Snookerbacker

May 6, 2018

World Championship Final – Back to the Future

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:12 am

If ever there was an excuse to reference my favourite film of all time this is it. It’s 26 years since this pair turned professional and this Bank Holiday weekend sees them rev up the DeLorean to 88mph and step back in time to contest the World Championship Final. For once I’d argue that the phrase ‘Quite Amazing JV’ is actually bang on the money.

John Higgins was first world champion in 1998, Mark Williams in 2000. Higgins is after a fifth title to equal another graduate from the Class of 92 Ronnie O’Sullivan, whilst Williams is seeking a third to put him level with Mark Selby, arguably the only player since these three burst onto the scene to break into their sacred triangle.

I make no secret of the fact that I want Williams to win, both from a financial point of view and from a personal one. He’s easily my favourite player to watch, including O’Sullivan, and I’d argue that 2 world titles doesn’t do his talent justice. But unfortunately he’s had to put up with John and Ronnie throughout his career and in truth when it comes to the stats and the record books he’s stuck at number three.

So can he change this pattern and overturn Higgins, who it has to be said is playing as well as ever coming into this and starts as a worthy favourite (best price 8/13, Williams best price 13/8).

It’s a tough ask for Williams, the schedule means that Higgins is better rested but they both had energy sapping semi-finals, which again heightens the argument that there should really be some kind of gap between the semi-finals and final. Perhaps earlier starts to the final sessions might be considered, personally I have always thought the semi-finals should be three and not four session matches to allow a rest day before the final.

They have met at The Crucible three times and for once the record books show Williams ahead at 2-1, he also won their most recent encounter last year in China so if he needs a pick me up, there it is right there.

I just hope that these two great champions turn up with their best games, despite what has gone before. Higgins proclaimed to have ‘plenty left in the tank’ when he spoke emotionally to Hazel, also stressing that the energy levels don’t have to cope with Selby this year like they did last, whereas Williams said he was ‘knackered’. You can watch both press conferences below, including Mark reiterating that if he wins he will do his press conference stark naked, almost an excuse for me to start supporting Higgins.

So may battle commence, I am unashamedly biased and I really hope Williams wins, do I think he will? If someone had a gun to my head I’d say the bookies odds are spot on and Higgins will win with a few frames to spare, but I really hope I am wrong.

Here are the head to heads.

Enjoy.

   

May 3, 2018

World Championship Semi Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 11:09 am

The stage is set

Three days until we know who will be contesting the final and I think I’m probably right in saying that this is the most open semi-final line up in years, no obvious winner from the four of them, all of whom are two wins away from getting their name on that famous trophy, either for a fifth time, a third time or for the first time depending on who wins.

It’s funny this year, usually by now I’m kind of starting to get a bit miserable thinking about the end and the inevitable post-Crucible blues, but this year, the longer it goes on the more I am enjoying it, and actually looking forward to a few snookerless months afterwards.

The one thing I have to mention here is how poor the coverage has been on TV this year, not just the BBC, but also Eurosport, who have decided without warning to stop showing both tables on their TV channels, which we have to subscribe to, but instead to have just one on telly and one on Eurosport Player, which we also have to subscribe to. A very greedy and grubby decision by the fat cats at the top.

The BBC, as we’ve come to expect, have been routinely not showing the second table on TV and instead point us to the various other means by which we can watch, all of which, with the exception of the bookies streams that they don’t point us in the direction of have a time delay.

I’m sorry but when Wimbledon is on you can choose between a whole multitide of courts on the Red Button and when the Olympics is on they have all sorts of obscure and dull as dishwater sports covered by this service, yet they can’t be arsed to have both tables covered on there for this. I know you can watch it online, but if you have one table on the TV you can hear what has happened on the other one about a minute before you see it online and that to me is next to useless.

Anyway, that’s my rant over with. In terms of betting, anyone who has religiously followed my outright bets will know what a strong position we are in. Each way bets on Williams at 40/1, Wilson at 40/1 and Hawkins at 28/1 are still going, meaning that we’ll have at least one finalist to collect from, if we can get Higgins beat, we might have two….

Click on the matches below for the head to heads.

Kyren Wilson v John Higgins

Thursday 1pm, Friday 10am and 7pm, Saturday 2.30pm

Higgins gave Kyren a good old pasting in the Quarter Finals on his way to the Final last year and comes into this on the back of a trademark quality performance and win over Judd Trump in a decider last night. Kyren on the other hand is coasting through, easy wins over Matthew Stevens and Jamie Jones before a surprisingly straightforward triumph over Mark Allen means he comes to this having dropped just 14 frames, far fewer than anyone else in the semi-finals. If Kyren doesn’t win it this year I’m pretty certain he will at some point, he has the look of a world champion, scoring heavily, great under pressure and sensible in his shot selection, a little like Mark Selby. I’ve made a lot about Higgins stamina, he’s now getting to the stage where he’s going to need the reserves in place mentally and physically to carry on and push for the line and his match with Judd will have taken it’s toll on him in my opinion, even having come through with a session to spare in his previous match. It’s a match that I have a vested interest in already and I’ll be cheering Kyren on for that reason and also because I like him and I want him to win, so the prediction below is probably best taken in that spirit.

Prediction: Wilson to win 17-13     

Barry Hawkins v Mark Williams

Thursday 7pm, Friday 2.30pm, Saturday 10am and 7pm

Two players who are familiar with the one table situation as Crucible specialist Hawkins takes on the revived and quite brilliant Mark Williams, who O’Sullivan apart, has been the Player of the Season this year. Hawkins surgical dismantling of Ding was ruthless, Barry is probably as nice a person as you could wish to meet, mild-mannered, loves dogs, very polite and the sort of boy that any girl’s mum would want to be waiting for them down the aisle. But put him on a snooker table in Sheffield and he seems to turn into a cutthroat killer. MJW is very similar, perhaps apart from the mother-in-law bit, almost sloth like in demeanour, but absolutely hard as nails on the table, which for me makes this the most intriguing of the two semi-finals. They have both been clinical so far at the business end of their matches when challenged and that says to me that this will be a blow for blow kind of match, one where there may never be more than 2 or 3 frames between them. I really fancy this one to go very very close and I’d even discount the fact that Barry has not beaten Mark in any of their meaningful meetings, he’s a completely different player here. I can’t really pick a winner, but gun to head, I’m sticking with my original tip on the main preview.

Prediction: Williams to win 17-15       

May 1, 2018

World Championship Quarter Finals Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:15 am

The One Table Situation beckons.

Mark Allen v Kyren Wilson

Tuesday 10am/7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm

It’s 9 years since Mark Allen last made an appearance in the semi-finals and the one table situation would be a completely new experience for Kyren so these two represent the least experienced World Championship semi-finalist whoever wins. Allen has played extremely well so far with wins over Liam Highfield and Joe Perry. His match against Joe was in my view the best so far in terms of all round quality and the final session, which Mark won 5-0 saw him up his scoring game too with his first and second century of the championship so he is clearly improving. Interestingly he said that his new coach, Chris Henry, has taught him some off table coping mechanisms, including ‘breathing techniques’, quite how that works I don’t know but it’s definitely doing the trick so far. Kyren has been untroubled in his previous two matches against Matthew Stevens and Jamie Jones, dropping just eight frames in total. He’s not scoring as prolifically as his opponent is but you could argue that this isn’t really his style and his match play tends to make up for it. The two of course fought out The Masters final in January which Allen won but they also met here over this distance two seasons ago when Kyren came out on top 13-9. Indeed their head to head could not be closer with 4 matches each and 43 frames each. At the start of the championship I thought Kyren would be the only player that could stop Selby from winning this quarter, but that hasn’t panned out and Allen’s form for me is too impressive to ignore. He doesn’t look like he’s ready for burn out and despite having backed Wilson in the outrights I just have to side with the Ulsterman, who for me now looks a likely finalist from this half.

Prediction: Allen to win 13-10    

John Higgins v Judd Trump

Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am/7pm

Here’s an interesting stat. Judd Trump has never beaten John Higgins over anything longer than Best of 9 frames, he’s come close, particularly last time they met in the 2016 Scottish Open semi-finals when Higgins won 6-5, but a stat is a stat and facts can’t be skewed or altered, Judd has to do something here that he’s never done before if he’s to go any further. Let’s also face it, he’s lucky to have come through his first match against Chris Wakelin and he couldn’t have asked for a more careless final session from his last opponent Walden who from going 9-8 up decided to play like a man with no eyes. But you can only beat what is in front of you and Judd was impressive in closing that match out, riled by Ricky seemingly taking liberties against him and using this as a motivation to win. He hit four tons against Walden so as ever he’s reliable in the scoring department but can he cope with the master tactician here? Higgins is yet to be behind in any match here and his demolition job on Jack Lisowski bought him some relaxation time, something that I think he needs if he is to win this judging by his performance last year when he looked to all the world the champion before running out of puff on the final day. The head to heads favour Higgins and like Wilson he’s dropped just eight frames to get here while Judd has lost 18 frames already. Judd will have to seriously up his game in all departments to stand a chance here in my opinion.

Prediction: Higgins to win 13-9   

Ding Junhui v Barry Hawkins

Tuesday 10am/7pm and Wednesday 10am

With just seven frames dropped Ding comes into this as probably the best all round player of the championship so far. His first session performance against McGill was described by his opponent as faultless and when Ding is programmed to hoover mode there are few in the sport that can trouble him. The problem with Ding is always how he copes when it goes close and Hawkins record against him suggests that this is what will happen here. They met 5 years ago at this stage and Barry came out a 13-7 comfortable winner and he does hold a slight advantage on their head to heads so this is by no means another Ding procession in the making. Despite somewhat struggling over the line against Lyu Haotian, Barry made four centuries in that match as well as eight further breaks over 50 so he’s clearly looking at winning frames in one visit and to beat Ding that’s exactly what he needs to do again here. It’s a really tough one to predict this and in terms of a bet I would definitely be looking at a neutral one on the breaks as I can see this being a high scoring quality affair which could possibly go the distance and if it does I’d be tempted to side with Hawkins given his recent pedigree here. But there is obviously also a chance that Ding could establish a big lead early on so the first session to me holds the key to the match. If Barry is ahead or level I’d fancy him to win, but if Ding races to the front early, this could be very one-sided, I reckon the former is probably most likely.

Prediction: Hawkins to win 13-12    

Mark Williams v Ali Carter  

Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 2.30pm/7pm

You really couldn’t get much more of a polar opposite in snooker in terms of temperament than these two. The laid back floating Welshman, without a care in the world against snooker’s newly christened Mr Angry, well, we were all getting a bit bored of ‘The Captain’ anyway weren’t we? This sounds far more appropriate and would make a great T-Shirt for Ali’s fans. Matches like this are what The Crucible is all about, two players looking to re-ignite their World Championship CV’s, MJW with a third title and Ali with a chance to win it now he’s bumped off the man who has stopped him twice. I’ve heard a few people say that Ali has already had his final, but they clearly don’t know him. If you think that he is happy with what he has done so far and that’s enough for him you’d be much mistaken. You could argue that Williams comes into this scoring more consistently than Carter, he’s not known for his prolific century making as in the past he’s just arsed about once the frame is won but this new model seems to be switched on these days to see the breaks out. It’s quite surprising given the length of their careers and their time spent in the top 16 that they have never met here, in fact they have only ever met once, ten years ago, in any match over one session. Williams holds the aces in the head to heads but not by much, but this is one where I don’t think previous really matters. Having backed Williams in the outrights at big prices I am going to keep faith with him but I’d not be surprised by any outcome in this one, I just hope it’s a clean fight and nobody gets hurt, with no punching below the belt.

Prediction: Williams to win 13-11

RECOMMENDED BETS:

Mark Allen to be leading after 8 frames and to win the match at 7/4 with Bet 365.

John Higgins (-2.5 frames) at 6/5 with Bet 365.

Barry Hawkins to make more than 1 century at Evens with Bet 365.

Ali Carter to make more than 1 century at 10/11 with Bet 365.

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April 25, 2018

World Championship 2nd Round Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:35 am

The first round at The Crucible is always a real buzz, it’s where the premise is set for the mood of the rest of the championship and where the stories are made, first time winners, shocks, impressive and shaky starts, we usually get them all and this year is no exception.

It’s funny really, in that we seem to have completely changed the focus when it comes to the players that have come here through qualifying. In recent years, in fact every year since the format changed the talk has been about those arriving from the qualifiers being ‘dead men walking’, potters that were already potted out after the gruelling marathon of (then) Ponds Forge and now the EIS.

But this year the message being peddled is a very different one. Tired? Burnt out? Not on your nellie, these qualifiers are primed to precision, they have spent the last week and a half harnessing their already razor sharp skills and winning those three matches. Coming here match fit is now the new burnt out. If we are to believe what we are being told it’s now the seeds who are at a huge disadvantage in Round 1, having had their feet up since Beijing, waiting to wallop a clapped out zombie in Round 1 only to be met by a potting machine. That’ll learn ’em.

The players are clearly beginning to believe all this with one of them even saying that next year it might be an advantage not to be seeded. It just proves the old promotional message, say it loud enough and enough times and eventually people will believe it. Especially if you back it up with ‘evidence’, though if you dig deeper into the evidence it’s clear that the pattern of seeds v qualifiers these past few years has altered very little in terms of how many get through Round One and how many don’t.

Anyway, it’s time to have a look at the second round, match by match. At time of writing the first round bets flagged up have gone extremely well and I hope this will continue as we move into the 3 session best of 25 framers. If you aren’t following me on Twitter you may have missed the specific daily bets that have been flying in, so sorry about that, but I have been telling you to do so now for quite a while. Hashtag Careless.

So, who will be lining up in the quarter finals this year? Remember, for the head to heads just click on the match and be transported to the magical kingdom of Cue Tracker.

Joe Perry v Mark Allen

Highly impressive form from both of these two in Round 1 with Joe schooling the World Champion and World Number 1 Selby and Allen keeping a dangerous Liam Highfield at arms length for the match entirety. In terms of scoring, Perry had the edge of the two in the opening round with Allen being solid enough but with a highest break of just 89. The head to heads between the pair are dead level and only a single frame seperates them in a total of 55 played, so you’d imagine that they will need more or less the full 25 quota to sort this one out. Perry to me looks very content with his form and is playing very ‘matter of factly’, with a way around the table that suggests he’s not really that arsed if he loses because he quite fancies a holiday. Allen on the other hand seems eager to prove that he can produce over the longer distances consistently and not just the short ones. The Masters Champion does have a little to prove at The Crucible as for a player as good as he is he has little to show here for his efforts, Perry has a better record at The Crucible and to me he looks quietly confident. There won’t be much in this but I’m going to just side with The Gent.

Prediction: Perry to win 13-11   

Kyren Wilson v Jamie Jones

Jamie Jones again came alive here in Round 1 and won another fantastic encounter with Shaun Murphy with heavy scoring and bottle in reserve. Kyren was a little more under the radar with his workmanlike performance against Matthew Stevens, this included a run of four frames in the middle of the match which basically got it won for him. He’s a bit like that Kyren, he tends to feel his way into a match and then all of a sudden flick a switch and start dominating, a very rare and advantageous quality to have. Jamie on the other hand is very much a maverick, you seem to live the match with him and feel how he is feeling which is probably why he has such a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase. They have never met over anything more than best of seven but Jamie will probably be glad this one is a lot longer as he’s lost 5 of their 6 previous encounters. My feeling on this match is that Kyren will not give Jamie anything like the chances that Shaun did. He plays a lot tighter a game than Murphy and is prepared to wait patiently for an opening and force his opponent to make errors. Jamie could well get a flyer and pick up where he left off but I have a feeling this match might be one in which Kyren wins or draws every session and rides out the match as one big one made up of three short ones. Hence the predicted scoreline.

Prediction: Wilson to win 13-9 

John Higgins v Jack Lisowski

Jack at last seems to be producing what most of the living Western world knew he had in him on the big stage and his performance against Stuart Bingham not only demonstrated his ferocious potting and break building but also a cooler head when things get tight, which it goes without saying he is going to need here. The good thing about playing Higgins is that you know exactly what you are getting, the downside is that what you are getting can sometimes be impossible to match. He didn’t look quite at his best against Un-Nooh but once challenged he pulled out what was necessary. It goes without saying that Jack will need to be at his best to win here and even then that might not be enough, this is a huge test for him and if he can overcome it I think he’s a live contender to lift the trophy, he did also beat Higgins convincingly recently in China. It’s a real head versus heart this one, unfortunately for me this time, it has to be Higgins.

Prediction: Higgins to win 13-10  

Ricky Walden v Judd Trump

Well, what can you say about Judd’s first match other than, you’re sooo Judd Trump? Looked for all the world to be coasting only to start playing like a man with no eyes and get pegged back, this time though he managed to win and avoid yet another roasting by snooker fans on social media, but is it simply a case of delaying the roast for another few days? Walden said he was happy with how he played in his opener but he was another who looked very edgy towards the end against Brecel, though he never really looked like losing. But for both of them this is a new day and if patterns are anything to go by this might again be a very tetchy affair. Judd holds the aces in the head to heads but for me a repeat of his previous match and he’ll be heading home, Walden too I think will need to step up a gear and try his best to boss this one from the start. But hey, whatever pattern the match takes it will still take winning and if it gets close I’d side with Ricky.

Prediction: Walden to win 13-11

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Ding Junhui v Anthony McGill

McGill battled through and showed his fighting qualities at the end against Ryan Day, who was inexplicable awful in the second session and allowed the Scotsman back into it with very little resistance. Ding on the other hand dominated Xiao from the off and looks content and happy, his health concerns that plauged him during the UK and The Masters now seem like a distant memory and he is obviously a big contender again for the title. A bit like Judd, Anthony has already used his get out of jail card and you have to say that this match is probably a mountain too high for him, I expect Ding to win quite comfortably.

Prediction: Ding to win 13-6  

Lyu Haotian v Barry Hawkins (never played each other)

Contrasting pathways here for these two. Its fair to say that if we take first round form at face value and apply it to this match then Lyu would ride out a comfortable winner. His scoring prowess against Marco was there for all to see and it isn’t clear how much of this was down to the fact that Fu was just not ready for the match and how much was Lyu believing that he can actually become an unlikely star here this year. Barry can console himself with the fact that things can only get better, if his tactic is to gradually build up to a peak at the business end of the championship he has started as planned as he was as poor as I’ve seen him in a long time in beating Carrington the other night in a match, shall we just say, that won’t be getting many repeat watchers on You Tube. In terms of head to heads and very much like when all the toilets were stolen from the local billiard hall, we have nothing to go on. Hawkins fans will just have to hope that the opening round was a blip and not an indicator of Barry’s form and that Lyu starts missing. Having backed Barry in the outrights I hope he wins but he will have to improve a lot and hope his opponent begins to feel the occasion. That’s enough to make me select the Chinese player, but I won’t be having a bet in this one.

Prediction: Lyu to win 13-11     

Mark Williams v Rob Milkins

The walk-on tunes when these two walk out belong more at the British Legion than The Crucible but what follows will be every inch worthy of this great stage. MJW got the match won against Jimmy Robertson early and you could sense that he lacked a bit of motivation coming out to finish it off before he finally did and in some style. He proclaimed himself afterwards in the form of his life and who are we to disagree? Rob bossed Neil Robertson from the off in their match and Neil didn’t, it has to be said, put up a great deal of resistance, but that takes nothing away from Milkins achievement, like Jones he comes here and beats the same seed in the same round as he has done before. I think this one will probably go the same was as the match involving Jones in that Williams will win or tie each session, keeping the Gloucester man at arms length. 

Prediction: Williams to win 13-8 

Ali Carter v Ronnie O’Sullivan

Ooooohhhhh Ali, look at the head to heads….I know you don’t want to and I know you remember every match but it’s something we just can’t ignore. 14-0 including 4 times here, is it possible that it might, just be 15th time lucky? Once Ronnie woke up on Sunday and heard Selby had lost he decided he might as well come back and beat Maguire after all. Despite the early scare and misfiring rocket headlines on hold he came through in the end in an assured way and a way, I’d argue, that he hasn’t the last two years, looking focused and happy. He sat with the press for ages afterwards extolling the virtues of celery, plugging his book and claiming he will live until he’s 200. For his part, Ali showed all his famous battling qualities to come back from a 3-6 deficit to Dotty and overturned that particular Crucible hoodoo, so at least he can draw on the fact that he reversed historical form here in the last round. But to see anything other than an O’Sullivan win here would I think be me speaking as a mate of Ali’s rather than a blogger, I have to side with Ronnie to do for the sixteenth time, something he has done fifteen times before. Best of luck Cap.

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 13-8

RECOMMENDED SECOND ROUND ACCA: Pays 13/2 at Marathonbet: Perry, Wilson, Higgins, Williams and O’Sullivan all to win.

RECOMMENDED HANDICAP ACCA: Perry (+2.5), Wilson (-1.5), Higgins (-2.5), O’Sullivan (-4.5) pays over 9/2 at Bet 365. 

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April 19, 2018

World Championship 2018 Preview – Williams Can Turn Back The Clock

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:25 pm

*Goosebumps*

Some people call Christmas the most wonderful time of the year, someone even wrote a song to that effect. But loyal readers, let us all join hands, zip up our anoraks and get the soup in that thermos flask, for we all know better than that don’t we? Oh yes. The most wonderful time of the year is now, as we embark on the 17 day marathon to find our new world champion. What on this planet could be better than that?

Case Closed Santa. We’ve got Snooker Loopy.

The added spice this year comes from all angles. The reigning champion and winner for the past two years Mark Selby aims to become the first man this millenium to win 3 on the spin. Only Hendry and Davis have ever done it in the modern era and Selby is in with a real shout of adding his name to this elite list of great champions.

His relatively poor season was forgotten and banished to the snooker scrapheap two weeks ago in Beijing as he retained his China Open title. He’s aiming, as he did last year, to win back to back rankers and make us all wonder what all the fuss was about. Can he be stopped over this tailor made longer format?

Despite being defending champion and winning the last big title, he’s not the favourite this year with the bookies, which may surprise a few people, but only those with quite short memories.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has been in magical form for the majority of the season, winning title after title, goading numpties and showing us all why he is still the main man to put bums on seats. His stamina over the 17 days is the main question mark for some doubters, but he’s won it 5 times before despite having a few dodgy years since the last time. For me he comes into this as sharp as he has ever been, if he can last the distance, he is surely the man they all have to beat, including long match specialist Selby.

But it’s not just about these two. Two more of the old guard Mark Williams and John Higgins have again been lifting silverware this season, Williams’ form in particular has stood out recently and he has to have a big chance of a long overdue third title. Higgins ran out of whack last year in the final so that has to place a question mark over him, but how many times has he proved us wrong in the past?

Ding Junhui again aims to be the first champion from China and shrug that particular monkey off his back and he is showing glimpses of a return to form, as is Aussie Neil Robertson who hopes to become snooker’s next multiple champion along with Stuart Bingham, who since his return to the game has been looking pretty good to me.

Shaun Murphy, another looking to add to his single world crown, has been plagued by back and neck problems recently after a great spell of form at the beginning of the year. He was hammered in China the last time we saw him by Chris Wakelin, but he’s had time to rest and if he’s back to his best he is another big contender. Masters Champion Mark Allen who may face Selby in the second round has also been showing some of his best form this season, he is definitely a player overdue a big run here.

Judd Trump will be looking to avenge his shock first round defeat last year and comes into this a bit under the radar, which may suit him. Kyren Wilson has got as close to Selby as anyone over the longer distance recently and is an outside fancy of many shrewdies. Back to form Barry Hawkins looks to shrug off the modern day Crucible Curse of a number six seed never winning the World Championship. Yes, all in all, there are many potential players that could upset the big two.

What about the qualifiers? Can one of them achieve the impossible, or rather improbable dream after a gruelling week at the EIS? It’s yet to be done under the current qualifying structure but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. There are ranking event winners and a World Champion in amongst that lot too. The likes of Maguire, Day and Dott are the draws that most wanted to avoid, but there are many other dangerous names taking on the top sixteeners, some are saying it’s the strongest set of qualifiers ever this year, I wonder how many will make it through Round 1?

So that’s the annual preamble, let’s now take a look in depth at the first round quarters. If you click on the match you will be magically transported to the Cue Tracker website where you can lose yourself in stats, including the head to head record between the two players in question, a true haven for snooker anoraks.

Before I begin, anyone who likes to play snooker or is thinking of taking it up might also be interested in the links to John Parrott Cuesports in between quarters below, they are offering discounts on some of their hand picked products exclusively for all readers during the World Championship. As well as the Taom chalk exclusive promotion here.

Now then, what have we here…..           

QUARTER 1 (TABLE ONE)

Mark Selby (1) v Joe Perry (Saturday 10am and 7pm)

The defending champion has drawn one of the toughest qualifiers in former semi-finalist Perry. After qualifying Joe seemed very balanced about the task ahead and claimed he didn’t care who he drew as his days of being a rabbit in the headlights at this place are long gone. So without a doubt this is an early test of the champion’s mettle and we’ll be able to gauge quite quickly here what shape his game and his mental state are in following China and going into yet another marathon. They have never met here but as recently as 2005 they actually met in the qualifiers, which Selby won 10-2, but since then if you exclude the minor contests their record has been remarkably even. I can see this being a late one on Saturday evening, with Selby just edging it in his customary granite style and giving himself most of the week off before coming back to grapple. His recent record in two session matches is really quite something, he hasn’t lost a two session match since September 2016 and has won all 13 he has played in since then.   

PREDICTION: Selby to win 10-8.

Mark Allen (16) v Liam Highfield (Sunday 10am and Monday 10am)

One of the most improved players of the season in the lower ranks, Liam Highfield comes here for the first time in his career in very good form. It’s taken 8 years since the first meeting between this pair for them to come together again and it’s fair to say that this is mainly because they have been hanging around in different company rankingswise since. Masters Champion Allen scraped in to the 16th spot by the skin of his teeth and had to wait until late on in Beijing to find out if he’d have to go to the qualifiers having looked certain to do it without the agonising wait at one point against Williams over there. My guess is that he will be happy to have drawn a debutant, it should be an attacking affair this but in terms of scoring firepower I think there is a pretty big gap between them. 

PREDICTION: Allen to win 10-4.

Kyren Wilson (9) v Matthew Stevens (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 7pm)

Like Selby and Perry, these two have met once before in the World Championship but again it wasn’t here, it was a qualifier which Kyren won back in 2016 to qualify for The Crucible. It sounds a bit weird this but I don’t think either of these two will mind this draw, I think they’ll both think they can beat each other so I reckon we’ll see them both bring something very close to their A game. Matthew of course is a Crucible veteran having been runner-up twice, he qualified with relative ease against Ken Doherty after having a deciding frame tussle in the previous round, but claimed after beating Ken that he was confident of winning as he’s playing too well at the moment and crucially for him, putting in the hours. Kyren is someone that I think has future champion written all over him and for me he’s the man, if anyone can, that could possibly stop Selby in this quarter, he’s got closer to him than anyone has recently over the longer distance and I think this tournament really suits his style of play and temperament, he’s in my outright book.   

PREDICTION: Wilson to win 10-6.

Shaun Murphy (8) v Jamie Jones (Sunday 2.30pm and Monday 2.30pm)

One of a couple of question marks hanging over this match in terms of the player’s general health. Murphy had a great run earlier in the season but all of a sudden his back and neck started playing up and it’s clear that the recent trip to China was probably a bad idea. We’ve not heard anything since so we can possibly assume he’s back to fitness but on the other hand his silence may simply be because nothing has changed. It was six years ago now that Jamie came here, beat Shaun in the opening round and went on a run to the Quarter Finals. Lots of people expected him to kick on from that but he never really has. He made headlines by whitewashing Liang Wenbo in the qualifiers, as odd a result as this was he still played very well. I’m not confident in any prediction for this match but I think if a big seed is to topple in round one, it could be Murphy.   

PREDICTION: Jones to win 10-8.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Mark Selby

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QUARTER 2 (TABLE ONE)

John Higgins (5) v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Wednesday 10am and 7pm)

Another Crucible debutant in the form of the explosive Thepchaiya Un-Nooh takes on one of snooker’s best ever matchplayers on his first appearance here, so no big ask there then. The age old tale is that seeds are always happier playing someone who hasn’t played here before, but with Un-Nooh, I’m sure Higgins would rather have had someone he could boss from the off. The Thai player can reel off frames at a rate of knots and if, but it is a big if, if he takes to this place quickly he could be a real handful for John. Usually however when faced with a challenge Higgins rises to it and I’m sure he’ll take this in his stride even if he finds himself behind early on, slow and steady should win the race here I reckon.     

PREDICTION: Higgins to win 10-7.

Stuart Bingham (12) v Jack Lisowski (Tuesday 10am and 7pm)

Can you imagine if Un-Nooh did win and Lisowski did too? Surely the quickest ever best of 25 frame match would follow in round two. Anyway, this is a funny one, as before the draw was made I was going to flag up Stuart as a lively outside bet but now he’s got Jack I’m not going to. The reason being that I sense Jack is at last beginning to become the player he has always promised to be and I genuinely think he has a chance of at least winning this quarter if he keeps his composure this year. It’s 3-1 to Bingham in terms of the head to heads but I’d argue that since they last met Jack has improved quite a bit. He’s been here before, he gave a list of players he wanted to avoid after he qualified and Stuart wasn’t on it. If Bingham wins I’ll probably back him each way, but I’m going to take a punt on the lightning fast Lisowski turning up here and doing a job. 

PREDICTION: Lisowski to win 10-7.

Luca Brecel (13) v Ricky Walden (Monday 7pm and Tuesday 2.30pm)

I’d argue that this is the draw that all the qualifiers wanted. Luca’s recent form has been woeful and this is a chance for Ricky to kick start his season right at the end. Ricky’s back problems have been well documented down the years and this season they have really affected his performances and results. As if that wasn’t bad enough he sounded pretty dreadful after qualifying and looked like he needed the weekend in bed, which he can now have. Quite what has happened to Luca is anyone’s guess, he’s been chopping and changing his cue, even turning up at The Masters with two, but I sense it’s more than that. Their three meaningful matches have all been won by Luca, but unless he has sorted out whatever has been bothering him recently, this is a different player to the one Ricky’s faced in the past and he is there for the taking. Ricky is a big price to win this quarter for any value seekers, he’s made the semi finals before.  

PREDICTION: Walden to win 10-5.

Judd Trump (4) v Chris Wakelin (Wednesday 2.30pm and Thursday 7pm)

An extremely impressive qualifier, Chris Wakelin is also stepping into the arena for the first time this year. Regular readers here will know that I really rate Chris and have done now for some time, he seems to have the right attitude to really progress at this game. However, just look at that head to head, this kind of thing can enter your head when you have failed so many times to beat the guy sat next to you. Especially when that guy is probably still fuming about losing here at this stage the previous year. As I said in the preamble, Judd may quite like not being talked about too widely as a possible winner and this may take the pressure off him in the short term, he’s got quite a decent draw and has a good chance of making the one table set up again. But for me he just still throws in the odd wobbly session and if you do that, this place tends to find you out. But I fancy him to win quite comfortably here.   

PREDICTION: Trump to win 10-4.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Judd Trump.

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QUARTER 3 (TABLE TWO)

Ding Junhui (3) v Xiao Guodong (Monday 2.30pm and Tuesday 10am)

In a quirky twist of fate this section sees all four Chinese/Hong Kong players facing each other, giving the East a fighting chance of having a player in the business end of the tournament for the millions of viewers over there to watch. The Snooker Gods now appear to have viewing figures as part of their remit. Anyway, another Crucible journey begins for Ding, he must be sick to death of being reminded that he hasn’t won it but his performances here have improved these last two years, possibly because there are a few more Chinese players now sharing the publicity. But it’s still quite a low head count for China at The Crucible this year and the expectation fairly and squarely rests with him again. Xiao hasn’t really got anywhere near Ding in their last few meetings and nothing I saw in qualifying suggests that will change here. I think we’ll see a strong opening session from Ding and then a mini-comeback from Xiao before Ding finishes him off.  

PREDICTION: Ding to win 10-6

Anthony McGill (14) v Ryan Day (Wednesday 7pm and Thursday 1pm)

Another qualifier that they all wanted to avoid here is Ryan Day, the man who narrowly missed out on an automatic spot lines up against McGill, who always seems to enjoy it here. This could easily be the other way around in terms of who is seed and who is qualifier and I think these two are pretty evenly matched these days. Both players that play something like their best at The Crucible, Day comes into this for the first time as a ranking event champion and seems to be oozing confidence. McGill hasn’t had a spectacular season but in amongst it there are whitewashes of Day and of John Higgins so he’s clearly not a player that can be taken lightly. I think a lot of people will go for Day in this and that will suit McGill down to the ground, I’m siding with the Scot to just nick it.    

PREDICTION: McGill to win 10-9

Marco Fu (11) v Lyu Haotian (Saturday 10am and Sunday 7pm)

The other big question mark of this year’s championship is how much has Marco Fu recovered from his recent eye problem. He’s not been seen on tour for a few months but has decided to play in this claiming that it is no worse but no better, which hardly instills confidence for his fans. The good news is he’s drawn a debutant but the bad news is Lyu is one of the most improved players on tour and will definitely prove a handful if Marco isn’t in good nick. It seems silly making a prediction on this so I am not even going to, if Marco’s eye is OK he’ll win, if it isn’t he’ll lose. I don’t have enough information to know which is the case so in an eight year World Championship First Round preview first……  

PREDICTION: See above.

Barry Hawkins (6) v Stuart Carrington (Monday 10am and 7pm)

The man outside of Selby with the most consistent recent Crucible record Barry Hawkins takes on Stuart Carrington who comes here for the third time trying to win his first match. Hawkins is fast adopting the label as a Crucible specialist and he showed some signs in China that once again this time of year is when he peaks. He’s had a bad season, but he’s had problems off the table which explain that. Now he seems back to his old self and perhaps the time he’s had away from the tour through lack of wins will mean he has more in the locker than last year when he disapppointed in his semi-final against Higgins. In this quarter I think you have to add Hawkins to your outright selection book, while Stuart has played very well to get here again, I just think in terms of a first round hoodoo, he’s not going to shake it off against a Crucible specialist like Barry.  

PREDICTION: Hawkins to win 10-6

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Barry Hawkins

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QUARTER 4 (TABLE TWO)

Mark Williams (7) v Jimmy Robertson (Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am)

It’s another one of those head to head stats that you have to take into account when looking at this match up. Of the 5 times these two have met, MJW leads 5-0 and in terms of frames he holds a 25 frame advantage. Add to this that the Welshman comes into this third on the one year money list behind Ronnie and Selby and you have yourself what should be a first round banker (just like Judd last year, that went well). Jimmy again has been here before and is yet to win a match in three attempts, though he did give Mark Allen a good match here last year. Williams has rediscovered that taste for winning and despite his laid back public presence has been preparing hard for this, he knows that the years are running out but he’ll also know that this year represents his best chance to add that third title, his opening match shouldn’t really tax him too much. I fancy him to make a real push for a third title.    

PREDICTION: Williams to win 10-4.

Neil Robertson (10) v Robert Milkins (Tuesday 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm)

It’s five years since Rob Milkins came here at this stage and knocked out a heavily fancied Robertson 10-8 and now they are back to do it all over again. Since then Robbo has won the following four ties before The Milkman won their last one in 2017 in Northern Ireland. Rob was typically understated on qualification and basically said he only got through because his final opponent, Michael Holt, didn’t play very well. Like Lisowski, he has also drawn a player that wasn’t on his stated list of ones to avoid and I think he’ll be fairly happy with this seeing as he’s done it successfully before. Robbo eventually got back to trophy winning ways just before Christmas in Scotland and plenty thought that was a sign that he was back, but he’s remained trophyless since but climbed up the rankings and he has been looking sharper overall. I think contrary to their playing styles this one might be a bit of slog out, I think Robbo will want to keep it tight and if he does I think he’ll turn the scoreline from 5 years back on its head. 

PREDICTION: Robertson to win 10-8.

Ali Carter (15) v Graeme Dott (Saturday 7pm and Sunday 2.30pm)

It’s another Crucible rerun here on the same table that they played on at this very stage last season. I was sat in the press seats for the whole of that match and witnessed at first hand just how good Dott still is. He kept Ali at arms length following a 4-0 opening session and played some superb snooker. A few years earlier they also had an epic battle here which Graeme also won so will it be third time lucky for The Captain or business as usual for Dotty? In terms of their seasons Dott has had much the better one, he stands at 15th in the one year list with Ali down at 30. Recent form also suggests that Dott has the edge and there is a definite feel that this might be a repeat of what has gone before. But something is telling me that this time Carter will be ready for a battle, which perhaps last year took him a bit by surprise when he was playing catch up from the start. As ever with Ali though, if he wins, he probably won’t do it easily.     

PREDICTION: Carter to win 10-9.

Ronnie O’Sullivan (2) v Stephen Maguire (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 10am)

The scheduling of this match has thrown me a bit. The slots allocated are usually the domain of the 14th seed, but this time it’s Ronnie that competes with London Marathon coverage on Sunday morning on the BBC, perhaps in an attempt to get Eurosport figures up by Mr Hearn. Who can forget Ronnie lauding Mags up all those years ago as the next big thing, almost as an attempt perhaps to get some kind of psychological advantage over him. Well if it was that it’s worked, only once in the last decade has Maguire beaten Ronnie and even by Ronnie’s standards, his head to head dominance over the Scot is pretty conclusive. They have met at this stage twice before, though the last time was 13 years ago, Ronnie won both times. No reason to suspect he won’t do so again.       

PREDICTION: O’Sullivan to win 10-6.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Mark Williams.

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PREVIOUSLY RECOMMENDED AND PLACED BETS: Each Way on Mark Williams @ 40/1 (January), Win on Mark Selby @ 11/2 (March), Each Way on Kyren Wilson @ 40/1 (March), Each Way on Jack Lisowski @ 175/1 (Wednesday, pre-draw).

RECOMMENDED BET: Each Way on Barry Hawkins @ 28/1.

RECOMMENDED FIRST ROUND ACCA: Pays over 5/2 at Marathon Bet – Mark Allen, John Higgins, Judd Trump, Barry Hawkins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

DOUBLES AND A TREBLE: Treble pays over 19/1 at Betfair on Jamie Jones, Jack Lisowski and Anthony McGill.

RECOMMENDED FIRST ROUND HANDICAP ACCA: Pays over 8/1 at Bet 365 – Perry (+4.5), O’Sullivan (-2.5), Dott (+2.5), Allen (-1.5), Williams (-2.5), Trump (-2.5).

QUARTER BETTING: Ricky Walden to win Quarter 2 at 25/1.

PUNTERS BREAKS BET: Pays 44/1 on the centuries market at Bet 365

 

FURTHER BETS WILL BE ADDED IN THE RUN UP TO SATURDAY. YOU CAN ALSO FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER HERE.     

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World Championship: The Fate of the Favourites – A Potted History (NEWLY EDITED)

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 12:00 pm

A clear and undeniable favourite again this year.

With the World Championship just around the corner, it’s once again time to revamp, rather than the usual recycle, an old archive post and take a look at how well the favourites at the bookies at the big event have fared down the years. This time around we find a likely favourite with an unlikely history at the head of every market.

Clue: his nickname is a type of salad leaf.

Below you’ll find a harsh bookmaker salad, drizzled in historical evidence with a nostalgia sauce.

Enjoy.

Ronnie O’Sullivan hasn’t justified his favourites price in any of his past three starts but the bookies have gone in there again and made him as short a price favourite as he’s been in years again this time. But who can blame them?

He’s been playing mercurial stuff all season on the table. Off it, he’s as fit as a flea. Run-wise, hills ain’t the en-em-mee. He’s got a book coming out about diet with someone who might get a few more male followers on Twitter and he seems well, just well. 

OK. We all worry about him a bit now and again but the Chimp this season has very much been padlocked in the box and the Champ let out. In short or long, he looks every inch, if not foot, the machine that won this five years ago. God this blog ages you I swear….. 

A word of warning however. Ronnie’s previous two consecutive world titles came when he wasn’t favourite with the bookies and history tells us that he doesn’t have a great record when going in as the main fancy. So for his fans, it might be a little concerning that this year he is the hunted, rather than the hunter. 

When you look back at the history books you find that the bookies have given remarkably few players the accolade of World Championship favourite as the years have passed, Ronnie has now held that accolade 12 times in his career, so this year is either lucky or unlucky 13 for him. He also follows the current champion Mark Selby, who started favourite last season and duly obliged.

Anyway, to the history and nostalgia bit.

The 80’s were predictably dominated by Steve Davis, who started favourite for this and every other championship every year from 1981 to 1989. That honour/pressure then reverted to Stephen Hendry, whose 90’s titles mostly justified favouritism, though interestingly he did win one when not the strongest fancy in the field, just as Ronnie has done many times since.

It was then the turn of O’Sullivan to assume the mantle of the man the bookies both loved and feared, he started favourite for the title 9 times between the years 2000 and 2009, since when we’ve seen other names start as the bookies one to beat, until four years ago when Ronnie was back at the top of the odds list where he remained until last year, when Selby headed up the market.

So how have they got on? Well, after painstaking research I think I have managed to capture every favourite since 1981, the year a red-hot, red-haired favourite started his 80’s reign of baize dominance.

1981 – Steve Davis (Winner). Despite never having won the World Championship, Davis came into the sport’s main event as a hot favourite. He was to justify the bookies faith in him, beating Doug Mountjoy in the final after seeing off his main challenger that year, reigning champion Cliff Thorburn, in the semi-finals.

1982 – Steve Davis (1st Round Loser). This was the first year that the championship adopted its current format of 32 players in Round 1, it also interestingly started on Friday evening in a bid to boost ratings. This format change resulted in the biggest shock of the decade, Davis, an odds-on favourite and winning machine, suffering the newly found ‘Curse of the Crucible’ and losing the Friday session 8-1 before going out first round 10-1 to Bolton Stud Tony Knowles. Alex Higgins picked up the trophy and his daughter Lauren in one of the sports most memorable championships.

1983 and 1984 – Steve Davis (Winner/Winner). The bookies love affair with Davis continued as he put the Knowles defeat out of his mind to win the championship and almost everything else for the next two years. He had just one close match in ’83 against Dennis Taylor but other than that dominated the tournament, winning the final with a session to spare. 1984 wasn’t such a procession and saw the up and coming Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White nearly carry off a great final comeback, but Davis prevailed 18-16 in the first of Jimmy’s many final defeats.    

1985 and 1986 – Steve Davis (Runner Up/Runner Up). Davis was still starting World Championships as very short priced (in ’85 he was odds-on) favourite but his backers suffered a temporary disruption to normal service in the period that Steve was basically winning almost everything else, re-writing the record books and making stacks for him and his manager Barry Hearn. Defeat on the final black at the hands of Dennis Taylor (who never really mentions it these days) and a year later to rank 150/1 outsider Joe Johnson meant he’d failed twice more to justify the bookies faith in him. But at least his loss to Dennis and his upside down glasses in front of a record sporting viewing TV audience in that famous final did inspire a great verse of Snooker Loopy. Every cloud….

1987, 1988, 1989 – Steve Davis (Winner/Winner/Winner). Despite what went before, the bookies and nearly everyone else on the planet knew we hadn’t seen the end of Davis. He remained short priced favourite and his magnificent treble meant he was the first player of the Crucible era to win three on the spin. Final wins over Johnson who remains the man who has come closest to breaking the first time champion Crucible Curse (2 frames ahead of Ken Doherty), Terry Griffiths and an absolute steamroller job on John Parrott cemented his place as the king of 80’s snooker. But the bookies were sensing this might be his swansong…..

1990 – Stephen Hendry (Winner). Young Scot Hendry started the 1990 Championship as UK and Masters Champion, having beaten Davis over the longer distance in the UK Final. The bookies had once again called it correctly and The Wonderbairn’s first title was secured, the final saw a win over his early 1990’s sparring partner, the luckless Jimmy White.

Hendry was usually pretty reliable, with the odd blip.

Hendry was usually pretty reliable, with the odd blip.

1991 – Stephen Hendry (Quarter-Finalist). The Curse of the Crucible? Not on your nelly, the bookies laughed off this idea by making winning-machine Hendry a firm favourite to retain his title. But dark forces were at work as Brummie Biker Steve James unexpectedly ran over Hendry in the Quarter Finals. Scouser John Parrott was to take his one and only title defeating that man Jimmy White in the final.

1992-1996 – Stephen Hendry (Winner, Winner, Winner, Winner, Winner). There’s not really much more to add to that is there? Starts hot favourite every year and wins five on the bounce, beating Jimmy a further 3 times (don’t mention 1994) as well as Nigel Bond and Peter Ebdon. This was truly a period of pure dominance, the like of which we will probably never see again.

1997 – Stephen Hendry (Runner-Up). Hendry’s quest for a six-timer may have been what the bookies thought would happen, but the ever-popular and jovial Ken Doherty had other ideas and defied the odds to prevail 18-12 to let Stephen know for the first time what it felt like to be the runner-up.

1998 – Stephen Hendry (1st Round Loser). Hendry became only the second bookies favourite ever to lose in Round 1. His match up against Jimmy White giving Jimmy the chance to shine one last time against his old foe, unfortunately for him in the first, not the last round. Sadly for his millions of fans he couldn’t sustain the form and it was John Higgins who won his first world title and became instantly many people’s idea of the next man in line to dominate snooker, beating the valiant reigning champion Doherty in the final.

1999 – John Higgins (Losing Semi-Finalist). Holder of the UK Championship and the Masters as well as defending champion, Higgins was surely the one to break the Crucible Curse? But it wasn’t to be as Hendry returned to reclaim the rights to the decade that belonged to him, for once not as the bookies main man, he defeated Mark Williams to claim his record-breaking seventh title. What an amazing achievement this truly was from the sport’s greatest ever champion.

2000 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (1st Round Loser). A new name at the top of the bookies list was now materialising. But the explosive talent of Ronnie O’Sullivan, a marginal favourite in an open betting heat which also saw Higgins, Williams and Hendry well backed was beaten first round. Who by you may ask? Snookerbacker Classic Champion 2013, David Gray, that’s who. It was Welshman Mark Williams who was to claim his first World Championship with a win over fellow Taffy Matthew Stevens.

2001 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (Winner) / John Higgins (Runner-Up) – Joint Favourites. The bookies couldn’t split them and in the end only four frames could in a year that went true to form. O’Sullivan taking his first World Championship after his two closest contemporaries Higgins and Williams. Williams himself falling foul of the old Crucible Curse, losing in the second round to Joe Swail.

2002 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (Losing Semi-Finalist). Those bookies never learn do they? The Crucible Curse is real and Ronnie proved that again in 2002. He lost in the semi-finals to Hendry, who reached an incredible ninth world final. He couldn’t make it a historic Hendry the Eighth though and lost to Peter Ebdon in a dramatic decider to avenge his final defeat of 1996. This was to be Stephen’s last final, even he couldn’t maintain this level consistently anymore.

2003 – 2007 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (1st Round Loser/Winner/Losing Quarter Finalist/ Losing Semi-Finalist/Losing Quarter Finalist). Through the years Ronnie has proved himself the most prolific, least successful favourite in Crucible history. No other player has failed to justify favouritism more times than him. Only once in this five year sequence did he justify the punter’s confidence, making him, at least until recently, someone who was proving very costly to back at The Crucible. Two new champions in this era emerged in the form of Shaun Murphy in 2005 and Graeme Dott in 2006. 

2008 – John Higgins (Round 2 Loser). Higgins failed to justify the renewed faith the bookies put in him in 2008 and instead, Ronnie, now not quite the warm order he had been the previous 8 years was to claim his third crown, defeating Ali Carter in a fairly one-sided final, this continued a fairly bad run for favourites during the Noughties.

2009 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (Round 2 Loser). This was the last year until recently that Ronnie started clear favourite, he lost early on again, this time in an epic match against Mark Allen. This meant that of the nine times Ronnie had started Crucible favourite with the bookies, he had only won the title twice. Perhaps he preferred being the underdog? John Higgins claimed the title a third time to draw level with O’Sullivan in championship wins.

Rocked Higgins in 2010.

Rocked Higgins in 2010.

2010 – John Higgins (Round 2 Loser). This was the year which saw Neil Robertson storm to victory and the pre-tournament favourite and defending champion get himself into something of a pickle with the newspapers. Steve Davis time-travelled in a DeLorean into this year from the 80’s to claim Higgins’ scalp in Round 2, which still remains an amazing Crucible tale. Robertson beat Graeme Dott in a marathon final, played unfortunately under something of a cloud in dark days for the sport. But in brighter news, his 14/1 triumph paid for a large chunk of mine and Mrs SB’s wedding making him a firm favourite of ours, even if he wasn’t with the bookies.

2011 – John Higgins (Winner). It was an altogether different Higgins who entered the arena in 2011, having returned from his ban and after the loss of his father he had looked in superb form with a new found determination and purpose to his game. From the off he looked like justifying the bookie’s faith in him and he duly did in true Higgins style, breaking the pattern of losing favourites along the way and beating a new kid on the block, Judd Trump, in the final. He now led Ronnie 4-3 in title wins in their own personal battle.

2012 – Judd Trump (Round 2 Loser). Judd’s Crucible performance the previous year and the fanfare which surrounded him was enough to convince the bookies that he should start favourite marginally ahead of Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan however proved too good for the field and under the influence of Dr Steve Peters looked a different player to the unreliable and inconsistent one of the previous decade or so. Bear in mind however that he wasn’t favourite to win or widely fancied with many citing his inability to stay focused for the full duration of the tournament. After his triumph, clearly exhausted, he vowed to have a lot of time off, a promise he was to keep. He once again beat Ali Carter in a final which he described afterwards as being the best he had ever played.

2013 – Mark Selby / Neil Robertson / Judd Trump (Round 2 Loser/Round 1 Loser/Losing Semi-Finalist). O’Sullivan’s now legendary return to the baize after a season off saw him take his fifth title largely untroubled and never headed in any match, this also meant he overtook Higgins again in their own game of world championship leapfrog. He was available as long as 9/1 a few weeks before the tournament and many claimed he had ‘no chance’ of simply returning after a year off and winning again. But he did just that, beating Barry Hawkins in the final.

I’ll take care of that for a bit.

2014 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (Runner-up). As Ronnie attempted the treble the bookies by now had wised up to him and made him the shortest priced favourite for many years. He’d been playing more events and going into this in strong form, unlike the previous year when he hadn’t played at all in the run up. But it wasn’t to be and the final against Mark Selby was to prove one step too far for The Rocket as Selby became the first new champion since Robertson. Ronnie yet again was a losing favourite.

2015 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (Losing Quarter Finalist). Again being favourite at the bookies did Ronnie no favours, he was to come unstuck against the eventual champion Stuart Bingham in the Quarter Finals after a mentally fragile first week when most saw the signs that he wasn’t quite up to the job. Losing as the bookies favourite was now becoming a very annoying habit for him and his backers. Selby in the meantime was the latest victim of The Crucible Curse. 

2016 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (Round 2 Loser). The bookies again made Ronnie favourite following a mercurial display in the Welsh Open and rumours of him hitting the practice table hard in the run up. But this time the man who he beat to win dare we think it, his last world title Barry Hawkins, was his conqueror in Round 2. It was the World Number 1 Mark Selby who ended up with the trophy in his hands for the second time, beating first time finalist Ding Junhui 18-14. It was another ‘Curse’ year, Stuart Bingham beaten by Ali Carter on Day 1 this time in a decider.

2017 – Mark Selby (Winner). Selby came here as the standalone favourite on the back of a mediocre season by his own standards but having won the China Open a few weeks earlier. Judd Trump was touching joint favourite with a couple of firms keeping faith or wanting bets just like in 2013. The match of the tournament was Selby’s semi-final win over Ding Junhui, who was beginning to look like it might be his time after a memorable win in the Quarter Final over Ronnie O’Sullivan. But Selby’s granite proved too much for him and in the end also for a tired looking John Higgins who again featured in the final after a few years away from the one table set up. Selby coming back after a first day slump 18-15, landing the 7/2 favourites tag for the first time since his opponent did it in 2011. 

So, the figures as they stand are since 1981:

Winning Favourites (Including Joint Favourites): 15

Losing Favourites (Including Joint Favourites): 23

Most Successful Favourites: Steve Davis (6 wins out of 9 attempts) and Stephen Hendry (6 out of 9). 

Least Successful Favourite: Ronnie O’Sullivan (2 wins out of 12 attempts).

Most Successful Non-Favourite: Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins (both 3 times winner when not favourites)

Clear Favourites who have lost in Round 1: Ronnie O’Sullivan (twice), Stephen Hendry (once), Steve Davis (once).

Co/Joint Favorites who have lost in Round 1: Neil Robertson (once).

Victims of The Crucible Curse: John Spencer (1978), Ray Reardon (1979), Terry Griffiths (1980), Cliff Thorburn (1981), Steve Davis (1982), Alex Higgins (1983), Dennis Taylor (1986), Joe Johnson (1987), Stephen Hendry (1991), John Parrott (1992), Ken Doherty (1998), John Higgins (1999), Mark Williams (2001), Ronnie O’Sullivan (2002), Peter Ebdon (2003), Shaun Murphy (2006), Graeme Dott (2007), Neil Robertson (2011), Mark Selby (2015), Stuart Bingham (2016)…..(no curse this year)

Defeaters of The Crucible Curse: NOBODY. EVER

April 17, 2018

It’s Judgement Time

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:20 am

Just 10 frames away.

After the excitement of the first two rounds it’s now time to sort the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the wannabees from the gonnabies and find out which 16 players will be lining up to face the seeds at The Crucible in the draw at 10am on Thursday.

It’s a cracking couple of days this and will hopefully make up for the terrible live streaming decisions that have been made this week, broadcasting processions on the whole rather than matches.

Tuesday sees all 16 matches play their first nine frames and Wednesday sees all those matches culminating on Judgement Day. The action comes at you like a train and to help guide us through we have Neal Foulds and Rob Walker on hand flicking from table to table following the big stories and interviewing the 16 successful players afterwards.

You would never have thought that two blokes sitting there talking about snooker could be so interesting, addictive and entertaining, but trust me, it is.

You can watch this bit of the coverage live on the World Snooker Facebook page or their You Tube page.

So without further ado, let’s have a look at the line up  and if you click on the match it will take you to the existing head to head record between the two protagonists.

Let judgement commence.

Ryan Day v Peter Ebdon

The key to this match will be the opening few frames. Day needs to put early daylight between himself and Ebbo and not allow the vegan power to surface, if he fails, we may need a lorryload of organic carrots delivering to a Crucible dressing room pronto.

JUDGEMENT: Day 10-6

Daniel Wells v Liam Highfield

Who will be the Crucible debutant? They’ve played three times and Liam has won them all, he looked good against Tom Ford who afterwards told me he didn’t want to bump into me, the feeling is mutual. Dan’s improved all season, they both have, could get twitchy this one I reckon.

JUDGEMENT: Highfield 10-9

Adam Duffy v Xiao Guodong

Adam Duffy? What’s he still doing here? Sheffield’s finest offering since Jarvis Cocker has a point to prove against those Chinese players who keep coming over here, stealing out Star Tables in Vic’s Academy, Adam’s here for the Common People.

JUDGEMENT: Xiao 10-7

Zhang Anda v Stuart Carrington

Two with a Crucible past. Mighty Mouse Anda was there donkeys years ago against Hendry in one of the weirdest matches I have seen at the great place and he’s been back twice since, Carra has qualified twice in the last three years, Anda is scoring heavier and has had the easier path so for me it’s Return of the Mouse.

JUDGEMENT: Zhang 10-6 

Graeme Dott v Mike Dunn

Paramedics are on call at The Crucible if Sicknote Mikey can prevail. Dotty the terrier will be hoping to bite Dunny where it hurts and stop that possible dream match up with MJW in Round 1 happening, the big party pooper.

JUDGEMENT: Dott 10-7

Michael Holt v Robert Milkins

The Hitman and The Milkman are teammates in Team Baize Boys in our big prediction contest but my prediction here is plenty of emotion and no love lost on the table. These two wear their hearts on their sleeves, it’s been totes emosh and they haven’t even started yet.

JUDGEMENT: Holt 10-7

Rory McLeod v Lyu Haotian

These two have never played each other before, so it’s young Lyu’s first trip to the dentist. Rory crawling through at his usual casual pace and Lyu doing a Lazarus on MO’D in the last round. Could be a slow one this and when it’s slow, Rory usually wins. Dr McLeod will see you now….

JUDGEMENT: Rory 10-8  

Matthew Stevens v Ken Doherty

First met 22 years ago and head to heads are 9-9 with just one frame between them, how is that for evenly matched? We all want them both there but only one can do it……will it be waistcoat or regulation BBC V-Neck for The Darling of Dublin?

JUDGEMENT: Stevens 10-8 

Liang Wenbo v Jamie Jones

Liang doesn’t belong here, he has the look of a lost puppy, abandoned by the litter and wondering how he’s landed in the rescue centre, he’s hitting maximums for fun and even missing the last black, because he can. JJ has Crucible previous but can he stop the speedy break building firecracker from catapulting himself to the Last 32? Nah.

JUDGEMENT: Liang 10-5

Angles and Jack go head to head.

Jack Lisowski v Alan McManus

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s Super Jack. A real tortoise and the hare job this one and we all know who won there, but Jacko looks to have Crucible tattooed on his forehead this week, but it’s probably spelt Crbl because this boy doesn’t sit still for long. Angles has his work cut out here, the wily old weasal will need all his angular dexterity to come through this one.

JUDGEMENT: Lisowski 10-6  

Andrew Higginson v Ricky Walden

Good mates but that counts for nothing. Ricky’s bad back is holding up and he’s wanting to make up for a bad season. Can the man without a satisfactory nickname do it? Still reckon he should go with ‘The Cat’, I ain’t seen no man prowl around the table like our Rickster.

JUDGEMENT: Walden 10-8

Dark Mavis v Joe Perry

Another old pals act here. Mavis has become allergic to losing frames, Joe broke the hearts of Jimmy fans by sending The Wind packing. Can The Gentleman be the man to give Mave a taste of his own medicine? If Mave wins and loses 5 frames or less the anoraks will have the record books out and be taking the Mavis Express to The Crucible.

JUDGEMENT: Perry 10-9  

Tian Pengfei v Chris Wakelin

No Crucible debutant this year you say? Not on your nellie – two at least. These two boys are looking to tread the hallowed turf for the very first time. Can my lucky charm Wakey show Pengy the Exit Door? I really wanna say yes Chris, but…..

JUDGEMENT: Pengfei 10-8  

Alfie Burden v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

Roll out the barrel, jelly up the eels, put on yer hobnail boots and let’s all get raand the ole joanna for a knees up. The AB of London Town is staying on tour and what a way to finish his season in style a Crucible Fairytale would be. But Theppy is finding his potting boots, it’s a real shootout this one, leave it before someone gets hurt.

JUDGEMENT: Un-Nooh 10-6

Jimmy Robertson v Michael White

Mikey has lost 17 frames this week and his highest break is 77 but somehow he’s still here, Robs is scoring for fun. On the showing this week so far there’s only one way this is going. At least there might be one Jimmy at The Crucible.

JUDGEMENT: Robertson 10-4 

Hossein Vafaei v Stephen Maguire  

Choose Snooker. Choose a live streamed match. Choose Cuebangs. Choose Pulling a Stroke. Choose Mags. Choose Hoss. Choose Handbags at Dawn. Choose Life.

JUDGEMENT: Choose Maguire 10-6

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April 9, 2018

World Championship Qualifiers Draw and Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:17 pm

The Dream of the 128

So it is upon us. While Joe Public at large might think the World Snooker Championship doesn’t start for a couple of weeks, we know better. The World Championship Qualifiers get under way on Wednesday and I can’t bloody well wait.

The qualifiers have a new home this year as snooker returns to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. It’s proved a popular move with the players and seems generally more adaptable to such a prestigious event than the more central Ponds Forge. Fans have mixed feelings but at the end of the day the players should be playing in the best possible surroundings given what’s at stake here.

As ever, fates will be decided over the coming week, not only of the 16 players destined for the hallowed turf of The Crucible but also in terms of tour survival and relegation, so this truly is a test of everyone’s mettle as absolutely every player there has something to play for.

You should think of these as 16 mini-tournaments within one big one, each consisting of eight players, with four quarter finals, two semi finals and a final in each section, whittling down the 128 players, including 15 invited amateurs to the 16 that will walk out at The Crucible in a couple of weeks time to face one of the seeded players.

I’m not going over the top when I say that I think this event as a stand alone is as exciting and addictive as any of the majors. OK, the biggest names in the sport aren’t there, but everyone else is and every year without fail a big story emerges from these qualifiers. If you have never thought about getting involved with them before, I strongly advise that you give it a go, whether just watching the stream, joining in the fun on social media, or even going along there yourself, you won’t regret it.

The coverage on Eurosport Player culminates with Judgement Day next Wednesday, when all the final sessions of the last 16 matches are played. Think ‘Soccer Saturday’ with more balls. You’ll never look at snooker the same again after watching it, trust me. You can watch this bit of the coverage live on the World Snooker Facebook page.

Can you tell I’m getting a bit too excited?

The sections are detailed below, along with some thoughts on who I think stands the best chance of making it through. I’ll post match bets throughout the event on Twitter

Let the drama begin.

Section 1

Ryan Day vs. Igor Figueiredo

Mitchell Mann vs. Peter Lines

Robbie Williams vs. Jak Jones

Peter Ebdon vs. James Wattana

One of the top players of the back end of this season Ryan Day finds himself in the qualifiers following his careless early exit in the China Open qualifiers which had they been played a bit later he’d probably have coasted through. He faces Brazil’s Igor Figueiredo in his opener and I don’t think he’ll be overly concerned there. He does face a difficult match next up against either Mitchell Mann or Peter Lines, Mitchell desperately needs a run in this to keep his tour card and he did make the main venue two seasons ago so knows how it’s done. Robbie Williams will be gutted that this isn’t at Ponds Forge as he was near on unbeatable there and he faces the improving Jak Jones whose one year ranking looks like being enough for him to remain on tour. Lurking at the bottom is former World Champion and current carrot cruncher Peter Ebdon who tends to turn up for this, I fancy him to beat Wattana. Overall though you have to fancy Day to qualify with his recent form but if he has to get over Ebdon to do so all it will take is Peter to get under his skin a bit for the doubts to creep in, I think Day will need to put distance between them early on in the match if it happens.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Day to beat Ebdon on Judgement Day. 

Section 2

Zhou Yuelong vs. Ian Preece

Daniel Wells vs. Kurt Dunham

Tom Ford vs. Leo Fernandez

Liam Highfield vs. Chen Zhe

Dennis likes to call him Ghou Yolonge but everyone else calls him by his name, Zhou Yuelong. He qualified for The Crucible last year and gave a good account of himself then against national hero Ding. He’ll fancy his chances of making it to Judgement Day though Welshman Daniel Wells might have something to say about that, Dan has played solidly all season and will be remaining on the tour as things stand as a result of his higher ranking. Despite having his appendix out just before the event Tom Ford was in great form in Beijing and looks to be peaking at the right time, unlike his appendix, he’ll fancy his chances here too. One player I think is quietly improving is Liam Highfield and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him have a say in this section, he has beaten his opponent here Chen Zhe on their only meeting to date and holds the same record against Ford. But on balance I am going to stick with the promising Chinese player here.  

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Zhou to beat Highfield on Judgement Day. 

Section 3

Matt Selt vs. Ng On-Yee

Mark Joyce vs. Adam Duffy

Mei Xiwen vs. Basem Eltahhan

Xiao Guodong vs. Chris Totten

Marmite Matt Selt takes on Ladies World Champion Ng On-Yee in the opener and should progress to a tie with Mark Joyce to decide the top half of this section, Joyce and Selt are pretty evenly matched and despite the presence of Xiao Guodong in the bottom half, who you’d have to say looks a shoo-in for Judgement Day, I’d say that the winner of that one would be my favourite to qualify from this section. Trouble is that I find the Selt/Joyce match up should it happen impossible to predict. I’ll take a punt on Marmite and then take him to finish the job to the delight of his adoring fan.  

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Selt to beat Xiao on Judgement Day. 

Section 4

Stuart Carrington vs. Nigel Bond

Ben Woollaston vs. Kacper Filipiak

Zhang Anda vs. Zhang Yong

Martin Gould vs. Paul Davison

An interesting section here with three players in Gould, Woollaston and to a lesser extent Carrington who we’ve come to expect at the big events, so at least two of them won’t be there this time. Nigel Bond is always a tricky player to evaluate but even if he manages to beat Carrington first up I’d be surprised if he went much further as he struggles to follow a good result with another one these days. The presence of the two Zhang’s doesn’t really enter the equation for me with neither of them members of the stronger Chinese contingent so it’s just a case of Gould against either Carrington or Woollaston for a Crucible spot. Whoever he plays, I think I’d side with Gould.  

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Gould to beat Woollaston on Judgement Day.

Section 5

Graeme Dott vs. Adrian Ridley

Sonny Akani vs. Lukas Kleckers

Dominic Dale vs. Reanne Evans

Mike Dunn vs. Duane Jones

Former Champion and twice Runner-Up of this great championship Graeme Dott has found some form lately and is always a danger to any seeded player at The Crucible as he proved against Ali Carter last year. He should win his opener in a canter and may then face the unique Sonny Akani who has a legion of fans on social media cheering him on and should take care of Lukas Kleckers to set up a tie with Dott. In the bottom half Dominic Dale faces 11 times World Ladies Champion Reanne Evans and Mike Dunn faces a potentially tricky tie with the improving Duane Jones. The listing screams Dott v Dale as the final but I’d not be surprised to see this section throw up a surprise in Akani or perhaps even Jones. Now watch Dale qualify with ease…  

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Dott to beat Jones on Judgement Day.

Section 6

Michael Holt vs. Thor Chuan Leong

Elliot Slessor vs. Eden Sharav

Robert Milkins vs. Aaron Canavan

Scott Donaldson vs. Tyler Rees

I think you have to fancy the higher seeded player (the one on the left) in all these ties which include the newly crowned World Seniors Champion Aaron Canavan who will be playing his first ever match in a professional tournament. Milkins beat Donaldson at the last 80 stage a couple of years ago so will fancy his chances of making Judgement Day to face Holt or Slessor, a match which could go very close. Holt holds the head to head advantage over Elliot but the Geordie lad is flying high at the moment following a strong performance beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in Beijing. I’m going to take a punt that this section can throw up a shock and produce a Crucible new boy.     

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Slessor to beat Milkins on Judgement Day.

Section 7

Rory McLeod vs. Ian Burns

Li Hang vs. Ashley Hugill

Lyu Haotian vs. Fang Xiongman

Anthony Hamilton vs. Martin O’Donnell

A fiercely competitive section this and you could realistically make a case for all of them. Judd’s conqueror last year Rory has a tough opener against Ian Burns and the match below is no easier to predict with the improving Ashley Hugill up against Li Hang. Anthony Hamilton hasn’t been doing much lately which may or may not mean his back is playing up again, either way he’s got a toughie first up against my pal Martin O’Donnell. But my fancy in this section is Lyu Haotian who has shown great improvement this season and is very nearly into the top 64 just on his one season earnings. For me he is the man to beat here.  

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Lyu to beat Li on Judgement Day.

Section 8

Matthew Stevens vs. Ryan Thomerson

Fergal O’Brien vs. Yuan Sijun

Ken Doherty vs. Josh Boileau

Mark King vs. Gerard Greene

A section filled with familiar faces this one, Matthew, Fergal, Ken and The MK Don aka The KDog aka Kojak all looking to finish their season on a high at The Crucible, in Ken’s case in a waistcoat rather than a BBC regulation V-Neck sweater. You’d fancy them all to make their respective semi-finals against opponents they’ll be expecting to beat and then it’s a real dog eat dog slugout for the place. Out of the four, King has been playing the best stuff all season so I’d expect him to edge out Ken before becoming even more popular in Ireland and beating Fergal too possibly into the wee small hours of Judgement Night. It would be nice to have him back at the main venue.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: King to beat O’Brien on Judgement Night.

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Section 9

Liang Wenbo vs. Rod Lawler

Zhao Xintong vs. Aditya Mehta

Yu Delu vs. Sean O’Sullivan

Jamie Jones vs. Craig Steadman

I can’t see any reason why Liang Wenbo won’t be lining up on Judgement Day to make a push for The Crucible. Rod Lawler looks totally devoid of confidence lately so I expect Liang to coast through there and follow this up with another comfortable win in the next round. In the bottom section you’d be looking towards Jamie Jones to come through but Yu Delu can’t be taken for granted and has quietly climbed the rankings this year, he could be the dark horse here in my book. Delu has also beaten Liang on their previous three meetings so I’m going to take a punt on an upset in this section.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Yu to beat Liang on Judgement Day.

Section 10

Jack Lisowski vs. Christopher Keogan

David Grace vs. Wang Yuchen

Alan McManus vs. Rhys Clark

Oliver Lines vs. Harvey Chandler

Jack Lisowski played really well over in China and you have to say from 4-0 up on Kyren Wilson in the Quarter Finals he should really have tied it up, but as we’ve seen time and again with him he never quite manages to fulfil his undoubted potential when it matters most. Here though for me he’s unstoppable in the top half and will most likely face Alan McManus to qualify. Angles missed out on The Crucible last season following his semi-final heroics the year before and I think he might just fall short again here. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Lisowski was the first name of this particular session going into the Crucible Top Hat.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Lisowski to beat McManus on Judgement Day.

Section 11

Andrew Higginson vs. David John

Cao Yupeng vs. Robin Hull

Lee Walker vs. Kristijan Helgason

Ricky Walden vs. Joe Swail

A few familiar names here with the likes of Walden, Higginson, Hull and Swail all in the mix, but for me here the stand out favourite has to be Cao Yupeng. Cao is almost Selby-esque around the table these days in the way he plays, not quite as good obviously but to me it’s clear he is modelling himself on all things Jester and the results are beginning to come with it. Ricky has struggled all season with injury and although he’s getting a bit of form back he’s not the player he was a couple of seasons ago and three best of nineteens is going to test anyone’s resolve, he may not even make it past Swail if Joe is on song. This section for me has to be all about Yupeng.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Cao to beat Swail on Judgement Day.

Section 12

Michael Georgiou vs. Matthew Bolton

Dark Mavis vs. Sanderson Lam

Sam Craigie vs. Jimmy White

Joe Perry vs. Ross Muir

Jimmy White sets out again on an unlikely journey to The Crucible and faces Snookerbacker Classic Champion Sam Craigie first up, Sam won praise from Neil Robertson last week in China for a brilliant performance and I’d fancy him to send the Whirlwind home there and then line up against Joe Perry. In the top half Dark Mavis will fancy his chances but he’s not really done anything of note this season and it wouldn’t be the greatest of shocks if he didn’t make Judgement Day with Shootout champion Georgiou possibly the most likely to stop him. For me though the key match here to decide the winner will be Craigie against Perry, Sam to me looks like he’s ready to make a really big impact soon and where better to start than here.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Craigie to beat Mavis on Judgement Day.

Section 13

Yan Bingtao vs. Jackson Page

Tian Pengfei vs. Li Yuan

Kurt Maflin vs. Hamza Akbar

Chris Wakelin vs. Xu Si

Yan Bingtao was already being touted as the main danger man for the seeds even before the draw was made but even though he’s making giant strides, it would be a mistake to assume he will coast through this as a result. That said he’s not got a bad draw though Jackson Page is probably not far behind him in the way he’s progressing at such a young age, though he looks about 25. In the bottom section I have to stick with my lucky charm Chris Wakelin, whenever I back him he wins, in that way he’s kind of the opposite of Dominic Dale for me. But I’ll stop short of saying that he can stop Bingtao, this kid is pretty special, look out seeds.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Yan to beat Wakelin on Judgement Day.

Section 14

David Gilbert vs. Billy Joe Castle

Alfie Burden vs. Jamie Curtis-Barrett

Gary Wilson vs. Adam Stefanow

Thepchaiya Un-Nooh vs. Alexander Ursenbacher

Long time professional Alfie Burden faces an uncertain future and needs a couple of wins here to secure his tour card without the need to travel to Q-School, but you’d expect him to chalk up at least one before taking on Castle or Gilbert. I was really impressed with Billy Joe at the start of the season but I’ve not seen much of him since, same with Ursenbacher who looked to have come on in leaps and bounds earlier on and since then has fallen away a bit. Talking of falling away, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh has plummeted down to nearly 60th in the rankings which is quite a shock given how well he has played the last couple of seasons. To me however the winner of this section lies elsewhere in the consistent and solid Gary Wilson who remember last year qualified and gave O’Sullivan a bit of a headache.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Wilson to beat Gilbert on Judgement Day.

Section 15

Sam Baird vs. Soheil Vahedi

Jimmy Robertson vs. Alex Borg

John Astley vs. Marvin Lim

Michael White vs. Niu Zhuang

Michael White could have been handed a tougher section it has to be said and looking at this I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make the final round. In the top half the unpredictable Sam Baird faces a tough opener against Vahedi who has proved himself very capable this season, but I’d not take him to stop Sussex boy Jimmy Robertson from joining the Welshman for a Judgement Day showdown. There is nothing in their head to head so if this match up does happen I can see it being a very tight encounter, perhaps even a Judgement Day decider.    

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Robertson to beat White in a Judgement Day thriller.

Section 16

Noppon Saengkham vs. Chen Zifan

Hossein Vafaei vs. Jamie Cope

Hammad Miah vs. Jordan Brown

Stephen Maguire vs. Allan Taylor

The obvious name that leaps out here is Stephen Maguire, too good to be in the qualifiers but results don’t lie and he’s there to slog it out with all the numpties. It’s a bummer of a draw again for Allan Taylor who always seems to draw a big name early on lately and only a very brave man would back against Maguire careering to Judgement Day in this section. Up at the top Jamie Cope returns as an amateur but faces the dangerous Hossein Vafaei who I’d expect to come through to face Mags at the end. There will be plenty who will fancy an upset there but I’ll keep faith with the Scotsman, if Maguire faces anyone but Vafaei in his last match I think he’s a Crucible certainty but with Vafaei, he’ll still have a bit of work to do.

Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Maguire to beat Vafaei on Judgement Day.

RECOMMENDED BETS ON THE TO QUALIFY MARKETS:

Fourfold on Dott, Lisowski, Gould and Bingtao pays nearly 8/1 with Black Type.

Yankee on Yupeng 7/4, Gary Wilson 7/4, Yuelong 7/4 and Haotian 11/4 with Black Type.

Doubles on Craigie 7/1, Selt 10/3, Slessor 5/1, Delu 4/1 with Black Type.

Single on 5 Chinese Qualifiers at 4/1 with Black Type.

One for the Big Punters – Over 3 Chinese Qualifiers at 4/5 with Black Type.

FIRST ROUND MATCH ACCUMULATOR pays 11/2 with Black Type – Woollaston, Joyce, Carrington, Haotian, Yupeng, Doherty, Burden, Maflin, Robbie Williams, Yuelong and McManus.

FIRST ROUND MINI-SESSION BET all to be leading after 4 frames Dott, Lisowski, Wilson and Stevens pays 9/2, add Milkins pays 11/2 at Bet 365.  

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EVENT INFORMATION

Dates: Wednesday 11 April – Wednesday 18 April

Venue: English Institute of Sport, Sheffield, 200 Coleridge Rd, Sheffield S9 5DA

Tickets: There are two official box offices for this event.  They are SIV Tickets and See Tickets.

SIV: book online at sivtickets.com

See Tickets: book online – click here

BETFRED WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIERS BOX OFFICE INFO

March 31, 2018

The Million Pound China Open and The Crucible Dash

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:57 pm

Fates will be decided in Beijing

Not only does the China Open become the first ever event outside the UK to have a total prize fund of over £1m next week, but we also have the annual sub-plot whereby the final seedings for The World Championship are decided over in Beijing, including of course, the 16 seeded players for The Crucible.

As it stands, the last 16 draw (if all first round matches were won by the seeded player) would currently look as follows:

Mark Selby (1) v Ryan Day (16)
Marco Fu (9) v Barry Hawkins (8)

John Higgins (5) v Neil Robertson (12)
Anthony McGill (13) v Judd Trump (4)

Ding Junhui (3) v Ali Carter (14)
Luca Brecel (11) v Mark Williams (6)

Shaun Murphy (7) v Kyren Wilson (10)
Stuart Bingham (15) v Ronnie O’Sullivan (2)

* Ryan Day and Judd Trump have (carelessly) not qualified for the final stages of The China Open so cannot improve their seeding positions.

It’s fair to say that the way these matches will pan out after this huge prize fund has been dispersed is likely to be very different from the above, however it seems highly likely that the top 3 seedings will remain as they are with the others jostling for position depending on how they get on over there. Selby of course remains seeded 1 as defending champion even if Ronnie O’Sullivan overtakes him on the main list next week.

The main obsession for us anoraks however is not where the seedings fall but who they will be. With such a huge prize fund for the eventual winner, it’s fair to say that anyone from Kyren Wilson who is seeded 10th and below could potentially miss out if they have a bad week and it goes from bad to worse with subsequent results. Conversely anyone currently seeded 60 or above could grab a late place with the title and £225,000 added to their points, some can do this with a runner up or semi final spot, so it really is all to play for.

Most at risk in terms of his Crucible place of course is Ryan Day. He may know his fate early in the week because if Mark Allen beats Noppon Saengkham in the first round, he’ll be relegated to the qualifiers. But while Allen would then be in a seeded spot, the Masters Champion would not be guaranteed remaining there unless he wins a couple more and results don’t go against him. With Stephen Maguire, Liang Wenbo and Mark King the closest behind him in the chasing pack. Either way, if I was Ryan I wouldn’t be booking a holiday for the week after next.

If you are interested in seeing all the possible permutations, then as ever head to Matt’s blog here, it’s the place where anoraks go when they die to live in perpetual harmony.

So in terms of the China Open itself, I think the thing that most of the snooker fraternity will be talking about is the Crucible seedings, which is a bit of a shame given the dosh up for grabs and maybe something the schedulers need to think about for next year, but for us anoraks and our spreadsheets this is the equivalent of rankings porn.

Note that this is also played over the best of 11 frames until the 2 session best of 19 semi-finals and oddly, a best of 21 frame final. It’s great that a lot of tournaments are now adopting the longer format matches after much moaning from this small part of the internet, it’s definitely enhancing my enjoyment of snooker this season. This is live on Eurosport all week.

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

I’ll post recommended match bets on Twitter, but in terms of the outrights, I’ll go with the three names below.

Recommended Outright Bets: Mark Selby at 8/1 Ding Junhui at 16/1 and Stuart Bingham at 22/1

I’m delighted to announce that John Parrott Cue Sports are now blog partners. Click the banner below to have a look at their gear and get yourself a little snooker present.  

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March 23, 2018

Players Championship Semi Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 11:02 am

It’s been an enjoyable week of snooker in the seaside town of Llandudno in Wales which has benefited hugely from the longer match format. What we are left with is a pulsating Friday night classic semi final between Number 1 seed Ronnie O’Sullivan and a rejuvenated Judd Trump, followed by the home favourite Mark Williams taking on either Shaun Murphy or Anthony McGill tomorrow night.   

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Judd Trump

For all his faults, Judd Trump has as good a record against Ronnie as any top player and has earned the right to have a crack at him here with a very solid performance at the end against Maguire and an absolute butchering of Neil Robertson, including ‘that’ Alex Higgins exhibition blue. Ronnie was workmanlike but brilliant tactically against Dotty and made 4 tons against Ding, so he’s struggling as usual. This is set up to electrify Friday night and I hope they both bring their A game with them and don’t let us down. Ronnie gave Judd a lesson in their most recent meeting, the final in Shanghai back in November and very little has changed in his form since then, except perhaps that he’s playing even better. So the question is, has Judd’s form improved enough to get anywhere near him tonight? He’s making confident noises but he’s got to back this up with action and any sign of weakness or recklessness tonight will surely be pounced upon by a determined Rocket. All being equal I think I’d back Judd to beat anyone else tonight, but not Ronnie. Judd will have to come into this and finish with a pot and safety success both in the high nineties and over eleven frames I just can’t see that happening, but I do think given his form this week that the century bet below is well worth a bet, particularly if you think it will be closer than I do.

Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-3.

Recommended Bet: O’Sullivan (-1.5 frames) at 4/5 and Judd to make at least one century at 5/6. 

Shaun Murphy v Mark Williams

Now that we know Ronnie is awaiting the winner, tonight’s clash represents an opportunity for Mark Williams to join The Rocket in their first main tour final for 18 years. You have to go all the way back to the China Open in 2000 for the last time the two reached the business end together in a ranking event and to think that almost two decades later they might still do it all again is quite amazing really. Williams is still in top top form and despite a late rattle from Ryan Day in the last round he’d all but won the match in the first hour. Murphy was a little less impressive in his victory over McGill and they seem to be milking this back injury for all it’s worth despite the fact that he keeps winning. The vast majority of their head to heads have been in minor events and they have only met over this distance or longer twice, Williams winning both times. I think most snooker fans would like to see MJW and Ronnie lock horns on Sunday and I’m included in that, but you have to bet with your head so I’m not having a bet here because this is really a coin toss, but gun to head, I think Williams will deliver and give the fans the final they want.

Prediction: Williams 6-5 

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