The next ranking event on the snooker calendar begins tomorrow in Berlin and, as usual, Paul Krishnamurty provides a staking plan based on picking one player from each section of the draw...
"Shaun Murphy has been arguably the second best player in the world this term behind Ronnie O'Sullivan and doesn't have to worry about the Rocket this time. The only players likely to present much of a challenge before the semis are Ryan Day...and capable outsider David Gilbert."
Last year's German Masters produced one of the all-time snooker shocks, when Anthony Hamilton defied odds of [150.0] to win his first ranking title at the age of 45. Whilst we have seen nothing of that order yet this season, numerous rank outsiders have reached the latter stages of events without winning.
As one of the less significant ranking events on the calendar - emphasised by Ronnie O'Sullivan withdrawing from his opening match - a shock is as likely to occur this week as any. The first two rounds were completed before Christmas and the action restarts tomorrow from the last-32 stage.
Back Mark Williams 4u @ [12.5]
With Hamilton as number one seed (compared to a world ranking of 29), this top section is relatively weak. There are two in-form frontline candidates, though, and they're due to meet as early as the last-16.
Mark Allen was outstanding at The Masters and thoroughly deserved to win his first major title. A repeat of that form would make him very hard to beat but, after several years of inconsistency and underachievement, can 'The Pistol' suddenly be trusted? Having lost plenty of cash at much bigger odds, I'm not yet convinced he's a betting proposition at single-figure odds.
His principal rival is also in outstanding form and, for my money, has an easier hurdle to pass before their scheduled meeting. Mark Williams was superb in winning the Northern Ireland Open before Christmas and in knocking out Mark Selby at Alexandra Palace, before throwing in a stinker at the quarter-final stage. That tendency - a common feature amongst older players - is a concern but I think he'll ease past Fergal O'Brien first up and build some momentum.
Martin Gould - winner of last week's Championship League, champion here in 2016 and a semi-finalist last year - warrants plenty of respect too, but his chance is factored into much shorter odds than we're used to taking about him.
Next a very tricky section, in which the favourite makes absolutely no appeal. I simply don't understand why Judd Trump is always so short in the betting. He loses far too frequently to much inferior opponents and, as we saw at Wembley, is not reliable at converting opportunities even when playing well. Likewise Ding Junhui can hardly be backed with any confidence after several recent disappointments.
It would be easy to make a case on value grounds for any one of three 50/1 shots - Ricky Walden, Joe Perry or Jack Lisowski. The first two are in need of a good run to restore their ranking status and liable to improve any time soon, but marginal preference is for the latter. Lisowski has been rated a top prospect since his teenage years and may be finally coming of age at 26. He's reached the Shanghai semis and English Open quarters this term - before losing nothing in defeat to Trump and O'Sullivan.
Back Shaun Murphy 5u @ [10.5]
The favourite really stands out in this section. Shaun Murphy has been arguably the second best player in the world this term behind Ronnie O'Sullivan and doesn't have to worry about the Rocket this time. The only players likely to present much of a challenge before the semis are Ryan Day - whom he beat comfortably in the UK semis - and capable outsider David Gilbert. If he indeed wins three matches at short-odds to get that far, [10.5] to win the title will look huge.
The most obvious beneficiary of O'Sullivan's absence is world number one Mark Selby, and I wouldn't deter anyone from taking odds around [5.0] on the exchange. He's a former winner and runner-up of this event and will doubtless be itching to land another after a relatively quiet campaign. The Jester looked in good form at Alexandra Palace, despite losing that classic opener to Williams.
However Selby is never wholly reliable in the early rounds and he'll be tested from the outset by Xiao Guodong - who won their most recent encounter at the English Open. Therefore I'll go instead for an each-way value option on a player who, rather like Allen, is proving costly to follow.
The same argument nevertheless applies. Like Allen, Wenbo has the ability to win major titles, and often shows it in early rounds before finding one too good. He has won at this level before - in the 2016 English Open - and is overdue a more rewarding run. I would certainly rather take 40/1 about Liang than 18/1 about this season's most disappointing elite player, Barry Hawkins. That said, 'The Hawk' has a good record against Selby, whom he is scheduled to meet in the quarter-finals.
Back Mark Williams 4u @ 12.5
Back Jack Lisowski 1u each-way @ 50/1
Back Shaun Murphy 5u @ 10.5
Back Liang Wenbo 1u each-way @ 40/1