Snooker returns on Monday with wall-to-wall coverage of the Championship League on ITV and, as always, Betfair Live Video. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's preview...
"Gary Wilson has certainly has been progressive and falls into the ‘natural talent’ camp. That he’s favourite to win his group is a further positive."
In a normal universe, I wouldn't be previewing the Championship League. Whilst a good in-play betting heat and entertainment, I've never regarded it as a serious tournament. More of a knockabout. A bit of practice. When calculating career head-to-heads, I don't include it.
However as Covid-19 changes the world, so too snooker betting plans. After little but (albeit wonderful) World Championship nostalgia and Neal Foulds' marvellous Twitter quizzes to entertain us over the past three months, we are all champing at the bit. The WPBSA have done a great service in revamping this event with extra prize money and a spot for the winner in the lucrative Champion of Champions.
New format for revamped event
The new format is thus; 64 players are split into 16 groups of four. Each group will be determined on a league basis, by six matches on a round-robin basis. Each match will be over four frames, so the draw is in play. Three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw. The 16 group winners will then be split into groups of four, eventually yielding a group of four finalists.
Given such short matches, there is a temptation to see this as a lottery akin to the single-frame Shootout. It certainly offers a similar, career-changing opportunity to lesser-ranked players. However even the Shootout isn't really a lottery - past form illustrates numerous types who are well suited to the format and that will probably prove the case in Milton Keynes.
The format revives memories of childhood and an event whose title fluctuated between the British Gold Cup, Yamaha Organs Trophy and International Masters. The format altered between renewals but it always largely involved short, round-robin matches.
The one renewal that remains fresh in mind was 1984. Kirk Stevens made a valiant effort at a world-beating 151 break and two massive outsiders - Dave Martin and John Dunning - reached the three-way final. Nevertheless, Steve Davis landed what must have been a short-odds favourite bet.
Will conditions favour outsiders?
There are many ways to look at this. First, of course, shorter matches increase the chance of an upset. But equally, a round-robin group system allows time for the cream to rise to the top. Plus one could argue the Shootout or any of the events involving best-of-seven, one session matches offer a useful form guide.
It may or may not be appropriate, but I'm wondering if the World Matchplay golf offers a clue. When it was entirely knockout, over just 18 holes, all manner of shocks were frequent. Since switching to round-robin groups for the early stages, though, it has become fairly predictable.
Selby says big-guns have an advantage
We will see and it may transpire that the best value bets are in individual matches - I'll be covering these daily next week. Form and preparedness is complete guesswork. According to this article, fewer than ten players have a full size table at home - Mark Selby reckons it favours him.
Selby also furthers the logical view that the most naturally talented types such as Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump will fare best as they require less preparation to find fluency. Ronnie famously won a world title despite having missed the entire season and his record over best-of-seven is unrivalled.
However an alternate perspective is that, if virtually everyone starts out struggling for fluency, the best tacticians and scrappers - usually patient, experienced types - will enjoy an advantage.
Start with a quartet of outsider picks
At this stage, it makes best sense to keep stakes low and bets speculative. Once we're down to the 16 group winners, the form picture should be somewhat clearer. If any of my original four picks get that far, I may recommend additional bets in my daily series. I've no interest in backing any of the big-guns yet at relatively short odds.
Instead let's start with Gary Wilson. 70-1 is bigger than we've become used to since he reached last year's World Championship semis. He certainly has been progressive and falls into the 'natural talent' camp. That he's favourite to win his group is a further positive.
Holt a must-bet following Shootout joy
Likewise, Michael Holt is a group favourite and, given his excellent record over one frame, the reigning Shootout champion looks overpriced.
Ben Woollaston has tended to save his best snooker for shorter formats and he's in a relatively weak group - he's second favourite behind the similar standard Jimmy Robertson.
Finally, one of those experienced scrappers in Martin O'Donnell. He's second best in Group 11 behind Mark Allen - never the most reliable of the big guns.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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