UK CHAMPIONSHIP SNOOKER: The UK Championship sees 128 players gather at the York Barbican for a two week shootout for a top prize of £170,000. Along with the World Snooker Championship and The Masters, the UK Championship is part of snooker’s triple-crown. When prestige and money meet, you can be sure the world’s best will be in attendance.
While the snooker world is no stranger to the occasional upset, witness 17 year old Yan Bingtao’s near win at the Northern Ireland Open last weekend, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see such variety at the Barbican.
Cream Rises To The Top
A cursory read through the UK Championship’s role of honour is revealing: Selby, Robertson, O’Sullivan, Robertson, Selby, Trump, and Higgins. While the beaten finalists echo the same: O’Sullivan, Wenbo, Trump, Selby, Murphy, Allen. Aside from the very occasional bolter, the latter stages of the UK Championship are the domain of snooker’s best players. At the Barbican, the cream rises to the top.
One of the main reasons for this, aside from the tournament’s very motivating pay-day and high profile platform, is that each round, up to the final, plays to the best of 11 frames rather than the more typical best of seven. This allows the pedigree player to exact their stronger skill set over lower ranked opponents in the early rounds, even if they happen to hit the first few frames cold.
It’s a hard tournament to win, and it’s extremely competitive. This is characterised by the fact that the title hasn’t been defended since 1996. Suitably, five time champion Stephen Hendry was the last to defend it, winning three on the spin from ‘94 to ’96.
History vs Form
If our betting approach was based purely on historical success, then there’s only one winner. Were Ronnie O’Sullivan to win this year, he would surpass Hendry and join Steve Davis in being UK Champion a record six times. Is it likely? On the face of it, O’Sullivan has both form and history. He played superbly in losing to Mark Selby in last year’s final, he’s picked up the English Open title, as well as reaching the final of both the Champion of Champions, and the Shanghai Open this year. All that being said, his soporific performance in crashing out of the Northern Ireland Open was a timely reminder that ‘The Rocket’ can have temperament issues. At 4.0 on the Betdaq exchange, he’s very short considering he has to negotiate seven rounds of 11 frame snooker.
Similarly, Mark Selby, available at 5.5, is fully stocked in terms of UK Championship form. He’s defending champion, he’s featured in three of the last six finals, he’s world number one, and he picked up a strong ranking win at the International Championship in China last month. Allied to his form and historical success at the Barbican is Selby’s draw. He should have a clear run to the last 16 where he’s likely to meet his first challenge in the form of Mark Williams (42.0). Williams picked up his first ranking win on the snooker circuit in six years when he overcame the news of his wife being admitted to hospital on the eve of the Northern Ireland Open Final to beat the teenager Bingtao. Selby should have enough for Williams in any case, then it’s Neil Robertson or Marco Fu in the quarter final. From there, Selby will likely be favourite going into every match at least until the final.
The case of Neil Roberston, 16.5 on our exchange, is very much one of history over form. The Australian has one of the strongest records at this championship, winning two out of the last four titles. He won’t be lacking for motivation, Robertson sits on the top 16 rankings bubble for an invite to The Masters in the New Year. However a last 16 clash with Marco Fu, followed by a possible quarter final clash with Selby could do for him this year.
As mentioned, this is rarely a tournament for the long shot, consequently, the longest recommendation we can offer in good faith here is that of Shaun Murphy. While it is nine years since Murphy last won this title, the Englishman is in great form this year. Considering Murphy beat O’Sullivan to take the Champion of Champions crown just three weeks ago, and was a finalist at the China Open and the Paul Hunter Classic earlier in the year, his price of 18.5 is tempting.
While it has been twenty years since the UK Championship title was successfully defended, it’s easy and foolish to get sucked into a narrative such as this. True, it’s a very hard title to defend, but sometimes sport provides these outliers. An outlier is never a good premise to base a bet off. This being considered, Mark Selby looks to have the class, the form, and the history to be successful at the Barbican. His odds of 5.5 are likely to shorten every round, he should certainly see the quarter finals, so back him now, and consider a profitable lay-out when it gets to last eight. Ultimately though, Selby has the pedigree to defend this tournament and is a solid back bet all the way.
If you’re looking for a bigger price, Shaun Murphy looks strong, but will have to reckon with Selby in the latter rounds as he sits on that side of the draw – back him now at 18.5, lay out if he meets Selby, stay with him all the way if Selby falls elsewhere.
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