Sunday sees the start of one of the highlights of the snooker calendar as The Masters gets under way from Alexandra Palace in London, with World Champion Mark Selby kicking things off against Shaun Murphy.
The Masters is probably now my second favourite tournament. It used to be the UK, but in spite of the fact that it produced a great final back in December (the only two session match of the tournament, incidentally), I think it has lost a lot of its charm. The Masters has remained largely unaltered and the format, like the World Championship, which is tried and trusted and is a favourite with snooker fans, prevails. In short, like the UK used to, it works.
The 16 top players in the world are competing for a huge £200,000 winners cheque and that means we are sure to see all of them giving it their best.
The form horses are of course Ronnie and Judd, who are again seeded to meet in the final. Other big players like Selby, Robbo and particularly Ding, really need to get their season underway after a relatively sedate opening half of it by all of them.
Those just under this elite five include players that are proven winners like Shaun Murphy, Mark Allen, Marco Fu, Stephen Maguire, John Higgins, Ali Carter, Ricky Walden, Stuart Bingham and Barry Hawkins. Which leaves just Joe Perry and Rob Milkins as the two players yet to have a major tournament success, but both have been knocking on the door for a while now.
As ever, the BBC are on hand with coverage, no doubt utilising Steve, JP and Ken at the venue to do some slapstick features. Disappointingly however they are not giving the evening matches a lot of coverage on the main channel and consequently we’ll be seeing most of the players who they consider we’d most like to watch playing in the afternoon when most people are at work.
I really don’t think it’s too much to ask to put a couple of hours on each night on BBC2, but hopefully the Red Button will have it on most nights. The alternative of course is Eurosport, who continue to work tirelessly to promote snooker, it’s entirely your choice which set of commentators you most like taking the piss out of or moaning about.
I’ll be watching this from start to finish anyway, making an arse dent in the sofa and drinking copious amounts of tea and hopefully keeping you up to date, or even dare I venture ‘entertained’ with things from a couch potato’s point of view, both on here and more instantly on Twitter. I’ll be sticking with the BBC in the afternoons as they continue to provide the most material to really take the proverbial out of. They are the gift that just keeps on giving to a satirist/piss-taker and like all the best sources of material, they do this without ever really knowing it.
I’ll preview this match by match and at the bottom of the post you will find the playing schedule, what more do you need? Get your place on the sofa, get the kettle on and enjoy the ride, we only get the BBC three times a year so it’s worth enjoying when we do. Here goes.
Click on the match for the head to head, courtesy of the magnificent and essential Cue Tracker website.
Ronnie stormed to Masters glory last season and comes here on the back of his UK success and Champion of Champions win (he calls it The Champions Cup for some unknown reason). He has also told everyone that his errmm ‘broken’ ankle is OK now so he won’t be wearing his slippers again this week. He returns to the place where he gave poor old Ricky a right pasting last season. After carelessly allowing the man still desperately searching for a decent nickname 39 points in the first frame, he won the next five 477-0 in an almost flawless display. To say Ricky needs a reversal of fortune to get anything out of this is rather an understatement. Of course you cannot expect Ronnie to do the same again, but you have to expect him to win with a bit in hand. Matches like that are hard for the player on the receiving end to blot out, particularly at the same venue and Ricky also lost 6-0 in the UK in December to Bingham before being beaten in the German Masters qualifiers, something tells me he’s struggling a bit for whatever reason and there was a rumour that he had an injury a month or so back so perhaps he’s not fully over that. One thing is certain, you do not want to be lining up in Ronnie’s back yard if your head isn’t on straight in front of a baying, rabidly froth-mouthed, murderous mob of shaved chimps eager to see blood spilt, or to be more specific, your blood. Remember that Ronnie is also on the brink of beating Hendry’s all-time century record and the audience, half of whom will be his famous mates, will be hoping they get to be there when it happens. In short, pray for Ricky.
Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 6-2.
Recommended Bet: 2 points on there being more than 1 century in the match at 11/8 with Bet365.
Two players that are very hard to split both in terms of their form and their head to heads. 10 meetings and they have won 5 each though it is Marco who has fared better in the bigger matches. I think Bingham is probably the most improved player of the last few years and he is now a main contender wherever he plays and has proved he has the bottle and the game to succeed on the big stage. Marco continues to be underrated but it’s a long time since he has won anything of note, but he is always a tough player in the early rounds and can produce some devastating stuff when the mood takes him, as he proved against John Higgins in a recent televised EPTC match where Higgins hardly got a shot. It’s a very tough call this one but on current form/gut feeling I have to side with Ballrun, but I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly confident pick.
Prediction: Bingham to win 6-4.
It’s sure to be a great reception that awaits The Captain on his return to the BBC events, by the way don’t miss his documentary on Eurosport on Monday evening. I know Ali was very disappointed at losing early in the UK as he wanted that to signal his big comeback to the sport after all his off the table problems (with due respect to the COC, it isn’t as big as this or the UK quite yet – 00o err missus). But The Masters is a decent substitute to signal your return and it will be great to see him playing in front of a packed crowd again. Barry comes fresh from making a 147 at Crondon Park as well as winning the first group, I don’t usually take Crondon into account when assessing this tournament as the events are poles apart, but he is obviously in decent form following what for him has been a bit of a ropey spell, particularly ‘that’ match against Nigel Bond in the UK which must have really put him off his Christmas turkey. The head to heads reveal a 9-1 advantage to Ali but they do tend to have close ones in the big events. Again, this isn’t a massively confident pick but I will side with The Captain to win a tight one given his dominance in their previous meetings.
Prediction: Carter to win 6-4.
Robbo is going through a bit of a lean spell lately and a big win is precisely what he needs to boost his confidence a bit. It reminds me a bit of Selby’s form last season so perhaps it’s not a bad thing and the season, like Selby’s did, will end on the ultimate high for him. Since winning in Wuxi at the start of the season and the following week losing the final in Australia to Judd he has been beaten by a lot of players that you’d normally expect him to wallop, as well as falling over the line against other much lower ranked players. Rob Milkins is having a bit of an up and down type of season and was whitewashed by Dotty at the UK following a good run in the International Championship and a final appearance in a German PTC. Rob can be a very dangerous opponent and memorably beat Neil at the Crucible in 2013 when the Aussie was many people’s tip for the title. This could well have all the hallmarks of a shock result if he gets going early, but Neil at his best usually finds a way to win. It remains to be seen if he can start motoring again in the second half of the season, I don’t think he’ll win this week but I do expect him to come through this one.
Prediction: Robertson to win 6-3.
Ding, Ding, Ding, where have you been this season? What have you been up to? Why haven’t we seen you turning up at the big events? Mrs SB has missed seeing you as you are one of her favourites and she wants to give you a big cuddle and squeeze your little dimply cheeks. He has only played 26 matches all season as opposed to his opponent’s 43, he’s been whitewashed by an amateur, pipped by James Cahill in the UK in a match reminiscent of his defeat to Michael Wasley at the Crucible, so where is it all going wrong this season for him? It’s very hard to put your finger on why Ding’s form seems to have eluded him, he’s not entering the PTC’s so presumably isn’t as match sharp as those who are and this kind of thing can come back and bite you on the arse if you aren’t careful, those pesky snooker gods don’t forgive easily and they damn sure as mustard do not forget. Perry on the other hand is playing very solidly and is closer than ever to lifting a big title. I think he’ll fancy the job here and on current form I’m going to take a chance that he can add to Ding’s continuing season of woe.
Prediction: Perry to win 6-5.
Recommended Bet: 2 points on Perry at 9/4 at Ladbrokes.
The Artist Formerly Known as John Higgins takes on Mark Allen in a match that I’m sure will split opinion on the betting front. For most of the season poor old John has been a right old misery and a shadow of his former self. Where once no ball was safe when he stuck his little tongue out, now he’s left looking bewildered as he rattles, jaws, bounces and bashes from a few feet. That said, just lately there are signs that he might be getting back into the groove. Apparently the fiercely loyal snooker clan in Scotland spotted something he was doing differently and since then he reckons he’s on the mend, he’s a huge price to win this outright if anyone is interested in that, it could be quite a coup if he’s not done winning just yet and is surely worth a bash as his price will plummet if he beats Allen. Mark was in great form earlier in the season but just lately you detect a mid-season dip might be occurring with disappointing performances in the COC and the UK. So one player is picking up some form and one might be in a dip, there’s only one way to go then.
Prediction: Higgins to win 6-3.
Recommended Bet: 2 points on Higgins at 6/4 generally.
Judd is in great form at the moment and is many people’s pick for the title this week. I think for the first time since he lost to Higgins in the Crucible final he now looks again like World Champion material and if he can keep this momentum he has going I expect big things of him in Sheffield. His comeback against Ronnie in the UK Final had the nation hooked and we were reminded once more who the entertainment crown will be passed on to when Ronnie eventually jacks it in. Snooker is lucky to have him. He beat Maguire 6-4 in the UK semi-finals but over the years it’s the Scot who has the upper hand in the head to heads. Maguire also comes fresh from his EPTC win in Lisbon, though he didn’t do too well at Crondon Park last week, despite beating Judd (sending a message perhaps?) and looking largely disinterested otherwise from what I saw. I’m going to go against the crowd on this one as I don’t think Judd will win this outright, I’m looking elsewhere for the winner and something inside me is telling me that Maguire might upset the odds here.
Prediction: Maguire to win 6-4.
Recommended Bet: 2 points on Maguire at 2/1 with Bet365.
This one is the curtain raiser on Sunday and usually the opening day produces its fair share of drama for the entertainment hungry BBC audience at home. World Champion Selby has a sound Masters pedigree but poor old Shaun has been feeling sick and he’s even been off his grub, so much so that he had to withdraw from the Championship League and their famous breakfasts, but word on the street is he’s over the worst and ready for battle. A look at their head to head record shows just how closely matched these two are, from 33 matches, Selby has won 16 and Murphy 15, with two draws. In terms of frames won it’s just as close, with Selby leading 117 to 115. These two old friends and rivals and one-time World Champs are as close as any other two players that I can think of when it comes to the stats. All this makes for what should be a cracking opener and you have to fancy that it will be close. It just has that feel about it to me. Sleeping giant Selby hasn’t yet really got going this season (that’s the baby’s fault) but surely it won’t be long until he does. I think this could be the week that the World Champion reminds us of why he is, ermm, the World Champion. I’ll be making The Jester my main selection for Masters glory.
Prediction: Selby to win 6-5.
Recommended Bet: 4 points on the winning margin being under 2.5 frames at 11/10 with Paddy Power.
I have also chosen the above bet for a new charity initiative that you can read about here.
Recommended Acca: 3 points on Robertson (-1.5), O’Sullivan (-2.5), Higgins (+2.5) and Perry (+2.5) pays almost 9/2 at Paddy Power.
Recommended Outright Bets: 3 points on Mark Selby to win the Masters at 9/1. 0.5 point each way on John Higgins at 50/1. 2 points on a Selby v O’Sullivan final at 8/1. 2 points on Joe Perry to win Quarter 3 at 8/1.
Order of Play:
Mark Selby v Shaun Murphy (Sunday January 11 at 1pm)
Stuart Bingham v Marco Fu (Sunday January 11 at 7pm)
Judd Trump v Stephen Maguire (Monday January 12 at 1pm)
Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins (Monday January 12 at 7pm)
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ricky Walden (Tuesday January 13 at 1pm)
Barry Hawkins v Ali Carter (Tuesday January 13 at 7pm)
Mark Allen v John Higgins (Wednesday January 14 at 1pm)
Ding Junhui v Joe Perry (Wednesday January 14 at 7pm)
Quarter-final one (O’Sullivan / Walden v Bingham / Fu): Thursday January 15 at 1pm
Quarter-final two (Hawkins / Carter v Robertson / Milkins): Thursday January 15 at 7pm
Quarter-final three (Ding / Perry v Allen / Higgins): Friday January 16 at 1pm
Quarter-final four (Trump / Maguire v Selby / Murphy): Friday January 16 at 7pm
Semi-final one: Saturday January 17 at 1pm
Semi-final two: Saturday January 17 at 7pm
Final: Sunday January 18