It is one of the jewels in snooker’s triple crown; a pre-Christmas aperitif heading into the post-Yuletide main course of the Masters in January and the World Championships in April.
The UK Championship kicked off on Tuesday, and whilst a host of big names have already booked their places in the second round – including one of the tournament favourites in John Higgins – there was a huge shock as Ding Junhui, two-time UK Championship winner, was stunned 2-6 by world number 121 Adam Duffy.
And that’s the interesting thing about the event’s new format, brought in by Barry Hearn a few years ago to spice things up. A best-of-11 frame match on a cubicle-based table set-up – in the early rounds at least – gives the game’s lesser names an opportunity to prosper. That said, the cream usually rises to the top and we fully expect two of the following to progress to the showpiece final come Sunday December 6.
Judd Trump (5/1)
The pre-tournament favourite is the popular Bristolian, who clearly has the quality to win any event he puts his mind to.
But often rash shot selection and a questionable temperament puts Trump under undue pressure, and with a haul of just one major win at the age of 26 we would have to question whether the left-hander will ever fulfil his potential. He needs to win a ‘biggie’ again soon, and with Ronnie O’Sullivan missing this competition for personal reasons perhaps this is the ‘Juddernaught’s’ best opportunity.
But given his penchant for giving frames away through careless shot-making, at 5/1 he is too short a price to back readily.
Neil Robertson (6/1)
Neil Robertson is a far steadier hand than Trump, and at 6/1 he presents just enough value to get stuck into the bookmakers.
He won the last big TV tournament, the Champion of Champions, barely a fortnight ago, and is the proud owner of snooker’s Grand Slam – the UK Championship (he won here in 2013), the Masters and the Worlds.
The Aussie has a reasonable draw in this tournament, although much will rest on a potential meeting in the latter stages with another favourite here, John Higgins.
Mark Selby (7/1)
Although he arrives in York with little form, there would be no surprise if the ‘Jester from Leicester’ were to raise his game and walk away from the Barbican Centre as the champion.
Selby has won here before in 2012 and reached the final the following year, so he knows what is expected at this tournament.
And the 32-year-old reached the semi-finals of the recent International Championship; so perhaps he is hitting form at just the right time.
John Higgins (11/1)
The man himself has said he has ‘not played much better’ at any point in his career, and no less a judge than Stephen Hendry believes that he is still one of the best around, so it’s little wonder that the bookies have taken a lot of money on John Higgins this week.
The Scot won the recent International Champion to return to the winners’ enclosure, and he is proving that 40 really is the new 30.
A semi-final meeting with Robertson could be a spanner in the works, but Higgins’ progress in York is well worth tracking.
Two to Watch
Mark Allen (18/1)
The Irishman has long been thought of as a major contender, and his best moment as a professional came at this very tournament in 2011; where he pushed Trump all the way in the final before succumbing 8-10.
So he has previous at the Barbican Centre and he also has form too: Allen scooped the Bulgarian Open title earlier this season, and recently got to the latter stages of the Champion of Champions event.
His draw is kind here, and with Ding’s early exit Allen’s toughest examination in his quarter will come from Stuart Bingham, the world champion who has struggled to replicate his best form.
Kyren Wilson (66/1)
A youngster who has burst onto the scene this term is Kyren Wilson, who has already lifted a ranking event trophy in Shanghai and reached the last four of the Champion of Champions.
In both of those tournaments he defeated Trump, and those two are once again on a collision course here in their quarter of the draw. Should they meet again, Wilson will be hoping that lightning strikes thrice.
At 66/1, he represents fantastic each way value given his form.