As with all of the Home Nations events, the first day of the Northern Ireland Open is an extremely busy one inside the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, as the second competition of the four in the series gets underway in style.
We have to wait until Tuesday for Judd Trump to begin the defence of his title so the big story on the opening day is Mark Selby and his quest for the £1 million bonus, a prize he will be looking to take another step towards in one of the three sessions of action.
The tables are loaded in the morning session on Monday with the two veterans Ali Carter and Robert Milkins in action on the TV table first up. They will be opening up the tournament on that table and on the streamed offering we will have Yan Bingtao starting out on his quest to win the title he came agonisingly close to winning two years ago when he was touched off in the final. He meets Andy Hicks in front of the cameras.
Six matches take place on the outside tables with the pick of them possibly being the one between Matthew Stevens and Chris Wakelin. Lu Haotian is the highest ranked star on the outside tables. He faces felling Chinese player Tian Pengfei for a place in the second round. Marco Fu is the biggest name on them though and he has a booking with Gerard Greene. The other three matches sees Zhang Anda facing Simon Lichtenberg, Hossein Vafaei meeting Si Jiahui and Li Hang taking on Elliot Slessor. There is also a mini morning session which sees three matches taking place. They inclide Ashley Carty against Rod Lawler, Thor Chuan Leong meeting Jak Jones and Ken Doherty up against Michael Georgiou.
There are two sets of matches in the afternoon session with the TV table in the first of them seeing the man chasing the £1m bonus in Mark Selby, taking on Xu Si while over on the streamed table our outright bet Tom Ford is in action when he goes up against Andrew Higginson. Three other matches make up this part of the day on the outside tables when Peter Lines faces the English Open quarter finalist Mei Xiwen while Ryan Day faces Harvey Chandler. Stephen Maguire meets home amateur Declan Lavery in the other match.
There is another set of matches to follow them and they see Ding Junhui on the TV table. He takes on David Lilley who isn’t having the sort of success as a professional as he did as an amateur. Over on the streamed table Thepchaiya Un-Nooh meets the inaugural winner of this tournament, Mark King. There are three other matches here which has Mitchell Mann playing Liam Highfield, Mike Dunn facing Mark Davis and Chen Feilong playing Kishan Hirani. Two matches have been saved for extra games on the main tables if there is time for them. Dave Gilbert plays Anthony Hamilton on the TV table and Jordan Brown will face James Wattana in a match scheduled for the streamed showing.
John Higgins is the man given the task of opening up the evening session on the TV table. He will be expected to come past Chang Bingyu while over on the streamed table Barry Hawkins is in action. He plays Eden Sharav who is capable on his day. Elsewhere we have a qualifying match between Northern Irish amateurs Patrick Wallace and Mark Allen’s stepson Robbie McGuigan. Jackson Page plays Barry Pinches in a battle of new and old, Anthony McGill meets Robbie Williams, Hammad Miah plays Martin Gould and Xiao Guodong faces Alexander Ursenbacher. Ian Burns plays Andy Lee in the other match.
Two matches are saved to make up a full session on the main tables. Shaun Murphy will go up after Higgins on the TV table. He faces Fraser Patrick where the Magician will be expected to continue his good form. The second game on the streamed table sees Luca Brecel looking to revive his career when he takes on the Polish star Adam Stefanow, the man who beat the Belgian in the first round of the English Open.
Three men make up my betting portfolio on Monday and they start in the morning session where I think Chris Wakelin can see off Matthew Stevens. Stevens has always been a player who enjoys the longer matches and as a result he hasn’t done too much this season yet. Wakelin has wins over Anthony McGill and Yan Bingtao this term which are decent enough results and he is more suited to this sprint type format overall too. I’m a little surprised Wakelin is 10/11 here but I’m happy enough to take it against a Stevens who rarely gets going in a season before the UK Championship.
I’m also going to take the home player Jordan Brown to see off James Wattana. Brown has seen off Stuart Bingham and Michael White in matches this season which sets a decent enough standard and with home comforts here I’m expecting him to go pretty well. Wattana hasn’t won a tour match all season and he hasn’t exactly pulled up trees in the seniors events he has played either. Brown will have put in plenty of practice for his home tournament and I think he’s landed a decent draw too. I’ll take him.
I’ll also chance Hammad Miah in the evening session. Martin Gould looked so low in the Champion of Champions last week it was untrue. I was going to take him on whoever he drew here. There is no doubt I’d have liked to have played him with someone better than Miah but the last thing a player needs when they are struggling for confidence is to be a heavy favourite to win a match. Miah doesn’t have a lot to lose here but if he can get his teeth into the match, the chances needed to win it might just come his way.
Back C.Wakelin to beat M.Stevens for a 4/10 stake at 1.91 with Betway
WON – Back J.Brown to beat J.Wattana for a 4/10 stake at 1.91 with William Hill
Back him here:
WON – Back H.Miah to beat M.Gould for a 2/10 stake at 5.00 with Coral