Chasing a fourth consecutive tournament winner following Neil Robertson's 14/1 success in Wales, Paul Krishnamurty previews the Snooker Shootout. Betfair Live Video are covering throughout...
"The Swiss youngster produced an upset for the ages when knocking out Ronnie O'Sullivan en route to the last-16. He looked confident, fluent and held his nerve brilliantly under pressure."
Back Alexander Ursenbacher @ 150/1
Fundamentally, the Snooker Shootout is a bit of fun. It is the closest snooker ever gets to darts. The idea of four days of drinking, singing and watching snooker has always appealed. It is certainly not, however, an event to bet the house on.
One frame shootout is the ultimate leveller
128 players compete for this four-day knockout event, with all matches played over a single frame. A shot-clock is in operation, with each frame lasting a maximum of ten minutes. Shots must be played within 15 seconds during the first half, reduced to ten for the closing five minutes.
As one would expect, the format is a leveller. At least four of the previous champions - Nigel Bond, Dominic Dale, Robin Hull and Michael Georgiou, who won last year - were extremely hard to find. Only Barry Hawkins and to a lesser extent, Michael White and Anthony McGill, could be described as predictable.
Is it a total lottery? No. Playing against a shot-clock is a skill, both in terms of fluency and strategy. Many, even most, frames descend into a tactical battle where the player in front is defending a twenty-odd point lead. Not everyone enjoys playing in front of a noisy crowd. Some thrive.
Hawkins best among the favourites
Nevertheless, the format makes it very hard to justify backing the favourites. To win effectively involves landing a seven-fold accumulator, all over one frame. So a 25/1 shot is priced at an average of 1.68/13 for each round - that doesn't appeal.
That isn't to say a case can't be made. Hawkins has won over two-thirds of his Shootout matches and looks to be close to his best again. Kyren Wilson reached the quarter-finals as a rookie. Stuart Bingham has been runner-up before.
Dott is a master of the format
Instead though, I'm looking further down the betting list - mostly much further. One player who I am certain has the game for it is Graeme Dott. The former world champion has twice been runner-up and once semi-finalist, really catching the eye as having the right blend of quick play and tactical nous.
Dott has himself noted, and it is evident from his play, that he fares best when playing fast. Although not a great scorer, he is a master at building 40-50 point leads and defending them. Exactly what is required.
Unlikely as back-to-back winners of such a wide-open event feels, these odds are too big to ignore. Georgiou was superb last year and seemed ideally suited to the quick format. Alan McManus - a pundit whom I hugely respect - called him early in the event as having the right skills.
He arrives for this defence in good form. Neil Robertson eventually had his measure in Wales but Georgiou had previously gone on a ten-frame winning run and knocked out Hawkins. He's evidently a streaky type so worth following right now.
Ursenbacher's heroics in Wales were no fluke
These are very big odds on the basis of Ursenbacher's play last week. The Swiss youngster produced an upset for the ages when knocking out Ronnie O'Sullivan en route to the last-16. He looked confident, fluent and held his nerve brilliantly under pressure.
Unimaginable as the result was, Ursenbacher's form didn't come out of nowhere. He'd arrived fresh off winning a minor event, had already beaten Yan Bingtao and has since knocked Matthew Stevens out of the China Open. He looks a prospect.
Next another improving youngster. Muir has caught the eye several times this year, usually in defeat to much better players. His best result was the last-16 of the European Masters, where edged out in a decider by Mark Allen. Among four matches with Neil Robertson, he won once and competed well twice more.
Interestingly, the 23 year-old Scot has already shown aptitude for the unique Shootout challenge. Making his debut in 2017, Muir won his first three matches, all against vastly more experienced opponents.
Yong a must-bet on last year's evidence
I've had Yong in mind for this ever since watching his performance last year. Looking very comfortable, fluent and naturally suited to the format, he reached the quarter-finals .
At the time, he went into the notebook as another little-known Asian youngster capable of popping up in the latter stages of events from enormous starting odds. He's done bits and pieces - beating Mark Williams, reaching the Gibraltar quarter-finals - but I suspect this particular quick format may be his forte.
Of the rest, I wouldn't be in the least surprised were last week's semi-finalist Kurt Maflin go well again. And 150/1 about Duane Jones makes some appeal given his recent heroics - reaching the German semis, then beating Judd Trump. Although previous results don't match up, Jones looked considerably better than his lowly ranking.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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