Two more groups of action take place at the Championship League on Tuesday as another eight players get their season underway inside the bio-secure bubble of the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes on what looks like another good day of snooker.
In the main we’ve seen the favourites make it through to the second stage so far and it will be interesting to see if the two players who are expected to progress on Tuesday actually do. Those two men are Stephen Maguire and Zhou Yuelong.
The whole tour were invited into the tournament with it now getting ranking event status. The 128 man field have been split into 32 groups of four in the first round. Each group is a round robin with everyone playing everyone else over the best of four frames with two points for a win and one for a draw. The player who tops the group goes through to the second stage where the 32 remaining players are split into four more groups of four over the same format. Those eight winners then go into two more groups where the winner of each will battle it out in a best of five frame final for the title. Two groups will be played on each day until the final day when the Championship group and final is played. The first stage of the tournament is on Free Sports.
Day 2 Recap
We had our first shock on Monday while another favourite also made it through to the next stage. The favourite to progress was Barry Hawkins. Like the opening two group winners, Hawkins has his group wrapped up before he took to the baize for his final game. The shock came on table two where Robert Milkins came through on frame difference from Jamie Jones with the favourite Gary Wilson disappointing on the day.
It was an annoying betting day for us. Sam Craigie never lost a match but still wasn’t good enough to win his group while Ben Hancorn probably should have won all four frames against Jackson Page and while him winning the last one to secure a push was welcomed, there is a feeling that the winner was one which got away from us. It was a losing day but it probably shouldn’t have been.
Stephen Maguire vs Leo Fernandez
Louis Heathcote vs Dominic Dale
Louis Heathcote vs Leo Fernandez
Stephen Maguire vs Dominic Dale
Dominic Dale vs Leo Fernandez
Stephen Maguire vs Louis Heathcote
The Tour Championship winner Stephen Maguire is the favourite to come through this section and I would imagine a lot of whether he qualifies or not will be down to how he feels about the tournament. He is a country mile the best player in this section but if he isn’t up for it he can be pretty poor. Dominic Dale and Louis Heathcote will be hoping he isn’t up for it as it would give them a chance of making it through. Leo Fernandez will be delighted for the chance to compete in this tournament as he isn’t on the main tour. He’ll hope to show what he can do too.
Ricky Walden vs Gerard Greene
Zhou Yuelong vs Jianbo Zhao
Zhou Yuelong vs Gerard Greene
Ricky Walden vs Jianbo Zhao
Zhou Yuelong vs Ricky Walden
Gerard Greene vs Jianbo Zhao
The first group that doesn’t have what you would call a standout name in terms of ranking or current form is Group 6 and as a result there is an open feel about this one. Zhou Yuelong is the favourite for the group but the fact he is playing competitively for the first time since lockdown will give the likes of Ricky Walden and Gerard Greene encouragement. 17-year-old Chinese talent Jianbo Zhao makes his tour debut in this group having come through the China Tour to get a tour card.
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I’m not one for betting on these groups even though Stephen Maguire looks a little short. He is coming back to a venue where he won the Tour Championship and should have good feelings and he also has the game to go well in this competition in that he scores heavily when he gets in. There is a lot of talk about Louis Heathcote at present and right so, even Ronnie O’Sullivan has recently noted his talents, and he might be the biggest danger but it is hard to go against Maguire.
I’m reluctant to bet on the other group though because I’m already on Zhou Yuelong outright so him coming through would do me a favour there. You have to respect Ricky Walden though. He’s a seasoned campaigner who didn’t put in the worst performance in the previous Championship League but I’m hoping Zhou has the class to get the better of him. I’m not convinced the other two will be a factor but I’ll still leave it.
I will go with one in the match betting department though and that is on the aforementioned Louis Heathcote in his opening match against Dominic Dale. Heathcote had an excellent World Championship qualifying campaign and when you are picked out as one to watch by Ronnie O’Sullivan you must be feeling pretty good about yourself and I would expect him to have a decent early part of the season as a result.
Dominic Dale is still on the circuit despite threatening to retire and he’s a pretty canny operator so it isn’t like he has no chance in this match but I’m not convinced he should be as much of a favourite as he has been priced up as. Heathcote showed in beating Ali Carter in World Championship qualifying that he has a decent all-round game and at 11/8 without the draw in play the youngster looks a shade big to come through this one.
Back L.Heathcote to beat D.Dale (DNB) for a 3/10 stake at 2.38 with Coral