As the 2018 Masters begins at Alexandra Palace, Paul Krishnamurty starts our series of daily tips with three bets recommended for the opening day's two matches...
"Tipped for the very top since his early teens, the 22 year-old has been producing an elite standard in patches this season. I think Brecel will soon surpass Allen and may even emerge as a serious World Championship contender by April."
World number one Mark Selby kicks off the 2018 Masters - previewed in detail here - bidding to win this major title for the fourth time. In a far from straightforward first hurdle, the Jester from Leicester faces an opponent who has given him much more trouble than most and took him to a deciding frame at this exact stage last year.
Every indicator points towards another close contest. In all competitions, Selby and Mark Williams are tied 15-15 over the course of their illustrious careers. If excluding 6-Reds and the Championship League, Williams leads 10-9. All but two of those matches were in the last decade, when Selby has nearly always started favourite, often strongly so.
Typically for Selby - whose win last year was a remarkable 12th out of 13 final frame deciders in this event - their matches are usually close. Their three since produced 10-8 and 6-4 wins to Selby, plus 5-3 to Williams last time.
There's a logical explanation to the numbers. Selby's fortes are tactics, resilience and bottle - the ultimate grinder. He doesn't thrash lesser opposition very often and, in Williams' case, that opponent is equally known for the same qualities. Unless one of them plays exceptionally well, they're always liable to cancel one another out and produce a marathon.
On form, this is much likelier to be close than last year. Then Williams had been struggling badly but this term he's been one of the best in the world. If reproducing the sort of snooker than landed the Northern Ireland Open in November, he will be a major contender for the title. In contrast Selby has endured a relatively quiet season but generally peaks for the majors.
Those form factors are priced into the market, with Selby bigger than he'd normally be in the first round of a major at 1.55. Rather than try to separate them though, backing Over 9.5 Frames at 6/5 is much preferred.
The same bet is tempting in the evening match as it isn't easy to separate Mark Allen and Luca Brecel. The former has a solid if unspectacular Masters record - winning seven out of nine first round matches without ever reaching the final. The latter is making the first of what will surely be many appearances at Alexandra Palace.
Previous encounters are of little relevance here, because Brecel has matured significantly since they last met in 2015. Tipped for the very top since his early teens, the 22 year-old has been producing an elite standard in patches this season. I think he'll soon surpass Allen and may even emerge as a serious World Championship contender by April.
At this point in time, Brecel remains a supremely talented, albeit inconsistent, prospect. Not one to be the house on at odds-on, but good value when outsider against players of a similar grade. In this case, his opponent is hardly the most reliable character to back at odds-on.
Another nice speciality bet is Over 1.5 Centuries at 13/8. This should be an open match full of attacking snooker and Allen has a particularly frequent century rate.