Triple-crown masters Shaun Murphy and John Higgins headline Wednesday's action at Alexandra Palace. Both are hot favourites to progress but Paul Krishnamurty offers some reasons to be sceptical...
"Higgins usually arrives here in January with similar credentials, only to underperform. He hasn't reached a Masters final for 12 years and lost half of his first round matches during that period."
In trying to pick out snooker winners, just how much credence should we pay to past tournament form
or head-to-heads spanning long careers? Both questions loom large over our calculations for the final two first round matches at Alexandra Palace.
Indeed making a selection in the afternoon match involves choosing between those two indicators, as they offer contradictory signals. Ali Carter's Masters record - just two wins from 12 matches - suggests his outsider status is entirely valid, yet he definitely has enjoyed an edge over Shaun Murphy over the years.
In all competitions, 'The Captain' leads 'The Magician' 18-11. Discounting league matches and six reds, he leads 18-11 and has won four of their last five. It is ten years since Murphy won by more than two frames and Carter won both matches at last week's warm-up Championship League.
That trend looks significant, given that Murphy would have started favourite pretty much every time, and is a deterrent to what might otherwise be a confident bet at odds-on. In terms of recent form, there's no question that Shaun has the advantage. Overall, he probably produced the best snooker at the UK Championship, where he lost to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final. Ditto when landing the Champion of Champions title.
With that in mind, I'm still loathe to back Carter for the match but I doubt he'll be thrashed. There aren't many one-sided games at this level anymore, so let's back Over 9.5 Frames at 2.2.
Likewise the evening match requires a little more analysis than merely recent form, that points firmly towards the favourite. John Higgins has been mostly been playing good stuff this term, only throwing in the odd bad performance. Anthony McGill started well but has gone completely off the boil since a nice run to the English Open semis.
The problem with following that line of form is that Higgins usually arrives here in January with similar credentials, only to underperform. He hasn't reached a Masters final for 12 years and lost half of his first round matches during that period.
I think there's a plausible explanation. Higgins often says in interviews that, rather than extensively practicing at home or in the club, competitive snooker keeps his game sharp nowadays. That's fine in the run through until December when there is a tournament every week but Christmas breaks up the rhythm.
Perhaps this year will be different and, if Higgins brings his A-game, he's an absolute certainty to progress. However at 1.3, he's worth opposing. McGill is no mug and won their only previous meeting in a major. When making his Crucible debut in 2015, he thrived and reached the quarter-finals. Hopefully he'll settle quickly on this Masters debut and get into this match. Let's try a back to lay on the outsider, with a view towards cashing out and at least doubling our money if he shortens to 1.8 in-running.
Masters 2018 Profit/Loss
Stakes: 25 units
Returns: 40.5 units
P/L: + 15.5 units
Back Over 9.5 Frames 5u @ 6/5 in Murphy v Carter
Back Anthony McGill 4u @ 3.9
Place order to lay 8u @ 1.8