Previewing tomorrow's China Championship - to be covered throughout on Betfair Live Video - Paul Krishnamurty expects Judd Trump to capitalise on his closest rival's absence...
"Trump was on an outrageous winning run before bumping into Allen in Shanghai - an opponent who he's always struggled against."
Over the past year a 'big-three' has emerged in snooker. Ronnie O'Sullivan, whose predictable Shanghai Masters victory got this column off the mark for the season, sits out this week's China Championship, leaving the way clear for Judd Trump and Neil Robertson.
Trump and Robbo dominate the betting
Pitched in opposite sides of the draw, Trump and Robertson may very well contest the final. At just 3/1 and 7/2 on the Sportsbook, however, backing both makes no sense from a value perspective so, as in Shanghai, a reluctant choice must be made.
Of course, snooker is nowhere near so predictable anyway. We've seen dozens of unheralded outsiders reach the latter stages, even winning the odd event, in recent years. For example Luca Brecel was far from predictable in the 2017 renewal of this event.
Keep brilliant Bingtao onside
In fact, I reckon this is the perfect stage for one of the brilliant Chinese youngsters to come through and this is my core plan. There is no shortage of such options in the top section.
Chief among them is Riga Masters champ Yan Bingtao. As long-term readers will know, I've been particularly bullish about his prospects ever since he turned pro. That breakthrough win may well herald a rapid rise to the top and he lost nothing in narrow 6-5 defeat in Shanghai, playing well.
Alternatively, take your pick from Xiao Guodong, Zhao Xintong and Lyu Haotian - not to mention their hero Ding Junhui. Xintong and Haotian are particularly good prospects - perhaps in the long-term as good as Yan.
The two heavyweights are Mark Selby and Barry Hawkins, of whom the latter is very much preferred. Whereas Selby is defending champion, I can't consider him on almost anything over the past year. Barry has started the season well though and was shortlisted.
Youngster chanced in brutal section
Next a similarly competitive section, headed by Robertson. There's no bigger fan of the Melbourne Machine than me but, given the hurdles, I'm happy to take him on. Shaun Murphy could await in the last-16, followed by John Higgins (champion and runner-up in three renewals of this event) in the quarters.
Murphy looks resurgent after a terrible season but has a horrible opener against the selection. Sijun has similar potential to Bingtao, perhaps more. He can beat the top players and is expected to go on a long run very soon.
An almost identical argument applies here. Luo Honghoa briefly captured global attention when carrying our cash at 500/1 to the quarter-finals of last year's English Open, where arguably unlucky to lose to Ronnie. He hasn't repeated that level since but this draw offers an opportunity.
This is by far the weakest section. Mark Allen is the one to beat, but has plenty of hurdles in his early path, from the likeable 225/1 chance Noppon Saengkham to David Gilbert. Mark Williams still looks vulnerable though and he's in the same mini-section as Honghoa. So is Brecel, who has shown signs of resurgence.
Trump rated value after inevitable, overdue loss
Back Judd Trump 8u @ 4.77/2
Trump was on an outrageous winning run before bumping into Allen in Shanghai - an opponent who he's always struggled against. At bigger odds than available there, with Ronnie in the field, the favourite is a must-bet.
There are dangers, of course. Kyren Wilson or Jack Lisowski would make for a tough quarter-final, and both have proved difficult opponents for the world champion. Nevertheless, Trump's form at the International was terrifying. A repeat would likely see him win a sixth title in 12 months with plenty to spare.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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