Snookerbacker

January 26, 2015

February on the Baize

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 1:34 pm

jamThe most depressing month of the year is nearly over and as the very early signs of spring start sprouting in the garden it’s time to look ahead to February and a jam packed month on the snooker calendar.

In fact, this is so jam-packed that you could possibly put it in a little jar, tightly squeeze the lid, label it up and sell it at the village fair. There are no fewer than 2 main ranking events, 2 lots of qualifiers for main ranking events, the annual jaunt to Poland, a bit of Crondon Park and even some SB Classic action wedged in there. In all, once we kick off on the 4th in Berlin there are only 2 days in the month with no snooker happening.

First up, regulars will know that the German Masters is a big favourite of mine. I made the trip a couple of years back to this fabulous city and venue and saw The Captain winning it, it’s a great event but I do wish they would give it a full week rather than the condensed few days it has. The crowds are immense and I’d hope that soon it will be lengthened and enhanced to a status more befitting of it’s popularity.

Following this are the final stages of the Championship League before going back to Barnsley for the qualifying for the Indian and China Opens. I’ll be interested in particular to see who chooses to dodge these two events, particularly China, given that it finishes just 3 days before the World Championship qualifiers begin.

Only 16 players won’t be affected by this and with everyone else having to win through to The Crucible from Round 1 this year, there could be some who’d rather spend that week on the practice table than on the other side of the world waiting for a flight home once they are beaten. In terms of India, it’s more a question of who fancies the trip and the risk of the Bombay Trots to play a best of 7 comp.

Then we come to the Welsh Open, at it’s new home in Cardiff. What used to be a really entertaining event has been ruined in recent years since the matches were shortened and again, best of 7 is the order of the day, giving it a distinctly PTC-like feel.

The Snookerbacker Classic resumes in Gloucester after a three month break and the 21st and 22nd will see a further 3 players join Jamie Clarke, Martin O’Donnell, Eden Sharav, Syd Wilson, James Brown, Ant Parsons and Sean O’Sullivan at Grand Finals Day in April. There are still a couple of places left on the Sunday, click here for details.

We end the month, and indeed start the next one, with the annual trip to Gdynia in Poland for the EPTC there. No doubt the ‘I love Gdynia’ tweets and imagery will start surfacing soon enough, but let’s hope we don’t have any more of the player promotional videos from a couple of season’s back which saw even the most hardened snooker nut racing behind the sofa in cringeworthy embarrassment.

Here’s February in a nutshell, or should I say jampot?

4-8
German Masters
Tempodrom, Berlin, Germany

9-12
Championship League

12-15
Indian Open/China Open Qualifiers
Barnsley Metrodome

16-22
BetVictor Welsh Open
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

21-22
Snookerbacker Classic Qualifying Events
South West Snooker Academy Gloucester

25-26
Kreativ Dental European Tour 6 (pre qualifier)
Gdynia, Poland 

27-1 Mar
Kreativ Dental European Tour 6 (Last 128)
Gdynia, Poland 

 

January 25, 2015

Snookerbacker Classic 2015: Last Few Places Available

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:54 pm

The last few places in this season’s Snookerbacker Classic are now up for grabs. Unfortunately, there are a few who have reserved places and not paid or been in touch with me so I am now throwing open places at the following venues to the people who pay first using the Paypal link below (you don’t need a Paypal account, just a debit or credit card):

GLOUCESTER, SOUTH WEST SNOOKER ACADEMY 22ND FEBRUARY: 3 PLACES AVAILABLE

DERBY, CUEBALL 8TH MARCH: 4 PLACES AVAILABLE

GLOUCESTER, LAST CHANCE SALOON, SWSA 29TH FEBRUARY: 8 PLACES AVAILABLE

To read more about the event, click here.


Select Event and Add to Cart



January 19, 2015

Back to Crondon

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:59 am

Following last night’s demolition job by Shaun Murphy which saw him claim his first Masters title after earlier in the week saying he’d be giving himself ten years to win it, today sees a far more sedate return to the baize as we set off again to Crondon Park for the Championship League Group 3.

This group features Ricky Walden, Ali Carter, Marco Fu, Stuart Bingham, Judd Trump, Ryan Day and Dark Mavis with Group 4 starting on Wednesday as Martin Gould, Matthew Stevens and Michael White join in the fun.

It’s not an event I bet on but if you are still in need of a snooker fix it’s covered by the usual bookie sites and was covered last time by the World Snooker TV website if you are subscribed to that.

All the information for the Championship League is on this website.

January 18, 2015

Masters Final: Robertson v Murphy

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:29 am

Masters

After something of an anticlimactic day yesterday with two fairly one-sided semi finals, the best of nineteen final today sees Neil Robertson taking on Shaun Murphy for the right to be crowned this year’s Master.

Robbo has been in devastating form and Murphy seems to be building up to a crescendo so hopefully it will be a high quality, close affair. But you have to fancy Robbo given his demolition job of Ronnie yesterday, a repeat of that performance and he’s more or less unbeatable.

You can view their head to head record by clicking here, Robbo has got the better of their recent tussles in the big events and of course beat Shaun 10-6 to nab this title back in 2012. I think today may follow a similar pattern.

Prediction: Robertson to win 10-5 

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Robertson (-2.5) at 5/4 with Boyles.

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January 17, 2015

Masters Semi Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:37 am
The Business End

The Business End

As ever, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable week in London, well apart from yesterday afternoon obviously, but for every few gems you must prepare yourself for the unexpected festering turkey and all in all the top players have kept us entertained all week.

Today will see snooker fans everywhere self-soiling as it’s showdown time between Ronnie and Robbo. Ron came through against Marco without ever being tested and Robbo steamrollered Ali Carter in as good a match of snooker that you will ever see from anyone.

It remains to be seen whether Robbo can enter the arena today in similar peacock mode, it’s very rare that a player can do this against Ronnie, but surely this has to be Neil’s game plan.

For me, this highlights an old adage used by coaches across the land since the year dot, namely, that you should always play the table and not the player. I disagree with this and Robbo is the prime example of why in the modern game, this theory is dated.

He struts around the table like a cockerel who’s just rogered the best looking chicken in town when he knows he has his opponent beat, watching him live is even more of an eye-opener, even the way he sits, the fact he uses an enormous white beach towel to clean his cue, everything about him screams confidence and is designed to intimidate opponents, more often than not it works.

Ronnie seems to do the same but I don’t think he actually does it intentionally. His mere presence is enough to give him the advantage and I’m sure Robbo knows this and is trying his best to have a similar effect. As well as what happens on the table, the fascinating thing about today’s match is what happens off it. Ronnie has much the better of their tussles in the past, but Robbo goes into this in far better form. What will happen? I’m not sure but I think I may have just pissed myself with anticipation.

Tonight sees yesterday afternoon’s winner Mark Allen take on Shaun Murphy who saw off Maguire last night in a very decent match. A welcome sight after we’d all sat through the afternoon howler.

How many lives has Mark got left?

How many lives has Mark got left?

Mark is smiling like a Cheshire Cat at the moment but must be wondering how many lives he has left as he has surely used most of his nine already. His match yesterday against Joe was one he described himself as similar to a local league encounter, well I don’t know what leagues he’s been watching but that display would have seen both of them dropped for at least a fortnight from the Bootle League circa 2002, the standards at local level must have dropped a bit since then.

Shaun on the other hand came through a cracker last night and we even saw an interview with him and JP in the interval. As ever, Shaun was shot in soft focus and it all felt very fluffy.

Oddly, unlike the other interviews this week it wasn’t conducted in the relaxed chat show format, with that crescent window on the floor in the background. When it comes to production, Smurf has it nailed. Who can forget his ‘cardigan and toy dogs’ interview with Hazel in his pristine kitchen? He’ll be kissing babies next, trust me.

Anyway, these two have had a number of tussles and it’s Shaun who has the upper hand and you have to say he goes into this in far better form. But Hendry said yesterday that after that display, he’d be amazed if Allen didn’t play brilliantly today, he’s a shrewd cookie is our Hendo so I’m not going to disagree. Their matches tend to be close so strap yourself in for some late night drama. Mark had better be hoping he can eek out another life.

1pm Ronnie O’Sullivan v Neil Robertson

Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-3.

7pm Shaun Murphy v Mark Allen

Prediction: Allen 6-5.

Recommended Bet: 3 point double on Ronnie and the winning margin in Murphy/Allen to be under 2.5 frames pays just on 9/4 at Paddy Power.

January 15, 2015

Masters Quarter Finals Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:17 am
Is today the day?

Is today the day?

The next two days see the Quarter Finals of The Masters after the first round concluded with victories yesterday for Mark Allen, who came through quite a match against John Higgins and Joe Perry who last night overcame Ding Junhui, who I still maintain isn’t playing in enough tournaments to be able to get any type of form going.

Without further ado, here is a look at the action over the next couple of days, Ronnie O’Sullivan is best priced 11/10 now to win outright, but there are seven other quality players that will have something to say about that.

In terms of the draw, it’s the top half that play down to semi-final line up today and the bottom half on Friday.

Click on the match for the head to head stats.

Thursday

1pm
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Marco Fu

There was a period a few years ago when the prospect of playing Marco would have filled Ronnie with dread. He seemed to have a unique way of getting under The Rocket’s skin and held his own with him in terms of the head to heads for many years. However, since the ‘new improved Steve Peters model Ronnie’ rose from the flames Marco has not beaten him, with Ronnie winning their latest meeting in the COC, 6-0. Marco couldn’t go into this with any more confidence though after his magical maximum on day one and a very good win over Bingham, though it has to be said Stuart was not at the races at all. Ronnie looked solid enough in the first round and despite taking his foot off the gas at 5-1 up, he still managed to dazzle at the end and leave the crowd in a state of euphoria, as well as JV needing gas and air. Just one more century today will put him at the top of the pile and JV in intensive care. You have to fancy him to nail it. I can’t see anything other than an O’Sullivan win here in front of a partisan crowd eager to be entertained and the odds against on there being more than one century, I would say is probably the bet, if he does it, he’ll probably do it in style.

Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-2.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on over 1 century at 6/5 with Bet 365.  

7pm
Ali Carter v Neil Robertson

Ali impressed in Round 1 and started his Masters campaign off with a bang, but Neil was more workmanlike in his first round match and said afterwards that he felt he could play himself into the tournament. Robbo holds the aces in the head to head and in their last meeting, Ali’s first competitive match back in Coventry where he turned up in Ricky Walden’s vast waistcoat and a pair of jeans having carelessly left his gear at home, Neil won 4-0 in some style. Indeed a look at the head to heads would lead you to believe that Ali is bang up against it here and the bookies have him as large as 9/4 to win, which I think is a tad on the big side given his first round showing. I get the feeling that this one could go to the wire and if it does it’s the toss of a coin. These type of matches are what winter Masters nights are all about, so settle back, put your feet up, put some candles on, whack the heating up, fix whatever takes your fancy on the liquid front and enjoy it, I think this will be the match of the round.

Prediction: Carter 6-5.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on the winning margin being under 2.5 frames at 5/4 with Paddies. 

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Friday

Allen

Hahaha. How am I winning this John?

1pm
Joe Perry v Mark Allen

Mark showed his trademark ‘never say die’ attitude in his epic win over Higgins, who must be left wondering what he has to do to win a big match. Allen in many ways was the last person John would have wanted to play in this, most players would have shat themselves a new arse the way Higgins started off, but not Allen, he’s nothing if not a fighter and has bags of bottle, he won a match that he probably shouldn’t have and if that’s not a confidence boost nothing is. Joe on the other hand went about his business against a clearly rusty Ding and that match always had an air of inevitability about it to me, it was just a case of Joe turning up and not losing focus, this he did professionally. Job done. Their head to heads, perhaps surprisingly have Joe with a decent advantage, though it has to be said that a lot of their encounters have been in smaller events over short formats. That said, Joe has won their last 3 meetings, 2 in EPTC’s and most recently a 6-4 win in the prestigious International Championship, so he won’t be going into this short of confidence. When looking at the match given all we know if I had to call the winner I’d plump with low confidence, for Allen, but again the winning margin bet appeals most to me in what could be another tight one.

Prediction: Allen 6-4.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on the winning margin being under 2.5 frames at 6/5 with Paddies.   

7pm
Stephen Maguire v Shaun Murphy

chalkDon’t forget your chalk Mags! There’s no love lost between these two old rivals and that always adds a bit of extra spice to the big matches. Since Shaun famously asked (well, told really) the referee to dock Mags a frame for his accessory blunder in the 2004 Grand Prix, possibly ill-judged on his part even though he was within his rights to do it, this is mentioned at every opportunity by shit-stirrers like me whenever their paths cross. They are, as you’d expect, pretty even when it comes to the head to head stats and there is no discernible trend in the bigger contests, with suprisingly few meetings between them on the very big occasions, given their standing in the sport. So what do we know? Murphy benefited from a poor Selby performance in the first round but played well enough to go 5-1 up before Selby’s trademark comeback. I thought Maguire played quite well in the end against Trump despite starting as poorly as I’ve seen him and I’m sure he’ll view that match as a bullet dodged. I just have a sneaking feeling that Mags will up the tempo now he’s got his poor session out of the way and I detected in the first match that he wasn’t beating himself up like he normally does, perhaps he’s mellowing with age. Who knows, if Shaun forgets his chalk maybe Mags might let him off? Forgive and forget? Yeah right.

Prediction: Maguire 6-4

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Maguire at 6/5 generally.   

THANKS AS EVER TO MONIQUE LIMBOS FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHS, YOU CAN VIEW HER MASTERS SNAPS HERE.

January 14, 2015

Masters Day 4

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:42 am
The Captain returned with a bang.

The Captain returned with a bang.

Wednesday sees the conclusion of the first round at the Masters as John Higgins takes on Mark Allen this afternoon with Ding Junhui facing Joe Perry tonight.

Yesterday saw history very nearly being made by, who else? Ronnie. Two centuries, which should really have been three, means he is now equal with Stephen Hendry in all-time tons and only needs one more to become King of the Centuries.

The second century which wrapped up his 6-4 win over Ricky Walden was a sight to behold, a fluked yellow almost causing cardiac arrest for poor old JV, who bellowed at the top of his voice, struggling to be heard above the noise being made by the crowd who were busy going beserk. His ‘Happy Birthday Stephen’ when the ton was confirmed being a particularly underhand dig at poor old Hendo, who was busy squeezing drawing pins in his hands while smiling through the pain just a few feet away.

Ron was typically understated afterwards and said “I’ve been thinking about the record since I got within striking distance and I’m glad I’ve equalled it now, I doubt Stephen is that bothered”. Well he wasn’t until JV twisted the knife.

JV was also on hand in the mid-session interval for an interview with Jimmy White, who, in case you have been holidaying on Jupiter for the last 6 months, has a book out. The Whirlwind nattered away about this and that with his old pal even doing a very strange impression of him at the end of the interview. He again claimed that he still thinks he can win the World Championship, he didn’t even notice the pig flying past the window when he said it and he remains on course to surprise the nation. Good luck with that.

Last night saw an emotional return for Ali Carter and he looked in superb form to wallop Barry Hawkins 6-1. The worry for a lot of us was that the occasion might get to him a bit, but he was having none of it and impressed probably more than any player so far with a very solid display including a 130 break of top drawer quality.

For a bloke that only a few short months ago was facing the biggest challenge of them all he looked fighting fit and well up for the less serious challenge of the week ahead. You know what? He might just go and win it with his new more carefree outlook.

He said afterwards “The reception I got was awesome, it was as if the crowd had been with me the whole time and been through the dark days with me. To be out there in the arena reminded me that I am one of the best players in the world. I’ve been to hell and back over the past 18 months but I hope tonight I’ve turned the corner. It hasn’t been pleasant, but I’ve got through it.”

Who could possibly begrudge him a Masters title?

Today will be an interesting one and in particular I have been looking forward to this afternoon’s match. There are an increasing number of people who are now writing off John Higgins as a major title challenger and I have doubts myself whether we’ll ever see him lifting a major trophy again. But there is part of me that can’t imagine him not winning something before he’s done, perhaps today we’ll see for certain whether he’s still got the drive and the game to stay at the top.

You can read my thoughts on these two matches in the main preview here. The Quarter Final preview will be up tomorrow morning.

THANKS AS EVER TO MONIQUE LIMBOS FOR THE PHOTOGRAPH, YOU CAN VIEW HER MASTERS SNAPS HERE.  

January 13, 2015

Masters Day 3

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:34 am
Dumped Trump.

Dumped Trump.

It’s Day 3 at the Masters and the day which sees Ronnie O’Sullivan take to the stage to take on Ricky Walden this afternoon, while The Captain, Ali Carter takes on Barry Hawkins tonight.

Yesterday saw another main contender crash out as Judd Trump, seemingly in control of his match with Stephen Maguire and coasting at 2-0 with Maguire unable to pot anything remotely difficult, managed to salvage defeat from the gaping mouth of victory, eventually losing 6-4 after allowing Mags to find some rhythm.

I did suspect, as noted in the preview, that this would not be Judd’s week and Maguire should never be underestimated when playing a player that I’m sure he believes he is better than. I remember a few years back at the UK when Judd beat him, Mags insinuated that he was a very lucky player and that one day his luck would run out, that to me spoke volumes of what he thought of Judd and that kind of thing sticks in the mind.

Judd later claimed that he ‘threw the match away’ which is probably a fair summary of what happened. A bit careless you might say.

But not as careless as the greatest moment of Twitter carelessness yesterday courtesy of the governing body of our great sport. A largely uneventful first hour of the first match was quickly brightened up by a hapless tweet, meant as a direct message to Ali Carter, appearing for all to see. It even took them about 15 minutes to delete it.

Some took their ‘instruction’ to The Captain to tweet how much he was looking forward to playing tonight as an insult, an unjust curfew of the civil liberties of free speech which is so topical at the moment for all the wrong reasons. How dare they tell players to promote the event!! How dare they put words into the players mouths!! Something must be done to stop this Big Brother, dictator like behaviour!! Off with their heads!!

Me? I just thought it was funny and an opportunity to take the piss. Thankfully it was retrieved and saved by a couple of my faithful followers and sent on to me, I must be gaining a reputation as someone who likes this kind of thing, can’t think why. Anyway, I’m sure this is commonplace in most sports and it seems that the Willie Awards have now become so popular that even the governors want one. It’s in the post.

..you think Barry Hearn is doing a great job?

..you think Barry Hearn is doing a great job?

Last night saw the first favourite in four matches come through as an even more slimline Neil Robertson, despite being nowhere near his best, came through 6-4 against Rob Milkins.

The carrot cruncher did start to show a bit of form at the end and made the point afterwards that sometimes you need to play your way into the tournament, which is a fair point and perhaps he shouldn’t be too harsh on himself, after all, he won and that’s what matters. Rob took defeat on the chin but I think deep down he may think he should have won and taken more advantage of his early chances before Robbo got going.

The match betting is going well and you can read my thoughts on both today’s matches in the main preview here.

THANKS AS EVER TO MONIQUE LIMBOS FOR THE PHOTOGRAPH, YOU CAN VIEW HER MASTERS SNAPS HERE.

January 12, 2015

The Masters Day 2

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:17 am
A little bit of Marco Magic

A little bit of Marco Magic

As usual, The Masters got off to a flying start yesterday with a dramatic close finish and a 147. If there is one thing you can guarantee under Bazza, it’s that he’ll get the tournament noticed from a very early stage one way or another.

Most attention early on yesterday was focused on Mark Selby’s choice of attire. Women salivated at the sight of him resplendent in Burgundy whilst men through envious, gritted teeth whispered a highly non-PC ‘puff’, under their collective breaths.

He cut quite a dash and raced into the lead with a century to match before the wheels fell off. The World Champion looked more mouldy plum than vintage claret as Shaun Murphy, who was dressed far more soberly in funeral chic despite walking out to the distinctly un-morbid Disco Inferno, didn’t really have to try that hard to get to within one frame of victory at 5-1.

Mark then mounted a trademark comeback and as predicted as soon as I saw the order of play, the match went down to the wire with Shaun falling over the line leaving Selbs wondering if the suit might be an unlucky omen. Vicky was also in the crowd and we even got a shot of Shaun’s bride-to-be, it was all very Royal Ascot with the fashions on display and the SWAG’s in tow and Shaun marches on.

The BBC have upgraded Hawkeye this week and are now using one that is used for the Chinese events. Quite what knowing how many degrees a pot is at adds to the entertainment factor is anyone’s guess but someone presumably thought it was a good idea. I suppose it stops Dennis and his magic pen from drawing all over the screen and getting in the way of the shot so I suppose that’s a bonus, other than that, what’s the point of it?

Anyway, no sooner had the dust settled on these two peacocks, did we have another talking point crop up. Marco Fu making only the third ever Masters maximum break in his match against an out-of-sorts Stuart Bingham. He won’t be getting a prize the size of Kirk Stevens’ one though and will have to settle for a few miserly quid and the glory, but it’s nice to see him get it as there are fewer nicer blokes on the circuit than him. I talk from experience as he once held a door open for me at The Crucible.

He went on to win leaving poor old Stuart again leaving the biggest invitational event in the sport without winning a match. He later blamed his poor form on excesses over the festive season, claiming that he’d had ‘too many beers’ he also claimed that he bought a suit that he couldn’t get into, which is a bit careless as he really should have tried it on first surely? But he’s vowed to start running to shift the festive gut, presumably he doesn’t mean a light jog to the local boozer down the road.

Today we have another couple of corkers as Judd takes on the Cuebanger General Maguire and later tonight Robbo takes to the stage against Rob Milkins. Both could be tight affairs and neither Mags nor Milky will be going into these as lambs to the slaughter.

You can read my thoughts on both these matches in the main preview here, the action starts on the BBC at 1pm.

THANKS AS EVER TO MONIQUE LIMBOS FOR THE PHOTOGRAPH, YOU CAN VIEW HER MASTERS SNAPS HERE.

January 9, 2015

The Masters Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:27 pm

MastersSunday sees the start of one of the highlights of the snooker calendar as The Masters gets under way from Alexandra Palace in London, with World Champion Mark Selby kicking things off against Shaun Murphy.

The Masters is probably now my second favourite tournament. It used to be the UK, but in spite of the fact that it produced a great final back in December (the only two session match of the tournament, incidentally), I think it has lost a lot of its charm. The Masters has remained largely unaltered and the format, like the World Championship, which is tried and trusted and is a favourite with snooker fans, prevails. In short, like the UK used to, it works.

The 16 top players in the world are competing for a huge £200,000 winners cheque and that means we are sure to see all of them giving it their best.

The form horses are of course Ronnie and Judd, who are again seeded to meet in the final. Other big players like Selby, Robbo and particularly Ding, really need to get their season underway after a relatively sedate opening half of it by all of them.

Those just under this elite five include players that are proven winners like Shaun Murphy, Mark Allen, Marco Fu, Stephen Maguire, John Higgins, Ali Carter, Ricky Walden, Stuart Bingham and Barry Hawkins. Which leaves just Joe Perry and Rob Milkins as the two players yet to have a major tournament success, but both have been knocking on the door for a while now.

As ever, the BBC are on hand with coverage, no doubt utilising Steve, JP and Ken at the venue to do some slapstick features. Disappointingly however they are not giving the evening matches a lot of coverage on the main channel and consequently we’ll be seeing most of the players who they consider we’d most like to watch playing in the afternoon when most people are at work.

I really don’t think it’s too much to ask to put a couple of hours on each night on BBC2, but hopefully the Red Button will have it on most nights. The alternative of course is Eurosport, who continue to work tirelessly to promote snooker, it’s entirely your choice which set of commentators you most like taking the piss out of or moaning about.

I’ll be watching this from start to finish anyway, making an arse dent in the sofa and drinking copious amounts of tea and hopefully keeping you up to date, or even dare I venture ‘entertained’ with things from a couch potato’s point of view, both on here and more instantly on Twitter. I’ll be sticking with the BBC in the afternoons as they continue to provide the most material to really take the proverbial out of. They are the gift that just keeps on giving to a satirist/piss-taker and like all the best sources of material, they do this without ever really knowing it.

I’ll preview this match by match and at the bottom of the post you will find the playing schedule, what more do you need? Get your place on the sofa, get the kettle on and enjoy the ride, we only get the BBC three times a year so it’s worth enjoying when we do. Here goes.

Click on the match for the head to head, courtesy of the magnificent and essential Cue Tracker website.

Ron: His foot's better.

Ron: His foot’s better.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ricky Walden

Ronnie stormed to Masters glory last season and comes here on the back of his UK success and Champion of Champions win (he calls it The Champions Cup for some unknown reason). He has also told everyone that his errmm ‘broken’ ankle is OK now so he won’t be wearing his slippers again this week. He returns to the place where he gave poor old Ricky a right pasting last season. After carelessly allowing the man still desperately searching for a decent nickname 39 points in the first frame, he won the next five 477-0 in an almost flawless display. To say Ricky needs a reversal of fortune to get anything out of this is rather an understatement. Of course you cannot expect Ronnie to do the same again, but you have to expect him to win with a bit in hand. Matches like that are hard for the player on the receiving end to blot out, particularly at the same venue and Ricky also lost 6-0 in the UK in December to Bingham before being beaten in the German Masters qualifiers, something tells me he’s struggling a bit for whatever reason and there was a rumour that he had an injury a month or so back so perhaps he’s not fully over that. One thing is certain, you do not want to be lining up in Ronnie’s back yard if your head isn’t on straight in front of a baying, rabidly froth-mouthed, murderous mob of shaved chimps eager to see blood spilt, or to be more specific, your blood. Remember that Ronnie is also on the brink of beating Hendry’s all-time century record and the audience, half of whom will be his famous mates, will be hoping they get to be there when it happens. In short, pray for Ricky.

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 6-2.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on there being more than 1 century in the match at 11/8 with Bet365.

Stuart Bingham v Marco Fu

Two players that are very hard to split both in terms of their form and their head to heads. 10 meetings and they have won 5 each though it is Marco who has fared better in the bigger matches. I think Bingham is probably the most improved player of the last few years and he is now a main contender wherever he plays and has proved he has the bottle and the game to succeed on the big stage. Marco continues to be underrated but it’s a long time since he has won anything of note, but he is always a tough player in the early rounds and can produce some devastating stuff when the mood takes him, as he proved against John Higgins in a recent televised EPTC match where Higgins hardly got a shot. It’s a very tough call this one but on current form/gut feeling I have to side with Ballrun, but I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly confident pick.

Prediction: Bingham to win 6-4.

The Captain is back in the cockpit.

The Captain is back in the cockpit.

Barry Hawkins v Ali Carter

It’s sure to be a great reception that awaits The Captain on his return to the BBC events, by the way don’t miss his documentary on Eurosport on Monday evening. I know Ali was very disappointed at losing early in the UK as he wanted that to signal his big comeback to the sport after all his off the table problems (with due respect to the COC, it isn’t as big as this or the UK quite yet – 00o err missus). But The Masters is a decent substitute to signal your return and it will be great to see him playing in front of a packed crowd again. Barry comes fresh from making a 147 at Crondon Park as well as winning the first group, I don’t usually take Crondon into account when assessing this tournament as the events are poles apart, but he is obviously in decent form following what for him has been a bit of a ropey spell, particularly ‘that’ match against Nigel Bond in the UK which must have really put him off his Christmas turkey. The head to heads reveal a 9-1 advantage to Ali but they do tend to have close ones in the big events. Again, this isn’t a massively confident pick but I will side with The Captain to win a tight one given his dominance in their previous meetings.

Prediction: Carter to win 6-4.

Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins

Robbo is going through a bit of a lean spell lately and a big win is precisely what he needs to boost his confidence a bit. It reminds me a bit of Selby’s form last season so perhaps it’s not a bad thing and the season, like Selby’s did, will end on the ultimate high for him. Since winning in Wuxi at the start of the season and the following week losing the final in Australia to Judd he has been beaten by a lot of players that you’d normally expect him to wallop, as well as falling over the line against other much lower ranked players. Rob Milkins is having a bit of an up and down type of season and was whitewashed by Dotty at the UK following a good run in the International Championship and a final appearance in a German PTC. Rob can be a very dangerous opponent and memorably beat Neil at the Crucible in 2013 when the Aussie was many people’s tip for the title. This could well have all the hallmarks of a shock result if he gets going early, but Neil at his best usually finds a way to win. It remains to be seen if he can start motoring again in the second half of the season, I don’t think he’ll win this week but I do expect him to come through this one.

Prediction: Robertson to win 6-3.

Ding Junhui v Joe Perry

Ding, Ding, Ding, where have you been this season? What have you been up to? Why haven’t we seen you turning up at the big events? Mrs SB has missed seeing you as you are one of her favourites and she wants to give you a big cuddle and squeeze your little dimply cheeks. He has only played 26 matches all season as opposed to his opponent’s 43, he’s been whitewashed by an amateur, pipped by James Cahill in the UK in a match reminiscent of his defeat to Michael Wasley at the Crucible, so where is it all going wrong this season for him? It’s very hard to put your finger on why Ding’s form seems to have eluded him, he’s not entering the PTC’s so presumably isn’t as match sharp as those who are and this kind of thing can come back and bite you on the arse if you aren’t careful, those pesky snooker gods don’t forgive easily and they damn sure as mustard do not forget. Perry on the other hand is playing very solidly and is closer than ever to lifting a big title. I think he’ll fancy the job here and on current form I’m going to take a chance that he can add to Ding’s continuing season of woe.

Prediction: Perry to win 6-5.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on Perry at 9/4 at Ladbrokes.

He's more tongue than groove lately

He’s more tongue than groove lately

Mark Allen v John Higgins

The Artist Formerly Known as John Higgins takes on Mark Allen in a match that I’m sure will split opinion on the betting front. For most of the season poor old John has been a right old misery and a shadow of his former self. Where once no ball was safe when he stuck his little tongue out, now he’s left looking bewildered as he rattles, jaws, bounces and bashes from a few feet. That said, just lately there are signs that he might be getting back into the groove. Apparently the fiercely loyal snooker clan in Scotland spotted something he was doing differently and since then he reckons he’s on the mend, he’s a huge price to win this outright if anyone is interested in that, it could be quite a coup if he’s not done winning just yet and is surely worth a bash as his price will plummet if he beats Allen. Mark was in great form earlier in the season but just lately you detect a mid-season dip might be occurring with disappointing performances in the COC and the UK. So one player is picking up some form and one might be in a dip, there’s only one way to go then.

Prediction: Higgins to win 6-3.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on Higgins at 6/4 generally.

Judd Trump v Stephen Maguire

Judd is in great form at the moment and is many people’s pick for the title this week. I think for the first time since he lost to Higgins in the Crucible final he now looks again like World Champion material and if he can keep this momentum he has going I expect big things of him in Sheffield. His comeback against Ronnie in the UK Final had the nation hooked and we were reminded once more who the entertainment crown will be passed on to when Ronnie eventually jacks it in. Snooker is lucky to have him. He beat Maguire 6-4 in the UK semi-finals but over the years it’s the Scot who has the upper hand in the head to heads. Maguire also comes fresh from his EPTC win in Lisbon, though he didn’t do too well at Crondon Park last week, despite beating Judd (sending a message perhaps?) and looking largely disinterested otherwise from what I saw. I’m going to go against the crowd on this one as I don’t think Judd will win this outright, I’m looking elsewhere for the winner and something inside me is telling me that Maguire might upset the odds here.

Prediction: Maguire to win 6-4.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on Maguire at 2/1 with Bet365.

The Master of Brinkmanship

Can the Master of Brinkmanship become The Master?

Mark Selby v Shaun Murphy  

This one is the curtain raiser on Sunday and usually the opening day produces its fair share of drama for the entertainment hungry BBC audience at home. World Champion Selby has a sound Masters pedigree but poor old Shaun has been feeling sick and he’s even been off his grub, so much so that he had to withdraw from the Championship League and their famous breakfasts, but word on the street is he’s over the worst and ready for battle. A look at their head to head record shows just how closely matched these two are, from 33 matches, Selby has won 16 and Murphy 15, with two draws. In terms of frames won it’s just as close, with Selby leading 117 to 115. These two old friends and rivals and one-time World Champs are as close as any other two players that I can think of when it comes to the stats. All this makes for what should be a cracking opener and you have to fancy that it will be close. It just has that feel about it to me. Sleeping giant Selby hasn’t yet really got going this season (that’s the baby’s fault) but surely it won’t be long until he does. I think this could be the week that the World Champion reminds us of why he is, ermm, the World Champion. I’ll be making The Jester my main selection for Masters glory.

Prediction: Selby to win 6-5.

Recommended Bet: 4 points on the winning margin being under 2.5 frames at 11/10 with Paddy Power.

I have also chosen the above bet for a new charity initiative that you can read about here.

Recommended Acca: 3 points on Robertson (-1.5), O’Sullivan (-2.5), Higgins (+2.5) and Perry (+2.5) pays almost 9/2 at Paddy Power.

Recommended Outright Bets: 3 points on Mark Selby to win the Masters at 9/1. 0.5 point each way on John Higgins at 50/1. 2 points on a Selby v O’Sullivan final at 8/1. 2 points on Joe Perry to win Quarter 3 at 8/1.  

Order of Play:

Mark Selby v Shaun Murphy (Sunday January 11 at 1pm)
Stuart Bingham v Marco Fu (Sunday January 11 at 7pm)
Judd Trump v Stephen Maguire (Monday January 12 at 1pm)
Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins (Monday January 12 at 7pm)
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ricky Walden (Tuesday January 13 at 1pm)
Barry Hawkins v Ali Carter (Tuesday January 13 at 7pm)
Mark Allen v John Higgins (Wednesday January 14 at 1pm)
Ding Junhui v Joe Perry (Wednesday January 14 at 7pm)

Quarter-final one (O’Sullivan / Walden v Bingham / Fu): Thursday January 15 at 1pm
Quarter-final two (Hawkins / Carter v Robertson / Milkins): Thursday January 15 at 7pm
Quarter-final three (Ding / Perry v Allen / Higgins): Friday January 16 at 1pm
Quarter-final four (Trump / Maguire v Selby / Murphy): Friday January 16 at 7pm

Semi-final one: Saturday January 17 at 1pm
Semi-final two: Saturday January 17 at 7pm

Final: Sunday January 18

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