It’s here. For snooker fans the best two weeks and three days of the year starts on Saturday, like an extended Christmas for baize hungry fanatics, as all eyes descend on the home of snooker; The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, for the start of this year’s World Championship. Thankfully back with the sponsor it should never have lost, Betfred.
I had planned to lead this piece with talk of ‘The Crucible Curse’, but even this has been overshadowed by the shambolic way in which the draw took place earlier.
Someone carelessly forgot to make the You Tube link live for us to watch and we were left collectively scratching our heads as random tweets started to appear with the draw contained in them, incredibly at one point the BBC and World Snooker differed on who Shaun Murphy had drawn, the governing body incorrectly tweeting Smurf’s first opponent as Anthony McGill. Shaun himself could be seen briefly (when the draw did eventually appear just as it was about to finish) with a golf club in his hand menacingly walking towards the chief protagonists before the whole thing went off again just before Betfred’s Mark Pearson swore live on air. Just prior to this a round of applause finished things off as everyone in the room, Bazza and Nugget included, remained blissfully unaware what a total cock up the whole thing had been from start to finish.
Even the reigning champion Mark Selby was forced to ask someone on Twitter who he was playing on Saturday morning as a healthy mixture of incredulity, humour, disappointment and the odd insult flew at breakneck speed to the World Snooker Twitter account. Slapstick scenes and all rather typical in a way, a total balls up from the off, you’ve just got to take your hat off to the governing body, nobody fucks up quite like they do.
But anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the curse. It really materialised properly when Steve Davis lost to Tony Knowles 10-1 in 1982 when a hot favourite to retain the title he had won for the first time a year earlier, but before him Terry Griffiths and Cliff Thorburn had fallen foul of The Curse and since then, no first time winner has gone on to retain the title, the last total failure being Neil Robertson.
So can the current champion Mark Selby break this unusual pattern? This mystical mystery? He’s racking up the curses too, as from winning the China Open he is also up against history and the snooker gods again, with no winner of that ever going on to win this. It never rains but it pours.
The BBC will probably mention ‘The Curse’ one or two, or several hundred times depending on how far poor old Mark gets so you have to feel for him. He’s saying all the right things but to me he looks like a man overcome with, possibly even possessed by these mystical demons, either that or he had a bit of a cold at the press launch the other day. So is The Curse real? Well, there’s a few who think it is and I ain’t gonna argue with no snooker gods on this. No Sir.
Right, it’s time for the match by match preview with recommended bets, I’ll also include my idea of the winner at the end though the title of the blog does give you a fairly obvious clue, so either scroll right down, or read on and get in the mood….
CLICK ON THE MATCH FOR THE HEAD TO HEAD RECORD.
Can he conquer the Crucible Curse?
Mark Selby (1) v Kurt Maflin (Saturday 10am & 7pm)
Kurt Maflin came through a gruelling match with Fergal O’Brien, narrowly pipping him in a decider on Wednesday evening. He’s been rewarded by a match against the reigning champion in the time slot that I think most qualifiers wanted to avoid. Selby himself hinted at the launch of the event that he wouldn’t mind drawing a Crucible debutant and that is exactly what has happened. Mark himself said that The Crucible is so unique that it can take a bit of getting used to and if Maffers doesn’t switch on from the start he could find Selby gone without trace. As with all great players, Selby is not only dangerous from behind but he’s also a very strong front runner. Kurt has beaten him on the main stage in the past though in Berlin, but the vast Tempodrom and the tiny, almost claustrophobic Crucible are two very different animals. I think Selby will come through here and probably win with a bit in hand.
Prediction: Selby to win 10-5.
Stephen Maguire (16) v Anthony McGill (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 7pm)
An all Scottish clash for the opening weekend as 16th seed Mags takes on Anthony McGill who qualifies for The Crucible for the first time following another dramatic match with Mark King which he very nearly lost from a winning position. Long standing readers of this tripe will know that I really rate McGill, he is a bit old school and perhaps that’s why, he also likes The Smiths. But again the question needs to be asked about how he will adjust to this venue against a player who will feel that he should probably have been World Champion by now, but who is without doubt still good enough to be. Again, my money has to be on the seeded player here, I hope Ant gives a good account of himself and I’m sure he will but I can’t see him winning.
Prediction: Maguire to win 10-7.
Joe Perry (9) v Zhang Anda (Wednesday 10am and 7pm)
Joe Perry is now a force to be reckoned with and I have a feeling he might come out of this quarter the winner. He has to be happy with his draw here, he has played Zhang ‘Mighty Mouse’ Anda twice in PTC events and never lost a frame to him. Most will remember Zhang taking Hendry to a decider in his debut here a few years back, that was one very very strange match that in that even though it went close you never really thought Hendry was going to lose. He’s done well to get here again anyway after a quiet season. But Perry has landed a plum draw here and returns to the scene of his great match against Ronnie last season. He could be a dark horse in this I reckon.
Prediction: Perry to win 10-4.
Shaun Murphy (8) v Robin Hull (Wednesday 2.30pm and Thursday 7pm)
Unlike Joe, Shaun has landed what I believe to be one of the worst draws he could have had, but strangely the bookies odds don’t suggest this. Finland’s Robin Hull is a great player, dogged by health issues over the years, he has never quite reached the potential we know he has, but maybe in his later career he can start putting that right. He’s played Shaun twice before, losing both times, but he comes into this with three solid wins behind him, including a defeat of Ben Woollaston, knocking in 6 centuries and countless other 70 plus breaks along the way and on the back of a Last 16 spot in the China Open. He is clearly in a rich vein of form. So could this be a shock? Yes, I think it could be, after all Robin played very well here last year against Ronnie, but Masters champion Shaun has played well all season and can’t be underestimated, I reckon this one could be very very close, possibly the tie of the round.
Prediction: 10-9 to one of them.
RECOMMENDED BET: 2 points on Hull at 6/1 with the sponsors. 5 points on Hull (+4.5 frames) at 10/11. 3 points on Hull to make a century in the match at 11/4 with Bet 365.
PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Joe Perry.
Best taken with a pinch.
Barry Hawkins (5) v Matt Selt (Sunday 10am and Monday 10am)
Matt Selt can’t really be compared to Marmite, as not enough people love him, but it has to be said that he’s playing the pantomime villain so well these days you’d almost believe he really is a total bellend. His tongue in cheek comment about wanting to draw Ali Carter to ‘bash him up’ like the last time they played (when Ali won) was taken totally the other way by some. Possibly as a result of some previous in the week involving smashing balls all over the place and calling a respected promoter a ‘fat mess’ in a very public spat. But in amongst all this he is playing the snooker of his life and he’ll be happy to have drawn Barry, a former runner-up, who has not been in great form for a while, though he did show slight signs of improvement in China. Very much like the match above I think this one could go very close to the distance and Selt has the momentum and the game to score a very unpopular win. Pass the marmite.
Prediction: Selt to win 10-8.
Mark Allen (12) v Ryan Day (Tuesday 10am and 7pm)
Mark Allen’s recent World Championship form has been pretty poor for a player so good. In the last three years he’s done no better than the Last 16 and has been beaten at this stage twice. He’s been handed another very tough draw here and his head to head with Ryan Day is very close, Allen being one up on matches and Day leading their frame scores by a single rack. Allen has been busy preparing for this while the other top players were in China so should come here fresh, Day proclaimed himself ‘knackered’ after the qualifiers but he’s not playing until Tuesday so he’ll have a chance to get some rest. Match sharpness might be the key here and that’s why I’m going to side with the Welshman.
Prediction: Day to win 10-8.
RECOMMENDED BET: 3 points on Day at 2/1.
Ali Carter (13) v Alan McManus (Monday 7pm and Tuesday 2.30pm)
Surprisingly these two have only met once since 2006 and their head to head stands at 2-2. Angles produced what his final round opponent in qualifying Mitchell Mann called ‘the best safety game I have ever seen’ and undoubtedly that is how he wins matches these days. Ali hasn’t got going again yet since his time off but he always plays his best at The Crucible, very rarely does he lose matches here through playing badly and his first round record is as good as anyone in the sport. I watched all his match with Selby last year at close quarters and Mark was just ruthless, his safety was sublime and when he got in he scored, Ali stayed with him but he was just too good in the end. I think if Ali goes into this match in the same mindset he’ll win, as he’ll compete in the safety department and Alan will not punish him as heavily as Selby did.
Prediction: Carter to win 10-7.
Neil Robertson (4) v Jamie Jones (Sunday 2.30pm and Monday 2.30pm)
Neil Robertson will be many people’s tip for champion, he’s very consistent and has had a lot of time away to prepare having flown home early after defeat in China, some might say after a rather disinterested performance. He is also playing an opponent in Jamie Jones that he has never lost to in four meetings and we all know how Neil can use things like this to his advantage in the mind games department. It’s great to see Jamie back here, he was a quarter finalist a few years back and won over a lot of people, what followed was a slump in form but he’s now back to the venue where people remember him most. That said, he beat amateur Adam Duffy in his last match in qualifying 10-8 without making a break over 50. To say he will have to improve markedly to trouble Robbo is putting it mildly. Though I don’t think Neil will win the title, I can see him progressing here with a few frames to spare.
Prediction: Robertson to win 10-4.
RECOMMENDED QUARTER WINNER: Neil Robertson.
Ding Junhui (3) v Dark Mavis (Monday 2.30pm and Tuesday 10am)
Before the draw was made I thought Mavis was the one that most would want to avoid. To me in the qualifiers he looked very solid indeed and breezed through his final match in no time against an under-par Ken Doherty. He’s drawn the enigma that is Ding Junhui, walloped by lower ranked opponents and amateurs all season and unable to buy a win, he showed some signs of recovery in China where he also beat Mavis 5-1. That would suggest that perhaps he has been fooling us all year and just fancied a bit of a rest before making the big push at the end of the season. His Crucible record could be better and he’s lost in Round 1 twice in the last 3 years, famously last time to Michael Wasley. I still don’t think this venue suits him for whatever reason and once you have it stuck in your head that you should really play better here that’s a difficult demon to shift. I think he’ll probably win here but I can’t see him lifting the trophy and I’d take him to lose in the last 16.
Prediction: Ding to win 10-8.
John Higgins (14) v Rob Milkins (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 7pm)
Higgins is coming in to form at just the right time and when that happens at this time of year you need to sit up and take note. I have already recommended an each way bet on him at 40/1 and I don’t see any reason to change my mind as that represents some decent value. He has landed another very tough draw in Rob Milkins who came through a decider on Wednesday night and is straight back on this weekend. Rob has had much the better of their recent meetings and John hasn’t beaten him since 2011, the pattern being that Higgins won their first four and Rob has won the next four, something that does tend to creep in when the very best players get toward the end of their careers. But this is The Crucible and this is John Higgins and I for one can’t oppose him here.
Prediction: Higgins to win 10-6.
Marco Fu (11) v Jimmy Robertson (Saturday 10am and Sunday 10am)
The super consistent and constantly underrated Marco Fu takes on Jimmy Robertson who makes his second career appearance at the venue. Jimmy came through a real test against Xiao Guodong in qualifying and that has to give him confidence, though facing the rather robotic Fu first thing on Saturday may not be the best tonic for him. Their head to head doesn’t really tell us anything or give any clues and it’s a match that I think will probably go as most would expect, a solid, workmanlike, nothing to write home about win for Fu.
Prediction: Fu to win 10-6.
The time is now.
Judd Trump (6) v Stuart Carrington (Wednesday 7pm and Thursday 1pm)
Before everyone started hating Matt Selt, it was usually Judd who took the brunt of a lot of quite unfair abuse on social media, I say unfair because from what I have seen he’s a nice lad. He faces Crucible newbie Stuart Carrington who he has never played before professionally though apparently they played a lot as juniors. Stuart knocked out the promising Joel Walker, the vegan powered Peter Ebdon and the dangerous Li Hang to get here so he’s proved he can handle all types of player over the long distance. We all know what to expect with Judd, all out attack when the mood takes him but these days a more measured tactical game with it when he has to. Since about November I have had the feeling that this is Judd’s year, something just feels right this time. I’m certain he will be a World Champion and now feels as good a time as any. He’s my tip for the title.
Prediction: Trump to win 10-3
PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Judd Trump
Ricky Walden (7) v Graeme Dott (Saturday 7pm and Sunday 2.30pm)
Grumpy Graeme didn’t like having to play 3 matches to qualify but he played them and won through to face Ricky Walden, who still hasn’t got a nickname, that’s if you discount the rather erotic sounding ‘Stamina Man’ and the less memorable ‘From Chester’. Oddly, for two players that have been around for so long and often been ranked in similar sections they have only met twice and never in a major tournament. Graeme has been scoring well in the qualifiers and as we know, gives it his all in every match. Ricky has had a good season, winning the International Championship and finishing runner-up in India so he’ll go into this with confidence. It’s a tough one to call this but I just think these days Ricky is a notch higher than Graeme in terms of scoring and consistency so I’ll side with him.
Prediction: Walden to win 10-8.
Stuart Bingham (10) v Robbie Williams (Monday 10am and 7pm)
Robbie Williams came back to stun Michael Holt in the qualifiers and is a player that snooker folk know is a warm order, he was also responsible for knocking out Poomjaeng to the dismay of Charlie Chaplin fans across the globe who were looking forward to more of his slapstick antics at The Crucible. Robbie will hope this goes slightly better than last season, when he was soundly walloped 10-2 by Neil Robertson on his Crucible debut. Stuart Bingham is one of the big boys these days and not someone you want to run into in the early rounds, when he’s on song he’s as good as anyone and like Joe Perry, I think he might be a bit of a dark horse in this and I’d expect him to make at least the Quarter Finals.
Prediction: Bingham to win 10-5.
Mark Williams (15) v Matthew Stevens (Tuesday 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm)
The all Welsh clash has all the hallmarks of the tie of the round as these two good friends cross cues in a repeat of the final 15, yes that’s 15, years ago. God I feel old. If there is a player that you’d say is the ‘form horse’ coming into this championship it is without doubt Williams. His recent form has been superb and the results have followed, despite only picking up the World Seniors trophy at the age of 39, he has maintained consistency now for months. Matthew has again had a quiet season but a bit like Ali Carter usually produces his best here. I’m really looking forward to this one but I think the way MJW has been playing lately may be the difference between the two so I’ll take him for a narrow win.
Prediction: Williams to win 10-7.
Ronnie O’Sullivan (2) v Craig Steadman (Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am)
Despite repeatedly trying to claim that he isn’t favourite this year, he is. Yes, The Rocket has been playing down his chances with a bit of reverse psychology for a while now. However, as this post shows, he possibly doesn’t like being favourite at all. He faces another Crucible newbie in Craig Steadman, who was feeding the media some great lines after qualifying with a good win over Jamie Burnett having previously knocked out Michael White. The two have never played each other before and Craig did actually say that this was the draw he wanted so he could enjoy the experience and I’m sure he will. As ever when weighing up a World Championship, you have to take into account ‘which Ronnie will turn up’, his mindset lately has looked increasingly fragile and I think his defeat to Selby last year dented his belief a little. But it goes without saying that if his head’s screwed on right he is the man to beat, but something is telling me that this year someone, possibly Judd, will do just that.
Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 10-4
PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Ronnie O’Sullivan.
PREDICTED SEMI-FINAL RESULTS: Perry to beat Robertson and Trump to beat O’Sullivan.
PREDICTED WINNER: Judd Trump
RECOMMENDED OUTRIGHT BETS: 4 points on Judd Trump to win the World Championship at 13/2. 1 point each way on Joe Perry at 80/1. (Previously Recommended 1 point each way on John Higgins at 40/1). 1 point on Joe Perry to win Quarter 1 at 11/1.
RECOMMENDED ACCAS: 5 points on Selby, Neil Robertson, Bingham, Perry and Trump pays a shade over Evens. Add Fu for a 4 point acca pays over 7/4. Add Mark Williams for 3 point acca pays 11/4. Add Walden and Higgins for a 2 point acca pays over 8/1.
TWO ONE POINT BIG PRICED BETS: Robin Hull to hit highest break at 150/1 and Kurt Maflin to hit highest break at 100/1 at Sportingbet.
OTHER: 3 points on Robin Hull and Kurt Maflin both to make at least 1 century in their first round matches at over 7/1 with Bet 365.