Ahead of tomorrow's ranking event from Barnsley, Paul Krishnamurty breaks down the 128-man draw and recommends a couple of picks in each section...
"Though a perennial underachiever in majors, this level of event is right up Allen's street. His recent form is good too, having only lost in deciders in Belgium and the World Open to high-class opponents."
Historically, our consistent strategy before all tournaments has been to select one player from each section of the draw but this year, we've decided to expand the betting plan. In events where the televised stages start at the last-64 or 128, we're adding an extra pick from each quarter to reflect just how wide open snooker are markets are becoming.
While the world rankings remain dominated by the same established faces, there have never been more players capable of winning events. 13 different players won ranking events last term and upsets were rife in the lesser ones, from veterans Anthony Hamilton and Mark King, to Liang Wenbo in this English Open.
For my money, the top section is weak and primed for backing outsiders. The two big-guns are in each other's path to the quarter-final and neither makes much appeal anyway. While Barry Hawkins can be expected to bring his A-game by the majors, he's yet to find top gear this term. Neil Robertson just hasn't looked a good shortish odds bet for a couple of seasons.
Instead let's focus on the other, extremely winnable mini-section. At odds of 50/1 and 70/1, I could easily make a case for defending champ Wenbo or Anthony McGill but I prefer our pair at the three times the odds. Holt reached a ranking final last term and is perfectly capable of winning an event of this stature.
Bingtao is more interesting. Still only 17, he's looked the most immediately impressive of all the Chinese youngsters - although there is no shortage of competition. From the outset of his short career, Yan has given the very best a run for their money and I expect him to rise the rankings very fast. At 100/1 plus, he is well worth persevering with.
In contrast, here's a very tough quarter including three front-line candidates and plenty more. After a brilliant performance to win the European Masters, Judd Trump is the form man but these things can change on a weekly basis and there are plenty of obstacles even before reaching the quarters - where O'Sullivan or John Higgins potentially lie in wait.
Of the trio, I prefer Ronnie's chances of negotiating the early rounds and building some form, as only Mark Davis looks any sort of threat before the last-16. Apart from a 5-4 defeat to in-form Luca Brecel at the China Championship, O'Sullivan's last three matches were all whitewashes. I can see other results going his way in this section, making him red-hot favourite in the top half.
Trump's path is much trickier and Gilbert is perfectly capable of an upset if they meet in the last-32. The world number 19 is exactly the type to follow at big odds in these lesser important ranking events - proficient and reliable against lesser opponents and competitive with the best.
Ding Junhui is the one to beat here after victory in the World Open but, again, there are plenty of obstacles to ward against taking single figure odds. Michael White and Ben Woollaston would be tough last-64 and 32 opponents, for example.
In the same mini-section, Carter is second best at more than six times the odds with easier early matches. Having reached the China Championship semis, 'The Captain' also has recent form in the bag, which can't really be said yet of Joe Perry's campaign.
The other mini-section could well boil down to Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy, with the former fancied to run through a series of early matches. Though a perennial underachiever in majors, this level of event is right up Allen's street. His recent form is good too, having only lost in deciders in Belgium and the World Open to high-class opponents.
While nobody can argue with Mark Selby's status as snooker's top dog and the man to beat in the majors, he's nowhere near as reliable in the lesser events. In an extremely competitive quarter, the Jester makes no appeal at 9/2. From Scott Donaldson tomorrow, I can see opponents giving him a hard time in every round.
A good case could be made for any of the main alternatives - Stuart Bingham, Marco Fu and Kyren Wilson. The former lost nothing in 9-7 defeat to Trump in their latest final. Fu was a world-beater last term and still looks under-rated at 22/1. Wilson played some superb stuff en route to the World Open final and gets the nod on the grounds of his early route.
Finally, like Bingtao, I'm determined to keep Zhou Yuelong onside whilst still a rank outsider. At 19, he's only two years older and is already reaching the latter stages. At 4-3 up against Bingham in his first semi, Zhou was entitled to wobble and will have learned from it. Further significant progress is expected in the weeks and months ahead.