The current format of the UK Championship sees 128 players battling for the title, if I was in charge I’d have qualifiers and start at a last 16 or 32 but I’m not Barry Hearn so that’s not my call. The first round is a best of 11 frames though so you would imagine the cream will rise to the top but chances are there will be a few surprise casualties early doors (Ali Carter and Alan McManus fell at the first hurdle last year). With that in mind maybe I’ll do another similar piece before the last 32 when for me the contest will start in earnest, but these are the guys I think are worth watching out for ahead of the start of the tournament tomorrow.
Bingham has struggled for form since his Crucible success in the spring but as the world champion he’s got to have top billing here, especially in the absence of defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. Bingham has to get used to being the man to beat now he’s taken the biggest prize in the sport and maybe he hasn’t quite managed it yet. Previously he was one of the ‘other guys’ but now he’s a scalp for lesser known players. He’s a top price 22/1 and could be worth some consideration, but with three losses in his last five matches he’ll need to find his form quickly.
Trump is quite rightly ranked as one of the favourites and some bookies have him as short as 4/1. You can get 6/1 though so it is worth shopping around. On his day he’s easily one of, if not the, most exciting players to watch but his only ‘Triple Crown’ title came in the 2011 edition of this tournament, although he did get to the final last year, so perhaps overcoming the last hurdle of actually taking trophies still needs to be worked on for the ‘Juddernaught’.
The Other Favourites
Mark Selby and Neil Robertson are the other favourites according to the bookies, with Selby a top price 8/1 and Robertson 13/2. These two are players I’m not drawn to watch personally but I do appreciate they are top quality, I just prefer more of a gung-ho approach. That may be a little harsh on Robertson in particular as he is an exceptional break-builder, there is just something about his methodical style that doesn’t really grab me. That aside, both are more than capable of taking the title.
Writing for the BBC, Stephen Hendry reckons Higgins is the man to beat heading into the UK Championship. The Scot is available at 16/1 so if you agree with Hendry it might be worth looking into. He’s already won two ranking titles this year so he’s in cracking form – but he hasn’t managed one of the big three since his last win at the World Championship back in 2011 and personally I’m not sure he’ll take another ‘Triple Crown’ title, regardless of what Hendry reckons.
The UK Championship is the fourth ranking tournament of the season. Higgins has two and the other title belongs to Kyren Wilson, who beat Ding Junhui and Mark Allen on route to the Shanghai final, where he overcame Judd Trump 10-9. He also reached the Champion of Champions semi-finals so is in form. However, he’s only managed to reach the first round of one of the big three events three times (twice the last 128 in the UKs, which means very little) so anything in York would be a breakthrough of sorts and he’s priced at 80/1.
When Bingham secured the trophy in Sheffield earlier this year he revealed a throwaway comment from Allen saying he had ‘no bottle’ proved to be a turning point for him in terms of going on and winning titles. Bizarrely that statement could now apply to the Northern Irishman himself as he’s not really been able to convert his undoubted talent into titles, with just two ranking tournament victories to his name. He hasn’t managed one of the big three just yet but if I do have a flutter on this I think I might have a punt on Allen at 24/1, just because I feel he’s due a big win and that’s a big price. It would be good for the sport too I feel as he is such a huge personality and one of the few who is really prepared to speak his mind. He’s been in pretty good form this year having reached the final of the Champion of Champions event, the semi-finals in Shanghai and the quarters at the International Championship and shouldn’t fear anyone at the Barbican.
Ding Junhui & Shaun Murphy
These guys both deserve their own sections but I’ve gone on a bit here so I’ll wrap it up. Ding had a pretty poor season last year but did reach the quarter finals at the Crucible and followed that up with a last eight appearance in Shanghai. He’s also won the UKs twice so at 14/1 he could be worth a look. Murphy seems to come alive in the biggest events (having won all three once) and shouldn’t be discounted at a top price of 10/1.
There are quite a few others worth a mention, Barry Hawkins at 33/1 for example, but this is already too long so I’ll call it a day for now. I’ll try and do another preview either before the last 32 or the last 16 when it gets really interesting.
I’ve used Oddschecker for the best prices.
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