Ahead of tomorrow's International Championship, Paul Krishnamurty recommends four outright bets for snooker's latest ranking event - which will be covered throughout on Betfair Live Video...
"I prefer 150/1 about Zhou Yuelong...a top prospect who might be inspired by Bingtao's breakthrough. He reached the last-32 no fewer than 11 times last season and is overdue a long run in a ranking event."
With no disrespect to the Riga Masters organisers, or understating the significance of Yan Bingtao's first ranking title, the snooker season starts for real at Sunday's International Championship.
The Riga field was weak to start with and was decimated after the flight of several players was delayed. That included two of the favourites, both annoyingly selected in this column, reducing the event to a distinctly lower grade affair.
Trump heads elite field in China
Only three of the current top-16 either entered, qualified or arrived in Riga in time. For this lucrative event - the winner will receive £175,000 - all bar Ronnie O'Sullivan are in attendance. In his absence, world champion Judd Trump starts favourite at 4/1.
Twelve months ago Mark Allen produced an imperious performance to win this title, beating Neil Robertson in a final for the ages. However having gone right off the boil last term a wait-and-see policy is preferred for now.
Likewise I'm happy to swerve the other big-names here. Barry Hawkins, has a poor early season record of late and didn't impress in either of his qualifying matches this term. Ding Junhui was a shadow of his former self last season.
Ali Carter or Ryan Day make more betting appeal but, instead, let's try a hugely-talented and promising outsider. Xintong is still very erratic but capable of beating anyone on his day. He reached the China Championship semis early last season, eliminating big names along the way.
Robertson will take plenty of beating
More broadly, one would expect the cream to rise to the top here, given a longer format - best of 11 from the outset, best of 17 in the semis. It has in previous renewals. If so Neil Robertson and John Higgins could prove a class apart in this section.
I reiterate last week's comments about Robbo, which never got the chance to be justified. He was the best player in the world during the second half of the season and much more is expected.
Higgins called upon all his Crucible experience and tactical nous to down the Aussie in the World Championship quarter-finals but that belied their respective form over a much longer period. The 'Wizard of Wishaw' is respected after a World Cup win but still, I think, broadly in decline.
Stuart Bingham and Shaun Murphy are the other two heavyweights but the former hasn't yet fired in 2019/20 while the latter has much to prove after a terrible season. For outsiders, either Bingtao at 70/1 or Yuan Sijun at 150/1 makes sense.
Yuelong overdue a long run at this level
Mark Selby presents a dilemma. His record over longer formats and in China is peerless and I don't see much trouble before a tough potential last-16 match against Dave Gilbert. The only other heavyweight before the semis is Mark Williams, who is top of my 'oppose list'.
However the Jester has become unreliable so, while, I expect a determined effort now he's been passed at the top of the world rankings, odds of 13/2 are too short.
Gilbert warrants much respect but I prefer 150/1 about Zhou Yuelong. Like Xintong, this is a top prospect who has fallen short at latter stages, and who might be inspired by Bingtao's breakthrough. He reached the last-32 no fewer than 11 times last season and is overdue a long run in a ranking event.
Lisowski preferred to Trump after summer break
So what to make of the new world champion? The way Trump peaked in that Crucible final promised much greater achievements to come. He has matured and may well be the player of this season. However he's been enjoying it, partying, and is not a reliable short-odds bet first time out. Several early opponents could prove problematic.
I prefer to focus on the other mini-section that will yield Trump's last-eight opponent if he gets there. The main choice is between Kyren Wilson or Jack Lisowski. At bigger odds the latter gets the nod after playing some impressive stuff in Riga. Jack also leads their head-to-head 6-2.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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