The Northern Ireland Open has reached the semi-finals stage at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
Four players will vie for a place in Sunday’s final, where the champion will capture the Alex Higgins Trophy and a winner’s cheque worth £80,000.
Mark Allen vs Neil Robertson (7pm)
Top seed Mark Allen meets Neil Robertson in the second of the Northern Ireland Open semi-finals on Saturday evening.
The defending champion emerged from a titanic battle with Mark Williams in the quarter-finals, surviving a late rally from the 2017 winner to prevail in a decider.
Robertson had a more convincing outing against Mark Selby – beating the four-time world champion 5-2 with the aid of six half-century contributions.
While local favourite Allen is bidding to secure back-to-back triumphs on home soil, Robertson is attempting to become the first player to win all four Home Nations titles since the series’ inception in 2016.
Allen and Robertson have faced each other in plenty of important matches down the years, and they’ve had a habit of conjuring up entertaining affairs.
The Australian boasts a superior head-to-head advantage with 16 victories to Allen’s 12 in all competitions, including a 10-6 defeat of the Pistol in this year’s Tour Championship.
The pair’s clashes over eleven frames – the format for these semi-finals – have tended to be tight, with six out of their eight prior duels over the distance lasting at least ten frames.
An added incentive for Allen is that he must win this tournament in order to gain an invitation to the upcoming Champion of Champions.
Zhou Yuelong vs Anthony McGill (1pm)
Before that, the first of the Northern Ireland Open semi-finals takes place on Saturday afternoon between Zhou Yuelong and Anthony McGill.
The latter scored well in a 5-3 triumph over Lyu Haotian on Friday, while Zhou fought back from 4-2 behind to deny David Gilbert – clinching the decider with a superb 130.
Like Allen, both players will have eyes on a possible place in the Champion of Champions, which gets under way at the end of the month in Bolton.
But there are a number of other reasons why triumphing this week would prove important.
For Zhou, it would represent a maiden ranking title having come so close on a couple of occasions in the past.
Chasing a third ranking success, pocketing the top prize for McGill would see him rise back into the top 16 of the world rankings in time for the UK Championship.
In previous years that wouldn’t have mattered much, but this year the UK Championship format mirrors the one utilised by the World Championship, meaning the top 16 are seeded through to the last 32 of the competition.
From their five previous encounters with one another, Zhou has three victories to McGill’s two – with one of the Scot’s wins coming under the six reds guise.
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Featured photo credit: WST
It would also represent a career high for McGill if he went onto win the event.