JOHN HIGGINS at 7-2 is the commonsense punt for the Champions Cup as the snooker season breaks off in Brighton today.
The eight-man competition comprises the winners of all last term's tournaments, plus wild-card entrant Jimmy White.
The field is split into two groups and Higgins looks nailed on to qualify from a soft Group B.
His opponents include White, whose popularity will always earn him invitations but whose game is no longer up to the required standard, and Ronnie O'Sullivan.
The Rocket is almost certainly the most talented player in the game, but who has spent half the summer receiving treatment in the Priory Clinic in London.
"The lad's still a bit depressed but he's no longer in the Priory," said manager Ian Doyle and it is surely too soon for O'Sullivan to be ready to produce his best.
Matthew Stevens is the big danger in Group B, but Higgins will have the advantage of having played a game on the match table before they meet.
Stephen Hendry is making all the right noises from Group A, and is fancied to progress as top dog, but you can take nothing for granted at such an early stage, especially in a section packed with talent.
Go with Higgins to small stakes.
DRAW AND PLAYING FORMAT
M Williams (World Championship, UK Championship, Thailand Masters)
S Hendry (British Open, Champions Cup, Premier League)
S Lee (Millennium Cup)
K Doherty (Malta Grand Prix)
J Higgins (Grand Prix, Welsh Open, Irish Masters)
R O'Sullivan (Scottish Open, China Open)
M Stevens (English Masters, Scottish Masters)
J White (wild-card entry)
Format: Round-robin stage matches best of nine frames. Each player to play one match against each other member of his group. Winner of group to be determined by number of matches won. If tie, number of frames won will decide. If still tie, winner of match between tied players will qualify. Winner of each group will play runner-up of the other group in semi-finals over best of nine frames. Final over best of 13 frames.
Prize money: Winner pounds 100,000, runner-up pounds 35,000, losing semi-finalists pounds 15,000, group phase losers pounds 7,500.