The UK Championship is widely recognised as snooker’s second most prestigious tournament, behind April’s World Championships. Each year it forms the first leg of the sport’s ‘triple crown’, alongside the Masters and the Worlds.
Considering it's spot within the triple crown, there’s plenty of prestige on offer to the 128 players involved in this year's UK Snooker Championship and a handsome payday too: the total prize has been upped to £750,000!
This is, to some extent, the hardest of snooker’s majors to win. The matches may not be as long as those fought out at the Crucible Theatre, but the flat draw format means that there are no seedings. So the best players in the world, Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan, are as likely to meet in the second round as they are the final.
The format has given rise to some shock results in the past couple of years: in 2015 David Grace, then ranked number 80 in the world, battled his way through to the semi-finals, while last year Jamie Jones belied his ranking of number 37 to make it to the quarters alongside some rather more well-established names.
So, from a snooker betting perspective and for those watching the action unfold from their armchairs, the UK Championship is a fantastic spectacle. But where's the smart money going? Who are the experts backing and where are the best odds to take advantage right before the event kicks offs?
Having been number one in the world since February 2015, you couldn’t really blame Mark Selby if he were to rest on his laurels. He’s the proud owner of snooker’s triple crown, the reigning world and UK champion and has more money than he could possibly have time to spend.
So what drives the Jester from Leicester on? Clearly, it’s the thrill of winning. When asked by the BBC about being considered the best player in the world, Selby replied:
"It means everything...being world number one for two years makes me want to work harder to see how long I can stay there. I have won the Worlds three times, the Masters three times and the UK is only two at the moment."
So there's plenty of motivation for Selby to do well at York’s Barbican Centre in the next week or so. Traditionally this is a tournament he enjoys too. Beaten in the semi-finals in 2015, the 34-year-old went one better 12 months ago to defeat his nemesis Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final 10-7.
He enters this year’s UK Championship in high spirits after winning a pair of ranking event titles since the start of October. The Jester from Leicester will attract plenty of betting interest at odds of 4/1 with the tournament sponsor, Betway.
Curiously for one of the greatest players ever to pick up a cue, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record in the UK Championship is not that spectacular by his own outrageously high standards. OK, so he has lifted the famous trophy on five occasions, but only one of those wins has come post-2009.
The Rocket is known to not exactly revel in the flat draw format – often bemoaning the ‘numpties’ he has to play via his Twitter feed (prime example below) – and for a man also known for his occasional lack of patience and grace, the nature of the UK Championship does not play to his strengths.
You love going to Preston Wigan and Barnsley for the qualifiers .. can't beat it mate.. you love playing them numptys https://t.co/7R4OfBq3ld— Ronnie O'Sullivan (@ronnieo147) October 2, 2017
Remember, the winner will have to triumph in seven matches across seven days, testing the physical stamina of all involved, as well as their powers of concentration. This is a young man’s tournament. As he's approaching his 42nd birthday, punters are advised to exercise caution in backing the favourite.
That’s not to say O’Sullivan isn’t capable of winning this, or any other tournament for that matter, but typically his attention is focused elsewhere – the Masters in January on his own London turf, for one, as well as the Worlds next year. At a price of 4/1 he’s one arguably worth swerving in the market.
There's sense in backing some outsiders given the format that really does lend weight to the phrase ‘the luck of the draw’. And it's the in-form players who appeal the most. Yan Bingtao (33/1 with bet365) reached the final of the Northern Irish Open last week and is ready to take world snooker by storm.
At just 17 he should have the stamina to prevail and could well replicate the achievements of countryman Liang Wenbo in reaching the final, as Liang did back in 2015. Luca Brecel has long been touted as the next big thing in snooker. Brecel is taking some long odds of 40/1 over at bet365's online bookmaker.
The Belgian finally delivered on his promise by reaching the last four of the Champion of Champions event earlier in November, where he beat both Selby and Judd Trump along the way. He’s the kind of player that nobody wants to draw. To find all the latest snooker odds, head to bet365 today!