Paul Krishnamurty previews the latest ranking event from Gibraltar - which starts on Thursday and will be covered throughout on Betfair Live Video...
"Victory in Southport made it a record-equalling fifth ranking title of the season for Trump and it would take a brave man to bet against him adding more."
After bagging the 1-2 with Judd Trump and Yan Bingtao at the Players Championship, it is possible that this column could end what has been its worst ever season in profit. To do so will probably require a return from the Gibraltar Open.
Coronavirus has forced the cancellation of the China Open so this will be the last opportunity for most players before the World Championship. What was previously seen as arguably the least important ranking tournament now, therefore, takes on extra significance - especially for those chasing a top-16 seeding and direct qualification for the Crucible.
Only four men are in contention for that final spot - Bingtao, Joe Perry, Ali Carter and Gary Wilson (who would need nothing less than his first win). Their tasks are made considerably harder by the presence of the best two players in the world - Judd Trump and Neil Robertson.
Lopsided draw is good news for Bingham
One positive for at least half the field is that the big-two are both drawn in the bottom half. That considerably improves the chance of defending champion Stuart Bingham.
The reigning Masters champion is the ultimate professional and simply not the type to go through the motions in a lesser event. He'll be a hot favourite against anyone prior to the quarters. Wilson could be tricky, but he's been handed a brutal opener against Thepchaiya Un Nooh.
After that, the hardest quarter-final opponent would be either David Gilbert (to whom he has never lost in 11 matches) or Kyren Wilson. The latter is due but even in recent long runs hasn't been wholly convincing and he's got a tough starter against the brilliant teenager Si Jiahui.
Brecel creeping into form
A likeable alternative here is Luca Brecel. Whilst ever frustrating in the tactical department, the Belgian has immense talent, some pedigree in ranking events and has notched some good wins in 2020 already.
The shortest priced player in the top-half is Mark Selby and that is easily explained by the draw. He starts with a walkover and the only top name in his path to the quarters is Stephen Maguire. I can't justify betting at single-figure odds given his persistent erratic form though.
Maguire beat him last time and is very tempting at 40/1 on the basis of that Players Championship (where incredibly unlucky to lose to Trump in the semis) and majors form. However he's another who rarely appeals in this sort of best-of-seven event.
Good opportunities for Chinese youngsters
I'll therefore take a flyer on Haotian. The 22 year-old is hugely talented and has been on several long runs at this level.
Retaining Bingtao after his latest effort is a no-brainer. He's a superstar in the making - top-eight for sure - and vastly superior in the tactical and psychological departments to his young Chinese peers.
Back Yuan Sijun 0.25u e/w @ 175/1
Back Tom Ford 0.25u e/w @ 150/1
The place payout on Bingtao was a reward for perseverance. Brilliant youngsters get there eventually. Yuan Sijun is next on that conveyor belt and perfectly capable of emulating last year's run to the semis here.
Likewise Tom Ford is picked again because odds of 150/1 are simply wrong. He's not far off top-16 class and employing a sports psychologist could well yield dividends for this underachiever.
Trump too strong to oppose right now
There is a huge obstacle to both in the form of Neil Robertson, whom either would be scheduled to meet in the quarters. However backing both him and Trump cannot be justified and, frankly, the world champion is impossible to abandon.
Back Michael Holt 0.25u e/w @ 225/1
Back Judd Trump 8u @ [4.4]
Victory in Southport made it a record-equalling fifth ranking title of the season for Trump and it would take a brave man to bet against him adding more. He's at that stage of his career where making history is the main incentive. Even the games lost have been due to a mixture of misfortune and brilliance from opponents.
Of course there are threats in this section. Graeme Dott is resurgent. Mark Allen and Barry Hawkins quite the reverse but bound to return to form somewhere. Zhao Xintong is another Chinese prodigy liable to break through.
At insulting odds of 225/1 odds, Michael Holt is preferred. Whilst his Shootout win is hardly a form guide for longer matches, it wasn't unpredictable and the form didn't come out of nowhere. He rates a good value outside bet against Allen in the first round.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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