After the success of it when it brought the sport out of lockdown, the new snooker season kicks off with the Championship League, an event which has been elevated to ranking status and which once again takes place behind closed doors inside the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
Luca Brecel pulled off a surprise to win the first running of this revamped tournament and he will be out to defend the title over the course of the next few weeks in what should be another quality staging of the event with its quirky and different format.
2020 – Luca Brecel
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 initial stages of the tournament are live on Matchroom.live.
Ronnie O’Sullivan embarks on his first tournament as a world champion and he is the 4/1 favourite to follow up his sixth world crown by winning this event. You would have to say that is plenty short enough because I doubt the Rocket has had his cue out to prepare for this, but he isn’t in action until after the European Masters so by then he might well be nicely in tune for a decent run. We saw in the first staging of this that you don’t need to be too far off your game to come a cropper though so he isn’t for me.
Judd Trump comes second in the betting at 9/2. He hasn’t really shown us his best side since lockdown and that has to be a concern. He is also out in the first group so he is going to have quite a wait between rounds as well which feels like a negative. The positive is that he’s an attacking player and I think this format is suited to that but once again given the short nature of the matches and the group stages there isn’t a whole lot of value in someone shorter than 5/1 no matter how good he is.
Neil Robertson comes third in the betting at 9/1 and much of what I said about Judd Trump applies to the Australian too. He hasn’t really shown his best snooker behind closed doors and he was actually quite ordinary in the first Championship League after lockdown, admittedly no doubt using it to prepare for the tournaments which followed. The ranking status should mean the Australian takes it seriously and while it wouldn’t be a surprise if he comes through and wins this, he’s not the sort of confident pick that he would be in a normal ranking event.
Mark Selby only lost out in that epic semi-final showdown at the World Championship and he is 10/1 to get over that disappointment by going all the way in this tournament. You wouldn’t think this short format stuff suits him but we should remind ourselves that he won two Home Nations events last year where the majority of those tournaments are best of seven. He didn’t look particularly comfortable in the first one of those post-lockdown though and there is enough to suggest we should look elsewhere at this stage of the campaign.
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This is the second time this tournament has been run so we have a little bit of a guide to go by and the four players who made the final group in that first event were: Luca Brecel, Ben Woollaston, Stuart Bingham and Ryan Day – four pretty attacking players who are decent under pressure, score heavily and get in from distance. That are all prepared to take risks as well and that is the sort of player I’m looking for in this second running.
I definitely think this is an event for the scorers rather than the safety playing plodders and of course in that first event we saw a few groups decided by the highest break so I certainly wouldn’t want to be on someone who can’t score that well. In an ideal world we would have someone with a good long game and a bit of a snooker brain but we’re not going to get everything I guess. Definitely the scorers for me.
There are going to be shocks in this tournament but I’ll have four small bets each of which would go into a different group to each other in the second round so hopefully we can get a couple through to those final groups and then you never know from there. My main bet is going to be Dave Gilbert who looks to have a nice enough opening group with Lu Ning being the second seed in it and Xu Si and Aaron Hill making it up so Gilbert should really be coming out of there without too much trouble. If it goes to the seeds then his second group would be himself, Kyren Wilson, Scott Donaldson and Jimmy Robertson which again isn’t too tough. He won’t get an easy final group as nobody will but if he gets there he has the game to beat anyone over this format and at 33/1 he looks a fair bet.
Kurt Maflin showed all his class in the World Championship recently and I’m hoping that run has spurred him on to take things seriously and be more consistent because as we saw in Sheffield he’s capable of beating anyone when he is on song. Maflin doesn’t have the easiest group in the world with Martin Gould a nasty second seed in it but with John Higgins the main seed in the section where his second group players could come from you wouldn’t think this format naturally suits him, so if the Norwegian can come out of his first group there should be the potential to go a long way. He wasn’t particularly great in the first one of these but he has caught fire since then and might be a big price at 125/1.
One man who did go well in that first Championship League is Liang Wenbo and on the face of it there is no reason why he shouldn’t fancy his chances again here. Liang is the second seed in his group but I’m not convinced Graeme Dott will fancy this format and then the seeded player in his second group would be Mark Selby who you can say the same about so there is a decent run available to Liang if he can come out of the group. The Chinese ace seemed to relish this format first time round, winning his opening group which actually contained Selby before succumbing in the next one but if he has his scoring boots on Liang could go close here.
Zhou Yuelong hasn’t played competitively since lockdown and while that’s a concern there haven’t been too many who have played in the last two months so it might not be the concern it would initially look. Zhou looks to have a nice draw if such a thing exists in this. A fading Ricky Walden, Gerard Greene and Zhao Jianbo make up his first group with Shaun Murphy the main man to await him in the second section should he navigate his way there. Murphy looks to be in a trappy group though so there is no sure thing that he comes out of that group. Zhou can score big and has a decent enough temperament and having missed the World Championship he’ll be keen to win some ranking points here. I’ve just a feeling he’s a bit big at 150/1.
Back D.Gilbert to win Championship League Snooker (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with BetVictor (1/2 1-2)
Back him here:
Back K.Maflin to win Championship League Snooker (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back L.Wenbo to win Championship League Snooker (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back Z.Yuelong to win Championship League Snooker (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back them here: