World Pool Masters Preview

Niels Feijen

With the World Pool Masters scheduled to take place at the Riviera Hotel, Las Vegas from 9-11 May, there are always potential rich pickings for the savvy pool punter. A little knowledge can go a long way and with the short length of the matches, outsiders can often have a little added value.

16 of the world's best will be contesting a straight knock-out race-to-8 format, and there is value to be had on the outright event winner as well as the eight first round match-ups.

Event promoters Matchroom Sport have assembled a real wealth of 9 ball talent but it's worth looking at the longer priced starters for that is where the value lies.

My first pick to win the tournament is Englishman Mark Gray who has had an outstanding 18 months, rising from obscurity to the No.1 spot on the European rankings following consistently impressive performances on the Euro Tour.

The 34 year-old Gray is a snooker pro who has taken to the smaller table like a duck to water and his record on the very strong Euro Tour speaks for itself; three semi-final appearances and a win in his last five starts is a record no player in Europe can match.

By his own admission, the only weak point in Gray's game is the all-important break shot which may count against him, especially with the stringent breaking conditions at the Masters. However, a 25/1 shot with Stan James, which pays a third of the odds for reaching the final, warrants an each way bet on ‘Granite' Gray.

The Englishman is also worth a small wager at a generous 9/4 to come through his opening round match against 2004 World Champion Alex Pagulayan. The diminutive Filipino blows hot and cold these days and could be vulnerable in the early stages.

Blackpool-based Daryl Peach completed a week that dreams are made of when he took down the World Pool Championship in Manila last December. He followed that up with a Mosconi Cup win and currently sits at No.5 on the Euro Tour rankings.

At 18/1 the ‘Dazzler' looks to be mispriced and will be worth another each way bet despite facing the dangerous Mika Immonen in his first match.

Two 14/1 shots have also caught my eye. Defending champion Thomas Engert is still as good as ever at the age of 42 and the German has won this event twice in the last four years so knows what is required at the Masters. The ‘Lean Machine' opens with a match against the experienced Rodney Morris but will be as focused as anyone.

The other is classy Dutchman Niels Feijen. The major titles have somehow eluded Niels but on his day he is the best in the world as witnessed at the Mosconi Cup in December when his performances under pressure proved the backbone of a famous European victory. Again, outstanding each way value at 14s.

I also take these two to come through the first round unscathed. Engert is a sweet 11/10 over Morris while Feijen should prevail at 5/6 in his even money match against the ever-popular Tony Drago.

My final first round pick is pool's man of the moment, reigning US Open Champion Shane Van Boening. ‘The South Dakota Kid' is reckoned to be the best 9 baller in the world right now and he will certainly have the backing of a big Riviera crowd.

Van Boening is 4/9 to overcome Englishman Imran Majid in the first round and that's a match I can't see the composed American losing.