January 21, 2018

The Masters Final – Allen v Wilson

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:39 am

The Masters Final 2018

Mark Allen v Kyren Wilson

A new name will be inscribed in Masters history today as two first time finalists compete to win arguably snooker’s second biggest honour and become The Master for 2018, unlikely finalists Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson meet over the best of nineteen frames in what could be a real corker of a conclusion to a fine week of action in London.

Kyren’s comeback yesterday, snatching the final four frames against Judd Trump was the stuff of dreams. He’s definitely saving his best for the latter part of the week having come through his first two matches in less than heavy scoring mode, against opponents who didn’t really bring their top games to the venue. This is in stark contrast to his opponent who is making a habit of one visit frame wins, knocking out Luca ‘Two Cues’ Brecel, Ronnie O’Sullivan and last night, John Higgins.

Allen understandably starts favourite given his negotiation of a tough path to this final and his greater experience of the big occasions, but looking at the head to heads, a very strong case can be made for Kyren. If you discard, which you should, the Championship League match ups and to a lesser extent those tedious best of seven comps, we find that once again, it is Kyren who has the upper hand when these two lock horns.

Wins in Shanghai on the way to his only title to date, in the semi-finals of the World Open a few months ago as well as a Crucible win in 2016 over the Northern Ireland man will no doubt be mentioned by him in his pre-match interviews. I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate tactic to remind his opponents of these matches or some kind of personal mental preparation for himself, but it’s definitely noticeable to me that Kyren likes people to know when he’s had the upper hand in the past and today presents him with another opportunity to do this, as he has also had with Judd and Mark Williams. He stops just short of putting their head to heads on the back of his waistcoat, but he does everything else he possibly can to remind his opponents and remind them again that he’s not there just to make up the numbers.

Allen on the other hand has been very laid back this week and is simply saying he’s been working very hard and is extremely happy with his game, which shows every time he comes to the table. He may not be the most orthodox player the world has ever seen but it’s pretty effective.

I’m not going to recommend a bet on this one as I think it’s going to be great to watch regardless of whether you taint it with a bet. They are both really decent blokes and I’ll be delighted for whoever wins. Gun to head I’d go with Allen to edge it, possibly 10-7, but you really can’t discount another Warrior-like performance from possibly the most unlikely would-be champion in recent memory.   

January 17, 2018

The Masters Quarter Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 4:59 pm

After an eventful first round at Alexandra Palace it’s now time to turn our attention to the Quarter Finals played over the best of eleven frames on Thursday and Friday. 

The betting so far has been almost Nostradamus-esque so let’s see if we can keep the good run going. I hope some of you followed the advice and made a few quid out of the first round.  

The matches are listed below in the order that they are being played and if you click on the match it will take you to the head to head record between the two protagonists.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Allen (Thursday 1pm)

The Superlative Police were out in force for Ronnie after his dazzling display against Marco Fu. John Parrott’s eyebrows were arched to their ultimate peak and even Stephen Hendry smiled at one point, that’s how good it was. Here he’s back at his favourite stomping ground to take on Mark Allen who lost to him over this distance recently at the Champion of Champions. Allen hasn’t beaten Ronnie since 2011 but it’s quite strange given their stature in the game that they haven’t played each other more often. It goes without saying that if Ronnie plays like he did against Marco, then nobody is going to stop him this week, but if he’s a little out of kilter I’d say Allen is the sort of player that could put up a decent fight. Allen himself took care of an under par Luca Brecel in the first round and looked pretty good but this is a whole different bag of onions. Despite the fact that Ronnie’s low on magnesium and seeing double, only a very brave punter would lay a penny against him here. He shows no signs of letting anyone get close to him so I’ll go for a repeat of their match in Coventry.

Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-2.

Recommended Bet: Under 8.5 frames in the match at 11/8 and Ronnie (-2.5 frames) at 5/6

Kyren Wilson v Mark Williams (Thursday 7pm)

Despite the excitement generated by Ronnie, the resurgent Mark Williams was the star of Round 1 for me. He was on the verge of a 6-3 defeat against Selby and showed incredible composure to get himself back in it and win a decider. The way he is around the table at the moment reminds me of him at his very best and when he is playing like that I’d argue he is as good to watch as Ronnie is. However, in their only two meaningful battles, MJW is yet to beat his opponent here Kyren, but it has to be said that they are not comparable to this match which is by far and away their biggest duel to date. Kyren played well against Barry Hawkins but didn’t impress as much as Williams did, especially towards the end of the match when it got a bit tense and a repeat of that if this goes close won’t be good for him. For me, Williams in this form is a must back until he shows signs of it beginning to fade, he’s working hard away from the event, putting in hours of practice befitting of a mustard keen junior player and his appetite for the game is almost now rivalling his appetite for a cheeky Nando’s. I’m 100% in the Williams camp on this one.

Prediction: Williams 6-3

Recommended Bet: Williams (-1.5 frames) at Evens     

Judd Trump v Shaun Murphy (Friday 1pm)

Attention all pockets. Many people’s idea of the match of the round here between two players whose previous head to head stats are heavily skewed by best of five Championship League meetings. However if we drill deeper into the stats and take out the minor meetings we find that it’s Judd who holds a commanding lead, with Shaun’s only really meaningful win against him coming over a decade ago in the 2007 World Championship when Judd was just learning the ropes. Since then it’s been largely Judd all the way and perhaps that tells us that the way Shaun approaches the game is right up Judd’s street. I have detected a change in Murphy over the last few months though and if confidence is any pointer to the winner here he’d be favourite, but that head to head record does just place that doubt in my mind and I’d imagine that’s why the bookies make Judd a fairly strong favourite. I’ll be honest, I started writing this thinking of tipping up Murphy, but often you have to go with patterns and that’s when I started having doubts. What I will say is that I think Murphy is a better player now than he was 6 months ago and I’m not sure I’d say the same thing about Judd, so with all that taken into account I’ll take Murphy to pinch it, but not by much.

Prediction: Murphy 6-5

Recommended Bet: Over 9.5 frames in the match at Evens.      

John Higgins v Ryan Day (Friday 7pm)

I always get lambasted on Twitter when I say I don’t really like watching Higgins, perhaps it’s that old British thing of not really supporting winners, but that doesn’t really tally with my admiration for other champions and how they play the game. Sometimes I suppose a player just doesn’t float your boat and that’s Higgins with me. As you’d expect he holds a commanding lead in the head to heads over Ryan Day, who continued his strong recent form with a win over Ding in Round 1. Higgins was at his tenacious best towards the end of the match against McGill and similarly I think Day is a little in awe of John and I can see this match going largely the same way. I expect Higgins to win but given Ryan’s form I can’t see him getting hammered, he has beaten Higgins over similar distances before so it’s not exactly unchartered territory for him and my guess is that he’ll just want to go out and continue to enjoy his rich run of form without worrying too much about the result. There’s been 7 centuries in their last 3 encounters and given the pockets here are playing quite generously, that’s where I’ll be putting my money.

Prediction: Higgins 6-4

Recommended Bet: Over 1 century in the match at 11/10  

January 10, 2018

The Masters Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:30 am

Alexandra Palace once again plays host to The Masters from Sunday, the tournament where the top 16 players in the rankings (usually) battle it out for the £200,000 winners prize, with each match up to the two session final played over the best of 11 frames. Hashtag, Bliss.

This year there are two debutants, namely the first time top 16’ers, Scotland’s Anthony McGill and Belgium’s Luca Brecel as well as a returnee after a nine year absence in Ryan Day, who will be playing at this venue for the very first time. The remaining 13 all played here last year, are pretty old hands at this and are well used to the surroundings of London’s main showpiece snooker arena.

So who are the main casualties that are missing out to make way for the three newbies above?

Well, the obvious first one is Neil Robertson, who, although now back into the top 16 (he’s 13th) unfortunately left it one tournament too late to grab a place by winning the Scottish Open in December, after the final cut off date in the rankings for this. The unfortunate Robbo will be joining the Eurosport team and he’s never short of an opinion so that should be an entertaining addition to their coverage for those who prefer them to the BBC.

Secondly, Stuart Bingham, who again though ranked in the top 16 (he’s 11th) is still serving out his suspension for a breach of betting rules, he’ll be back in a few weeks time. This means that both Day (17th) and Liang Wenbo (18th) make the starting line up this time.

Another player who we’d normally expect to see lining up here but isn’t is Stephen Maguire (19th). His poor overall season last year saw him drop down the rankings though he is moving in the right direction again now. Another recent Ally Pally stalwart Joe Perry (21st), also misses out for the same reason, as does Mark King (20th) despite a spirited attempt to creep through the back door unnoticed at the death.

But as ever, despite it being not the top 16 players in the world this year, it’s a great line up and any of the first round matches could, these days especially, be a ranking event final. Highlights for me are the Selby/Williams clash on the opening Sunday afternoon where we hope they can dish up some winter drama to warm us all up. Mark Allen and Luca Brecel is another which I think will be a cracker and very attacking, while as we move into the week we see another crash/bang/wallop encounter between Judd Trump and Liang before Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter lock horns in what usually is a very entertaining match up, we’ll surely see a decider or two in amongst that lot you’d think.

But whoever your personal favourite is, this is one of the snooker weeks of the year and I almost got though the whole of this preamble without mentioning Ronnie O’Sullivan; winner here for the last two seasons and bidding for a further record breaking eighth Masters title, as he already holds the record with seven. It’s quite staggering that after his first title in 1994/95 it took him a decade to win another one in his own neck of the woods and yet he is still in line to add to this tally. His longevity at the top of the sport alone should quash any arguments about him not being the best player the snooker world has ever seen and he shows no sign of slowing down just yet.

Anyway, here is a look at each match individually in the order in which they are played, remember this is a one table situation throughout.

You can click on the match itself to take a look at each head to head stat, courtesy as ever of the excellent Cue Tracker website.

The way each match slots into the draw is captured in the image either above (mobile view) or to the right (desktop view).

Mark Selby v Mark Williams (Sunday January 14 at 1pm)

The curtain raiser features World Champion Selby taking on Williams in this round for the second year in succession following Selby’s deciding frame win when the pair met last year. Interestingly, for followers of patterns and history’s habit of repeating itself, it’s worth noting that in the six years since the event was moved to Ally Pally only two matches on the opening cosy, sold-out, Sunday winter afternoon live on the BBC have failed to go to a decider. The only exceptions were in 2016 when Mark Allen beat Shaun Murphy 6-4 and back in 2012 when Ronnie beat Ding by the same scoreline. So Bazza’s Big London Show does tend to usually start with a bang. Who can forget Liang Wenbo being one ball away from knocking out eventual champion O’Sullivan this time last year? The numpty. If you look at the head to head between these two and factor all the information above into your calculations, it’s fair to say that if ever a match had decider written all over it, it’s this one. Selby, by his standards has had a pretty poor season so far, he’s only won the most lucrative event in China but it’s his shock defeat to Scott Donaldson at the UK that is most clear in the memory. Williams on the other hand is enjoying something of an Indian summer in his career and looks a contender again at everything he plays in. His win over in Northern Ireland showed that he maintains a champions touch and I don’t think he’ll mind too much being thrust into the limelight again here. I think it will follow the pattern of recent history and go either 6-4 or 6-5 again. I’m going to side with the Welshman to end the World Number 1’s journey at the first stop in an opening afternoon thriller. Get the kettle on, get the posh tin of bikkies out and put your feet up.

On your Marks….

Prediction: Williams 6-5

Recommended Bet: Over 9.5 frames in the match at 5/4. 

Mark Allen v Luca Brecel (Sunday January 14 at 7pm)

One thing I think it’s safe to predict here is that we’re not going to be seeing a lot of safety between two of the most entertaining, attacking players on the tour. Luca is yet to trouble Mark in the three meetings they have had but it could be argued that Mark hasn’t yet faced the new, improved, grown up, inked-up hipster version of the Belgian Bullet and that makes this a mouth-watering tie. Luca has improved in leaps and bounds over the last two seasons, capturing his first title and establishing himself for the first time within the upper echelons of the sport. He’s a fabulous natural talent and has what a lot of the top players have, including Allen, the ability and the bottle to raise his game on the big stage, which he is now finding himself on more and more. For me this could be one of the matches of the tournament and I’d expect, with it being on Day 1, the opening day pockets to do their job and provide us with some big breaks. In terms of a result, I’ll marginally side with Allen who seems in decent form of late, but it would be no surprise if Luca won here and I’d go as far as to say not the biggest surprise if he ended up right at the sharp end come the end of the week. I’ve taken big pre-draw odds on that very thing happening, though said draw could have been a lot kinder to him with a possible clash with O’Sullivan awaiting the winner.

Prediction: Allen 6-4

Recommended Bet: Brecel to make at least one century at 13/8.    

Ding Junhui v Ryan Day (Monday January 15 at 1pm)

The immediate thing you notice about the head to head for these two is that when they meet in big events they usually end up playing a decider. It’s happened five out of the last six times they have played with the other one being won 6-4 by Day, so to say that Ding is a clear favourite in this match would be foolish. Indeed looking back you could argue that Ryan has the edge when they get to the big stage and despite the fact that this is his first match at the Ally Pally he’ll come into this full of confidence, having broken back into the top sixteen, albeit temporarily, for the first time in the best part of a decade at the UK with some of his career best snooker just before the Christmas break. Contrast this with Ding, looking bereft of confidence in the UK and before, following some trouble with his eyes, losing to players that you’d normally expect him to hammer and you have to say that if there is a favourite here purely on recent form, it has to be Day. Ding did manage to qualify for Berlin just before Xmas with a deciding frame win over Gerard Greene followed by a comfortable victory over Nigel Bond, so there are signs that his health troubles are behind him, but to back him here you are relying on the fact that he’s back to top form, which to me is too big an ask in such a short space of time. Win or lose, whichever way you look at it the value in terms of a bet here is Day, especially if you think he might get the job done without the need for a decider and fancy chancing the handicap markets.

Prediction: Day 6-4

Recommended Bet: Day to win at 13/8.   

Judd Trump v Liang Wenbo (Monday January 15 at 7pm)

Another potential corker of a match between two similar style of player who couldn’t really be more equal on the head to heads at 5 matches each, unless you want to be really pedantic as Liang has a 41-40 frame advantage. Judd hasn’t been firing on all cylinders consistently now for a while and there seems to be an element of ‘demons’ with him these past few seasons at times. For me he sometimes tends to overthink the situation rather than play the free-flowing snooker we associate him with, there are signs that the weight of expectation that is routinely placed on him and the tag that some lay at his doorstep of a serial underachiever are beginning to niggle. All too often recently he’s started matches and tournaments in blistering form only for a couple of things to go wrong and the whole mood turn. It’s never nice when the snooker demons start whispering to you in the middle of a match and I suspect that Judd probably needs to work on coping mechanisms for this as he does seem to go into a bit of a sulk sometimes, which doubtless also lifts his opponent’s confidence levels to add to the pressure he’s under. All that said however he’s still having a much better season than Liang, who is the extremely fortunate beneficiary of Bingham’s ban and Robbo’s overdue late rally after the cut-off deadline. The Chinese player can count himself very fortunate to be here at all really as the current 18th ranked player in the world and it does beg the question of why the draw couldn’t have waited until after the Scottish Open. I’ve no really strong feelings on this one but I’d guess that Judd will win with a strong start, silencing the inner voices for now at least, I don’t think there is any value backing him in the outright at the moment though as the bookies seem to routinely have him far too short compared to others in much better form.

Prediction: Trump 6-3

Recommended Bet: Over 1 century in the match at 11/10.   

Ronnie – ‘If I win it I ain’t picking no trophy up that ain’t mine to keep’ – isn’t that a double negative?

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Marco Fu (Tuesday January 16 at 1pm)

Enter The Rocket. Ronnie is bidding for a third straight Masters title in a format and a venue that seem to suit him to a T. He’s not far from home, he plays more or less every day and it’s a nice short week for him with him not starting until Tuesday. He also gets to hang out with all his Eurosport chums when he’s not at work so it’s win win for him every time he comes here to put on a show. I’m not alone in thinking that he even managed to win this last year with his B game, he should have gone out on Day 1 but didn’t and from then on grew as the week went on and who is to say the same won’t happen again this week? I remember when ‘old Ronnie’ used to go into Head Fry Mode against a robotic Marco, but since he’s come out the other side with prototype two he just doesn’t lose to him. It’s almost a decade since the Hong Kong man got the upper hand so there is very little reason to suspect anything other than a comfortable win for O’Sullivan here. Oh yes, by the way, he’s also said that if he wins the Masters this year he isn’t going to pick up the trophy unless he is assured it is his to keep. This is the latest gambit in an ongoing dispute between himself and the governing body regarding silver/glassware, or in Ronnie’s view, the lack of it coming his way after he’s earned it. The powers that be may be hoping that he’s not quite himself on the table this year to avoid any potential embarrassment next Sunday evening.

Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-2

Recommended Bet: O’Sullivan (-2.5 frames) at 9/10.

Barry Hawkins v Kyren Wilson (Tuesday January 16 at 7pm)

These two meet in a big event for the first time, having spent the last few years bouncing around in best of seven events all over the tour, with Hawkins gaining an impressive lead in the head to heads as a result. It’s fair to say that both of them come into this in need of a confidence boost. Kyren has reached two finals this season but hasn’t really troubled the business end of events since October and failed to qualify for the German Masters in Berlin just before the break. Barry managed to get two much needed wins under his belt in that after a hugely disappointing UK Championship, losing 6-0 to Akani and he’s not fared well against the really top players all season. I wonder whether the manner of his crushing defeat to John Higgins in the Sheffield semi-final might have got to him a bit more than it would normally and has been carried over mentally into the new season, these things can play on your mind if you let them. Of course it may be something unrelated to matters on the table that’s stopped Barry being the player we all know he is so far this season. I’d not have a lot of confidence in either of them with a bet and given they could both really do with a kick start to 2018 to turn their seasons around I’d imagine that this one could get a bit twitchy and perhaps a bit scrappy too, which usually means the winning line is harder to fall over, I’d say the winner will have a very tough time in their second round match regardless of all outcomes.

Prediction: Wilson 6-5

Recommended Bet: Over 9 frames in the match at 11/10.       

Shaun Murphy v Ali Carter (Wednesday January 17 at 1pm)

Two experienced sparring partners go head to head in their latest big stage battle with Murphy coming into this in far better form than his opponent. These two have had some cracking battles over the years and perhaps surprisingly for some, it’s Carter who holds the upper hand, having also won their previous meeting in November 6-2 over in China. Murphy’s Champion of Champions final win over O’Sullivan and his subsequent run to the final of the UK to play Ronnie again means he comes into this full of confidence, probably feeling with some justification that he’s currently The Rocket’s closest challenger. He also qualified with ease for Berlin just before Christmas. Carter’s results of late have been quite the opposite, beaten by lower ranked players for much of November and December and failing to make it to Berlin, he’s another in need of a run in something having only made one semi-final this season way back in August. On form, you’d have to plump for Murphy, but these two tend to slog it out and for me this is very much a punch for punch on the day call. As ever when they meet, this is very difficult to predict and you might be best having a look at the breaks markets instead, over this distance and given their prowess for dishing up I’d expect a couple of tons to fly in assuming it’s not a walkover one way or the other.

Prediction: Murphy 6-4

Recommended Bet: More than one century in the match at 13/8.       

John Higgins v Anthony McGill (Wednesday January 17 at 7pm)

I’ve no idea how this opinion would stand up to any scrutiny but isn’t it odd how we always seem to have the obligatory ‘all Scottish clash’ whenever there is a random draw? This time, the only two Scottish players in the top 16 meet each other first round. The head to heads tell us very little and as you’d expect Higgins holds the lead, with their last meeting being a whitewash in the first round of the Champion of Champions (again a random draw) which followed a comfortable victory for Jock the Elder in the final of the Indian Open. McGill has done enough to stay in the top 16 but hasn’t really done a lot more than that this season, barring that final appearance from a depleted field in India and you do feel that at some point he needs to step up the pace a bit to justify his lofty seeding following his Shootout win and subsequent elevation into the top 16 last season. I noticed that he said he hadn’t been practicing over Christmas following his defeat to Jimmy White in the German Masters qualifiers and chose as a result not to play in the Championship League early groups to sharpen up for this. Whether this approach works for him I don’t know but I suspect he’s going to have to be somewhere near his best to compete here against a player who he still seems a little in awe of.

Prediction: Higgins 6-2

Recommended Bet: Higgins (-1.5 frames) at 4/7.

I’ll not be putting up an acca as I think far too many of these matches are a coin toss, in terms of doubling up the recommended singles above I’d say my most confident four would be the Higgins one, the Williams/Selby one, the Hawkins/Wilson one and the Murphy/Carter one. So any combination of those in doubles and trebles is where I’ll be going. Or you could just back all the scorelines and see how it goes.

In the outright I can’t see any value out there really, Higgins at 9/1 perhaps but I’ve had ante-post bets on Brecel at 80/1 and Williams at 66/1, both significantly shorter now so not going to add to that.

December 10, 2017

UK Championship Final

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:41 am

The best of enemies

The final of the UK Championship is once again being contested between two giants of the game. We may have had a fortnight of shocks but as so often happens, when all is said and done it’s big players that win this and 2017 in York will prove no exception.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is going for a record equalling 6th title, only Steve Davis has won this 6 times, even Hendry only managed to win 5 so it’s a chance for Ronald to once again trump the Scot today.

He faces Shaun Murphy, once champion and once a runner-up. Murphy has got steadily better as the week has gone along and given he managed to beat Ronnie in their last final a few weeks ago in Coventry you’d hope that he won’t let The Rocket command from the start as he has been allowed to do in his previous two matches, racing to 4-0 leads over Gould and yesterday, Stephen Maguire.

Their head to head shows Ronnie ahead, but you just get the feeling that Shaun is beginning to peg this back a little lately. Ronnie has benefited this week from opponents failing to take their chances, he’s left quite a few but both Gould and Maguire and to some extent Akani have let him off the hook, will Murphy capitulate in the same way? You would think not.

Revenge will be on Ronnie’s mind as he did not look best amused at losing that final last time. It’s an open secret that the two of these don’t really get on which adds to the atmosphere whenever they meet on the big stage, you can’t beat a bit of needle.

Having recommended Murphy at 25/1 each way in the main preview I can happily sit back and enjoy the match, cheering on for The Magician. If someone was threatening to shoot all my known family unless I made a prediction and given the Nostradamus like accuracy of the semi-final post yesterday I’d plump for a 10-6 win for O’Sullivan given the way his matches have gone this week, but I hope I’m wrong and I hope that Murphy wins, if only so I can crow next time I am invited back onto the radio that this was my first ever radio tip.

It’s been a very enjoyable week, but after this I’m not going to bother with the Scottish Open which starts tomorrow. We’re back to the grindstone of Best of 7 comps which I’m not a fan of, so I’ll just hope that Murphy can upgrade our Christmas nut roast to a luxury mushroom wellington with a triumph today and then see you all back here for The Masters.

December 9, 2017

UK Championship: Semi Final Saturday

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:56 am

The BBC deal is far from a shambles

So here we have it, we’re down to the infamous ‘one table situation’ in York as the final four players contest the best of eleven frames semi finals today after what has been a very entertaining championship.

Barry Hearn turned up at the venue yesterday and when he makes an appearance on your screens it’s usually because he’s got something to announce and yesterday was no exception. This time he was there to reaffirm the BBC’s commitment to showing snooker in the afternoons, unless of course there is some posh boys rugby on or it clashes with a particularly important episode of Flog It. They have further committed to putting it on the red button in the evenings for the next 5 years unless there is something better on at the same time. The Beeb will continue to cover one table at the big three events, namely this, The Masters and the World Championship.

It’s not been confirmed yet whether Dennis Taylor comes as part of the overall deal. Tense negotiations are ongoing and dwarf anything that’s been done so far on Brexit, which let’s face it wouldn’t be difficult. Dennis is asked to sit outside and talk about golf and Patsy Fagan with passers-by while the grown ups make a decision. It’s thought that the deal is worth millions but as ever Bazza is trying to get it on the cheap and pleading with the BBC to include Dennis to bring the price down. More news when I have it.

Anyway, enough of my gossip, here’s what we have to look forward to today, including a mouth watering match this afternoon, click on the match for the head to head stats.

1pm – Ronnie O’Sullivan v Stephen Maguire

Rumour has it that Martin Gould spent most of his pre-match time yesterday carelessly lounging around the venue while Ronnie played on the practice table for a couple of hours. This certainly told as O’Sullivan basically got the match won in the first half an hour before Gould could find anything like his touch. The gifts he handed Ronnie early on wouldn’t have looked out of place under the tree on Christmas Day and the grateful Rocket lapped them up. Whether a better prepared player might have given him a sterner test remains to be seen and possibly will be seen today. Maguire is in fine fettle coming into this and presents Ronnie with possibly his first real test of the championship. As you’d expect, the head to heads strongly favour O’Sullivan, but they have only faced each other twice in anything meaningful in the last 5 years, with one win apiece. I’ve had a feeling all week that at some point Ronnie will come unstuck, but all too often players just seem to melt when they come face to face with him, I don’t think Maguire will, but this has allowed Ronald to build up a head of steam and perhaps now we’ll see him at his very best. I think he’ll shade it, but I think Maguire will push him harder than anyone has all week. Let’s face it, if he’d have caught him in the form he was in against Akani he’d have beaten him, but now there is another win under his belt he faces a more focused animal. Remember in an interesting sub-plot, Maguire is playing this match to nick Liang Wenbo’s Masters slot, with the rest of the field now decided.

Predicted: O’Sullivan 6-4 

7pm – Shaun Murphy v Ryan Day 

Christmas at SB Towers will be upgraded if Murphy can carry off the 25/1 recommended bet this weekend but first he has to contend with snooker’s new deciding frame specialist Ryan Day, who has now finally done enough to be playing at The Masters after Christmas and you have to say deservedly so. Murphy walloped Mark King in the last round and has looked pretty good since his very lucky escape against Liam Highfield earlier on in the tournament. The draw has fallen nicely for him with Higgins and Selby going out early and now just Day stands in the way of him and another grand slam final. Their head to heads tell us very little as the vast majority of them have been in lowly events so we just have to take this one on form coming into it. Day has had three deciders on the spin now and has come through them all so the last thing Shaun will want is this to go close. Perhaps now that The Masters race is run Day will relax a little, but this is still a huge match for him, possibly you might argue the biggest of his long career and it remains to be seen if he’ll rise to the occasion. My guess is that this will be one of those matches where Shaun imposes himself from the start and keeps distance between them, so I’ll take The Magician to pull another winning performance out of the hat and land the each way spoils.

Predicted: Murphy 6-3  

December 8, 2017

UK Championship Quarter Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:00 am

Things are hotting up in York

After a pulsating night on the baize last night which saw Ronnie O’Sullivan narrowly scrape through against Sunny Akani we’re now into Quarter Final Friday. All four quarter finals take place today and as well as the prestige of the UK title itself there is still also the sub-plot of the final line up for The Masters next month still very much in the balance.

Liang Wenbo is in a very precarious position as things stand and he’ll be hoping that the top half of the draw is won by O’Sullivan and that Mark King doesn’t make the final, I think I’m right in saying that if those two things happen he’s safe. Ryan Day now looks almost certain to be lining up in Ally Pally but I’m sure there are anoraks out there who can think of a permutation to stop that happening (I’m guessing a King v anyone but Ronnie final and a certain result in said final would bump Day out)….anyway, this blog is not for anoraks so let’s have a butchers at the four matches taking place today.

Click on the match for the head to head.


Stephen Maguire v Joe Perry

Two old hands who seem to be at the top of their game this week meet here and one look at the head to head stats shows you who has been the dominant force of the two down the years. It’s almost a decade since Perry last beat Maguire, with 11 meetings since, of varying importance all being won by the Scot. That said, strangely, Perry has won probably their most important match up in the World Championship Quarter Finals back in 2008 in a decider, so if he’s trying to muster up some confidence he could do worse than watch a few shots of that match on You Tube before this afternoon. Quite why Mags has such a dominance over a player who has always been more or less his equal in the rankings for years is a mystery to me but one of the quirks of the game sometimes. Perry was magnificent the other night against Mark Allen and a repeat of that performance has to give him a real chance of breaking this hoodoo, but I’ve been very impressed by Maguire all week and coupled with the head to head will take him to snatch a close one.

Prediction: Maguire 6-4 

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Martin Gould

Just the three past meetings between these two and all of them have been won by The Rocket. I think the one thing we can safely predict here is an open game, Gould seems to thrive sometimes when thrown in the bear pit and it would be no surprise to me if he were to cause an upset here. Ronnie had a long night last night but he seems sharp of mind and focus this week and I don’t think that this will be a factor in the match. I would say however that Ronnie is missing more than he usually does this week and let’s be honest, he should really have lost last night and I dare say a more experienced player would have punished him more than Sunny did. There is a school of thought which says Ronnie already has one and a half hands on the trophy but I’m not sure I agree. I’m going to predict a shock this afternoon, the aftertimers are going to love this one.

Prediction: Gould 6-4


Shaun Murphy v Mark King

Mark King appears to be riding the crest of a wave of late, a newly found confidence borne of not having to worry so much about where the money for his next tattoo is coming from seems to have given him a real career Indian Summer. Yet again though we have a heavily one-sided match up in terms of head to heads here. The pair have met 14 times and King has won just once, though it must be noted that Murphy’s hold over him was broken in the China Open last year, once Mark had broken his ranking title duck. They met last month in the Champion of Champions on Shaun’s way to lifting the title and although Murphy does have a major edge in their past duels, he never really dishes out a hammering. King’s confidence and cockney sparrow-like charm is quite infectious these days and I think it’s winning him an army of new and nostalgic fans, Murphy gave Ricky Walden a right old walloping yesterday but you’d expect the MK Don to put up more of a fight given his recent form. I think this one will follow a similar pattern to a lot of their previous meetings with Shaun keeping Mark at arms length. Oh yes, I’m not really sure about all this Kojak stuff, it sounds like something that a 5 year old would make up.

Prediction: Murphy 6-4     

Ryan Day v Mark Joyce

The fourth Quarter Final again is heavily weighted in terms of previous meetings. This time, 7 matches played and Day has won 6 of them. You have to say that Day has been extremely impressive this week and for me the most impressive thing about him is that when he’s been asked real questions he has responded, two deciding frames of dominance is not something that you’d immediately associate with Ryan Day but that’s just what he’s dished out in the last two rounds. Joyce is an enigma to me, he just seems every now and again to post results that far outweigh his lowly ranking position while routinely losing to anyone that can hold a cue for three quarters of the season. I’ll obviously favour Day here but anyone betting on this one needs their head examining, it is with absolutely zero confidence or conviction that I make the prediction below, so watch it land.

Prediction: Day 6-3  

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 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   

Powered by WordPress

Website transfer complete