The 4 table set-up in the main arena at The Barbican
The BBC coverage of the 2015/16 snooker season gets underway next Saturday when Hazel and the V-Necked Posse join the UK Championship from the Barbican in York for the Last 64 onwards. Before this, the previous round will be played at the venue as players descend in their droves like sardines/organic vegetables (delete as appropriate and according to taste), into a rather uncomfortably sized tin/straw bio-degradable weekly delivered box (ditto) from Tuesday onwards.
Before I preview an event which I still look forward to every season, I will say that I’m not alone in the snooker world in thinking that the changes Bazza made to this tournament on his coronation have changed it for the worse.
Hopefully his acknowledgement last week that the changes being made to the way draws are to be done ‘in the future’ or ‘with immediate effect’ (subtle difference usually means no difference in Bazzaland) are being demanded by sponsors and TV, rewarding those higher up the list with easier draws making it more likely that they will qualify to televised stages, is just phase one of us moving away from the ridiculous and fatally flawed flat structure system of which our beloved dictator was so fond and back to a fairer, more competitive tiered one.
Big ranking events and showpieces like this one work so much better when we reward the top seeds with a place at the main event and in doing so, guarantee that sponsors, media and TV audiences as well as the all important ratings chasers whose jobs depend on such things are happy. I’ve nothing against the flat structure for PTC events, they work perfectly well and that is how they were born and long may they survive…*ahem*..but for snooker’s sake let’s give this event the prestige back that it has steadily lost down the line shall we? Protect the crown jewels so to speak.
Now that the undefending champion Ronnie is doing a passable impersonation of Lord Lucan, though he is in the studio with Eurosport with Jimmy for the whole event no doubt grinning away at his inferiors despite having been canned in the last two World Championships, it’s imperative that the big names and ermm, ‘personalities’ are visible in all the main comps. We’ve seen Ding, Judd, Selby and others in the past fall victim to the flat structure in cubicles in and around the chosen venues near the Yorkshire area of England for events held in China and this makes no commercial sense whatsoever.
Furthermore, having the tiered system means that lower ranked players can build confidence by beating those of a similar ranking first before climbing to face those higher ranked; better prepared. Just as Kyren Wilson did in Shanghai, under the old tiered seeding system, building his confidence to a crescendo by the end.
All that said, the UK still retains some individuality, if only by chance and history rather than design. OK, it’s lost the Best of 17’s throughout, which for me is a great shame and nowadays all matches up to and including the semi-finals are Best of 11, meaning that even the fairly new International Championship in China is a longer match format overall, but at least the Best of 11’s aren’t Best of 9’s and at least they aren’t Best of 7’s which are turning so many fans that used to follow the sport regularly into ‘just a few decent event’ fans (i.e. the ones with longer matches). Is that Joe Davis I hear turning in his grave? (Click it, you will not regret it)
The big plus is the city it is held in, but that doesn’t mean much to someone who can’t get there to watch, you’ll just have to trust me on that one. Another plus is that it’s on the BBC and I for one hope nothing changes there. My ideal would be to take 32 players to the venue, the top 16 seeds and 16 qualifiers and play 2 session matches on 4 tables in the main arena until such a time as you just use 2 and then 1. For that to happen would require a ‘U-Turn from Hearn’, but those who have been watching closely will know that he does often change his vision under external pressures, he just never admits that he has.
But, it is what it is and it usually still produces a few memorable matches even in this shortened format, Judd’s final against Mark Allen and Ali Carter against Shaun Murphy in the semi-finals spring to mind from recent years. Just imagine how good it could still be? Surely a 32 player week long event with Best of 17 frame matches would pack the Barbican to the rafters and restore this once great championship to it’s former glory?
Anyway, below I have listed the matches in section order with a few observations and bets.
The actual times of the matches can be found here. Remember, while there are eight tables in operation, 4 will play in the main arena and 4 will play in a less grandiose adjoining room.
NEW! Click here for a very handy Head to Head page for all the first round matches courtesy of CueTracker.
Stuart Bingham v Jordan Brown
Anthony Hamilton v Peter Lines
Dominic Dale v Michael Wild
Peter Ebdon v Lyu Chenwei
Robert Milkins v Vinnie Calabrese
Andrew Higginson v David Grace
Graeme Dott v Nigel Bond
Jack Lisowski v Zak Surety
Gary Wilson v Martin O’Donnell
Martin Gould v Allan Taylor
David Morris v Michael Georgiou
Mark Allen v Zhao Xintong
Matthew Stevens v Chris Wakelin
Michael Holt v Fraser Patrick
Joe Swail v Joel Walker
Ding Junhui v Adam Duffy
The big two in terms of seedings here are World Champion Bingham and Ding Junhui, but lurking within this quarter is one of the men in form at the moment, Mark Allen. There is little to suggest to me that we won’t see Allen face Ding in the Last 16 and who is to say that the winner of that won’t kick on and lift the trophy? Much is being made of Bingham’s form, though I do think people have overlooked his semi-final appearance in Shanghai and are instead focusing too much on a few defeats in PTC’s in deciders, I’d say he’ll make at least the Last 32 here comfortably but I can see there being perhaps a different name making it into the Quarter Finals to face Ding or Allen. Jack Lisowski is definitely overdue a run in something and he could be a live outsider in this section along with old hands Ebdon and Dott. I think the winner of the probable Allen/Ding clash will win this section and on current form, as well as his liking for the venue, I’ll plump for Allen.
PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Mark Allen
WORTH A SMALL PUNT: Jack Lisowski/Peter Ebdon.
Judd Trump v Hammad Miah
Stuart Carrington v Liam Highfield
Liang Wenbo v Gareth Allen
Jimmy Robertson v Lu Ning
Mark Williams v Hamza Akbar
Tom Ford v Scott Donaldson
Kyren Wilson v Paul Davison
Mike Dunn v Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon
Gerard Greene v Michael Leslie
David Gilbert v Jason Weston
Yu De Lu v Michael Wasley
Marco Fu v Hatem Yassen
Mark King v Ross Muir
Ben Woollaston v Steven Hallworth
Zhou Yuelong v Craig Steadman
Shaun Murphy v Ashley Hugill
The main players in this section, Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy, like Bingham and Ding in the top section, have been handed draws against amateur players (the draw wasn’t done live this time), though it’s worth noting that Hammad Miah has beaten Judd in their only meeting, quite recently in a PTC where Miah finished the decider with an impressive century. Mark Williams is in this section too and at time of writing he is just about to play in the final of the General Cup in Hong Kong against Marco Fu, another who resides in this quarter. We also have Kyren Wilson who is knocking on the door of a place at the Masters in January, something which would have seemed highly unlikely a few months ago, also Dave Gilbert, finalist in the International Championship recently and another discovering some great form with a new cue and bags of ability. I fancy Judd to come unscathed from his section and reach the Quarter Final and try as I might to find a player other than Gilbert to oppose Murphy with, realistically I can’t. Of the two, I think by then Judd may have the wind in his sails at a venue that will bring back very happy memories for him, to set up a semi-final against the man he beat to become UK champion. But he is no value at all in the outright market.
PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Judd Trump
WORTH A SMALL PUNT: Marco Fu
Neil Robertson v Alex Taubman
Aditya Mehta v Sam Baird
Fergal O’Brien v Thor Chuan Leong
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Darryl Hill
Stephen Maguire v Jimmy White
Rory McLeod v Jamie Cope
Dark Mavis v Rhys Clark
Ken Doherty v Tony Drago
Jamie Burnett v Sanderson Lam
Alan McManus v Eden Sharav
Li Hang v Lee Walker
Ricky Walden v Itaro Santos
Rod Lawler v Daniel Wells
Ali Carter v Alfie Burden
Tian Pengfei v Ian Burns
John Higgins v Leo Fernandez
Once again, the two main seeds in this section have drawn amateur players from the *ahem* ‘hat’, nothing untoward going on here then. This section however I’d say is a little tougher for the newly crowned COC Neil Robertson and International Championship Champ John Higgins. The presence of Stephen Maguire and Dark Mavis in the top section and the likes of Ricky Walden and Ali Carter in the bottom one, mean that it’s quite likely that the seeded quarter final between the two recent winners will not happen. Walden has struggled of late, he did make the final of a recent Asian PTC but when you look at who he beat to get there, with the exception of Rob Milkins it wasn’t exactly a signal that he was returning to form, so I couldn’t back him here. Ali has a tough opener against Alfie Burden and knowing Ali as I do, I think his performance in that match as well as the result, will dictate if he can go deep in the championship. I keep being drawn back to Robertson here, I needed convincing that the changes he has made to his lifestyle hadn’t had a detrimental effect on his game and last week he proved it hadn’t, though the general feel was that the COC was a little limp in terms of quality. If he goes up against Higgins in the Quarter Finals, which is a medium sized ‘if’, I think that’s where he’ll fall in this. But this is a section which I think could throw up a semi-finalist against the odds.
PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: John Higgins
WORTH A SMALL PUNT: Ali Carter/Dark Mavis/Rory McLeod.
Barry Hawkins v Andy Hicks
Robin Hull v Zhang Anda
Anthony McGill v James Cahill
Luca Brecel v Hossein Vafaei Ayouri
Joe Perry v James Wattana
Robbie Williams v Mitchell Mann
Matt Selt v Zhang Yong
Kurt Maflin v Sean O’Sullivan
Dechawat Poomjaeng v Chris Melling
Ryan Day v Duane Jones
Mark Joyce v Barry Pinches
Michael White v Sydney Wilson
Xiao Guodong v Noppon Saengkham
Jamie Jones v Ian Glover
Cao Yupeng v Oli Lines
Mark Selby v Joe O’Connor
Guess what? The main two seeds in this section, namely Barry Hawkins and Mark Selby have both drawn amateurs! Here’s me thinking the seeded structure came in after the UK Championship! Wadda mistakea to makea! That darned *ahem* hat. Anyway, at this point I must say that the 14/1 on Andy Hicks to beat Barry Hawkins that is available is worth backing just to say you were there if it lands. It probably won’t but Hicks is no mug and won’t be phased by a big audience or arena and Barry isn’t exactly setting the world alight at the moment. As for Selby, I will eat the said hat if he doesn’t win either this, the Masters or the World this season. For me, when he is on song he is the best player currently active and he tends to start gargling and loosening up the vocal chords around this time of year, so suffice to say he’d be my pick for this section and indeed, the main event, I think the draw could have been a lot more difficult for him. In terms of the top bit, it would be against the current form book for Hawkins to come through, as fine a player as he is. I’d say there are better value options in Joe Perry and Marmite Matt Selt and perhaps a quarter final for Selt is very much on the cards in this section, but in terms of who will be playing in the semi finals, for me it has to be Selby.
PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Mark Selby.
WORTH A SMALL PUNT: Joe Perry/Matt Selt.
RECOMMENDED OUTRIGHT BETS: 3 Points on Mark Selby to win the UK Championship at 8/1. 1 Point Each Way on Mark Allen 22/1 and John Higgins 16/1. 1 point treble pays over 63/1 on all three to win their respective quarters.
RECOMMENDED BIG MATCH ACCA: 3 Points on a First Round Acca at Marathonbet that pays over 15/2 (Best Odds) on: Dark Mavis, Ken Doherty, John Higgins, Jamie Jones, Mark Williams, Mike Dunn, Mark King, Alan McManus, Mark Allen, Matt Selt and Mark Joyce.
RECOMMENDED SILLY PUNT: 1 Point on Andy Hicks to beat Barry Hawkins at 14/1.
RECOMMENDED SINGLES: 2 Points on each: Mitchell Mann (7/4), Chris Melling (11/4), Sanderson Lam (5/2) Hossein Vafaei Ayouri (9/4).
RECOMMENDED PUNTING DOUBLE: 2 Point Double on Rory McLeod and Sam Baird pays almost 3/1 at Marathonbet.
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P.S. I know it’s a seeded draw, a bit weighted for the top boys isn’t it?