Sunday sees the start of undoubtedly the best tournament China has to offer both in terms of prize money and format. Even in its short time on the circuit the International Championship is now firmly established as one of snooker’s biggest events.
In fact, since they butchered and ruined the UK Championship format, I’d say this is actually a more prestigious title to hold, the money is the same after all. Add to that it’s got long matches from the start and two session semi-finals and the bluff old traditionalist anoraks like me are dancing in the streets with ecstatic abandon clutching our almanacs.
Another bonus is that Ronnie O’Sullivan is in it, OK he might not last long, he rarely does these days when he’s over there but he’s in the hat and faces Ben Woollaston first up. Interestingly but perhaps not suprisingly our Ronald doesn’t make the editors cut on the promotional posters, will they rue the day they missed his moody boat race off the visuals? Maybe.
The two glaring absentees over in Chengdu however are World Champion Mark Selby and the increasingly elusive Ding Junhui. Selby was toppled by the man of moment, boy wonder Oli Lines and the holder Ding lost to fellow Chinese player Wang Zepeng, meaning that the home crowd are left wondering where he’s got to for the second time this season. Barnsley has a lot to answer for. Let’s just hope this gaping void does not further effect the poor crowds which seem to be commonplace in Chinese events when he isn’t there.
The draw for the final stages, which unfortunately includes unnecessary wildcards who don’t deserve a place in the tournament can be viewed on My First PDF at World Snooker by clicking here. The match schedule is listed below.
In terms of the outrights, the bookies are taking no chances whatsoever with Ronnie, I was surprised when clicking on the prices to see him so short given his recent forays in China have not exactly been hugely successful and that his form coming into this is largely unknown (and he’s not on the poster which automatically rules him out of course), he can be backed anywhere between 2/1 and 10/3 but that’s no sort of price for me, he’s not a bet in this even if he turns it on, which would be totally at odds with what he’s done here for quite a few years now.
It’s always worth considering a Chinese player to do well and the 66/1 about Xiao Guodong, who for me is the second best player China has at the moment is worth a small wager. He’s been to a ranking final in China before and is more than capable of doing so again with the home crowd behind him.
My habit of backing Alan McManus for nearly everything this season shows no sign of disappearing, I still think he’ll win something, though knowing my luck it will be the shootout or something like that, but the 175/1 on him, even though he may face Ronnie in Round 2 (who he beat last time they met in China) is big enough to tempt me in again.
Another old geezer who appears to be coming back to form and who has history of winning tournaments in China when you least expect it is Peter Ebdon, who can be backed as big as 250/1 if you have a good look around. It would be hard for any fan to accept that Ebdon will never grace the winners mantle again, he may not be everyone’s favourite to watch, not me I hasten to add as I find his unique shot selection quite fascinating, but he’s one of snooker’s biggest characters and only the harshest fan would begrudge him another title or two before he hangs up his carrot bag.
In terms of a more realistic winner, I have to plump for Mark Allen. His form is solid, he’s on a good winning streak and he represents a bit of value in the market given his draw and the absence of Ding in the top half. It’s also probably worth covering that with one of the poster boys and as Shaun Murphy is in sparkling form and he’s a generous 14/1, let’s have a punt on him aswell for the heck of it.
It’s very early in the morning for us Europeans to be up watching the first session and that is the biggest drawback of this championship as you don’t really get to see a lot of it unless you live the week on China Time. There will be plenty of coverage throughout the week on Eurosport though for insomniacs and early risers everywhere.
Recommended Outright Bets: 2 points each way Mark Allen at 14/1. 2 points win on Shaun Murphy at 14/1. 1 point each way on Alan McManus at 175/1. 1 point each way on Xiao Guodong at 66/1. 0.5 points each way on Peter Ebdon at 250/1.
Recommended Match Acca: 3 points at over 11/2 with Boyles on Ryan Day, Alan McManus, Kyren Wilson and Matthew Stevens. Add Peter Ebdon for 2 points at over 8/1 with the same firm. Add Mark Williams for 1 point at almost 11/1 with Corals. 2 points on Zak Surety to beat Dave Gilbert at 5/2.
Stuart Bingham v Robbie Williams
Barry Hawkins v Jimmy White
Jamie Jones v Zhao Xintong
Oli Lines v Huang Jiahao
Martin Gould v Joel Walker
Mark Joyce v Ryan Day
John Higgins v Li Hang
Oliver Brown v Mark Williams
Joe Swail v Yan Bingtao
Mitchell Mann v Niu Zhuang
Alan McManus v Anthony McGill
Aditya Mehta v Michael White
Ben Woollaston v Ronnie O’Sullivan
Nigel Bond v Mark Allen
Craig Steadman v Graeme Dott
Dominic Dale v Ian Burns
Dechawat Poomjaeng v Dark Mavis
Sam Baird v Kyren Wilson
Shaun Murphy v Yu Delu
Wang ZePeng v Mitchell Mann/Niu Zhuang
Noppon Saengkham v Stephen Maguire
Andrew Pagett v Peter Ebdon
Dave Gilbert v Zak Surety
Jamie Jones/Zhao Xintong v Kurt Maflin
Neil Robertson v Matt Selt
Marco Fu v Liam Highfield
Zhou Yuelong v Chris Melling
Matthew Stevens v Jamie Burnett
Fergal O’Brien v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
Joe Swail/Yan Bingtao v Andrew Higginson
Jimmy Robertson v Judd Trump
Xiao Guodong v Eden Sharav
David Morris v Ricky Walden
Joe Perry v Mike Dunn
Barry Pinches v Robert Milkins
Rod Lawler v Oli Lines/Huang Jiahao