Paul Krishnamurty previews next week's Home Nations event, which we will be covering throughout on Betfair Live Video...
"It feels weird to be choosing Trump over O'Sullivan but there is so much to like about the world champion's trajectory right now."
Snooker returns to British soil on Monday with the opening leg of the Home Nations series. This always feels like we're getting into the heart of the season although to be honest, that is probably due to my preference of our time zone!
It is also the first chance of the season to bet before the last-128 round. In these circumstances, I like to pick two rather than the usual one player in each quarter of the draw, including several big-priced outsiders.
The first thing to note is the potential for a lop-sided draw as Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump are both pitched in the bottom half. Good news for defending champion Stuart Bingham, who has a very straightforward early path in which he's sure to start clear favourite against anyone prior to the last eight.
I'm happy to take him on at a shorter than usual 14/1, though, as either Kyren Wilson or Shaun Murphy would be preferred in the quarter-finals. The latter is resurgent and a tempting bet but Kyren just gets the nod.
Wilson was runner-up to Ronnie here two years ago and has frequently won or challenged for events of this stature since. This term, he's been runner-up in the Paul Hunter Classic and subsequent defeats to Ronnie and an on-fire Hossein Vafaei were no disgrace.
Yuelong is the outsider pick here on the grounds that he's too good to go much longer without reaching the latter stages. Since the beginning of last season, the 21 year-old reached thirteen last-32s and five last-16s. Progress is due.
Neil Robertson is definitely the one to beat in the top half. He hasn't quite recaptured last season's magic but there was enough in his run to the Shanghai semis to think it will arrive sooner or later. Only Mark Williams and David Gilbert could be described as really tough opponents prior to the semis.
Nevertheless I'm happy to take all three on with a couple of outsiders who, like Yuelong, are too good to keep out of the frame forever. Saengkham is a last-32 regular and reached semis in both of the last two seasons. He's beaten numerous elite players including Mark Allen last time at the China Championship.
Ditto Honghao - who reached the quarter-finals here last year when tipped at 500/1. Just 19, this is a serious prospect who has already beaten several strong, experienced players this season - including Williams.
To nobody's surprise, Ronnie starts 3/1 favourite to regain the title. He's yet to lose this season and this best-of-seven format generally sees him to best effect. However no sensible staking plan can include both him and Trump, when they could meet in the semis. Mark Selby may also be waiting in the quarters.
Therefore I will take the Rocket on. Perhaps Vafaei or Yuan Sijun could give him a scare in the early rounds. Riga Masters champion Bingtao - another emerging superstar - could also be problematic if they meet in the last-16.
At risk of throwing good money after bad about a brilliant talent who refuses to mature, Lisowski's early path looks straightforward. For a couple of years he's been breezing past such inferior opponents.
Selby would obviously be tough in the last-16 but the Jester frequently underperforms early and could well come a cropper against capable, experienced types like Martin O'Donnell or Matt Selt.
It feels weird to be choosing Trump over O'Sullivan but there is so much to like about the world champion's trajectory right now. Sure, Joe Perry and Mark Allen broke his winning run but he swept plenty of others away in both events.
I expect Judd to make the last-eight at least, where he'd likely face either Allen or Barry Hawkins. Both very tough opponents and plausible alternatives.
However in keeping with the theme of backing top Chinese prospects, 325/1 about Haotian feels too big. In the last two seasons, this 21 year-old has reached a final, two semis and starred in a World Championship.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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