New event looks wide-open
Williams form still underestimated
Murphy has good chance for back-to-back wins
The countdown to next month's World Snooker Championship continues with the final full-field ranking event before that season finale. The WST Classic is a new event. The format is best-of-seven until the semis, then nine and 11 in the semis and final.
One might well conclude this is ripe for an outsider winner. It was presumably low down on the priorities of the leading candidates and these short formats are always fraught with uncertainty. However that is built into the betting, with eyecatching odds available about the game's biggest names.
Is Ronnie unreliable in lesser events?
Ronnie O'Sullivan is the only player trading at single figure odds on the exchange, and that feels hard to justify. I don't believe he has deteriorated at all and the seven-time world champion's chance at the Crucible look as strong as ever. However there is a strong suspicion that Ronnie is saving his focus for the biggest prizes.
His two wins this season were in eight and 16-player invitationals - the second in the Champion of Champions, which has long been one of the favourite. In the longer, full-field events, he hasn't even reached a semi-final.
Williams at very appealing odds
Ronnie's biggest threat in the top quarter is Mark Williams. The Welshman got the better of his career nemesis at the Masters and is very prominent in my Crucible thoughts. Exchange odds around 25.024/1 don't reflect how well he's been playing in recent months, or the fact his early draw is relatively straightforward.
I'm confident Williams will reach at least the last-16. Should he get there, Luca Brecel is the likeliest opponent, whom he leads 5-0 in their head-to-head.
As for an alternative Ronnie's eighth, I'll give Cao Yupeng another chance. Yupeng was a great prospect before his ban, and has been playing a high standard since returning, if lacking the consistency to go on long runs.
Recent results prove such capable outsiders, from outside the top-16 and consequently usually very big odds, are worth persevering with, particularly in an event of this stature. Another pair who fit that bill and made the shortlist from this section are Jamie Jones and Sam Craigie.
Robertson preferred in tough section
The second section involves Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Jack Lisowski. At 11.010/1 and 13.012/1 respectively, I can't recall Trump or Robertson trading this high for several years.
Of the pair, I prefer Robertson, despite his failure to reach a final yet this year. The strange truth is that he has often played outstanding snooker, as last season. Rather, he keeps throwing in one bad day. Based on the theory that the best players win events in their turn, this is a good time to follow Neil at enhanced odds.
Perry to trouble Trump again
Another difference between Robertson and Trump's chances is that, whereas Aussie will be clear favourite against anyone prior to the last eight, Trump may need to overcome his friend Lisowski. Furthermore, I remain unconvinced that Judd is at or close to his best.
In that mini-section, try Joe Perry at 125/1. 'Gentleman Joe' hasn't fired on all cylinders this season but is always capable of springing to life, as evidenced by last year's 250/1 triumph at the Welsh Open. Again, his early draw is a big positive. Trump most likely awaits in the last-32, but Perry has won big matches against him before, including that Welsh Open final.
The third section includes the season's form player, and the player with the best recent form. Based on how far he is ahead on the season rankings, 21.020/1 about Mark Allen seems huge, but I'll swerve it in favour of Shaun Murphy at the less exciting yet still fair 13.012/1.
Murphy the man to beat on recent form
Shaun was absolutely superb in winning the Players Championship and mostly when runner-up previously in the Welsh Open. Again, the early draw is key to my thinking. Murphy should ease into the last-16, whereas Allen and fellow contenders Ali Carter and Ding Junhui face tricky paths.
Anthony McGill is fairly drawn, because his likely opponents prior to the last-16 are showing much less, notably Stuart Bingham. Murphy has thwarted McGill twice recently and that may well prove the case again, but the Scot is well up to winning at this level and decent value at 66/1.
Higgins and Selby easy to oppose
Onto the bottom quarter, where the names to beat are Mark Selby, John Higgins and Kyren Wilson. We should probably add Robert Milkins to that after his recent heroics.
For me, Higgins is unbackable given this season's form and he has a very tricky opener against Michael White. Selby makes no appeal in this format either, and Milkins probably too short in the betting now.
That leaves Wilson and he is the perfect type for this grade of event - solid in the early rounds but usually dominated by the very best. His five ranking victories all came around this grade. There's a good chance he can avoid any superiors until at least the semis.
In an open section, another outsider who appeals is Jak Jones. The Welshman has become a really solid matchplayer, frequently reaching in the last-32 and beyond. He reached the semis of the Gibraltar Open almost exactly a year ago, and made the last-16 of the recent Welsh Open. A win over Mark Williams there was particularly notable. Keep Jak on side.
*Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty