chinese event which is hardly surprising given the £150,000 first prize. This of course is the event which last year was a highly entertaining invitational tournament won by John Higgins, but this year as originally planned it reverts to a flat field ranking event for all the 128 tour players. Personally I think they missed a trick here to establish a Chinese Masters type equivalent and keep it as an invitational for the top 16, that seems to me to be a gap in the market that a big Chinese sponsor might want to plug.

So, despite the rest of us sitting outside in the vain hope that we might see that big round yellow thing in the sky for more than a few hours a month, the potters are back indoors and hard at it on the baize. If you want to check out the full season calendar and plan ahead to times when snooker feels like it should be on click here to do so. Just an opening season punt below, let’s see if we can start with a winning bet.

Riga Masters Roll Up: Pays nearly 11/2 – Yan Bingtao, Stuart Bingham, Peter Lines, Sam Craigie and John Astley. Add Chris Wakelin for a 13.5/1 Acca. Then Add Zhao Xintong for a 31.5/1 Acca.

Check Oddschecker for Best Odds Available.  

Click here for the updated Riga Masters draw

Click here for the updated China Championship draw

Click here for the format

The qualifying rounds run from May 31 to June 6 at the Guild Hall in Preston, with the winners going through to the final stages. Tickets for the qualifiers are available now, for details CLICK HERE for the Riga qualifiers (May 31 to June 2) and HERE for the China qualifiers (June 3-6).

May 8, 2017

Form An Orderly Q

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:41 pm

The focus of snooker for the next two weeks. Nice tree.

Tuesday morning sees the start of an event which will both drive and destroy dreams as we go through the annual lottery of snooker’s Q-School, where 200 plus amateurs of differing abilities will be whittled down to just 12, who will then start their journey into the professional ranks.

It’s as harsh a format as you can imagine and even a cursory look at the first round draws in each of the events once again makes you wince at how many good players are grouped together.

But for many it’s their last chance to know what they might be doing this time next month. The choice? Preparing for the professional year ahead and looking at dates and travel plans or trying to get a job somewhere else.

Good luck with tha…(VOTE LABOUR)

The headline for the qualifiers this year is of course that they won’t have to immediately stump up entry fees, these having been abolished by Mr Hearn, who also came up with a plan for the losers here to fund it, there are no flies on him that’s for damn sure as mustard.

It’s being held at the iconic (but it has to be said quite unpopular with top players) Preston Guild Hall and includes many names that you will recognise. Tony Drago (have a watch), Joe Swail, Barry Pinches, Andy Hicks, Jamie Cope – yes that’s THE Jamie Cope, Martin O’Donnell, Allan Taylor, Sean O’Sullivan, Sanderson Lam and many more are among the former professionals in action as well as the superbly named Shaun Sultana, who on currant form should be in with a grape chance given the date.

Seriously though, who’d be a snooker player? These guys, well the ones with half a chance, are playing for their livelihood. The reality is that for the losers, which is the vast majority of them, it’s a future full of uncertainty. In what other line of work are two weeks so vital to the next two years of your life?

It’s not fair, it’s not fun but for twelve of them (the four semi finalists from each event and the four others who win most frames from the two combined) it’s the key to a couple of years of routine, something which I have always found is essential to snooker player’s mental health and wellbeing.

For what it’s worth I’ve had a few quid on each quarter in Event 1. I’ve gone for experience with Joe Swail and Andy Hicks, I’ve gone for who I think is the best Chinese hope in Chen Zifan and I’ve gone for a player I know is granite and in form on the amateur circuit Anthony Parsons.

For serious backers I’d suggest a look at Steven Hallworth given his draw but he’s too short for me to have a dabble with the size of my satchel.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I’ll watch with interest. Good luck to the boys and girl that know I’m rooting for them over the two events.     

Event 1 Draw

Event 2 Draw


April 30, 2017

World Championship Final Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:08 am

And then there were 2. We approach the two day final which some might say is one for the purists, with the defending champion up against a four times winner who just keeps bouncing back for more.

It’s not really been a championship of memorable matches but undoubtedly the best one was the semi-final between Selby and Ding.

I’m pretty sure that had it been against anyone else Ding would be in the final, but Selby seems to summon up something, from somewhere, when he needs it most, much like his opponent today John Higgins does when he’s at his best.

There is little doubt on form who goes into this as a very strong favourite and the odds on Selby are as restrictive as I can remember in a match involving Higgins who can still be backed at 9/4 to carry off the famous trophy. But we are talking about two players here who have played a total of 201 professional frames against each other and are seperated by just a single frame, so is it as clear cut as the bookies suggest?

They met of course on and at this very stage ten years ago to the calendar weekend with Higgins winning the third of his four titles 18-13. This is the fifth time they will have faced each other at The Crucible with Higgins holding a 3-1 advantage so if you look at some of the stats out there, you begin to wonder if this really is simply a case of a Jester Coronation.

Then you have to look at how they got here. Selby was workmanlike in his first three matches, losing just ten frames to Fergal O’Brien, Xiao Guodong and a totally out of sorts Marco Fu, before being pushed to the wire by Ding and letting out a celebratory fist pump and table smack rarely if ever seen from him.

Higgins meanwhile, in what most considered to be the ‘easier’ half has had to beat Martin Gould and three seeded players in Mark Allen, Kyren Wilson and Barry Hawkins, losing just four more frames than Selby in doing so against most would agree, a far tougher foursome.

So again, a strong case can be made for Higgins based on history and what’s happened here. So why is Selby such a strong favourite?

My opinion is that Selby is now a better all round player than Higgins. Perhaps John still has the edge on shot selection and arguably is as good as Selby in the balls but tactically I think Selby is outplaying everyone these days. When it comes to bottle they are probably the best two in the business so there really isn’t a lot to choose between them at all despite John’s advancing years.

It’s a match up that I’m sure Bazza would not have picked given the choice. It will lack that razzmatazz that he thinks snooker needs more of. It’s the sort of match that staff in old people’s homes around the country will be rejoicing at as they can just plonk it on and sit the residents down in front of until the last one has nodded off while they go off shopping. Like I said in the intro, it’s definitely one for the purists.

I’m going to rely on the fact that John will come into this battling and showing that ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’ spirit that has seen him raise his game time and again when many are writing him off. I hope it doesn’t live up to expectations and is a hugely entertaining match with plenty of thrills and spills.

In terms of a scoreline I’ll go for 18-15 to Selby (14/1 best price) and him joining the elite band of the games greats who have won this great event more than twice.

Thanks for tuning in throughout the championship and for all your tweets and messages. The blog itself has hit over 85,000 visits over the course of the 17 days so you’ll be pleased to hear that you are not alone in tuning into this particular corner of the webosphere. Now for two more days and a well earned break.   

April 27, 2017

World Championship Semi Final Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:17 am

The One Table Situation

It’s time for the famous ‘one table situation’ cliches to kick in as we move to the business end of things at The Crucible with five more days of snooker’s showpiece still to go. Just four of the original 144 remain (Anorak Stat Check: 143 if you remember that Patrick Wallace withdrew) and we have as strong a semi-final line up as I can remember.

I’m going to leave the big preamble and no doubt at some point I’ll refer back to Barry Hearn’s press conference yesterday and what it will mean for the amateur game in the UK and beyond, suffice to say that I’m delighted that he’s decided to give the amateur and grass roots game some long awaited and much needed TLC from 2018 onwards.

Now though to the two matches, the big question is, can anyone stop the defending champion?

Mark Selby v Ding Junhui

Since 12 months ago when these two contested a close final they have met twice more, in two finals over in China sharing the spoils. Ding won 10-6 in Shanghai and ended up in tears and lost in Daqing to a rampant Jester 10-1 and also ended up in tears. But what’s happened since then may explain Ding’s emotional state on both occasions, sadly his mum passed away from cancer at a very young age and I’m sure both matches were played out with that at the forefront of Ding’s mind so I’d discount the hammering in Daqing and instead concentrate on how they are both playing here. I’m sure it would mean everything to Ding to win this and it would be nice if he could blot out the pressures coming from China and just concentrate on what it means to him and those closest to him if he were to achieve his lifelong dream. He has conquered one goal in beating Ronnie but there is still plenty of work to do against a player who seems to be getting better and better as the years go on and is now as close to dominating the sport as anyone has been since Hendry. Selby is in fantastic form and his win over Marco was a virtuoso display from a master at his craft. I’m torn here by wanting Selby to lift a third title and climb into the next echelon of champions who have won it more than twice and my desire to see Ding win it for his mum. But if this place teaches you anything it’s that the better player usually wins over the longer distance and the better player is undoubtedly Selby this week.

Predicted: Selby 17-12.

John Higgins v Barry Hawkins

Such is the nature of snooker these days that these two have only ever met once over anything longer than best of 7, that was here in 2010 when Higgins beat Barry 10-6 in Round One before his famous second round defeat by Steve Davis. Higgins has for the first time since he last won this, brought his best game to The Crucible and like Selby looks to be destined for the final. Barry typically talked down his chances after beating Maguire but his mindset for this match may just help him if he’s going in knowing he is a big underdog. One thing that struck me about the comments after Higgins’ last match was how disappointed Kyren Wilson was in his own performance, he lamented at the number of close frames he lost and the number of chances he let slip so that perhaps tells us that despite thinking Higgins is in top form he is giving opponents rays of hope. Hawkins by his own admission will have to improve in leaps and bounds here to win but there is the possibility that his poor performance is now behind him and Higgins is still yet to bowl in a dodgy session. I think if Barry is to win this he’s going to have to rely on John having a woeful run of frames at some point and him being able to mop up the scraps he’s left. I’d like Barry to win but somehow I just can’t see it happening.

Predicted: Higgins 17-12.

Recommended Bet: Double on Selby to make more than 2 centuries and Higgins (-2.5 frames) pays over 5/2 at Bet 365 – if you fancy this but don’t have an account with them click the banner below to take advantage of a new customer offer. A mad double on the two predicted scores pays 168/1 with the sponsor.

April 24, 2017

World Championship Quarter Final Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:54 pm

It’s Quarter Final time at The Crucible as we head into the second week of this great championship with only 8 of the 32 starters remaining.

It’s been an eventful opening week, the first part of which I spent in the snooker bubble of Crucible Square where I met the usual crew of anoraks and snooker fanatics as well as catching up with some familiar faces behind the scenes.

It’s a strange place Sheffield at this time of year and if you aren’t careful you can begin to believe that the rest of the world doesn’t exist while the snooker is on. As usual after spending the first five days there I headed back to the safety and security of my arsedent to watch the rest of the championship. I’d like to thank World Snooker for letting me access the inner sanctum of The Crucible again, it’s a great experience for a snooker fan like me and I know how lucky I am to be able to do this. 

All things said, as things stand I don’t think it’s been a particularly stand out championship so far but with the eight names that are left I think that will probably change this week. Each match up is worthy of being a ranking final in its own right and we’re surely on a direct path to classic semi-finals and final, with all manner of permutations still a possibility.

So without further a do I’ll take a look at each of the four great matches awaiting us from Tuesday onwards.

As ever, click on the match to take you to the head to head record.

Mark Selby v Marco Fu

You know when your car is about to conk out but just keeps going? It chugs, it stalls, but it just about moves? Or for dog lovers, when that old hound has run its last lap but hangs on in there because its owner can’t bear to be without it? Well, to me that’s Marco Fu in this championship. He’s lost almost as many frames as it’s possible to lose to still be here but he still is. Now, in the words of Ol’ Blue Eyes he faces the final curtain in the shape of the defending champion who is not even playing that well but still coasting through. If you take a look at the stats from his last match against Guodong and blot out the score you’d be forgiven for thinking that he lost. But Selby is basically doing a Selby here and like a great opera singer, warming up for the main event with a few practice notes. He’s got his eye on the one table situation and Marco won’t be troubling him here, the car is buggered and the poor old dog is ready for the knackers yard.

Prediction: Selby 13-7.

Recommended Bet: Selby (-3.5 frames) at 6/5. 

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui

A renewed Rocket has been displaying the sort of tenacity that we associate with him walking off with trophies in his opening two matches and has dug deep when he had to. Clearly motivated by Shaun Murphy’s motivational slagging off in the last round he played like someone with a point to prove and kept Murphy at arms length the whole match. Ding on the other hand fell over the line against Liang having started the match well. In terms of the head to heads, these are very one-sided. If you discount two old Premier League match ups (which I do), you need to go back to 2006 for Ding’s last and only victory over Ronnie in anything half important, Ronnie has since then beaten Ding everywhere from Sheffield, through China, via London, Coventry and Newport. I’ll be honest, before I saw the last round I really fancied Ding to win this one but after witnessing Ronnie’s manner around the table I think he’ll once again assert his authority over China’s finest and possibly in some style.

Prediction: O’Sullivan 13-10.

Recommended Bet: O’Sullivan (-2.5 frames) at 10/11. 

Kyren Wilson v John Higgins

Well I got into a right load of lumber over on Twitter the other night for daring to have the audacity to say that I don’t really enjoy watching Higgins too much, OK it was in the context of a tongue in cheek slur on Steve Davis so that wasn’t helping but the way some people reacted you’d think I’d broken into their house, rogered the family cat before murdering their nan. Even if I don’t enjoy watching him that much only a blind person would argue that he isn’t a class act on the baize and his win over Mark Allen put his cap firmly in the ring as a potential champion come next Monday. Kyren is rediscovering his form at last after a pretty turgid few months and he’s not without a chance here if he reproduces the form he showed against Bingham, but something tells me that he’ll also need John to have at least one bad session for that to be enough for him to win, something he doesn’t really look like doing. 

Prediction: Higgins 13-9.

Recommended Bet: Higgins (-3.5 frames) at 10/11.

Barry Hawkins v Stephen Maguire

A pretty even head to head record between these two as you might expect with them being quite evenly matched. Maguire seems to be happy being a non-seeded player this year and is doing the reverse of when he’s been seeded of late and playing like a seed (if you catch my drift). He’s lost just 5 frames so far at The Crucible so any talk of Ponds Forge fatigue can pretty much be consigned to the dustbin, he’s even managed the best part of a week back in Glasgow to rest and recuperate. Barry is continuing his strong form at The Crucible which is now seeing him on most people’s shortlist, including mine, of possible new champions from the start and I was impressed how he pulled away from Graeme Dott and finished the job off clinically in the final session. They are both cueing superbly so I expect this one to be a high quality affair littered with big breaks. I’ve backed them both in the outrights so this is my interest semi-finalist, gun to head I’d go for Mags, but I hope the bullets are blanks.

Prediction: Maguire 13-12.

Recommended Bet: Over 2 centuries in the match at 5/6. Over 22 frames in the match at 11/8.

RECOMMENDED ACCA: Selby (-3.5), O’Sullivan (-2.5), Higgins (-2.5) and Maguire (+2.5) pays over 12/1. 

April 20, 2017

World Championship Second Round Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:47 pm

So the first round banana skins have been either picked up and placed in the bin or slipped upon and now we get to the three session matches, this championship just gets better and better.

Rather than give the big preamble here I’ll save this for the daily morning posts, so let’s get straight into the eight matches in this round, obviously this post will be updated as and when first round matches finish.

As ever just click on the match in question to take you to the head to head record courtesy of Cue Tracker.

Mark Selby v Xiao Guodong

Selby was clinical rather than dazzling in the opening round, dispensing with his opening day opponent Fergal O’Brien with his usual ruthless precision. He didn’t really score that heavily in terms of centuries but sometimes he’s like that and Fergal isn’t the type of player that leaves things wide open so it’s very much a case on Mark’s side of ‘job done’. Guodong justified most people’s faith in him coming through against the seeded player Ryan Day but in the process of his 10-4 win only hit three breaks over 50 with a highest of 78, this against a player who does give you a few chances. That is something he will have to improve on vastly to win here and I’m not sure he’ll get the same level of scoring chances in this that he had against Day. Selby has beaten him on both previous meetings, not easily, but all things together to me this points to a comfortable win for the defending champion over the longer distance, I think he’ll probably win every session, my guess would be 6-2, 5-3 and 2-1.

Predicted: Selby 13-6.

Recommended Bet: Selby to make more than one century in the match at 5/6 with Bet 365. 

Neil Robertson v Marco Fu

They’ve locked horns quite a few times down the years these two but this will be their first Crucible meeting. Marco ensured his intro would have some reference to him being snooker’s new comeback king after his heroics against Luca Brecel in the first round but any repeat of his first session shenanigans here will surely see him on the first train out of Sheffield. Robbo was solid in his first round match against a nervous debutant with one ton and a further 5 breaks over 60, he was also back to his sharp talking best afterwards and you can tell he’s bang up for this after by his standards a pretty average season. Some might say that with Marco having dodged a (Belgian) bullet that his name is already being etched onto the trophy but for me he’s going to have to improve a lot here to win. I’m siding with Robbo as I don’t think he’s quite done with this whole Crucible caper just yet.

Predicted: Robertson 13-8.

Recommended Bet: Robertson (-3.5) at 7/4 with Bet 365.

Shaun Murphy v Ronnie O’Sullivan

It’s a pretty open secret in the snooker world that these two don’t really get on, in fact I’d go as far as to say they probably really dislike each other, which makes this a real mouth watering clash for us fans. Ronnie’s rage against the machine after round 1 grabbed the headlines of course but on the table he looked pretty sharp to me too. Murphy survived a frightener and but for a fluked final red ahead of a real pressure clearance could have been on his way home, but he survived. The last time they met here, a highly disciplined Rocket gave Shaun a massive walloping over this distance, it remains to be seen if he can recreate that again here given his seemingly rather different mental state but my guess is that this will be a bit closer than that one. Murphy did score his first meaningful win over Ronnie at the German Masters in 2015, their last meeting. They both seem to be needing a few chances to polish off frames at the moment and that makes for a close match usually, let’s hope they don’t let us down. Let the needle match commence.

Predicted: O’Sullivan 13-10

Recommended Bet: O’Sullivan (-2.5 frames) at 10/11. 

Liang Wenbo v Ding Junhui

All Chinese clashes at the Crucible are like buses, you wait years for another one to happen and then you get two within a week. Ding scored so heavily against Ghou in round one with three tons and a further 6 breaks of 50 or more and surely a repeat of this is all that’s required to win here. Liang did something that I’m not used to seeing him do to win his opener and that’s dig in and make a real match of things, he seems to be enjoying life in the top 16 and looks set to stay there for a while but he doesn’t have the scoring power of Ding on the big stage yet. In terms of the head to heads, they are all in minor events except for their meeting here back in 2009 when Ding won 10-8 in Round One. I can’t see anything other than a Ding win here and I’m definitely sensing that it’s going to be him and Selby going to battle in the semi-finals this time around.

Predicted: Ding 13-8

Recommended Bet: Over 2 centuries in the match at 4/5. 

Stuart Bingham v Kyren Wilson

Well the head to head between these two makes very interesting reading doesn’t it? Two matches in full ranking events and two comfortable wins for Kyren, plus two minor wins on top makes it 4-0 over the 2015 World Champion. Both rose to challenges in Round 1 and after the match Bingham admitted that he would need to improve in order to win this one, his defeated opponent Ebdon, who knows both of them well said he thought it would be a tight match, but that he fully expected Kyren to be World Champion in the next three years, a bold prediction which I assume means that he thinks he’s in with a chance this year. The record books favour Kyren then, but the bookies make Bingham favourite, I have to say before I saw the head to head I agreed with the bookies and think the odds are about right, for me this is a close final session affair with Bingham using his Crucible experience to his best advantage, but I could be wrong.

Predicted: Bingham 13-12.

Recommended Bet: Winning Margin to be Under 3.5 frames at 11/10. 

Mark Allen v John Higgins

Both players seemed keen to talk down their chances after the first round so here we will get to see which one of them was justified in doing so. Mark Allen claimed he was lucky to win against Jimmy Robertson and apologised to him at the end while Higgins more or less wrote off his chances of winning the title for a fifth time either this year or in any other, so confidence is not high on the list of either players attributes as things stand. This should be an open, attacking match and the head to head between the two is pretty close. Higgins has won all their long match encounters including a semi-final here back in 2009 and a semi-final earlier in the season in the middle of his big money run. I think now Higgins has got a decent win out of the way it might be just what he needs to have a good run in this, he’s been quiet in 2017 and sometimes that can work in a players favour. I fancy Higgins to do the job here.

Predicted: Higgins 13-10.

Recommended Bet: Match to be level at 4-4 after first session at 11/4. 

Barry Hawkins v Graeme Dott

This promises to be an entertaining, attacking affair with two players who don’t hang around going head to head over the best of 25. I watched every ball of Dotty’s win over Ali Carter and he’s still such a sharp player, his long potting is excellent and he is a maestro at picking out long range pots to nothing. He’s not a heavy scorer which is possibly his biggest weakness these days but under pressure there are few better than him. Barry, like Dotty, saves his best for Sheffield and I think this one could be a real classic if they both bring their Crucible games to the table. In terms of scoring, Barry wins but if like Ali, he lets Graeme front run, he’ll do well to catch the Scottish Terrier. The 4/1 available on Dott for this match is quite frankly too good to not back just for interest, for me he’s a 7/4 shot here. But I’ve backed Barry in the outrights and the way he dispensed of the potentially dangerous Tom Ford leads me to believe he’s bang up for this again. But, in a curious twist, despite thinking Hawkins will probably win I’m going to recommend backing Dott as those odds are just bonkers.

Predicted: Hawkins 13-9.

Recommended Interest Punt: Dott to win at 4/1 with the sponsors. 

Stephen Maguire v Rory McLeod

‘You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off’ springs to mind when I think about Rory beating Judd. It was an unlikely result and I’m not sure that the focus on Judd’s injury was in the best possible taste as Rory definitely deserves a lot of credit for the way he handled the match and let’s face it, his impatient, over-confident, some might argue complacent opponent. What Rory did do, under the expert tutorage of Peter Ebdon, was get inside Judd’s head or to quote Alfred Burden ‘The Highlander doing Judd’s canister clean in’, something that players have been known in the past to do to his opponent here. Mags was superb in Round 1, 8 breaks of 50 or more and a strong all round tactical game to wallop McGill 10-2 followed by a few days back home sets him up nicely for this. During the McLeod/Trump match I availed myself of the 66/1 available on Maguire and that has to now look like decent value. Can lightning strike twice? Perhaps. But this time I think we’ll see Maguire bully from the off and not make the mistake that Judd did of letting Rory back into it, after all, he was keeping an open mind after his first match and hinted that he thought Rory might be his next opponent, so he’ll be ready for this.

Predicted: Maguire 13-9

Recommended Bet: Maguire to make more than one century in the match at 6/5 with Bet 365.

Recommended Multiple Bet: Bingham/Wilson over 22 frames, O’Sullivan (-1.5 frames), and Ding and Selby both to make more than one century in their matches pays over 17/2 at Bet 365.

If you fancy either of the bets above but don’t have a Bet 365 account just click the banner below to take advantage of free bet offer for new customers. 

April 18, 2017

Ding Junhui Press Conference

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:42 pm

Ding Junhui completed the win earlier in the all-Chinese clash and he had this to say afterwards.

April 16, 2017

World Championship Day 2

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:47 am

It’s day two in Sheffield after comfortable victories last night saw Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire come through unscathed and book their places in the second round. After an unusually early night finish, you can check out what they and their fallen opponents had to say afterwards here.

Last night calls into question the wisdom of the changed format in that for the first time last year we had two matches finishing on the opening night, they got away with it then as Ali Carter and Stuart Bingham went to a decider in front of the entire Crucible crowd and it was quite a night, but last night the risk that day one might end with a whimper rather than a bang materialised.

I’m not sure why the change was made but unless it’s absolutely necessary I’d suggest a rethink, if nothing else for the disappointed punters who to add insult to injury then had to watch and listen to Dennis’s gags for half an hour, to ermm ‘compensate’ for their collective loss. That’s a bit like putting a sorry note in the bonce bucket of the guillotine really. 

In the afternoon session yesterday there were spirited fightbacks by Gary Wilson and David Grace and they resume their matches with Ronnie and Kyren Wilson respectively, both playing to a finish.

Both Gary and David I think will have come out of those sessions the happier even though they are behind as it could have been a lot worse, in particular Wilson who produced a superb clearance in the final frame having required a snooker to get within a frame of The Rocket whose hair at the moment makes me think he’s trying to stake a claim for the tours tallest player after clocking the size of Gracey, someone needs to tell him that hair doesn’t count.

We also have the start of four other matches including the eagerly awaited Murphy v Bingtao clash and one I’m really looking forward to between Stuart Bingham and Peter Ebdon (yes yes I know I’m probably in a minority there). Another great day of snooker awaits us at The Crucible.

Couple of novelty type interest bets today on a couple of the starting matches.

Murphy to be leading 3-1 after first four frames 2/1. Marco Fu to lead 5-4 at the end of the session 11/4.

Full tournament preview is here.

April 13, 2017

World Snooker Championship Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 1:52 pm

Every year I sit down on the Thursday before it all starts and wonder how to build up the anticipation with a cutting and straight to the point opening paragraph, but no matter what I say on here it’s always just leading up to one thing; the best 17 days of the year for snooker fans, like Christmas and all your birthdays all rolled into one. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s Crucible time.

After all the drama of the qualifiers we have just two days to catch our collective breath before the Crucible wall descends from the rafters and the opening click of the balls signals the start of another epic 17 days of drama.

World Numero Uno Mark Selby returns to defend the title he won for the second time 12 months ago, this time without the burden of the Crucible Curse on his shoulders, though of course he’s not done himself any favours in the curse department by winning the China Open; nobody has ever done that and won this too, so immediately the Snooker Gods are frowning upon him from the Great Billiard Hall in The Sky.

This year also heralds the 40th year at this great venue, the BBC might mention it a couple of times. In 1977, John Spencer lifted the trophy for the first time here and ever since then Sheffield has become known globally as the home of snooker. Down the years The Crucible has witnessed some of the iconic sporting moments in history, the birth of televised snooker through the Davis years, Cliff’s 147, Alex begging for his baby, Hendry’s annual battles with Jimmy, Ronnie’s fastest maximum, Ebdon’s 12 break and that bloke with the glasses shaking his finger.

I am heading there for the media day on Crucible Eve and as usual staying for the first round before heading back to watch the action like most other people from the comfort of my own sofa arsedent in the company of the usual band of commentators and pundits on both the BBC and Eurosport, as well as our three dogs and that person that lives with me who occasionally rather annoyingly asks me to move my feet to hoover under them, usually at a crucial point in the frame.

I think this year it’s actually justifiable to say it’s the most open championship we have seen in years. I don’t quite know how you quantify that with any hard data but it just feels like this year there are a multitude of possible outcomes, perhaps because it’s now clear that Ronnie O’Sullivan is not well ahead of the rest of the field on his day, if anything the one player who stands out these days is undoubtedly Selby, who has now finished World Number 1 for the past 6 seasons, just two short of the all time record holder Hendry.

The bookies have Selby and the in-form Judd Trump vying for favouritism just ahead of O’Sullivan, with a lot of fancy prices available on the others. If you want to see how favourites have fared over the years, take a look at this.

Anyway, that’s enough of my waffling on, here goes nothing as I take a look at each match individually and gaze into my increasingly misty crystal ball in the hope that I can forsee what might happen. Whether you have a bet or not, just enjoy the tournament. I’ll be spouting my usual nonsense on Twitter if you’d care to follow me on there during it, apologies if you do already, I’ll grow up one day I promise.

Right, here we go.  

Click on the match for the head to head record courtesy of Cue Tracker.

QUARTER ONE – all played on Table 1

Mark Selby (1) v Fergal O’Brien (Saturday 10am & 7pm)

The defending champion is up against The Ferginator who smashed all records in Ponds Forge by competing in and winning a deciding frame which lasted over two hours, longer in fact than the world record for running a marathon. His reward is a match on the opening day after presumably, not having had a great deal of sleep. There are plenty that will look at this match up with sleep uppermost in their mind but that does Selby an injustice as I think he’s a great player to watch. It’s been over a decade since O’Brien got the better of The Jester and I think the champion will be quite happy with this first round draw, I can see him bossing this from the off and winning with a bit in hand to start off his defence impressively.

Prediction: Selby 10-4.

Ryan Day (16) v Xiao Guodong (Wednesday 10am & 7pm)

Ryan Day was one match away from the qualifiers this season as he watched his friend Mark Williams try in vain to win the China Open, him losing in the final secured Day’s place back in the top 16. He’s drawn one of the three Chinese qualifiers Guodong, who he has beaten on their only meaningful meeting to date over in Germany. Xiao is no mug and impressed in the qualifiers, particularly against Mark King, losing just 8 frames in his three matches, he’s also been here before, losing narrowly to Ali Carter on that occasion so he’s unlikely to let the venue get to him. Day has produced some of his best snooker here and The Crucible seems to bring out the best in him so that makes this quite a difficult one to call, as I’d say Guodong is probably one he’d have wanted to avoid. 

Prediction: Guodong 10-8.

Neil Robertson (9) v Noppon Saengkham (Wednesday 2.30pm & Thursday 2.30pm)

Robbo faces the first debutant of the preview, Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham who actually beat Neil on their most recent meeting. Our Noppy came through two gruelling matches in the qualifiers, a late night decider against Anthony Hamilton followed by a 10-8 win over Lee Walker from behind so he’s proved that he can scrap it out. That win over Neil is something of an exception really as Noppon seems to have a ‘level’, he beats and gets beaten by players ranked similarly to him but seldom beats top 16 players. That and the fact he’ll likely take a few frames to get used to the surroundings by which time Neil might have established an unassailable lead makes Robbo a good thing to progress in my opinion. I know that he’s been focusing fully on Sheffield for the last month and he’s determined to re-establish himself at the top of the game. 

Prediction: Robertson 10-4.

Marco Fu (8) v Luca Brecel (Sunday 7pm & Monday 7pm)

Luca returns to the Crucible after a five year absence, his lovely smile in tact just for Dennis to admire. After beating Dom Dale in the qualifiers he calmly said that he’d ‘fully expected to win quite easily’, with no hint that he might have been being ironic. He’s a bit like an assassin who offers you a cup of tea and a piece of cake before blowing your brains out is Luca, calm and mellow on the outside but a fierce, cocky, competitive little sod on the inside. Marco comes into this on the back of a great season buoyed by his run to the semi-finals here last year, he has also never lost to his opponent in four meetings. Luca claims that he is going there to win this year, a bold prediction, one that I think he might have to reassess after this match.   

Prediction: Fu 10-8.

QUARTER TWO – all played on Table 1

Shaun Murphy (5) v Yan Bingtao (Sunday 10am & Monday 2.30pm)

I remember Shaun getting a little bit upset when the BBC website decided to run with ‘Shaun Murphy beaten by Chinese Schoolboy’ as a headline after he lost to Bingtao in the 2015 Champion of Champions, since then he got his revenge in a decider in China only to be beaten again by him in the recent German Masters, when thankfully the BBC decided to reel it in a bit, possibly because Yan had left school in the intervening years. Bingtao is obviously a huge talent, I’d like to see his passport though as he looks a lot older than 17, but that aside this is a very tough draw for both of them. In Shaun’s favour is the venue, it’s very rare that any player coming here for the first time feels instantly at ease and I think Shaun will be keen to stamp his authority on the match from the off in the knowledge that once Bingtao does get used to it, he’s going to need a cushion of a few frames, that’s the way I see this match going, Murphy going ahead early then keeping his opponent at arms length.

Prediction: Murphy 10-8.

Ronnie O’Sullivan (12) v Gary Wilson (Saturday 2.30pm & Sunday 2.30pm)

Ronnie seems more bothered about the impending war between the USA and Russia at the moment than the fact he’s playing in Sheffield at the weekend, what strange priorities some people have? Perhaps it’s a sign that his state of mind isn’t quite right or perhaps he’s fooling around with us all. Bazza has been trying to wind him up by telling him to grow up and start talking to the media properly, we’ll wait and see is he heeds this fatherly advice. He faces another debutant in Gary Wilson, fresh from really impressing at Ponds Forge including of course his maximum break. Again though the advantage is heavily with O’Sullivan with Gary never having played here before, Ronnie also, relatively speaking comes here a little ‘under the radar’ with not that many people tipping him for the title, I’m not either but I don’t expect him to lose here. 

Prediction: O’Sullivan 10-5.

Liang Wenbo (13) v Stuart Carrington (Tuesday 10am & 7pm)

Stuart Carrington is the man responsible for Mark Williams not being here and he lines up at The Crucible for the second time in his career having lost to Judd Trump in 2015 to face Liang Wenbo. Carrington has had an average season and again he is another player who doesn’t usually trouble top 16 players as a habit. Liang of course won his first ever ranking event this season following on from his runners-up spot in the UK in the previous one and he is now definitely finding his feet in the elite ranks. He actually comes here on a bit of a losing streak but I don’t think he’ll be unhappy with his draw and I think his scoring should be enough to come through quite easily.

Prediction: Liang 10-5.

Ding Junhui (4) v Zhou Yuelong (Monday 10am & Tuesday 2.30pm)

The all-Chinese clash sees the greatest they have ever produced against one of the new crop who Dennis likes to call Ghou Yolonge. Ghou is a cracking talent and proved his pedigree by beating Ben Woollaston in a decider to get here. He’s met Ding twice but from 12 frames has only won one of them so there may be a little bit of hero worship to get over here as well as the fact that again, he has never played here before. In contrast to Bingtao, Ghou looks younger than his 19 years (maybe they switched passports) but he’s still learning the ropes nevertheless and he is one I am sure we’ll see a lot of in the future under the guidance of the lovely Victoria in Sheffield. But in terms of this match I think it’s a case of teacher and pupil for now.   

Prediction: Ding 10-4.

QUARTER THREE – all played on Table 2

Stuart Bingham (3) v Peter Ebdon (Sunday 2.30pm & Monday 10am)

This is more like it, a good old fashioned old-school grapple for Sunday afternoon viewers who don’t want to watch Ronnie. Ex-Champ Ballrun was the latest victim of The Crucible Curse last year and after his heroics of the previous year we hardly noticed he was there last time after his opening day defeat by Ali Carter. Ebdon did as only Ebdon can do in the qualifiers, the way he beat Michael Holt 10-9 on the final black was of a like I have never seen, how he managed to claw it back the way he did and hold himself together at the end I don’t know and there remains something other-worldly about him at times. They have met at this stage once before in 2011 when Bingham won 10-8 and I reckon we might see history repeat itself here.   

Prediction: Bingham 10-8.

Kyren Wilson (14) v David Grace (Saturday 2.30pm & Sunday 10am)

They will have to make a higher entrance at The Crucible this year to accommodate snooker’s tallest player, David Grace, a giant from Leeds. Gracey steps out onto snooker’s hallowed turf in what he describes as his ‘dream come true’ to face Kyren first up. Kyren hasn’t had a great season but showed signs recently that he might be coming back to form in China. David actually holds a favourable advantage in the head to heads but they’ve all been in minor best of 7 frame events so this is new territory for them both. Again, the debutant factor might be a deciding factor here but I actually have a feeling that Grace will adapt to this fairly well, he also won’t be short of vocal support. I think this might end up being the shock/story of the round. 

Prediction: Grace 10-8.

Mark Allen (11) v Jimmy Robertson (Sunday 7pm & Monday 7pm)

Mark Allen’s recent record at The Crucible hasn’t been great and here he faces the dangerous Essex man Jimmy Robertson who will be hoping to make it third time lucky having been here twice and lost. Jimmy had a tough path through the qualifiers and coped well with the style of Rod Lawler to get here, I think he’ll be a tough draw for Allen and any hint that Mark might be suffering his Crucible jitters will be an opening for him. It could be one of the ties of the round this one and I’ll take Allen to nick it in the pressure cooker decider. 

Prediction: Allen 10-9.

John Higgins (6) v Martin Gould (Monday 2.30pm & Tuesday 10am)

Four times champion Higgins has gone a bit quiet since his incredible winning streak earlier in the season. Since then, for reasons only known to him, he decided to change his cue, he’s subsequently failed to reach the last 8 of anything since December. Gould had a run to the semi-finals of the German Masters but aside from that he’s had a pretty average season by his standards, but qualified in solid form and remains a superb ‘single ball potter’ whatever that means. Every year he plays here Gould is reminded of ‘that match’ against Neil Robertson but he’s also played some great stuff here and even claimed that he now uses the experience as a positive (his nose grew when he said it to be fair) as it made him a better player, but I think again this one might go against the seeded player. 

Prediction: Gould 10-7.

QUARTER FOUR – all played on Table 2

Barry Hawkins (7) v Tom Ford (Wednesday 7pm & Thursday 7pm)

Tom Ford was a right old misery when he got through, you’d think someone had just sent him an inflated tax bill the way he came across in the interview, perhaps he was remembering his previous Crucible appearances and wondering if he could be bothered putting himself through it again, who knows. He’s not been here since 2014 when he was beaten in Round 1 by Judd and here he faces someone who seems to save his best snooker for here in Hawkins. I think this quarter will produce the finalist from the bottom half and Hawkins who is becoming something of a Crucible specialist must be included in anyone’s calculations, I expect him to win here with a bit in hand.  

Prediction: Hawkins 10-5.

Ali Carter (10) v Graeme Dott (Tuesday 7pm & Wednesday 2.30pm)

It’s a tough draw for both players this and Ali will know from the off that he’s got a match on with the former champion. Dotty the Terrier has been hibernating all season and has all of a sudden come to life for this, where he undoubtedly produces his best snooker. Ali has been consistent winning the World Open earlier in the season and making the business end of a few events. These two had an epic battle here in 2011 which I was lucky enough to watch live, it basically hinged on a double that Dott played in the frame he clinched victory 13-11 and these two remain as evenly matched a pair as any in the game, despite Graeme’s fall in the rankings. If someone asked me if one match were to go to a decider which would it be, this would be my immediate pick.    

Prediction: Carter 10-9.

Anthony McGill (15) v Stephen Maguire (Saturday 10am & 7pm)

Is it just me or is there an all Scottish clash every year in Round 1? It’s like the Scottish balls in the draw are covered in haggis crumbs or something but once again it’s a North of the Border derby with the seeded player being not how it has looked in the past. Mags will have been watching the draw, if he was awake, through a steaming hangover after claiming on Wednesday that he was going out to get drunk and I can only imagine the expletives that came from his mouth when he saw when he had to play. McGill would more likely have been sitting with a cup of hot soya milk in his jimjams such is the difference between the two. Maguire is the toughest draw of the lot for a seed and I think he’ll quite like coming here as a non-seeded player, McGill may end up as the fallen rather than the giant killer this year.

Prediction: Maguire 10-6.

Judd Trump (2) v Rory McLeod (Tuesday 2.30pm & Wednesday 10am)

Does everyone know the story of the tortoise and the hare? Well in that story the hare (Judd) races off and thinks he’s got the race won before he gets distracted and then the tortoise (Rory) plods past to beat him. Oh and that old phrase, ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’ or ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Well you know what? They are a load of old cobblers. Judd is in fine fettle and Rory didn’t really impress me at all in the qualifiers. This is the Acca Ruiner to beat all other Acca Ruiners if those old stories and phrases end up being a spooky snooker prophecy. This particular hare ain’t getting beat by no tortoise, no sir, it’s Judd all the way in this one.

Prediction: Trump 10-3.


Outrights: Selby 9/2, Ding 14/1, Hawkins 18/1 (previously backed at 25/1), Bingham 25/1, Fu (previously backed at 40/1, but no further bet recommended, price now too short), Carter 50/1 (previously backed at 80/1).

Round 1 Acca pays over 5/1 on Selby (-2.5 frames), Murphy, Bingham, Ding, Liang, Trump (-3.5 frames) and Neil Robertson (-2.5 frames)

Handicap Treble pays over 6/1 on Grace (+3.5 frames), Gould (+2.5 frames) and Dott (+2.5 frames)

Doubles, Trebles and an Acca: Guodong, Grace, Gould and Maguire, acca pays over 72/1.

Match Centuries Treble at Bet 365: All matches to have more than one century pays 6.35/1 at Bet 365: Selby v Fergal, Fu v Brecel, Murphy v Bingtao. Add Trump v McLeod for an 11.69/1 Acca.

If you fancy that treble or acca but don’t have an account with Bet365 click the banner below and sign up to take advantage of a new customer offer   

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