Masters Snooker Betting Preview: One player to back from each quarter

Previewing this year's Masters, Paul Krishnamurty is including triple-crown chasing Ronnie O'Sullivan is among his quartet of outright picks...

  • Ronnie on course for another record

  • Mark Allen looks strong again

  • Wilson to turn poor season around

Snooker's second biggest tournament reaches a milestone this weekend, with the 50th edition of The Masters commencing from Alexandra Palace on Sunday.

This is the second leg of snooker's triple crown, following the UK Championship, won by Ronnie O'Sullivan at York in November.

O'Sullivan eyeing first triple crown

The Rocket is bidding to become the first player in 21 years to win all three majors in the same season, and to do so for the first time himself. This is just about the only goal he has yet to achieve in the game. Victory would also emulate his achievement at York, in becoming both the youngest and oldest winner of this title.

I label The Masters as snooker's 'second' biggest tournament (obviously behind the World Championship) for two reasons. Whilst the first prize of £250,000 is the same as the UK Championship, this is always sure to be a more elite affair, as it is restricted to the top-16 players. Therefore the first round is the strongest we see all year. Secondly, the one-table format adds extra pressure to every match.

Those conditions don't always ensure the season's formbook stands up, though. 2020 and 2021 champions Stuart Bingham and Yan Bingtao were well down the betting order. So too the last two runners-up, Mark Williams and Barry Hawkins. The short break for Christmas may partly explain it, breaking up form gained during a very busy period.

Wilson capable of overturning formbook

It is with that in mind that I'm prepared to swerve the formbook in the top quarter in favour of a speculative punt on an outsider. On the basis of the way they were playing before Christmas, no way could one choose Kyren Wilson over Judd Trump, who is also defending champion.

However the same could have been said about opposing Neil Robertson last year and Trump when previously defending in 2020. In fact, only one of the last five defending champions won their first round match. And in Wilson, Trump faces a player who used to frequently beat him. Despite losing their last five, Kyren only trails 10-8 throughout their careers and has beaten him in majors and a ranking final.

It has been a grim season to date for the usually consistent Wilson but plenty of class acts turn it around during the second half and there were some encouraging signs at the Scottish Open before Christmas.

At this week's Championship League warm-up, Kyren won nine matches from 12. Another positive is that the odds point to the winner playing Mark Williams in the last-eight. Wilson leads their head-to-head by a surprising 6-0 margin, by 29-7 frames.

Back Kyren Wilson 1.5u @ 32.031/1

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Allen to retain pre-Xmas form

The second quarter is probably between Mark Selby, Mark Allen and John Higgins, given the hot streak that took Robert Milkins to the top-16 against all odds seems to have run it's course. Preference at these odds is for the Northern Irishman, champion here in 2019 and whose career is very much still on an upcurve, in contrast to these two rivals.

Allen was the best player in the world last season - vastly improved for the loss of five stone in weight. He won twice before Christmas, including at another elite invitational with a one-table format - the Champion of Champions. His head-to-headsagainst both men, mostly played before that vast improvement, are very good. 8-8 with Selby, 12-8 ahead versus Higgins. 12-1 rates solid each-way value for my money.

Back Back Mark Allen 2.5u e/w @ 12/113.00

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Ronnie a must-bet from this draw

The other reason I opposed Judd Trump is that it would be too expensive to back both him and O'Sullivan, and whereas I could make the case for various players beating Judd en route to the final, with Ronnie that simply isn't the case. Nevertheless, this draw means we could very well get the dream final that nearly materialised in York.

Check out Ronnie's head-to-head against my predicted opponents prior to the final. 18-4 versus Ding Junhui, including five times at the Masters. 16-2 versus Barry Hawkins. 10-2 versus Shaun Murphy. 4-0 versus Jack Lisowski.

Were Neil Robertson to beat Hawkins the story would be very different, but Neil has been in terrible form and went home to Australia over Christmas to get his head together. I'm very sceptical he'll arrive fully tuned up.

Perfect conditions for O'Sullivan

Also, consider how O'Sullivan has become more of a big event specialist. Nowadays he seems to reserve his best for majors or small-field invitationals. Of ten titles won in the last five years, three came in majors and only one came in an event with more than 16 players - the 32-man World Grand Prix.

We saw at York how he can step up at the critical moment when he cares and needs to. Whereas his motivation is often only taken on trust, it is never in question at the Masters in London, in front of an adoring crowd.

I expect him to waltz past this opposition into the final, where admittedly things could get tricky against the likes of Trump, Allen or Selby.

Back Ronnie O'Sullivan 7u win @ 5.39/2

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Finally what seems clearly the worst quarter. On this season's form, debutant Zhang Anda has been superior to Murphy, Lisowski or world champion Luca Brecel.

Nothing here would surprise me but, on the basis of a decent performance here last year and in majors, I'll throw a dart with Lisowski at the biggest odds. He was runner-up in the Macua Masters invitational over Christmas, hitting a 147 in the final.

Back Jack Lisowski 1.5u win @ 32.031/1

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*Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

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