Starts Wednesday, 9am
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Prior to the Masters, I argued Ali Carter was an improving player, still under the market's radar. Although he failed to deliver against John Higgins on that occasion, the theory still stands and the Captain deserves another chance from this draw. He's positioned in a section where his two supposed 'superiors' look well worth opposing. Judd Trump has already fallen victim to the improved Carter at last year's World Championship and after dire performances at both the UK Championship and Masters, the Juddernaut is becoming a very risky betting proposition.
Mark Williams was even worse during those two majors and could well be in terminal decline. Furthermore even dangerous floaters in this section such as Mark Davis and Tom Ford have already lost at the last-64 stage, leaving these three seeds relatively little to beat in order to reach the semis.
By contrast, the second quarter looks extremely tough, containing numerous potential champions. Apart from Murphy, Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham and Masters semi-finalist Graeme Dott all deserve to enter calculations. Murphy has become very reliable during the opening rounds and is strongly fancied to reach at least the quarter finals, where either Robbo or Bingham will likely await.
Although Shaun came up short against Robertson in the Masters semi, the Aussie may not represent the same formidable presence here, having reportedly taken last week off. Robbo tends to save his best for the majors these days and, in order to set up a rematch with Murphy in the last-eight, will need to overcome dangerous qualifier Daniel Wells and bang-in-form Bingham. Punters taking this level of pre-tournament odds about Murphy with a view towards trading will have racked up plenty of profit in recent years and the Magician looks overdue another title.
The third section doesn't look like it will take much winning, with seeded players Ricky Walden and Matthew Stevens below their best of late. That leaves old sparring partners John Higgins and Stephen Maguire set to form an all-Scottish quarter-final. The latter is always respected but very unreliable so preference must be for the four-times world champion, who is chasing his third title of the season. Higgins tends to start tournaments slowly before coming into his own during the latter stages so opening matches against the limited Peter Lines and declining Ken Doherty offer the perfect draw in that respect.
If there's a standout angle for snooker betting over the next few weeks, it has to be backing Mark Allen whilst the Pistol remains available at double-figure odds. If recent form were the criteria, the Northern Irishman deserves to be favourite. He was only edged out by Neil Robertson in a deciding frame at the Masters, in what was the best match of the tournament. Next, he won Group 4 at the Championship League, winning all eight matches for the loss of just five frames, before finishing runner-up over the weekend at the Shootout.
Allen is expected to ease into the quarter-finals, where either Mark Selby or Ding Junhui will probably await. Although the former is world number one and enjoying the most prolific run of his career, the Jester is far from unbeatable and was thrashed 3-0 by Allen at Crondon Park last week.