Championship League: Group predictions for first week of event in Milton Keynes

Jimmy White lifts the World Senior Championship trophy

Jimmy White could spring a surprise and win his Champions League group according to James Cooper, who runs the numbers in search of value.

Milton Keynes, often the butt of jokes as a soulless new town featuring an inordinate amount of roundabouts, is a venue snooker players and fans will have to get used to in the coming weeks - if they haven't already - with the Marshall Arena hosting every professional match until the UK Championship at York.

The latest Championship League contest, this time a Matchroom Sport-led event, features 128 players split into 32 groups of four in a round-robin format. The winners of half of those groups will be decided from September 13-20 before a pause to accommodate the European Masters. The remaining 16 groups will then be played out, eventually whittling the event down to 32 and then eight, before two final group winners contest a best-of-five final on October 30.

Intuition and feel will always have a place when it comes to gambling, but the aim of this article is to attempt to place an accurate numerical figure next to the likelihood of a player winning each group. Snooker has comparably few variables given its head-to-head nature, defined scoring/match boundaries and indoor playing conditions, thus making it ripe for modelling purposes.

The upcoming Championship League tournament poses a slightly different question given its best-of-four frames format, so a 2-2 draw comes into the equation. The premise remains the same though: for a player to win and take the three points on offer in the round-robin group of four, they must win three frames before their opponent wins two, anything less will result in a draw or a loss. Traditionally, summing the correct score odds can reveal the match prices, but the only equation that matters here is reaching three frames, with the draw price effectively (1- the probability of player A covering the handicap + probability of player B covering the handicap).

With the tournament neatly cut in two, I have priced up all 96 group ties in the first week’s matches using a model I have built incorporating single-frame probabilities based on the ratings I have assigned to each player. Each group is then simulated 10,000 times to attain the likelihood of each player coming top. The following results were produced.

Group 1

  • Judd Trump - 75.1%
  • Alan McManus - 15%
  • David Lilley - 6.5%
  • Fan Zhengyi - 3.4%

Group 2

  • Ryan Day - 39.6%
  • Matthew Stevens - 37.2%
  • Rod Lawler - 14.1%
  • Paul Davison - 9.1%

Group 3

  • Gary Wilson - 42.1%
  • Robert Milkins - 27.5%
  • Jamie Jones - 20.9%
  • Chen Zifan - 9.5%

Group 4

  • Barry Hawkins - 49%
  • Sam Craigie - 34.9%
  • Jackson Page - 10.7%
  • Ben Hancorn - 5.4%

Group 5

  • Stephen Maguire - 53.3%
  • Dominic Dale - 26%
  • Louis Heathcote - 17.5%
  • Leo Fernandez - 3.2%

Group 6

  • Zhou Yuelong - 40%
  • Ricky Walden - 34.4%
  • Gerard Greene - 19.6%
  • Jianbo Zhao - 6%

Group 7

  • Ben Woollaston - 37.6%
  • Matt Selt - 34.1%
  • Si Jiahui - 23.4%
  • Yang Gao - 4.9%

Group 8

  • Shaun Murphy - 58.5%
  • Martin O'Donnell - 26.2%
  • Jimmy White - 11.9%
  • Peter Devlin - 3.4%

Group 10

  • Zhao Xingtong - 46.1%
  • Liam Highfield - 26.6%
  • Nigel Bond - 16.5%
  • Oliver Brown - 10.8%

Group 12

  • Stuart Bingham - 50.3%
  • Yuan Sijun - 31.2%
  • James Cahill - 15%
  • Junxu Pang - 3.5%

Group 13

  • Jack Lisowski - 53.5%
  • Ian Burns - 25.1%
  • Rory McLeod - 13.2%
  • Fraser Patrick - 8.2%

Group 14

  • Graeme Dott - 45%
  • Liang Wenbo - 37.7%
  • Soheil Vahedi - 11.7%
  • Zak Surety - 5.6%

Group 15

  • Michael Holt - 39.3%
  • Anthony Hamilton - 34.9%
  • Jamie O'Neill - 19.2%
  • Sean Maddocks - 6.6%

Group 16

  • Mark Selby - 62.5%
  • Lyu Haotian - 19%
  • Fergal O'Brien - 15.2%
  • Brandon Sargeant - 3.3%

Group 18

  • Xiao Guodong - 41.3%
  • Hossein Vafaei - 34.7%
  • Jak Jones - 18.7%
  • Farakh Ajaib - 5.3%

Group 21

  • David Gilbert - 48.7%
  • Lu Ning - 28.5%
  • Xu Si - 18.4%
  • Aaron Hill - 4.4%

It’s well worth mentioning a caveat to these probabilities. In the outcome of a tie after all group matches are played, frame difference, head-to-head result between top players and highest break are the determining factors, in that order. In the event of a tie in each simulation, the group winner is selected at random which means the chance of the favourite coming out on top in each group is perhaps underestimated slightly. Normalisation is employed to overcome >100% prices which again will discriminate against the slightly better player as in essence they have more probability to lose. Even with that built in, the prices available so far still lean too heavily in favour of the jolly in most groups. One reason could be that my player ratings are more compressed than that of the odds compiler, or possibly each firm is aware they can probably lay under the odds on the big names and still receive trade.


With that in mind, a trio of players are offered for betting purposes, starting with Louis Heathcote in Group 5. Dubbed a potential star of the future by Ronnie O’Sullivan no less, Heathcote has a long way to go before he can be considered a winner-in-waiting, but the Rookie of the Year accolade awarded to him confirms a very positive debut season, with his defeat of Ali Carter in World Championship Qualifying a particularly eye-catching result. Stephen Maguire is clearly the correct favourite in his group, but odds of 1/2 are very defensive, and the 11/2 on offer about Heathcote is very fair, with the model pricing him closer to 9/2.

There’s every reason to believe Jimmy White will enter this tournament in a better frame of mind than most, a successful defence of his World Seniors title coming courtesy of a superb fightback against a faltering Ken Doherty, while a two-year wildcard has also been offered the Whirlwind’s way to ensure he can compete on the main tour. Like Group 5, Group 8 has an established but similarly underpriced market leader in Shaun Murphy. Of course, Murphy has it in his locker to steamroller his way through, but the Magician didn’t play in the earlier Championship League event and was most unimpressive at the Crucible. Martin O’Donnell enjoyed a good run in this format on first start back and he’s a pretty reliable operator, but odds of 9/1 about White are too big to ignore, with the model making him closer to 15/2.

Group 18 is the destination for the final bet as a case can certainly be argued for Hossein Vafaei being a fair bit closer in the market to Xiao Guodong. Regular snooker watchers will know that Vafaei’s career has been blighted by visa issues, and the Iranian isn’t an easy one for punters or layers to pin down. At the time of writing at least, he is an intended runner, and quotes of 9/4 in one of the weaker heats are very tempting - he's 15/8 according to the model.

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