SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the outright market ahead of the Northern Ireland Open, picking out his favourite fancies.
Northern Ireland Open | 11th-17th November 2019 | Eurosport
Northern Ireland has a rich heritage in snooker.
Its National Amateur Championship, which still goes on today, was established in 1927, with that final being best of 761! Their current champion, Declan Lavery, is a wildcard entry in next week's second Home Nations event of the season, the Northern Ireland Open.
The northern part of Ireland has produced some terrific players down the years, including two-time World semi-finalist Joe Swail and current top-16 player Mark Allen. Allen’s step-son Robbie McGuigan is an up-and-coming talent and has a wildcard entry this week too.
Their most famous face was, of course, Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins who won the World title on two occasions. The Northern Ireland Open trophy is named in his honour.
There aren’t many, even now, who play at a more frantic pace than Higgins. There is one though. If he was still alive, I’m sure Alex would love to watch Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. The fastest player on the planet made the final in Yushan at the World Open, losing to fellow entertainer Judd Trump 10-5.
Un-Nooh is a mesmerising talent, bordering on a genius. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to call him nearly as talented as Ronnie O’Sullivan. If Un-Nooh had a more controlled game, and didn’t have such a gung-ho, sometimes reckless approach, he would be established in the top 16 by now, not just breaking into the top 32. I hope as he gets older (now 34) he will mature, much like an O’Sullivan and Trump.
Noppon Saengkham (200/1 Betfred)
As we are on the subject of Thai players, it leads me to my first outright/quarter selection in Belfast, Noppon Saengkham. Even though Saengkham isn’t a speed king like Un-Nooh, there are a few similarities between the two. Both are extremely polished temperament-wise and both have bags of ammunition to pulverise anyone, generally through their heavy break-building.
Saengkham went very close to making his maiden ranking event final last season at the World Open, losing in the semi-final in a decider to Mark Williams (when I had tipped up the Thai in one of these previews at 200/1).
Last season he also made the English Open quarter-final. The season before, he made the semi-final at the Welsh Open (the English and Welsh Open are both the same format to here in Northern Ireland) so has the all-important know-how in this type of event.
Saengkham is homed in Quarter 2 and it looks a winnable section. Best-of-sevens can be a lottery but he should bypass the first two rounds before probably facing back-to-form John Higgins. A toughie, of course, but these two played each other in February, with the Thai winning the contest 4-2.
Mark Selby is the favourite in the section (Saengkham beat him last August) but he looks a player to oppose in Belfast going by his ropey effort at the Champion of Champions.
It’s safe to say, Saengkham hasn’t set the world alight so far this term, but like Un-Nooh, has so much talent and it’s only a matter of time before he strikes a chord. I can imagine Un-Nooh’s efforts in Yushan will give practice partner Saengkham plenty of belief that he can follow in his footsteps. There’s little between the pair in my opinion, yet Un-Nooh is much shorter in the outright betting.
Ricky Walden (150/1 Ladbrokes)
A player who has been a little out of the limelight for a few seasons now is Chester’s Ricky Walden. He’s one of only a few professionals who, when on the shot, bends both legs (Mark King is another).
He’s had ongoing back problems which lowered his ranking somewhat.
However, the former world number six is having a better time of it recently and it’s good to see. He made the quarter-final at the English Open in mid-October, losing 5-4 to eventual finalist David Gilbert after leading 4-3. In invitationals, he’s made two further last eight appearances as well.
In ranking events, he’s only lost one best-of-seven this season, and that came at the end of July in Riga to Yuan Sijun. Bar that 4-1 loss, all his other defeats have either been in a decider or by a two-frame margin. All of last season he hit just 10 centuries, yet this season, we aren’t at Christmas yet and he’s compiled eight. All of this says to me that he’s knocking on the door.
Walden is yet to win a ranking title in this country. All his three successes came in China; 2008, 2012 and 2014. In fact, he’s made six ranking finals and all bar one came in Asia, the most recent being three years ago.
It’s much too long for such a fluent, likeable and top quality player. He’s in the same quarter as Ronnie O’Sullivan in Belfast but avoids him until the last eight, if the ‘Rocket’ gets that far, which all depends on whether Ronnie will care.
Ricky definitely will. He’s crept up the rankings from a start-of-season 30 to 27 and is more than capable of getting back to the elite top 16. With Ronnie making the quarter top heavy, you can get 20/1 (22/1 Boost) on in-form Walden winning Quarter 4.
Walden has Shaun Murphy, who was under the weather in Coventry this week, in his quarter (due to face each other in last 32). Career stats show they have a near identical best-of-seven win percentage yet Walden is four times the price of the ‘Magician’.
It's speculative but Walden is 150/1 with Ladbrokes (190/1 Boost) to win outright, which also goes into the staking plan.
Another in Walden’s quarter who did come close to selection was China’s Zhou Yuelong. One of these days he’s going to break through in an event – 100% a top-16 player in waiting but he’s getting frustrating to follow.
Odds of 33/1 for him to win Quarter 4 are tempting but he’s due to face O’Sullivan in the last 32, and has lost to him by an aggregate of 10-1 in two meetings. Don’t forget Zhou though, he will make a ranking final in the next year for me.
If he has his right head on, Ryan Day ought to go well in Belfast as well. It wasn’t long ago when the Welshman won three titles in a season and is in a soft mini section that includes Stephen Maguire, who I doubt will turn up for his opener with the aforementioned Lavery because of a fractured ankle.
Day, unfortunately though, is going back to his old ways of being very unreliable, and is yet to go past the last 32 of an event this season (only made one) so I can’t back him with any confidence.
Hossein Vafaei (150/1 Bet365)
There’s little value at the top of the betting so I’m staying further down with a player I am willing to continue to badger away at, Iran’s Hossein Vafaei. He’s been a pick of mine quite a few times this season – definitely a firm favourite. If you take reigning champion Trump out of the equation, this looks a prime chance for Vafaei to go deep.
Easier said than done, however, as if Vafaei wins his first two matches, it’s likely to set up a meeting with the World number one and World champion in round three. Vafaei has the tools to beat him – he did so in their last meeting two years ago, in the quarter-final at the China Open, 5-3. Trump has been on the go with no breaks from the game, travelling thousands of miles for two weeks now so time surely must catch up with him.
Vafaei has only three defeats to his name this season from 10 matches. All have come at the hands of top-16 opposition; Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Kyren Wilson. The Williams defeat came in the decider in the semi-final at the China Championship, and he also lost in a decider to Kyren Wilson at the World Open last 32.
A bit like Yuelong, I’ll be very surprised if Vafaei doesn’t make a ranking final soon, he’s a wonderful player. Yet he’s made three ranking semi-finals now to Zhou’s one. Two have come this year alone and one came in this exact same format at the Welsh Open in February.
He has previous in this event too, making the quarter-final in 2016. Safe to say, he has improved ten-fold since then. The bookies are yet to cotton on to how good this guy is. He’s badly underrated by the enemy, which is fine by me. I don’t think Vafaei should be as big as 25/1 to win any quarter in barely any event so that looks a must play in Belfast.
Like my previous two fancies, I’m going to give Vafaei a go in the outrights too where he is a 150/1 shot.
Northern Ireland Open – Noppon Saengkham to win outright (200/1 each-way Betfred)
Northern Ireland Open – Noppon Saengkham to win Quarter 2 (16/1 SkyBet)
Northern Ireland Open – Ricky Walden to win outright (150/1 each-way Ladbrokes)
Northern Ireland Open – Ricky Walden to win Quarter 4 (20/1 Ladbrokes)
Northern Ireland Open – Hossein Vafaei to win outright (150/1 each-way Bet365)
Northern Ireland Open – Hossein Vafaei to win Quarter 1 (25/1 Bet365)