The profits are piling up for Paul Krishnamurty's regular snooker column after 20/1 Mark Allen provided a second straight winner. Check out his Champion of Champions preview, which will be covered on Betfair Live Video from Monday...
"All the evidence of recent years suggests the top dozen or so players are all good enough on their day, and win in their turn. Hawkins on that score is probably overdue."
Never mind the wicked, there's no rest for the modern snooker player or punter. Less than 24 hours after the International Championship final, the elite Champion of Champions kicks off no less than 5,000 miles away from Daqing, China, at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. The 16-man field includes tournament winners over the past 12 months, plus the highest ranked alternative - Judd Trump.
Improving Robertson no forlorn hope among elite company
With only three matches required to reach the final and therefore a payout at half the outright odds, this top section looks the perfect opportunity for a value bet on an outsider. Especially given two vulnerable favourites.
Shaun Murphy defends the title but arrives in nothing like the form of last season. 'The Magician' hasn't gone beyond the last-16 anywhere since losing the Players Championship final in March, and lost his last two matches 6-0 and 4-1 to Sam Baird and Rob Milkins.
Ding Junhui is the one to beat having played fairly well in China last week, but this famously inconsistent type has yet to peak this term. I wouldn't touch [1.23] about him beating Michael Georgiou over a best-of-seven first up with a bargepole and, on that basis, am slightly tempted by 225/1 about the Shootout champion - a highly capable underachiever.
Robertson appeals much more though at 70/1, having recently won his first title. The Scot is another whose results have never really matched his ability and that European Masters victory could prove transformative. He certainly stepped up to the challenge brilliantly that weekend.
Ronnie a must-bet under these conditions
Snooker punters have been facing the same pre-tournament question for 25 years - is the always prohibitively priced Ronnie O'Sullivan a good value bet? I've generally followed the same rule - back him in the events and formats he loves most but oppose everywhere else.
With 14 wins from 16 matches, the Champion of Champions is certainly one of the former. As with the Masters - a high-class invitational, involving a one-table format and maximum of four matches - this is perfect. Note also that he swerved last week's long trip to China.
There are dangers, for sure, but first-round opponent Stuart Bingham trails 3-13 in their career head-to-head and Ronnie's record over best-of-seven is amazing. As an alternative, Ryan Day is much preferred to John Higgins - who he has beaten in their last two encounters and four of their last six, and isn't anywhere near his best right now.
Promising draw may inspire Trump's best
With great reluctance, I'm breaking a habit here. My instinct is to back Kyren Wilson but the draw makes this the first time in ages that Judd Trump has appealed at all. Though generally over-rated in the betting, Trump is expected to get past the struggling Luca Brecel with ease first up and has been hinting at top form lately, before typically throwing in a bad match.
The other match is between Wilson and Mark Williams - another really struggling with his game in recent weeks. If the quarter-final is Wilson v Trump, I suspect the former will represent good value but their opening tasks are incomparable. These starting odds should offer a nice trading position at least.
Hawkins overdue his turn in the winners' enclosure
Finally, a very tough section involving four realistic champions - including the world number one and both of today's finalists. Mark Allen and Neil Robertson get some relief as their matches aren't until Wednesday but beware the jet-lag factor - it definitely affected Mark Selby last year after winning the International.
Selby plays Robertson first up and, if they can repeat last week's quarter-final, that will be a treat. However I'm loath to back either given such a tough start. On the basis of his outstanding form in China, Allen looks a value price but he isn't that prolific and has rarely been the type to hold his form.
All the evidence of recent years suggests the top dozen or so players are all good enough on their day, and win in their turn. Hawkins on that score is probably overdue. He has a cracking record in the biggest events, showed fine form when runner-up to Ronnie in Shanghai and won a minor event in Macau a fortnight ago.
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