James Cooper looks at the first-round matches at the English Open, where Ali Carter can put his experience and class edges to use.
We may have lost the tournaments in China, but the Home Nations Series has been salvaged, starting with the English Open in the now-familiar surroundings of the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
One of the more intriguing first-round ties pits Ali Carter against the rapidly-improving Welshman, Jamie Clarke. The latter wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea at the Crucible and the former has his share of critics, too, but Clarke’s emergence from the abyss last season was pretty staggering and Carter’s longevity within the upper echelons of the game has to be applauded.
It’s hard to know what sparked the upturn in Clarke’s game, as he was a player I rated below top-64 class throughout 2018/19. The lack of a Crucible crowd may have helped the debutant this summer, but a run to the quarter-finals, where he was one pot away from the semis, was still outstanding and a marked uplift in his rating was inevitable.
A recent European Masters defeat to eventual runner-up Martin Gould was of course no disgrace and he’s advanced to the second phase of the Championship League. Confidence is clearly high, but unless I have still yet to catch up with Clarke’s true ability, most of the odds compilers may have gone too far with quotes of as low as 11/8 to beat The Captain and the favourite is a strong fancy at the price.
There’s no evidence for me that Carter isn’t right on the fringes of top-16 class, and when I crunched the numbers for this game, I had Carter a 40/85 (69%) shot to triumph against 85/40 (31%) Clarke. Therefore the 4/7 available on Carter has to be taken and unsurprisingly given the price disparity, there’s value in the side markets too, with Carter to cover a 1.5 handicap a best price of 11/10 against my 52% (10/11) probability.
One player who improved his rating with me last season (albeit from a very low base) was Simon Lichtenberg, which some may find curious given he won only two of his 15 matches. On several occasions though, he exceeded scoreline expectations, with single-frame defeats against the likes of Ding Junhui and Joe Perry very commendable efforts. It can be a steep learning curve for amateurs on the main circuit, but Lichtenberg chose a good time to double his tally for the campaign in the first qualifying round of the World Championship and crucially retained his tour status at the Q School soon after.
His opponent Anthony Hamilton is never an easy one to weigh up. One of the most well-respected players on the circuit, Hamilton has struggled with back issues for some time and was forced to pull out of the World Championship citing health concerns due to suffering with asthma, a decision made with the understanding spectators would be present.
The Sheriff didn’t enter either Championship League event and lost his opening European Masters match to Michael Holt, so he could be caught a little cold here. The odds available have to be right for a bet to be struck of course and in this case they are, with the 7/2 available on Lichtenberg acceptable given I make him a 3/1 shot to triumph. For anyone interested in playing it safer, Hills go 7/10 that the German will win at least two frames, which is value against the model output of 63%.
As ever with punting, you should avoid making a selection and then forming a case to fit that narrative, but rather let the numbers do the talking where possible. Upon scanning the list of first-round games, I wouldn’t have earmarked Graeme Dott v Alexander Ursenbacher as an obvious betting proposition as I didn’t expect the layers to deviate too far from my 100% prices of 8/15 Dott and 15/8 Ursenbacher.
The fact that 12/5 was available on the up-and-coming Swiss player made him a no-brainer bet, while those slightly less risk averse may look at the 1.5 handicap market, with Ursenbacher chalked up at 6/5 with Coral/Ladbrokes to win at least three frames, while my model forecasts the likelihood of that eventuality at 52% (10/11).
Posted at 2100 BST on 10/10/20
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