The Champion of Champions might only have finished on Sunday evening but the snooker tour stops for nobody and as early as Monday the stars of the game will be in Belfast for the Northern Ireland Trophy, the second of the Home Nations events this season.
These tournaments are always hard to win with the best of seven frame bunfights at the beginning but we got the best player in the game coming out on top last season, which bodes well for a good week here as Judd Trump attempts to defend the title.
2018 – Judd Trump
2017 – Mark Williams
2016 – Mark King
These Home Nation events have been around for a while now so the format should be familiar. Monday and Tuesday sees the first round of the tournament take place with the second round on Wednesday. Two rounds of action takes place on Thursday with the third round and last 16 on that day. All of those matches are over the best of seven frames.
The four quarter finals will all be played over the course of the two sessions on Friday. They are the best of 9 frames with the two semi-finals on Saturday being the best of 11. The champion is determined on the Sunday in a two-session final which is a race to nine. There is an open draw for the event so there are some tasty matches right from the start.
As the number one seed it is Judd Trump who headlines the top quarter as he bids to become the first man to defend a Home Nations crown. It will be interesting to see what he has left after making the last two finals. He’ll need to have something about him because his section has three other top 16 players in it, in Kyren Wilson, Allister Carter and Dave Gilbert, who was beaten in the final of the first Home Nations event.
There are plenty of decent players from outside the top 16 who are in this tournament including the best ranked player of the lot in Yan Bingtao. Liang Wenbo and Lu Haotian will be looking to join a growing list of Chinese players to make the latter stages of one of these events while the World Championship star James Cahill is in here too. Jimmy White, Peter Ebdon, Alan McManus and Anthony Hamilton are all experienced players who could go deep here while Kurt Maflin, Hossein Vafaei and Marco Fu are all capable of big runs.
John Higgins looked very good in the Champion of Champions last week and he is the top seed in this quarter and this section will get plenty of attention over the week as Mark Selby looks to continue his attempt to win the £1 million bonus for winning all four Home Nations events. He’s the only player who can do it in 2019. Jack Lisowski and Stephen Maguire are the other two members of the top 16 in this quarter.
They are not the only decent names in it though. The recent World Open finalist Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Indian Open winner Matt Selt and former ranking event holder Luca Brecel make up a decent quarter but that is without mentioning Mark Davis and Noppon Saengkham who have both gone deep in these events before. Michael Georgiou is another tournament winner who has been placed in this quarter.
The Champion of Champions winner Neil Robertson is the top dog in this quarter of the draw. He played brilliantly in Coventry and assuming he knows the way to Belfast he could be tough to beat here too. Mark Allen will be the man most likely to beat him, if the rankings are concerned at least but Stuart Bingham is another member of the top 16 in this part of the draw. Joe Perry is the other player from that elite group but he has a horror first round draw.
That comes against Zhao Xintong who is capable of turning anyone over on his day. In truth, the dangerous outsiders are few and far between in this quarter. Martin Gould is here but we saw last week that his form is awful. Scott Donaldson has gone deep in a Home Nations event before while Sam Craigie is extremely talented. Xiao Guodong and Graeme Dott could enjoy a decent run while Anthony McGill will be hoping for a big week.
It should be all about Ronnie O’Sullivan in the bottom quarter this week but in truth we’ve not seen him play all that well in his last three tournaments and he tends to play quite reckless in these events until the latter stages Shaun Murphy is the main danger in this section but Barry Hawkins and Ding Junhui will all be eyeing up a chance to go well should O’Sullivan lose out at any point.
The World Championship semi-finalist Gary Wilson is a leading outsider in this quarter while Zhou Yuelong is also in here. Michael Holt has shown flashes of good form in recent times unlike Michael White, although there is no doubting his talent. Joe O’Connor came to prominence in one of these events last season. Jimmy Robertson could go well from this section while Stuart Carrington and Ricky Walden could be dark horses.
As ever I’m going to take a player from each quarter in the hope that we get a player or two through to the latter stages of the tournament. In the top quarter I’m going to go with an outsider in the form of Tom Ford. I think Judd Trump is the man to beat so I’m only wanting a small stake in this section but Ford made the semi-final of the English Open and made a maximum along the way, his second of the season, so he’s clearly in good touch at the minute. This is a tough section but Ford is capable enough and is worth backing to see how well he goes.
Moving down to the second quarter and I’m sticking with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. This is a pretty brutal quarter of the draw but Un-Nooh has only lost to Judd Trump in his last three tournaments. In those events he has a pair of wins over Kyren Wilson and a victory over Dave Gilbert while he has also got the better of Mark Selby too. He is clearly playing well, the format suits him perfectly, he’s tightened up his safety game and he’s scoring well. He is massively overpriced at 80/1, even in a tough section.
The third quarter is where my biggest bet comes this week. Stuart Bingham has been in good nick for a while. He produced that win over Mark Selby in China a couple of weeks ago when he made four tons and a 90 in the five frames he won. He scored alright against Higgins in the Champion of Champions and it is only the Scot who has beaten him in the last couple of tournaments. Bingham has had plenty of success in Home Nations events so the format looks to suit him nicely and although Neil Robertson and Mark Allen are in the section, Robertson could suffer a hangover from the Champion of Champions and even though he’s at home Allen hates the pressure of this tournament. Bingham looks a big runner to me.
There is a saying that every horse has its price and that is the case with snooker players now and I think 50/1 on Ding Junhui is his. It is well known that the Chinese superstar has not had a good couple of years. Class acts like him shouldn’t be out of the top 16 but that is the position he finds himself in. I’m hoping that makes the penny drop for him. The last time he came out of the top 16 he ended up in the World Championship final so it was a kick up the arse he needed then and I’m hoping it is now, especially with him only having this tournament and the UK to get back in for The Masters. It might not be a bad thing that Ding has a tricky draw as it might focus his mind. I’ll pay to see how he goes at 50s.
Back T.Ford to win Northern Ireland Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Boylesports (1/2 1-2)
Back him here:
Back T.Un-Nooh to win Northern Ireland Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Betway (1/2 1-2)
Back S.Bingham to win Northern Ireland Open (e/w) for a 1.5/10 stake at 26.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)
Back D.Junhui to win Northern Ireland Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back him here: