The snooker season heads to York for the UK Championship this week. There’s £170,000 on the table for the winner of this 128-player tournament, not to mention the small matter of a major title victory.
The two favourites are the two finalists from last year. Number one ranked Mark Selby and arguably the greatest of all-time, Ronnie O’Sullivan, sit at 7/2 and 9/2 respectively before a frame is played.
Selby was victorious in 2016, and O’Sullivan’s turbulent year since makes him typical unpredictable. He will always feature at the top of the odds when he’s competing, however. When the biggest tournaments roll around, there are few people who will be able to look past Ronnie.
O’Sullivan has won this tournament on five previous occasions, and could equal Steve Davis’ record with victory this year. As ever, we are unsure which Ronnie will turn up. The expectation, though, is if he can make it through the early rounds without losing interest or concentration, he will be almost unbeatable in the latter rounds.
The Rocket is one of the most underappreciated British sportsmen of the last few decades. He turned pro a quarter of a century ago, and has lit up the sport with a blend of stunning, unpredictable snooker and a hefty dose of charisma. On talent alone there’s no doubt that 9/2 is a belter of a price. Bring his form into account, too, and it’s no doubt the standout of the market.
As good as others have been, O’Sullivan is in a class of his own. Comparable to Rafael Nadal on a clay court: if they are at their best, they win.
The leader in the outright UK Championship market, Selby, will be the favourite of many. His record is indisputably fantastic. The Leicester-born 34-year-old has won three of the last four World Championships, but his record at the UK event is less impressive. Less impressive that he has only won it twice since becoming a fixture in the top 16.
There is no doubting Selby’s brilliance. His legacy in the sport is already settled. Records have tumbled, including being only the sixth player in history to win all of the Triple Crown events at least twice.
The point of caution for Selby comes in his 9-16 record against Ronnie. Unsurprisingly, no player comes close to that sort of dominance against the world champion. It is a meeting of the ultra-attacking, sharp-shooting game of O’Sullivan and the calculating, risk-managing Selby. This is the matchup we really want to see after their epic final last year.
Outside of the big two, the odds lengthen a bit. Trump is up next at 6/1. The world number two comes into this tournament on a decent run of his own, but has only made it past the fourth round of the UK Championship once since he lifted the trophy in 2011/12.
I think it’s worth looking at two veterans and a teenager for some longer odds picks. John Higgins has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts and his price of 12/1 is tempting. Experience can be invaluable on the biggest stages, after all.
Mark Williams is another 42-year-old who might surprise a few in York. He ended a painful six-year ranking title drought last weekend, and is a player the top three must be wary of. His 28/1 is admittedly a real longshot, but I like those odds for a romantic return to glory for Williams.
At the other end of the spectrum, Yan Bingtao, a 17-year-old who lost to Williams in the Northern Ireland final last weekend, is at 33/1. I think the odds are on the short side still, however, but he’s certainly a name to watch as we get through the early rounds.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*