English Open Snooker Tips – Two players to back from each quarter

The first leg of the Home Nations series starts tomorrow morning, with Mark Selby defending his title. Once again, the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes is the venue.

Selby back at snooker’s top table

It wasn’t obvious as recently as 10 weeks ago but the ‘Jester from Leicester‘ is back. Selby endured a couple of poor seasons by his world-beating standards and there was speculation that his safety game had gone to bits. His first round performance in the World Championship was laboured.

Then came a quarter-final thrashing of Neil Robertson to debunk the theory. He should have beaten Ronnie in the semis and carried his form over to the new season, winning the European Masters. He’ll fancy his chances here too, with both Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan pitched in the opposite half of the draw.

Indeed, the draw is positive. His only elite rivals in the top section are Shaun Murphy and Stephen Maguire. Single-figure odds aren’t for me, though. Whilst his recent wins have come in short formats, he’s always been better over longer matches and vulnerable in the early rounds to vastly inferior opposition.

Back Hossein Vafaei 0.25u e/w @ 225/1
Back Shaun Murphy 2.5u @ [19.5]

Generally, I prefer to back outsiders in events involving best-of-seven matches, as this does until the quarter-finals. Specifically in this top section, Hossein Vafaei. The Iranian is extremely talented and reached a semi last year, having disposed of Selby along the way.

Murphy good value from this path

Odds of [19.5] about Murphy also very much appeal. ‘The Magician’ enjoyed an excellent run last season and started this one well, reaching the semis from a tricky path. Notably he thrashed Zhou Yuelong 5-1 – his toughest potential opponent before the last-16 and worthy of a mention in his own right at 150/1.

Another factor that deters me from backing Selby is that back-to-back titles are pretty rare. The top players tend to win more or less ‘in their turn’. That argument could be employed to justify backing four players in the second section.

Hawkins bound to be hungry

When Neil Robertson won the World Open in February, he was the hottest player alive. Without hitting that peak level since, he’s quite capable of returning to it. The Aussie’s early path is however full of tricky matches.

Mark Allen hasn’t won for nearly two years and nobody is more overdue than David Gilbert, who has never won a title at this level.

Back Barry Hawkins 1u e/w @ 40/1
Back Kurt Maflin 0.25u e/w @ 125/1

Both are tempting but I prefer Barry Hawkins, whose early path looks easier. Having fallen outside the top-16 he urgently needs to find some form and seemed to be doing so at the World Championship.

Following his heroics there, Kurt Maflin may be ready to join that elite group. The Norwegian has never lacked ability if perhaps belief. Beating Gilbert and Higgins at the Crucible should be enough to convince him.

Trump to resume winning ways

Back Judd Trump 8u @ [5.3]
Back Matthew Selt 0.25u e/w @ 425/1

Speaking of winning in turn, it won’t be too long before Judd Trump resumes the dominant form that made him world number one and landed ten titles in the past two years. Now inflated, these odds are too big to ignore. I can’t see anyone presenting much of a threat prior to the last-16, at the earliest.

At that stage, he’ll probably face Kyren Wilson, who was impressively vanquished at the previous event. Don’t rule out Matthew Selt emerging from that mini-section. He’s a fair match player and won his group at the recent Championship League.

Ronnie hard to trust right now

With Trump in the staking plan, Ronnie O’Sullivan can’t be afforded. No problem – I’m happy to take him on anyway. He withdrew from the Championship League and lost his first match at the European Masters to the promising Aaron Hill.

Brian Ochoiski represents a similar challenge first up – the 21 year-old looks bound to become the best French player ever. After that, Ronnie will likely have to contend with Ryan Day and maybe Matthew Stevens just to reach the top-16. Tricky, especially if lacking motivation.

Back Luo Honghao 0.25u e/w @ 425/1
Back Jamie Jones 0.25u e/w @ 325/1

Let’s leave that lot to sort themselves out and focus on the other mini-section, where I like two at huge odds. Regular readers will know I’m a big Luo Honghao fan. The 20 year-old was another group winner at the Championship League.

Finally Jamie Jones may be under the radar after returning to the tour via Q-school. The Welshman is a former Crucible quarter-finalist, very talented and reportedly in the best mindset of his career.

Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty