Ronnie O’Sullivan will begin his defence of the UK Championship title against amateur Ross Bulman at the York Barbican next week. The tournament, which runs between Tuesday November 26 and December 8, will have its entire first round played over the opening three days – November 26, 27 and 28 – when other outright favourites also have seemingly simple tasks.
Judd Trump will be up against African champion Amine Amiri, Mark Allen takes on Jimmy White and Mark Selby faces the veteran Andy Hicks.
The 2019 UK Championship is the seventh ranking competition of an 18 tournament snooker season and it comes with a £1,009,000 prize-fund (£200,000 to-the-winner) which represents a substantial increase on the 2018 pool.
Of course this is no run-of-the-mill tournament, the UK Championship is the opening leg of snooker’s ‘Triple Crown’ – the others being the World Championship and the Masters – and it is probably the second biggest competition on the calendar given the Masters is a select field invite-only competition.
Open to 128 players, the opening round matches right through to the semi-finals are all ‘best of 11 frame’ format games. The decider is a race to ten frames. And such is the prize-money levels, competition is sure to be fierce throughout. There’s £6,500 for all players who can win their opening match which is enough to keep many journeyman pros on the road for several months. And the £’s ranking point worth will be a meaningful contribution to keeping many tour cards alive.
Given only O’Sullivan (10/3), Selby (10/1) and Robertson (5/1) have won this competition during the past seven years and the man of the moment, Judd Trump (11/4) was the 2011 victor, this tournament does not seem too difficult to decode. At 14/1 I’d also throw John Higgins into calculations, the three-time previous winner is certainly playing well and on value grounds looks the best option.
Too short to be entertained
But, on this occasion, the betting value is all in the opening round matches. Matthew Stevens is criminally short at 1/3 against Chen Feilong and, likewise, Dave Gilbert is a take-on at 2/7 against James Cahill. Cahill famously dumped Ronnie O’Sullivan out of the 2019 World Championship at monumental odds so he knows how to giant kill. Meanwhile, Gilbert’s last two outings were very disappointing defeats to Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Anthony Hamilton.
Ricky Walden beat Xu Si 5-3 when they met in the China Championship in August but that doesn’t mean a repeat win for the established player is a formality. 21-year-old Si has a recent verdict over Mark Joyce and played well, albeit in defeat, against Mark Selby in the opening round of the Northern Ireland Open.
Not giving up on Astley
On face value John Astley has had a woeful 2019/20 season. He’s played seven matches and lost six. But on Wednesday he takes on Peter Ebdon who has not fared much better in winning just two of his seven public appearances. The former world champion is a shadow of his former self and he has been truly thumped when playing a quality rival.
Astley, who is only 25 places lower that Ebdon on current rankings, may boast just one win but he’s taken Mark Williams to a final frame decider and did the same against Dave Gilbert in last month’s World Open. On that occasion he scored more points than his rival during the course of the match and claimed the three highest breaks of the game too.
His recent form is way stronger than that of the regressive Peter Ebdon and at 6/4 the 30-year-old is the best bet of the opening round.