The latest edition of the Ladbrokes Players Championships is currently underway and, this year, the top 16 players in the world will be shooting for the £125,000 top prize. Ahead of the event inside Llandudno's Venue Cymru, 2011 winner Shaun Murphy looks as though he could be the surprise package.
Despite struggling to win a ranking event in recent months, Murphy won the first ever Players Championship and, heading into the tournament, he looks to be returning to the sort of form that clinched him the title.
After making it to the final of the Malta Open, Murphy was looking to break his 2017 duck and take home a trophy. Unfortunately, things got off to a bad start as Judd Trump took a 2-1 to put Murphy on the back foot early.
However, unlike previous showdowns in recent months, Murphy didn't buckle under the pressure and fought back to level the match with a gritty half-century. Another two followed before a 96 break in the sixth earned him the title and, potentially, a psychological advantage ahead of the Ladbrokes Players Championship.
Although the performance wasn't as elegant as the one that saw Murphy win the World Snooker Championships back in 2005, it certainly showed he can get in there and scrap when the going gets tough. In fact, this is the sort of resilience he'll undoubtedly need if he's going to triumph against the likes of Trump, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Selby between 6-12 March.
Of the names mentioned, Selby is the man to beat according to the odds makers at our recommended snooker betting sites. Although he exited the recent Malta Open during the round of 32 after losing to Ricky Walden, Selby is still the World Champion and in fine form this season. According to CueTracker, the man Leicester has a win rate of 72.37% during the 2016-2017 season and has made five semis and four finals.
To add to those stats, he's made 40 centuries over the course of the season so far which is why Ladbrokes currently has him as the 4/1 favourite. However, as we all know, snooker betting can be a tricky way to pot a profit. With the skill gap between the top 16 players virtually non-existent and the margin for error measured in fractions, almost anyone could win come 12 March.
Indeed, perennial favourite O'Sullivan is also riding high in the betting at bet365. Although he typically saves his best for the World Championships, he always has the ability to turn it on versus any player in the world. At 4/1 from the off, the price is certainly better than you're likely to find when he takes to the Crucible in April for the big one.
Another man to watch is Trump. Despite losing to Murphy in Malta, he looked convincing en route to the final, dropping just six frames in six matches. That sort of form has not only propelled him to number three in the world rankings, but shows he's in the right form to clinch a major tournament win.
Assuming he can continue what he started in Malta, Trump should make it through the early rounds and pose a threat to anyone in the semis if he makes it that far. The current weight of opinion at NetBet has Trump at 15/2 odds for the outright win, but you can expect that to shorten if he can cruise past Mark Day in the first round.
For a touch of value this year, Murphy could be the man to stick some money on. With his previous win at the Players Championship and his recent win in mind, he'll certainly enter the tournament full of confidence.
In fact, if you shop around, you'll notice the bookies can't quite make up their minds on the man from Harlow. Headline sponsor Ladbrokes had him pitched at 11/1 at the start of the tournament, while bet365 went in at 12/1. However, if you really fancy him to cause an upset, NetBet started Murphy's outright win line at 18/1.
Outside of the "big names", the dark horse of the 2017 Ladbrokes Players Championships could be Barry Hawkins. Thanks to a £100,000 win at the World Grand Prize Final in Preston, Hawkins has said he's now full of confidence. Although many of the top 16 didn't take part in the tournament, Hawkins did beat Ryan Day 10-7 in the final to give himself a lift ahead of his trip to Wales.
"Although some of the top 16 didn't enter it, a lot of top players were there and it was amazing to win my first major tournament. I've been quite consistent since and also won the Shoot-Out on the back of it. It features only one-frame matches, but it was still great to get another tournament win," Hawkins told the Daily Post.
While an upset might be unlikely, 11/1 with Ladbrokes and 18/1 over at NetBet seem to offer just enough value to make them an interesting proposition. As ever, the action in Wales looks set to be highly entertaining, whether you're looking for betting tips or not. If you do want to take anything from this guide and put a few quid on the event, looking outside of the top three and towards the likes of Murphy or Hawkins may just pay dividends, so head to Ladbrokes now and start betting!