Free snooker tips: The Masters round one betting preview and tips

Richard Mann previews the Masters

Richard Mann has one selection still to come in his preview of the first-round matches at the Masters - get that and his analysis of Ronnie O'Sullivan's opener.

Snooker betting tips: The Masters

2pts Neil Robertson over 1.5 Match Centuries at 5/4

3pts Mark Williams to beat Shaun Murphy at 11/10

4pts over 1.5 Total Centuries in John Higgins v Mark Allen match at 4/5

John Higgins v Mark Allen

The first round concludes on Wednesday evening when John Higgins takes on 2018 champion Mark Allen in what promises to be terrific match, one in which a case can be made for both of these very fine players.

As such, it is hardly surprising to see that bookmakers are struggling to split the pair with both generally available at 10/11.

While Allen won the Champions of Champions as recently as November, he hasn't done a great deal since and his decision to move to a new cue before Christmas clearly affected his form, particularly his long potting when needing to play with side.

A break over Christmas ought to have given this renowned hard worker some time to get to grips with his new toy, but we won't know for sure until he takes to the match table in Milton Keynes.

As for Higgins, his last title victory came at the 2018 Welsh Open, but he has made two more World Championship finals since then and has looked in good touch all season without being able to better his last-four finish at the English Open.

While he perhaps lacks the firepower he once did, Higgins remains a high-class operator and but for Judd Trump's intervention on a number of occasions in the last couple of years, he would have added to his 30 ranking titles.

One thing Higgins has done well this term is score - he's up to 18 centuries already this season having only made 30 in the whole of the 2019/2020 season - and while he's not in same league as Robertson or Trump in that department nowadays, he can still make his fair share of big breaks.

So, too, can Allen whose new cue might have knocked his long potting out of kilter but, if anything, has helped his game when in the balls. Allen has gone on record to say as much - insisting that is the reason why he is keen to stick with his new piece - and 30 centuries for the season already makes for impressive reading.

I can't pick a winner here, but I do expect a good contest and the 4/5 generally on offer for over 1.5 centuries in the match looks the best bet of the first round.

Mark Allen lifts the Champion of Champions trophy

Stuart Bingham v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

Defending champion Stuart Bingham will kick off his title defence against the enigmatic Thepchaiya Un-Nooh.

Bingham was quite magnificent when blasting his way to the final last year before holding off a brave comeback from Ali Carter to claim the second Triple Crown success of his career, having won the World Championship back in 2015.

12 months on and Bingham finds himself grappling for his best form, but it is worth remembering that he came into last year’s event on the back of a relatively quiet run and he is clearly capable of competing for the biggest prizes when getting on a roll.

For all Bingham hasn’t managed the results he would have liked of late, another maximum break in the Championship League on Monday to follow his 147 at the UK Championship confirms his ability to score heavily remains.

If he can do that consistently this week, he can't be ruled out with confidence, and he takes on a first-round opponent in Thepchaiya who is still flattering to deceive and hasn’t made it past the fourth round in any tournament so far this season.

Four last-eight finishes last term show just what this free-flowing break-builder is capable of, but it’s the other facets of his game that continue to let him down and Bingham should be too streetwise here if putting his superior big-match experience to good use.

I certainly expect Bingham to come through this one, but there is little doubting that both of these players haven’t been at their best of late and as such, this is probably a match to watch rather than play with any real conviction.

Stuart Bingham

Shaun Murphy v Mark Williams

On this season's evidence at least, Monday's two ties don't promise quite the same fireworks that the rest of the draw does with Stuart Bingham and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh followed by Shaun Murphy against Mark Williams.

That's not to downplay the four players on show; Mark Williams has a glittering CV while Bingham and Murphy are former world champions and multiple Triple Crown winners themselves. But there is no getting away from the fact that Williams is a fading light nowadays, while neither Murphy nor Bingham, or indeed Thepchaiya, have pulled up any trees since the restart.

Still, I'm not sure Williams has played that badly in the events he has contested this term and he might reflect on the early part of his last-16 match with Judd Trump at the Scottish Open and feel the result could have been different but for a couple of crucial mistakes.

Williams played really well when going down 6-5 to Ricky Walden in the last 32 of the UK Championship just over a week earlier and Walden's subsequent run at the Scottish Open suggests the Welsh veteran is still operating at a good level, as was the case when he pushed Ronnie O'Sullivan close at the World Championship as recently as last summer.

Williams has won this great event two times already and while a third Masters victory will probably prove out of his reach, I'm confident he can see off Murphy given the struggles the latter has endured of late.

But for a run to the semi-finals of the European Masters at the beginning of the campaign, Murphy has suffered a number of early exits and it would take a big leap of faith to expect him to mount a bold title challenge here.

A high-class performer on his day, it seems inevitable that Murphy will come again, but I think the Covid-19 restrictions have effected him more than most and I suspect another early loss beckons. At odds-against, Williams looks a bet.

Mark Williams

Neil Robertson v Yan Bingtao

I can't have been the only one who expected more from Yan Bingtao this term. He won the Riga Masters last season, as well as reaching the final of the Players Championship and making three more semi-final appearances, and the sky remains the limit.

However, a couple of last-eight finishes is the best he has been able to muster this time around and while it's certainly not panic stations yet, the Chinese will be well aware that he needs to raise his game if he is to compete in the elite company he finds himself in at these types of events.

Things don't get any easier for Yan at the Masters and Neil Robertson should come through this one to set up a possible quarter-final meeting with Mark Selby.

Robertson finds himself in the midst of another very good season and along with his victory over Judd Trump in the final of the UK Championship, the Australian has also made the final of two other events - the English Open and the Champion of Champions.

His decision to skip the Scottish Open following that gruelling UK Championship final with Trump drew some debate - it was in contrast to Trump's own approach - but at 38 years of age, Robertson ought to know his body, and mind, better than anyone else and should come into this tournament a fresh and hungry animal.

Despite signing off from 2020 with a defeat to Robert Milkins, I don't think Robertson did a lot wrong in that match and just as was the case at the beginning of last year, and 2019, he could be set for another fruitful time of things in the coming weeks.

In 2019, Robertson made the semi-finals of this event before winning the Welsh Open, reaching the finals of the Players Championship and Tour Championship, and then claiming the China Open title.

Last year, Robertson won the European Masters in January, followed by a final appearance at the German Masters and victory in the World Grand Prix - all in the space of three weeks. Had he not inexplicably let slip a 5-1 lead over Stephen Maguire in the first round of the preceding Masters, the New Year might have been ever rosier for Robertson and he could take some stopping this week.

As such, it's hard to muster much confidence about Yan stopping his high-class opponent in his tracks and instead, I'll be backing Robertson to make over 1.5 centuries in the match at 5/4 (Paddy Power).

Robertson continues to make big breaks for fun and is up to 41 centuries for the season already: making 13 at the UK Championship; 12 at the English Open, and 10 at the Champion Of Champions.

I expect him to make a few more in the coming days and he can start with a bang against Bingtao.

Neil Robertson

Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire

Mark Selby ended 2020 riding the crest of a wave and just as he did in the first round of this event back in 2019, he will be hopeful he can make short work of Stephen Maguire when they meet on Tuesday evening.

Selby won 6-2 on that occasion, making three centuries and two more breaks over 90 that apparently signalled his return to top form. It didn't quite pan out that way, but some time later and he really is back to Selby of old having won two Home Nations events and reached three more semi-finals already this season.

Working with respected coach Chris Henry has clearly paid dividends and Selby's demolition of Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Scottish Open final sent out a clear message to the rest of the tour that he is no back-number and will be competing for big titles far more regularly than he has over the last couple of years.

While the tactical part of his game had never really regressed, his confidence had clearly taken a knock, and it's been noticeable how well he has closed out some tight matches this term with the habit of winning again breeding more success.

His potting and scoring might not quite be as deadly as it was when he won three world titles between 2014 and 2017, but he's close and Maguire looks up against it judged on his modest start to the new campaign.

Making bold predictions about Maguire is fraught with danger. Having began last season's UK Championship feeling unwell and looking out of sorts, the Scot finished it with a fine run to the final, while he picked up a huge cheque for winning the valuable Coral Series following victory at the Tour Championship in June.

There is no doubting that Maguire - a former UK champion and four-time Masters semi-finalist - can put it up to the very best, but he's not made it past the third round of any event since that aforementioned Tour Championship win and all the signs point to a Selby victory.

The head-to-head record - 15-14 in Selby's favour - suggests there is nothing in this one, but recent form does and 4/11 about Selby is probably fair.

Mark Selby

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui

The schedulers keep us waiting long enough, but on Wednesday afternoon, the tie of the first round takes place as seven-time Masters champion Ronnie O'Sullivan takes on 2011 winner Ding Junhui.

While a couple of defeats to Judd Trump this term, and a crushing one at the hands of Mark Selby in the final of the Scottish Open, have knocked O'Sullivan off his perch somewhat, it must be remembered that he was crowned world champion for a sixth time as recently as August.

O'Sullivan boasts an impressive record against Ding which reads 16-5 in his favour - including two victories this season and in the final of this event in 2007 - but Ding came out on top when they met in the UK Championship last season and has been largely consistent this term without getting past the quarter-finals of any event.

While there will be those who will be queuing up to write off O'Sullivan following some high-profile defeats before Christmas, two runner-up finishes and a semi-final appearance at the World Grand Prix hardly paints the picture of a poor season or a player in crisis.

In fact, O'Sullivan ought to be spurred on by the fact that he has been able to compete with the biggest hitters on tour whilst evidently not producing his very best snooker. Should O'Sullivan get his practice regime in order - just as he did ahead of the 2020 World Championship - and find some form, there are surely more major titles to be won for him.

A tough draw this time around makes O'Sullivan's task harder than usual, and a potential semi-final with Trump will no doubt please viewers more than it will him, but I think there are reasons to think The Rocket will show up very well in this year's renewal.

Not even a player as brilliant as O'Sullivan can win an event seven times without having great affection for it, and having opted to skip the tournament last year, perhaps his motivation to do well will be even greater than usual.

Regardless of what happens should he come up against Trump later down the line, I think the desire and determination he has displayed all season, and a willingness to fight through those scrappy passages of play, give him a definite edge over an opponent who still struggles when not able to produce the perfect snooker that he is very capable of playing.

Bookmakers have taken no chances with general quotes of 2/5 for O'Sullivan to win the match, but I think they are about right and will be surprised if he doesn't find a way to enhance that strong record against Ding.

Ronnie O'Sullivan won his sixth world title at the Crucible

Posted at 1620 GMT on 07/01/21

Key info including how to watch

  • When: January 10-17
  • Where: Alexandra Palace, London
  • TV info: Live on Eurosport and BBC
  • Defending champion: Stuart Bingham

Full tournament draw and seedings

  • All matches best of 11 frames until final, which is best of 19

Note: Judd Trump and Jack Lisowski failed Covid-19 tests on Saturday; both are out of the tournament, replaced by Joe Perry and Gary Wilson

Top half

  • (1) Stuart Bingham v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (16)
  • (8) Shaun Murphy v Mark Williams (14)
  • (5) Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire (9)
  • (4) Neil Robertson v Yan Bingtao (12)

Bottom half

  • (*) Joe Perry v David Gilbert (13)
  • (6) Kyren Wilson v Gary Wilson (*)
  • (7) John Higgins v Mark Allen (10)
  • (2) Ronnie O'Sullivan v Ding Junhui (11)

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