SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the 2018 UK Snooker Championship, picking out his favourite outright fancies.
UK Snooker Championship | 27th November – Sunday 9th December 2018 | BBC
I'm doing a different kind of preview for the UK Championship that starts on Tuesday at York's Barbican Centre – the second biggest event in the snooker calendar and the first Triple Crown tournament of the season.
As I have already advised two ante-post outrights in the form of Ronnie O'Sullivan (4/1, now 7/2) and Barry Hawkins (33/1, now 25/1) I thought I would give my extra thoughts on the field, with a main contenders section, dark horses segment and an area devoted to the best, big outsiders.
I have a further three outrights at huge prices to advise, plus four bets in the quarters.
Main contenders in Quarter 1
I am perfectly happy with my two picks from months back – O'Sullivan (4/1) and Hawkins (33/1). Both have been backed in a bit.
In four events he's turned up for this season, Ronnie has made the final in three (winning two), and the semi-final in the other. I'm delighted with his draw that was published at the start of the week.
The big seeds in his section are Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui, two players badly out of form. I don't see much threat until Ronnie gets to the semi-final, where Judd Trump or John Higgins may await.
Jack Lisowski is a potential hazard in the 3rd Round but his style will suit Ronnie down to the ground. There's still 7/2 on offer with SkyBet and I think that's a great price given Rocket's draw. He should go mightily close to retaining this week and collecting a seventh UK title. Quarter 1, for me, is his to lose.
As mentioned previously, Hawkins has a rotten record in this event. There's no rhyme or reason why. Since losing in the final of Shanghai to Ronnie, he's been on a sticky run, losing six of his last 10 matches.
The usually incredibly consistent Hawkins has been the opposite recently. Three of the defeats were big upsets – Chen Zifan, Daniel Wells and Craig Steadman. That said, Barry is mentally very strong and puts defeats behind him fast. I can imagine he's put in hours and hours of practice since the Zifan loss.
Hawkins is in the same section as Mark Selby and Kyren Wilson in York but if he has his game face on, he's a nightmare opponent for anyone. A fabulous competitor to have fighting your corner, I think the 25/1 available now is still belting value.
An O'Sullivan v Hawkins final is priced at 40/1 with SkyBet. They have met in three previous finals and I’ll be backing a repeat here.
Main contenders in Quarter 2
Quarter 2 contains newly-crowned Northern Ireland Open champion Trump. Trump, winner of the event in 2011, has never won back-to-back ranking events before. The closest he came was in 2011 when he lost in the World final after winning the China Open beforehand.
There's no denying he's the man to beat in this section, and he's on a roll, but at a best-priced 2/1, I'd rather look elsewhere. This is Trump's 11th UK campaign and he's only made it past the Last 16 twice.
The 3/1 (Betfair) second favourite in the quarter is the Wizard of Wishaw, Higgins, and I prefer his chances over Trump's. On paper, Higgins' run to a quarter-final looks more straightforward as it's full of completely out-of-form players.
This is Higgins' 24th appearance at the UK. He's made the quarter-final on 13 occasions, winning eight of those encounters. He's close to winning a record-breaking 1,000th match in competitive play (on 998).
Higgins’ form this season is a little bit concerning (won 11, lost six) but the three-times winner has a B/C/D game to match virtually anyone. It's seven years since he made a semi here so he's long overdue.
Ryan Day is a form horse this season and is the chief threat to Judd making the quarter-final. The Welshman has made four quarters this season and is 1-1 in head-to-heads with Trump this term.
Main contenders in Quarter 3
Mark Selby heads up Quarter 3. I can't deny he tempted me at 15/2 but as I've already called on O'Sullivan, I want to leave the Jester alone this time. He should have actually beaten the Rocket in Belfast, losing in a decider on the black in the semi-final.
Selby is coming to the boil nicely and I wouldn't put anyone off backing a determined Jester to become UK champion for a third time. He's made at least the semi-final here in four of the last six years.
Wilson is in there pitching too. He's had a very good season thus far, winning in Furth and Thailand, plus a semi-final in Shanghai, and runner-up in the Champion of Champions in Coventry (lost to O'Sullivan both times).
Sooner than later, Kyren will capture a Triple Crown event. He departed early in Belfast so should have freshened up for this. He's shorter than Hawkins in the betting and I can't have that personally. He's no real value at 16/1.
Stuart Bingham is a ranking event winner this season at the English Open but I have my reservations about him. In 15 UK campaigns, he's made it past the Last 16 on just five occasions.
Main contenders in Quarter 4
The wide-open Quarter is number four – it's 4/1 the field. You could literally put a case forward for 10 to 16 players to get through to the semi-finals. I make a case for two later. There are three ranking event winners from this season here.
Mark Williams, bar a win at the World Open, is still in holiday/party mode since his World Championship triumph in May.
Mark Allen has hit form the last month, winning in Daqing then making the semis in Coventry. The Masters champion would be my fancy of the front five in the betting at 4/1, even though he has a shoddy record in the event (he's only made the quarters three times in 12 years).
Neil Robertson is very consistent this season. He won the opening event of the season in Riga and defeated Selby in Daqing and Coventry, before Allen beat him in both. Like Selby, ‘The Thunder from Down Under' is attempting to win this event for a third time.
Stephen Maguire won here 14 years ago and he’s an 80/1 poke to repeat the feat. He's too in and out to trust, mind, and Ali Carter is the same price and in better form this season. He nearly made a third ranking quarter-final in a row in Belfast, losing in the fourth round to Eden Sharav, 4-3 from 3-1 up.
Lisowski, at 40/1, would have a better chance if he wasn't due to meet O'Sullivan in the Last 16. Xiao Guodong (200/1) is in O'Sullivan's quarter too and if he's on-song, could easily make his way into the Last 16 or quarters – the Chinese cueist is a player with bags of bottle.
Yan Bingtao (90/1) is one of the best prospects in snooker and one of the most dedicated. But he's having a rough time of it this season, yet to go past the Last 16 in an event. His time will come, but not this year.
Gould is a former top 16 player and ranking event winner. He's not entered too many events this season so is ‘lightly raced'. In 10 matches, he's already compiled six centuries.
The ‘Pinner Potter' is a terrific player. He made the quarters here in 2015 and 2017. He's in the wide-open Quarter 4 where, as I said, a lot of players will fancy their chances.
There are players at shorter odds than Gould in the betting who are in harder sections of the draw. A Last 32 encounter with Allen could be a hell of a tussle (Gould beat Allen here 6-4 in 2015).
He has definitely got the game to be a big threat so 200/1 (opened 250/1) for a recent top 16 player is over the top. In the last six seasons, Gould has made at least the semi-final in an event, each campaign.
Tamworth's Gilbert, meanwhile, made the final in Yushan so has the belief now he can go deep in any event he enters. He was particularly unlucky to bump into a certain O'Sullivan last week in Northern Ireland, losing 5-2 in the quarter-finals.
Gilbert is slotted in Quarter 3 with Selby, Hawkins, Wilson and Bingham so no easy task but not impossible. He's only ever lost in the first round here once.
In a career spanning 13 years, the Tamworth cueist has never played better. I don't think he's far away from winning a first ranking title; with a 67% win rate and 12 tons already this season, Gilbert is a very dangerous player and 250/1 is too big on the Midlander.
Again, remember, this is the ‘quarter of death' where it's literally down to whoever plays best and wins five matches.
Saengkham made the semi-final at the World Open. Un Nooh lost to Selby in Belfast at the quarter-final stage. These pair are superb, naturally talented players who, on any given day, can blow anyone away, so 50/1 on each looks large considering they have proven this season they can go deep.
As fearless as they come, they could even meet in the quarter-final!
There's a whole host of enormous prices slinging about for very capable players.
Zhao Xintong, one of China's finest prospects, and a semi-finalist in Guangzhou this season, is 300/1 (in Quarter 4).
Jimmy Robertson, this season's European Masters champion is 400/1. Matthew Stevens, a two-time World finalist and recent semi-finalist in Daqing, trades at 500/1.
Former ranking event finalists Gary Wilson and Ben Woollaston are 750/1. Last week's Northern Ireland Open semi-finalist Eden Sharav is 2000/1.
There is a player I really like in Trump's section of the draw (Quarter 2) and it's China's Li Hang. If there's one player in the draw ridiculously overpriced, it's him. Odds of 750/1 (Black Type), given the form he was in over in Belfast, are utterly insulting. He should be 350/1 max.
In the early rounds last week, no one impressed me more than Li Hang. He won eight consecutive frames, from 2-0 down to win 4-2 versus Sam Craigie in the 2nd Round, then thrashed Neil Robertson in the following round 4-0.
Those eight frames included breaks of 145, 139, 137, 81, 77 and 67. Hang also had breaks of 112, 99 and 68 in his first win and a further ton (115) in the Last 16 defeat to canny Peter Ebdon. I was disappointed he lost to Ebdon to be honest, but Hang's run still brought to my attention what great form he's in.
He has made ranking semi-finals and quarter-finals before in his home country. He's a tenacious little player with savage scoring prowess. He's also 70/1 (Black Type) to win Quarter 2, which isn’t without a chance if he can play like he did over the Irish Sea.
I can't let him go unbacked for the quarter and the outright.
UK Championship – Ronnie O’Sullivan to win outright (7/2 SkyBet)
UK Championship – Barry Hawkins to win outright (25/1 e/w Ladbrokes)
UK Championship – Martin Gould to win outright (200/1 e/w BetVictor)
UK Championship – David Gilbert to win outright (250/1 e/w SkyBet)
UK Championship – Li Hang to win outright (750/1 e/w BlackType)
UK Championship – John Higgins to win Quarter 2 (3/1 Betfair)
UK Championship – Li Hang to win Quarter 2 (70/1 Black Type)
UK Championship – Noppon Saengkham to win Quarter 4 (50/1 SkyBet)
UK Championship – Thepchaiya Un Nooh to win Quarter 4 (50/1 10BET)