March 8, 2012 11:26 pm

World championship: Snooker on rebound as busy calendar is good for business

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Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump©Getty

Pot luck: Ronnie O'Sullivan, above, has been popular but Judd Trump, inset, is seen as a contender who could replace him as a better's favourite

You might think that snooker – with its proliferation of numbers and rapid scoring – was made for spread betting, and experts would agree. Its problem has been one of timing; during the comparatively recent growth of sports spreads markets, the sport has been in decline.

But the past couple of years have seen a comeback, with a once-sparse professional schedule becoming crowded. Aidan Nutbrown, chief snooker trader for Sporting Index, says: “A couple of years ago, you only had about half a dozen ranking events. Most of the time there was no snooker. But with the introduction of the PTC (Players Tour Championship) events, a lot of them played in continental Europe in places like Poland and Germany, the schedule has become relentless.”

Commenting on the first two months of the year, he says: “There have probably been only about four or five days since mid-January with no snooker.”

The proliferation of events is not to every taste. Mr Nutbrown points to the changes in players’ lifestyles. “They have become more like golf pros, travelling all the time, living in hotels and out of suitcases. Mark Allen has talked about how this can lead to depression while Ronnie O’Sullivan has been reluctant to travel on occasion and has seen his ranking decline as a result.”

But the busy calendar is undoubtedly good for business. Mr Nutbrown says: “We’ve seen our punters developing a real taste for snooker, helped by the fact that the younger generation of players are much more attacking and exciting to watch than some of the older ones.”

Some things have not changed. One is that the world championship, which starts at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, on April 21 until May 7, remains by far the biggest event of the year in terms of public interest and betting.

While other parts of the calendar have been revolutionised under Barry Hearn’s leadership of the sport, Spreadex snooker trader Chris Loud, believes it is unlikely Mr Hearn will do anything to change the championship: “It is still fantastically popular and generates huge amounts of business for the sport.”

Nor has rankings decline seriously threatened O’Sullivan’s status as the game’s number one draw. As Mr Loud says: “When he’s playing, you can be sure that the broadcasters will be showing his game, whoever his opponent.” He is, by temperament and style, the perfect player for punters who prize volatility – rapid market-changing shifts in fortune.

Mr Nutbrown says: “Punters know that if he’s playing well you’ll see a lot of action on our 50up and 100up markets, but that there’s also a chance he’ll explode. A few weeks ago he was a single ball away from being whitewashed in the first round of a tournament and recovered not only to win that match, but the whole tournament.”

O’Sullivan cannot be ruled out as a contender at Sheffield, but nor is he the favourite he would have been a few years ago. Mr Nutbrown says there are 10 or 11 people who could win it. He and Mr Loud both agree the 2011 runner-up Judd Trump is likeliest to take the title won last year by John Higgins.

Mr Loud says: “He’s certainly the best player in the world at the moment”, while Mr Nutbrown sees him as future heir to O’Sullivan as a punter’s favourite: “He’s young and, by snooker standards, cool and trendy. He’s also an incredibly attacking player, who takes what seem huge risks and consistently carries them off.”

While much of the draw remains, at the time of writing, uncertain, is seems that Trump will head the tournament-long index markets run by both spread firms. China’s Ding Junhui should also figure prominently having just won the Welsh open and, as Mr Nutbrown points out, he has an advantage: “He now lives in Sheffield, so he’ll be playing from his home rather than a hotel.”

Mr Nutbrown expects to see good business on individual and tournament-long markets for high breaks – each of the 50up and 100up taking every point of breaks over that number, so a maximum 147 counts as 97 in a 50up and 47 for a 100up bet. Popular in-running markets include single frame volcano bets, which take their name from their volatility.

The margin-of-victory supremacy, which is a staple of spreads for most sports, takes on an edge when it is possible for a player to win, or lose, by 147, so creating a range of nearly 300 points.

Sporting Index will also create special markets such as last year’s Rainbow Roulette, which multiplied the points for the last scoring shot in a frame by 10.

“So if it was the black, you’d have 70 points,” says Mr Nutbrown. “But if a player at the end of a long break blasted the ball off the table and conceded a foul on the black, you’d have minus 70, a possible range of 140 points.”

For those after something longer-term, total tournament points offers interest from first to last ball. “It came out at 62,601 last year,” says Mr Loud, who adds that the huge numbers lead to bets in pennies rather than pounds, but says the range either way is unlikely to be more than a couple of thousand.

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