Upsets are coming thick and fast at the Crucible and Paul Krishnamurty is backing three more in the second round. Read his preview and best bets here...
"Sam Baird is one of the best value bets of the tournament, across a wide range of markets...The odds bear no reflection on their first round performances."
Back Sam Baird to win the 5.5 frame handicap @ 1.85 vs Mark Selby
This season has been full of upsets and the first round results confirmed that qualifiers, rightly, are not remotely in awe of their so-called superiors any more. In such a climate, don't be surprised if the biggest outsider of the second round pulls off a massive shock.
For my money, Sam Baird is one of the best value bets of the tournament, across a wide range of markets. 9.08/1 to win the match is huge and appeals as a back-to-lay, but a less ambitious angle is to back him on the handicap. The eight frames required to win is very much within range.
The odds bear no reflection on their first round performances. Selby's match against Rob Milkins was a dreadful affair, with the latter spurning constant opportunities. The Jester arrived in Sheffield under a cloud, having withdrawn from recent events for personal reasons, and did nothing to dispel concerns about his form.
Perhaps the 2014 champion will find his rhythm as the tournament progresses but, without evidence of fluency, he is a very risky betting proposition, especially at heavy odds-on. Even at his best, Selby has a long history of making hard work of inferior opponents, and getting bogged down in scrappy matches.
If so, Baird is good enough to capitalise. His match with Michael White was of a much better standard, and the Devon man looked much better than 59th place in the world rankings suggests. He has often caught the eye in short-format PTCs as a good match player with potential, and the way he improved as the White match developed suggested he could thrive over the longer distance.
Back Ricky Walden to beat John Higgins @ 3.211/5
Here's another game where the outsider could be overpriced, although this time it may pay to avoid drawing too firm a conclusion from the first round form. Had this match taken place before, the betting would have been considerably closer. Not least because Walden won their last encounter in the China Open semi-final.
Prior to a late, winning surge, Walden's performance against Robbie Williams was almost too bad to be true. Previously he'd been in consecutive ranking finals and will arrived confident of at least his best run since reaching the 2013 semi-final. He is perfectly capable of immediately resuming that form.
The principal reason behind the odds change was actually Higgins' superb performance against Ryan Day, when the four-time champion looked as good as ever. We know, however, that he is nothing like as reliable or consistent nowadays. Higgins regularly turns in terrible sessions that were unthinkable at his peak. At some stage during these multi-session matches, that could prove ruinous.
The aforementioned Baird handicap bet starts our treble, which pays around 10.09/1.
Next another handicap bet, on Ronnie O'Sullivan maintaining his dominance over Barry Hawkins by 13-7 or better. He's won their last 10 encounters, most recently 10-1 in the Masters final. Previously at the Crucible, the margins were 17-7 and 18-12. Since 2008, the margin of six victories is 58 frames to 24.
My verdict on this tournament remains clear - it's either a runaway Ronnie victory, or the most wide-open renewal ever. Literally anyone else left in can win.
The market has not been overly keen on Ronnie since his reported dressing room tantrum after beating David Gilbert in the first round but there is no recent evidence of him losing the plot on the match table. His first round form was excellent and Gilbert would have beaten most seeds with that performance.
Finally to boost the odds quite dramatically, let's take a chance on Ding Junhui gaining revenge for last year's quarter-final humiliation against Judd Trump. At his best, Ding is a serious contender for the title and seven breaks of 80 plus in the first round bodes very well.
The same can of course be said about Trump but he remains highly inconsistent. On the basis of a career head-to-head tied at 6-6, the value must lie with the outsider.
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