The Romanian Masters is a new tournament on the schedule, involving an elite 16-man field that mostly swerved last week's Gibraltar Open. A 200,000 Euro prize fund has attracted almost every top player with the notable exception of Ronnie O'Sullivan. Consequently, it looks wide open.
Unlike last week, this draw seems pretty well balanced and each section is a trappy heat in its own right. Given that nobody apart from Ronnie has been dominant and that it will only need three wins to reach the final and earn a place payout, each-way betting could well be the answer.
Three of the quartet in this top section are frontline contenders. Mark Selby is bound to find some form soon in the run-up to the World Championship and has one of the easier opening draws against Liang Wenbo. I don't regard that as a certain win, though, and the Jester is hard to justify backing as favourite on what he's achieved this season.
Neil Robertson would make much more appeal at 10/1 but for a terrible head-to-head against his first-round opponent. Stuart Bingham leads 6-2 and his only defeat to the Aussie in 15 years was in a deciding frame over best of 17. 'Ballrun' hasn't been exceptional since returning from a ban but has shown enough to get onside.
Mark Williams kicks off the event tomorrow against Ali Carter and, if maintaining the form shown in recent months, will take the world of beating. He's very tempting at 8/1 but Carter is no pushover first up and he'll probably face three tough opponents afterwards.
If the betting and form signals are correct, Stephen Maguire will be next in what could be a cracker. Interestingly the Scot leads their head-to-head 5-3 and he's pitched first against the weakest player in the tournament - Mark King.
Back John Higgins 6u @ 6.411/2
With Ronnie absent, Higgins is the man to beat and I rate him far superior value than Selby or Judd Trump at similar odds. Not least because in Anthony McGill, he's drawn one of the weakest first round opponents. I reckon the Wizard will start favourite against anyone he plays afterwards.
The betting signals that he'll face Barry Hawkins in a repeat of the Welsh Open final but once again, career head-to-head records tell a different story. Ryan Day leads the Hawk 11-6 and looks worth following on the basis of last week's facile victory in Gibraltar, where he was noted cueing extremely well throughout. His quote of 25/1 represents a good value each-way alternative to Higgins.
In betting terms, Judd Trump is the one to beat in this bottom section but, as I seem to say before every event, there is scant justification. Granted, this is precisely the sort of event in which he thrives and first round opponent Luca Brecel is struggling but there is simply no way that perennial underachiever Trump's chance can be reasonably compared to Higgins or Selby.
At more than double the odds, Masters champion Mark Allen represents cracking value. He starts with a repeat of that final against Kyren Wilson and must be rated favourite again. Whilst I am a big Wilson fan, he's blown great opportunities against vastly inferior opposition in the last two events.
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