There are always 15 reds and six colours to pot but there are plenty of subtleties to the game of snooker. Paul Krishnamurty explains all in his guide to profitable snooker betting...
The Basics: Tournaments and formats
Until recently, long-suffering snooker fans were resigned to the terminal decline of our favourite sport. The calendar consisted of fewer than ten events involving the leading players, with no more than five enjoying comprehensive television coverage. Then in 2010, Barry Hearn took over the game's governing body and begun to revolutionise the sport as he had done successfully with darts. Snooker fans can already claim that we've never had it so good.
The highlights remain the big-three 'majors' that are televised in their entirety on BBC. Played in December, the UK Championship is the second most important ranking event of the season. The following month the Masters is restricted to the top-16 ranked players. Finally in May, the pinnacle of any season is the World Championship. Played over 17 days at the sport's most famous venue, the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, matches here are much longer with the final over best of 35 frames, (compared to best of 19, the longest in any other tournament). The leading players tend to reserve their best form for these majors, which usually produce obvious, world-class champions.
This trio of majors, however, is merely the icing on the cake. From once being a primarily British game, snooker is expanding fast worldwide. There are eight more ranking events in Germany, Wales, Australia plus five staged in China. All ranking events include a substantial earlier qualifying phase, excluding the top-16.
Then there are 13 'Players Tour Championship' events (PTCs), staged in the UK, Europe and Asia - building towards the PTC Grand Final event in March. These minor events are played over the space of four days, with matches played over a short best of seven format.
In addition to the Masters, there are occasional overseas invitational events such as last season's Brazil Masters, and more substantially the Championship League. This is a series of group based events involving 25 leading players, with prize money awarded for each frame won, with the eventual winner also earning a place in the Premier League.
Finally, Hearn has innovated with new formats. The Premier League, a weekly seven-man invitational televised on Sky, pre-dates the current revolution and was the first to introduce a shot-clock to ensure fast play. Now, the shot-clock also features in the 'Snooker Shootout' - a weekend of one-frame knockout matches, played on a rolling basis. In contrast to the longer drawn-out matches of bigger tournaments, the shootout is perfect for punters who want their bet to be settled quickly. Other interesting innovations are the Six Reds World Championship and the Seniors World Championships.
The other great development of recent years is that most matches are shown live on Betfair Live Video. Barely a week now goes by without live snooker betting opportunities. In the case of the bigger televised ranking and (some) PTC events, the tournament winner market is an obvious popular option. In the qualifiers and lesser tournaments, the principal focus is on match betting, both pre-match and in-running.
Snooker's principal markets are:
Tournament: Outright, to reach the final, to win the quarter
Matches: To win match, handicap betting, correct score, frame betting, total frames, total centuries, highest break.
Monitor the formbook
Given such a busy schedule, few players can maintain top-form throughout the whole season. With so many new tournaments and changes to the rankings cut-off points, snooker's order can change very fast. In 2011, the sport's best player of the last 20 years found himself one defeat away from falling out of the elite top-16. Ronnie O'Sullivan duly won that match and title, before going on to land his fourth world crown. Yet despite heading to Sheffield with four titles under his belt that season, Ronnie's ranking troubles meant he went into the main event trading at 10.09/1, the biggest odds he's been since his 1993 debut.
Likewise, a full year schedule offers those outside the top-16 the chance to thrive at times when the big-names might be lacking in practice or interest. Take the last two ranking events. Snooker has never been a summer sport and while the biggest names have probably been taking time off, many further down the pecking order have been practising hard, waiting for the two early ranking tournaments in China and Australia. The results at both events were as unlikely, (in pre-tournament betting terms), as any in living memory.
In the Wuxi Classic, Ricky Walden beat Stuart Bingham in the final. Though both outside the top-16, Walden and Bingham weren't impossible to pick as past ranking title winners with early season pedigree, yet both were available well in excess of 50.049/1 pre-tournament. The losing semi-finalists, Mark Davis and Marcus Campbell, were two journeymen pros with 42 years on the tour between them, neither of whom had ever gone so far in a ranking tournament.
A fortnight later in Australia, once again all four semi-finalists started the season outside the top-16. Barry Hawkins won his first ever ranking final, beating Peter Ebdon, with Davis and Marco Fu losing the semis.
It would be wrong, however, to conclude from such results that snooker betting is a lottery. Far from it. Trading outsiders in small events has a long history of success while the reverse theory applies in the majors, in which upsets are virtually unheard of. In the last 20 years, the only majors won by players at 50.049/1 or more were Graeme Dott and Shaun Murphy's world titles, both of whom soon went on to show their performance was no fluke.
Watch and learn from qualifiers and minor events
A further benefit from this expansion of live snooker is that, for the first time, we can get to know emerging players and identify the most in-form qualifiers. In the bad old days, the serious snooker punter was reliant on (at best) text scoring. Now barely a week goes by when we can't watch PTCs or qualifiers.
The most recent example of this paying serious dividends was at the 2012 World Championship. Inevitably, most seeded players tend to start their first round matches at heavy odds-on. So was the case with Shaun Murphy and Stephen Lee, for their respective matches against Jamie Jones and Andrew Higginson.
Yet the committed snooker punter, who had been watching the PTC series, would have known these were two very capable qualifiers. Higginson had enjoyed his best ever season, reaching the semis at the PTC Grand Final. After watching him comprehensively win his final qualifying match for Sheffield, I was confident Higginson wouldn't disgrace himself and successfully tipped him to win both the match and handicap against Lee.
Likewise Jones caused a big upset against Murphy and went on to reach the quarter-finals with a spate of big breaks. The young Welshman would have been impossible to identify from simply studying results as in the old days, but had looked throughout the season to be a player with considerable natural talent - a fluent breakbuilder lacking experience. By bringing his best game to Sheffield, Jones was transformed from also-ran to narrow quarter-final loser, producing a standard that many around his forty-something ranking mark are incapable of.
Analyse the draw in detail
The principal task in order to successfully trade the outright market is to constantly monitor the draw, from beginning to end of the tournament. Start by separating the first round draw into four quarters, each of which must produce a semi-finalist. By going through each section in detail, identify which sections are easier or harder than others. Learn to calculate the combined odds of each section. For example, if one section consists of four players all priced at 10.09/1, the price for the quarter is 2.56/4. Think ahead to the semi-finals when all four quarters have been completed, and evaluate how the betting might look at that later stage. Would 2.56/4 represent good or poor value at that later stage about any of those four candidates?
One quarter may contain three of the first six market leaders. In such a scenario, unless holding a particularly strong opinion, it's probably worth looking elsewhere for early bets, in the knowledge that somebody can later be picked from this 'group of death', once it becomes clearer which leading candidate will emerge. Likewise, another quarter may contain only one leading candidate and several others at big prices. In this case, it might be worth backing the big-priced candidates, hoping early results go the right way, forcing their odds to drop sharply as the draw progresses.
A perfect example came at the last World Championship. Many observers considered the real final to have been played at the quarter-final stage between O'Sullivan and Neil Robertson, both of whom were strong fancies from the outset but drawn together at this relatively early stage. Whoever won that match was guaranteed to be a very strong favourite ahead of the semis, but could only fill one of the four places.
Alternatively the losing finalist, Ali Carter, represents the classic case of a capable player benefitting from a good draw, at great odds. A former losing finalist with substantial Crucible pedigree, Carter began the tournament at 100.099/1 due to a poor season, despite starting strong favourite for his opening match. He was the fourth likeliest candidate in a section where only Judd Trump was among the leading seven in the betting. He beat Trump in the second round, other results went his way and suddenly this pre-tournament outsider was heavily odds-on to reach the semis, and around 8.07/1 for the championship.
Learn Player Styles
The more snooker one watches, the greater edge will be gained. Watch as many players as possible and learn their styles. For some, their strength lies in prolific breakbuilding. If they're struggling to make 50 in the early rounds, it makes sense to conclude they're out of form. When they're scoring heavily early on, get on board. Others tend to be tacticians and scrappers, who nonetheless get the job done and retain a high ranking.
Some examples. Ronnie O'Sullivan is much more reliable over shorter matches, as seen by his total dominance of the Premier League, a six-frame format using a shot-clock. Mark Williams has achieved everything in the game, but has never been a big breakbuilder. His opponent therefore often represents good value in the 'Highest Break' market. Some are effective against inferior players, yet rarely win tournaments. Carter being the perfect example.
The best example of a player's style offering betting angles is Mark Selby. A mainstay near the top of the world rankings, Selby is always among the favourites and starts at short odds-on against all bar the very best. His results justify it, but the manner in which he tends to achieve those results doesn't. Selby rarely runs away with matches and often gets bogged down in scrappy affairs. Between 2007 and 2009, Selby lost only one match at the Masters, winning the title twice and losing the other final. Yet seven of his 12 matches during that stellar period went to a deciding frame.
In this case, the angle lies in backing outsiders on the handicap against Selby, or at big prices with a view to trading in-running when the match turns out to be closer than the market expected. Plus, as I'll explain in the final section, Selby's style offers a useful in-running angle.
Back high, lay low in-running
This last pointer may seem like a no-brainer, but 'Back High, Lay Low' is not as easy as it sounds. Some sports invariably favour leaders in-running, while others are perfect for a 'lay the leader' strategy. Snooker falls into the latter category, although it still requires research.
Especially in short matches and individual frame betting, the odds are liable to change very fast. Consider a best of nine match, with close pre-match betting. If one players goes 1-0 up and has a breakbuilding chance in the next frame, their odds may well shorten below 1.42/5. Yet most breaks aren't frame winners. One easy miss in the balls can transfer the frame winning chance to his opponent, forcing those odds to drift to 1.84/5 within seconds. The same principle applies throughout the match - many best-of-nines turn around from 3-0 or 4-1. It is common for matches to end up 5-3 or 5-4, with both trading at short odds-on.
The best angle in this regard is to know each player's style. If the man at the table is an in-form breakbuilder, laying mid-break becomes a lot riskier. If alternatively, we're talking about a less fluent player, laying at odds-on can represent spectacular value. Again Selby offers the best example amongst the leading players and the same theory could be applied to virtually all players outside the top-16.
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