Snookerbacker

March 18, 2019

Tour Championship Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:15 pm

It’s all about the raaaannkings (photo credit Pete Burns)

We’re now entering the best period of the snooker season and in just over a month all eyes will be on The Crucible for the big one. But what makes this season even better is that we’ve got a kind of mini World Championship warm-up with this new event; the only other event of the season with multi-session matches from the beginning and the final one of the Coral Series trilogy.  The Tour Championship takes place at Llandudno’s Venue Cymru and sees the top eight players from this season’s one-year money list compete for a top prize of £150,000.

What makes this exciting for a stubborn, opinionated, die-hard old traditionalist like me is the long match format. The first round, or quarter finals if you prefer are played over the best of 17, with the semis adopting the Crucible first round format of best of 19 before a three session final at the weekend over another familiar Sheffield distance, the best of 25. So it’s a chance for one of the top players to really piss on the Crucible lamppost and go into the big one in fine fettle having won over the longer format less than a month earlier. In short, this is a proper comp.

As usual, the bookies favourite is Ronnie and it is a chance for us to possibly assess his form over more than one match over the multi-session distances. Interestingly, he is involved in one of the two first round matches that have been scheduled over 2 days, so he has some time to kill in between sessions, in the past this kind of thing has seen him go off the rails a bit in Sheffield, though with all his antics lately I don’t think we’d really notice the difference if he did.

For ranking anoraks, this event also has the added spice of Ronnie possibly returning to the top of the raaaaaaaaannnnnnkkkkkkking list for the first time this decade at the expense of Mark Selby, whose time at the top of this list is almost approaching the age range of Dennis Taylor’s jokes.

As you would expect it’s an all star line up and I’d say that the eight on show here are probably close to the eight I might have expected at the start of the season, although you could argue that John Higgins and possibly Shaun Murphy (currently languishing in 30th on the one year list) are notable absentees, with Ding Junhui hardly playing in anything it’s no real surprise that he hasn’t made it.

A mention also for Dave Gilbert whose fantastic season saw him just £4500 behind Kyren Wilson, who qualified in 8th spot and therefore takes on the number one seed Mark Allen. I reckon Dee Gee would have taken 9th at the start of the season and won’t be too upset at missing out and he is still available at daft prices for Sheffield for anyone interested (I took 190/1 yesterday). He’s playing well enough to have a run there and played very well against Ronnie last time he was there back in 2016, he’s also very close to securing a seeded place with Ryan Day looking like the main threat to that as they head to the final cut off event in Beijing at the start of April.

Allen has had a season of two halves really, his pre-Christmas form was fabulous and he was comfortably top of the one year list playing probably as well as I have ever seen him play, but since he was beaten at The Masters it’s slipped a little, so it remains to be seen if he can get it back in time for the World Championship, which you have to say he is long overdue a good run in.

A player coming into very good form at the right time is Neil Robertson and he should feel quietly confident in his match up with Selby given the latter’s relatively pedestrian form of late. There is a school of thought that believes The Jester losing the top spot will see his form turnaround to get it back, or perhaps just the threat of losing it this week will be enough for him to start being Selby again?

Another player in sparkling form is Judd Trump. Judd is currently a justified second favourite for the World Championship and you feel if he can win here, perhaps beating Ronnie in a semi-final along the way, his price may shorten further and he may even by vying for favouritism this time next month. Judd faces World Champion Williams who has now said he’s busy preparing for his title defence and getting his head down on the practice table rather than playing bingo and golf, going fishing and getting trousered all year to celebrate his success last year.

Ronnie faces Gibraltar Champ Stuart Bingham fresh from his win on The Rock over the short format. Ronnie has a very commanding lead over First Poke in the head to heads, Stuart will need to hit the ground running and put that out of his head if he’s to knock out the worst Australian impersonator since Michael Caine trying to be Chips O’Toole at the end of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

It’s all covered on the excellent ITV4 so expect plenty of adverts about our impending death and how much it all costs the ones you leave behind, also look forward to lots of comical scenes of people having accidents that are ‘not their fault’ during the break.

Click on the match for the head to head record.

Quarter Final Draw

Mark Allen vs Kyren Wilson (Wednesday 1pm and 7pm)
Neil Robertson vs Mark Selby (Tuesday 1pm and 7pm)
Judd Trump vs Mark Williams (Tuesday 1pm and Wednesday 1pm)
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Stuart Bingham (Tuesday 7pm and Wednesday 7pm)

Predicted First Round Winners: Allen, Robertson, Trump, O’Sullivan – fourfold pays nearly 6/1 at Black Type.

Predicted Tournament Winner: Trump – Best Price 5/1 at Blacktype.

Recommended Enhanced Treble – Trump (-2.5), Robertson (-1.5) and O’Sullivan (-3.5) is 10/1 at Ladbrokes. 

Name the Finalists – Robertson and Trump 19/2 at Ladbrokes.

Special Bet – More than 2 centuries in every match, 50/1 at Ladbrokes. 

March 13, 2019

The Gibraltar Open – Who will Rule the Rock?

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:16 am

It’s time again for the annual jaunt to Britain in the Sun. The Gibraltar Open clings to its slot in the tour much like 98% of it’s UK population wanted to cling to the EU, sadly for them that isn’t what the result produced and you do have to also wonder how long this event will remain a staple on the snooker calendar.

Very much like most of the best players on the tour I’ll be sitting this one out but I have had a few wagers on the outrights after a scan of the draw so I’ve listed them below.

Bets: Kyren Wilson to win Gibraltar Open at 9/1, Dave Gilbert to win Gibraltar Open at 25/1. Each Way Scott Donaldson at 100/1, Zhang Anda at 100/1, Tom Ford at 130/1. 

You can plot your very own outcome to the Gibraltar Open here

Click here for the format

The amateur qualifying rounds take place on March 13-14 followed by the last 128 from March 15 to 17.

March 4, 2019

The Players Championship

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:00 am

Tonight sees the start of the Players Championship, the second of three events in the new Coral series, this one sees the top 16 players on the one year ranking list battling it out in a Masters style format at the iconic Preston Guild Hall, so what’s not to like about that then?

In terms of the players who have qualified there are just three from outside the current 2 year top 16 list who have made it, those being Ali Carter, Jimmy Robertson and Joe Perry, who replace the absentees, Luca Brecel, Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy who all miss out, so it’s a chance for those three to narrow the gap and really put pressure on those on the brink of a seeding place at The Crucible.

The first round is a two table set up with tonight kicking off with O’Sullivan and Hawkins on one table and Allen and Maguire on the other, Allen being the number one seed for the event. It then moves to a one table situation from the quarter finals onwards with all matches up to the final being the best of 11 frames, with Sunday being contested over 19 frames. It’s also covered extensively by the excellent ITV and their schedule can be found here.

The man in form at the moment is undoubtedly Judd Trump, who is now contesting favouritism for the big one in Sheffield with O’Sullivan, indeed with just Mark Selby joining them at single figure odds there are a few decent prices around if you fancy the winner not coming from those three.

Despite Mark Allen heading up the ranking list he comes into this on the back of some disappointing form and he faces a stern test tonight against Stephen Maguire, who has got into this by virtue of consistently reaching the later rounds of events without ever really being on the brink of winning one. There are some cracking ties as you’d expect, including Selby taking on Higgins and World Champion Williams taking on Carter so there is plenty to get your teeth into.

Here is the schedule for the first round. 

Mark Allen (1) v  Stephen Maguire (16): Monday March 4 at 7pm

David Gilbert (8) v Stuart Bingham (9): Wednesday March 6 at 1pm

Ronnie O’Sullivan (5) v Barry Hawkins (12): Monday March 4 at 7pm

Mark Selby (4) v John Higgins (13): Wednesday March 6 at 1pm

Neil Robertson (3) v Joe Perry (14): Tuesday March 5 at 1pm

Mark Williams (6) v Ali Carter (11): Tuesday March 5 at 1pm

Kyren Wilson (7) v Jack Lisowski (10): Tuesday March 5 at 7pm

Judd Trump (2) v Jimmy Robertson (15): Tuesday March 5 at 7pm

Recommended Outright Bets: Mark Selby to win Players Championship at 10/1. Mark Williams to win Players Championship at 15/1.

Match Betting: Double on Maguire and Hawkins pays over 8/1. Acca on Williams, Robertson, Wilson and Bingham pays 11/2.

Special: A century in every match at 28/1 with the sponsors. 

   

February 26, 2019

Indian Open Preview (well sort of)

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:30 am

Captain Mohan – The Main Man.

Tragic circumstances surrounded the postponement of the Indian Open earlier in the season, but as promised, the World Snooker Tour returns to Kochi in the Kerala region of India for the short but sweet Indian Open, which starts on Wednesday.

There has been a rare two day break in the calendar following Thepchiaya Un-Nooh’s win in the Shootout. I didn’t watch much of it but what I did see didn’t offend me too much in terms of the action on the table, but off it the crowd of shaved chimps continues to annoy so it wasn’t something I was ever going to embrace again with open arms.

They add nothing with their primitive, repetitive and frankly meaningless chants. They remind me very much of hardcore jazz musicians, in that the noises they emit are pure enjoyment and genius to them, but an absolute load of fucking bollocks to everyone else.

Before that, Judd Trump continued his namesake’s bid for world domination with another big trophy win in the World Grand Prix in Cheltenham. He’s truly the man to beat at the moment and appears to have the advantage over all the other main players, including O’Sullivan. It remains to be seen whether he can retain this form for the rest of the season but if he can, it’s surely the most justifiably fancied he’ll ever have been going into Sheffield.

Following that, another player who will really fancy his chances in Sheffield Neil Robertson, ran out the winner in Cardiff at the Welsh Open beating one of the favourites for this week Stuart Bingham in a great final.

At the other end of the spectrum, we continue to try and find out where Mark Selby has left his A Game, he’s leaving it late this year but he’s done similar in the past and turned up nigh on unbeatable at The Crucible so it would be folly to write him off as a big contender just yet.

At least he’s only looking for his A Game though, Shaun Murphy is half way through the alphabet and must be approaching the high Scrabble scorers when it comes to his current form. As ever, he’s been publicly lamenting his invisible game on the airwaves and explaining the negative effect that social media was having on him. In fact with this and his various ambassadorial and committee duties, plus of course his commentary work one wonders where he finds the time to put some practice in, perhaps there lies the problem, it’s usually the simplest solution that is the correct one after all.

‘I’m sure I left it round here somewhere’

Shaun is back in action this week and faces one of the Indian wildcards, Lucky Vatnani, who can play a bit and is double figure prices to beat him. Make no mistake, given that Shaun also recently lost to Adam Stefanow in a match in which he played at times like a man with no eyes and as a consequence also misses the China Open, any repeat of that form will see him on the way home no sooner than you can say Chicken Madras, or most likely he’ll just rock up to the commentary box to tell the others where they are all going wrong.

In terms of this week, the short best of seven format again presents an opportunity for a new name on a ranking trophy. The final of course is just the best of nine so this really is a whistlestop tour of the region before we head to Preston for the Players Championship, which should be a decent ‘Masters style’ 16 player event next week.

This event is usually available on the bookies sites and if you are really lucky you will be able to hear the in-country commentary. This is a thing of great beauty, unashamedly biased towards the home players, scathing in it’s criticism of ‘club standard’ snooker and totally populated by people called Captain who have wonderful facial hair.

There is also a rumour circulating that it will be covered on Eurosport Player, which at this time of year is well worth investing in on a month by month basis if you are an avid snooker fan, given that it’s only a few weeks to the World Championship qualifiers. 

I make Bingham quite a strong favourite for this one, the draw he has is kind and it strikes me that he’s in great form, but at 6/1 I wouldn’t say he’s exactly value given the format. Instead I’ll plump for a few of the others each way and the first ranking win for Lisowski, all those below I think are capable of a decent week at long odds, including Un-Nooh who can be boosted to absurd odds at Ladbrokes if you are quick, like he is.

Recommended: Win – Jack Lisowski (11/1). Each Way – Luca Brecel (28/1) Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (60/1) and Sam Baird (160/1) 

You can play around with the draw to select your outright picks here.

Click here for the format

February 4, 2019

The World Grand Prix

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 11:52 am

The snooker takes no rest and it’s now time for the World Grand Prix to take centre stage on ITV. This forms the first part of the three ‘Coral Series’ events, a new innovation this season, and pits together the top 32 players on the one season list (or to be more specific the 7 month list) in a 32 man knockout. (more…)

January 29, 2019

The German Masters

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:00 am

The Templedrum

Most bloggers and fans will proclaim the German Masters to be one of their favourite events on the calendar. Having made the trip to Berlin myself I can confirm that there is a great atmosphere and packed crowds inside the Tempodrom (or if you are Phil Studd ‘The Templedrum’) with a unique table set up that offers the crowd a great viewing experience, so what’s not to like?

I ask this question as it’s become obvious to me over the years that whilst this is a firm favourite with fans, it’s not so for the players. They site a few quirks that they aren’t that happy with, the lighting levels on the outside tables and the fact that often the crowd near their table are busy watching (and clapping) shots from another match are often top of the list of moans but overall, for the viewing public both at the venue and at home, it’s a pretty entertaining few days.

The starting field for the qualifiers was pretty strong, though as ever Ronnie didn’t grace this one with his presence. Masters champion and the boy who would be king Judd Trump is here though and faces his first outing after being much touted by many in the know as the new ‘man to beat’ in snooker, his win in London even prompted some to talk of the great coronation, the new Davis/Hendry moment, when the pupil became the master and Judd finally assumed the mantle from O’Sullivan.

I’m not so sure I have to say. O’Sullivan had a howler in the final and it’s clear he was outplayed, but I really need to see more of this new style of play from Judd on a consistent basis before I believe that this new dawn isn’t another false one that we’ve seen now a few times from him. A win in similar style this week would go some way to really rubber-stamping his Crucible credentials so it’s interesting too from that viewpoint.

It’s a nice compact 32 man field this and my main focus from the betting point of view is trying to call Shaun Murphy home to complete this bet, he qualified for this before Xmas in some style, knocking in 8 tons in the 10 frames he won, but his subsequent performance at Ally Pally wasn’t that encouraging and I hope he finds what he had in December back soon or I fear he may be the man to let me down.

It will also be interesting to see if the Mark’s at either end of the draw can get their season going. World Champion Williams shows no signs of letting up on his kebab drizzled lifestyle while Selby clings on to the Number 1 spot like a one armed man clinging to the side of a skyscraper with no help in sight, with only a matter of time before the inevitable drop occurs.

One player I sense might have a decent week here is Ding Junhui, for me he looked pretty decent at The Masters and he at least looks like he’s enjoying it again now, which is of course half the battle with him, I’d also have a look at the 147th 147 man Dave Gilbert, who might be able to take advantage of a Selby wobble if it happens in his section of the draw. In the top half, I think Joe Perry stands a fighting chance in the top quarter after a fairly quiet season with Judd battling it out in the second quarter, though something tells me he won’t win it.

It’s covered on Eurosport from Wednesday and if you haven’t tuned in before, do so. It gets really pumped as the days go by.

Recommended Bets: Win – Ding Junhui (13/1 – Boosted), Each Way – Joe Perry (40/1), Dave Gilbert (100/1). 

You can plot your own German Masters here, I will be posting match bets on Twitter of a morning.

Here’s the updated draw and format for the final stages of the 2019 German Masters at the Tempodrom in Berlin, following the completion of the qualifying rounds.

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

January 20, 2019

Masters Final

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:38 am

I’m not going to waffle on about this, we’ve potentially a riveting final in store between Ronnie and Judd and hopefully it will showcase snooker to the wider audience in the best possible way.

It’s fair to say that Judd has as good a record against Ronnie as most if not all other players on the tour, apart from Elliot Slessor, so it’s all set up to be a close run thing. Despite this, Ronnie is a heavy favourite with the bookies so if you fancy Judd to turn him over again there is a bit of value there.

Personally, I think whilst Judd will probably rise to the occasion, we are due a virtuoso display from the Rocket and part of me feels this is all geared up for the 147th 147 (25/1 at Boylesports). I’ve managed to predict all Ronnie’s correct scores this week and weirdly not for the first time. It’s a bit like when Muhammad Ali used to tell everyone how many rounds he’d take to knock someone out, except I do it for Ronald and it’s not boxing so the similarity is somewhat tenuous.

Needless to say I haven’t had a penny on any of them so today I’ll be investing in him to win 10-7 and lose. Let’s hope for a great final and weep that Hawkins and Robertson let that century bet down as if there isn’t one today I’ll eat my vegan hat.    

January 19, 2019

The Masters Semi-Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:51 am

Well, that was fun while it lasted. Anyone who has been keeping up to date with all things snooker on Twitter this week will have seen the centuries bet I requested gain some momentum, but alas, last night saw the end of the 66/1 dream as Neil Robertson and Barry Hawkins failed to muster up a ton between them, but at least you are spared me going on about it forever and a day so every cloud…..

It’s a stellar line up for the last four as you’d expect from The Masters. Ronnie O’Sullivan remains a strong favourite to lift the Paul Hunter trophy on Sunday and while he’s not been at his sparkling best he’s not yet been troubled and has eased his way through, he plays Ding Junhui (head to head here) who came through a decider against Luca Brecel in the last round which included of course the three miss frame forfeit on his part.

These two met in the famous final here back in 2007 when the London racists were out in force and made Ding cry. The crowd are getting rowdier and rowdier as the weekend approaches with one particular absolute helmet having to be removed as he shouted ‘Barry’ for the millionth time, clearly an oxygen thief with a very limited vocabulary.

Ding is a totally different human being these days and in both his walk-ons he’s come down the steps with a big smile on his face and fist-pumping people who aren’t even asking for one, I swear he fist pumped someone’s head the other day, hopefully it was the racist from 12 years ago. Anyway, he’s clearly in a very good place mentally at the moment and while his game isn’t as sharp as it might be, his bonce is bang on the money.

Ronnie gave a strange interview to his pals at Eurosport the other day, seemingly a little frosty early on towards Colin Murray whilst almost sitting on top of a stoic Alan McManus, who looked at one point like Ronnie’s ventriloquist dummy with The Rocket’s arm lodged up his backside, but eventually Ronnie released a clearly relieved Angles and let him sit undisturbed once he got his mouth into gear. It’s as close to unhinged as we’ve seen him in a while but on the table his chimp is definitely in its box eating bananas rather than swinging from the TV lights in a tyre throwing shit at the referee. I can see a better performance from him today and perhaps a couple of tons, I’ll go with 6-3 to O’Sullivan. His old pal Andy Goldstein is back today as Colin heads off to the footy so his interview later will probably be less of a spectacle, much to Alan’s relief.

In the other semi-final Judd Trump takes on his Grove stablemate Neil Robertson (head to head here)They last met here in 2016 when Judd won in a decider and there won’t be many out there who won’t be expecting another close one tonight in what I’m sure will be a real ‘Saturday night’ atmosphere in London, god help us.

Judd has definitely looked a lot more solid this week and is keeping the naughty snooker to the bare minimum, only occasionally showing signs that he’d like to really lamp one. He’s been working hard on his game and practising more than ever and it’s clearly paying off, he’s getting the game that he needs to have now to be any threat in Sheffield and his fans, while missing the old Judd, will I’m sure be hoping new Judd keeps this winning attitude going.

By a similar token, Robbo is regaining his form and looks to be approaching something like his best as we move into the juicy part of the season. How he didn’t make at least one ton against Barry is beyond me but the main thing (for him at least) is that he’s winning a lot of frames in one visit, something that Judd is perhaps not doing as regularly as he is so I’m thinking that might be the difference between the two today.

In terms of a prediction, I’ll take Robbo to edge it 6-4 and set up a final against O’Sullivan, in terms of a bet, a bit of interest only for me as I deflate from the excitement I’ve been having since day one, those 66/1 pokes don’t come round too often….

Recommended Bet: Double pays just over 11/2 on O’Sullivan to make more than 1 century and Robertson to win.

  

January 17, 2019

The Masters Quarter Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:15 am

With eight of the original sixteen still left it’s now time to move on to the Quarter Finals of this great tournament. The first round produced quite a few moments of drama and the odd shock with notable early fallers including the defending champion Mark Allen and four times World Champion John Higgins who both lost in deciders. So who can make it to the last four?

Click on the match for the head to head stats.

Luca Brecel v Ding Junhui (17th Jan – 7pm)

A match up between two players who’ve not really been quite themselves this season but one of them will find himself in the semi-finals after this. Luca produced the goods in the first round against Mark Allen but his big issue has always been maintaining that high standard consistently. Ding put in a workmanlike performance in Round 1 against a hapless Jack Lisowski but on first round form he’ll need to step up a gear here to win. Luca appears from his interviews to have a new hunger for the game, he’s had issues with his cue and his shoulder that now both appear to be sorted and it also seems that he’s been a little hurt by criticism on social media that he doesn’t practice very much, so much so that he’s decided to do the sensible thing and bin it. Ding however looks happy and incredibly relaxed, the family life clearly suits him and as ever when he gets going he is absolutely devastating in the balls. I’ve ummed and aaared on this one as I initially thought Luca would step up and win, but as the hours have passed I’ve now come to my senses, experience wins here and that has to be Ding.

Prediction: Ding to win 6-3 

Ryan Day v Ronnie O’Sullivan (17th Jan – 1pm)

Not for the first time in my life I was called ‘careless’ the other day, this time it was by the World Champion, who said that I was careless for not noticing how often Ryan Day wins deciders in one visit, as he did against John Higgins on day one. I’ll admit it’s a trend that I hadn’t noticed and I still haven’t checked the validity of Mark Williams’ claims, so if anyone would like to I am happy to accept the tag. Ronnie, by his own standards was not fizzing in round one but we’re getting so used to him looking unbeatable it’s a surprise when he only knocks in a couple of tons in a match, his opponent Stuart Bingham for whatever reason just didn’t turn up and Ronnie simply went about his business to win in a canter. Surprisingly, these two haven’t met in anything meaningful since 2011 and Day has in fact won their last two meetings, but back then Ronnie’s chimp was totally out of it’s box and causing carnage wherever it went, he’s a different kettle of chimps these days and I expect him to do the job here, he’ll probably lose the first frame again though

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 6-3  

Mark Selby v Judd Trump (18th Jan 1pm)

Two players coming into this in good form and without doubt on paper this is the tie of the round. Judd ditched the naughty snooker in dispensing with Kyren in round 1, the first four frames were as good as I have seen him play in terms of maturity and matchplay, he looked determined, played the right shots on all occasions and was ruthless in punishing Kyren’s carelessness. Selby started to be Selby again in his match against Maguire, tons for fun and looking like he’s getting his game back in shape just in time for the run up to Sheffield, where this year I think he’ll be the man to beat. It’s surprising how few times these two have met in anything meaningful, but where they have it’s 3-3, with Trump winning all three they have played over more than best of nine. It’s so difficult to predict what will happen here and in terms of a bet I’d say it’s a just sit and watch it match rather than wasting your money. I’ll side with Trump because he has the look of someone who means business this week and you have to factor in that Selby hasn’t been as consistent as him this season.

Prediction: Trump to win 6-4 

Barry Hawkins v Neil Robertson (18th Jan 7pm)

I’m really looking forward to this one. The Hawk was clinical in putting away Shaun Murphy in round one, who like Bingham, Lisowski and Wilson seemed to fall apart at the seams when faced with the Ally Pally crowd. Robbo looked very impressive from 3-1 down against Williams and in full flow it’s very difficult to see him missing at times, if he keeps up the kind of form he showed in winning those last five frames I fancy him to make the final this week. Barry tends to save his best for the big occasions and it doesn’t get much bigger than this so this is an intriguing match up. Hawkins got the better of the two in last season’s China Open semi-final but in meaningful matches Robbo holds a slight advantage, their most famous encounter saw a 13-12 win for Barry at The Crucible in 2015 and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this one goes the distance too, but on first round form, it’s Robbo for me.

Prediction: Robertson to win 6-4  

January 9, 2019

The Masters Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:30 am

The Pistol is back to defend his crown

All the left behind bodily waste and excrement has been swilled away, the last drunk lying in the corner with ‘180’ written in permanent marker on his arse cheeks has been given his marching orders and now the darts can make way for the altogether more respectable crowd at the Ally Pally for this year’s Masters. Mark Allen is back and in great form to defend the title he won 12 months ago.  

The Masters is always a great way to get rid of the January blues and by the time it’s finished those mornings are getting a little bit lighter and the nights aren’t closing in quite so much. But in the meantime, it’s time to watch the 16 best players in the world according to the rankings at least, battle it out in the electric atmosphere and one-table situation.

Can Ronnie O’Sullivan continue his virtual dominance of the sport these past few months in a tournament he’s won 3 times from the last 5? Or can Mark Allen become the first person besides Ronnie since Paul Hunter to retain the trophy now bearing Paul’s name? As well as these two form players we have a whole host of potters coming here determined to start their new year off with a bang and with the very handy £200,000 first prize.

Let’s take a look at the runners and riders and consider their form coming into this.

Click on the match to reveal the head to head record courtesy of the always excellent Cue Tracker. 

Mark Allen v Luca Brecel – Sunday January 13 at 1pm

The Pistol returns to the scene of his maiden major win in a great final over Kyren Wilson last season in pulsating form and riding high at the top of the one year ranking list. He faces Belgian Bullet, olive lover and serial holidaymaker Luca, who arrived to play the first round against Mark in this last year with two cues (as well as a nice tan), such was his lack of confidence at the time. Somehow, he’s managed to stay in the top 16 for another year though my guess is that unless he has a huge upturn in form soon he won’t be here next time, he is currently down in the mid-thirties on the one year list. The head to head shows 4 meetings with 4 victories for Allen so Luca, given the recent form of the two is really up against it here. He’s not been beyond the Last 16 in anything this season so far and my guess is he won’t break that trend here. Traditionally, this Sunday afternoon BBC curtain raiser provides a bit of drama, with more often than not in recent years a 6-4 or 6-5 result being the outcome. But on current form, I’d say that is another trend that is likely to be broken here, I can see nail-biting drama coming in a few of the first rounders, but not this one. Golden rule when betting: never trust a snooker player with a tan. 

Prediction: Allen to win 6-2.  

Ding Junhui v Jack Lisowski – Monday January 14 at 7pm

The enigma that is Ding Junhui faces one of the most exciting players to watch in snooker, Jack Lisowski, who is deservedly making his Masters debut this year after a great 2018 which has seen him rise to 7th in the one year ranking list, at last fulfilling in part the potential that he’s been showing for quite a few years now. The way Ding is nowadays makes it very hard to predict his matches, sometimes he looks so unhappy playing snooker you just want him to pack it in and go and enjoy himself after years of over-the-top expectation and immense pressure on such young shoulders, but then he’ll spring into life and show you why he shouldn’t. He’s not been playing in a lot this season, perhaps because of his new family situation and lost in the Last 16 of the UK to Martin O’Donnell when he was looking pretty promising coming into that match. In fact, his winning record this season isn’t bad at all and he did round off the year with qualification for Berlin, though it has to be said the draw wasn’t challenging for a player of Ding’s status. Jack’s been keeping his eye in since Christmas with a group win in the Championship League in Coventry so rustiness won’t be an issue for him. I find this a very hard match to call but I think if Lisowski doesn’t let the Palace experience get to him too much he can turn over a player who hasn’t looked as sharp as he does now for a year or so, if ferocious potter Jack gets an early foothold in the match he might be out of sight before Ding has even woken up.       

Prediction: Lisowski to win 6-3.

John Higgins v Ryan Day – Sunday January 13 at 7pm

These two seem to play each other quite a lot don’t they? Or is that just me? Anyway, they met here last year in the quarter finals and Higgins ran out a very comfortable winner but their latest meeting in Shanghai saw a deciding frame victory for Day, both matches over the best of eleven distance that this one is. Higgins seemed very down in the dumps pre-Christmas and there was even again talk from him of considering his future at the end of the season. I think his last two defeats in world finals have really knocked the stuffing out of him and sometimes I feel exhausted just watching him. But he can’t be feeling that bad as he knocked in a 147 in Scotland to round off the year so perhaps following the festive season he may feel a little better. Perhaps he was just having a bad week. Day hasn’t quite been the player he was this time last season following his run of tournament wins and he suffered a shock 6-2 defeat to Joe O’Connor in the UK at the very first stage so he’d like to get his season back on track this side of the new year with a confidence boosting run in this, given he’s fallen out of the top 16 on the one year list. Rather than a runaway win I think this one might produce the drama on Sunday rather than the afternoon match and I can see this going close given that the two are pretty evenly matched on current form and I’ll plump for the tenacious old warhorse Higgins to just edge it.    

Prediction: Higgins to win 6-5.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Stuart Bingham – Monday January 14 at 1pm

Superlatives have come and gone, come back again and again and they just keep on coming, but Ronnie’s current spell of form is probably best summed up by Stephen Hendry when he said, without even a hint of self-awareness, that Ronnie’s recent run is as close to a domination of the sport that anyone has come since he did it. Allen may well be the man of the moment, but you have to factor in that his two big recent wins came in events that O’Sullivan didn’t enter and that in the middle of them Ronnie beat him in the UK final. The plain fact is that having played 28 matches so far this season, Ronnie has only lost two of them; to Judd Trump and to Dark Mavis (under something of a cloud from his previous match), so that is some going. Despite the commanding 14-3 head to head Ronnie enjoys over Bingham, Stuart is one of those players who to me gives it his best against The Rocket and is usually outplayed rather than intimidated into defeat, Ronnie seems to consistently up his game against some players for whatever reason and Stuart, unfortunately for him, is probably one of them. They have met twice this season, both victories as you’d expect given what I have already said for Ronnie, and you’d be a brave person to bet against another one here. It has to be Ronnie, in an event he clearly loves. Perhaps a showdown with Allen in the semi-finals is where this half is heading and the winner of the whole thing will come from that.    

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 6-2.

Who are you?

Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire – Wednesday January 16 at 7pm

Hey you over there! Yes you! Didn’t you used to be Mark Selby? The winning machine is clearly malfunctioning at the moment and despite a title, a classic semi-final with Ronnie in Belfast and a couple of quarter final appearances, Mark hasn’t won a match on the BBC since he lifted the World title in May 2017 with victory over John Higgins. He also lost in the first round here last season and has only won two matches here in the last four seasons. So what’s the problem with The Jester? It’s very hard to fathom but we didn’t even see him on our screens at York because James Cahill had already pumped him in the pre-TV stages so he clearly needs to up his game in the Grand Slam events to remind people who only watch snooker now and again who he is and what a handsome chap he has grown into. This might make this sound more of a crisis than it actually is given he is still 3rd on the one year list but I’ve got to give Hazel and the gang a little gem to dangle ahead of this match against Maguire. On the head to heads these two are pretty evenly matched and Maguire has been a bit more consistent than usual this season without causing a lot of bother at the business end with two semi-finals and a quarter final in York to his name. This match all depends on Selby really, he has to start putting things right soon in the biggest events but Maguire is a very dangerous opponent and not one you want to tackle when the BBC are on your back and shoving their own private records in your face, I think he’ll turn the corner soon, but I’m not sure it will be here, my bet would be Sheffield, where I think he feels most at ease.   

Prediction: Maguire to win 6-4.

Judd Trump v Kyren Wilson – Wednesday January 16 at 1pm

Let the pretend rivalry begin! As made-up stories designed to convince people they are true go, this is right up there with that big red bus that went on about giving money to the NHS instead of the EU or Donald Trump saying he’d never met that porn star who knew what his little fella looked like. But never over-estimate the intelligence of the general public is what I say. Anyway, I’m sure that the BBC will try and eeek out some needle between two basically nice lads, who just happen between them to carry a decent chunk of snooker’s long term future on these shores in their collective bridge hands. I seriously think the BBC have missed a trick not scheduling this one for the opening Sunday afternoon, it kicks off at 1pm on Wednesday when most people who will want to watch it are at work and it would have really showcased snooker’s future to a larger audience nicely in my opinion, but what do I know? They are pretty even on the head to heads but I’m kind of getting the feeling that the younger man, Wilson, is beginning to gain the psychological edge in the matches that really matter of late. Judd however as mentioned above is one of only two players to beat O’Sullivan this season and the only one to beat him when he was firing, he’s in great form, knocked in a maximum just before Xmas in the German qualifiers and has just won a group in Coventry so this is set up really nicely. I’d say this is poor scheduling for what looks on paper to be the tie of the round, it’ll come back to bite ya, mark my words.  

Prediction: Wilson to win 6-5.

Barry Hawkins v Shaun Murphy – Tuesday January 15 at 7pm

Another coin toss of a tie here between two players who have been under-performing so far this season, which is unusual for Murphy but generally par for the course for Hawkins, who tends to save his best for the second half of the season, namely Sheffield. Murphy came back to form in Scotland with his runners-up spot to Allen and then proceeded to knock in 8 centuries in 10 winning frames to qualify for Berlin, it seems the Magician’s wand may be slowly rediscovering it’s powers after it being a little limp of late since he upped sticks and moved to Ireland. Their last really meaningful encounter came at this stage two years ago when Hawkins rode out an easy winner, but with Murphy playing catch up on his peers already this season and now back in cahoots with his old coach, I sense that if Barry were to prevail again it won’t be such a procession. Given that these two are so evenly matched I’m only going with Murphy because I think he’ll have a strong second half of the season and might be a bit more focused at the moment, but I think we could have another very close one here.    

Prediction: Murphy to win 6-4.

Mark Williams v Neil Robertson – Tuesday January 15 at 1pm

A real Kebab versus Carrot affair this as the carnivorous current world champion takes on the plant-based Aussie who is showing signs of a return to something like his best this season, particularly in his trademark break-building department. The head to head shows a commanding lead for Robertson but this is masked by small time encounters in the Championship League which Neil usually wins. When you remove those it’s more or less level and surprisingly for two top players they haven’t met very often at all; just six times in nearly 14 years and never in a Grand Slam event. I say discount those minor event meetings but it is amazing how routinely Robbo wins these match ups, which perhaps suggests that he might enjoy playing Mark, but that may be just me reading too much into it, it could just be that MJW had too many sausages on his Crondon Park breakfasts on the days in question. Williams is making much about not really caring this season and if that’s true, who can blame him? But a carefree floater brings with him his own danger factor and if he really doesn’t give a damn if he wins or loses he’s shrugging off any pressure he might otherwise put on himself here. Robertson has already bagged 47 tons this season with Judd Trump the only player to have done the same kind of volume, and in that kind of scoring form that makes him a contender in any big contest. I just can’t get that Championship League formline out of my head here as there is very little else to go on so I’m plumping for Robbo to send Willo back to his caravan, which is probably now relocated to Barbados.  

Prediction: Robertson to win 6-3

RECOMMENDED BETS: Trebles and an Acca on all these four matches having over 9 frames: Higgins/Day, Trump/Wilson, Selby/Maguire, Hawkins/Murphy – Acca pays over 25/1 Boosted at William Hills. Trebles, Fourfolds and Accumulator on Lisowski, Maguire, Wilson, Murphy and Robertson – Acca pays 59/1 at Marathon Bet.  

Daily doubles will appear throughout the championship each morning on Twitter.

Quarter-finals:
QF1 (Allen / Brecel v Ding / Lisowski): Thursday January 17 at 7pm
QF2 (Higgins / Day v O’Sullivan / Bingham): Thursday January 17 at 1pm
QF3 (Selby / Maguire v Trump / Wilson): Friday January 18 at 1pm
QF4 (Hawkins / Murphy v Williams / Robertson):  Friday January 18 at 7pm

Semi-finals:
Winner QF1 v Winner QF2: Saturday January 19 at 1pm
Winner QF3 v Winner QF4: Saturday January 19 at 7pm

Final: Sunday January 20 at 1pm and 7pm

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