Snookerbacker

July 15, 2020

World Championship Qualifiers Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:00 pm

All eyes on the prize

Odd isn’t the word really is it? Writing a World Championship Qualifiers Preview in the middle of July isn’t something I thought I’d be doing, this crazy year just keeps on getting weirder and it’s to the Institute for Sport in Sheffield we head for the belated qualifiers for the main event at The Crucible which begins this year on Friday 31st July, finishing on a Sunday 17 days later.

Originally of course all these matches would have been the best-of-19 frames. But to comply with those pesky safety regulations the first three rounds will now be played as the best of 11 frames with only the final round being played as best of 19.

The format is also different from the previous few years, though this has nothing to do with the new restrictions, in that a tiered seeding system is now in operation, meaning that the higher ranked players now only need to win one best of 11 and the final best of 19 to make it to The Crucible, rather than the usual three best of 19’s for all.

17 professional players have chosen not to participate at the event due to COVID-19 concerns. These players are mostly from mainland China: Zhou Yuelong (aka Ghou Yolonge), Xiao Guodong, Zhao Xintong, Li Hang, Yuan Sijun, Marco Fu, Mei Xiwen, Zhang Anda, James Wattana, Zhang Jiankang, Chang Bingyu, Andy Lee, Chen Zifan, Xu Si, Bai Langning, Lei Peifan and Steve Mifsud. 

Former World Champion Peter Ebdon was inside the top 64 when he announced his retirement in April so he also vacates a place and can now devote all his time to spiritual healing and posting memes about masks and new world orders and all that other 100% sane stuff.

Also, two invited players from the Women’s World Tour, Ng On-yee and Nutcharut Wongharuthai declined their place due to safety concerns.

All this means we have more amateur players than ever before competing as wildcards, with all of them hoping to emulate the feat of James Cahill last year who qualified as an amateur and beat some bloke called O’Sullivan in the first round who pretended he had a cold afterwards.

There are some who feel that because so many professional players are not competing this somehow cheapens the event. What I’d say to that is do they really think any of those listed above would have got anywhere near winning it? If the answer to that question is no then it answers the question. For what it’s worth, that would be my answer.

Below I have split the draw into the mini-championship or bubble if you prefer topical parlance, which they are all playing within consisting of 8 players, only one of whom will be gracing the Crucible in a couple of weeks time, to either one ref and their scorer or a few masked audience members, which would kind of put paid to the BBC booking Ebdon for commentary.

So let’s have a look at each section and try and deduce who that might be shall we?

I’ll give my chosen qualifier and list the best current price on that happening (via Oddschecker), have a bet if you like, shop around for prices, I’ll probably list a few bets daily on Twitter on the matches. There may be a couple of bookies that might put up some specials based on my predictions below as I have friends in low places, so keep an eye out this week. 

Section 1   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most if not all those with any knowledge of snooker are seeing this section as nothing other than a win for Joe Perry, the top seeded player in this whole fascinating mini-event. There is plenty of talent in the group, but in terms of pedigree and experience when it comes to the final qualifying match, which Perry will surely be involved in, he is head and shoulders above the rest. Most will see the main danger to Perry as Tian Pengfei and it is true to say he has beaten Perry in the past but this takes away from the likes of Mitchell Mann and Sunny Akani, who I’d say, on their day are dangerous, as is the ferocious potter that is Syd Wilson. Who can forget Sunny dumping Joe out of the 2017 World Championship Qualifiers in a decider, the photo of The Gent with his head in his hands while Akani played his very own brand of weird rest action snooker spoke volumes. I think Joe will have a decent best of 11 sharpener against either Mann or Jamie Clarke and his recent form suggests he won’t let the past affect him in any way, he’s one of my more confident picks to make it to The Crucible.  

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Joe Perry (Best Price 4/6)

Section 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

To me, this is section that it might be worth having a few pound on the outsiders, given that Ryan Day will be odds on to make it and he will likely face a stiff challenge in the form of Craig Steadman first up, if he’s rusty, he isn’t a certainty for that one. Up at the top I think any of these four could be contesting the final against either Steadman or Day. Rory McLeod will have been competing in the Challenge Tour Play off to try and secure his return to the professional ranks and on his day, as he has proved time and again, he can defy all odds. Hossein Vafaei is a very talented player and given the stress he’s had over the years to just compete given his country of origin, nobody would begrudge him a place at The Crucible, but for me he may just have a bit of an issue with his bottle when it comes to the crunch. That’s why I’m going a bit leftfield here and plumping for a solid player who has qualified for The Crucible before in a very open group.

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Craig Steadman (Best Price 14/1)

Section 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another chance to see a match up between the Lines’ senior and junior, however unlikely that would appear given the very strong front two seeded players in this section. As much as I look at this section I can’t really see anything other than a Carrington v Ford Crucible shootout. The only fly in the ointment may be Gerard Greene, who might just get trollied with Ford the night before they play and knock him off his stride. If you like backing outsiders to small stakes Greene is probably one for your list. But it all comes down to who is sharpest out of Ford and Carrington with only one match to go on in terms of head to heads. I rate Ford above Carrington, as the rankings suggest, but both have the bottle to qualify, this will be a real ‘on the day’ match and I can’t really call it with any confidence, I think to get there Carrington may have had the bigger test so we’ll see, he’s the value of the two at the odds in what essentially is a coin toss.    

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Stuart Carrington (Best Price 3/1)

Section 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone’s joint favourite snooker player/chef during lockdown is Michael Holt and I’m sure, unlike a few of the others, his fanbase has swelled over this very strange period. Whether by luck or design, Holt knows how to use social media to his advantage and could teach some other players a lot in this regard, I’m sure a lot of us will be cheering him on here. But make no mistake, this section is going to take a lot of winning, I’d not actually discount any of the top 4 seeded players, though I do think the 4 lower seeded players may find this group a bit out of their depth when it really heats up. One match on a personal level I am looking forward to is Scouser Sean Maddocks against Fraser Patrick, some of you will know that myself and a couple of others sponsored Sean for a season and it’s great to see him competing here ahead of his debut year in the professional ranks. One thing I will say about this section is that you should not discount Ken Doherty, assuming he wins his first match he has a great record against Mark King and would stand a strong chance against any in the bottom half in a best of 19, particularly if the player he meets, such as Ian Burns, were trying to make The Crucible for the first time.    

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Ken Doherty (Best Price 13/2) 

Section 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graeme Dott has had a mini resurgence over the past couple of seasons without actually winning anything of note. But if there is one thing the Pocket Dynamo knows how to do it’s qualify for the World Championship. I’m going to keep this section brief as I really can’t see where the threat to Dott’s game and experience comes from here. Martin Gould is not the player he was and to me his heart seems not to be in the game of late, Chris Wakelin will probably be gutted that he’s in Dott’s section as he’s more than capable of holding his own in any of the other sections and is obviously Dott’s main threat, but unless David Grace pulls up a few trees, I can’t see any other qualifier here than wee Graeme, he’ll probably be the quickest too as he doesn’t hang around in these qualifiers.  

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Graeme Dott (Best Price 4/7)

Section 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two established ranking event winners head up this group in Matthew Stevens and Ricky Walden. I think Matthew is one of those players that we all inherently root for, we know he should have won this thing instead of some of the less talented players that have and we possibly see some flaws in him that we do on ourselves, like Jimmy, which make us naturally support him – or maybe that’s just me. Ricky Walden is another who a lot of snooker fans support if only because nobody has ever come up with a decent nickname for him (my weak suggestion of ‘The Cat’ given his round the table prowling manner was rejected). For me, if those two bring their top games it could make for a very entertaining Judgement Day showdown, but I have an alternative scenario in my mind. Mark Joyce is a player who I think will be looking at this group and thinking ‘it could have been worse’ and he is the kind of player that can frustrate both Walden and Stevens on his way to The Crucible. Assuming he’s been keeping his eye in, he’ll not be phased by anyone in this group and I’d advise a bet at the price.     

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Mark Joyce (Best Price 13/2)

Section 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is another toughie. Top seed Dark Mavis seems to have gone missing from snooker for the past year and a half so you’d immediately look at the graphic above with a glance to the left and think Crucible regular Anthony McGill is more or less already there. But look again. Lurking as 77th seed for this mini event is a certain James Cahill. Remember him? He may not have been doing what he did at The Crucible last season on a day to day basis but he’s a threat to everyone in this group. He won’t lose his first match, I don’t think he’ll lose his second and then he’ll face Mavis match sharp, he’s done it once and I for one think he has it in him to do it again, 12’s would look very big were he to be facing McGill in a best of 19.    

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: James Cahill (Best Price 12/1)

Section 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

The absence of Chinese players is obviously being more strongly felt when 8 groups into the event you find one with two of them in being something of a novelty, plus Thailand’s speed king Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. I’d argue that you can more or less discount the four on the left of the above graphic and concentrate on what might happen at the business end between the main four. There is very little to go on as regards the head to heads but Un-Nooh on his day is miles ahead of those in his section these days so a best of 19 awaits against Lu Ning or Liam Highfield, opponents who he’d be devastated to lose to given his last best of 19 match could have easily changed the course of the last World Championship. No brainer this section, Un-Nooh all the way. 

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Best Price 4/5)

Section 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing that surprised me about this group is that Andrew Higginson has dropped so low down the rankings to merit winning three matches instead of two to make it to The Crucible. Unlike Daniel Wells who has been consistent enough in the last few seasons to maintain a decent ranking, Daniel is also a very nice bloke who loves dogs which always puts players up my personal ranking list. But come on, even with the presence of my 190/1 Q-School tip winner Riley Parsons in this section, we’re all just looking at the odds we got on Gary Wilson at the start of the year aren’t we? Oh, just me then. 150/1 on last year’s semi-finalist to have another good run looks good to me, this is his warm up. You don’t want this guy first round Judd.   

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Gary Wilson (Best Price 8/15)

Section 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think we can safely assume there will be a qualifier from England or Wales from this section. I’d not discount the reinvigorated Andrew Pagett from springing a surprise in this group at big odds on experience alone, possibly another for those who like to back outsiders. But realistically I think it is between the big three of O’Donnell, Woollaston and Slessor. Ben is the obvious choice given his recent strong showing in Milton Keynes and he is a player who I always think plays better on TV than he does in qualifiers, similarly to Martin these days which proves they are both becoming big match players at the right point in their careers. If they meet in the match up I think it could go to the wire and I honestly can’t pick a winner. I really can’t, but I have to for the purposes of consistency. Oh by the way, Dunny, you are excused, I have your sicknote.

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Ben Woollaston (Best Price 11/8)

Section 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t get any easier does it? You have to say there is a strong chance of more overseas involvement at The Crucible from this section as the two top seeds here will take a bit of beating or a resurgent Michael White performance. White has slipped down the rankings at a staggering rate given his undoubted talent and promise and hasn’t been featuring at the business end of events now for some time. Nigel Bond grabbed the headlines at the UK with a win over Judd but I’m not expecting lightning to strike twice here, first rounders Sharav and Brown could conceivably cause an upset here but I’m going to stick with Lyu as I think he’s currently in the better form of the main contenders, despite Noppon Saengkham’s undoubted break building prowess. 

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Lyu Haotian (Best Price 2/1)

Section 12

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very interesting group here and no doubt the early interest will be on the match between Andy Hicks and Reanne Evans. It’s a good chance for Reanne to make the second round again given that Hicks obviously has his best days way behind him but I’d not expect the winner of that to be able to cope with Sam Craigie, (that said the 200/1 that has now gone on Hicks to qualify was ridiculous and duly taken). In the other half the underrated by some Harvey Chandler and consistent Scott Donaldson for me look set to contest who makes it to the final round while above I’d plump for a Craigie/Hamilton tussle, probably quite literally. There is always a question mark over The Sheriff of Pottingham with his ongoing back/neck issues and if Sam is on his game and in the mood, this is a great chance for him to make the final round as I think he has a similar game to Hamilton but these days a little better. After that, I’d take him to make his talent count and get to The Crucible on sheer determination.

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Sam Craigie (Best Price 2/1) 

Section 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’ve handed Jimmy White a Russian player first up here who I’m told is pretty handy, though, without wishing to sound like a BBC commentator, I’ve not seen him myself. Either way it’s once again a brave or blindly loyal fan who can see Jimmy gracing The Crucible again in his long career, though I’m sure as ever he ‘fancies it’ and is ‘flying in practice’ this week. Both Ashley Carty and Michael Georgiou are capable of springing a minor surprise but again I think this one will go to the top seeded player Jimmy Robertson, he has a strong record against both Rob Milkins and Georgiou and I think over the longer match he’ll prevail against either. For loyal Whirlwind fans, just put ‘Jimmy to qualify’ on your betting slip and be happy with your money back.

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Jimmy Robertson (Best Price 6/5)

Section 14

 

 

 

 

 

Last season’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ Joe O’Connor hasn’t quite lived up to the accolade since this honour was bestowed upon him, losing a lot more matches this season than he’s won, but perhaps this might be his chance to turn it around and finish things on a high, he may be worth a quid or two on your outsiders list. In fact this is probably one of the most open groups out there, particularly if Kurt Maflin doesn’t bring the game we all know he has, which all too often he doesn’t. He’s one of the best and quickest break makers in the game and for me should be ranked higher than he is but one thing I will say is that he doesn’t lose often to players ranked below him. The obvious danger is Marmite Matt Selt who leads Kurt 2-1 on the head to heads. All in all I think Selt may have the easier ride to the best of 19 finale, although I’d love my pal Allan Taylor to prove me wrong there, but if Maflin has a battle with O’Connor and comes through it perhaps the momentum will be with him.     

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Kurt Maflin (Best Price 27/20)

Section 15

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of real big hitters have been drawn together here, who on any other year might be seeded to The Crucible automatically. Belgian Bullet Brecel is fresh from a lockdown win in Milton Keynes so is obviously bang in form while Liang Wenbo remains a problem for anyone if he brings anything like his practice game with him. Alfie Burden has been honing his culinary skills over lockdown and like Holt, will have gained an army of fans over this period, but the lack of practice on the baize has to be a concern. Fergal O’Brien is just the type to turn up to a group that is supposedly dominated by two players and beat them both in 2am finishes and don’t be a bit surprised if he does just that. But the form book gives the pointers here and you have to side with recent winner Luca.  

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Luca Brecel (Best Price Evens)

Section 16

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final group sees the second highest seeded player and Crucible regular Ali Carter take to the baize, with familiar Crucible opponent of recent years Alan McManus also drawn in this section. Merseyside’s Robbie Williams may well have a part to play here, famously unbeaten at the previous qualifiers venue of Ponds Forge, my little gem of information here is that Robbie is one of those players who has no excuse for not being sharp as he has a table at home. But you have to favour Carter to make the final round in what would be a third World Championship meeting with McManus in five years, albeit with the previous two being at the main event, if he were to make it too. It stands at one apiece on their World Championship meetings, so it’s kind of a decider, as are their overall head to heads which stand at 4-4. The reason I’d favour Ali is that Angles seems to be so into the television side of things at the moment perhaps his focus will not be 100%, which he’ll need it to be to spoil The Captain’s flight to Crucible Square.

PREDICTED QUALIFIER: Ali Carter (Best Price 4/7)

UPDATE: Ladbrokes have given me 33/1 on Perry, Dott, Un-Nooh, Gary Wilson, Haotian and Jimmy Robertson to all qualify. You can have a piece of that too if you like.

FURTHER UPDATE: Ladbrokes are offering 5/4 on me getting at least 7 of the above right, which I am confident I will. The more ambitious of you can get 7/1 if you think at least 9 of the above will be correct.

Ladbrokes are also offering 5/2 on Dott, Gary Wilson and Carter to all qualify, which I think is a great bet. 

 

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