- Mark Selby won the UK Championship and World Championship last season and has consolidated his position at the top of the rankings this term. He beat Mark Allen to win the International Championship at the start of November, although he suffered an early exit at the Shanghai Masters and skipped the Northern Ireland Open.
- Crowd favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan, the runner-up to Selby last year and a five-time UK Championship winner, has been in impressive form this season. He looked close to his best as he thrashed Kyren Wilson to win the English Open and then demolished Judd Trump in the Shanghai Masters final, but he did lose 4-1 to the unheralded Elliot Slessor at the Northern Ireland Open.
- Mark Williams won the tournament in Belfast, edging out teenage sensation Yan Bingtao in the final. The other ranking events this season have been shared out amongst some of the other big names, with John Higgins, Ding Junhui and Judd Trump all claiming one title apiece. Belgium’s Luca Brecel has also been consistently impressive, winning the China Championship and reaching the latter stages of the World Open and Shanghai Masters.
It is such a competitive circuit that picking the winner from a field of 128 protagonists is extremely tough at most ranking events these days, but the longer format of the UK Championship does play into the hands of the superior players and the likes of Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan usually save their best for the Barbican Centre.
Both have tricky draws in York this year. Selby could face Northern Ireland Open champion Mark Williams, who beat him in Shanghai, as early as the last 16, while Neil Robertson or Marco Fu could lie in wait in the quarter-finals. O’Sullivan, meanwhile, is in the same quarter of the draw as Ding Junhui and may then have to play Judd Trump in the semi-finals.
The odds for both Selby and O’Sullivan are off-putting, so it might be worth considering some of the players lower down the betting list. The man - or boy - of the moment is Chinese 17-year-old Yan Bingtao, who just missed out on becoming the youngest winner of a ranking event when he lost 9-8 to Williams in Belfast. He also thrashed O’Sullivan at the International Championship just last month, leading the Rocket to say that “maybe only Stephen Hendry and John Higgins have played that well against me before”. Yan is a 40/1 shot with Ladbrokes to win the UK Championship but, if you think that’s unlikely, he can still be backed at 8/1 to come through his quarter of the draw. With no Selby. O’Sullivan, Trump or Ding in his path, Yan is clearly good enough to make the semi-finals at least.
Sports.net’s Top Tip
Yan Bingtao to win the 2nd quarter
*Please note, odds may fluctuate