April 18, 2019

World Championship 2019 Preview – Ronnie Can Make it Super Sixth

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:15 pm

The World Awaits….

Seventeen days of snooker bliss awaits us from Saturday when defending champion Mark Williams gets things underway on Table 1 for the first round of the World Snooker Championship from The Crucible.

It hardly seems like 12 weeks, never mind 12 months, since Williams turned back the hands of time and carried off the trophy for the third time, he’s spent most of the intervening period getting trousered and playing golf, with the occasional snooker match in between and never I’d guess has a champion enjoyed and shared the fruits of his labour so publicly, perhaps he is the natural successor to the original People’s Champion.

Similarly to last year, when it has to be said he came into this in great form, he’s shed a few pounds. The difference between this year and last however where MJW is concerned is that by relative standards he’s had a quiet season on the table, but that isn’t always a bad thing and sometimes the eventual winner is someone who has been flying under the radar for a while, or famously on one occasion, someone who hadn’t even left the runway all season.

Someone who most definitely hasn’t been flying under the radar this year however is Ronnie, who has been in superb form all season with only the occasional blip. His heavy defeat at The Masters to Judd Trump has already been avenged in Llandudno and the two are set to meet up in the quarter finals here, a match which if it happens will surely not let anyone down.

Similarly in fine fettle coming here is Neil Robertson, fresh from his China Open win. Robbo’s not made the one table set up here for a few years now and has come into it in great form before and disappointed, but he’s looking as strong as ever in the balls with 78 centuries this season already to his name. If he brings the same form he’s been showing of late with him he is in with a great chance from the slightly more lenient top half of the draw which he played himself in to by winning in China.

Has anyone seen Mark Selby anywhere? The Jester’s form has deserted him completely for the most part of the season. OK, you could argue that he’s been a little unlucky to lose a few close ones against his peers, but he’s also thrown in the odd howler which is very unlike him. However, he is another player who has won here in the past after a quiet season, so beware sleeping giants and all that.

Perhaps this might be a ‘Bingham Year’ in that we’ll see an unexpected pair of hands on the trophy on May Bank Holiday Monday, could someone lower down the top 16 or even a qualifier do the business and have a dream 17 days on the baize totally against the form book? Any scenario is likely here so the only advice I will give is to be prepared to expect the unexpected.

So without any further ado, here are the match by match previews. Click on the match to see the head to heads and scroll down for any bets that are recommended, including a list of the ones I have flagged up through the season already and backed.

Let the adventure begin…..


Mark Williams (1) v Martin Gould (Saturday 20th 10am/7pm)

The reigning champion faces a tough opener against the Championship League winner Gould who qualified with victories over Daniel Wells and Gerard Greene after an opening ten grand practice session. What is most surprising about their head to head record is that they haven’t faced each other more, particularly in the years where Gould was skirting around the top 16. They have both picked and chosen events this year, Williams understandably, Gould less so and his reasons for not entering events, particularly overseas, that count heavily towards rankings remains something of a mystery. It’s fair to say that before the win in Coventry, Gould had done next to nothing all season and has spent a lot more time away from the baize than on it. Williams I am sure will be proud to be introduced as champion and he’s far too experienced to let the occasion get to him, Gould scored OK in the qualifiers but will have to up that considerably to trouble Williams here.

Prediction: Williams 10-6      

David Gilbert (16) v Joe Perry (Monday 22nd 7pm / Tuesday 23rd 2.30pm)  

Twelve matches played between these two and precious little to seperate them would indicate to me that this one will be very close. Perry for me is probably the qualifier all the seeds wanted to avoid, he knows how to win here and to all intents and purposes it is irrelevant who is the seeded player in this match, as any other day it could be the other way around. Joe only lost 5 frames in the qualifiers, less than any other player, and it never looked like anything but a formality for him so you’d imagine that match sharpness will be there, he’s also avoided a first weekend start which I think will please him. Dave has had such a wonderful season and it is great to see a player of his huge ability get into this as of right, it’s a new experience for him being here without having had to qualify and sometimes new experiences are a little difficult to get used to. I’ve backed Gilbert at silly odds in the outrights but when this draw came out, I sort of put that one in the pending disposal file, I just think Joe will be the sharper and he is the most experienced of the two here.

Prediction: Perry 10-7  

Barry Hawkins (9) v Li Hang (Wednesday 24th 10am/7pm)

One of the debutants Li Hang faces a Crucible specialist in Hawkins so on paper and knowing what we know about this place, Barry has to be happy with this draw. Li was quite the opposite of Perry in the qualifiers and came through two real tight matches to qualify. Incredibly, he beat Ben Woollaston 10-8 with only one break over 50, a 53, so it’s fair to say that a reprisal of that scoring can only see him on his way home early here. However he has been steadily rising up the rankings year on year and is now hovering around the top 32 so though he doesn’t really look like a world beater, he can clearly scrap out results and that is sometimes what you need to do here. Barry’s not had a great season barring a run to the semi-finals in the World Grand Prix and if you discount a final appearance against Gould in the Championship League he’s struggled, but this is the kind of draw that I think will suit him, he can scrap too and I think this will help sharpen him up for the next round and perhaps another annual Crucible run, as is traditional in the Hawkins household at this time of the year.

Prediction: Hawkins 10-4   

Kyren Wilson (8) v Scott Donaldson (Wednesday 24th 2.30pm / Thursday 25th 7pm)

Whenever a seeded player is asked who they would like to draw at The Crucible in the first round, most state a preference for someone who has never played there before. Well, Kyren Wilson must have been a good boy because he has got just that in the form of the improving Scott Donaldson. Scot, Scott who is Scottish and from Scotland put his friends, family and fans through the ringer in late night Judgement Day drama in squeezing through a decider and the bonus for him is that he doesn’t have to start again until Wednesday. The bad news however is that he is facing a player hungry for Crucible success, who exudes confidence and is predicted by many to be a future champion. German Masters champion Kyren has been steady all season, losing only the odd match that you’d say he shouldn’t have and for me a steady approach from him here will be enough to set up a second round match with Hawkins which I think might produce the semi-finalist from this section.

Prediction: Wilson 10-5 


John Higgins (5) v Dark Mavis (Sunday 21st 10am / Monday 22nd 2.30pm)

There aren’t many players on the circuit who can say that they hold a superior head to head record over John Higgins, but Mavis is one of them. Of their last 10 meaningful matches, Higgins has only won two and at this very stage 6 seasons ago Mavis qualified and beat the four times champion and runner-up for the last two seasons, 10-6. It’s strange that sometimes these things happen in head to heads, whether it’s a style of play that suits the way you play or just a psychological advantage, it’s clearly something which gives Mavis this apparent hold over Higgins. So, all in all, he should really be over the moon with this draw and Higgins less so, Mavis has three solid wins under his belt from the qualifiers and the fact that Higgins has been far from his best of late should give The Dark One further hope. Nothing is going to stop me from predicting an unlikely first round exit for John this year, given what the form and history books coming into this tells me.

Prediction: Mavis 10-8 

Stuart Bingham (12) v Graeme Dott (Tuesday 23rd 10am/7pm)

The Terrier really got his teeth into the qualifiers. Dotty continued his 5 year unbeaten World Qualifiers run in only losing 8 frames over three best of 19 matches and scoring heavily in the process of doing so. He said afterwards he didn’t care who he drew as long as he got a few days off and that’s fell into place nicely for him. That confirms to me that the only reason Graeme doesn’t continue to compete at the highest level more regularly is down to his stamina, he just seems to be running around knocking them off the lampshades one minute and then almost comatose the next. I think he’s always a threat when he first turns up fresh here and having watched him lead from the front against Ali Carter a few years back it’s clear if he gets his nose in front he is very difficult to peg back so that is where Bingham will need to be at his sharpest from the start of the match and assert. I struggle to call this but oddly, I reckon we’ll have an inkling who is going to win after the first four frames, the prediction below is not a confident one as this one is very difficult to call before a ball is struck and if Dott gets the early lead I’d reverse the score prediction below in his favour.

Prediction: Bingham 10-6      

Shaun Murphy (13) v Luo Honghao (never played before) (Sunday 21st 2.30pm / Monday 22nd 10am)

I’d wager good money that the piano references before this match on the BBC will be off the chart. Shaun as we know fancies a little tinkle but if this match was decided on recitals, he’d be heading home before you could say Beethoven’s Fifth. Luo, who wears a glove on his bridge hand, is a bit nifty on the ol’ joanna and he proved this week that his talents extend to potting as well as playing. He had three wins against three good opponents, including a first round defeat of an under par Marco Fu, he scored ok but only scored one ton in the 30 frames he won so you’d imagine he’s not going to be outscoring Shaun here. Murphy comes into this in woeful form, the worst season of his career can only get worse if he loses to a debutant here and my advice to him would be to just treat this as an experience to enjoy, very much like when you play the piano, then if and when you get sent home, regroup and come back stronger. But I don’t expect him to lose here, just by virtue of the fact that he’ll get chances and with them he’ll be knocking enough in to win. Now then, you sing and I’ll play.

Prediction: Murphy 10-7

Neil Robertson (4) v Michael Georgiou (Saturday 20th 2.30pm / Sunday 21st 7pm)

Robbo is a lot of people’s idea of the champion this year and I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him. He’s also been handed a Crucible virgin here in the shape of Michael Georgiou, who for anyone who doesn’t know who he is, is the player they use on that BBC2 lead in to the snooker where the rest in the shape of a number 2 starts giggling. Anyway, he will be the first Cypriot to grace the Crucible stage but what a stinker of a draw he’s gone and landed himself with. Michael is another who used up a lot of energy (and frames) in the qualifiers, but he’s clearly a player who has massively improved over the past two seasons and one that I have been guilty of writing off too much. Robbo though comes into this in prime peacock mode, strutting around the table and looking every inch the player he was when he lifted the title and more recently when he made the ton of tons. It would be a huge shock if he were to fall at the first here and it’s difficult to see him not making the one table set up at least this year in my opinion.

Prediction: Robertson 10-3 


Mark Selby (3) v Zhao Xintong (Monday 22nd 10am/7pm)

The three times World Champion has been handed who most believe is the toughest debutant of the lot here and he will be under no illusions about how well he’ll have to play if Zhao settles in and feels at home quickly. Oddly, I think it will help Selby focus in getting a tough first round draw. The pair met in the China Championship semi-final at the start of the season with Selby narrowly winning 6-4 despite a spirited comeback from his young opponent. Zhao scored heavily in his wins over Noppon and Matt Selt to get here and clearly has the game to really progress, but as ever, it will be down to how he copes with the first time Crucible nerves. Selby can have no excuses in terms of burn out this season as he’s usually gone these days before the BBC vans even arrive, perhaps the lack of expectation of him may just finally bring him back to his best, which is as we know, a recent multiple world championship winning best.

Prediction: Selby 10-8  

Luca Brecel (14) v Gary Wilson (Saturday 20th 10am / Sunday 21st 2.30pm) 

This could be a real cracker this under the radar. Wilson was the pick of the final round qualifiers for me with a stunning win over Liang Wenbo which included 3 centuries and 4 further 70 plus contributions, that type of snooker is very very hard to beat and he’ll, I suspect, be quite happy to have dodged some of the more fancied seeds and drawn Luca. After a very unpredictable season, the Belgian Bullet has finally pulled the trigger lately and put up a great show in China last month reaching the semi-finals and losing out to eventual winner Neil Robertson so his confidence will be ramped up coming into this. Gary has a match under his belt here when he gave Ronnie a scare and doesn’t seem the type of player to me that lets anything get to him. His confidence is high and I think he might just carry off the win here in what I think will be a high scoring match.

Prediction: Wilson 10-9 

Jack Lisowski (11) v Ali Carter (Wednesday 24th 7pm / Thursday 25th 1pm)

Another absolute corker of a tie here, with China Open runner-up Lisowski facing the man who knocked out Ronnie, almost in more ways than one last year, Ali Carter. Carter, like Perry, came through the qualifiers with the air of a player who was just going through the motions and it wouldn’t feel like The Crucible if he wasn’t there, which this year after a superb season Lisowski is as the seeded player. I’ve got a theory about Jack so bear with me, when he gets into a situation that he’s not used to, he tends to use it as a learning experience, it happened first round at The Crucible when he lost his first match here easily and then reversed it last time against Bingham, then he got walloped second round by Higgins, I think he’ll use his final loss in China against Robbo to put that right when it happens again. What I am saying is that when he knows he can do something and has done it before he seems quite comfortable and when he has had a bad experience he has the ability to turn it round. Following this half-baked theory through to its entirety for anyone who is still awake, that logically suggests that this year he will make the semi-finals, so let’s see how that pans out. Anyway, as tough a match as this is to call, I think Lisowski is so good these days that it’s getting very hard for me to back against him against any more than a handful of top players.

Prediction: Lisowski 10-7       

Mark Allen (6) v  Zhou Yuelong – never played before (Tuesday 23rd 7pm / Wednesday 24th 2.30pm)

Coming back for his second visit to The Crucible is Dennis’s favourite Chinese player Ghou Yolonge aka Zhou Yuelong who faces double ranking event winner this season Mark Allen. It’s fair to say that when it comes to The Crucible, Allen has underachieved, sometimes players just don’t play their normal game at certain venues and for whatever reason, often here Allen’s superb game seems to sometimes disappear. Around December last year Allen was arguably playing the best snooker of anyone apart from Ronnie, but since then he’s struggled on the table and by his own admission off it too, he skipped the recent trip to China despite having been expected to play so it’s hard to know if he did that to get sharp for this or because he’s just not right mentally. Zhou was scoring heavily in the qualifiers and was also showing emotion, which is something we’re not always used to seeing from the Chinese players, so if there is a market on fist-pumps in this one, get on the overs.

Prediction: Yuelong 10-7  


Judd Trump (7) v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Tuesday 23rd 2.30pm / Wednesday 24th 10am) 

I’d imagine this will be a slow, dogged affair between two plodders – said no-one ever. A word of advanced warning to anyone with front row tickets to this one, take a safety helmet, because the way these two boys crack them in, if one flies off you’ll be joining the Great Billiard Hall in the Sky with the Snooker Gods if it catches you square on the bonce. What a match this promises to be. When the draw came out I immediately thought to myself that this is not the draw Judd would have wanted, but perhaps I’m wrong in that assumption? Does he want a good old fashioned potting contest to get his latest title tilt going or would he rather prove to everyone how well behaved his snooker is these days? It’s like when George Michael left Wham! and started making grown up songs, desperate to be accepted as something more than a pretty face…anyway, where was I? Oh yes, no idea what could happen here, but they both score for fun so I’d take a good look at the break markets. I don’t think Judd will win the title this year but if he gets through here I hope he gets that match with Ronnie that we all want to see.

Prediction: Trump 10-6 

Ding Junhui (10) v Anthony McGill (Saturday 20th 2.30pm / Sunday 21st 10am)

Sometimes in life things are hard to forget, your first kiss, the first time you fell in love, your first dog, the first time you smelt freshly cut grass, the first time you turned up at The Crucible for a second round match full of hope on Table 2 against Ding Junhui and got an absolute pasting in front of millions of worldwide viewers. That is what Anthony McGill will have to put out of his mind if he is to get anywhere near winning here (the last one I mean not the grass or kiss stuff). A masterclass from Ding against him on this very table saw him race to a 9-0 lead over the bewildered Scot before cruising to victory, those kind of scars can take time to heal. Anthony performed escapology in the final qualifying round turning around a 7-2 deficit against Rob Milkins but he’s not beaten Ding in 4 attempts. I think despite the fact Lord Lucan has been easier to spot than Ding this season, the head to head tells me all I need to know here as the pair return to the scene of the crime twelve months ago.

Prediction: Ding 10-4    

Stephen Maguire (15) v Tian Pengfei – never played before (Saturday 20th 7pm / Sunday 21st 7pm)

It’s taken him a while, but finally Tian Pengfei has made it to The Crucible. Tian is part of the slightly older contingent of Chinese players (see Liang Wenbo, Xiao Guodong, Zhang Anda) who have flattered to deceive early in their careers and remain incredibly inconsistent. With wins over Ryan Day and Matthew Stevens under his belt I don’t think there will be many Welsh people cheering for him but he’s played well enough despite falling asleep towards the end of the Stevens match and nearly clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. I think Tian is a fine player but he’s just too inconsistent to think of anything other than a bit of a modern day journeyman, it’s nice he will get the chance to play here at least once but I can’t see him pulling up any trees against the fairly consistent Maguire, who by all accounts has been putting the hours in with Higgins and McGill at a new set-up north of the border, he should get to have another crack at Ronnie in the Last 16.

Prediction: Maguire 10-5  

Ronnie O’Sullivan (2) v James Cahill (Monday 22nd 2.30pm / Tuesday 23rd 10am)

‘People are actually forgetting that they played before in the UK and James Cahill was a bit like a rabbit in the headlights’ exclaimed JP rather presumptuously at the draw ceremony. People are actually forgetting that because it actually never happened. They have played each other three times before, but never in the UK and each time James has put up a decent show without winning. Much will be made of Cahill’s current amateur status and there will indeed be a few diehards out there who will say he shouldn’t even be in this, but he’s professional again in a few months time, is clearly more than good enough to be in the worlds top 144 players unlike a few of the others they let in so it’s not really something I’d get too animated about. So to Ronnie, oh Ronnie, oh Ronnie, what do I do? Do I? Don’t I? Will you just let me down if I tip you to win this thing? For me the draw is ideal for him, not so much this one, but the quarter he is in, challenging enough from the next round onwards and his possible match with Judd (or dare I say it Ding?) in the QF’s I’m sure he will see as the ultimate challenge, he tends to win ultimate challenges more than he loses them. He’d then be down to the one table situation where his record speaks for itself and this year if he gets that far I can’t see him not winning the title. Whilst I have ummed and aaared for weeks over this, I think this is his best chance for a few years to win it in a highly competitive field and though I think that the outright price is too short for me to back, if he does win, he tends to win in some style so I’ll be recommending ‘Ronnie with Benefits’ as my main bet this year in the outrights.

Prediction: O’Sullivan 10-4    

RECOMMENDED BETS: O’Sullivan to win the World Championship, make over 1 century in every match and to not need a deciding frame at 13/2 with Ladbrokes. Ding Junhui to win the World Championship at 35/1 at Black Type.

RECOMMENDED MATCH MULTIPLE BETS: (more to follow on Friday) 

Mark Williams, Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy, Barry Hawkins, Kyren Wilson and Ding Junhui acca pays 11/2 with Bet 365.

Joe Perry, Dark Mavis, Gary Wilson, Jack Lisowski trebles and an acca, acca pays 29/1 at Boyles.

Over 1.5 centuries in all these matches Brecel/Wilson, Lisowski/Carter, Selby/Xintong, Allen/Yuelong and Trump/Un-Nooh – special bet at Ladbrokes pays 6/1.

None of these players to make more than one century in their first round match – Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy, Kyren Wilson, Barry Hawkins – Acca pays 9/1 at Bet 365.

Total Frames in Match – Higgins/Mavis over 16, Brecel/Wilson over 16, O’Sullivan/Cahill over 13, Trump/Un-Nooh over 15, Gilbert/Perry over 16 – Acca pays over 19/1 at Bet 365.

Ladbrokes Special – Every player to hit more than 1 50 plus break in the first round at 20/1 (Boosted).    

ALREADY BACKED: A century in every match was 22/1 now 11/1. Neil Robertson to win China Open and Reach Crucible Final 12/1 (Requested at QF stage in China). E/W Outright on Mark Williams 20/1. E/W Outright on Jack Lisowski 80/1. E/W Outright on Dave Gilbert 190/1. 

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