Day five at the Crucible was the most dramatic yet, with two leading contenders eliminated in big odds upsets. First Noppon Saengkham, available pre-match at 5.59/2, finished the job with plenty to spare against Shaun Murphy by a 10-4 margin.
Allen exit opens path for Higgins
Later, 11.010/1 chance Jamie Clarke stunned Mark Allen 10-8 in one of the biggest ever Crucible shocks. That has really opened up the second quarter, with John Higgins the most notable beneficiary.
The Wizard of Wishaw kicks off round two this afternoon against Kurt Maflin. The four-time champion is now the only seed left in the second quarter and very much on course for a fourth straight run to the final.
He's a strong favourite to beat Maflin and will be against either potential quarter-finalist but, at risk of sounding predictable, I won't be backing him.
Higgins is rarely the player of old
My analysis over the last season in particular has been that Higgins is in terminal decline. His unrivalled matchplay skills still ensure plenty of quarter-finals (nine this term) but he falls short against the best (he hasn't reached a final).
Those matchplay skills may well be enough to beat Maflin, a talented underachiever who lacks in that critical department. Nevertheless, the Norwegian's opening performance was superior. If he settles early, Maflin can win this but I'd rather merely back him to win the ten frames required to beat the 3.5 Frame Handicap.
Back Kurt Maflin to win the 3.5 Frame Handicap 4u @ Evens
I've been eyeing Stuart Bingham v Mark Williams as a promising potential opportunity since the seedings were confirmed. At 1.84/5, Bingham will likely be my most confident bet of the round.
Williams struggling since Indian summer
The theory is similar to Higgins. Williams is in decline and flattered by the rankings. His remarkable 2017/18 season was an Indian summer and opposing him ever since has reaped rewards.
Again, his experience is enough to negotiate most early rounds but the top players are usually superior. He's reached only two quarter-finals this season. One came 11 months ago when reaching the China Championship final from a helpful draw. The other in Gibraltar ended in a 4-0 semi final loss.
Bingham leads their career head-to-head 6-4 and won for the third time in succession en route to becoming Masters champion, by a comfortable 6-2 margin.
On the basis of the first round, I see no reason to oppose the formbook. Williams was fortunate in that Alan McManus offered no resistance whatsoever in their second session, having led at halfway. No specials here. Just take the 1.84/5.
Back Stuart Bingham 8u @ 1.84/5 to beat Mark Williams
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