Paul Krishnamurty previews the most wide-open event on the snooker calendar, which starts Thursday and will be covered live on Betfair throughout...
"Robert Milkins reached the first ever Shootout final...He's got the perfect fluent, quick style and has put in quite a few strong performances of late."
It has been a horrible start to 2021 for this column, with the main pick in both events forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid. Hopefully our luck will balance out with a big-priced winner at snooker's biggest lottery.
Previous event form is a useful guide
Actually, that isn't fair. Yes, with matches played over a single frame, the Snooker Shootout is far less predictable than any other event. There is, however, a form guide.
The shot-clock obviously suits quick, fluent players. 2019 champion Thepchaiya Un-Nooh is the perfect illustration. Defending champ Michael Holt fits the bill when on song, and had previous in the event. As does Graeme Dott, who is seen to best effect when playing quickly.
Wily, experienced outsiders have gone well too. Rod Lawler reached two of the last four quarter-finals, three of the last five top-16s. Dominic Dale and Nigel Bond are former champions.
Leading lights have poor records
This year's renewal is the strongest ever, on paper, with all bar five of the world's top-16 in attendance. Most of them, however, have ordinary or poor tournament records. I'm happy to overlook Mark Selby, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Stuart Bingham. Kyren Wilson and Mark Allen were shortlisted.
This isn't an event for big stakes but the odds are rewarding. Lets try the following eight picks.
Stick with in-form Lisowski and Zhou
Given the form he's in, Jack Lisowski is taken to perform in a tournament that one would think suits him down to the ground. To be fair most previous efforts came when way down the rankings and he's won more matches than lost, reaching the last-16 three times.
Three of last year's four semi-finalists were Chinese, including the two emerging superstars. Zhou Yuelong was runner-up while the new Masters champion Yan Bingtao reached the semis.
Both should go well but I'll take Zhou this time. He's actually been in better form overall, performing like a top-eight player, and overdue a breakthrough title.
Robert Milkins reached the first ever Shootout final and has reached one further quarter-final. He's got the perfect fluent, quick style and has put in quite a few strong performances of late.
Could WST event offer some clues?
Two more Chinese youngsters make the plan. Luo Honghao is a big talent, but has been saving it for the lesser events. He won six matches in the recent WST Pro Series and had a good run in the Championship League.
Pang Junxu has made such a quick impact that people are already talking about him in the same breath as Bingtao and Yuelong. He reached three top-32s, including the top-16 of the UK Championship and European Masters. Along the way, the notable scalps of Allen, Maguire and Hawkins were taken.
Annoyingly, Pang starts against another player on my shortlist. Jamie Clarke has eight wins from ten matches in this event, and has definitely improved. The obvious highlight being his run at the World Championship.
Brown to follow up on last week's run
Odds of 175/1 about Jordan Brown is too big. His run to last week's German Masters quarter-finals came as no surprise. He's improving fast.
At the same odds, the highly promising Louis Heathcote appeals. He's another who went well at the recent WST Pro Series, winning five from seven, and only lost in a decider to Lisowski in the German Masters.
Finally Stephen Hallworth's tournament record is extremely eye-catching. He's won seven from nine matches in two appearances, which reads very well for a player barely established on the main tour. He's got bits and pieces of recent form, too.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
2020/21: +24.7 units
2019/20: +6 units
2018/19: +154.5 units
2017/18: +106 units