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World Masters of Snooker preview: Luca Brecel backed to burst into life

Snooker is set to break new ground as eight of the elite head to Riyadh for the World Masters, the first time a World Snooker Tour event has ever been held in Saudi Arabia.

It is snooker with a twist, with plenty of prize money at stake and the introduction of a 23rd ball on the table - known as the Riyadh Season ball for the purposes of the tournament - will have all eyes fixed firmly on the event.

The golden ball will be worth 20 points for players and can only be potted following a 147, therefore giving the chance for a cueman to register a 167-break.

The Riyadh Season ball will stay in baulk in line with the brown ball and will be removed from the table once the possibility of a maximum break is over.

The first player to complete the feat will win a prize of $500,000, while there is also a winner’s share of £250,000, making the ten-strong field fully focused on the challenge ahead.

The top six seeds, who are Luca Brecel, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Allen, Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy, will enter at the quarter-final stage.

Mark Williams and Ali Carter, meanwhile, enter a round earlier.

Williams will face either John Higgins or local wildcard Ali Alobaidli, while Carter will meet Ding Junhui or Omar Alajlani in an attempt to make the last eight.

With action being played over only three days, the format is best-of-seven until the final, which will be played over a slightly extended best-of-nine.

World Masters of Snooker - Riyadh Season: Dates, format, history & more

Showman Brecel could be overpriced

With a prize fund of over £750,000, there will be plenty of motivation for the top players and, while that may bring out the best in O'Sullivan and Trump, the same could be said to be happening for Brecel.

The Belgian won his maiden World Championship crown in May last year, defeating Williams, O'Sullivan and Selby on his way to the title.

Brecel looks and speaks like a man motivated by the finer things in life and, having had an inconsistent season, there is every chance he gets himself fired up for this fresh challenge.

There have been signs of the Belgian returning to form and last time out he made the quarter-final of the Welsh Open, winning five matches before running into an inspired performance from eventual runner-up Martin O’Donnell.

With his World Championship title defence on the horizon, Brecel is now surely putting in the hours on the practice table and, after all, he is tournament top seed for a reason.

That luxury ensures the 28-year-old has the best of draws to work with, avoiding both O'Sullivan and Trump until the final.

Brecel’s likely route is a quarter-final clash with Carter or Ding before Allen or Selby in the semis and O'Sullivan or Trump in the title decider.

So at outright odds of 10/1, a strong each-way case can be made for Brecel who is sure to be motivated to the max given it is the inaugural showing of the most illustrious event snooker has ever had to offer.

The Belgian can also be backed at 10/3 to reach the final, which could be the safest ploy for punters given O’Sullivan or Trump may be waiting.

Trump and the Rocket on course to clash

A semi-final showdown between arguably the two form players of the season in Trump and O'Sullivan is exactly what the Riyadh crowd will want to see.

Trump must first navigate his way past Murphy while O'Sullivan looks set to face old foe Williams or Higgins, making the possibility of that coming true extremely likely.

Both are sure to be at their most focused given what is in store and that would give the edge to O'Sullivan, who has won the last three meetings between the pair, all of which have come in high-pressure finals.

Their last three rivalries have come in the 2022 World Championship, the 2022 Champion of Champions and this season’s World Grand Prix, where the Rocket blasted his way to a 10-7 success.

O'Sullivan is 5/2 to take the title, with Trump 3/1, and it would be a big surprise were one of the heavyweight duo not challenging for the final silverware.

However, preference is still for the Rocket and that makes odds of 11/8 for him reaching the final well worth considering.

All-Mark quarter-final should deliver

A quarter-final showdown between Allen and Selby should be a belter, especially when you consider their latest meeting at the Masters in January went all the way to a decider.

Allen went on to edge that contest 6-5 and, on recent form, it is hard to see why he is an outsider for their latest rivalry at 11/10.

The Pistol arrives in Riyadh on the back of a title triumph at the Players Championship, where he defeated Williams, Gary Wilson, Carter and Zhang Anda on his way to glory.

That means the Northern Irishman has lost only two of his last 14 matches and four of the last seven meetings between the pair have also gone his way.

Two of Selby’s recent successes over Allen came at his beloved World Championship and this shorter format should certainly play to the Pistol’s strengths.

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