52 days after Mark Selby’s victory at the Crucible Theatre, the two-time world champion will be amongst those back in action at the Kaspersky Riga Masters, the first televised snooker tournament of the 2016/17 season.
- Click HERE to view the tournament draw
- Click HERE to view the tournament format
- Click HERE to view the latest provisional seedings
The tournament will be the third professional event staged in Riga, succeeding the Riga Open won by both Selby and Barry Hawkins previously. For the first time however, the event will be held as a full-ranking event, rather than a minor event as part of the now defunct European Tour. This is reflected by prize money increases which have seen the winner’s cheque doubled to €50,000 and the overall prize fund up to a healthy €200,000.
Format-wise, matches will be played over the best of seven frames up to and including the semi-finals, rising to best of nine for and final. Interestingly, both best of nine matches will not have an interval, presumably something that will suit host broadcaster Eurosport as they look to keep the action flowing throughout their live coverage.
With the first round having already been played (give or take a couple of wildcard matches), the three-day event promises to be not quite as manic as the European Tour events that we have become so familiar with in recent seasons. There will be no more than seven tables in play at any one time, more often than not just three.
Mark Selby – Riga winner in 2014
Turning to the field, ten of the top 16 players will be making the trip to Latvia, including the top two in 2014 champion Mark Selby and former world champion Stuart Bingham. There will be two wildcard matches as Latvia’s Tatjana Vasiljeva makes her debut in a full-ranking event against Marco Fu, while former world number eight Darren Morgan returns to a ranking event for the first time since the 2010 World Open and will play fellow amateur Bradley Jones.
Interestingly, there will also be eight players from China competing in the last 64 (it would have been ten but for withdrawals), further evidence of the ever-increasing strength in depth of the game in China.
It is important to remember that the draw for this event is completely unseeded, with some interesting consequences. For example in the top section of the draw we are already guaranteed a non-top 16 player through to the first semi-final, while further down we could see Mark Selby play Kyren Wilson in the last 32, with the winner potentially facing Stuart Bingham in the next round.
This means that for some players there is a real opportunity to get some early prize money in the bank this weekend and who knows, perhaps even to make a career-changing breakthrough.
To the draw…
The Top Quarter
As mentioned above, surprisingly we have no top 16 players involved in the top quarter of the draw, leaving the door open for perhaps a couple of less familiar faces to make it through to the final day.
The highest seed present is 15th seed David Gilbert, who will begin his quest for a first ranking title against Sam Baird, now well-entrenched inside the top 64 following his run to the last 16 of last season’s World Championship.
David Gilbert – top seed in this section
Ryan Day, Luca Brecel, Jamie Jones and Jack Lisowski are the other players seeded inside the top 32 in this section, Day and Lisowski set to face each other in the opening round.
Of the less familiar names, there was an excellent win for Poland’s Adam Stefanow against Ben Woollaston in qualifying and he now awaits the winner of the held over match between fellow amateurs Bradley Jones and Darren Morgan.
Gareth Allen and Xiao Guodong meet in the last 64, the latter hoping to bounce back this season after a torrid 2015/16 season which saw him drop down the rankings, while the highly rated Zhao Xintong will be looking to make a mark having turned professional.
The Second Quarter
Turning to the second quarter and immediately we have a few more of the big hitters, with John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Judd Trump just a few of the notable names present.
As ever with these early season events it is difficult to make predictions without knowing how much practice all of the players have been putting in. Robertson for example made a slow start to last year, having taken a conscious decision to take some family time during the summer.
Indeed even with players at peak performance, with potentially the winner of a last 64 match between Marco Fu and Graeme Dott in line to play John Higgins, with the victor possibly then set to play Judd Trump in the last 16, it is hard to make too many firm predictions.
Trump and Robertson both in this section
Away from the high ranked players, Matthew Stevens will be hoping to make a strong start and has received an early walkover following visa issues for Hossein Vafaei Ayouri. Though a player that needs little introduction to snooker fans, Stevens has slipped to 44th in the latest world rankings, a shocking fact given the quality that we all know he possesses.
Zhou Yuelong will be another of the young Chinese contingent hoping to continue his steady climb up the world rankings against rookie pro Chris Keogan. It is a similar story for Tian Pengfei who finished last season strongly, but he will not have it easy against Allan Taylor who was one of the stars of the recent Preston qualifiers, winning all three matches.
The Third Quarter
Down to the bottom half of the draw and there are just two top 16 players with Joe Perry and Mark Williams on course for a quarter-final meeting. That said, Williams has a tricky opener in store with 19th seed Mark Davis awaiting him in the last 64 and potentially Ali Carter further ahead.
Stevens back on the rise?
Carter himself begins with a match against China’s Zhang Yong, one of only two players outside of the top 64 to have won all three qualifying matches in Preston in recent weeks. The winner is guaranteed to face another of the Chinese players involved with Li Hang and returning professional Chen Zhe also set to meet in the first round in Riga.
Elsewhere, opportunity knocks for Martin O’Donnell and Sam Craigie who will meet in the last 64, while the ever-improving Jimmy Robertson will look to close on a top 32 spot and begins his tournament with a match against Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng.
The Bottom Quarter
As already mentioned above, there is no shortage of quality in the bottom section of the draw with Mark Selby, Kyren Wilson and Stuart Bingham all in close proximity in the draw.
Elsewhere, Rory McLeod is already the first player through to the last 32, having received a walkover against Zhang Anda and will face the winner of Anthony McGill and Andrew Higginson in his first match.
Riga runner-up in 2015
There is a good match in prospect between Martin Gould and Tom Ford, the latter a runner-up last year in Riga, with the winner to play either Fraser Patrick or another young Chinese talent in Yan Bingtao.
Despite the talk of a Selby v Wilson last 32 encounter, both have tough opening matches with Michael Holt and Ian Burns to overcome respectively. Stuart Bingham meanwhile faces Welshman Lee Walker, one of the players beginning a new two-year tour card having survived through the European list, while Fergal O’Brien also plays Adam Duffy in this section.
Let me know who you think will come out on top in Riga on Twitter @prosnookerblog or @wpbsaofficial