Every so often in snooker, it is possible to beat the market by identifying a significant improver. Draws are often lop-sided in this sport, which means that a player can be flying but keep running into bang-in-form opponents before the latter stages. That was the logic behind Ali Carter's selection for the German Masters and the same argument applies in spades to Mark Allen. In the last two big tournaments, he's lost to extremely high-class performances - to Neil Robertson at the Betfair Masters and Barry Hawkins in Germany.
I'm convinced Mark has come on leaps and bounds from earlier promising seasons, during which his standard was only marginally below the very best. Just a slight change of luck and one impressive win could see him established as one of the regular favourites. In the longer-term, I've already taken [16.0] for the World Championship and [13.0] this week is more than fair.
It may also help Allen's chances that all matches up to the quarter-finals are played over best of seven, as he really thrived recently in the short format used for the Championship League. The one downside is a couple of potentially tough matches early on, against German finalist Marco Fu and then possibly defending champion Ding Junhui. If he gets past them though, the only even vaguely frightening quarter-final opponent is the badly out of form Mark Williams.
Having previously tipped the player I consider the world's best in consecutive tournaments, it came as a great relief to see Carter down Robertson in the German semis but I'm not taking that risk again. [8.0] is a perfectly reasonable price about such a high-class player, especially given this kindly draw. The only other top players in his section are John Higgins and, to a lesser extent, Stuart Bingham. The former has been well below his best over the past month and could easily come a cropper against some dangerous opponents before Robbo has to worry about him. As for Bingham, respected and much improved as the Essex man is, he would still have to be considered clear outsider against the Melbourne Machine.
Again, this bet is a case of persevering with an in-form selection overdue a change of luck. Murphy has run into Robertson in the last two events, losing a deciding frame in their German Masters encounter, and previously reached the UK Championship final. On each occasion he's traded well below his opening mark and I can see the Magician reaching the semis in Wales without too much fuss. Odds of [15.0] are a consequence of being drawn in the same section as Judd Trump, but all the recent evidence suggests the Juddernaut is truly atrocious value right now. In fact, a further confident recommendation is to oppose Trump in the early rounds at big prices, at least with a view to trading in-running when his matches prove less one-sided than expected.
For my money, the bottom quarter is the most competitive, with a plausible case to be made for perhaps as many as seven different players. Under those circumstances, it is well worth taking on tournament favourite Mark Selby, who nearly always makes life hard for himself anyway. The only last-32 match in this section about which I feel confident making a prediction is Barry Hawkins to beat yesterday's man Alan McManus. Hawkins played some cracking stuff to beat Selby, (and Allen), en route to the German semis, so is well capable of beating the world number one should they meet as scheduled in the last-16.