Selby sports his new designer boil on the poster this year.
Sunday sees the start of one of my favourite tournaments on the calendar, The Masters, from it’s new home of Alexandra Palace in that London. Whilst the atmosphere there is always lively, thankfully it won’t be anything like that darts circus that’s just packed up and left town. They’ll probably sell more packets of hard boiled sweets and cups of tea (none of that fancy modern-flavoured muck) than pints of lager, vodka red bull chasers and E-Cigs once the snooker crowd show up and long may that difference continue.
While there are those who aren’t that fond of this type of invitational event, I think they are an absolute must. This is the mid-season reward for a top 16 ranking place as is automatic qualification for The Crucible at the end of the season, if that weren’t the case, the ranking list would be even more irrelevant than it already is for all bar the end of season standings so I’m glad that this showpiece and the Crucible reward are still very much part of snooker’s make-up. Again, long may this continue.
Much will be made of two things this week. Firstly and inevitably, this sees the return of Ronnie O’Sullivan to the main stage. His lower profile outings in the run up have produced mixed fortunes, he lost to Stuart Carrington in the German Masters qualifiers in Wigan, looking quite rusty, but then hit back at Crondon Park this week with a 100% winning run to snatch the first group of the Championship League, playing some very impressive stuff in the process and smashing through the 800 career century breaks barrier. Whether he can bring that game to this very different stage is the big question, if he does, he’s going to be very hard to stop.
The other big talking point will undoubtedly be the toilet breaks. The new rules on pissing and shitting come into force here and anyone seen to be taking one dump shot too many will be landed with a fine. So as well as holding their nerves, the players now have to hold their bladders too. I don’t know about you, but if I drank as much water as some of them do in the hot arena to stay hydrated I’d be struggling to hold it in if the frames went scrappy. I’ve no doubt that the aforementioned Rocket will flout the new rules with his usual healthy disrespect for authority and if he does, I for one will applaud him. It’s an absolutely stupid decision and one which will again bring the discussion at the BBC back to anything other than the snooker itself.
The whole thing kicks off with the holder Shaun Murphy up against Mark Allen. The other day, some of you may know that I ran this whole tournament to a poll vote on Twitter, playing out the matches on the basis of the poll results and attracting over 3500 votes in all. Predictably perhaps and despite me pleading with people to not just vote for their favourite player, Ronnie won it, beating Robbo in the final. But one surprise earlier in the exercise for me was the huge margin of Murphy’s poll rating over Allen. If Twitter is right, this one will be over in the blink of an eye and Murphy will coast to an easy victory. My guess is that on this occasion, the social media machine may have called it wrong.
So basically below I am laying down the gauntlet to the social media giant, it’s SB v Twitter, Judgement Day.
Either way, it will be interesting to see if the results pan out anything like the snooker community predicted en masse. Below, as well as a bit of blurb on each match I’ll list what Twitter predicted and whether I agree or not. Either way, let’s hope for a great week on the baize and not too much focus on the toilet habits of the current top 16 players in the sport, snooker after all, is much better than that. It’s the potting, not the potty, that should be our focus.
For a look at all the head to head records in this tournament on one handy page, head to the excellent Cue Tracker link by clicking here.
Shaun Murphy v Mark Allen – Sunday January 10 at 1pm
The first match of the Masters, beamed live to the freezing and rain soaked UK via the BBC usually serves us up an appetizer for the main course later in the week and I can’t really see this match being too much of an exception. Murphy has a decent advantage on the head to heads and seems to have Allen’s measure in the big events. You could argue that when it comes to the matches that really carry weight, Murphy has a 100% record. I find this quite odd really as Allen is more than a match for the reigning champion and if I was bracketing players together in terms of ability I’d have these two pretty close to each other. But the record is there for all to see and for me that means I have to side with Murphy, but my guess is that the BBC will get the curtain raising drama they want and I wouldn’t be surprised if this went all the way.
Twitter Predicted: Easy win for Murphy.
SB predicts: Very close, Murphy to edge it.
Barry Hawkins v Joe Perry – Monday January 11 at 7pm
Very little to choose between these two both in terms of ability and career records and it’s quite surprising that they haven’t played each other more often in anything that really matters than they have over the past decade. Joe holds the aces in terms of head to heads but you have to factor in that most of these are on the small stage and that this is in reality the biggest match that the two have ever played against each other. In terms of winning to losing matches this season there is very little to choose between them and they have both had a warm up at Crondon this week with Barry being knocked out in Group 2. This is very much a ‘gut-feeling’ type of match and again I suspect that there won’t be much in it. Gun to head, it’s Hawkins for me, although his form hasn’t been great he’ll probably turn it around at some point.
Twitter Predicted: Close one, but Perry edges it.
SB predicts: A narrow win for Hawkins.
Judd Trump v Stephen Maguire – Monday January 11 at 1pm
These two meet at this stage for the second consecutive season, Maguire last year running out a 6-4 winner. Indeed, Mags holds a commanding head to head lead over Judd, although it’s different in character to the Murphy and Allen profile, in that they have beaten each other more than once in really big events, so again, like the previous two matches you would expect this one to go very close to the distance. Maguire is a player that usually tends to start playing his best stuff at around this point in the season so that makes him very dangerous and more than capable of going all the way this week. Judd had a nice warm up at Crondon and followed Ronnie into the final stages of that by winning Group 2. I’m going to stick with a horses for courses theory here and take a punt that the result this year will be similar, if not identical, to last season.
Twitter Predicted: Judd to book his second round place.
SB predicts: Maguire to repeat his win at the same stage last season.
Neil Robertson v Marco Fu – Wednesday January 13 at 7pm
Strange things happen in Wigan, I once saw a pie shop there that sold Meat and Potato, as well as Potato and Meat pies, when I enquired what the difference was and why the prices differed, the man inside told me there was no difference and looked at me like I had three heads. I’d mistakenly thought it had something to do with ratios, but no, this was Wigan. Anyway, I digress, my point is that in January Robbo strode there like a prize peacock after wiping away the opposition at the UK with a display as good as you will see anywhere, he even threw in a maximum in the final for good measure. The way he demolished Selby there was something I thought I’d never see, he looked clinical, ruthless and just, well, just Robbo. Then he gets to Wigan for the German Masters qualifiers and gets walloped by amateur Ashley Hugill. Talk about coming back to earth with a bump. Here he faces Marco, who holds a slender advantage over the slender Aussie in the head to heads, which may surprise some. Again though, lots of these meetings have been in minor events, though Fu did beat Neil in the final in Australia a couple of seasons back so when it comes to the big stage he’ll not have anything to fear. But I suspect Robbo has his eye on a Grand Slam this season and I’d be surprised if he fell at the first fence here and I suspect we’ll see him in the Final on Sunday.
Twitter Predicted: Easy win for Robbo.
SB predicts: Robbo with at least a frame to spare.
Mark Selby v Ricky Walden – Tuesday January 12 at 7pm
Most snooker enthusiasts will already be salivating at the prospect of a quarter final between The Jester and The Rocket next Thursday afternoon. It remains one of the best, if not the best, rivalries that the sport has to offer and I for one would like to see them lock horns again for the first time since ‘that world final’ to see if the scars Selby inflicted on O’Sullivan that Bank Holiday weekend have truly healed. If it happens, I suspect that the winner may go on to face Robertson on Sunday. But first off Selby must take care of Ricky Walden, a player who has suffered an amazing slump in form over the last few months. As you might expect, Selby holds the aces in the head to heads winning most, if not all, of the bigger ones. Just on recent form alone you’d have to be a very brave punter to back against Selby winning here so I’m going to vote with the majority on this one.
Twitter Predicted: A Selby procession.
SB predicts: Selby to win with a bit in hand.
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Williams- Tuesday January 12 at 1pm
Whatever you think of Ronnie, tournaments have more of a buzz when he is in them. His hint that he quite likes the idea of making 1000 centuries before hanging up his waistcoat will have his fans in a goosebump inducing frenzy, let’s enjoy him while we still can as he doesn’t grace us with his presence that often anymore. Here he faces old sparring partner MJW, who has been playing some decent stuff the last year or two despite trying to tell us all that he’s a shadow of his former self. His record against Ronnie, for whatever reason, makes pretty grim reading. He did however beat him for the first time in 12 years in 2014, after a series of beatings in events big and small in all corners of the globe. I’d really like this one to live up to the billing, Ronnie did look very sharp towards the end at Crondon and I suspect he’s probably quite happy to be coming back to play a familiar face playing a familiar game who he has beaten so often. I’d take Ronnie to win this 6-3 or 6-4, to set up the tie that we all want to see in the next round, well apart from Ricky and Willo that is.
Twitter Predicted: Ronnie in a canter.
SB predicts: Ronnie to start with a solid display.
John Higgins v Liang Wenbo – Wednesday January 13 at 1pm
Liang Wenbo has never beaten John Higgins in a professional match. He got close in 2012 at The Crucible but bottled his numerous chances against an under-par Wizard who would be walloped next round by a retiring Stephen Hendry. Other than that, every match they have played has been very one-sided, seven in all, with Higgins leading the frame tally 41-16 with 9 of Liang’s frames coming in that match at Sheffield. So anyone predicting an upset here is not so much swimming against a tide of evidence as walking head on into a hurricane. Despite this, I am sure there will be those who will see Higgins’ frankly hapless display this week at Crondon, his admittance that he only played for half an hour over Christmas, his poor recent Masters record coupled with Liang’s elevation to ranking event runner-up in the UK as a sign that this could reverse the trend, but I’m not one of them. I suspect Liang will get closer to him than he usually does, but I think John will have enough, even in a rusty locker, to close the match out if it gets tight.
Twitter Predicted: Higgins, but not without a scare.
SB predicts: Liang threatens an upset but Higgins to just scrape through.
Stuart Bingham v Ding Junhui – Sunday January 10 at 7pm
We’ll start this one with another fascinating fact. World Champion Bingham has won all of the last 7 meetings between the pair, most of them being in the period before Ding’s rather inexplicable slump in form. The last time China’s finest managed to beat Stuart was in a decider at The Crucible nearly five years ago; Bingham holding a commanding head to head lead. Despite this, the World Champion isn’t even on the poster for the tournament, yet his opponent, who was last seen trying to hit a bulls arse with a shovel and missing, is there for all to see. I do wonder when some of the shrewdies will see just how much Ding has lost his way lately, it’s not just his game, his whole demeanour has the look of a man who has given the sport his best and perhaps has very little more left to give. I may be wrong, but until there are some signs that he’s going to come back stronger than before, you just can’t back him to beat the current World Champion, who still remains underrated by some who should really know better.
Twitter Predicted: Close, but Ballrun to prevail.
SB predicts: World Champion to gain revenge for being bumped off the poster by his opponent.
RECOMMENDED OUTRIGHT AND FIRST ROUND MATCH BETS:
2 points on Mark Selby to win The Masters at 9/1. 2 points on the final to be O’Sullivan v Robertson at 9/1 and 2 points on the final to be Selby v Robertson at 14/1.
3 point acca pays almost 5/1 on Murphy, Robertson, Selby, O’Sullivan and Higgins add Hawkins and Bingham for a 2 point 19/1 sevenfold and add Maguire for a 1 point 53/1 eightfold at Marathon Bet.
2 point treble on all these three matches having more than 9 frames – Murphy/Allen, Hawkins/Perry and Trump/Maguire pays over 8/1.
2 points on Murphy to beat Allen 6-5 at 15/2, 1 point on Allen to beat Murphy 6-5 at 17/2.
Open an account and bet below at Marathon Bet by clicking the banner.
For reference, Twitter had the later rounds as Quarter Finals: Murphy > Perry, Robbo > Trump, Ronnie > Selby, Higgins > Bingham. Semi Finals: Robbo > Murphy, Ronnie > Higgins. Final: Ronnie > Robbo.