Thursday, 17 January 2019

World champion Mark Williams falls short at the Master while Mark Selby flourishes

World Champion Mark Williams has fallen at the first hurdle in the 2019 Masters after letting a 3-1 lead slip, losing five frames in a row to fall 6-3 to Neil Robertson. Mark Selby meanwhile made three century breaks as well as further breaks of 95 and 96 on the way to an emphatic 6-2 victory against Stephen Maguire in what was by far the performance of the round.

Robertson had not been without chances in the opening four frames, but without setting the world alight it was Williams who took the early advantage. The tide turned in frame five though when Williams casually missed frame ball brown to lead 4-1, instead shooting himself in the foot as Robertson produced an exceptional 59 clearance to get back into the match and fully punish the poor play from Williams.

From there, Robertson began to find his stride, making a break of 102 in the next frame to level the match, before a break of 69 in the seventh put him ahead for the first time at 4-3, with Williams only scoring two points up from 57-0 ahead in frame five to falling behind. There was another killer blow in the eighth as he missed a chance to level the match, his break of 53 not doing enough to make it 4-4 and another tight frame would go the way of Robertson who moved one frame from victory. In the clinical fashion of a former champion, Robertson closed out the match with a fine break of 88, to progress to Friday's quarter-final.

Also in fine scoring form was three-time Masters champion Mark Selby as he demolished Stephen Maguire 6-2. After a long and scrappy opening frame went to Maguire on the colours, Selby quickly found his range responding with a break of 115 to swiftly level up the scores. In the third, the world number one moved ahead with a break of 95, missing the brown for the chance of consecutive centuries. He only had to wait until the next frame though to bring up three figures again, with a superb 125 clearance putting him 3-1 ahead at the interval in emphatic style.

Another frame of over half an hour went to the Scotsman after the interval to keep him in the match, but there was simply nothing he could do about Selby's scoring. Frame six saw the highest break of the match as Selby made a 133 to restore his two frame advantage, before a run of 96 where the world number one missed the black for his fourth century of the night made it 5-2. There were no big breaks to finish up but the damage had already been done long before the eighth and final frame, and Selby laid down his marker for a fourth Masters title with a very convincing 6-2 win.

Selby will now face Judd Trump who came through the 'grudge match' against Kyren Wilson in equally as comfortable fashion. 12 months ago Trump had blown a 5-2 lead against Wilson in the semi-final at Ally Pally and further losses to Wilson since would have fired him up to finally get one over on him. On the day though it was fairly easy pickings for the left-hander who started with a break of 128 as Wilson did not even pot a ball until he was 2-0 down. In that third frame though he relinquished a 57 point advantage as Trump cleared with 58 in a crucial frame that moved him 3-0 up, before a break of 81 made it 4-0. Another big opportunity came and went for Wilson in the fifth and the bad miss that cost him that frame also cost him any chances of a comeback as he fell 5-0 adrift. The warrior battled hard to win the next two frames, particularly the seventh after Trump had chances to close out the match, but there was to be no repeat of last year and a run of 72 in the next frame was enough to close out a 6-2 win.

In very similar style, 2016 runner-up Barry Hawkins progressed to a quarter-final with Neil Robertson by beating 2015 Masters champion Shaun Murphy. Hawkins took the opening two frames after missed opportunities for Murphy, who was not at the races early on in the match at all. Then, sensing the weakness in his opponent, Hawkins stretched his lead with breaks of 86 and 124 to take a massive 4-0 lead at the mid-session lead. The fifth would also go the way of the left-hander aided by a break of 60 as a humbling night continued for Murphy.

He was able to get a frame on the board with a break of 74 in the sixth, as the Magician jokingly took a bow to the crowd after avoiding the whitewash. Frame seven followed and then the eighth came down to the colours as Hawkins was perhaps starting to sweat a little. Murphy snookered himself on the yellow though and was then put into a far worse snooker by Hawkins, who would then clear from yellow to an impressive shot on match ball blue to close out what in the end was still an easy evenings work.

Quarter-Final draw (Bottom Half) 

Mark Selby Vs Judd Trump (Friday 18 January - 1pm)
Barry Hawkins Vs Neil Robertson (Friday 18 January - 7pm)

The first quarter-final in the bottom half of the draw sees Mark Selby face Judd Trump in what should be an excellent contest. Trump looked fresh and well-prepared for his match yesterday against Wilson but was still not quite at the level we know he can reach and he may well need to make that step up to beat the world number one. Selby played as well as he has all season in defeating Stephen Maguire 6-2. He made five breaks of at least 95 in a best-of-11 which will beat anyone on the planet and showed why he is a three time winner of this event. Selby will be fresh and raring to go having disappointed in the triple crown events in 2018, a first round loss at the UK Championship, followed by skipping the Scottish Open meaning that he had almost all of December off. The head-to-head between these two is even, at 5-5 in matches outside of the Championship League, though three of Selby's wins came prior to Trump's breakthrough in the 2011 China Open, where he beat Selby in the final. The last major meeting between the pair was well over two years ago though with Trump winning 6-2 in the 2016 European Masters semi-final. Overall, if Selby plays close to how he did against Stephen Maguire, he may get a closer contest out of Trump but you have to give the number one player the slight edge.

Then Neil Robertson and Barry Hawkins will complete the quarter-final action on Friday night in what is another intriguing contest. Both were emphatic winners in their first round matches but against below par opposition, making this a much tough proposition for both guys. Hawkins looked solid as ever against Murphy, even if he did stutter a little towards the winning line but if Robertson continues scoring as he has been this season then he will take some beating. When he sensed the opportunity at 3-1 down against Williams he made an excellent clearance and then hammered home the advantage he had picked up from that mentally by producing the heavy scoring that has been the trademark of his career. Outside of the Championship League, these two have met ten times in total, with Robertson winning six to give him the slight edge on the head-to-head. Hawkins however, has won three of the last four against Robertson, including a 10-6 win in the semi-finals of the 2018 China Open and a famous 13-12 victory in the 2015 World Championship quarter-finals. This is another incredibly tough match to call and it would not be any surprise if they needed a deciding frame to find the winner.

All the quarter-final matches will be played over the best-of-11 frames, ahead of two further best-of-11 semi-final matches on Saturday.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Defending Master Mark Allen beaten while Ronnie O'Sullivan progresses

Defending champion Mark Allen has been defeated in the first round of the Masters, but Ronnie O'Sullivan has progressed to the quarter-finals after the completion of the first four matches in London.

Allen was a strong favourite to defeat Belgian Luca Brecel, who is 37th on the provisional one-season ranking list compared to Allen who has led the way this season, but it was Brecel that found his form and came through 6-5.

Breaks of 75 and 50 featured from Brecel in the opening four frames as he took a 3-1 lead into the mid-session interval, but the scoring really hit another level after the break. Allen came storming back with a break of 96 followed by a 136 total clearance to level the scores at 3-3. Brecel then made the highest break of the match and set a very good early tournament high break target with a stunning 140 to move back ahead.

A run of 83 from Allen put him back level, but he could not steer ahead as the former China Champion moved 5-4 ahead aided by an 88 contribution. Allen fell one short of a second century, with a 99 break to force the final frame shoot-out. An excellent long pot started Brecel's early break of 58 but Allen had the chance to counter later in the frame, before going in-off on a thin cut on the brown and Brecel would eventually get over the line.

Masters specialist Ronnie O'Sullivan had no such problems as he defeated Stuart Bingham with ease 6-2. Bingham took a scrappy opener but never looked likely from that point on and did not perform to the level required to test O'Sullivan. The run of 96 that put O'Sullivan 2-1 was the moment the reigning UK champion found his form, following that with centuries either side of the interval. Those runs of 134 and 111 take him up to 988 career centuries, before a 60 break aided him in moving within a frame of victory at 5-1. Bingham kept O'Sullivan at bay with a run of 71 to get a second on the board and he looked like extending the match further before falling short on 62 in the ninth. That sparked a 66 counter clearance for O'Sullivan to force a re-spotted black, which he went on to win in order to seal victory.

Another former Masters champion was not so fortunate though as John Higgins fell in a final frame decider to Ryan Day. After losing a tight opener and another tight fourth frame in which he had chances to draw level, Day found himself 3-1 down at the interval. From there though, Higgins would only score another 10 points in the next three frames as Day found his scoring boots. A break of 52 was enough to secure the fifth frame, before following it up with a sublime 111 and a further 83 to move 4-3 up. Higgins drew level at 4-4, but only before Day would win a crucial frame nine after excellent pots on pink and black after a long battle on the colours. Higgins was not to be discouraged though, forcing a decider by comfortably taking the tenth. He did not get a match winning chance as Day was at his clinical best in the eleventh. A sensational long pot got him in first and left him perfect on the black and he would go from strength to strength, finishing with a sublime 128 break to move into the quarter-finals.

The first half of the opening round came to a close as Ding Junhui defeated Masters debutant Jack Lisowski 6-1, but the scoreline alone does not tell you the full story. Lisowski had clear cut chances in almost every frame that Ding won. Starting in the opener, Lisowski missed a straightforward black to leave Ding in and he took advantage of what Lisowski left with a break of 66 to take the opener. Then in the second, Lisowski missed the final red into the middle and paved the way for Ding to lead 2-0. Frame three came down to the pink and black, with Lisowski only needing the pink to take the frame. The left-hander narrowly missed out on three long attempts on the pink but the frame would go to Ding after an excellent long pot of his own followed by a fine cut on the black.

The fourth frame was another bad one for Lisowski as he took a commanding early lead before Ding got away with misses late on in the frame, before eventually taking that one on the black as well to lead 4-0. The one bright spark from either player came in frame five when Ding made the match high break of 123 to move 5-0 up. Lisowski did show the battling qualities to avoid a whitewash with a run of 60 helping him in taking frame six and he could have extended the match further, but for a casual miss when in amongst the balls in frame seven, leaving everything on for Ding. The Chinese number one made enough to leave Lisowski needing a snooker, completing a 6-1 win that could have been very different.

So already in the quarter-finals, we have two former champions taking on two slightly less established winners at this level.

Quarter-Final draw (Top half): 

Ding Junhui Vs Luca Brecel (Thursday 17 January - 7pm)
Ronnie O'Sullivan Vs Ryan Day (Thursday 17 January - 1pm)

In all likelihood now, most will be expecting an O'Sullivan Vs Ding semi-final but Day and Brecel will certainly have something to say about that. Brecel performed to a much higher level than Ding did in the opening round and while his form this season may not suggest a big run in this event, the Belgian is a very streaky player that could now be about to get on a very hot run. Ding looked far from convincing and had it not been for the potential nerves of Masters debutant Lisowski who missed a boat-load of chances, the 2011 champion could be on his way home again. That match was only the second Ding has won since lifting the trophy in 2011 (the year before the event moved to its current home) so he clearly has a vulnerability at Ally Pally and Brecel can exploit that if he scores as well as he did against Allen.

As for O'Sullivan and Day, the Welshman showed a lot of bottle in the deciding frame century he made against a star player in John Higgins and that is just the confidence boost a player needs before taking on the most daunting task on the planet. Playing O'Sullivan is tough enough at the best of times, but doing so in front of such a big crowd of which 99% will be supporting O'Sullivan is almost an impossible mission. O'Sullivan looked very solid in round one, without having to be spectacular against Bingham and you would not think he would need to go through too many gears in order to see off Day, unless the former Riga Masters champion is in flawless form.

There are still four first round matches to enjoy on Tuesday and Wednesday in the bottom half of the draw, and to see my thoughts on those take a look at quarters 3 and 4 in my initial Masters preview here

Friday, 11 January 2019


The snooker year of 2019 kicks into top gear this week as the top 16 players on the world ranking list descend on London's Alexandra Palace for the Masters. The year's first triple crown event is one packed full of worthy contenders.

The season's first triple crown title went to Ronnie O'Sullivan as he defeated Mark Allen to win the UK Championships in December, and it is Allen that is the defending champion in the capital after his epic victory against Kyren Wilson in the final 12 months ago.

Allen and O'Sullivan are joined by a further 6 former Masters champions, while only one of the 16 players in Jack Lisowski is making his first appearance in the event, so there is big tournament winning experience everywhere you look.

As well as Lisowski breaking into the top 16, Stephen Maguire is back where he belongs, qualifying for the Masters again after a two year absence. Stuart Bingham is also back after being suspended for this event last year, while Neil Robertson was also absent 12 months ago after dropping out of the top 16 for the most important week of the year (before immediately retaking his place with a win in Scotland).

Those four replace Anthony McGill, Marco Fu, Ali Carter and Liang Wenbo in the four changes to the line-up from 2018. Plenty of drama can be expected once again and some top quality snooker from the 16 best players that the game has to offer.

Quarter 1 

First round draw: (Picks in bold)

Mark Allen Vs Luca Brecel (Sunday 13 January - 1pm)
Ding Junhui Vs Jack Lisowski (Monday 14 January - 7pm)

Defending champion Mark Allen opens up the tournament on Sunday afternoon with a repeat of the match that got him underway 12 months ago, as he takes on Luca Brecel. The Belgian fell down 6-3 on that occasion and his form has gotten progressively worse from that point on as he suffered a torrid 2018, failing to make a single world ranking event quarter-final. For Brecel, who is winless from four previous outings against Allen, winning this one would be a fantastic result, while the Northern Irishman will have serious aspirations of defending his title. Marches to victory at the International Championship and the recent Scottish Open will have him full of confidence, while Ronnie O'Sullivan was the only man who could stop him in York, as Allen had to settle for second prize at the UK Championship.

The other match in this top quarter sees debutant Jack Lisowski take on 2011 Masters champion Ding Junhui. That opening line may give you false ideas about how this match may go, but the season Lisowski has had to rise into the top 16, coupled with Ding's Masters record since the tournament moved to the Alexandra Palace in 2012 tell an entirely different tale. This will be Ding's eighth Masters in all since he lifted the illustrious trophy and he has managed just one match win in that time. Interestingly, he mentioned after a loss to Shaun Murphy in 2014 that he perhaps did not put enough work in over Christmas in order to give the tournament a good enough go and that quote has stood out ever since. Put that alongside a heavily reduced schedule this season since the birth of his first child and a fairly average season altogether and it is hard to see him as a firm contender this week. Lisowski though has a great chance in this match. He's been excellent this season, making his first ranking final in the season's opening event in Riga, before making the semi-finals of the International Championship and generally looking altogether more consistent than he ever has. His dedication has shone at the start of the 2019, lining up in group one of the Championship League (on New Year's Day) making the final of that group before winning group two.

All things considered, Allen is certainly the form man of this section while Lisowski certainly has an outside chance as long as he does not suffer any debutant nerves early on against Ding. 

Quarter choice: Mark Allen

Quarter 2

First round draw: (Picks in bold) 

John Higgins Vs Ryan Day (Sunday 13 January - 7pm)
Ronnie O'Sullivan Vs Stuart Bingham (Monday 14 January 1pm)

The opening game in this quarter between John Higgins and Ryan Day looks like a really tight affair and one that could hang on a knife edge. In the head-to-head, Higgins may lead the way overall but their last four meetings have been shared, with both of the last two going to deciding frames (Day winning 6-5 in Shanghai and Higgins 4-3 in Coventry). They did meet in the quarter-finals of this event 12 months ago when Higgins ran out 6-1 but his form this season does not point towards a repeat scoreline here. Early exits at the UK and International Championship are the stand out disappointments for a player that has spoken about retirement and losing his motivation with the game, after a second successive World Final defeat last May. Day has hardly set the world alight this season either, with a string of quarter-finals that could have become much more. The question here is whether either player turns up on the day. Day has been known to blow hot and cold at the best of times, while Higgins self-proclaimed lack of motivation may have resulted in a lack of practice time over the Christmas period.

Then on Monday afternoon, it is over to Masters legend Ronnie O'Sullivan and former world champion Stuart Bingham. Overall, the pair have met 17 times, though Bingham has only registered three victories in that time. One of those was the 2015 world quarter-final that inspired Bingham to his world title, though the three meetings since have all gone in O'Sullivan's favour. One of those was a semi-final at this event in 2016 which Ronnie won 6-3, while the other two were this season in Shanghai (6-2 O'Sullivan) and Coventry (4-2 O'Sullivan). Bingham may have had a strong season winning the English Open and making the UK Championship semi-finals, but O'Sullivan has been at the latter stages in every tournament he has played in. A winner at the Shanghai Masters, semi-finalist in the English Open, winner again at the Champion of Champions, finalist in Northern Ireland and then winning the UK Championship. A reduced schedule is helping him to contend in all the big events and helping him to stay motivated and he will be hungry for yet more Masters glory in front of his home fans.

In all, Bingham will most likely fall short against O'Sullivan, while either Higgins or Day would massively have to up their form from the first half of the season in order to get anywhere near him in the quarter-final. O'Sullivan is a firm favourite to lift the trophy next Sunday and the way he has played this season, it is hard to go against that. 

Quarter choice: Ronnie O'Sullivan

Quarter 3

First round draw: (Picks in bold) 

Mark Selby Vs Stephen Maguire (Wednesday 16 January - 7pm)
Judd Trump Vs Kyren Wilson (Wednesday 16 January - 1pm)

Three-time Masters champion and world number one Mark Selby features in the last of the first round matches on Wednesday evening taking on Stephen Maguire. Selby has not had the brightest start to the season in some peoples eyes, though he has won a big Chinese title in the early part of the season. The disappointment for him will come from another early York exit, this time at the hands of James Cahill in the last 128 round. One thing he does have is a slight edge against Maguire in the head-to-head, as well as winning their two previous matches in this event back in 2008 and 2010. Maguire's comeback in the last 16 of the UK Championship against Mark Williams showed that he can still produce the goods on the big stage, but Selby has all the tools to frustrate the hotheaded Scotsman. Given that he has not gone beyond the quarters since 2014, it would be easy to forget that Selby made the final of this event in five of his first seven attempts, while Maguire himself has lost in the first round here in four of his last six appearances. Unless Selby is really off his game in this one, you have to think that Maguire will need to be at his very best to come through.

The other tie in this third quarter is the one that has caught everyone's eye given their track record. The needle between Judd Trump and Kyren Wilson has really gone up a notch in recent months and both will be giving everything they've got to put the other in their place. Trump overcame Wilson twice in the recent Championship League groups, but without a big match atmosphere and much more on the line it is hard to use that as any kind of guide whatsoever. When it has mattered, Wilson has won the last four non-Championship League meetings against Trump, 6-1 in the Champion of Champions, 6-2 in the Shanghai Masters, 4-2 in the Romanian Masters and of course 6-5 from 5-2 down in the Masters semi-final last year. In all that means he has won 20 of their last 25 frames played outside of the Championship League and one of the matches in their head-to-head that may be forgotten is the 2015 Shanghai Masters final which Wilson won 10-9, another massive match where Wilson has got the better of Trump.

The danger for both players given the animosity between them is that they end up trying too hard, fail to produce their best which could result in a scrappy encounter or one player having a runaway win, or indeed taking so much out of themselves that they scupper their chances of going on and winning the title. In all honesty, this feels like a much bigger match for Trump than it does for Wilson. The left-hander has a few points to prove. First off he needs to beat Wilson in a big match because the record between them does not make for pretty reading. Then there is the much bigger task of having a big run in a triple crown event. This is his eighth Masters in a row and it is somewhat surprising that is yet to appear in the final, because on paper it is an event that should suit him down to the ground. He has had three semi-final appearances, but at the same time he has had three first round exits in the last five years at the Palace. This will also be his 22nd triple crown event since winning the 2011 UK Championships and he has only been in one final (the 2014 UK Championship) out of the previous 21, another huge surprise.

In all, Selby's Masters record is the stand out of those in this quarter and he will be hungry for a big run after the disappointment of the UK Championship. If Trump and Wilson's match is as much of a tight battle as anticipated, then Selby could be the benefactor if the winner of that clash shows any mental fatigue in the quarter-final. 

Quarter choice: Mark Selby

Quarter 4

First round draw: (Picks in bold) 

Barry Hawkins Vs Shaun Murphy (Tuesday 15 January - 7pm)
Mark Williams Vs Neil Robertson (Tuesday 15 January - 1pm)

The fourth and final quarter of the draw is probably one of the tightest to call. Starting with 2015 Masters champion Shaun Murphy's match up with 2016 runner-up Barry Hawkins, this is a really tough one to call. The pair actually met in round one here in 2017 with Murphy having a real off day in a 6-1 loss. Taking the Championship League and Snooker Shoot-Out out of the equation, that is one of Hawkins two wins against Murphy, from 11 previous attempts. The other may also have been a big match in the 2013 UK Championship, but Murphy won their very biggest tie in the 2015 World Championship semi-finals by a wide margin.
Their seasons have both been interesting ones. Murphy's has been stacked with early exits, including in the last 128 of the UK and International Championships, but things have looked up in recent times. Back with coach Chris Henry, who aided him in winning this title four years, he made the final of the Scottish Open with wins over Kyren Wilson and Judd Trump before a narrow loss to Mark Allen. Following that he won both of his German Masters qualifiers just before Christmas, making seven centuries in ten frames won. If that sort of form continues in London then he is major title contender, make no mistake. As for Hawkins, he was solid as a rock at the start of the season, making the Shanghai Masters final and having some other good results in China in the early part of the season. In recent times though he has suffered some early exits, including first round losses in both the Northern Ireland and Scottish Opens. It is hard to see this match being anything over than close, but if his form since getting back with Chris Henry continues, Murphy is a huge threat.

Then we have another epic battle lined up between world champion Mark Williams and 2012 Masters champion Neil Robertson. In the head-to-head Robertson has a slight edge and has won their two previous Masters match-ups in 2007 and on the road to victory in 2012. Robertson has a bit of a love affair with the Alexandra Palace. His victory year in 2012 was the first at the new venue and he has thrived since, making two further finals and never losing in the first round in the six times he has qualified for the Masters at this venue. For Williams, it is now 16 years since he last won this prestigious title and he has only appeared in one Masters semi-final since then. If their recent Masters records differ, then so to has their form this season. Williams may have won the World Open early on in the season, but since then he has not made a ranking quarter-final, losing in the last 16 of the UK Championships, the first round of the Champion of Champions and looking a little out of sorts at times, as his World Championship party has gone on a little too long. Robertson meanwhile has been focused from ball one, winning the Riga Masters and making the International Championship final. His failure to qualify for this event last year spurred him on to win the 2017 Scottish Open and he has looked more like the player we know with each passing event. A last 16 exit in the UK Championship and a quarter-final loss in another big event at the Champion of Champions both came at the hands of Mark Allen, who also beat him in that International final. With Allen safely in the opposing half of the draw this week, Robertson could be a serious title contender.

In all though, the second half of this season could be a big one for Murphy after his run to the final in Scotland. The confidence gained there will be re-enforced by having Chris Henry back by his side and that makes him a real dark horse for this title. 

Quarter choice: Shaun Murphy

Tournament winner selection: Ronnie O'Sullivan

For an alternative build-up to the Masters, it is worth listening to the podcast produced by the Racing Post, featuring the thoughts of their snooker expert Dave Clark who is also worth giving a follow on Twitter. You can listen to that in full (at just under the half hour in length) by clicking here.

As always, the first three rounds up to and including the semi-finals will be played over the best-of-11 frames at Alexandra Palace ahead of the best-of-19 frame showpiece final on January 20, where the winner will take home the Paul Hunter trophy and the £200,000 first prize. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Fantasy Snooker: Updated points table and Masters information

After a month off from the Fantasy Snooker League since the Scottish Open concluded with a dramatic 9-7 victory for Mark Allen in the final against Shaun Murphy, the League returns with the second double points event of the season, as the Masters kicks off on Sunday.

Following a short turnaround from his UK Championship final loss to Ronnie O'Sullivan, not a single player in the league selected eventual winner Allen for the event in Glasgow, while only one participant fancied Murphy to turn around his poor season. One big mover in the table was Tungsten Darts who is up to joint 7th in a tightly bunched table after picking semi-finalist Judd Trump, quarter-finalist Ryan Day and having another quarter-finalist in Alfie Burden as one of his season picks.

There has also been a change at the very top of the standings with Daz Muckian overtaking Matt Butler, who saw his reign come to a quick end after some poor Scotland picking. In fact some of the picking across the board was below par, with two of the most popular picks being Stuart Bingham and Neil Robertson. Bingham would lose out 4-0 in the very first round, while defending champion Robertson would only go a round further, losing 4-2 to Ross Muir in the last 64.

So, here is how the table looks in full ahead of the Masters:

Daz Muckian 690

Matt Butler 677

Rob Chipp 661

Ryan Duckett 657

LTD Syndicate 651

Kellie Barker 637

Shaun Hunt 630
Tungsten Darts 630

Cluster of Reds 617

Rob Francis 616

FAM147 613
Andy (APB147) 613

Stephen McCabe 605
Voihelevettisua 605

Chris Watts 580

Phil Robinson 577

Munraj Pal 557

Debbie Dymott 553

Phil Mudd 541

Alex Abrahams 533

The Cue View 532

Daniela Reich 523

Anthony (antow73) 520
Kim Kristensen 520

Dani M (esnukero) 512

Anatole Compton 506

Daniel Gavin 490

Steven Bunn 482

Martin Pearlman 457

Pete Tscherewik 455

Square Sausage 436

Andrew Devonshire 422

Markus 420

Kelvin Platten 412

In all, the top 14 in the table are only separated by 85 points, which is not a huge margin leading into a double points, with a further nine events still to come thereafter. The double points offering at the Alexandra Palace may help to open the table up a bit, but with only 16 players to choose from there may also be a lot of repeat picks that could lead to very little separation whatsoever.

The deadline for your two Masters selections is prior to the first match between defending champion Mark Allen and Belgium's Luca Brecel on Sunday 13 January at 1pm. With plenty of points on offer still if you can pick the two finalists it is very much worth studying the draw closely before making the two selections. I would like to wish the very best of luck to all competitors ahead of the Masters, and the next update will follow events in London and lead into the German Masters at the very end of the month.

Monday, 17 December 2018

German Masters Qualifying Preview

Following victory for Mark Allen in the Scottish Open at the weekend, there is just one piece of snooker business to attend to in the calendar year of 2018.

Starting on Tuesday in Barnsley, 128 starters will be trimmed down to the 32 players that will travel to Berlin for the German Masters. The opening round will be played over the first eight sessions this week, with three sessions of playing taking place each day. From Thursday evening, the final four sessions will be devoted to the last 64 as the final line-up is confirmed.

Having just lifted the Scottish Open title, made the UK Championship and guaranteed to be the number one seed for the World Grand Prix whatever happens this week and in Berlin, Allen is one of the non-entries for this event. 2012 Berlin champion Ronnie O'Sullivan is the other notable non-entry, while Rhys Clark and James Wattana from lower down the rankings have also chosen to give this week a miss.

The search for a home player to qualify is extended this year as Lukas Kleckers is joined by new German pro Simon Lichtenberg while amateur Richard Wienold has been invited to take part. Also, young teenager Ben Mertens from Belgium who reached the last 64 of the Paul Hunter Classic has been invited.

Qualifying Section 1 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Mark Williams Vs Fan Zhengyi
Hossein Vafei Vs Jak Jones

The first section is headlined by defending champion Mark Williams, who cruised to victory in Berlin last year with a crushing win over Graeme Dott. The Welshman comes into this event after skipping the Scottish Open and taking a holiday so it will be interesting to see if that makes him more vulnerable or more refreshed. He should have no trouble in round one against Fan Zhengyi who has not shown enough to offer thoughts that he could produce an upset here. 

The other contenders in this section are fellow Welshman Jak Jones who I give the slight edge in a tight looking match against Hossein Vafei. Hossein has not really got his season going as yet and was a no show recently in Scotland with multiple rumours started on why that was. For me, Jones is the most likely winner of that one but he would need Williams to be below par if he were to qualify for the venue.  

Predicted qualifier: Mark Williams

Qualifying Section 2

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Zhou Yuelong Vs Zhang Anda
Michael Holt Vs Dominic Dale

Section two is a very competitive section where a case could be made for each of the four players. Zhou Yuelong is the stand out in my view given some of his recent form, with victories over Mark Williams and Barry Hawkins in the home nations events. Zhang Anda will offer a threat to Zhou but if Zhou is at or close to his best he is simply a class above Zhang who does not have as much consistency. 

Dominic Dale's form has not been up to scratch this season so far and has left him fighting for tour survival as he faces Michael Holt. That will certainly add pressure to Dale who may already have half an eye on the commentary box given some of his recent comments. Holt has not hit top form yet this season, though he threatened in Northern Ireland by beating Stephen Maguire and Mark King before his run was halted in the last 32 on the final black by Zhou. All in all, Zhou probably has the slight edge on his three fellow competitors in this section. 

Predicted qualifier: Zhou Yuelong

Qualifying Section 3

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Ali Carter Vs Sam Craigie 
Sam Baird Vs David Lilley

There is a nice mix of players in section three headlined by former German Masters champion Ali Carter. He takes on Sam Craigie in the opening round and Craigie will be looking to put some recent tight losses in the UK Championship and Scottish Open behind him to get the win here. Carter has had an interesting season with a couple of quarter-finals and further last 16 appearances but he is yet to quite kick on. 

Sam Baird was the man to end Carter's run in Glasgow, coming from 3-1 adrift to defeat Carter 4-3 and progress to his first ever ranking quarter-final. After dropping off tour at the end of last season, he now looks back to the sort of form that has seen him make the last 16 at the Crucible in previous years. Baird faces David Lilley in round one and Lilley has a good record of winning his last 128 matches this season, despite not being on the tour. He was at it again in Glasgow defeating Tom Ford for the second time this season and that came after Ford had just competed in the UK Championship semi-finals, so do not rule him out here. While Carter is the obvious favourite there is certainly potential for any of the other three players in this section to upset that. 

Predicted qualifier: Sam Baird 

Qualifying Section 4

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Joe Perry Vs Ashley Carty
Chris Totten Vs Andy Lee

Much like the first section, there is a runaway favourite in this section as Joe Perry leads the way. Perry has had a good season so far, making the final of the European Masters, the quarter-finals of the UK Championship and who knows how far he could have gone in Scotland last week if it wasn't for Kyren Wilson's revival from 3-1 down in the last 32. Perry faces Ashley Carty in round one and he is probably the most likely candidate to produce an upset here in section four as he is more than capable when on top scoring form. 

Chris Totten and Andy Lee should be a tight tussle between two players who will be desperate to get some ranking points on the board. It's difficult to split them because neither has shown enough form to make them a clear favourite and whoever does come through would be second favourite in the last 64 as well, regardless of who they face out of Perry and Carty. 

Predicted qualifier: Joe Perry 

Qualifying Section 5 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Peter Ebdon Vs Farakh Ajaib 
Mark King Vs Rod Lawler

Section five is another tight section to call and sees the first of the amateurs in the draw in the shape of Farakh Ajaib. Peter Ebdon is the man taking on the Q School top-up in round one and again he will be a pretty big favourite having shown glimpses of some good form this season, by making the Paul Hunter Classic final and the quarter-finals of the Northern Ireland Open. Ebdon will be second favourite to qualify for Berlin behind Mark King but he is still more than capable of producing the goods and you would expect him to be there battling for a place at the Tempodrome in the last 64. 

King against Rod Lawler is a slightly tougher call but King should still just have the edge with Lawler proving pretty hit and miss this season, after a poor season last year as well. King also suffered very few first round exits this season and was a losing semi-finalist in the European Masters. A possible match-up between Ebdon and King in the last 64 could go the full distance and would be an excellent battle. 

Predicted qualifier: Peter Ebdon

Qualifying Section 6 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Jimmy White Vs Harvey Chandler
Shaun Murphy Vs Martin O'Donnell 

This section has taken a slightly different look after events in Glasgow. Had Shaun Murphy suffered another earlier exit at the Scottish Open then it would have been tough to pick him to beat Martin O'Donnell here in round one. However, Murphy found something and reached the final with victories over Kyren Wilson and Judd Trump in there before a narrow loss to Mark Allen in the final. It still leaves him 31st on the World Grand Prix list with just the German Masters to go before the cut off, so he is by no means safe yet. O'Donnell has reached three quarter-finals this season and is 16th on the Grand Prix list, so well ahead of Murphy on that front and he has shown that he is still capable of pulling off the victory here, even after Murphy's Glasgow run. 

Expect a match that goes to the wire and whoever does come through will be a big favourite to beat either Jimmy White or Harvey Chandler in the last 64. White qualified for this event two years ago with a nice win over Joe Perry and this match with Chandler also shapes up to be a close contest with Chandler showing glimpses of his best form in the first half of his rookie season. 

Predicted qualifier: Shaun Murphy

Qualifying Section 7 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Mark Davis Vs Rory McLeod 
Martin Gould Vs Adam Duffy

Section 7 brings with it another former German Masters champion in the shape of Martin Gould who captured this title back in 2016. His season has not quite sprung into life like it did that year when he was in superb form. He has only won money in three events this season which is partly due to the fact that he has only entered six ranking events, with this being his seventh of the season. You still have to make him a good favourite against Q School top-up Adam Duffy, who had more than enough chances to beat John Higgins in Glasgow on the TV table but he just could not get over the line when it mattered. 

Mark Davis will be hoping to give himself more chances to repeat what he did back in October at the English Open, where he made his first career ranking final. He starts off here with a qualifying match against Rory McLeod who is in serious need of victories as the race for tour survival starts to get a lot more serious. On this season's money list he has earned just £16,000 which is only enough to put him 76th so a big improvement is needed from him in the next four or five months. Overall, based on recent form you have to say that Davis is a worthy favourite to win this section. 

Predicted qualifier: Mark Davis

Qualifying Section 8 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Alfie Burden Vs Oliver Lines
Kyren Wilson Vs Ian Burns

Section 8 on paper may look like one where Kyren Wilson should be the man booking his flights to Berlin at the end of the week, but last year in these qualifiers he simply ran out of steam and motivation and suffered an early exit. Ian Burns could cause trouble for him if he is below par in the last 128 and Alfie Burden is also a big threat in this section. 

Burden made the last 16 of the International Championship a few weeks ago and last week in Glasgow he made the quarter-finals. The common denominator in both of those runs is that he pulled off some strong victories before losing out to eventual winner Mark Allen on both occasions. I certainly see Burden being too strong for Oliver Lines if he keeps that form up, especially since Lines is just outside of the top 100 on the provisional Grand Prix list while Burden is 52nd and in all honesty he could be even higher than that but for a couple of tight losses to Liang in the Autumn. Overall, a quarter-final at the UK Championship followed by a tight last 16 loss in Scotland show no suggestion that Wilson is likely to tail off this week, but if he did Burden is the man most likely to pounce. 

Predicted qualifier: Alfie Burden

Qualifying Section 9 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Barry Hawkins Vs Michael White 
Stuart Carrington Vs Adam Stefanow

Section 9 is another really tough section to call given recent form. Barry Hawkins has gone quiet of late, losing in the last 128 of both the Northern Ireland Open and the Scottish Open as well as the last 32 in the International Championship and English Open. Prior to Christmas here he faces a tough tie against Michael White, though the Welshman has had a very poor season by his standards. He has earned just £13,000 so far this season and is 87th on the Grand Prix list and would have to win this title in order to qualify for Cheltenham.

The dark horse in the section is recent Scottish Open quarter-finalist Stuart Carrington who is 25th on the Grand Prix list and assured of making his debut in the event. He has qualified for Berlin before with a victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan to do so and he is a massive favourite against Adam Stefanow who has only picked up one win this season (defeating Jamie Clarke who is yet to win this season). At his best Carrington is a terrific scorer and is well capable of pulling off upsets and now looks capable of making the latter stages of tournaments too. If Hawkins does not have his A game then Carrington could well qualify for Berlin once again. 

Predicted qualifier: Stuart Carrington

Qualifying Section 10

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Robert Milkins Vs Elliot Slessor
Eden Sharav Vs Allan Taylor

This section feels like an opportunity for all of the players involved given that there is no stand out favourite. Robert Milkins is the highest ranked player though at 37th on the Grand Prix list he has work to do to make it through to Cheltenham and needs to make at least the quarter-finals in Berlin. Aside from a last 16 run at the World and English Opens Milkins has suffered some early exits so could be vulnerable in this section. Elliot Slessor is more than capable of getting the win but he has had a tough season as well, sitting level with Michael White on the Grand Prix list.

Eden Sharav is actually the highest of the four on the one-year list, just ahead of Milkins largely thanks to his semi-final at the Northern Ireland Open as well as good wins in the English Open and International Championship prior to that. Again in all likelihood he would need to make the quarter-finals of this event to make the Grand Prix but you would expect him to beat Allan Taylor in round one who has failed to win a match since the last 128 stage of the English Open. Overall, this section could come down to a close contest between Milkins and Sharav in the last 64.  

Predicted qualifier: Robert Milkins

Qualifying Section 11 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Stephen Maguire Vs Daniel Wells 
Gerard Greene Vs Xu Si 

Section 11 produces a big tie between recent Scottish Open semi-finalist Daniel Wells and UK Championship quarter-finalist and top 16 player Stephen Maguire. Wells is someone I am becoming a big fan of in recent times, particularly after the excellent match that he and Zhao Xintong produced in the UK Championship. In Glasgow he had some good fortune to get the first round walkover after Ronnie O'Sullivan's withdrawal but he jumped all over it. Victories over the likes of David Gilbert, Matthew Stevens and Ryan Day followed before that heart-breaking loss to Mark Allen. Without a real massive winning chance in that match it is hard to say he crumbled under pressure or anything like that, Allen simply came to life in the closing stages which should make it an easier loss to get over.

Maguire did not get started at his home event, losing convincingly in round one to Billy Castle in a real shock result, which would make victory for Wells much less of a surprise. The Scot was in great form though in York so Wells will need to continue his Glasgow form if he is to pull off the victory. The other match features Gerard Greene against Xu Si in a really tight match to call. Both have won the odd match here or there with Greene slightly ahead of Xu on the Grand Prix, though both are around either side of the 100 mark and only separated by nine places. Whoever were to come, they have yet to show the sort of form this season to convince me that they would beat Wells or Maguire. 

Predicted qualifier: Daniel Wells

Qualifying Section 12

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Graeme Dott Vs Sean O'Sullivan 
Michael Georgiou Vs Mei Xiwen

Section 12 is where we find last year's finalist Graeme Dott. The Scot had an excellent few days in Berlin last year recovering from 4-0 down in the quarter-finals and then defeating an in-form Shaun Murphy in the semi-finals before falling flat against Williams. After reaching the last 16 of the Scottish Open, before losing to eventual champion Allen, I see no reason why he should not beat Sean O'Sullivan in round one and go on to win this section.

Sean O'Sullivan has won just one match this season, while Michael Georgiou, who faces Mei Xiwen, is a lowly 81st on the Grand Prix and is yet to rediscover the form that took him to Shoot-Out victory and some good wins straight after that. That makes him a second favourite against Mei, who was beaten by Dott in this event last year at the last 16 stage. Mei has picked up enough wins this season to put him in mid-table on the one-year list at 55. Overall, Dott is still a very strong pick to return to the Tempodrome. 

Predicted qualifier: Graeme Dott

Qualifying Section 13

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Peter Lines Vs Lu Ning 
Yan Bingtao Vs Robin Hull

Section 13 is a good looking section that could produce some interesting results. Starting with Yan Bingtao and Robin Hull there is potential for a slight upset here. Yan is 24th on the Grand Prix list so is safe for Cheltenham but failed to qualify for this event 12 months ago and has been consistent this season without setting the world alight. Hull in my view has played a lot better than his one-season ranking of 106 suggests but there have been some really tough draws in there for him and this is certainly another. He has looked good recently but not quite gotten over the line in a couple of matches. He had a massive chance to beat Ryan Day in the last 32 of the Northern Ireland Open, just as he did in the last 16 of this event two years ago, while from 4-4 against Liam Highfield in the UK Championship Highfield was excellent to win 6-4.

Meanwhile, Peter Lines and Lu Ning is a really interesting clash. Lu had only earned £1,000 this season when he turned up at the Northern Ireland Open but has had an excellent run of results since then. He reached the last 16 there in Belfast, the last 16 in York and only missed out on another last 16 appearance in Glasgow by the odd frame. That has lifted him to 60th on the Grand Prix list which is 14 spots ahead of Lines, who will be desperate to return to Germany after making his maiden ranking semi-final this summer in Furth and he could do with some more big runs to guarantee his tour safety for next season. This section is so tight and all three matches played could easily go close, but on recent form Lu is a strong pick to qualify. 

Predicted qualifier: Lu Ning

Qualifying Section 14 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Alan McManus Vs Ken Doherty
Luca Brecel Vs Matthew Stevens

Section 14 is an incredibly strong section with Luca Brecel in there representing the top 16 along with three former top players. Starting with Brecel, he is 34th on the Grand Prix list after a tough season and he cannot afford to lose prior to the last 16 to have any chance of making it to Cheltenham, though in all likelihood he will need his first ranking quarter-final since November 2017 to make it into the top 32 there. His last 32 loss in Glasgow means that he has curiously gone the entire of 2018 without reaching a ranking quarter-final, yet he remains in the top 16 thanks largely to his China Championship victory in August 2017. In Matthew Stevens, he has a first round opponent who looks to be coming back to some of his old form, sitting 26th on the Grand Prix list thanks largely to his mammoth semi-final run at the International Championship, though he does come into this qualifier after a last 16 run in Glasgow also.

The other last 128 match between Alan McManus and Ken Doherty would have been a big tour survival clash for both players, before McManus overcame John Higgins on the way to the last 32 of the UK Championships. That run has along with a greater consistency of winning first round matches this season has promoted him to 55th on the provisional end-of-season list, while Doherty in 61st is now the man under pressure. For the reason I mentioned with the McManus first round consistency you would give him the edge over Doherty though Stevens looks a solid choice to upset Brecel and win the section. 

Predicted qualifier: Matthew Stevens

Qualifying Section 15

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Li Hang Vs Lu Haotian 
Anthony Hamilton Vs Luo Honghao

Section 15 is another section that looks wide open. 2017 German Master Anthony Hamilton is in a big tour survival battle, sat at 65th on the provisional end-of-season list after injuries ruined his 2017/2018 campaign. Victory over Luo would keep him in with a slim chance of making the Grand Prix which would really help to boost his tour survival hopes. Standing in his way is Luo Honghao who showed what he could do on the way to the English Open quarter-finals in October. That kicked his season into gear and he is in the top half on the Grand Prix list and could easily defeat Hamilton if his opponent struggled as badly as he did at the UK Championships recently.

Li Hang and Lu Haotian presents a very interesting match. Lu should have been a certainty for the Grand Prix after making the China Championship semi-finals, but his first round win in Glasgow was his first and only win since that semi-final in September. Li has not hit top form either for any consistent length of time in this campaign. His scoring in Northern Ireland on the way to the last 16 produced his best result of the season and hinted at better things and they may come here. Overall, every one of the four players in this section has a very realistic chance but if Luo beat Hamilton in round one I would fancy him to edge it. 

Predicted qualifier: Luo Honghao

Qualifying Section 16 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Lukas Kleckers Vs Hammad Miah
Judd Trump Vs Robbie Williams 

The final section in the top half of the draw looks a very one-sided one. Judd Trump, a former finalist in Berlin, is the clear favourite from the four players in this section. His recent Scottish Open semi-final continued on from the form that took him to the title in Belfast recently and it is hard to see anyone in this section touching him.

Miah and Kleckers are both outside of the top 100 on the Grand Prix list and while their opening round match could be a real close fight, a last 64 meeting with Trump would most likely be the exact opposite. Robbie Williams meanwhile is under big pressure. An average start to the season has left him 82nd on the Grand Prix list and 64th on the provisional end of season list, so tough draws like this are not what he needs for his tour survival hopes. Trump should be cruising to Berlin in this section. 

Predicted qualifier: Judd Trump

Qualifying Section 17

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

John Higgins Vs Soheil Vahedi 
Chris Wakelin Vs Zhang Jiankang

John Higgins is the headliner as we get into the bottom half of the draw. His first round tie against Soheil Vahedi looks very one-sided on paper, even with Higgins' recent inconsistent form. He showed signs of a turnaround at his home event with a 147 break in his second round match but would eventually bow out in the last 16 to Alfie Burden. It has been a tough time for Higgins but that does not mean he has forgotten to win by any means. He says he has struggled to get motivated again though and you have to worry about how motivated he's going to be in qualifying matches in the week leading up to Christmas.

Any dip below his best from Higgins could open the door for Chris Wakelin to come through this section. He has had a few tough draws of late but a first round tie against Zhang Jiankang should not really be one of them, even though he made the last 32 in Scotland and looks a capable player. The first round loss Wakelin suffered against O'Donnell in Glasgow meanwhile, was his first last 128 loss of the season, though his failure to consistently get to the last 32 or beyond is the main reason he is not higher than 46th on the Grand Prix list. This section probably comes down to what sort of form Higgins shows up with, if he's at his best or close to it then he should qualify, if not and Wakelin has an excellent chance. 

Predicted qualifier: John Higgins

Qualifying Section 18 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Noppon Saengkham Vs Liam Highfield 
Yuan Sijun Vs Ben Mertens

Section 18 features four players that are all under 30, with two teenagers and a combined age of 86 between the four of them (just three years older than my Nan). At 14, Ben Mertens is the youngest and he was only 13 back in August when he reached the last 64 of the Paul Hunter Classic but qualifying for the Tempodrome would be a monumental achievement. Three talented players surround him in this section and he starts out against 18-year-old Yuan Sijun who will more than likely win that one comfortably. Yuan is presently 29th on the Grand Prix list after a strong season and is well set to qualify for Cheltenham.

Noppon Saengkham and Liam Highfield is a much tougher match to call. Noppon is 19th on the Grand Prix list after a season that has contained a World Open semi-final and an English Open quarter-final, though he has also suffered first round exits in the last two home nations outings. Liam Highfield has not had quite as good a season, sitting 67th on the Grand Prix list, but his only first round exits have come at home nations events as well in Crawley and Glasgow, it is largely his failure to get beyond the last 64 that has left him as low as he is because he is a much better player than that. Whoever comes through out of Noppon and Highfield would be confident of delivering against Yuan, despite the season that the Chinese teenager has had, but this is another very close section.

Predicted qualifier: Noppon Saengkham

Qualifying Section 19 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Jack Lisowski Vs Mark Joyce
Gary Wilson Vs Chen Zifan

Jack Lisowski is the man to beat in this section. He takes on Mark Joyce in round one, with Joyce sitting at 72nd on the Grand Prix list after a very quiet season so far. For Lisowski, this is an event that he can certainly look to as one that could provide his first ranking title. Two of the last three winners were first time ranking winners (Hamilton and Gould) and now that he is into the top 16, securing a tournament win is the next outstanding goal for him.

Gary Wilson provides his major opposition in this section but the pressure is on for Wilson as he aims to keep his spot in the Grand Prix. At 32nd on the list a loss to Chen Zifan would mean that a first round victory for Zhou Yuelong would drop him out of the the all important top 32 on the list. Victory against Chen Zifan, who only has two to his name this season, would put him into a strong position and mean that those below would have to reach at least the last 16 to overtake him. If Lisowski is at his free scoring best then he should have enough to beat Wilson, but if Wilson is also in good scoring form then that could be a last 64 game that goes to the wire. 

Predicted qualifier: Jack Lisowski 

Qualifying Section 20 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Anthony McGill Vs Jordan Brown
Alexander Ursenbacher Vs Duane Jones

The highest ranked player in section 20 is Scotsman Anthony McGill, and despite his ranking of 70th on the Grand Prix list, he is still the highest ranked of the four in this section on that list also. His first round exit in Glasgow made it three last 128 defeats in a row for him in what has been a very tough spell for him, but that could well turnaround this week with a couple of wins to book his place in Berlin. He faces Jordan Brown in the last 128 who has had the odd good result this season, most notably a last 128 victory over Luca Brecel in the International Championship.

Also offering competition is Alexander Ursenbacher who should be favourite to topple Duane Jones in the last 128. Jones has showed little this season, while Ursenbacher has been a lot more consistent at winning his last 128 matches than he was after his English Open semi-final last season. His hit rate in the last 128 is 6 wins from 10 which is not bad considering there have been some tricky draws in there too. If McGill is still misfiring then Ursenbacher is the most likely candidate of the remaining three to deny him German Masters qualification. 

Predicted qualifier: Alexander Ursenbacher

Qualifying Section 21 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Zhao Xintong Vs Sanderson Lam 
Xiao Guodong Vs Thor Chuan Leong

Section 21 is one that will most likely come down to an exciting all-Chinese battle between Zhao Xintong and Xiao Guodong. Defeat for either in the last 128 would be a pretty big upset. For Zhao, he is certain of qualification for the Grand Prix at 23rd on the list and could easily break into the top 64 after just the first season of his two year tour card that he won back in May. His opponent Sanderson Lam meanwhile has only managed two wins this season, both of which came in Northern Ireland and barring a dramatic improvement or a real off day from Zhao there should only be one winner there.

Xiao meanwhile is slightly worse off at 28th on the Grand Prix list but with a nice three player buffer between himself and losing his Cheltenham place he should be safe. His season has been highlighted by a quarter-final run in the early season World Open, with just two first round exits coming in the home nations series. Thor Chuan Leong meanwhile has had just three wins this season and is outside of the top 100 on the Grand Prix list as well. Xiao was a quarter-finalist at this event last season but after losing from 4-0 up he has a bit of unfinished business, while Zhao continues to knock on the door. A potential last 64 meeting between the two could go right to the wire. 

Predicted qualifier: Zhao Xintong

Qualifying Section 22 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Akani Songsermsawad Vs Kishan Hirani 
Ryan Day Vs Lee Walker

Section 22 is another where I could see a top 16 player suffering an early exit. Ryan Day is the man this time that I feel could be under threat. His season has promised a bit more than it has delivered, with his run to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Open seeing him reach his fourth quarter-final of the season but thus far he has lost them all, despite going off favourite in three of them. In round one he faces Lee Walker who reached the quarter-finals of the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany earlier in the season. So far Walker has won 7 out of his 10 last 128 matches this season and Day knows what he will be up against here in this match.

Akani Songsermsawad features in the other last 128 tie and he will be on a quest to get into the World Grand Prix. His hopes suffered a big blow in Scotland as he drew eventual finalist Shaun Murphy in round one and has subsequently fallen to 36th and needs at least a quarter-final in Berlin to make it through to Cheltenham. Runs to the last 16 of both the International and UK Championships have shown what he is capable of though and Grand Prix qualification is not out of the question. His first round opponent Kishan Hirani has had some tough draws this season and managed just a couple of wins so far in his rookie season. Day could easily lose to Walker or Akani in my view if he is not at his best and Akani is certainly not a bad pick to make it through from this section. 

Predicted qualifier: Akani Songsermsawad

Qualifying Section 23 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Fergal O'Brien Vs Tian Pengfei 
Liang Wenbo Vs Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

Another very open section is the 23rd. The two higher ranked players in the two last 128 ties are probably in worse form than their opponents which makes for an interesting dynamic here. Fergal O'Brien is a man who needs victories in order to save his tour place, currently sitting at 63rd on the provisional end-of-season list, despite a start to the season that contained victories over the likes of Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Luca Brecel and Marco Fu. His first round opponent Tian Pengfei is in good touch though, having made the last 16 and last 32 in the last two events after an early season quarter-final at the European Masters. After missing two events, he has only suffered two first round losses in eight events, one of which was a best-of-7 frame match where he made three centuries. His scoring could well be the decisive factor against O'Brien and take him close to qualification.

In the other last 128 tie, Liang Wenbo will look to end his poor form as he faces Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. Liang has suffered three first round exits on the bounce, one of which was in the UK Championships after taking a 5-1 lead and overall he is 53rd on the Grand Prix list and in need of making the final in Berlin to advance to Cheltenham. Thepchiaya Un-Nooh is just ahead of him on the list despite his own first round exit in Scotland. Prior to that he made a quarter-final in Northern Ireland and has been in superb scoring form, losing just two first round matches out of nine this season. Overall, I think Tian and Un-Nooh will just come out on top in close calls with Tian winning the section. 

Predicted qualifier: Tian Pengfei

Qualifying Section 24 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Zhang Yong Vs Kuldesh Johal 
Ding Junhui Vs Nigel Bond

2014 German Masters champion Ding Junhui is the front runner in this section. Despite entering just five of the first ten ranking events this season and not yet getting beyond the last 16, he is still set to qualify for the Grand Prix, lying in 29th place. He is a clear favourite to beat Nigel Bond, though Bond is still capable of pulling off results and had a 136 in a losing cause against Shaun Murphy in the last 32 in Glasgow.

In the other last 128 tie, Zhang Yong faces amateur top-up Kuldesh Johal. This is just the second time that Johal has appeared as a top-up this season, after an early season run out at the Riga Masters. Zhang meanwhile is level with Bond on the one-year list and broke a run of three successive first round exits with his own run to the last 32 of the Scottish Open. Either way, it is hard to see anyone in this section defeating Ding if he is anywhere near his best. 

Predicted qualifier: Ding Junhui

Qualifying Section 25 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Neil Robertson Vs Jamie Clarke
Basem Eltahhan Vs James Cahill

The same as Ding could be said for Australia's Neil Robertson in this section. He is in a section that contains an amateur top-up in James Cahill and the only two remaining professionals that are yet to win a match this season. His first round opponent Jamie Clarke has come close but is yet to get over the line in the first half of his rookie season, a similar tale to how many near misses he needed to finally get on tour.

Meanwhile, Cahill will be favourite to beat struggling Basem Eltahhan. Cahill has beaten the likes of Mark Selby in the UK Championship and Liang Wenbo in the World Open, as well as reaching the last 64 in Scotland with a win over Thor Chuan Leong and he could have gone further in each of those three tournaments. He should beat Basem but whether he can challenge Riga Masters winner Robertson is an entirely different question and one that is probably answered with a no unless Robertson has a bad day at the office. 

Predicted qualifier: Neil Robertson

Qualifying Section 26 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Tom Ford Vs Joe O'Connor
Kurt Maflin Vs Paul Davison

The 26th section is headlined by recent UK Championship semi-finalist Tom Ford. His run to the last four there put him 22nd on the Grand Prix list and turned what had been a decent start to the season into a really good one. His last 128 opponent Joe O'Connor also got his season going more after a couple of wins in York against Ryan Day and Andrew Higginson, promoting him to 82nd on the one-year list and showing that he too can do some damage. If Ford is not on top form then that could be a close game, but if Ford scores heavily O'Connor may not be able to compete.

In the other last 128 match, Norway's Kurt Maflin takes on Paul Davison. Maflin has had an average year, sitting 66th on the Grand Prix list picking up a large amount of last 128 wins but failing to convert most of those much further than the last 64 stage. His first round opponent Davison had been having a pretty ordinary year but has picked up slightly by winning his last 128 match in both the UK Championship and Scottish Open to get him up above Joe O'Connor to 80th on this season's money list. Overall, Ford is clearly the stand out player in this section but if he's not quite at his best O'Connor could cause trouble while Maflin is always dangerous, should he defeat Davison in a tricky last 128 tie. 

Predicted qualifier: Tom Ford

Qualifying Section 27 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Stuart Bingham Vs Chen Feilong
Niu Zhuang Vs Simon Lichtenberg

Again we have another section that could be very one-sided for the top 16 player involved. This time it is Stuart Bingham who will be expected to come through and make it back to Berlin. He missed the event last season through suspension, but this year he is back on top form. His victory at the English Open has been backed up by a narrow UK Championship semi-final loss to Mark Allen. However, he lost a couple of first round matches early in the season and has also lost in round one of the last two home nations events, so he is not invincible at this stage. In Chen Feilong he has a first round opponent that is starting to get a taste for life on tour. Chen had failed to win a match on tour prior to his Northern Ireland victory over Marco Fu. That was backed up by a last 128 win over Shaun Murphy in the UK Championship and he also made the last 64 in Scotland last week. Bingham though is still rightfully a strong favourite.

Another German that has a chance to shine is Simon Lichtenberg but his qualification chances in this section are slim at best. He has only picked up a couple of wins this year but may be inspired by the opportunity to qualify for his home event, without actually having the pressure of playing his matches this week in front of his home fans. Niu Zhuang is his last 128 opponent and Niu has only won one more match than Lichtenberg this season so that presents an opportunity for both players to add to their tally this week. The section though feels like Bingham's to lose. 

Predicted qualifier: Stuart Bingham

Qualifying Section 28 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Jimmy Robertson Vs Dechawat Poomjaeng
Joe Swail Vs Richard Wienold 

The third and final German in the draw features in section 28 as amateur Richard Wienold takes on Joe Swail. Wienold is not a familiar name for many but German fans will recognise him as the winner of their amateur championship in 2017. After ending a run of four successive first round exits with a run to the last 32 on home turf, Swail has picked up the bulk of his season's winnings in his last three events and should have far too much class to be losing out to Wienold.

Another amateur features in this section as ex-tour pro Dechawat Poomjaeng takes on European Masters winner Jimmy Robertson. Things kicked up a gear for Robertson in this tournament last season when he made the quarter-finals to register his best ever ranking event finish at the time and perhaps gave him the confidence to go on and win in Lommel in October. He has not lost a last 128 match since that victory so you would not expect that too change against Poomjaeng who is winless from his appearances as a Q School top-up in the first half of this season. This section should really come down to a battle between Robertson and Swail which on current form should go the way of Robertson. 

Predicted qualifier: Jimmy Robertson

Qualifying Section 29 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Craig Steadman Vs Hamza Akbar 
David Gilbert Vs Ashley Hugill

This section features a man in David Gilbert who is in the top eight on the one-season money list, while the highest of the other three on the same list is Craig Steadman in 74th. That makes Gilbert a pretty big favourite, especially against Ashley Hugill in the last 128 who has been defeated in all of his last 128 matches apart from one this season. Gilbert meanwhile was the World Open runner-up early in the season and made the quarter-finals in Northern Ireland recently.

In the other match Steadman faces Hamza Akbar who, like Hugill, has only progressed beyond the first round in one event this season. That was in Northern Ireland where he reached the last 32, while Steadman has lost his last three first round ties in a row but had only lost two out of seven prior to that and he overcame Barry Hawkins in the European Masters to record his best finish of the season. This one will most likely come down to a Steadman Vs Gilbert battle where Steadman is capable of an upset but if Gilbert continues striking the ball as he has been for much of the season, then he will be hard to beat. 

Predicted qualifier: David Gilbert

Qualifying Section 30 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Ben Woollaston Vs Mike Dunn
Marco Fu Vs Matthew Selt

Section 30 is another where I can see a top 16 player suffering an early upset. Marco Fu is that man who is yet to get his mojo back this season. It started well with an early season quarter-final but he has not hit the same heights since but is still 27th on the Grand Prix list. In fact he has failed to get beyond the last 32 since the World Open, so an early exit here is well withing the realms of possibility. He faces Matthew Selt in round one who has also failed to hit the same heights as the World Open, where he reached the last 16. On his day he is capable of defeating Fu though, if his struggles continue.

Ben Woollaston is another man that could take advantage though it is surprising to see him as low as 61st on the Grand Prix list in all honesty. He had an excellent win over Mark Selby in the English Open but he has also had some tough draws in the home nations series. He has only lost three of his 10 last 128 ties this year, one of which was to Neil Robertson, while his opponent Mike Dunn has only gone beyond the first round in four events this season. As his Twitter followers will know, he has a tough time away from the table with his health but he is still good enough to produce the odd good run here and there which keeps him in the top 64. All in all, there is enough vulnerability wit Fu to see someone like Selt or Woollaston getting the better of him and going on to qualify for Berlin. 

Predicted qualifier: Ben Woollaston

Qualifying Section 31 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Li Yuan Vs Ross Muir
Ricky Walden Vs Scott Donaldson

Section 31 could be an all Scottish affair for a place in the last 32 at the Tempodrome. Ross Muir has done more than enough to go off favourite against Li Yuan. Muir defeated Neil Robertson to make the last 32 in Scotland last week and also made the last 16 at the European Masters earlier this season. Li meanwhile has only won one match all season, and that was his very first one, remaining winless since then.

In the other last 128 tie, Ricky Walden will be hoping to break a run of first round defeats, having failed to win a game since defeating Ben Woollaston in the last 32 of the English Open. His recent exits have hardly been against in-form players either losing to Jak Jones and Mark Joyce so he really seems to be struggling and sits 48th on the Grand Prix list. His opponent is Scott Donaldson who is under pressure on the end-of-season list sitting 62nd, but that is not because of a bad season this campaign. He has only suffered two last 128 exits in this campaign and is ahead of Walden at 41st on the Grand Prix list, with a best finish of the last 16 in the China Championship. I would expect him to beat an out of sorts Walden and then overcome his fellow Scot Muir or indeed Li Yuan in the last 64. 

Predicted qualifier: Scott Donaldson

Qualifying Section 32 

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Andrew Higginson Vs John Astley 
Mark Selby Vs Billy Castle

The final section is where we find the world number one Mark Selby. After taking the Scottish Open off and losing in the last 128 at the UK Championships it has been a quiet couple of weeks for Selby so he should be raring to again here. The 2015 German Masters champion will start his campaign against Billy Castle, who upset Stephen Maguire at the Scottish Open last week, though that was only the third event where he has gone beyond round one all season and it is tough to seeing him beating the world's best player in this one. Selby looked in good form in Northern Ireland where he lost in the last four, so his UK first round loss was a massive shock to everyone, including Selby.

Andrew Higginson takes on John Astley in the other last 128 tie in this section, with Astley coming into this after just two wins all season long. In all he has been winless since the International Championship qualifiers and is at 103 on the Grand Prix list. Higginson has plodded along once more this season, with a last 16 run in Northern Ireland his best of the season as he sits 55th on the Grand Prix list. Overall, Higginson should be beating Astley though he has suffered four last 128 exits this season, but Selby would have to be well below his best if he ends up failing to qualify. 

Predicted qualifier: Mark Selby

To watch some of the qualifiers throughout the week, two tables in each session will be broadcast on the Eurosport Player. All matches during the qualifying section are played over the best-of-9 frames. First round winners are guaranteed £2,250 with money increasing to £3,000 for those that make the last 32 in Berlin. 

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Scottish Open Preview

Although the UK Championship is set to come to an exciting conclusion today with Mark Allen and Ronnie O'Sullivan battling to become the champion, a new tournament starts up again on Monday morning as the players head to Glasgow for the Scottish Open.

This is the third home nations event of the season and the final trophy up for grabs in 2018, so it's glory's last shot for a lot of players who have under-performed in 2018. Two notable absentees from Glasgow though are world number one Mark Selby, who lost in the last 128 of the UK Championships, and world champion Mark Williams who have decided to take a bit of extra time off before Christmas.

In attendance though is last year's champion Neil Robertson who overcame Cao Yupeng in one of the most dramatic finals of the 2017/2018 season. However, as we all know by now the runner-up Cao was suspended at the start of the season and has since been banned until November 2020.

Marco Fu is the other former winner of this event since it was brought back as part of the Home Nations Series, as he upset the home fans by defeating John Higgins in the final back in 2016.

Higgins joins a cluster of home hopefuls hoping to bring glory to Scotland with Stephen Maguire the next highest ranked Scotsman. Anthony McGill will be hoping his home event inspires a turnaround in form, while 2006 world champion Graeme Dott will also be gunning for glory. Other Scots include Scott Donaldson, Alan McManus, Chris Totten, Ross Muir, Rhys Clark and amateur invites Fraser Patrick and Craig MacGillivray.

Quarter 1

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Neil Robertson Vs Peter Lines
Alexander Ursenbacher Vs Ross Muir
Chris Wakelin Vs Martin O'Donnell
Rod Lawler Vs Sam Baird
Ali Carter Vs Luo Honghao
Michael Georgiou Vs Sean O'Sullivan
Mark King Vs Mei Xiwen
Tom Ford Vs David Lilley
Joe Perry Vs James Wattana
Liam Highfield Vs Robbie Williams
Li Hang Vs Paul Davison
Kyren Wilson Vs Oliver Lines
Nigel Bond Vs Andy Lee
Michael White Vs Allan Taylor
Michael Holt Vs Sam Craigie 
Shaun Murphy Vs Akani Songsermsawad

Shaun Murphy continued his struggles this season with a last 128 exit at the UK Championships 6-3 to Chen Feilong having been 3-1 up. Now he comes to the Home Nations series events where success has been hard to come by. In 10 previous events since the series was set up he has only reached the last 16 once. Last year here he lost in the first round to Daniel Wells and this year I see the same outcome coming as he faces a tough opponent in Akani Songsermsawad. In many ways, Akani is the benchmark for where Murphy needs to get in the next two events. The Thai sits 32nd on the World Grand Prix rankings, and is some £22,000 ahead of 65th placed Murphy who realistically needs to make at least the semi-finals in either this event or the German Masters and not lose before the last 16 in the other to qualify for the Grand Prix, a title the Magician won in 2016. Perhaps spending the week in York commentating rather than playing will give him a fresh perspective or coming off of Twitter will help block out the negative noise. At the moment though, there are not too many positive signs coming from Murphy's season to hint at a possible turnaround.

Kyren Wilson meanwhile is a real contender for every tournament he enters. After cruising to the quarter-finals of the UK Championship he came up short against Stuart Bingham who scored well against him. It was always likely to take a good performance to beat Wilson in York and it will need the same again in Glasgow if he gets himself himself straight back up for the task. That was not something he did at the Northern Ireland Open, but he had less than 24 hours to recover from a gutting 10-9 defeat against Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Champion of Champions before facing Lee Walker in Belfast. Other than a couple of minor blemishes here and there it has been a great season for Wilson and he is certainly at the forefront of my mind when looking at quarter and tournament winners.

Joe Perry is a player who may be getting back to that sort of form. The final he reached at the European Masters helped put him back close to the top table and he is 11th on this season's money list after reaching the quarter-finals of the UK Championship. Until a slightly surprise quarter-final loss to Tom Ford, he was excellent in York defeating Judd Trump in the last 16 and cruising to that stage with three easy wins in the early rounds. His immediate rival in this section would be Wilson who he could face in the last 32, though Perry overcame him on the way to that final in Lommel a couple of months ago, so there's no reason why he could not repeat that again. Should he continue his York form from the first four rounds then he is a big contender to win this opening quarter of the draw.

Neil Robertson is my first quarter choice and the defending champion looks to be playing better at the moment than he was when he won this title last December. The title win came in the one week he was outside of the top 16, seeing him out of the Masters in January. This year though he is firmly back in the top 16 having also won the Riga Masters and made it to the International Championship final, which has him in fourth position on the money list this season. His last 16 defeat to Mark Allen at the UK Championship came after Allen finished with back-to-back tons to win 6-5. There are certainly some players that could offer danger on their day to Robertson in this section, but if he starts matches better than he did in the early part of the UK Championship and at the Northern Ireland Open then it is hard to see him losing prior to the quarter-finals. His scoring is so good that it is hard to see why he went through tough patches in his game but once again he is back to being a tournament contender and he has a good chance of putting in a strong title defence this week. 

Best of the rest: Joe Perry

Quarter choice: Neil Robertson

Quarter 2

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold)

Barry Hawkins Vs Zhou Yuelong 
Lu Haotian Vs Fan Zhengyi
Gary Wilson Vs Stuart Carrington
Hossein Vafei Vs Eden Sharav
Stuart Bingham Vs Tian Pengfei
Robin Hull Vs Kishan Hirani
Duane Jones Vs Lu Ning
Jak Jones Vs Sanderson Lam 
Matthew Selt Vs Ian Burns
Mike Dunn Vs Joe O'Connor
Hamza Akbar Vs Soheil Vahedi
Stephen Maguire Vs Billy Castle 
Zhang Jiankang Vs Simon Lichtenberg
Lee Walker Vs Jordan Brown
Ben Woollaston Vs Harvey Chandler
Judd Trump Vs Jimmy White

Stuart Bingham is one of the headliners of this second quarter. Bingham won the first home nations event of the season by defeating Mark Davis to win the English Open but the lofty million pound dreams were ended abruptly when he was defeated by Peter Lines in the last 128 in Belfast. Much more gut-wrenching though will be his 6-5 UK semi-final loss to Mark Allen and he does not have long to get over that one before facing a tough task against Tian Pengfei in Glasgow. Tian is well capable of pulling off an upset here having previously defeated Judd Trump in the European Masters to make the quarter-finals and he also defeated Lu Haotian and Jimmy Robertson to reach the last 32 in York, so by no means if this an easy draw for Bingham. Get through it though and you have to fancy him for another big run here in Glasgow looking at the draw.

Judd Trump will be disappointed with how he exited the UK Championship. The recent Northern Ireland Open champion stated that he needs to win more big events and was once again looking good in the early rounds but a last 16 defeat in a close match against Joe Perry will have left him feeling a bit low you would imagine and he may find it difficult to get his mind straight back on the job in Glasgow. At this event he is back-to-back semi-finalist but even that will be a bit disappointing looking back as he threw away a big lead against Higgins in 2016 and lost to Cao Yupeng in 2017 in a match Trump was a huge favourite for.

Barry Hawkins has gone a bit quiet in recent times but is still a major contender for this title. His run in York was halted by a good performance from Kyren Wilson but prior to that he had failed to get beyond the last 32 in each of the Northern Ireland Open, International Championship, English Open and the European Masters after a promising period at the end of last season carried over into the start of this campaign. The draw here in Glasgow is a tricky one also as he faces Zhou Yuelong in the very first round and Zhou could certainly do some damage over the best-of-7 frames, having reached the last 16 of both the English Open and Northern Ireland Open in recent times.

Stephen Maguire is the player I have earmarked to be the leading Scotsman this week in Glasgow and is also my pick for the second quarter of the draw. He is back in the top 16 for this season's Masters and it would be great for him and his fans if he won his first ranking title for five and a half years in his home tournament. His UK quarter-final against Mark Allen he put down to the state of the table as he lost 6-1 after superbly coming from 4-0 down to defeat Mark Williams the round before, as well as defeating Ali Carter in the last 32. In the first home nations event of the season he made the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Bingham, and in Belfast he lost out after a tough first round draw put him up against Michael Holt. It seems to me as though Maguire is fighting hard to get back to where he was in 2013 when he last won a ranking title as he has certainly not achieved as much as he could have in recent years given his talent. Trump is really the only player in his half of this quarter that you could see beating Maguire, but if he could beat Trump or if Trump were to lose early on then I think Maguire could be set for a really big run here in Glasgow.  

Best of the rest: Stuart Bingham

Quarter choice: Stephen Maguire

Quarter 3

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold) 

John Higgins Vs Adam Duffy
Gerard Greene Vs Chris Totten
Craig Steadman Vs Ashley Carty
Yan Bingtao Vs Basem Eltahhan
Marco Fu Vs Chen Zifan
Peter Ebdon Vs Alfie Burden
Thor Chuan Leong Vs James Cahill
Anthony McGill Vs Zhang Yong
Scott Donaldson Vs Rory McLeod
Graeme Dott Vs Xu Si
Alan McManus Vs John Astley
Luca Brecel Vs Hammad Miah
Dechawat Poomjaeng Vs Luke Simmonds
Xiao Guodong Vs Yuan Sijun 
Chen Feilong Vs Fraser Patrick
Mark Allen Vs Liang Wenbo

John Higgins is the Scottish number one and will be hoping he can go one or two better than he has in the last couple of years in his home event. In 2016 he was blown away in the second half of his final with Marco Fu, while a year later he lost out in the semi-finals against Neil Robertson and would obviously have been a huge favourite to beat Cao Yupeng had he gotten through. This season is getting gloomy though for Higgins after last 128 exits at the International Championship and Northern Ireland Open have been followed by a last 64 exit at the UK Championship and he is now threatening to retire. I summarised this in a social media conversation by stating how difficult it must be for a player to get over losing a tight world championship final. For Higgins to have lost two really close Crucible finals in two years, it is going to take an incredible amount of mental strength to look beyond that to future success, especially at the stage he is at in his career - where he feels opportunities to win the sport's biggest prize are starting to look numbered. Will his home tournament this week inspire a turn in fortunes? Perhaps. Does he potentially need to take a few weeks off, skip some tournaments and get away from the practice table until he feels the motivation to return? This may be a more likely solution, because having reached back-to-back world finals, it is far too early for him to retire.

Mark Allen is a man at the opposite end of things in terms of confidence, belief and overall happiness having just backed up his International Championship victory by making the final of the UK Championship. Allen is the leader on the one-season money list (regardless of the result in the York finale which is ongoing at the time of writing) and is right up there with O'Sullivan as the two best players this season. He has really stepped up a gear this season to challenge for more titles, having gotten his hands on the Masters title in January. As for this week in Scotland, the big question is whether he will be able to get himself back in playing mode after the UK final, whatever the result. His first round opponent is Liang Wenbo who may be out of form at the moment having lost from 5-1 up in the first round of the UK Championship, but he still presents a tough match on paper for Allen, especially if Allen runs out of steam after his exploits of the last five weeks or so.

Graeme Dott, Alan McManus, Anthony McGill and Scott Donaldson are four of the other leading Scottish players in a home favourite heavy section besides the obvious stand out Higgins. Dott was unlucky in York not to defeat Neil Robertson in the last 32 so he looks to be improving after a quiet start to the season. McManus was the man to beat Higgins in the last 64 of the UK Championship and that result gave a timely boost to McManus' end-of-season ranking where he is now provisionally 57th and nicely clear of danger. McGill is in danger of having a very quiet season if he does not soon get things going. His failure to see off Lu Ning from 5-2 ahead in the last 128 of the UK Championships added to a string of disappointments in the first half of this season that have left him languishing at 68th on the World Grand Prix list and he needs similar heroics to Shaun Murphy in this event and the German Masters if he is to be in Cheltenham in February.
In a mini section of the draw that contains McManus, Dott and Luca Brecel, who needs to make the quarter-finals here to avoid going through the entire of 2018 without a ranking event quarter-final appearance, Scott Donaldson could be the man to come through and make the last 16. He was unlucky to lose 6-4 to fellow Scot Stephen Maguire at the last 64 stage of the UK Championship, but he does actually outrank McGill, Dott and McManus on the one-year list and at 62nd on the provisional end-of-season list he could do with the victories here to put a bit more security.

Marco Fu was the winner here two years ago and he has an excellent record in Scotland over the course of his career. He may not be the same player that he was two years ago since eye troubles have plagued him and halted his progress as he looked to be playing some of his best ever snooker. When he won this title he scored as well as anyone could dream of scoring and having won the Gibraltar Open on the same week in December a year earlier it seems that there is something about this time of year that really gets him playing well. Perhaps his family really go big with their Christmas lists. The season has offered little in the way promise, though he has suffered two last 32 exits to Jack Lisowski which have proved decisive in him falling out of the top 16 for the Masters, just as Robertson did 12 months ago. His last 128 exit at the Northern Irish open to Chen Feilong was a huge shock until Chen then toppled Murphy at the UK Championship, but his comfortable victories in the first two rounds of the UK Championship did offer some hope of a revival and that could start here on a happy hunting ground. 

Best of the rest: Scott Donaldson

Quarter choice: Marco Fu

Quarter 4

Last 128 draw: (Picks in bold)

Ding Junhui Vs Niu Zhuang
Robert Milkins Vs Fergal O'Brien
Noppon Saengkham Vs Dominic Dale
Zhao Xintong Vs Ashley Hugill
Ryan Day Vs Rhys Clark
Anthony Hamilton Vs Kurt Maflin
Mark Davis Vs Jamie Clarke
Ken Doherty Vs Zhang Anda
Matthew Stevens Vs Li Yuan
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh Vs Elliot Slessor
Jimmy Robertson Vs Lukas Kleckers
Jack Lisowski Vs Adam Stefanow
Andrew Higginson Vs Joe Swail
Ricky Walden Vs Mark Joyce
David Gilbert Vs Craig McGillivray
Ronnie O'Sullivan Vs Daniel Wells

Ronnie O'Sullivan is the man to catch at the moment as he is winning every other tournament he enters and has not been knocked out prior to a semi-final all season, so he will take some stopping in this quarter. His season started with a victory at the invitational Shanghai Masters. His first UK appearance saw him suffer a surprise semi-final loss to Mark Davis at the English Open, before winning the Champion of Champions and losing a narrow Northern Ireland final to Trump. He looks well-placed currently as well to win the UK Championships for a second year in succession and following his York victory 12 months ago, he would make the quarter-finals of this event before losing to John Higgins for the second year running in Glasgow. With Higgins a quarter above they cannot meet before the semi-finals this time but the list of players you fancy against O'Sullivan is growing shorter and shorter. If he is up for it after a busy few weeks on his calendar, O'Sullivan is a clear favourite to win another title and continue dominating every tournament he enters.

Ding Junhui is not having such a good season and having skipped the first two home nations series events it was a little surprising to see him in the draw for this event. He reached the last 16 at the UK Championships before losing to Martin O'Donnell, who many people would have expected him to beat - despite that putting O'Donnell into his third quarter-final of the season and into the top 16 on this season's money list. If Ding were to suffer an early exit here in Glasgow, his Grand Prix place would be in serious doubt. His participation in the German Masters is by no means a guarantee and he is currently 31st on the qualifying list for Cheltenham. There are certainly players in Robert Milkins, Fergal O'Brien, Noppon Saengkham and Zhao Xintong that have the potential to stop him progressing to the last 16 this week. If that were to happen then his schedule for the rest of the season could be even shorter than his calendar was in the first half of the season.

Jack Lisowski and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh are two immensely naturally gifted players who each have a chance of doing well in Glasgow. It would be an excellently entertaining clash if they were to meet at the last 32 stage. Lisowski secured his Masters debut by defeating Marco Fu to make the last 16 of the UK Championships and even though he would go not further than that in York he is still someone to look at as a potential tournament winner between now and the end of the season. He is starting to build more consistency and that is exactly what is needed to break into but also to stay in the top 16 for an extended period, which must be his ultimate goal. At seventh on this season's money list he is in great form, though will be looking to improve on his two last 32 exits in this season's home nations events. He will be happy to see Trump nowhere near him in the draw, having lost to him on both of those occasions. As for Un-Nooh, he looks to be building some good form of late too. He had a maximum at the English Open before losing narrowly in the last 32 to eventual winner Stuart Bingham. That was followed by a quarter-final at the Northern Ireland Open where he lost to Selby, and his last 64 exit at the UK Championships came after Neil Robertson played six frames of sublime snooker from 3-0 down. If he gets into his stride in Glasgow then he is a serious threat.

Ryan Day may seem like an odd quarter choice given that he took a surprise thumping in round one of the UK Championships, but his quarter-finals at the first two home nations events are the real reason I have picked him out here. He also reached the quarter-finals of the European Masters and the common denominator there is the best-of-7 frame format. With Ding struggling, Day is the player in his half of this quarter that takes the eye. His draw is not easy though he will be expected to make light work of his first round game at the very least, though the same could be said for his first round clash with Joe O'Connor in York. Of course the passage of anyone else in this quarter will largely be reliant on the performance of O'Sullivan, though for fear of picking the Rocket in every event, I see Day as the next best player in this section if he turns up with his new found A game of the last 18 months, rather than the inconsistent and sloppy Z game that has made a couple of appearances this season again.  

Best of the rest: Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

Quarter choice: Ryan Day

Tournament winner selection: Neil Robertson

Once again this tournament is live to watch on Eurosport TV and for UK freeview viewers it will also be on Quest in the afternoons for the first five days before covering all of the weekend's action. As always the tournament is formatted like the rest of the Home Nations Series with four hectic days of best-of-7 frame action before Friday's quarter-finals, Saturday's semi-finals and Sunday's best-of-17 frame final.