UK Championship Snooker: is Robertson the Trump Card?
It forms part of snooker’s much-vaunted ‘triple crown’, and heralds the time of year when cuemen really knuckle down to business with the Masters just around the corner in January and the World Championships on the horizon in April.
And the UK Championship, held at the timeless Barbican Centre in York, holds many special memories in the hearts of green baize fanatics.
One of those was last year’s final between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump; with the latter roaring back from 4-9 down to force a deciding frame. Ultimately O’Sullivan stumbled over the line.
This year’s tournament has taken a blow with the news that the Rocket will not be competing. The ever-unpredictable 39-year-old has failed to make the entry deadline, and extends his run of not appearing in an event on tour since April; worrying times for fans of perhaps the greatest in the game’s history.
That won’t detract too much from what should be a hugely enjoyable event though, and in a wide open market courtesy of Ronnie’s absence there are now five or six players who can make a genuine claim to be crowned UK Champion come Sunday December 6.
So who are these potting powerhouses and safety supremacists?
Judd Trump (5/1)
The world number six has a great pedigree here in York, having won the title back in 2011 and taking O’Sullivan to a deciding leg last year.
The great concern for the ‘Juddernaught’ is that, other than a World Championship final appearance in 2011, his record in major tournaments is rather ordinary for a player of his class. He’s 26 now – no pensioner in snooker terms by any means – but it is about time the Bristol Bomber made his mark on a big event. Perhaps this is his time.
The omens aren’t great however. He has been drawn in the ‘Quarter of Death’ alongside former world champions Shaun Murphy and Mark Williams, as well as the handy Marco Fu and the talented youngster Kyren Wilson.
Wilson had had the wood over Trump recently, beating him 4-2 at the Champion of Champions event earlier in November and 10-9 in the final of the Shanghai Masters a few weeks prior to that. It could be a mouth-watering clash should they meet in York.
Neil Robertson (11/2)
Much of the early betting has centred around the Aussie after he lifted that Champion of Champions crown just a week or two ago.
Robertson is a former winner of this event – he overcame his old nemesis Mark Selby 10-7 in the 2013 final to become the first overseas player to win the triple crown - and despite a slow start to the 2015/16 campaign the 33-year-old is showing signs of finding his best form at just the right time.
The draw here has been kind to him: he will face an amateur, Alex Taubman, in the first round, and being a consummate professional Robertson won’t be looking past that clash.
But should he cast an eye over his quarter of the draw he will be pleased with what he sees. The likes of Stephen Maguire, Ali Carter and Ricky Walden will prove difficult opposition should he run into them of course, as will John Higgins who won the recent International Championship in China, but the former world champion will privately acknowledge that the snooker gods have smiled down on him.
His form and his tournament draw are both more favourable than Trump’s, and so his price is misleadingly long.
Shaun Murphy (9/1)
It has not been a vintage year for the Magician by his own standards, but the good news for his supporters is that he tends to come good at just the right time.
He has tournament pedigree – a winner here in 2008 and a beaten finalist in 2012 – but he is yet to lay his hands on silverware this season. More worryingly, his form has taken a nosedive and at the Champion of Champions he was beaten by a 15-year-old schoolboy, Yan Bingtao, who had never set foot in the UK before. And that’s a concern for the former champion of the world.
Nevertheless, he has the game and the temperament to get the job done, and tough draw aside he has to be considered a contender.
Mark Selby (8/1)
It’s a surprise that Mark Selby hasn’t adopted the Barbican Centre as his new home after his win in 2012, and finishing runner-up in 2013 will have done little to curb his enthusiasm.
The Jester gets his campaign going against another Leicester lad, Joe O’Connor, and whilst his recent form isn’t earth shattering, a last four appearance at the International Championship will have done his confidence no harm.
As with Murphy, he is a former world champion and proud triple crown owner who has the game and the bottle to deliver in those crunch moments. That said, he’s the least backable of the ‘big four’.
The Dark Horses
Mark Allen (18/1)/Stuart Bingham (20/1)
We’ve grouped these two together as they are perhaps the standout players in the first quarter of the draw, and it has to be said that whoever gets through that bracket should have a great chance of going deep into the tournament.
Allen’s finest moment in a major event came at the UK Championship back in 2011, where he was defeated 8-10 by Trump in a fascinating finale. The Irishman showed good form at the Champion of Champions, and has one trophy in the cabinet already this season: the maybe-not-so prestigious Bulgarian Open.
Bingham can be backed from 20/1, and given his elevation into the game’s upper echelons with that World Championship triumph earlier this year it is a surprisingly long price. Given his relatively straightforward draw (Allen and Ding aside), he represents fantastic each way value.
Whilst his lack of form since his Crucible crowning is a concern, you would be foolish to write off a player who has proven himself to be one of the world’s elite over a gruelling fortnight in Sheffield. Bingham now has the temperament and the trophy to back up his undoubted skill.