One of the bigger and better ranking events of the season begins on Monday evening when the leading 16 players on the money list for this season head to the behind closed doors setup at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes for the Cazoo Players Championship.
This is a unique sort of event where the draw is based on positions in those rankings with Judd Trump the defending champion. He is here to defend his crown but with everyone in the event having had good seasons this will take some winning.
2020 – Judd Trump
2019 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
2018 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
2017 – Judd Trump
2016 – Mark Allen
2015 – Joe Perry
2014 – Barry Hawkins
2013 – Ding Junhui
2012 – Stephen Lee
2011 – Shaun Murphy
One of the attractions of this tournament is that it is a long format right throughout, and after the first round we are in a one table arena. The first round through to the semi-finals are the best of 11 frames and then the champion will be determined on Sunday over the course of two sessions and the best of 19 frames. The top 16 on the one-year list have qualified for the tournament and have been placed in the draw by their ranking on that list.
As the defending champion and the number one seed Judd Trump takes his place in the top quarter of the draw and has three competitive rivals to deal with in order to make it through to the semi-final. Zhou Yuelong is the next highest ranked player in this section with the UK Championship semi-finalist hoping to go deep. Barry Hawkins faces a big week here as he bids to qualify automatically for the World Championship at the end of the campaign, with the same being said about Stuart Bingham who is the other man in this section.
The second quarter of the draw this week looks absolutely loaded with the top seed in it being the world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan who will look to go one better than he did in the Welsh Open on Sunday. World Grand Prix and German Masters finalist Jack Lisowski is the next highest seed in the quarter with the dangerous European Masters runner up Martin Gould lurking in here too. If that isn’t enough quality in this part of the draw then we also have the classy Ding Junhui who is far too good not to be contending in tournaments such as this one.
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The UK champion Neil Robertson heads up the seedings in the third quarter of the draw. Robertson hasn’t had a great time of it in 2021 but will be looking to go deep in this event and reclaim his world number two ranking. Kyren Wilson is the next highest seed in the third quarter. The Championship League winner will be looking for a first Players Championship title. The Shootout champion Ryan Day has also made his way into this quarter and will hope to do some damage. The other player in this part of the draw is the tournament debutant Lu Ning, who is here off the back of his run to the semi-final of the UK Championship.
The European Masters and Scottish Open winner Mark Selby is the highest seed in the bottom quarter of the draw and he will be expected to make it through to the semi-final. It is anything but guaranteed with the quality on show in this section though. The newly crowned Welsh Open champion Jordan Brown is in this quarter while the other two players are members of the ‘Class of 92’ who can still go deep in big events in John Higgins and the man who made it all the way to the last four of his home tournament last weekend in Mark Williams.
The way the draw has fallen there isn’t a huge amount of outright value jumping out at me this week so I’m going to go with a player who I think can go the deepest in John Higgins. I always like Higgins over the longer formats and he has been in decent touch for most of the season. In nine events this season, the Scot has gone out in a deciding frame in four of them while Judd Trump has accounted for him in two others and Ding Junhui in another. It is either taking a quality player to beat him or someone holding their nerve in a best of seven.
The longer format will allow Higgins to get into a match and play his best snooker. We saw that happen at The Masters and it can happen again here too. You would think Jordan Brown would struggle to back up his heroics last week to give Higgins a smoother first round match and then this tournament opens up from there. Every time we’ve heard Higgins talk this season there has been an air of confidence about him with his new cue and everything. With all that in mind we might be hearing him talk on Sunday evening, hopefully with a trophy in hand.
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