Where they all want to be.
It’s here, following on from the farcically late draw as a result of an absolutely barking mad schedule, it’s now time for snooker’s showpiece. While Mr Joseph Public may not be switching on until Mark Selby breaks off at the Crucible in under a fortnight, snooker anoraks and normal fans unite as the World Championship begins at Ponds Forge, just down the road from the main venue, on Wednesday.
I’ve long said that the qualifiers are the second best event of the season, huge tension, big money and two session matches, what more could a bluff old traditionalist like me ask for? This is what real snooker competition is and it’s a far cry from the short formats and crash, bang, wallop affairs which seem to dominate the calendar these days. This is what it’s all about.
I can’t start looking at the matches without a quick word on the calendar. The close proximity of this event to the end of the China Open and the start of proceedings at The Crucible is far from ideal. If they MUST have a tournament finish a few days before this then surely a switch between China and an invitational event like the COC would be more suitable? In terms of the other end, the two day gap between this ending and Mark Selby’s defence beginning is far too short to get everyone in a frenzy and for the media hype machine to get into full flow and bookies to get their prices up. It needs looking at but I suspect it won’t change, because it makes too much sense.
Of course the big change this year that’s got tongues wagging and fingers, errmm, wagging aswell, is the qualifying format, for Chairman Bazza seems intent on changing something about everything, there’s probably a syndrome name for that (maybe Meddlers Syndrome?). This time, all the players seeded outside the top 16 have to win 3 matches to qualify, whether you are Michael White or Rob Milkins at the top of this list or Rodion Judin (who?) or Ivaylo Pekov (hey?) at the bottom of it. I have to say some of the players in this opening round might as well change their name to BYE.
Whether you agree with this change or not, that’s how it is. Some might argue that all of them, the top 16 included should start at Ponds Forge, some might argue that those seeded higher should have to win less matches as they have worked hard all season to get their ranking as high as possible, which is where I’d stand on this as I think the top 16 should be rewarded with a Crucible place and likewise those ranked 17-32 should be rewarded with less matches to win. I’d also argue that the whole thing should be seeded, why is Michael White playing a fellow professional whilst for instance, Xiao Guodong and Marcus Campbell have people hardly anyone but their mum and dad have even heard of?
A Crucible Legend. And Stephen Hendry.
Another twist comes later in the tournament of course, once we are at The Crucible the top 16 are under real pressure, even more so than normal, because if they are dumped out first round they won’t get anything towards their ranking, but they will get the £12,000 for losing first round so that is some consolation.
However, contrast this to the likes of Campbell, Peter Lines and a few others who surely only have to turn up to bag £6000. Fair? Probably not. Does Bazza care? Definitely not. Did I get the first edit of this section factually wrong? No comment.
But now isn’t a time for moaning, we have a cracking snooker month ahead and it’s the best time of the year to be a snooker fan. We are reminded why long matches are best, why Sheffield is snooker’s spiritual home, why Beardy Medal Man should be knighted and why the BBC are the comedy gift that keeps on giving, but for the next week and a bit, the focus is on who will be lining up at snooker’s mecca and who will be sitting at home or going on holiday to escape.
Below are the first round matches and a look at each session. Let the show commence….
You can view the full draw here and if you want a look at the head to heads, head to Cue Tracker here and enter the two player names for a wealth of information. Also, if you haven’t already it is definitely worth signing up to the World Snooker TV Channel, if only for a month so that you can watch the live streamed tables, to do that click here and click ‘Sign Up’, it’s not a lot of money for what you’ll get to see.
Wednesday 10am & 7pm
Michael White v Steven Hallworth
Craig Steadman v Rhys Clark
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Barry Pinches
Mark King v Michael Leslie
Cao Yupeng v Ross Muir
Anthony McGill v Hossein Vafaei Ayouri
Martin Gould v Adam Duffy
Rory McLeod v Tian Pengfei
Jamie Jones v Ashley Carty
Gerard Greene v Elliot Slessor
Alfie Burden v Mitchell Mann
The first players to get underway in this great championship are no doubt the ones that might have ended up most frustrated with the delayed draw. Michael White missed out on the Crucible by a single place and also by virtue of Ali Carter’s frozen seeding, but he’s had a fantastic second half of the season, most notably in India and I expect him to reach at least the final qualifying round where I’d say he’ll play Un-Nooh, the very talented Thai player, Michael could have asked for a nicer draw but to win through you have to beat good players at some stage. I think the players most likely to come through this session without the need for dramatics are Craig Steadman and Cao Yupeng, but you can make a case for any of the others going close so I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a turn up or two in the evening on day one. Martin Gould has been playing very well lately and you would expect him to come through against Adam Duffy and you could argue that Mark King should have enough experience and nouse to overcome Michael Leslie, but stranger things have happened. Hossein Ayouri took an age to get a visa through to compete and is highly rated both in his home country and in Ireland where he has been practising while waiting, some shrewd punters have latched onto a ridiculous price put up on him by one firm and this has since been drastically cut to the 4/1 on offer now, which I think is about right given how much I rate his opponent McGill. I think Tian Pengfei will narrowly edge out Rory McLeod and Jamie Jones can take care of the very dangerous amateur Carty, but again this could be closer than the odds suggest. There will be those who fancy an early exit for Gerard Greene against Elliot Slessor but I’d side with Greene personally. The one upset I will take a punt on here is Mitchell Mann to beat Alfie Burden, Mitchell won a very strong pro-am, The Paul Hunter, in Leeds at the weekend beating Oli Lines in the final, he is more than capable of taking that form to Ponds Forge.
Predicted Winners: White, Steadman, Un-Nooh, King, Yupeng, McGill, Gould, Pengfei, Jones, Greene, Mann.
Recommended Bet: 2 points on Mitchell Mann at 11/4.
Wednesday 2.30pm & Thursday 2.30pm
Lu Haotian v Andrew Pagett
Alan McManus v Michael Wasley
Ryan Day v Jamie Clarke
Alex Davies v Michael Georgiou
Aditya Mehta v Jak Jones
Jack Lisowski v Allan Taylor
Li Hang v Chris Melling
Stuart Carrington v Joel Walker
Peter Ebdon v Lu Ning
Ben Woollaston v Sean O’Sullivan
A few of my snooker pals are taking part in this session, Allan Taylor, already assured of his two year tour card has been handed Jack Lisowski, whose form this season has inexplicably dipped, a chance for Allan if he can find some momentum. Sean O’Sullivan has been given a stinker against Ben Woollaston, a player who I think will end up contesting the final round with Rod Lawler. Jamie Clarke has also been handed a prize turd of a draw against Ryan Day, I think Ryan will be looking at the draw thinking he’s got one foot in the Crucible already personally. Then there is Michael Wasley who was last year’s first round hero but who faces a quarter finalist from last year and super-solid Alan McManus, again, not a great draw for Wazza or Angles given some of the names floating about here. I’d say the value in this set of matches lies with Joel Walker, he plays Stuart Carrington, who while a dangerous opponent will be someone that the improving Walker will fancy over the longer distance, he’s only a shade of odds on and I think that’s a bit tasty. You have to think that the in-form Peter Ebdon will progress and the same can be said for India’s Aditya Mehta. Michael Georgiou is a half decent price to beat Alex Davies for anyone looking at a double or treble on this session and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Chris Melling give Li Hang a game. That just leaves Andrew Pagett against young Lu Haotian, it’s Padgy’s snooker swansong this tournament and I think he’s capable of winning here, but a tough match will await and I don’t think we’ll be seeing him and his rather camp looking pink suit back at The Crucible.
Predicted Winners: Pagett, McManus, Day, Georgiou, Mehta, Lisowski, Melling, Walker, Ebdon, Woollaston.
Recommended Bet: 4 points on Joel Walker at 9/10.
Recommended Day 1 Acca: 2 points on Greene, Pengfei, Georgiou and Walker pays over 6/1.
Thursday 10am & 7pm
Nigel Bond v Igor Figueiredo
Rod Lawler v Michael Tomlinson
Mike Dunn v Itaro Santos
Yu Delu v Hans Blanckaert
Fraser Patrick v Brandon Sargeant
Graeme Dott v Mark Owens
Dark Mavis v Joe O’Connor
Oli Lines v Ian Glover
David Morris v Lee Walker
Ken Doherty v Reanne Evans
Matthew Stevens v Ahmed Saif
Possibly a few more rather one-sided matches on show here, expect straightforward wins for Rod Lawler, Mike Dunn, Yu Delu, Fraser Patrick, Graeme Dott, Dark Mavis and Matthew Stevens. It’s great that Reanne Evans has been rewarded for all her efforts in the sport but to draw Ken Doherty, on paper looks like a bit of a stinker. But they will know each other well from their work on The Legends and perhaps that might help Reanne relax a little into her game, a win would be unexpected but I hope she gives a good account of herself. Nigel Bond has the potential banana skin of Brasil’s Igor first up and Nigel is a bit of an enigma these days, he can obviously still play a bit but he’s very hard to predict so I’d leave that one well alone. Oli Lines is a player that Bazza will be hoping and praying makes The Crucible, young, good looking (I suppose), a potential favourite with the young female fanbase, a dad on tour and one hell of a game in him I’d also like to see him make it. He’s a cracking lad with a great attitude and if he gets on a roll he is more than capable of being this year’s Wazza. David Morris is looking good enough to suggest that his match against Lee Walker shouldn’t cause him too many problems. It’s a favourite’s session this one, so just leave out the unpredictable Bond who will probably win but only an eyebrow raising shock can stop you collecting.
Predicted Winners: Bond, Lawler, Dunn, Delu, Patrick, Dott, Mavis, Lines, Morris, Doherty, Stevens.
Recommended Bet: 3 points on all the above except Bond pays 13/8.
Friday 10am & 7pm
Peter Lines v Rodion Judin
Joe Swail v Alexander Ursenbacker
Dominic Dale v John Astley
Fergal O’Brien v Hammad Miah
Chris Wakelin v Nico Elton
Jamie Cope v Steve Davis
Mark Joyce v Ian Burns
Anthony Hamilton v Zhang Anda
Zhou Yuelong v Zak Surety
Liang Wenbo v Chris Norbury
Xiao Guodong v Ong Jia Jun
Peter Lines and Xiao Guodong won’t have many better chances to win £6000 for very little effort and should come through their matches very easily given their experience and pedigree over largely unknown opponents. Others that I’d say should win without too much of a fuss are Fergal O’Brien, Chris Wakelin and Liang Wenbo, though caution is always urged where Liang is involved. Dominic Dale should progress against John Astley but if John gets a foothold in the match early that could be a scare for last year’s Quarter Finalist. Mark Joyce and Ian Burns are pretty evenly matches but Mark has had the better season of the two so I’d marginally favour him, but again, not one to bet on for me. Zhou Yuelong has shown enough to suggest he can progress against Zak Surety, but Anthony Hamilton could face a potential upset against another Chinese player Zhang Anda, The Sheriff hasn’t been really been firing with both barrels this season it has to be said, even managing to get whitewashed by Ahmed Saif in the Welsh Open, he might be there for the taking. Joe Swail needs a run in this for his two year card and we all know what Joe does when he has to, he also seems to play much better over the longer distance and I think he’ll start with a win over my cousin Alexander. That just leaves The Nugget, who has a book coming out next week, it’s pretty good, I’ve started reading it. He takes on Jamie Cope who we all know has had problems with his shaking arm off and on for ages now, I know Steve will be going there to win, he always does and who would put it past him if he stays with Cope first session? Not me.
Predicted Winners: Lines, Swail, Dale, O’Brien, Wakelin, Davis, Joyce, Anda, Yuelong, Wenbo, Guodong.
Recommended Bet: 3 points on Zhang Anda at 7/4.
Friday 2.30pm and Saturday 2.30pm
Jamie Burnett v Alex Borg
Marcus Campbell v Ivaylo Pekov
Sam Baird v Tony Drago
Liam Highfield v Oliver Brown
Kyren Wilson v Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon
Jimmy Robertson v Chuan Leong Thor
Dechawat Poomjaeng v Daniel Wells
Robbie Williams v Lee Page
Michael Holt v Syd Wilson
Matt Selt v Lyu Chenwei
Marcus Campbell needs a run in this to keep his tour place and it’s nice of World Snooker to give him £6000 just in case he falls off, if he loses that one I will eat an extremely large piece of headwear. But apart from that one there aren’t too many gifts being handed out in this set of matches. Michael Holt will obviously start a big favourite against my mate Syd and only a big reversal of form and fortune will stop The Hitman progressing. The SB Classic runner-up on Sunday Daniel Wells faces Thai joker Poomjaeng, I genuinely think Dan is good enough to give him a run there but he probably won’t have enough to win, Poomy is a player I routinely underrate and I have learned my lesson. I don’t know much about Chuan Leong Thor (who seems to have his name in random orders depending on what day it is) other than he’s run Bingham and Cope close recently, I’d imagine Jimmy Robertson, another who I think seems to play better over the longer format, will have enough in the tank to beat him. Sam Baird is another who seems to enjoy this format and has had epic qualifiers in the past, he faces Tony Drago, who last week played in an amateur only event in Malta, work that one out. I’d expect the much improved Matt Selt to progress along with Robbie Williams, who hasn’t reached the heights of the early season recently but should win with a bit in hand. Another SB Classic runner-up, Kyren Wilson will be looking for another run to The Crucible and he’s got the game to make an impact this week for sure, I expect him to beat Thanawat comfortably. Liam Highfield faces Oliver Brown who has had some great results this season on the back of his amateur Q-School ranking, but again, over the long distance I think Liam is much the better player and will carve out a win. This leaves Jamie Burnett and Alex Borg, I have been guilty more than once of underrating Borg and I’m not going to make that mistake again, while I’m sure a lot of punters will be putting Burnett near the top of their list of 1st Round bankers, I won’t be, Borg is capable of an upset there, he’s not as poor as some people believe he is.
Predicted Winners: Burnett, Campbell, Baird, Highfield, Wilson, Robertson, Poomjaeng, Williams, Holt, Selt.
Recommended Bet: 3 points on all the above except Burnett pays over 4/1 at Ladbrokes.
Saturday 10am & 7pm
Gary Wilson v Eden Sharav
Robin Hull v Martin McCrudden
Kurt Maflin v David Grace
Noppon Saengkham v Lukas Kleckers
Jimmy White v James Wattana
Tom Ford v Andrew Norman
Dave Gilbert v George Pragnall
Luca Brecel v Saqib Nasir
Andrew Higginson v Scott Donaldson
James Cahill v Darryl Hill
Robert Milkins v William Lemons
The late starters include Gary Wilson, runner-up in the China Open who has thankfully been given time to recover from his amazing performance over there, he faces Eden Sharav and you’d obviously expect him to win there given his current form and the fact he has that time to re-adjust. Other ‘bankers’ in this session for me are Noppon Saengkham, Dave Gilbert, Luca Brecel, James Cahill and Rob Milkins, all are handed ties that they could, in some cases arguably should, more or less wrap up in the first session. Martin McCrudden from Ireland has his fans, I’ve never seen him play but know enough about him to suggest his match with Robin Hull, another needing a run here, might be tighter than some expect. Kurt Maflin is another in fine form and one of the heaviest scorers in the game, he’ll be looking to carry that on all the way to The Crucible. Andrew Norman is jacking it all in at the end of the season and doesn’t practice much at all so he won’t be too upset with me saying that Tom Ford should come through there, despite Ford’s relatively poor form of late. The match that really interests me from a betting point of view is Scott Donaldson against Higginson, Andrew is totally out of form and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see promising Scot Scott cause an upset there, although it would only be an upset really at the bookies as I think a lot of ‘snooker shrewdies’ might agree with me on that one. Finally, Jimmy against James Wattana, an absolutely suicidal match to bet on, leave it alone, there’s plenty more wheelbarrows in the sea.
Predicted Winners: Wilson, Hull, Maflin, Saengkham, White, Ford, Gilbert, Brecel, Donaldson, Cahill, Milkins.
Recommended Bet: 3 points on Donaldson at 7/4.
RECOMMENDED BUMPER ROUND ONE ACCA: 4 POINTS PAYS JUST UNDER 9/2 AT PADDY POWER: Michael White, Yu Delu, Matthew Stevens, Graeme Dott, Oli Lines, Rod Lawler, Dark Mavis, Fraser Patrick, Peter Lines, Liang Wenbo, Chris Wakelin, Matt Selt, Luca Brecel, Noppon Saengkham and Dave Gilbert.