The value of each opening match
Monday sees the beginning of a new era in snooker, that might sound quite melodramatic given that on the face of it this may look to some like just another round of qualifiers for just another Chinese event, but this is phase one of Bazza’s masterplan for the season, namely the much discussed and debated flat structure qualifiers.
It’s great to see the excellent South West Snooker Academy/Capital Venue back on board with World Snooker and it’s Gloucester that re-opens its doors to play host to the 128 players who each have to win just one match to board the plane to China to play in the Wuxi Classic next month and be assured of at least £3000 in prize money.
To put this in perspective, take a look at this list of prize money earnings from the last two seasons. Not the top bit, but the ones propping the list up. Some of these players will earn more from winning their first match of the season than they have earned from snooker in two years and lots can earn more than they earned last season in just one match for what is a relatively minor event on the calendar. Well you can call me old-fashioned, you can call me Susan if you so wish, you can even call me a cab, but I think this is a lot fairer than what has gone before and long may it continue.
The main gripes are from some of the players, though not all, nearer the top of that list. Some feel that the work they have done to get into the top 16 in the sport should guarantee them some protection. The truth is, that they still have it. The top 16 still have their earning potential heightened by appearing at the Masters and being seeded automatically to the Crucible next year as well as the other events which have decided not to get on board with Bazza’s philosophy. Tournament winners also now have the lucrative Champion of Champions event to look forward to, so the boys at the top shouldn’t be seen serving fries to top up their income just yet.
Add to this that events are still seeded, so the higher up the rankings you are, the more likely you are to have a more favourable draw. In short, the best players will earn the most and the worst will earn the least, sometimes nothing. But for me the big stride forward is that all players now have a better chance to earn a decent living and when they win a match they get paid, as it should be in any professional occupation or job of work.
Despite this, there are some absentees for this event and that means that some of the amateurs that performed well in Q-School get to make up the numbers and possibly stumble upon a very welcome payday themselves. The same is true of the Australian Open qualifiers which immediately follow these, but they are still structured in the old format and the earning potential is not quite as healthy, hence the fact that far more of the top players have chosen to sit that one out, in my view quite understandably given the long season ahead.
Anyway, for now it’s Wuxi and for me personally it would be great to see my pals Martin O’Donnell and Allan Taylor win their respective matches. Martin faces Gerard Greene and if he wins that he could be lining up against Ronnie in China (yes, you read that right, Ronnie in China, for the Rocket has decided to enter this). The Assassin in the meantime makes his professional debut on Tuesday morning against Mark King so the best of luck to him too, we’ve followed his journey through the ranks from the beginning and it’s great that his hard work has paid off. I’ve instructed him to change the arrow directions to the toilets at the venue to gain that vital advantage over his bog-trotting opponent, so let’s see if that works.
I’ll be staggering the betting previews below but you can find all you need to know on the betting front at blog partners and the undisputed kings of snooker betting Apollobet, who are kicking off their new season with their brand new site and lots more to come on the snooker front.
You can find their prices for these matches here and you can open an account with them by clicking here or the banner below.
Prize Money for Wuxi Classic
Last 16 £8,000
Last 32 £6,500
Last 64 £3,000
Last 128 Nothing
High break (Finals) £2,000
High break (Qualifiers) Nothing
Total £467,000 (£400,000)
Ricky – no certainty to be on the plane.
10am (click match for head to head record)
Ricky Walden v Pankaj Advani
Jimmy White v Lee Page
Mike Dunn v John Astley
Robert Milkins v Robbie Williams
Tom Ford v Scott Donaldson
Liu Chuang v Gareth Green
Jimmy Robertson v Ryan Clark
Graeme Dott v Christopher Keogan
The holder Ricky Walden could have hoped for an easier opener and it’s no sure thing that the Crucible semi-finalist will be boarding the plane to China to defend the title he won 12 months ago. He faces the very dangerous Pankaj Advani who had a great first season last campaign and will be hoping to build on that success here, Ricky might still be a little weary after his Crucible adventure and I’d say Advani is probably worth a punt to knock him out. The pickings in the other matches in this session aren’t exactly stand out but I’d expect Jimmy White to open his season account with a win over returning pro Lee Page, Lee came through Q-School but looking back at his PTC results over the last couple of seasons there is little to suggest that he can upset the Whirlwind, who came within a match of making the Crucible most recently and has at least been keeping his eye in with the Legends gig since. John Astley is a very nice player and any hint of rustiness from Mike Dunn might well be exposed, John is on the tour by virtue of his PTC position last season which was his first foray into the professional game, he more than held his own. Rob Milkins plays at his home venue and that alone will give him the advantage over Robbie Williams you would think, Milkins is at the Academy almost as often as the staff so he can make home advantage tell there. Of the other matches, I’d expect Tom Ford to come through against Scott Donaldson and wins for Liu Chuang, Jimmy Robertson and Graeme Dott against opponents that they would each need a bad day at the office to lose to, even at this early stage of the season.
Selections: Advani, White, Dunn, Milkins, Ford, Chuang, Robertson, Dott.
Recommended Bets: (Best Prices) White (1/2), Robertson (4/9), Milkins (4/11), Chuang (4/9) – 4 x 2 point singles and a 1 point acca (Best Price just under 7/2 at Bet Victor). 1 point on Advani at 9/4 with Hills.
2.30pm (click match for head to head record)
Rumours of his demise may be premature.
Mark Williams v Ross Muir
Barry Pinches v Liam Highfield
Jack Lisowski v Hammad Miah
Ryan Day v Noppon Saengkham
Anthony Hamilton v Jamie O’Neill
Yu De Lu v Sanderson Lam
Stuart Bingham v Li Yan
Mark Selby v Andrew Pagett
Much was being made towards the end of last season of the supposed demise of MJW, his first round exit at the hands of Michael White put the cherry on the cake of a season he would probably rather forget. He’s back though and as keen as ever to silence the doubters, he’s been putting the hours in on the practice table since and I expect him to make a winning start to this campaign against Q-School graduate Ross Muir from Scotland, who plays with a glove on his bridge hand. Liam Highfield is a player that I think might make giant strides this season, towards the end of the last he was beginning to show some real form and signs that his game is clicking into place, if this momentum continues I would expect him to beat the experienced Barry Pinches. Jack Lisowski has just returned from a boys bonding session in Las Vegas so it’s clear he has not had his mind on the day job of late, Hammad Miah is highly thought of by his peers and his Q-School success was widely predicted by some shrewdies in the know, he’s possibly worth a punt here just on the basis that Jack might be suffering a Vegas hangover, except without Mike Tyson and the tiger and all that stuff. Jamie O’Neill is another regular at the SWSA and if rumours of Anthony Hamilton’s neck injury lately are true then he is another that might just spring a surprise here. Ryan Day and Mark Selby will expect to progress, Day plays Thailand’s Noppon who has only won just 4 from 21 matches in competitive play at this level while world Number 1 Selby faces MJW’s verbal sparring partner and sweet shop owner Andrew Pagett, another of the PTC beneficiaries from last season. Padge talks a good game and indeed did very well in spurts last season, making the semi-final of the Belgian event only to be beaten by Mark Allen, he’s also played at the Crucible of course dressed as a circus ringmaster. It would be great to see our pal Sandi Lam turn over Yu De Lu, but Yu’s form is very solid lately and he only missed out on a Crucible appearance by one frame so it’s a very tough ask for Slam, but I wish him the very best of luck. Finally, the recently married Ballrun Bingham faces Li Yan, who has only won once in the last ten starts.
Selections: MJW, Highfield, Miah, Day, O’Neill, Delu, Bingham, Selby.
Recommended Bet: Highfield (5/6) and O’Neill (11/8 Apollobet) 2 x 1 point singles and a 1 point double pays best just over 10/3.
Morning and Afternoon Acca: 3 points at just on 9/4 at BetVictor on Dott, Robertson, MJW, Bingham and Selby.
7pm (click match for head to head record)
Ian Burns v Joel Walker
Matthew Selt v Chen Zhe
Ben Woollaston v Dylan Mitchell
Michael White v Sam Baird
Cao Yupeng v Paul Davison
Barry Hawkins v Simon Bedford
Marco Fu v Daniel Wells
Steve Davis v James Cahill
The Hendry Clan are back
The evening session is possibly most notable for the pairing at the bottom. Six times world champion Steve Davis takes on new boy to the tour James Cahill, so what? You may ask, well young James just happens to be the nephew of a certain seven times world champion who hails from Scotland that’s what, yes, we have another from Clan Hendry in the professional ranks (you can hear Blackpool lad James’s reaction to making the tour by winning the European Under-21 Championship here - apologies in advance for the interviewer who seems to think that there is a tournament called The British Open and that Marco Fu is one of the biggest names in snooker). Steve still gives it his all but admits to only really putting the hours in these days for the bigger events, however his experience alone could stand him in good stead in these flatter events and like Jimmy White, he might be an unlikely beneficiary of this system as the season progresses. Ian Burns won ‘Rookie of the Season’ recently at the World Snooker Awards bash and he faces Joel walker who he narrowly beat in the World Championship qualifiers a couple of months ago, Burns was very much under the radar in having a fine season last time and it remains to be seen how he handles his new status in the spotlight, but his game is solid and I’d expect him to be able to do this. Matt Selt will hope to hit the ground running after his appearance at the Crucible, Hendry’s best mate faces Chen Zhe who has only actually played 6 competitive matches in 2013, Selt will and should be confident of a win. Another eye catcher is the battle between Michael White and Sam Baird, Michael will hope to avoid ‘doing a Jamie Jones’ this season after his Crucible adventure, but SWSA barman Sam is more than capable of bringing the young Welshman down to earth with a bump if he’s a bit wobbly. Cao Yupeng beat Paul ‘Snowy’ Davison 5-2 around this time last year in the Australian Open so those who believe in the old adage of history repeating itself will be backing the impressive Chinese player and SWSA homeboy there. World Championship Runner-Up Barry Hawkins faces the only player to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan last season Simon Bedford, Barry is another like Milkins who can be seen plying his trade in Gloucester almost as regularly as the cleaner and surely his new found fame will lead to bigger and better things this season, along with Marco Fu and the improving Ben Woollaston, he should progress to Round 2 in China with no real problems unless rustiness has kicked in.
Selections: Burns, Selt, Woollaston, White, Yupeng, Hawkins, Fu, Davis.
Recommended Bet: 1 point acca on Selt, Woollaston, Hawkins, Fu and Davis pays 4/1 at BetVictor.
Go on moi saaaan
10am (click match for head to head record)
Nigel Bond v Chris Norbury
Rory McLeod v Sean O’Sullivan
Mark King v Allan Taylor
Martin Gould v Ashley Carty
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Reanne Evans
Neil Robertson v Mohamed Khairy
Dave Gilbert v Jak Jones
Alan McManus v Darryl Hill
For regular followers of the blog this session is all about one man, he’s the blondest snooker player of them all and unlike Robbo it’s all natural, Allan Taylor makes his professional debut in this session against Mark King. Luckily enough I also have a golden rule which I only seldom break and that’s to ‘never bet on a match with Mark King in it’ and I am happy to report that I won’t be breaking it again here. Can Allan win? Of course he can, he’s a cracking player with a great temperament, but King is tough so his task will be too. Best of luck mate, we are all behind you. There isn’t actually a lot on the betting front in this session that takes my eye, Neil Robertson, Alan McManus and Martin Gould should all win against opponents all playing the biggest match of their collective careers so far, but there is very little in the way of value out there on those three. Rory McLeod takes on Sean O’Sullivan, who by the end of his first pro season last time was beginning to find his feet. Rory beat The Storm 5-3 in their only meeting to date last year and again this promises to be a close one. Regulars will know how highly I continue to rate Dave Gilbert, he’s been a bit off the radar this past 12 months after a great season the year before, he faces Q-School graduate and returning pro Jak Jones of Wales who won their only previous meeting. As well as Jak has done to get back on the tour he doesn’t beat players of Gilbert’s standard very often lately so I’d stick with the Tamworth man in that one. That leaves the improving Thai player Thepchaiya Un-Nooh against Reanne Evans, they have played twice and Un-Nooh has won twice but neither have been easy, Reanne comes fresh from a respectable showing at Q-School but given the Thai players improvement of late you would have to just narrowly side with him there but it would be no shock if Reanne got the win. Finally, Nigel Bond faces another returning pro in Chris Norbury who grabbed the last place from the PTC Order of Merit list. There is no doubt that Bond is a fading force these days and I’d say if there was going to be a shock in this session that would be it, Norbury had a few eye-catching results last season and could have had a worse draw.
Selections: Norbury, McLeod, TAYLOR (GO ON), Gould, Un-Nooh, Robertson, Gilbert, McManus.
Recommended Bet: 2 point treble at just under 6/4 with Bet 365 on Gould, Gilbert and McManus.
2.30pm (click match for head to head record)
Jamie Cope v Zhang Anda
Jamie Burnett v Andrew Rogers
Ding Junhui v Aditya Mehta
John Higgins v Adam Wicheard
Anthony McGill v Vinnie Calabrese
Dechawat Poomjaeng v Darren Cook
Dominic Dale v Mitchell Travis
Peter Ebdon v Chris Wakelin
Poomjaeng – Crackers.
Probably the stand out match in this session sees Ding Junhui taking on India’s Aditya Mehta, who will be hoping to go one better than his fellow countryman Advani who lost on the final black yesterday. After a disappointing World Championship in which he was many people’s fancy to nab the title it remains to be seen if Ding has been putting the hours in, if he hasn’t Mehta will be a very difficult opponent for him and there is every chance that he could cause an upset, my guess is he may be the better prepared of the two. John Higgins also makes an early start to the season after a largely forgettable season last time, though he did of course still win a ranking title. He faces Adam Wicheard, who was last seen in Q-School 3, where he was forced to retire from his final match because his cue snapped (really). It’s tough enough lining up against John without having to either play with a new cue or play with one that has been in for repair so you’d have to fancy Higgins there. The only pair with a head to head record are Cope and Anda, with Anda being one of Cope’s few victims last season, Jamie seems to be a shadow of the player he was and is suffering from a condition that makes him shake on the shot, he’s not one to put the mortgage on until that mends itself. Jamie Burnett should coast home against a player that by all accounts is better at pool than snooker and only really gets into this by virtue of a few mediocre wins in Q-School, Jaybee should win that one with his hands tied behind his back in fairness. Aussie Vinnie Calabrese returns to the tour and he’s shown form in the past, he faces Ant McGill in what could be a close one, but McGill is on the up and will be disappointed to lose that one. Darren Cook had some good wins in Q-School and he faces Crucible funnyman Poomjaeng, when he’s not clapping himself or generally being zany, Poomy can play a bit. He isn’t the most orthodox of players and it can look messy when it goes wrong but his results last season speak for themselves and you’d have to fancy him coming through that one. Dom Dale’s form at the back end of last season was as good as it’s been in a decade and he should see off Mitchell Travis who comes here sharp from Q-School where he had some decent wins without qualifying and one player that did make it to the pro ranks Chris Wakelin faces Peter Ebdon who was last seen boring Graeme Dott to the verge of suicide at the Crucible. I will admit to knowing absolutely nothing about Chris so it would be foolish of me to make a prediction in that one, all I will say is that he’ll know all about life as a pro if Ebdon has his game head on. The poor lad.
Selections: Anda, Burnett, Mehta, Higgins, McGill, Poomjaeng, Dale, Ebdon.
Recommended Bet: 5 points on Burnett at 2/7 with Stan James. 2 points on Mehta at 9/2 with Bet Victor and 1 point on Anda at 5/4 with Stan James.
7pm (click match for head to head record)
Xiao Guodong v Andrew Norman
Mark Joyce v Li Hang
Judd Trump v Phil O’Kane
Mark Allen v Michael Leslie
Peter Lines v Sydney Wilson
Andrew Higginson v Patrick Einsle
Liang Wenbo v Fraser Patrick
Michael Wasley W/O Ronnie O’Sullivan
Judd – not been practising
With the withdrawal of the world champion this session now has a rather less exciting look to it but the consolation prize isn’t bad as Judd Trump and Mark Allen are both involved. Judd plays Phil O’Kane who did well enough in Q-School to justify his invite, Phil will be delighted to have the chance to just play Judd but beating him, even with his admission that he hasn’t been practising is a really tough ask. The Vegas boy could have had it a whole lot tougher. Mark Allen plays Michael Leslie who only won one match in the whole of last season, it would be a shock if he were to double that tally here. Andrew Norman can usually be seen around the SWSA with either a binbag, a chair or any manner of other items in his hands, he works like a trojan there and despite being surrounded by snooker he says he hardly ever practices, despite this his showing in the PTC’s last season was enough for him to get back on the tour after a year out, he’s more than capable of beating Xiao Guodong on home turf. Mark Joyce was one of then most improved players of last season winning a lot more matches than he lost and beating some big names along the way, he faces returning pro Li Hang who lately has been most familiar as a wildcard in the Chinese events, Joyce likes the venue (he won the Pink Ribbon there) and I think will open his season with a win. Another I feel should win with a little to spare is Andrew Higginson who plays Patrick Einsle, the German player has looked out of his depth in the past in the pro ranks and there is little to suggest a major turn in fortunes just yet. Fraser Patrick came through Q-School at the final time of asking and will be match sharp as he lines up against Liang Wenbo, Liang is very inconsistent and that one could produce a surprise. Finally, SB Classic regular Syd Wilson takes on Leeds pro Peter Lines. Peter is fairly solid when playing players ranked lower than himself and again I would have to side with the more experienced player at this level there.
Selections: Norman, Joyce, Trump, Allen, Lines, Higginson, Wenbo.
Recommended Bet: 2 point treble on Joyce, Lines and Higginson pays over 6/4 at Apollobet.
10am (click match for head to head record)
Jamie Jones v David Grace
Adam Duffy v Tony Drago
Matthew Stevens v Zak Surety
Ali Carter v Elliot Slessor
Alfie Burden v Stuart Carrington
Rod Lawler v Lu Haotian
Marcus Campbell v Craig Steadman
James Wattana v Gary Wilson
Slessor – potential banana skin?
2013 so far has not been a great year for either Jamie Jones or David Grace, they have each won just one match since the turn of the year and Grace ended last season on a pretty poor run of results. Jones’s fall from grace since breaking through at the Crucible in 2012 is hard to understand, but somewhere along the way he lost his game. An evenly matched one that on current form and the winner will get a much needed early boost. Tony Drago played pretty well in the World Qualifiers and beat Adam Duffy in this event last season 5-3, Duffy is another that struggled at the back end of last season and I’d side with Drago there as he’ll obviously be itching to make the venue. Two SB Classic stalwarts take on two more illustrious opponents next and I would give Zak Surety and Elliot Slessor outside chances against Matthew Stevens and Ali Carter respectively. Out of the two I suspect Surety might go closest as Matthew probably hasn’t picked up a cue since losing at the Crucible to Marco Fu and Zak is sharp from Q-School, Elliot is a decent prospect too and ran Ding close in a PTC last season, he made it through Q-School in lightning quick time and will be up for the challenge, no easy pickings for the Captain. Alfie Burden will expect to progress against returning pro Stuart Carrington, but the two have had two close tussles each winning a decider back in 2008, perhaps another close one beckons. Next up the promising Lu Haotian takes on Rod Lawler, Lu has turned many heads in China and although he looks about 8 years old he seems to have a game that is capable of maturing, but I don’t think he will be able to handle Rod personally. Marcus Campbell is usually pretty reliable when faced with a lower ranked player and his form at the back end of last season suggests that he will able to hold off Craig Steadman and finally another returning pro Gary Wilson takes on James Wattana, James is another that tends to breeze through the early rounds but Gary is one of the more dangerous new professionals and has the experience that maybe some of the others lack, I fancy a shock there.
Selections: Grace, Drago, Surety, Carter, Burden, Lawler, Campbell, Wilson.
Recommended Bet: 3 x 1 point singles and a 1 point treble on Grace, Drago and Wilson (treble pays best price over 11/1 at Apollobet). 1 point on Surety at 4/1 with Paddy Power and 1 point on Slessor at 9/2 with Sportingbet.
2.30pm (click match for head to head record)
Tian Pengfei v Luca Brecel
Shaun Murphy v Alex Davies
Fergal O’Brien v Ben Harrison
Kurt Maflin v Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon
Ken Doherty v Joe Swail
Joe Perry v Kyren Wilson
Michael Holt v David Morris
Gerard Greene v Martin O’Donnell
Emm Oh Deeee Emm Oh Deee Emm Oh Deee
The final set of matches again has a distinct SB Classic feel to it with the 2012 Champion Martin O’Donnell and the 2013 runner-up Kyren Wilson both in action, as well as regulars Ben Harrison and Alex Davies. The MO’D has already beaten his opponent Gerard Greene in his first season as a professional and I’m confident that he will do the same again. He was beginning to look a lot more settled at the end of last season and I think he’ll do better this season with that first year behind him. Alex Davies returns to the professional ranks with a baptism of fire and only the brave would take him to turn over Shaun Murphy, who must be desperate to get his hands on a trophy again after quite a gap for a player as good as he is. Ben Harrison might be listing the baulk cushion as his best friend come teatime tomorrow as he faces Fergal O’Brien, tough as teeth and hard to scrape off the table, he tends to also start seasons pretty well. Kurt Maflin got married last weekend and it sounds like they had a right old time of it, he obviously anticipated being shitfaced as World Snooker allowed him to put his match back to the final session, he faces Thanawhat who is an in and out type of player but very dangerous, I fancy that one to go to a decider. Another possible close affair sees Ken Doherty up against his pal Joe Swail, Joe nearly pulled off a miraculous qualifying stunt to get to the Crucible while still technically an amateur and form like that I think will see him get past his old sparring partner. Davy Morris continues the Irish theme and fresh from Q-School takes on Michael Holt, it’s a big ask for Morris this on his return to the pro ranks against one of the more consistent performers in the qualifying rounds. I’m going to predict another shock in this round and that is Kyren Wilson, he beat Joe Perry 4-0 in a PTC in 2011 and for me is another returning professional that could cause a few upsets this season, I did think he’d be a slightly better price than he is though. Finally, young Luca Brecel starts his season off against the frustratingly inconsistent Tian Pengfei, it would be nice to see Luca kick on this year and if Tian starts playing silly buggers again this could be another venue on the cards for the boy with the lovely smile, I certainly hope so.
Selections: Brecel, Murphy, O’Brien, Maflin, Swail, Wilson, Holt, O’Donnell.
Recommended Bet: 2 points on Swail (5/4 Corals) and 2 points on O’Donnell (5/4 Stan James).
Recommended Wednesday Acca: Burden, Campbell, Lawler, O’Brien and Holt pays just on 6/1 at Corals, 2 points on that.