I’m back from my annual pilgrimage to The Crucible and ready to make a fairly deep arse dent into the sofa in the East Wing Lounge of SB Towers, as we move steadily into the second round and the best of 25 frame matches.
I’ll be recounting tales and takes on what I’ve experienced and felt and some of the people I have met for the first time and caught up with over the course of the next few days, as I settle down with the vast majority of the rest of you to enjoy the remainder of the tournament on TV, no doubt at some points watching from a peeping position behind a cushion as the BBC continue to treat me and you like we’ve only just hatched.
In the meantime, the preview below will be updated as and when all matches are known, with predicted scores and where appropriate, recommended bets. Simply click on the match to reveal the previous head to head record.
Mark Selby v Anthony McGill
(Thursday 1pm, Friday 10am & 7pm)
The defending champion is the first seed back in action, as is traditional, following his epic battle with Kurt Maflin which again saw him do what he does so well in the heat of battle and under intense pressure; win. I think seeing Selby play live in surroundings like The Crucible now for a few years and in particular the other day and last year when he played Ali Carter has made me something of a convert. OK, I have always rated him highly, I’ve sometimes not enjoyed watching him that much but I don’t like some, think he is slow. But now, I think he’s the best match player in the world when he is on song, he really is that good and a worthy world champion. The latest to try and prove that ‘The Curse’ is real is Anthony McGill, who is the latest in a line of players to put a premature end to Stephen Maguire’s fading hopes of ever being champion. McGill is of course a fine player and a great lad on top, but can he cause another upset? Well, my short answer is no, my clarification being that I think Selby will go into this wanting to win every session, so I’d guess he’ll win the first couple 5-3 and 6-2 and then complete the job, not letting Ant too near him, it just feels to me like it will be that kind of match now Selby has had a scare.
Prediction: Selby to win 13-7.
Recommended Bet: 3 points on Selby (-4.5 frames) at Evens.
Joe Perry v Shaun Murphy
(Sunday 10am & 7pm, Monday 1pm)
When he’s not moaning about kicks or disrupting everyone’s Twitter timeline answering questions, Shaun Murphy is actually a half decent snooker player. A potentially very tricky draw in Robin Hull was brushed aside by Smurf in a clinical way and he’s clearly in really good form. Joe came through a less testing opener against Zhang Anda but both will feel refreshed after getting to this stage with a chance to get to know the table, having spent a lot of time on it. Joe was my initial outside tip to do well here and be the surprise package of the tournament, but I have to say, having seen how well Shaun is playing it’s put some doubts in my mind. So with that in mind I’m going to abstain from a bet on this one and watch, seated on the fence. I think Joe will need to make sure that Shaun doesn’t get an early foothold in the match, if he does, he might run away with it.
Prediction: Murphy to win 13-9.
Barry Hawkins v Mark Allen
(Friday 2.30pm, Saturday 10am & 7pm)
Despite saying he’d have to work on his game a bit to get further, Mark Allen did manage to rattle off 9 in a row against Ryan Day, who for me gifted him so many chances it was hard for Mark to not take advantage and in the end it looked like nothing more than a routine win, it’s a mystery to me why Day played so poorly from 3-1 up. Barry Hawkins in the meantime came through the mill against Matt Selt, almost losing from a very strong position in the face of a rampant comeback by the Marmite Man. But Barry didn’t actually do a lot wrong while Selt was closing the gap and before that had looked pretty good, as he also did in the decider, keeping his nerve when he could easily have folded. I can see this one being quite close actually as their only previous World Championship match was back in 2011 when Allen won a decider. The head to head is rather skewed and at first you’d think Allen had something of a hoodoo over Hawkins but I’d argue that in the only two real big encounters they have had it’s 1-1, with Barry winning the last meaningful one in Berlin in 2013. The bet below to me looks good value as I think they will both reach double figures.
Prediction: Allen to win 13-12.
Recommended Bet: 3 points on winning margin being under 3.5 frames at 11/10.
Ali Carter v Neil Robertson
(Saturday 2.30pm, Sunday 2.30pm & Monday 7pm)
Neil Robertson will be lots of people’s pick for the title after his impressive first round display against Jamie Jones. The way in which he dominates opponents is really a strength of his and these days when he gets a lead in a match you very rarely see him get pegged back, though it has to be said that Jamie was far from his best and offered Neil very little in the way of resistance. Ali was more workmanlike against Angles and looked very good once he got himself in amongst the balls, there was some rustiness in his long game and he’ll know that he’ll have to get on the practice table and concentrate on that, but in the balls he remains as good as I’ve seen him, his flawless and rock steady cue-action for me explains why he does so well under the intense pressure this place creates. That said, only a brave man would back against Robertson here and that shows in the way this is priced up, which is probably about right given the season they have both had. For me a more interesting proposition with these two heavy scorers is the centuries market as you’d expect there to be a few once frames are secured so the bet below appeals.
Prediction: Robertson to win 13-9.
Recommended Bet: 3 points on Over 2.5 centuries at Evens.
Ding Junhui v John Higgins
(Thursday 7pm, Friday 2.30pm & Saturday 10am)
John Higgins brushed off his championship chances after his opening victory but I think that was a conscious move on the part of the wily Scotsman, who I’m sure deep down believes that he’s not finished just yet. He played very well in patches against Rob Milkins and indeed afterwards Rob said he thought Higgins had a great chance in this. Ding, on the other hand was so engrossed and focused in potting balls that he somehow forgot that he was on a maximum break on his way to a comfortable first round win over Mavis. For me however, this masks two things, firstly, Mavis played as badly as I’ve seen him play for 90% of the match and despite looking on paper like a really tough first round draw he continually let Ding off the hook in a match that was characterised by both squandering a number of straightforward chances. I felt after the match that despite the hullabaloo surrounding Ding’s blunder, the real question was why his form in general is so poor. OK, there is always room for improvement and a win is a win, but there aren’t many who have gone on to win this without any glimpse of their best form going into it; Ronnie of course being the exception after a season off. It goes without saying that Ding has the talent and game to be World Champion but my feeling going into this is that Higgins is overpriced, he’s also in my view there to compete at the end so the value is Higgins and the bet is that it will be close whoever wins to cover it if Ding prevails.
Prediction: Higgins to win 13-11.
Recommended Bet: 2 points on Higgins at 6/4. 3 points on winning margin under 3.5 frames at 11/10.
Marco Fu v Judd Trump
(Sunday 10am & 7pm, Monday 1pm)
These two met at this stage two seasons ago and Judd ended up the winner 13-7, so anyone who is a believer that history can repeat itself has their correct score bet right there. Marco came through the first round in typical Marco fashion, nothing fancy, just getting the job done. Judd, complete with a line on his back and a rather unsavoury sponsor logo who doesn’t really need any extra publicity had got the job done against Stuart Carrington in the first session and took his foot off the gas in the second, knowing that it was only a question of when, not if, he would win. In the past, the old Judd might have let a player like Marco get under his skin a bit but not now, I’d say this would be a major shock if Judd lost and I still believe he’ll be a big player in this at the end. I just wish he’d ditch the logo and then I could cheer him on.
Prediction: Trump to win 13-7
Recommended Bet: 3 points on Trump (-3.5 frames) at 10/11.
Graeme Dott v Stuart Bingham
(Friday 10am & 7pm, Saturday 2.30pm)
A very hard one to call this between two players who on their day are very evenly matched, with Graeme undoubtedly of the two the player with vastly the superior Crucible record. Dotty clearly loves it here and proclaimed himself a ‘Grand National Horse that’s been running over 7 furlongs all season’ in his post-match interview after his win over Ricky Walden. Stuart was himself a little hoarse after his first round victory so all this points to a real race to the line between these two established players. The head to head shows that when they do face each other it usually ends up being close so I’d put nobody off another winning margins bet, I’d also guess that winning frames here is more important to them than big breaks so I would definitely go for the unders on any century bet. But for me, the clue to this match is in their records here, Dott loves it and thrives on it and Stuart has always under-achieved at The Crucible. Dott for some reason isn’t favourite and I think the bookies have got this one wrong, so in terms of value, you have to back form horse Dott.
Prediction: Dott to win 13-8
Recommended Bet: 3 points on Dott at 11/8. 2 points on Dott (-2.5 frames) at 5/2.
Matthew Stevens v Ronnie O’Sullivan
(Saturday 7pm, Sunday 2.30pm, Monday 7pm)
The perceived wisdom holds that this is nothing more than a routine win for Ronnie, even Mark Williams, a great lifelong friend of Matthew Stevens seemed to insinuate as such after his 10-2 drubbing, claiming that Matthew would have to up his game substantially to stand any chance of diverting The Rocket. Ronnie in the meantime is being his usual impish self, touting for shoes for his surprisingly small size 8 feet and claiming that ‘shagging’ is one of his four current obsessions; to me he doesn’t look focused enough yet to win this tournament, but that could of course change. As for this match, I’ve tried to think of an angle for a bet and it’s proving fairly difficult to find any value as I am firmly in the O’Sullivan camp in terms of thinking who will win, not necessarily who I would like to win. The safest bet here I think with two fluent scorers and Matthew to me looking like he might just nick 7 or 8 frames is the overs on the centuries so I think it’s best to stick with that.
Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 13-7
Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 2.5 centuries at 10/11.
RECOMMENDED ACCA: 2 POINTS PAYS JUST OVER 4/1 ON SELBY (-3.5), HIGGINS (+3.5), O’SULLIVAN (-3.5) AND DOTT (+3.5).