There are two tournaments left before the World Championship and the first of those begins at the Morningside Arena in Leicester on Thursday as the newly put together WST Classic starts for what will hopefully be the only time.
This tournament replaces the Turkish Masters on the calendar. That event was cancelled at relatively short notice but to be fair to the snooker bods they have come up with this competition which gives all the tour players some match practice before the World Championship.
The format for this tournament is similar to a Home Nations event in that it starts out with best of seven matches. Unlike the Home Nations they go all the way up to and including the quarter finals. The two semi-finals will be played over the best of nine frames and the champion will be crowned over the best of 11 frames. The quarter finals, semi-finals and final will all be played on a big day of action on Wednesday. The draw has already been completed and will be played out to the draw bracket.
The world rankings are used to determine the positions in the draw this week which means that as world champion and world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan is at the top of the draw. There are four top 16 players in each quarter with Mark Williams the man slated to be the quarter final opponent for O’Sullivan here. The two other top 16 players who are in this quarter are Luca Brecel and the Scottish Open champion Gary Wilson.
There are no shortage of recognisable players outside the top 16 who are in this quarter of the draw. Ryan Day is the obvious one and this will be match practice for the Tour Championship at the end of the month. Ranking event winners Jimmy Robertson and Jordan Brown are also in this part of the draw as are the Chinese pair of Zhou Yuelong and Cao Yupeng, both of whom have played in major finals. Sam Craigie, Yuan Sijun, Liam Highfield and Marco Fu are also capable of a big week.
Neil Robertson is the top seed in the second quarter of the draw. This is a massive week for him as if he is going to defend his Tour Championship title later in the month then he has to win this event to qualify. Judd Trump is the other leading seed in this quarter and he needs to make it to the final at the very least if he is to have a chance of being in the Tour Championship. Jack Lisowski and Barry Hawkins are the other two from the top 16 in this section. Lisowski needs a quarter final and Hawkins the title to be involved in the Tour Championship.
Joe Perry and Graeme Dott are two household names who are in this quarter with the latter particularly looking for a big week to resurrect a terrible season. Joe O’Connor, Lyu Haotian, Scott Donaldson and Hossein Vafaei have all picked up plenty of wins this season and will fancy a big run this week. Dominic Dale made the semi-final of the Shootout while Ricky Walden, Ben Mertens, Si Jiahui and Jimmy White could all go well this week.
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Mark Allen has been the player of the season but he hasn’t shown the best form since the turn of the year. He is guaranteed to be the top seed in the Tour Championship but will want to go there with a few confidence boosting wins. Shaun Murphy guaranteed his spot at the Tour Championship when he won the Players Championship and he is the other leading light in this quarter. Stuart Bingham and the German Masters champion Ali Carter are the other two top 16 players in the quarter.
Plenty of recognisable names are on show in this quarter. They include former World Championship semi-finalist Anthony McGill, former Shootout champions Michael Holt and Martin Gould while the two men who competed in the Six Red World Championship final last week are both in this quarter in Ding Junhui and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. Fan Zhengyi and Noppon Saengkham have both run well in tournaments over the last couple of seasons.
Mark Selby took down the English Open earlier in the season but he hasn’t started 2023 well. He is the top seed in the bottom quarter and despite winning the English Open he is currently the last man into the Tour Championship but he’ll need wins this week to stay in that position. Kyren Wilson is definitely in that tournament and he is due to meet Selby in the quarter final. John Higgins can’t make the Tour Championship but he can go well here and he is in this quarter as is Robert Milkins, who will be in Hull should he make it to the third round.
Tom Ford and Chris Wakelin have both had good campaigns so far but they both need to reach the final and maybe win the title in order to make it to the Tour Championship. Xiao Guodong is another one who is capable of a big week and the title will get him into the Tour Championship. Tian Pengfei, Michael White, Robbie Williams and Alexander Ursenbacher are among a number of players who will be looking for a few wins to take into the World Championship qualifiers with them.
I’ll go with a bet in each quarter this week. In the top quarter I like the form of Luca Brecel and given that he is one place outside the Tour Championship he should be fully motivated to deliver the goods here. If he is then he could be a big price. He is in a quarter with Ronnie O’Sullivan but I’m not convinced a behind closed doors tournament is the ideal setting for him to deliver his best snooker even allowing for the fact he needs to win the title to make it into the Tour Championship. Mark Williams might be more of a danger but he’s just come off the top of his form. Brecel has played better than his results in 2023 and I’ll see if that changes here.
In the second quarter Joe O’Connor looks a good bet at a three-figure price for a tournament which is on home soil. O’Connor has made a final of the Scottish Open and the semi-final of the Players Championship this season but needs to reach the final here if he is going to make the Tour Championship. On the face of it being in a quarter with Neil Robertson and Judd Trump isn’t ideal but O’Connor took care of Robertson in the semi-final in the Scottish Open and Trump looks well off his top form. O’Connor beat Mark Allen and Luca Brecel on his way to the Players Championship semi-final and that is decent form. He has to be overpriced here.
Another player who is overpriced is Noppon Saengkham and he is my pick for the third quarter. Saengkham generally comes good at this time of the season and has regularly qualified for the Crucible and performed well when he has got there. He will have been boosted by a return home last week in the Six Red World Championship and while that competition didn’t completely go to plan I expect him to be motivated by having played at home. Saengkham has made the semi-final of the British Open and the World Grand Prix this season so he is knocking at the door and an event like this where the latter stages aren’t long matches might be where it opens for him.
In the bottom quarter it is John Higgins that I like the look of. He recently boosted his confidence with a win at the Championship League and that will have proven that he can deliver the goods still. He saw off some decent challenges there and this will be his last outing before the World Championship so this feels a bigger week for him than some of the other big names. Mark Selby and Kyren Wilson are the main seeds in his quarter but their best form came earlier in the season. Higgins is still a force to be reckoned with and a deep run feels likely this week.
Back J.Higgins to win WST Classic (e/w) for a 1.5/10 stake at 17.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back L.Brecel to win WST Classic (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 29.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back N.Saengkham to win WST Classic (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)
Back J.O’Connor to win WST Classic (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2023