SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the 2019 International Championship, picking out his favourite fancies.
International Championship | 4th-11th August 2019 | Eurosport
Well, what an unusual start to the snooker season in Riga little over a week ago.
Eight players, including then reigning champion Neil Robertson and world number eight Kyren Wilson, failed to arrive after a late flight from Luton was cancelled. There were byes galore!
When the quarter-finals arrived on Sunday, no top-16 player was left in the draw. Joe Perry, on Twitter, called it “the weakest field in ranking event history”. Only two former ranking event winners were in the final eight.
Something had to give. Yan Bingtao became only the third Chinese player to win a ranking event, beating first-time ranking finalist Mark Joyce 5-2.
Dismiss the front-runners in China
Riga didn’t attract all the top jollies but, Ronnie O’Sullivan apart, the majority of the top 16 head to the ‘Oil Capital of China’, Daqing, for the International Championship.
This includes the return of part-time party boy and world champion Judd Trump, back from his title-winning exploits in Sheffield (and Vegas during the summer, watching Calvin Harris).
In November 2012, Trump won the inaugural International Championship and in doing so he became world number one. He recently said in an interview he was determined to get back that number one spot (currently held by O’Sullivan) which he hasn’t claimed since March 2013. With Ronnie picking and choosing his schedule very carefully, it won’t be long until Trump hits the summit again, and you fancy he'll stay there a while.
Judd has won on these shores three times before. Chief threats to Trump for world number one supremacy might come from Mark Selby and Robertson, both of whom have better records in China than the current kingpin of snooker. Robertson has won three times (and lost in three finals) here, and Selby is an incredible seven-time winner of tournaments in this region.
I’m going to dismiss all three players at the top of the market. Robertson and Trump are both in their first events of the season and could be a tad ring-rusty. Even though this week is more up his street, Selby can’t be trusted as of yet and missed a golden chance in Riga, losing to Stuart Carrington in the Last 16.
Dave Gilbert (40/1 SkyBet)
My first port of call in the outrights falls on the shoulders of another with the seemingly Midas touch in Asia, Dave Gilbert.
Tamworth’s ‘Angry Farmer’ has a certain score to settle this season after going mightily close last term in three ranking events. He lost in two finals; to Mark Williams in Yushan last August at the World Open, then six months later at the German Masters to Wilson. In both finals he led.
Then Gilbert came agonisingly close to the World final in Sheffield, losing a decider 17-16 to John Higgins in the semi-final. He won a lot of friends after that defeat – he played out of his skin. Talking of Higgins, Gilbert has previous in this event, making the final in 2015, losing to the Wizard of Wishaw.
It’s safe to say Gilbert is a nearly-man. For me, he’s the best player not to have won a ranking title. But it will come and there’s not a better place to catch Dave than over in this neck of the woods. Eight of Gilbert’s 12 career quarter-final appearances have come overseas. Five were in Asia.
The silky smooth cueist seemingly gets better with age – he is right out of the top drawer. He took apart James Cahill in qualifying 6-0 with five breaks over 60. He’s built himself into a top-16 player and it’s where he belongs. So it’s a very surprising he’s quoted as big as 40/1 with SkyBet for the title here.
His draw isn’t over-taxing – Selby and Williams look the dangers in his section. The further he goes in events, he gathers momentum very sweetly. He won an excellent 69% of his best-of-11 matches last season so has all the tools to be an almighty threat again in China.
Daniel Wells (500/1 SkyBet)
The other outright (which is also a quarter fancy) lands on the head of Wales’ Daniel Wells at huge odds of 500/1 and 50/1 (to win Quarter 1). Wells has come on leaps and bounds the past season or so. He was so impressive in last season's Scottish Open, coming very close to beating eventual winner Mark Allen in the semi-final, losing 6-5 from 5-2 up.
I think the longer format here of best-of-11 suits the Neath player. One area of his game that has improved is his break-building. He compiled nine centuries last season, five of them in World Championship qualifying.
He has a tough first-round assignment with Barry Hawkins but Wells beat ‘The Hawk’ in their most recent outing, last season at the English Open. When I look at the rankings and see Wells at 58, he’s definitely a player I see breaking into the top 48.
Defending champion Allen and Ding Junhui top the market in the quarter but I would have my reservations on both. This is their first event of the season so both lack real tournament practice (if you ignore their involvement at the Team World Cup).
Wells went to Steve Feeney at SightRight last season and it has helped his game tenfold. Matt Selt, Williams, O’Sullivan and Martin Gould have all won events using his techniques. A bit like Jak Jones in Riga last week, (tipped at 100/1 for quarter, lost in Last 16) at 500/1 for the title and 50/1 the quarter, it looks worth risking. He has been heavily underestimated.
Outsiders that appeal in the Quarters
Having tipped Matt Selt successfully at 14/1 for his Quarter in Riga, he did tempt me again here at 22/1. But instead I prefer the two finalists in Latvia, Mark Joyce and Yan Bingtao at 66/1 (Ladbrokes) and 18/1 (Ladbrokes) respectively in Quarter 2.
Yan’s success in Riga could have the domino effect but he looked in great nick there, will be full of confidence and chomping at the bit to return to his homeland as a champion. He certainly looked in the same mood that brought him loads of success two seasons ago. His strut around the table has returned and an in-form Bingtao is great for snooker.
Bingtao is phenomenally intelligent for a 19-year-old. Rarely does he play the incorrect shot – a sublime talent.
Snooker regularly comes down to momentum (look at Robertson last season). Bingtao is a threat to all comers when his gander is up. Robertson is 13/8 for Quarter 2, which is terribly short. Bingtao does have an extra game to win with a pre-qualifier but 18/1 on the form player coming here is far too excessive.
We will find out about Yan’s consistency, but at seven times the price of Robertson for Quarter 2, it’s a no brainer. It’s a ‘mistake’ price that must be jumped on.
Meanwhile, Joyce has turned a corner this season after a poor campaign. He made his first ranking final as a professional in Riga, defeating Jack Lisowski on the way. He only made two centuries all of last season and already has four on the board in eight matches this term.
What’s behind his mini renaissance? He changed his coach at the back end of last season who adapted his alignment pre-shot, as well as other minor technical changes, and Joyce also went back to having a longer length of cue. It doesn’t sound much but when you have done something a certain way for 20 years, it's tough changing.
It took time. Joyce made a 147 in the Vienna Open during pre-season and won the event, hitting nine centuries, so came back with extra belief.
Last season, his average shot time was over 30 seconds per shot. This season he’s averaging 24 seconds. I’ve known Mark personally for more than 20 years and he’s never been a slow play merchant. He’s not over thinking and playing far more naturally.
Joyce was written off as a ‘no Mark’ but is in a good place now and opens with Stuart Bingham (won their most recent head-to-head in 2016) which 12 months ago would be close to a definite loss. Not now. He fears no one. He is flying and if he carries on his form to Daqing, 66/1 could be an enormous price to win a quarter that’s no tougher than the one he won in Latvia.
International Championship – David Gilbert to win outright (40/1 each-way SkyBet)
International Championship – Daniel Wells to win outright (500/1 each-way SkyBet)
International Championship – Daniel Wells to win Quarter 1 (50/1 Bet365)
International Championship – Yan Bingtao to win Quarter 2 (18/1 Ladbrokes)
International Championship – Mark Joyce to win Quarter 2 (66/1 Ladbrokes)