International Championship Snooker: One player to back from each quarter
Following a 33/1 winner to cap a great run at the English Open, Paul Krishnamurty previews the next snooker ranking event, which will be covered extensively on Betfair Live Video from Monday...
"In winning the last two International renewals, nobody got close from the quarter-finals onwards. Unless there's a big upset, Selby will progress that far whilst his main rivals toil in tougher sections."
Back Mark Selby @ [5.4]
World number one Mark Selby bids next week to complete a rare achievement in snooker - winning the International Championship three years on the spin. A tough ask in this ultra-competitive era but the Jester's task is made that bit easier by the absence of Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins.
Easy path offers Selby a chance to build form
Back Mark Selby 6u @ [5.4]
In truth, Selby is not all that easy to back right now. He's rarely been at his best over the past couple of seasons and continues to make harder work of lesser opposition that one would expect from a longstanding world number one. Yet he still managed to win this title, a third China Open and the recent China Championship. Proof of his stellar record in China here and that, in big money events with longer matches, he invariably comes to the party.
Another trait is that he gets stronger as events go on. In winning the last two International renewals, nobody got close from the quarter-finals onwards. Unless there's a big upset, Selby will progress that far whilst his main rivals toil in tougher sections. The only earlier opponent who appeals at all is Noppon Saengkham - who won their most recent match 5-4 - at 125/1.
If he does reach the quarters, Kyren Wilson could be a massive obstacle. However whilst the 'Warrior' remains very much on my regular pick list, his path is constantly tricky. Along with Neil Robertson, Mark Davis and Joe Perry, this mini-section involves four of this season's finalists, plus the dangerous Xiao Guodong and Yuan Sijun.
Brilliant Bingtao overdue a good run
Speaking of Chinese contenders, this section involves their two most promising 18-year-olds. Well, probably. Twelve months ago Yan Bingtao reached the semis here and looked set for an imminent breakthrough, although progress has stalled of late. Luo Honghoa gave this column a run for the ages at 500/1 in the English Open before losing a classic quarter-final to Ronnie. He's more realistically, yet still perhaps generously, priced now at 125/1.
There's also Judd Trump, Barry Hawkins, Ryan Day, Jack Lisowski and Marco Fu to consider, along with capable outsiders such as Martin Gould and Chris Wakelin, in a very competitive draw.
Bingtao gets a marginal nod because he's got the easiest last-64 opponent in Jimmy White. He's had some decent wins this season - Bingham, Wakelin, Gould - before generally losing to good performances. This home event must be high on his list of priorities and he's overdue a title challenge.
Bingham to maintain excellent Crawley form
Ding Junhui - champion in 2013 and runner-up to Selby in 2016 - is the star name in this section, which also includes the winner of the last event. Stuart Bingham produced a consistently high standard all week in Crawley and will take plenty of stopping from a relatively easy path. I'm expecting another good run for our money with this each-way bet.
Another to consider here is Zhao Xintong who, while three years older, may even be better than Bingtao or Honghoa on recent evidence. His 4-3 defeat to Trump in Crawley was the best match of the tournament, and he'd previously reached the China Championship semis. Zhao could be a early significant obstacle to Ding's path at the last-32 stage.
Well-drawn Allen set for another good International run
The market leader in this bottom section, Mark Williams, did not sound or look confident about his form in Crawley. Although with such a class act, that could change overnight, I'm more inclined to back a big-priced upset at the hands of Sunny Akani first up.
If the world champion does underachieve again, this is a very winnable section. Allen hasn't really fired yet this term either but his tournament record - four quarter-finals, twice runner-up - warrants the utmost respect. He'll be a strong favourite in every round up to the quarters and against anyone bar Williams at that stage too.
Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire must also come into the argument, although the latter's run to the English Open semis wasn't a result of brilliant form. At 125/1 and 200/1 respectively, Hossein Vafaei and Ben Woollaston are tastily priced alternatives.
2018/19: +21.5 units
2017/18: +106 units
Back Mark Selby 6u @ [5.4]
Back Stuart Bingham 2u e/w @ 20/1
Back Mark Allen 2u e/w @ 20/1