Snooker Preview: English Open

The English Open, starting on Monday in Barnsley, is the first leg of this season’s Home Nations Series which will also see events held in Belfast, Glasgow and Cardiff.

Over 128 players will be vying for the £70,000 top prize at the Metrodome, and for what is quite a rarity these days, all the big stars of the sport will be present.

That could be because of the fact there is a whopping £1 million bonus to any player who wins all four events. Don’t get too excited though, it’s next to impossible for that to happen. Maybe a fad, it is something that boosts the profile of the series initially, although last year’s Series produced four different, and somewhat unlikely, winners.

The very excitable and entertaining Liang Wenbo fulfilled a career ambition in Manchester 12 months ago when he lifted his maiden major ranking trophy after upsetting the in-form Judd Trump in the final. Fast forward a year and Trump finds himself in exactly the same position having retained the European Masters in Lommel a week ago.

Not surprisingly, World Champion and World Number 1 Mark Selby is the pre-tournament favourite. Selby had an unbelievable campaign last term picking up five major victories in total, but this season he has yet to reach a Semi-Final in the five events he has entered so far.

The professional circuit is virtually unrecognisable from the far less affluent days before Barry Hearn took control of the sport in 2010. We’ve already had a heap of tournaments completed over the summer where the players have travelled to China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Germany, India and the previously mentioned Belgium. However, this will be the first trophy – the Steve Davis Trophy to be exact, to handed out on UK soil this season.

This could suit Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has gone over 18 months without a ranking success. The 5-time World Champion is not a fan of the multi-table set up that we will see in Barnsley, but he is certainly more likely to strike at home as opposed to overseas at present.

Ding Junhui is hot having won the World Open in his native China last month, whilst John Higgins, Luca Brecel, Michael White and Ryan Day are the other ranking victors so far.

Mark Williams, the winner of the invitational World 6 Reds Championship in Bangkok in September, has been very consistent of late, challenging at the business end of events.

Neil Robertson won the lucrative Hong Kong Masters in July – defeating O’Sullivan in the final, but is actually in the middle of a barren spell in terms of ranking success. The Australian is even threatened with losing his Top 16 status at the end of the year, thus meaning non-qualification for the Masters in January.

Last year’s Home Nations Series saw a number of shock results and new faces reaching the latter rounds. With so much going on across several tables, plus the short format of the Best of 7 frames up to and including the Last 16, I expect more upsets throughout.

Purely from a betting view I’d like to take a punt with a few outsiders and emerging talents who have been touted for future glory.

17 year old Chinese Wonderkid Yan Bingtao is only a second season professional, but he has already risen to 56th in the World and has a Crucible appearance under his belt. The youngest ever World Amateur Champion is in the top quarter of the draw with defending champion Liang, Robertson, Anthony McGill and Barry Hawkins.

David Gilbert has been upwardly mobile for the last few seasons now, with a highlight of reaching the International Championship final in 2015. He could meet Trump in the Last 32 and either O’Sullivan or Higgins in the Quarter-Finals, but on his day, he is a class act and a handful for anyone.

In regards to the more established players, Mark Allen appears to be returning to form with Semi and Quarter-Final finishes in his last duo of outings. Marco Fu has done very little of note over the summer months, but this was a similar story last year, which ended up being arguably his most successful season ever. Both can be backed at around 28/1, even longer for Fu.

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