Graeme Dott could spring a surprise in Belfast

Northern Ireland Open Snooker: Free betting tips and outright preview

The snooker circus heads to Belfast next for the Northern Ireland Open and Richard Mann has four selections worth backing - check out his preview here.

Recommended bets

2pts John Higgins to win the Northern Ireland Open at 14/1

1pt Graeme Dott to win the Northern Ireland Open at 66/1

0.5pt Marco Fu to win the Northern Ireland Open 200/1

0.5pt Yuan Sijun to win the Northern Ireland Open at 250/1

The Northern Ireland Open has become a fantastic addition to the snooker calendar, Belfast proving the perfect host with its vibrant city making for an attractive venue on many levels while the locals continually support the tournament to ensure good crowds have become the norm, not just over the weekend.

Last year's event was a roaring success, Ronnie O'Sullivan's semi-final defeat of Mark Selby treating spectators to an epic contest and brilliant a finish before Judd Trump lifted the trophy in dramatic fashion a day later.

Of all the Home Nations events, there is certainly a case for saying that the Northern Ireland Open has become the best of them and another strong field assembled for the 2019 edition does little to dissuade that argument.

Since its inception in 2016, the Northern Ireland Open has produced a trio of different winners but with one striking similarity: victory in Belfast saw all three world-class performers resurrect their careers following a quiet spell.

For Mark King, his triumph in 2016 was redemption following a tumultuous run on and off the table while a year later Mark Williams rose from a spell in the doldrums to win his first ranking title in six years.

The following spring Williams was crowned world champion for a third time while Trump's win here last year came on the back of some stinging criticism and, like Williams, he would go on to become world champion later that season at the end of a campaign that also saw him land the Masters.

Judd Trump

Whether the 2019 winner will go on to claim Crucible glory remains to be seen but it does suggest we should be looking for a proven high-level performer this week, one who could well be about to return to his best and who might under the radar.

Topping my list is 2006 world champion Graeme Dott, who has shown enough of late to suggest he isn't too far away from recapturing his former glories.

Dott endured a torrid time of it last term, having made a couple of ranking event finals in the 2017/2018 season, but a quarter-finals finish at the International Championship in August gave sign that his game is heading in the right direction and he payed really well to reach the last 16 of the recent World Open, where Shaun Murphy was amongst his victims.

He eventually went down 5-4 to John Higgins in China but lost little in defeat in that match and I like the look of his draw in Belfast, an opening match against the struggling Duane Jones followed by either Bai Langning or Craig Steadman representing a good way for the veteran to work his way into the tournament.

Dott clearly has the pedigree to produce a deep run in an event like this, one he needs if he is to give himself a chance of qualifying for The Masters in January, and with a handy draw to boot, I can't resist him at at 66/1.

Graeme Dott

On the same theme, Marco Fu joins Dott in the staking plan having displayed shoots of promise in recent weeks.

Fu was firmly establishing himself of one of best all-round performers on the tour until suffering retinal degeneration and floaters in his left eye, a problem so serious that he required surgery and was forced to take some time away from the game in early 2018.

The Hong Kong star returned to the fold last season and a run to the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Open suggested he was far from a spent force, while he will have been encouraged by his form so far this term.

While Fu only made the last 64 of the English Open and World Open, he pushed Neil Robertson and Barry Hawkins close in each of those respective events, scoring well in both matches, and doesn't look far away from contesting the latter stages of a ranking event.

A wonderful tactician, Fu has the all-round game to match the very best and it is worth remembering that it is only as recently as the 2016/2017 season that scooped the Scottish Open title as well as reaching the final of the Players Championship.

While Fu sits in a tricky first quarter containing the likes of Judd Trump, Kyren Wilson, and David Gilbert, he won't have to worry about that trio until later in the week.

With the hope that Fu can navigate his way through the early stages of the draw and find some form the further he goes, I'm happy to chance him at 200/1, especially considering the heavy workloads the likes of Trump, in particular, have endured in recent weeks.

Marco Fu

Another previous ranking title winner who very nearly lured me in is Ryan Day, a top-class player on his day who was a pillar of consistency last term having won three trophies in the previous season.

A quarter-finalist here last year and armed with a good draw 12 months on, he certainly has upside but his form of late has been very moderate and I just haven't seen enough from him to justify a bet, however small.

Instead, I have opted to give another chance to Higgins who is a late addition to my shortlist having again hinted he is close to winning with a promising showing in at the Champion of Champions.

Following on from his 6-5 World Open semi-finals defeat to Judd Trump, Higgins proved too strong for Stuart Bingham before going down 6-3 to Ronnie O'Sullivan, the latter finding something close to his best form having opted for all-out attack throughout.

For Higgins, he will no doubt rue a moment of ill-fortune that probably changed the course of the match, the Scot closing in on a 2-0 lead when brilliantly splitting the cluster of reds from the blue, only for one of the reds to finds its way into the bottom pocket and leave O'Sullivan perfectly placed to put together a frame-winning break.

Nevertheless, the four-time world champion looks in a much better better place than he did this time last year and as we saw with his run to a third consecutive World Championship final in the spring, he still possesses the tools to mix it with the very best.

John Higgins

Winner of a record five Welsh Open titles, he is clearly very capable of winning a Home Nations Series event and following a few days off since his defeat to O'Sullivan on Thursday, he can't go unbacked.

The final throw of the dice goes on a player at the opposite end of his career but one who I firmly believe can go very close to winning an event soon - Yuan Sijun.

Following a breakthrough season last term that that saw him reach the semi-finals of the Gibraltar Open and beat the likes of Mark Williams, Higgins and Kyren Wilson, Sijun has yet to really get going this time around.

However, he will have taken heart by how well he played against Shaun Murphy when the latter was in the midst of reaching three consecutive finals in China, Sijun pushing him really hard on a couple of occasions.

It was a case of more of the same when Sijun was beaten 4-3 by Ronnie O'Sullivan at the English Open subsequently, the Chinese star leading 3-2 in that match thanks to breaks of 104, 79 and 66 before The Rocket just prevailed with breaks of 87, 84, 81 and 68 of his own.

That match was played to a really high standard and shows just the level of snooker the youngster is capable of producing in front of the TV cameras, a significant hurdle for some but something that doesn't appear to bother him.

If anything, he looks to thrive on the big stage and although Gary Wilson represents a tough first-round opponent, his current form is far from bombproof and isn't enough to stop me having a small play on Sijun at 250/1.

As expected, the market is dominated by Trump and O'Sullivan but at the time of writing both are preparing for semi-final appearances in the Champion of Champions.

For Trump, his heavy recent workload has to be a concern and were he to prevail on Sunday, it would take a monumental effort for him to win three consecutive events in as many weeks, while O'Sullivan's recent inconsistency makes him hard to support with confidence.

Nevertheless, O'Sullivan is currently a long way short of qualifying for the valuable Coral series after Christmas so with ranking points at a premium, doesn't be surprised if he is tuned in when arriving to Belfast.

Big home hope Mark Allen has a dreadful record in this event but he will surely put that right before long while Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby both still appear to be playing good snooker despite suffering early exits in Coventry.

All three have to be respected but with the market not missing a trick, I'm happy to stick with my four-pronged attack.

1715 GMT on 08/11/19.

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