Northern Ireland Open Snooker Tips: Two players to back from each quarter

World number one Judd Trump
Judd Trump starts favourite to land his third straight NI Open title

Five straight weeks of snooker, all covered on Betfair Live Video, starts tomorrow. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's Northern Ireland Open preview...

"Robertson hasn't won yet this season but has arguably played best overall. He stands out, ahead of Ronnie, in the bottom half."

Back Neil Robertson 5u @ 8.27/1

It has been notable during the opening events of the 2020/21 season just how well most of the world's best are playing. In seasons past, the big-guns tended to take a while to take their stride, but the later World Championship probably changed that dynamic.

So too perhaps, the fact all the events are being played at the same venue. It is surely easier to maintain peak form without the usual, gruelling travel schedule.

Snooker's elite are in dominant form

Consequently as we enter five straight weeks of world ranking events, half a dozen look some way above the rest. I've included Ronnie O'Sullivan in that, despite his lack of success since the Crucible. The others are the last four winners, plus dual runner-up Neil Robertson.

Back Judd Trump 8u @ 4.67/2
Back Alexander Ursenbacher 0.25u e/w @ 325/1

The Northern Ireland Open will forever be a significant event for Judd Trump. It was here two years ago that his 9-7 victory over Ronnie heralded his takeover. 2019 saw an exact repeat of that result and were he to complete the hat-trick, it would be his 11th title during that period.

I don't see much of a threat prior to the latter stages. Mark Allen is the only other 'elite' player in the section. His draw is harder and, whilst he was brilliant at the Champion of Champions, he's never been the type to hold form week to week.

There are other potential threats from the likes of Stephen Maguire, Jack Lisowski, Gary Wilson and Martin Gould, but all are both much inferior and tasked with several early, tricky hurdles.

Swiss youngster is one to follow

I'm also throwing a dart at Ursenbacher. The 24 year-old Swiss has long shown promise - a ranking semi-finalist in 2017 and quarter-finalist in this last year. He's definitely advanced since.

Back Barry Hawkins 1u e/w @ 40/1
Back Zhao Xintong 0.25u e/w @ 125/1

Of the aforementioned six bang-in-form players, two more reside in this quarter. Both Kyren Wilson and Mark Selby look primed but the prospect of having to play one another in the quarters is a big negative. Win that and Trump most likely awaits in the semis.

Hawkins is due a run. A class player in urgent need of ranking points having fallen outside the top-16, he looked good at the English Open before a terrible piece of luck turned his match with Robertson.

Xintong due a breakthrough run

Likewise it is only a matter of time before Xintong makes a weekend. Arguably the most talented among the ever-growing Chinese contingent, Zhao won two groups at the Championship League and was only bettered by Trump on finals day.

Back Neil Robertson 5u @ 8.27/1
Back Kurt Maflin 0.25u e/w @ 150/1

Robertson hasn't won yet this season but has arguably played best overall. He stands out, ahead of Ronnie, in the bottom half. I'll forgive last week's surprise loss to Ben Woollaston, in memory of the ten centuries hit at the Champion of Champions.

None of his biggest rivals in this section - Shaun Murphy, Mark Williams, Stuart Bingham, Graeme Dott - look convincing right now.

Maflin is preferred at much bigger odds. The Norwegian's run to the Crucible quarters was no fluke and may well have instilled new confidence in his ability to compete with the best.

Unreliable favourites in bottom section

Back Hossein Vafaei 0.25u e/w @ 225/1
Back Stuart Carrington 0.25u e/w @ 275/1

It seems strange to say the weakest quarter is the one involving O'Sullivan. However, outside the World Championship, he hasn't been seen to best effect for over a year. Plus the other two big-guns, Ding Junhui and John Higgins, are far from reliable nowadays.

Longshots are preferred. Vafaei gave us a decent run at similar odds at the English Open, losing a 3-1 lead to Selby in the last-16 stage. This 26 year-old Iranian is another very talented type with the potential to rise significantly up the rankings.

Stuart Carrington has shown he's capable of reaching the latter stages and often ran into elite opponents last season, such as O'Sullivan in the last-32 of this event 12 months ago.

Other outsiders to consider in this section are Matthew Stevens and whoever wins the first round match between Yuan Sijun and Luo Honghao.

Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

2020/21: -2 units
2019/20: +6 units
2018/19: +154.5 units
2017/18: +106 units

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