Regular readers of this blog will know that I am impartial to a bit of snooker from time to time and over the last year or two it has become a kind of second sport for me. Unfortunately this tends to be strictly from an enjoyment perspective and not so much from a betting perspective, partly because snooker doesn't have the liquidity required to trade properly and partly because the sport is so unpredictable. The World Championship starts on Saturday though and it is sponsored by Betfair after all, so it should show an improvement liquidity-wise.
The draw for the competition was made yesterday and it made for a slight rearrangement on the outright winner market, as each of the favourites' route to the final was determined. As far as the betting goes the outright market is the most interesting as usual but it is typically difficult to pick yourself a winner, with the favourite starting at a huge 7.2. The big news so far has been the return of defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan having played his last competitive match of snooker in the final of last year's World Championship. He heads the betting at 7.2 but I really cannot see myself backing him, especially as favourite. Everyone knows what Ronnie is like and how he plays, no one can predict anything he will do though and he could be sensational or awful. I wouldn't want to back anyone who had not played the game for a year, let alone someone who is renowned for being a bit of a basket-case. Don't get me wrong, I fully hope we see the old Ronnie back to his glory days to give a strong defence of his title, but I won't be backing him to do so.
Neil Robertson, Judd Trump and Mark Selby make up the rest of what Betfair is calling 'The Big Four', and you can currently get 1.89 on any of them to lift the trophy. Throughout history the winner has tended to be one of the big players in the game at the time, as indeed should be the case, and it isn't since 2005 when a young Shaun Murphy won the title that an underdog has come through to win. You could argue that last year was a shock with O'Sullivan winning despite his poor ranking and age (oldest winner since Ray Reardon in 1978), but Ronnie has been somewhat of an anomaly all throughout his career so it can possibly be excused (and he was actually still one of the favourites). Of the other three of the 'Big 4', the most appealing to me is Robertson at 7.4 who is the only former World Champion of the three. He certainly looks good for a back-to-lay as he has been the most consistent throughout this season (despite actually going all the way only once) with 1 win, 3 finals, 3 semi-finals and quarter. He is just coming off the back of his impressive China Open win and I think he could be ready to take it to the next level. Alternatively, Mark Selby at 7.8 has been world number one for intermittent parts of the season and, although he has been less consistent with only one final, he also won the UK Championship and the Masters and is looking to complete the Triple Crown. Judd Trump at 8.4 is my least favourite of the four by far and tends to have his price shortened somewhat due to his playing style. This season he won the International Championship and finished runner-up at the Shanghai Masters, but let's himself down far too often and has failed to get past the second round of ranking events on 5 occasions this season. Two years ago he announced himself to the world by finishing runner-up in this tournament, but I think it may still be a tad too soon for him to go one step further.
As for 'The Field', Higgins and Ding (14s), Allen (16s), Maguire (19.5) and Murphy (22) make up the rest of the main pack with a fair chance of doing well this time round. Higgins and Murphy are the only ones with World titles to their name, and it is the latter who I feel has once again been severely underrated by the markets. He remains number 4 in the world (ranked 5 in this tournament because O'Sullivan is first seed) and has been pretty consistent all the way through the season, with one final, four semi finals and two quarters. It may just be past him to win the tournament, but I will be backing him to make the quarter finals at least. Mark Allen is another who has performed well this season and is up to 6 in the rankings, though he is another who frequently struggles to make it past the second round (on 6 occasions). He also has a very difficult draw with the way it is structured, so I would not really advise backing him. Stephen Maguire is at 19.5 and this must be for his world ranking (5) alone because he has not really performed well this season. He won the Welsh Open and made the semis in China, but on eight occasions did not progress past the 2nd round. His draw is not the harshest however and he could progress until he meets Robertson in the quarters, but I wouldn't back him to get that far based on his recent form.
Overall the tournament is extremely difficult to call either way, much like any other world sporting tournament, as the prestige of the Crucible mixed with the length of the matches (1st round is best of 19 frames, progressing to the final which is best of 35) means anything can happen. I'm not sure I will be having any big punts on it, but maybe a couple of small interest bets. From a in-play trading perspective, I would be looking to back Mark Selby if he went behind early on in a match and lay Judd Trump/Neil Robertson if they took a big early lead. Robertson and Trump's playing style relies upon their long potting being perfect which is difficult to maintain for a whole 19+ frames and they are known to frequently take the foot off the gas when they're ahead.
Otherwise though, sit back and enjoy the tournament! Much like golf or test cricket, it is a sport which is relaxing to watch as well and can be left on in the background (particularly when you have revision to do...), but can also be exciting at times and unmissable! I only wish I didn't have exams soon so I could go to Sheffield and watch it. Good luck.