Paul Krishnamurty updates what looks set to be a classic Ronnie O'Sullivan match and previews two more first round contests starting at the Crucible on Sunday...
"Allen hasn't achieved anything special since the Masters but has generally lost to good opponents playing well. He needed to produce under pressure last time to stay in the top-16, and delivered two excellent wins to do so."
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What a start! As the time of writing Mark Selby is on the brink of defeat and Ronnie O'Sullivan also in mortal danger. At this moment, we are looking at the most wide-open World Championship in many a year. That could of course change if Ronnie can turn around a 6-3 deficit against Stephen Maguire. If you think he'll do it but aren't already on, now is a good time to back him at take the [5.7] to win the title.
Expect a counter-attack from Ronnie
The historic formbook between this pair demonstrates what a long way is left to go. In the 2005 first round here, at the moment when Maguire's reputation was its peak, Ronnie turned around a 9-7 deficit. In the 2012 German Masters final, he won 9-7 from 6-3 down. In February's World Grand Prix, he produced a sublime spell to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 win.
These are merely the most memorable among numerous close encounters. Maguire couldn't really be accused of bottling those matches, that to some extent have defined his career. I don't think he will do so here but do expect a counter-attack. This has all the hallmarks of a Crucible classic, going down to a deciding frame. Let's double up on a total frames bet with the Murphy/Jones match, previewed below. The target here is Over 17.5, compared to Over 16.5 in the latter.
Allen to progress with something to spare
Two matches start today, both including genuine title contenders. First Mark Allen is expected to deliver at odds of [1.36]. His opponent is solid and on the up but a couple of leagues below the Masters champion. The way Highfield crumbled under pressure when given chance after chance to knock out Shaun Murphy of the UK Championship must be a concern on his Crucible debut.
Allen hasn't achieved anything special since the Masters but has generally lost to good opponents playing well. He needed to produce under pressure last time to stay in the top-16, and delivered two excellent wins to do so before losing a decider to Mark Williams.
Two bets appeal. First a correct score combination on 10-5, 10-6 and 10-7, paying around [2.7]. Also 4/9 about Allen making the highest break looks banker material. According to the invaluable stats at cuetracker.net, he's made four times as many breaks over 80 this season and 36 tons compared to Highfield's ten.
In-form Jones could take Murphy all the way
Finally although Murphy is one of my outright picks, I'm less confident about his first match. He's not always the best starter and Jamie Jones beat him at this stage in 2012. The Welshman was absolutely flying in the qualifiers, whitewashing Liang Wenbo 10-0 and scoring well in all three matches. This doesn't look obviously one-sided so, as explained above, the best play could be Over 16.5 Frames.
2 units double
Over 17.5 Frames in Ronnie O'Sullivan v Stephen Maguire @ 8/11
Over 16.5 Frames in Shaun Murphy v Jamie Jones @ Evens
Back Mark Allen to win 10-5 1u @ 7/1
Back Mark Allen to win 10-6 1u @ 7/1
Back Mark Allen to win 10-7 1u @ 7/1
Mark Allen to score the highest break 6u @ 4/9